Review: Ghost In The Shell

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The most telling line in this version of Ghost in The Shell is: “Your uniqueness is a virtue. Embrace it, and you will be at peace.” Delivered here by iconic Japanese comedian, TV show host, actor, and arthouse director ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano, it is a bold statement coming from a live-action Hollywood remake of a Japanese animated film. The source material for the mid-nineties animated classic, directed by Mamoru Oshii, has spawned many direct sequels and spin-offs, and heavily influenced the 1999 mega-hit Hollywood blockbuster, The Matrix, is in fact a 1989 Manga (loosely translated, “Mobile Armoured Riot Police: The Ghost In The Shell”) which I am guessing was liberally influenced by William Gibson’s cyberpunk novel, “Neuromancer” (long has this been trying to find its way to the big screen), and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (the latter weirdly -barely- adapted from Philip K. Dick’s novella “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”)

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The Japanese port city in Ghost in the Shell visually resembles the future Los Angeles of Blade Runner (which, again I am guessing, was inspired by Tokyo’s visually dense Shibuya’s district and Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira) commensurate with what can be realized on screen at the present moment with $100M. Even the cyber-surgery sequences seem lifted somewhat from HBO’s Westworld, itself a re-envisioning (inverting?) of the 1973 Michael Crichton movie.

(Whew.)

What can we read from this line about ‘uniqueness’ in a property that is so very much a copy of a copy of a copy? To that, I quote another line in Ghost In The Shell, “We cling to memories as if they define us, but they don’t. What we do is what defines us.”

This begs the question: What does this version do to define itself?

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Mamo 460: THE MAMO !!!POWER!!! LIST 2016

Mamo!

POWER!! Who has it? Who needs it? Who wants it? Who lost it? Team Mamo recaps the year 2016 in movers and shakers as the pop cultural landscape is wracked by celebrity deaths, digital doubles and orange-faced idiots. Hey 2016: don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. And for sure don’t fall down that flight of stairs, accidentally set yourself on fire and throw yourself off a bridge.

Trailer: Ghost In The Shell

Melancholic pop song. Check. Lots of hyper-cut violence. Check. Mystery box promise. Check. We really have to have a conversation on how to cut trailers. I do not mean to single out the first full trailer for the live-action remake of classic anime, Ghost In The Shell, because hey, it looks pretty good in a noirish cyberpunk fashion. (And hey, there is Beat Takeshi in a small appearance!) But I an tell you that if we keep advertising blockbusters this way, it is its own kind of fatigue.

For the uninitiated, in 1995, long before The Matrix was put into production by Joel Silver and The Wachowski Brothers, Japanese wunderkind, Mamoru Oshii and a large team of traditional animators adapted the 1988 Manga into an influential-in-its-own-right post-Blade Runner cyberpunk masterpiece. It also broke just as ‘anime’ was coming into vogue in America (spawning that awful term, Japanimation, may it never be spoken out loud again!) which garnered it a pretty wide North American theatrical release, which was rare both then an now. Meanwhile, in Japan it has since spawned one major (and quite opaque) cinematic sequel, several (more accessible) OVA spin-offs, as well as TV shows, books, et cetera.

Rupert Sanders (Snow White And The Huntsman) is finishing up on the often delayed American remake, see the trailer below, starring Scarlett Johansson as the iconic synthetic police woman, “The Major” who works with the counter-cyberterrorist organization in mid 21st century urban Japan.

During production, this has bred its own kind of controversy (#OscarSoWhite) in recasting an Asian character — in spite of being an android in an animated franchise — as a white girl. Currently, the landscape around this picture is fraught with peril; perhaps not as much as the recent Ghostbusters remake, but still plenty. The producers have attempted to dodge the issue by stating that the film is not set in Japan, but rather post-national urban setting where all races are represented. Personally, I am more interested if Sanders and his three screenwriters (two male, one female) screenwriters can bring the intelligence, style and wit to the picture, and not make it so forgettably ‘vanilla’ like his previous CGI-laden Snow White movie.

Nevertheless, if you have not had the pleasure of the 1995 version, I recommend finding it, even as I tentatively look forward to what this new version might possibly be. The imagery sure is striking, and much like the western, I’m always a little please to see cyberpunk poke its head into the world of big studio pictures.

One last thing, it appears that the poster designers are fans of Aeon Flux, a bio-cyberpunk, female driven blockbuster from 2005, that was itself a remake of a violent animated series. Unfortunately the Charlize Theron film was not very successful at the box office at the time; but, in my humble opinion, is nevertheless a pretty solid (and currently overlooked) entry in the genre.

Micro Teasers: Ghost In The Shell

After years of false starts and unfulfilled promises, the live-action remake of Mamoru Oshii’s influential animated feature, Ghost In The Shell is coming with Scarlett Johansson in the lead role (and Michael Pitt, Beat Takeshi and Juliette Binoche on support). Throughout a recent episode of Mr. Robot, a series of 6 second micro teasers showed during the commercial breaks, and they have been re-constructed to form a teaser trailer of sorts, and the result is a creepy Under The Skin (ish) vibe going here. Which I quite like.

Review: Hail, Caesar!

“Squint! Squint against the grandeur!” so the film director can be heard offscreen during a series of dailies, which unspool in a Hollywood Studio screening room midway through Hail, Caesar! If the Coen Brothers did not definitively poke their finger in the eye of the crass factory of dreams that is tinsel town in Barton Fink, they take another look, albeit a more broader and effervescent one, at the foibles of making pictures in the late 1940s. Considering they use the same fictional studio, Capitol Pictures (“Where the writer is king!”) one might think of their latest as the loosest of sequels to that 1991 Cannes winning film. More interestingly, Hail, Caesar! is a playfully spiteful grab-bag of in-jokes in old Hollywood and the own eclectic filmography.

Josh Brolin is Eddie Mannix, Capitol Pictures’ executive producer, problem solver, and media fixer, a character loosely based on the real man of the same name, who served the same function for MGM (and was thought to be complicit in the death of the original on-screen Superman, George Reeves.) The Coen’s give us an exceptionally busy 27 hours in the life of Mannix, the span of time between two Catholic confessions, where the devoutly converted catholic obsesses over the minutiae of his marriage and personal life, while compartmentalizing, and fully omitting, the myriad of sins of his profession.

A job that entails supervising four movies being shot on the studio lot, all plagued by problems in their own unique ways. The sword-and-sandals, ‘Jesus Picture’ star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney, sillier than ever – an injoke reminiscent of Steve Buscemi’s ever decreasing mortal remains in the Coenography) is missing, and the gossip columnists (both played by Tilda Swinton, both underused), the sailor tap-dancing musical has an alarming case of closeted gayness (and a wonderful cameo from the Highlander frenchman, Christopher Lambert), the Busby Berkeley mermaid picture has a star (Scarlett Johannson, in a glorious Noo Yawk accent) and whose fish tail is getting more ill-fitting by the hour due to a pregnancy scandal about to break, and a Euro-flavoured drawing-room melodrama has been saddled with an aw-shucks singing cowboy leading man (Alden Ehrenreich in a breakout performance) who is far, far out of his depth.

Mannix navigates this shifting sea of apocalyptic problems (at one point, a mushroom cloud is presented on screen in the manner of The Hudsucker Proxies‘ Hula-Hoop), strung together by the Coens with their penchant for noir-ish plots, with an almost savant-like talent that is the antithesis of both the Dude, Jeff Bridges’ boozy and drugged flailing in The Big Lebowski, or Billy Bob Throton’s Ed Crane, the quietly ambitious Barber in The Man Who Wasn’t There. Whitlock’s kidnapping is abetted by both by a spiked drink and a dry cleaning truck, so they are clearly nodding to both, while demonstrating there are so many orthogonal directions to take neo-noir that the surface has only been scratched in the past 75 years.

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Trailer: Hail, Caesar!

The Coen Brothers’ latest film looks to be capitalizing on what they do so effortlessly: Wacky and convoluted kidnapping comedy. Set in the 1950s, in Hollywood movie studio, Capitol Pictures, where a super expensive sword and sandals picture is underway. Their main contracted star, Baird Whitlock, played by George Clooney, is flubbing his lines and wasting a lot of pricey resources (and apparently, there also a sailor musical with Channing Tatum called “Merrily, We Dance” shooting next door.) The would-be blockbuster is in trouble, and that is before Whitlock is kidnapped by a mysterious group known as “The Future.” Even if there is nothing more to that name than simply a set up for a phone-message gag, shown here in the trailer, that’d be fine, because it’s that good.

Taking place a fair bit on Studio backlots with all the hustle and bustle and politics, it will come as no surprise that the cast, is ridiculously stacked. Scarlett Johansson is back in a Coen Brother’s film (after only the tiniest of roles in The Man Who Wasn’t There), as is Tilda Swinton (Burn After Reading) and Fred Melamed (who was a scene stealer in A Serious Man.) Frances McDormand is a given, but here they’ve made her the editor, in the picture. New faces for the directors include Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill and Josh Brolin, the latter playing the studio boss. But if you keep going down the cast, you’ll see Clancy Brown, Christopher Lambert, Robert Picardo, Fisher Stevens, John Carpenter regular Peter Jason has a small role, and then there is Dolph Lundgren. (Hopefully he gets in a bar fight with Tatum.) With Roger Deakins behind the camera and Carter Burwell doing the music, well now, you’ve got yourselves a picture, don’t you. Cut and Print.

Cinecast Episode 362 – Primordial Dwarfism

 
Aafter nearly a three week hiatus, Weeeeee’re Baaaaa-aaack. In what is a true first on the Cinecast’s 8 year history, all three of Andrew, Kurt and Matt assembled in the same space to do a show with no telecommunications/web bridge. So, of course we pick a noisy bar and record over too many cocktails. With munchies and Montreal Smoked Meat, on the docket are three main reviews: Guardians of the Galaxy, Boyhood and Lucy which, oddly enough GotG gets the consensus favourite. Ever want to hear Kurt praise a Disney-Marvel production, now is your chance.

There is no 1984 project this week, but rest assured things will return to tomorrow with 2010: The Year We Make Contact next week, and Stop Making Sense after that.

Kurt does his annual 1+ hour recap of The Fantasia International Film Festival (which was also the source of the imported smoked meat) which is followed by a slew of titles from Matt (James Cameron Rape Sci-fi, Abortion Comedy, Punk Catharsis) and Andrew (Zach Braff, Heavy Metal, Alan Partridge and the last of Phillip Seymour Hoffman) with a little Terry Gilliam to round out the picture. LIVE FROM MINNEAPOLIS it is a lengthy, boozy, robust episode of the Cinecast, where bartenders, paramedics, rowdy billiard players, and the odd waitress all make for background character and salty language is tossed around in public spaces.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!


 
 

 
 

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Review: “Lucy”

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In response to those grumbling about the experience of watching Lucy (Luc Besson’s latest big effects action film – this time with Scarlett Johansson as the kick ass lead), I’m of two minds…Going in to the movie, I was simply hoping it would at least be a somewhat fun trifle of a summer flick on the order of Limitless. On that scale, it hits its target the majority of the time (though you’ll have to decide for yourself if it deserves bonus or penalty points for its rather kooky ending that is part 2001: A Space Odyssey, part Isaac Asimov and part “You’ve gotta be kidding me…”). However, I can’t help but think about what the film could have been…How it could have explored the nature of the brain from Lucy’s perspective and touched on how the organ evolved, continues to do so and manages to have such a vast array of amazing abilities and structural flaws. That probably would have departed drastically from what I hoped for going in, but the possibility is just so tantalizing…

The movie you do get is patently ridiculous. That’s OK though – even though it’s not overly thrilling, has laughable science, is best when no one (except maybe the always menacing Choi Min-sik) is talking and has CGI effects that get in their own way sometimes, I’ll be damned if I wasn’t at least somewhat entertained. Most often that was due to the built-in ridiculousness, but at some point it’s easy enough to roll with the whole thing and realize that it’s just one of “those” movies. As it slowly but surely ramps up the silly, it lets you reset your approach to it, laugh with and/or at it and then settle back with a bit of a grin on your face.

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Cinecast Episode 349 – Smell the Glove

 
You’d think this were an episode of “Coast to Coast.” Aliens, Elvis, Stonehenge, Witches, talking birds, dragons, world war III and amps that go to eleven. Matt Gamble is a special guest this week to talk about the “exhausting marathon” that is The Raid 2. We dive into the psyche of Nigel and David and lament the loss of all the past drummers. This is Spinal Tap in all its glory folks (now kick our assess, we insist!) Kurt saw Rio 2 for some reason and Andrew continues MSPIFF with Witching & Bitching and accidentally watches the “wrong movie” when he confuses Kevin MacDonald for Bruce MacDonald. Everything feels loose and foggy in this episode for some reason. Which is just the way Jonathan Glazer (Under the Skin) likes it.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!

 


 

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Full show notes are under the seats…
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Review: Under The Skin

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A long shot of a man waiting for a bus on a cool foggy morning. The road winds through a valley where the stop and bench are at the bottom, and snakes up the other side. A woman walks into the frame, one whom we will be following as curious, but baffled onlookers for the duration of the film. The shot lingers, gives us time, for our eyes to wander around the frame as the camera is not focused on any one thing. We know the bus is coming and are drawn, but not forced, to keep looking in the top-right corner of the screen. The two people keep their distance. The bus arrives. We are told nothing, merely shown. The scene evokes Haneke and Antonioni, but feels original in how it drops relatively anonymous people into the landscape. This is one of many sequences of visual ambition and tone in Under The Skin, the most excitingly odd film to arrive this year. It’s about sex and death and all the strangeness of life on earth in between the moment of conception and final expiry.

Opening in a vaguely Kubrickian overture, from a single pinprick of light to what appears to be the assembly of a human eye, it is a lengthy indication that the film is about observation. Not for the faint of cinematic heart, Jonathan Glazer’s wildly experimental, and uncompromisingly strange new film marks the return to directing after a nine year absence. A decade is too long to wait after the magnificence of 2004’s Birth, but the result confirms the wait was indeed worth it. Adapting Michael Faber’s quite unconventional novel in a decidedly unconventional way, Glazer and his co-writer Walter Campbell jettison more than half of source material – the half that contains explanation as to what is actually going on – to focus on female predator at the centre of the story and her discovery of morality? purpose? the good and the bad of humanity? Almost ritualistically, she picks up stray, unattached men in the city, talks to them to establish they have no family or friends, then lures them into a dark cottage where clothes are peeled off item by item, dropping like leaves from a tree, onto the glassy darkness of the floor. The men are pulled into the room by the purity of sexual instinct, trancelike, and then…disposed of.

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