Ghost in the Shell (2017)

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“The filmmakers think little of the emotional and intellectual connection fans already have with this property, and have put all their chips on the aesthetic.” Vulture

“Ghost in the Shell struggles to dig below the surface of its thought-provoking concepts and bring real depth to its striking visuals.” Screen Rant

The simple fact of film is how could you possibly improve what is considered to be one of the greatest predecessor films? The groundbreaking 1995 original Ghost in the Shell, directed by Mamoru Oshii was to many viewers … a masterpiece. The influence of the anime sensation reached far outside its die-hard fanatics and instead made a mark on the prominence of Japanese film making in the West. The much talked about remake with Scarlett Johansson bombed at the Box Office Weekend, not to mention its current predicament standing face to face with a $60 million dollar loss.

The line between humans and machines is blurred. In a time when we expect jobs to disappear to machines in coming years, this idea doesn’t sound so absurd. Ghost in the Shell takes place in a future where cybernetic enhancement isn’t simply routine, but it is widely accepted. Humanity is enabled with technological abilities that far outweigh real life, allowing them to survive harrowing accidents or abolish alcohol poisoning with a silver liver. Major Mira, played by Scarlett Johansson, is rescued in the wake of a refugee attack that left her so gravely injured that only her brain survived. Government-funded Hanka Industries grasps the opportunity to give Mira’s brain a new life by inserting it into a completely artificial body – she’s the first of her kind. The perfect blend of mind and soul (Ghost), Major Mira is coupled with astounding advantages in agent work.

The cerebral element and extraordinary pacing of the original anime scared off the non-Japanese audience in its release. Yet, the film’s worldwide cult success developed later with the video release and gradual word of mouth. This cannot be the same result with the live-action Hollywood Remake, so director Rupert Sanders has evidently dialed down the introspection, dialed up the action and tweaked the plot to resonate with an ‘orphan come hero’ plot us Westerns eat up like a juicy burger. But yet, he could not help but grapple with the knotty philosophical questions couped up in cyber-implants and human souls, because at the end of the day that’s kind of the big idea behind the film.

It is clear to any viewer, that the predominant selling point of the film is its absolutely breathtaking visual impact, that draws you away from the comfort of the theatre to a world of holographic advertisements the size of skyscrapers, robot fashioned geisha’s and mechanical body parts. Peel back the neon and artifice and underneath is a concrete jungle of cyborg shops and street dealers peddling implants – its thrillingly sensational. But here most importantly, Sanders pays a generous tribute to the original anime, drawing out the themes and ideas that grew so beloved by viewers. Particularly well, Ghost in the Shell marries the original impressive physicality of the leading lady with the emotional vulnerability and real life determination of Scarlett Johansson. Johansson has proven to be a mesmerising actress time and time again, bringing intelligence and fearlessness to every aspect of her work, and this time she sells the philosophy of the film with the depth of the human identity.

Of course the visual beauty of Ghost in the Shell is parallel to a weaker narrative than its overwhelmingly successful predecessor, but it carries an authenticity and thought provoking nature that differentiates this film from the rest.

★★★☆☆

Imdb – 6.9/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 46%

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Hell or High Water (2016)

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“Taut, tense and burnished by Jeff Bridges at his best. This is a deceptively simple tale of Texan cops and robbers that drags the Old West into the modern age.” – Empire ★★★★☆

It took a while to notice that David Mackenzie’s Hell or High Water had made the list of Best Picture nominees at the Academy Awards this year, while we were so overwhelmed that Martin Scorseses’ Silence and Tim Miller’s Deadpool had lost the race. Here comes a throwback to the dusty rambling glories of Hollywood new wave Westerns, inspired by Depression-era thrillers, to reveal arguably the most understated and contemporary socio-political film of last year. That’s a mouthful.

Brothers Toby, played by Chris Pine, and Tanner, played by Ben Foster, first arrive at a remote Texas Midland Bank branch to rob every penny they can fit in their sacks. They make off with some loose bills, and proceed to rob every other bank in the region. Here, Toby is the mastermind, conveying his sincere and potent grievance from the foreclosure on the mortgage of his family property. But of course, with the death of their mother and an oil discovery on the property, Toby is infuriated with immediate eviction and recruits ex-prisoner older brother Tanner to help earn the property back. It’s the story of cowboy’s and Indians – onetime kings of the plains now suspended in a place where both are pushed to near extinction, and what evolves is greed, pain and utter heartlessness.

David Mackenzie’s direction makes the robbery sequences bubble with jolts of extravagant yet realistic violence, getaway action and car chases, on the backdrop of dusty plains. The casting of each character enhances the regional colour and tone of the film, drawing out incredible performances from Chris Pine and of course the highly praised Jeff Bridges. The present day atmosphere and lack of open-carry laws, mixed in with rowdy cowboys creates an amusing and unpredictable vigilante of local distress. But the script is notably the most powerful in this film, and the exchanges are superb in a film so entirely thick with it. The low-key humour, the poignant loneliness, the undercurrent teasing, Hell or High Water is nothing like anything you’ve seen before.

Hell or High Water is talking, character and western backdrop thick. Riding on the back of films such as No Country for Old Men, it draws out weathered storefronts, abandoned pastures, rusted farm equipment and oil derricks on the premise of a film set to define regional identity. Only enhanced by an overly impressive score, Hell or High Water is pleasant but not extravagant, and a delight for anyone with a soft spot for Texas.

★★★★☆

Imdb – 7.7/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 98%

Live by Night (2016)

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Ben Affleck has proven time and time again that he is an outstanding director, fuelled by an entirely impressive expertise of filmmaking from his very first Gone, Baby Gone to his more recent and highly successful Argo. But with the release of Live By Night this weekend, Affleck turns a corner with his very own adapted screenplay from Dennis Lehane’s amiable gangster novel sensation.

Ben Affleck, as lead Joe Coughlin, returns disenfranchised from World War I, haunted by the arbitrary violence and barbarism that painted his life. Filled with refractory hatred towards those in power, Coughlin becomes an outlaw on the streets of Boston, living by night in search of the next bank to rob or gamble to gain in the era of Prohibition and underground distilleries, speakeasies and gangsters. It’s not long before Coughlin is drawn into the gang war of Irish Albert White and Italian Maso Pescatore, and not much longer again before Joe ends up in their employ, working in Florida to raise Prohibition, build casinos and gain revenge.

As with all other prominent films that Affleck has directed, he passes the juiciest roles to his outstanding co-stars, with Sienna Miller as the knockout mistress of Irish mob boss Robert Glenister and Zoe Saldana as the Cuban love interest on the Florida bootlegging operation. Here is where you might get confused, because you can also throw in Chris Cooper as the God-fearing local sheriff, Elle Fanning as the good girl turned prostitute, Matthew Maher as the leader of the KKK and another handful of religious conversion and zealotry to boot. It makes more sense when you watch it yourself, from start to finish. But as a lead himself, Affleck maintains his square-jawed Batman, an observer in his own life rather than a participator, a concept built into the fabric of Lehane’s novel.

What you put into the world will always come back for you.” Simply put, this quote perfectly sums up my take on Live by Night, as more than just merely a gangster movie, but as a whole take on human life and the value of luck and fate for those who take it.

Live by Night is a beautiful film of exceptional cinematography and outstanding filmmaking, and Affleck really shines as a director of brilliant actors and vying action. Affleck knows too well how to create a haunting gangster noir worth getting lost in.

★★★☆☆

Imdb – 6.7/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 32%

Money Monster (2016)

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An explosive financial thriller, a hostage crisis, a globe-spinning mystery and a potent satire of Wall Street’s television coverage like a professional sport. This is Money Monster. But despite its present-day setting, it feels a little retro – as if it just missed the window for maximum relevance following The Big Short. Except Money Monster marks Jodie Foster’s emergence as the director of a greater and more technically challenging project than anything she’s done before. I came in with low expectations and walked out having experienced a pleasantly dynamic drama and the never failing charisma of George Clooney too.

Money Monster follows a popular stock advice show hosted by George Clooney, as Lee Gates, who relies on flashy sound effects and show business glam to make the daily market as fun as a game show. The story takes a nail-biting turn when young Jack O-Connell, as Kyle, sneaks onto the live television set carrying a gun and a bomb strapped to his chest. After losing his life savings tied in promising stocks, Kyle is left to ask all of the big questions. Strap yourself in for slow and steady tension rising between Lee and his manager Patty, who tirelessly work to keep Kyle calm and compliant.

Foster envisioned fascinating contrasts between the intimate scope of the standoff and the global reach of Money Monster as a television event drawing viewers into the unspoken corruption of Wall Street. In some ways, Money Monster is a strongest critism of the tendency to treat financial journalism as entertainment, and in other ways it is simply a hype-driven coverage of the stock market. Either way, Foster mentions that we are in fact living in an age where the financial industry and entertainment industry are intertwined in ways she has purposefully attempted to satirise throughout the film.

Foster approached Money Monster as a character piece – but one with unique directing impediments … and some funny bits too …

In some ways, it’s an experiment – and I love genre movies – to figure out a way to use the genre as a backdrop and still really have character and a sophisticated dialogue about meaningful topics and have them be in the foreground.”

Money Monster’s greatest strength lies in its portrayal of greed as the ultimate crime, juxtaposed with a disadvantaged minority who lays down his life to bring justice. But Money Monster registers less of an indictment of financial corruption than as an exploration of one man’s greed. It may be a Hollywood melodrama, but it is in the top of the range. It gives Clooney and Roberts every opportunity to demonstrate star power, and the refreshing opportunity to create a picture about anti-heroes rather than super-heroes.

Side Note: Keep an eye out for vines at the end of the film, I promise they will ease any tension or rage you may experience throughout the film.

★★★☆☆