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%

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

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All monster films fall into two kinds of categories – one that takes its time to reveal the monster and one that shows you the monster straight away. The star of this show is front and center for the entire 118 minute running time. We’re all accustomed to the mighty King Kong from Merian Coopers’ 1933 original all the way to 2005’s Jack Black reboot, there are just way too many spiels to list. But you’ll be happy to know this remake is engaging, mesmerising and Tom Hiddleston (I’m sold).

Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ reset of the Kong legend returns to 1973, as the last American troops are pulling out of Vietnam. Colonel Packard, played by Samuel L. Jackson (I’m sold sold), is reluctant to leave the battlefield, suspended in an existential crisis as the war draws to a close. Packard’s right-hand man Chapman, Toby Kebbell, looks forward to returning home to his son, as do all of the other helicopter squadron members do. But on the other side of the world, Government representative John Goodman relentlessly pursues a hollow-earth theory expedition on Skull Island. A land mass perpetually overcast by violent storms, there is no limit to what could be discovered. He hires James Conrad, Tom Hiddleston, to be the skilled tracker on the mission to chronicle any findings, and piggybacks on the helicopter squadron to discover monsters, bombs and a grizzly John C. Reilly (Step Brothers).

Vogt-Roberts and the film’s screenwriting trio play out the occasionally troubling conflicts of Vietnam on the backdrop of a panicked survival group attempting to escape a forbidden island. The period setting throughout Skull Island is based on an appealing soundtrack by the stooges and Jefferson Airplane, but the updated man-vs-beast conflict of previous King Kong tales roots in the blood-soaked anxiety of war. The cycle of war is astonishing, and superbly written – unlike anything you’ve seen in any other King Kong film. The island is richly bathed in colour of both natural and post-production, but this unique style sets it apart from any modern re-imagining. Designs are impressive, creations are emotive and breathtaking … it’s showy … but it works.

Skull Island takes on the role of mixing in memorable actors in even the smallest parts of the film. Few of the characters are built upon more than an introduction or a rapid-survival failure. John C. Reilly is particularly spot-on, with a mix of mania and sorrow, in the middle of an extravagant tale of monsters. Goodman is a selfish deadpan, Jackson derails with his eyes fuming with rage and Larson delivers a kind of kindness and compassion that causes Hiddleston to run around in gas masks for her. The cast is sensational really, and in my opinion a great combination for an epic spiel like this one.

Perhaps the most satisfying part of Kong comes after you’re done reeling from the fun of the film. This definitely won’t be the last we see of this fantastic ape, but it’s the kind of messy enjoyable throwback that will leave you wanting more.

★★★☆☆

Imdb – 7.1/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 79%

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%

Moonlight (2016)

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Moonlight features a black man’s face as its landscape, divided into three slivers of different shades – from turquoise to amethyst to black. Little do you know, the face is cleverly depicting the faces of one man from boy to teen to man. Intricately and intensely, this becomes the very arc of Moonlight, the moving art of identity, family and masculinity.

The little boy we first encounter is known as Little, whom Alex Hibbert heartbreakingly composes with a depth of loneliness and fear that will bring tears to your eyes. Bullied by school kids, chased into hiding and neglected by his troubled mother, Little stumbles upon Juan, played by Mahershala Ali, who takes him in to safety with him and his girlfiend. What follows is the journey of one boy into adolescence and then manhood, battered by fears of belonging, fears of living and ultimately fears of his creeping identity.

These three age structures first composed by Tarell Alvin McCraney, inspired rising director Barry Jenkins, of Dear White People, to create an intricate masterpiece of an almost Black Lives Matter context, illustrating abuse and torment on a backdrop of poor black communities, drugs and violence. But in spite of the harsh complexities of Moonlight, Barry Jenkins finds a tenderness and compassion that could take your breath away. The search for manhood has never been so thoughtful or moving. But of course, Nicholas Britell’s score transports the visual beauty of Moonlight into more than just a story, but a dreamlike sphere, where single moments are filled with power, melancholia, liberation and pre-eminence. Illustrated with superb intensity, each moment is powerful in itself.

I wasn’t never worth anything. Never did anything I actually wanted to do, all I could do was what other folks thought I should do. I wasn’t never myself.”

The diversity of Moonlight’s visual poetry has a gentle ability to transport viewers into a hidden world with honesty and tenacity. Barry Jenkins has delivered a powerful film.

★★★★☆

Imdb – 8.2/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 98%

Collateral Beauty (2017)

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Drawn to grief by unthinkable loss, surrounded by a world so unfair and unjust, one man navigates the deepest and cruellest pits of his heart to find his life again. Very highly criticised upon its release early this week, star-studded Collateral Beauty battles within its ability to connect with some (like me) and hopelessly crash for others.

The film unfolds with Will Smith as Howard, the guiding figure at a New York City agency in partnership with Edward Norton, Kate Winslet and Michael Pena. But after the death of his six-year-old daughter and inevitably the collapse of his marriage, Howard’s professional capabilities breakdown and his sanity slowly deteriorates. His coping mechanisms compel him to write letters to abstracts – Time, Love and Death – while lurking around, but never entering, a help centre for grieving parents. As time goes on, Howard begins to learn that although time can take, it can also give new hope.

The screenplay glides with literary allusions, visual effects are sparing and beautiful, the cast is excellent and award-winning director David Frankel, who scored success with The Devil Wears Prada and Marley & Me, brings a level of philosophical sophistication to the film very rare in contemporary Hollywood. The combination of Helen Mirren, Jacob Latimore and Kiera Knightley as Death, Time and Love, and Edward Norton, Kate Winslet and Michael Pena as Howard’s best friends, helps to carry the heart and soul of the film. Considering Will Smith clenches his jaw throughout the majority of the film, unable to express himself outside of his grief, the supporting actors challenge him impressively through outlets of existentialism, whilst visibly fighting their own wars. Collateral Beauty contains a very impressive outlook on life and the fabric of human emotion.

As it turns out, Will Smith’s own father was diagnosed with Cancer three weeks into filming. As Will Smith mentioned in a recent interview, “Having to face my father’s impending death while working on the struggles of my character, helped us to connect.” This is precisely the mesmerising character struggle that rises in Will Smith, to be able to showcase his personal grief on both an artificial and personal backdrop of hopelessness.

We’re here to connect. Love, time, death. Now these three things connect every single human being on earth. We long for love, we wish we had more time, and we fear death.

Collateral Beauty might have crashed for some, but just like me (and everyone in the cinema around me who cried in the hypnotising emotional build up), the film explored philosophy and humanity in a way that was insightful, captivating and completely wonderful.

★★★★☆

Imdb – 6.5/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 12%