Ghost in the Shell


Viewed – 05 April 2017  Cinema

Although I enjoyed the original 1991 anime of the same name by Mamoru Oshii, I always felt like something was missing from it, that it wasn’t the complete package.  So the prospect of a live action remake was for once, intriguing.  Scarlett Johansson plays a cybernetic agent who’s only human part is her brain and fragmented memories of who she used to be.  Other than that she’s a highly skilled killing machine, who’s agency ‘Section 9’ is killed in when a cyber terrorist begins killing various members of a robotics organization by using innocent people and hacking into their minds.

Ghost in the Shell

This took a little getting into.  Translating a cyber-punk future Tokyo-like aesthetic to live action takes no end of CGI and visual flair, and initially it’s overwhelming, all weird holograms in the streets and bizarre costumes and gadgets.  Yet once the story kicks in I really began to get absorbed in this world.  Johansson is aided well by several recognisable faces, especially Juliette Binoche (The English Patient) as a scientist and veteran Japanese actor ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano (Battle Royal).  Johansson herself is decent as a character trying to figure out what it’s like to be human and adjust to her robotic body, and she conveys the not-quite-human personality eerily well.  The movie is also filled with several action sequences, although these are a little hit and miss – full of cool looking imagery for the trailer or poster, but fail to flow as well as say, The Matrix – there’s a little too much style and choppy editing to fully make them ‘zing’.  Also the suit that Johansson’s character wears to go invisible … I’m still undecided if it looked sexy or silly (the original movie’s was much more skin-like and could easily be seen as naked).  Such a look was probably avoided however to maintain that 12A/PG-13 rating (another issue that impacts the action).

Thankfully where it all leads is much more fleshed out and satisfying than the original movie and has more closure for the lead character.  So for the always difficult task of translating anime to a mainstream audience, director Rupert Sanders has done a commendable if somewhat rough around the edges job, that’s still worth your time if you like your sci-fi with style cranked up to 11.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

Logan


Viewed – 21 March 2017  Cinema

It would be easy for me to write this off as just another Wolverine movie.  After all I didn’t entirely miss his (generally) absent status from X-Men Apocalypse, and well the character has been milked to death.  But from initial images showing a more grizzled, aged Wolverine and early positive hype I thought I’d give it a go.

Logan

No question though, Hugh Jackman was born to play Logan/Wolverine.  He has all the grumpy but likeable personality perfect for such a tortured character.  This latest take see’s him departed from his X-Men colleagues sometime in the future when many of them are believed dead and all he has for company between trips away as a grumpy limo driver, is an aged, half senile Dr Xavier (a heart-breaking Patrick Stewart).  So along comes a Mexican woman and a mysterious girl (a star making Dafne Keen) who she wishes for Logan to transport across the border to a ‘safe haven’ known as Eden, where more people like her and Logan himself are seeking refuge.  On their heels is a scenery chewing villain (Boyd Holbrook) and a megalomaniac scientist (Richard E Grant).

Dafne KeenWhat surprised me was just how brutal this latest Wolverine movie is.  We get beheadings, vicious stabbings and dismembered limbs-a-plenty and it seriously doesn’t hold back.  Some of the violence and the general tone here is light-years away from what I’m used to seeing in a comic book movie and it really helped this spring to life … especially in brilliantly executed (pun intended) action sequences that are amongst the best in the genre.  Director James Mangold has delivered a confident and mature road movie that is held together by three strong central characters and their slowly developing bond that makes this much more meaningful and powerful than I could have expected.  This is one of the most intense and gripping comic book inspired movies I’ve seen in a long time and in the closing moments I can honestly say Jackman deserved an Oscar nod.  But we know that won’t happen for this sort of material, unless perhaps you happen to die in real life (ahem…Heath Ledger RIP).

Simply put – go see this movie.

Verdict:  5 /5

Kong: Skull Island


Viewed – 14 March 2017  Cinema

I can’t say I was all that hyped for this but some friends were wanting to see it so I thought I’d tag along.  This latest exploration of the legendary franchise about a massive, mythical ape follows a group of geologists and a band of fresh outta ‘Nam marines as they travel to a newly discovered, unexplored island.  John Goodman leads the scientists, whilst Samuel L. Jackson leads the marines and along the way they bring in Tom Hiddleston’s tracker. 

kong-skull-island

This began promising … a dramatic prologue set the stage and when introduced to Goodman, Jackson etc but for a slightly larger-than-life aesthetic, it seemed I was in for a good time.  Sad then, that not long after the team arrive at the island did it dawn on this viewer that there was something worryingly cartoonish to the performances and action, and despite some epic monster smack downs once Kong gets screen time and is punching helicopters out of the air etc … what initial potential any of these characters had is rapidly replaced with cheesy, clichéd caricatures displaying over the top attempts at drama, melo-drama and awkward-comedy, most of which miss their target.  When it’s trying to be serious it comes off as amusing (sometimes hilarious) and when it’s trying to be exciting it comes off as slow-motion Michael Bay dialled up to ten.  This caused me to gradually zone out as any character moments or parts where you’re meant to route for anyone except Kong, fell flat.  Even seasoned veterans like Goodman and Jackson came off hammy, especially Jackson who has a silly amount of lingering stares, complete with that bulging left eye, and Hiddleston is woefully miss-cast, struggling as the rugged hero-type despite (fake)tanned good looks and perfect hair.  Add to this Brie Larson who initially appeared as a ballsy photographer, but half way through descended into just another objectified pair of boobs.  Sigh. 

Thankfully we do get some reprieve from the mediocrity and cheese in a wonderfully dead-pan John C Reilly, and the effects and the locations are decent (bar some obvious green screen segments), which means it isn’t a total shot in the foot.  However like initial expectations, there’s very little to warrant this one existing in an industry that’s previously given us so much better.

Verdict:  2.5 /5

Doctor Strange


Viewed – 07 March 2017  online rental

A brilliant neurosurgeon (Benedict Cumberbatch) suffers a car accident that leaves him with injuries to his hands … his tools you might say.  So with the fear his career might be in shambles, he seeks out some of the worlds greatest surgeons.  However all refuse or fail due to the extent of his injuries, and so Strange is forced to seek out more spiritual methods and stumbles upon a centuries old battle to save the world.

Doctor Strange

Special effects have come a long way and pretty much anything is possible on screen.  So here you get a kaleidoscope of visual wonder that seems to initially borrow from that ‘turn the city upside down on itself’ moment from Inception and run with it.  It’s dizzying but opens up a wealth of possibilities only limited by a director’s imagination.  Cumberpatch is perfectly cast, charismatic, a little bit arrogant and really looks the part complete with a great goatee.  Supporting him is Tilda Swinton as a mystical ‘ancient one’ – think Morpheus from The Matrix if you think of Strange as Neo.  Add to this welcome but under-used support from Rachel McAdams as Strange’s sort-of (but not really) love-interest, and also Mads Mikkleson as a rogue student who’s trying to bring about Armageddon more or less with the help of a giant CGI face.

Tilda SwintonIt’s all wonderfully bonkers and should probably be taken as such as it lacks  emotional weight or personal stakes and largely washed over this viewer, despite several exciting sequences (a chase through parallel dimensions for example).  Thankfully Cumberbatch and especially Swinton help make everything work to an extent and this makes for good entertainment that’s also surprisingly funny at times.  What the concept might bring to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (hinted especially during the end credits) is ripe with potential … but despite touching on such possibilities, only delivers a partially satisfying experience.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire


Viewed – 25 February 2017  Blu-ray

As we come to this fourth entry in the popular saga, we’re pretty familiar and comfortable with the cast as we watch them grow up before our eyes.  This time around a Quidditch World Championship introduces proceedings and it’s here we see the world that J K Rowling has created open up as we’re introduced to several rival schools and a few new characters.  Add to this a prestigious Triwizard tournament that Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) gets unwittingly thrown into and we have a rather eventful entry.

Goblet of Fire

Along the way there’s some rather luke-warm melodrama, with a spat between Harry and best friend Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) feeling forced and some romantic stuff with Hermoine (Emma Watson) that moves away from what seemed to be a blossoming romance with Ron previously.  However the several trials of the Triwizard tournament are exciting, with a brilliant dragon encounter as well as a tense underwater sequence.  Yet once we realise there’s a return of an old enemy on the cards, it becomes clear this is more of an in-between movie readying up for bigger things (hopefully).  Performances across the board vary in quality, with Radcliffe not really developing much more Brendan Gleesonpersonality as these movies progress.  Rupert Grint’s Ron is also a bit more mopey and less fun than previous.  Robbie Coltrane is disappointingly side-lined this time but this is made up for by an enjoyable Brendan Gleeson and snarling David Tennant.  Less said about Robert (Twilight) Pattinson’s appearance the better though.

This was all still entertaining, and that final act is wonderfully tense and surprisingly scary.  Production values throughout are also impressive.  However a rather stretched out, unfocused story lets the side down and isn’t helped by poor character moments that fail to be all that compelling.  I have a feeling though from here on out it’s going to get pretty dramatic.

Verdict:  3 /5