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%

Silence (2016)

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Silence, this religious epic, a dream project of director Martin Scorsese for decades, is somewhat difficult and unwieldy, as well as a bit gory, but it’s also magnificent, beautiful, and masterful.” – Common Sense Media ★★★★★

This is what makes Scorsese’s film so radical, and so unlike many other movies about religion: It’s actually art.” – The Atlantic ★★★★★

Returning to the ideas that haunted his whole career, Martin Scorsese delivers a film of grandeur and great fervour about Christianity, martyrdom and the silence of God. Sacrifice in the service of the greater good beckons to the ambiguous heroism of one man reaching a future of earthly peace and comfort, in the midst sin and humiliation. Martin Scorsese takes a fearless plunge into deciphering the silence of God in the midst of human suffering, drawing out a passion project of incomprehensible faith and power.

Following the 1966 passion novel by Shusaku Endo, Silence pays its small tribute to the extremely profound influence of Portuguese missionaries who risked their lives to bring the word of God to 17th century Japan. Andrew Garfield, with his eyes filled with fervour, stars as Father Sebastian Rodrigues. Adam Driver, his somewhat starved body resembling an ascetic saint, co-stars as Father Francisco Garupe. These two young Portuguese priests, fierce and full of determination, journey east to Japan in search of their missing mentor Father Cristovao Ferreira, played by Liam Neeson. Senseless rumours drain the village of his apposition to the Christian faith, but when Rodrigues and Garupe arrive in Japan they quickly realise just how viciously Christianity is being suppressed. What unfolds is a gruelling story of relentless faith under ruling samurai who are mercilessly committed to flushing out hidden Christians, any way they can.

Within Martin Scorsese’s’ creative collaboration with Jay Cocks, who also wrote The Age of Innocence, the script doesn’t wallow in the violent visuals, but rather utilises them as a way to reflect the horror of religious persecution. The introduction of doubt is the propeller of the film, considering 2 hours and 40 minutes of spirituality is unlikely to sell to an audience of Marvel Comic Universe-ites. In particular, Liam Neeson is phenomenal in reflecting his character’s reconciliation of conviction and doubt about God, in choosing to suffer with mankind instead of ending its suffering. This is the heart and soul of the film. But all of the performances in Silence are sensational, each character grabbing onto this intense, sacrificial dedication that pulses through their very veins. As Scorsese mentioned, “Silence is about the necessity of belief fighting the voice of experience.” And there is no doubt that Scorsese maintains a rigorous fix on the complexity of faith, refusing to temper with the film’s harshness with any form of sentiment. But to most visionaries’ delight, issues of this complexity are not designed to go down easy, but instead, they are entitled to live and breathe in the cinema air.

But if I can add a personal comment from a Christian point of view, something baffles me about the way faith wavers under pressure, even though martyrdom is so prominent today. *Spoiler alert* I hated the ending – I think he should have died for his faith.

But if I can add a personal comment, from a Christian point of view, something baffles me about the way faith wavers under pressure, even though martyrdom is so prevalent today. *Spoiler Alert* I hated the ending – I think he should have died for his faith.

The price for your glory is their suffering.

Silence is a technical, visual and soulful marvel with editing capacities that effortlessly overlap into pure cinematic art. No one with the genuine belief of the power of cinema should miss this epic creation of essential filmmaking from the modern master – a man who embodies the images he puts on screen.

… “I pray but I am lost, am I just praying to silence?

★★★★★

Imdb – 7.5/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 84%

 

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%

Hidden Figures (2016)

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The remarkable untold story of three African-American women who engineered America’s triumph in the space race, and ultimately women’s rights. Crashing through the $100 million barrier at the Box Office on opening weekend, and earning itself a Best Picture nomination at the Academy Awards, Hidden Figures has gained wonderful momentum worldwide. The world was captivated by the Friendship 7 mission, the first US attempt to match the Russians, and in the heat of the space race Glenn became a national hero. But behind the scenes the immense contribution was much less known.

Katherine Johnson, played by Taraji P. Henson, has an impeccable eye for solving incomprehensible equations, evident from her first scholarship – in which she surpasses her classmates (and teacher) by lightyears. Many years later, working alongside Mary Jackson, Janelle Monae, and Dorothy Vaughn, Octavia Spencer, in the segregated West Computing Group for NASA, Katherine becomes a human computer calculating advanced math for the space program. But despite the intensity and significance of their work, the women are relegated to separate bathrooms, lunch rooms and work facilities. After being bumped up to NASA’s Headquarters to check space-flight calculation trajectories, what unfolds for Katherine is a battle against white supremacy for recognition, respect and fundamental equality.

Octavia Spencer, who received an Oscar nomination Best Supporting Actress, plants her feet into a stubborn, assuring and mesmerising role as computation expert. The contrast between Spencer and her white supervisor, Kirsten Dunst, promotes the invaluable truth of the Civil Rights Movement – the oblivious racism, embedded into the unconsciousness of simple Americans. Yet here, Hidden Figures takes one enormous aspect of history and displays it beautifully, never once stopping to shove it into your face. Janelle Monae does an incredible job in driving the simplicity of emotion, conveying the underdog protagonist who is met with challenges but wins them over trope. But Hidden Figures manages to apply this formula spectacularly to tell an inspiring story. And of course, the phenomenal Taraji Henson shines among her tea-fed white male colleagues – drawing out the beautiful message of the film to inspire and encourage the world.

Every time we get a chance to get ahead they move the finish line, every time.

The wonderful women who carry Hidden Figures, display brilliance and authenticity to the very moment the credits roll down the screen. After walking out of the bustling (and in my case packed) movie theatre, your mind will soak in inspiration, fulfilment and encouragement remembering the film as being entirely wonderful. Let this film remind you that despite any hurdles, we can still cross the finish line. Breath-taking stories don’t stay hidden for long. This heart-winning film is one that cannot be missed.

★★★★★

Imdb – 7.9/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 92%

Manchester by the Sea (2016)

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“Masterfully told and beautifully acted” Empire ★★★★★

“A minor key masterpiece” The Guardian ★★★★★

The stricken, painful, heart-wrenching transgression of life is the current of Kenneth Lonergan’s newest addition, Manchester by the Sea. A glimpse of life in the real world, of unfathomable heartache, of lessons unlearned. The film already hailed by many as a masterpiece, Manchester by the Sea combines Arthur Miller and Woody Allen to express a superb abundance of beauty in turmoil.

The remarkable Casey Affleck is Lee Chandler, a lonely Boston janitor who carries copious poisonous rage towards the world and himself. The death of his beloved older brother Joe, who resonates only in generous reminiscence, saddles Lee with the sole guardianship of his only son Patrick, played by Lucas Hedges. Anger pulses through Lee’s ingenious face and remarkably indignant smile. What unfolds before Lee is an offer of poignant redemption by the parenthood and friendship of one incredibly unstable child. Yet the film doesn’t work out as simply as that.

Manchester by the Sea is deep, thoughtful and intrusive – a story about the complexity of forgiveness and compassion within the struggle of relieving pain. It is a story of parenting, but of the biological and completely improvised kind. On the surface this appears as a duller twist on the tedious childish-adult-forced-to-grow-up formula, by throwing heartache, loneliness and one orphan minor into the mix. But Lonergan is too indulged in his sensational actors, his undivided audience and perhaps reality itself to showcase any irrationality or formulae. But with the dry comedy pace and uncomfortable aesthetic of the film, there remains nothing but reality itself. This film is simply remarkable.

I can’t beat this, I’m so sorry.”

From start to finish, Manchester by the Sea is powerful and thought-provoking. Rarely do films showcase the harsh reality of those who live with pain and loss, stricken by the fate of one horrible mistake. A story driven by characters whom the actors embodied with precision and with excellence, Manchester by the Sea is an outstanding addition to the Best Picture nominees this year.

★★★★★

Imdb – 8.1/10 Rotten Tomatoes – 96%

Jackie (2016)

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The assassination of John F. Kennedy, a moment that shook America and the rest of the world, but a moment that destroyed the first lady. This is a portrait of Jackie Kennedy, a beautiful illustration of a stunned, stricken existence enveloped in a mesmerising tragedy. Jackie portrays a stunning moment by moment story of the aftermath of horror, amplified by lonely silence, long corridors, conspiratorial whispers, haunting close ups and memories of a once happy life.

Pablo Larrain takes one piece of slimmer of history to create art on screen – the before, during and after of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, but most sensationally through the eyes of his beloved wife Jackie. Painted on a canvas of Mica Levi’s mesmerising orchestral score, the haunting strings weave seamless sadness and horror into a heartbreaking performance from Natalie Portman. On the screen explodes a fierce and powerful woman, who unlike many others, must stay composed in the waking hours of her husband’s death. A moving psychological portrait of Jackie, who fearlessly attempts to maintain her husband’s legacy and his fabricated world of Camelot.

Natalie Portman’s performance is careful and intelligent, and thick with anxiety hidden under layers of poise and grace. The Monroe breathiness of her voice and the heartbreaking dialogue of her painted lips exposes the precise and unfathomable truth behind Jackie’s moments in hell, torn between living and dying in the aftermath of her heartbreak.

“There comes a time in man’s search for meaning when he realises that there are no answers. And when you come to the horrible and unavoidable realization, you accept it or you kill yourself. Or you simply stop searching.”

Natalie Portman almost effortlessly carries Jackie, in an intimate and personal piece that should be considered more as a portrait than as a film. With her recent nomination for Best Actress in the Academy Awards, it is no wonder Portman was the first choice for taking on a role so demanding and so intimately powerful – I doubt anyone could bring so much life to Jacqueline Kennedy. Pablo Larrain’s most daring and most profound piece, a historical monument to the life of a woman who’s actions will echo in history’s books.

I will march with Jack, alone if necessary.

★★★★☆

Imdb – 7.1/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 89%

Fences (2016)

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Director and front man of Fences, Denzel Washington, brings the passion product of the year to life with high distinction and incomprehensible emotion. Awarded for four Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Actress, Fences delivers a powerful, fervent and beautiful story on the backdrop sunlight, shadows and incredible performances.

An adaptation of August Wilson’s award winning stage play Fences, first performed in 1983, the film brings the daunting performances that haunted the stage to life. Troy Maxon is a middle-aged African-American man working as a garbage collector in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, whose vanished glory as a failed Baseball star gave him nothing more than a “pot to piss in, or a window to throw it off.” Perhaps Maxon’s cynical mood is the cause of his big appetite for booze, his loud humour, his wounded moods and his jolted pelvis, but the suppressed nature of the film is the contrast with his wife Rose, played by Viola Davis. What unfolds is one house struck with guilt and shame painted with spectacular attempts to mend an invisible fence of hopelessness and fear.

Fences is dense with such intelligence and compassion that you will struggle to tear your eyes from the screen. Although in single moments the air is thick with stage presence, the breathtakingly vibrant monologues and poetic stagecraft breath rare vulnerability of the characters to life. Denzel Washington and Viola Davis are phenomenally well paired as husband and wife, drawing rich emotion from what feels like the depth of their souls.The camera captures each of these moments perfectly, always with the characters listening just as intently as we are. The character dynamics are simply unlike anything I’ve seen in cinema before.

“Some people build fences to keep people out, and other people build fences to keep people in.”

Fences is fierce and powerful, and outstanding in the caliber of Best Picture nominees. There is a rich pleasure in watching phenomenal actors tackle issues of poverty, racism and death in a way that hits home with everyone in the audience. Fences is just as heartbreaking as it is beautiful, resonating in the hearts of all of us in one way or another.

★★★★★

Imdb – 7.5/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 94%