Friday, 31 March 2017

'Ghost In The Shell' (2017) Review: Easy On The Eyes, Hard To Watch

Catch It On Cable: Dull and uninteresting on the inside, but very pretty on the outside.

'Ghost In The Shell' is the long awaited live action adaptation of the Manga of the same name. Set in the not too distant future, its world is refined and uninviting. Instead of clamouring for the latest and greatest smartphone, the inhabitants of the movie covet technology that shifts the makeup of their very being. Eyes are swapped for binoculars and fingers are multiplied. The crowning achievement of this techno evolution is Major. A cyborg with the mind of a human, who just happens to be the hero of this story.

Major is played by Scarlett Johannsen. A casting that has sparked controversy, since the role she's playing has always been a Japanese woman. For all the noise surrounding it though, nothing in 'Ghost In The Shell' really merits discussion. Johannsen plays a haunted soul, desperate to cling onto the humanity she has left in her cold unfeeling body. What comes through is her pain and anguish, but is delivered with as much engagement as a Kindergarten teacher at nap time.

Do bored audiences dream of entertaining sheep?
I was fighting sleep for a good chunk of 'Ghost In The Shell'. Time and time again the movie gave me situations to understand, but no characters to empathize with. Pity that the bland characterization, could not match the astounding visuals the movie offers. The world of 'Ghost In The Shell' is tonally bleak but aesthetically vibrant. In 1982, Blade Runner showed us the best depiction of a world transformed by technology, it's given a run for its money here. 

Except in the 'Ghost In The Shell' world, the billboard is a white woman's face.
There are interesting ideas within this movie. None of them original, but 'Ghost In The Shell' thankfully never sounds like it's trying to teach you something. It gives you a healthy offering of existential questions, but you're more than welcome to ignore its philosophy and just embrace the visuals. 

Because the movie is so bland and forgettable, I can't really recommend seeing it in the cinema. It's not bad enough for me to say you should miss it entirely, though. If you have a high-resolution television, catching 'Ghost In The Shell' on home video is actually a pretty good watch. Pop it on in the background when something more important has your full attention, with 'Ghost In The Shell' a mere pretty distraction.

Rating: Catch It On Cable

Monday, 27 March 2017

Movie Money: Episode 15

It was a battle of nostalgia at the box office this week. However, the two new releases in the top 5, 'Power Rangers' and 'Life' couldn't match the tried and true formula that is a Disney re-release. 'Beauty and The Beast' remained victorious this week with a whopping $90m haul, with its worldwide total already at $693m. Surely the Disney classic will be one of the year's biggest releases, with a billion in sight. The tale as old as time still rings true.

The rest of the box office faired well considering so much money went towards 'Beauty and the Beast'. 'Power Rangers' had all the makings of a #1 movie, but couldn't scrape by against the competition. Still, a $40m opening at # 2 is nothing to sneeze at, and with a relatively low budget, Lionsgate should be able to produce at least one of the 6 sequels it has planned for the franchise. The other newcomer this week was 'Life' coming it at #4. The Alien-lite sci-fi thriller didn't prove to be a draw for audiences and only brought in $12.6m domestically. 

The rest of the box office went to 'Kong: Skull Island' at #3, and 'Logan clinging on for dear life at #5. Logan is now the 5th most successful X-Men movie with $537m, and should comfortable rack up a formidable run in the weeks to come.

There were more releases this week, but they didn't make it to the top 5, and well, you don't write reports on losers. 

Here's the audio discussion clocking in at 31 minutes:

Saturday, 25 March 2017

'Power Rangers' (2017) Review: Immensely Flawed, But Oh So Fun

Half Price: Absolutely not a perfect movie. Riddled with flaws, but a definite good time. 
When the 5 teenagers we’ve come to know and love finally don their armour, the evil Rita Repulsa remarks how cute it is that they finally have their super suits and dinosaur robots. She says this with an irony that is present all throughout the film. A movie that reveres its source material, just as much as it irreverently mocks it.

Now how in the world could you mock this art?
That source material is, of course, the ‘Power Rangers’ television show, in which 5 teenagers with attitude are given incredible abilities, and tasked with defending the Earth from alien attackers. The film follows the same basic formula, but with slightly better visuals than the low budget tv show it hails from. Still, there’s nothing here that you won’t find in the last Transformers movie.

Truly, ‘Power Rangers’ is less its own property but more an amalgam of films done better. It takes its cues from ‘The Breakfast Club’, ‘Chronicle’, ‘Pacific Rim’, and others. It wears its references on its sleeve but feels like a cheap copy in some instances. Despite not feeling wholly original, the movie manages to maintain an energy to it that keeps you engaged with its light tone and enjoyable moments.

This is just my personal preference. As obvious as that might be for a review based on my own opinion, I feel it should be emphasised in the case of this movie. Many times I saw something in the movie that would typically drive me mad. An unrealistic interaction between the characters, an enormous leap in logic, so many issues are found in 'Power Rangers', that are enough to condemn the film as the main contender for this years' Razzies. And yet, I actually quite enjoyed this movie.

This is my brain rioting at my contradictory thoughts. 
What works about ‘Power Rangers’ is, the rangers. The 5 actors pegged to play the young heroes are a cut above what you might expect. Perhaps because they’ve actually been given realised characters to dig into. For every logical inconsistency and so so bit of dialogue in ‘Power Rangers’, there are moments when the characters truly shine, with an ensemble cast that feels balanced and well utilised.

Even with all its disappointing issues, there are moments when 'Power Rangers' doesn't do what you expect. The story has a basic team adventure structure to it, but many of the most tired elements of that structure have been left on the cutting room floor. Instead, 'Power Rangers' feels slick, with all the fat trimmed, leaving behind the main dish ready for cinematic consumption. Of course, that could be the result of a script that had so much packed into it that certain scenes had to be cut out, but if that's the way Hollywood learns to omit scenes we've seen 100 times, then so be it.

For all our sakes.
It would be remiss of me if I didn't mention the changes made in 'Power Rangers' for two of its characters. Billy, played by RJ Cyler, has been written as someone who is on the autism spectrum. Billy has a vulnerability to him and is played beautifully by Cyler with heart. Trini, played by Becky G, is now a member of the LGBTQ community and speaks in the film about her girlfriend troubles. What was most refreshing about these portrayals was how much they didn't lean on played stereotypes or clunky and awkward exposition. The characters felt real and normalised the people they were trying to represent.

Not the 1 step forward, 2 steps back that you tend to see.
‘Power Rangers’ is a movie riddled with flaws. There are moments that simply defy explanation, with zord sized gaps in the script. In fact, many of its problems are not dissimilar to the ones found in last year's travesty ‘Batman v Superman’. The difference is, ‘Power Rangers’ has such an endearing self-awareness, that it’s impossible to stay mad at it. I could see everything wrong with this movie, but I enjoyed it immensely nonetheless.

Rating: Half-Price

Friday, 17 March 2017

'Beauty and the Beast' (2017) Review: Magic Brought To Life

Big Screen Watch: I got enough new material out of the new Beauty and the Beast that made it worth seeing on the big screen.
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is the latest animated classic to get the live action treatment. While some might see it as a soulless cash in on nostalgia, others will revel in the chance to see a new spin on the tale as old as time. Personally, I’m not offended by Disney’s live action remakes. I see them as cinematic stage plays, giving a story I once knew, new life.

‘Beauty and the Beast’ is not the riskiest of remakes. Much of the film is a loving recreation of its source material. That love can be overbearing at times, as you sit in the theatre wondering what you’re getting that you couldn’t with the original picture. The places where it does make changes are a welcome break from its slavish adaptation, that is at best, a touching reminder of what you once knew, and at worst, an embarrassing imitation.

Embarrassing, and slightly unnerving.
The most consistent part of ‘Beauty and the Beast’, is how stunning it is to look at. Particularly the Beast’s enchanted castle, and all its inhabitants. The characters lose their animated charm, but what they gain is an impressive amount of heart. When the objects talk of the lives they led before they became furniture, it rings truer coming from what looks like a candlestick, than a cartoon.

The translation isn’t always effective. Most notably in the part of Gaston, played by Luke Evans, whose larger than life character is underserved by Evans’ humanity. That’s not the fault of Evans, it’s just, there’s no one quite like Gaston. Still, humanity is the key to this adaptation, as the film adds a touching connection to the characters that dare I say improved upon the original.

Yeah I said it. I'll be outside. Waiting. 
Kevin Kline's role as Belle's father Maurice is the chief example of this. A man who seemed insane even before his ramblings of a monstrous beast. Under Kline's care, he became a genuine character. One with heart, quirks, and identity. If only the same could be said for the depiction of Lefou.

Played by Josh Gad, Lefou is Disney's first depiction of an openly gay character in a major motion picture. Josh Gad is charming as Gaston's most loyal friend, and sidekick. He makes you laugh, and when seen in live action, the sheer abuse he takes has a certain dark humour to it. Unfortunately, his over the top performance is a faithful one, but considering the character's newly revealed identity, can be uncomfortable, bordering on stereotype at times.

Of course, the main attractions are the Beauty, played by Harry Potter’s Emma Watson, and the Beast, played by Legion’s Dan Stevens. Watson carries the frustration of her character’s plight beautifully and gives Belle an admirable strength. Stevens gives the Beast the one thing he’d been missing all along. A character to care about. The remake does one thing remarkably well and gives the somewhat questionable romance an air of legitimacy.

Less of the Stockholm Syndrome vibes. Way more Beastiality vibes. It's a trade off. 
Was ‘Beauty and the Beast’ worth the price of admission? I’m inclined to say yes. It’ll take you back to how you felt the first time you watched it, and pepper in a few new things to keep it feeling fresh. Watching Belle talk to her horse was charming in a cartoon, but laughable in this version. Still, gaffes like that are minor and don't take away from the overall joy of watching magic come to life.

Rating: Big Screen Watch

Saturday, 11 March 2017

'Kong Skull Island' (2017) Review: The Bigger The Better

Half Price: Excellent for what it is, and it never aims higher than that. A fun summer movie before the summer.
The eighth wonder of the world is back in theatres this week. I can’t count the number of times King Kong has graced the silver screen, but ‘Kong Skull Island’ is his latest, but not the greatest. This modern take on the classic film is set in a post-Vietnam war 1973. The perfect time period to find military presence in the south pacific. The very same region of Skull Island. Scientist and opportunist Bill Randa, played by John Goodman, decides to make use of that presence, and charter a "research expedition" on Skull Island itself. Once they get there, they must survive the land of monsters, and chief of all, Kong himself.

Much like Godzilla in the 2014 film of the same name, Kong is more or less a force of nature in this film. His savagery is what comes across in this iteration. There are still hints of humanity to the giant ape, especially since Kong spends most of his time on two legs instead of four. However, even that is used to juxtapose Kong’s brutal nature against the very humans who fear him. There’s a running theme of “who are the real monsters?” running through the film. For those seeking a deep dissertation, search elsewhere. The film doesn't want to be anything more than a fun popcorn movie.

Introspective Kong is so 2005.

There are other ideas at play, even using the adventure as an allegory for the United States mentality after losing the Vietnam War. Samuel Jackson’s character ‘Preston Packard’ is the avatar for this idea, but it’s never developed organically. Instead, characters in ‘Kong Skull Island’ react to things like no human genuinely would. There’s no sense of genuine shock and awe when they’re made aware of giant monstrous creatures, and if there is it’s short lived. I was taken out of the movie several times by the characters, whose behaviour in the situation felt less probable than the 100-foot ape fighting lizard monsters.

Thankfully said fights are indeed epic and save the film from its less than compelling characters. I wouldn't say the entire cast is wasted, but the ones who we deal with for the majority of the film are the most grating. Tom Hiddleston plays a badass as boring as he is brutal, and Samuel L Jackson is a caricature. Every time I wanted to be done with them, the monsters would fight again. And all was well. A lesson is learned from 2014's 'Godzilla' as the monster v monster action is treated as the main course, rather than a side dish.

Let them fight....away from us so we can't see it.
Kong Skull Island grapples between just the right amount of cheese, to enough to make you wish you were lactose intolerant. It reminded me of Jurassic World. A sci-fi monster B movie, with a AAA budget. Which, if you ask me is a winning combination. Especially with a movie as artful as this one. Allegory aside, the film makes great use of scale and is content to let the camera do what it's supposed to. There aren't a lot of cuts to the action scenes, just sweeping shots and pans that give the film's most captivating moments a sense of fluidity.

Credit should also go to the film's cinematographer and sound team. The visuals are striking, with colour grading that makes the film pop, and uses the dense jungle and 70s aesthetic perfectly. The sound was also used creatively, with physical objects in the film synchronised with musical cues. At certain points, it was like an OK GO music video, which sounds like it would be out of place, but 'Kong Skull Island' makes it work.

Of course, this scene set the bar for it
Last night, within the first 20 minutes of the film, I saw a giant ape throw helicopters into each other, to a 1970s classic rock soundtrack. I also saw characters that made me laugh, both with them and at them. It is a monster movie with light scares, moments that thrill, and at its worst, it’s the type of bad that’s easy to have fun with. I can’t imagine a better way to watch this film, than at half price, with a huge crowd, cheering on as giant monsters fight each other.

Rating: Half-Price

Monday, 6 March 2017

Movie Money: Episode 14

This week saw the release of the biggest film of the year so far. While Lego Batman and John Wick duked it out for as long as they could, it was 'Logan' that truly dominated the weekend box office, pulling in a whopping $88.4 million dollars. That's more than half of the domestic takings of the last Wolverine solo film and has already made nearly a quarter of a billion worldwide. The swan song of the most violent X-Man is certainly a hit.

The rest of the box office did not do as well, but still faired decently. Especially in the case of Jordan Peele's 'Get Out', which only dropped one slot in its second weekend. Coming in at number 2, and bringing its gross to $78 million, with a budget of only $4.5. It's the second horror movie this year to continuously hold its own, with 'Split' having a very similar trajectory. Continuing with the top 5, number 3 was held by 'The Shack', a movie you've either never heard of or forgot about completely, but had an audience somewhere, since it brought in $16 million. Finally 'The Lego Batman Movie' at number 4, and 'John Wick Chapter Two' at number 5, continue to be contenders, with $11 million and $4 million respectively.

For a conversation on the weekend box office, here's this week's show:
Itunes| Download| RSS|

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

'Logan' Review: A Superhero Movie Your Dad Will Like

Very High Big Screen Watch: Go see it. Right now. Not for kids.
2009 saw the release of 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine'. A movie that has been called one of the worst superhero movies of all time. By me. Several times. Despite that movie's critical failure, there was the release of 'The Wolverine' back in 2013. James Mangold was in the director's chair, and it marked true detachment from the rest of the X-Men franchise. It seemed like a step in the right direction, albeit a half step, with a third act that brings down an otherwise stellar film. If a mostly bad movie and a mostly good movie is what had to happen to bring 'Logan' to life, the world is much better for it.

Set in the not too distant future of 2029, 'Logan' is an X-Men movie quite unlike any other. Gone are the black jumpsuits and supersonic jets. All that remains is Hugh Jackman, playing Logan for the 8th and final time. Logan must come to terms with his own mortality, something that's eluded him for the last century or so. Despite wanting nothing more than to be left alone, he's forced back into acts of heroism, when a young girl, the first mutant to be born in decades, shows up at his doorstep. Logan must take her to a place safe for their kind. One that may or may not exist.

Hopefully, it ends differently than in Mad Max Fury Road.
On that journey, you'll also find an aged and decrepit Professor Xavier, played once again by Patrick Stewart. Stewart's been playing Charles Xavier for 17 years, over the course of 6 films. It's only in this film that both he gets to show their true strengths. He's always been one of the best elements of the franchise, but his role in this movie digs a little deeper than the all knowing Professor X. The most drastic thing about 'Logan' is how much more mature it is than the other films in the franchise. It's the second X-Men film to get an R rating, but it uses it for a different kind of brutality than 2016's 'Deadpool'. 

With 'Logan' you don't root for violence. Every time Wolverine's claws come out, there's a disappointment that it couldn't be avoided. Every act of rage has weight to it. A weight which the movie takes its time to make you feel. The movie is a slow burn at times, but it's far from paced poorly. Every down moment is one where the movie serves the characters. 

You see Wolverine with a level of vulnerability not often afforded to indestructible men. Hugh Jackman plays the role with more subtlety than he ever has. He gives it an authenticity, with micro expressions that seem to just come to him naturally, and go a long way in making Logan feel real. Speaking of understated performances, 'Logan' also features a chilling performance by young Dafne Keen. She plays the young mutant under Logan's protection. Much of the movie rests on her young shoulders, but damn does she carry it. 

Her acting is as bad ass as her character. 
I was floored at several points, something usually achieved by an actions sequence. This time it was the way the movie treated its mature content. With potency that demanded sincere attention and respect. 'Logan' handles ideas of mortality, immigration, drug use and refuge with absolute class. It has a resonance that is unmatched in its field, with a story that heartbreakingly feels so close to our own reality at times. 
Although now is the perfect opportunity to have an over the top cartoon villain in your movie and call it true to life.
'Logan' is a superhero movie that almost feels like it doesn't want to be one. It's not concerned with sequels, merchandising, or continuity for that matter. It simply wants to be a good film. It's not riddled with explosions, or an end of the world plot. Its characters might be supernatural, but they feel utterly human. It's jaw-droppingly good at the things it does, and uncannily what it does is join the ranks of the greatest superhero movies of all time.  

Rating: Very High Big Screen Watch