Rapid Review: Ghost in the Shell (2017)

ghost in the shell

In the new future the difference between human and machine blurs as humans use cybernetics to enhance themselves. Among even them is Major (Scarlett Johansson), the first of kind as the sole survivor of a terrorist attack who has her mind placed in a mechanical body.  Now working as a super soldier with very few memories of her past Major finds herself facing an enemy who may know more about her then she thinks.

Before it was even released Ghost in the Shell, which is based on a Japanese anime, faced criticism for whitewashing its main character. It’s a shame that the film didn’t take the ‘risk’ in casting an Asian actress in the role but I’m not sure even that would have been enough to save this film.

It’s not an out-and-out disaster for example there are some nice visual effects on display and the opening fight scene which includes a creepy geisha bot is good. The idea of he cybernetic enhancements could have led to some really interesting themes about the blurred lines between humans and robots  and what really makes someone human. Unfortunately none of these plot threads anywhere compelling and the film is devoid of much originality. A shame really because from what I understand of the anime and manga it had a huge influence on a lot of talented people like the the Wachowski siblings. Ghost in the Shell also has the misfortune of being released after a whole host of films and TV shows have successfully explored the same thing (Ex Machina, Westworld and Humans to name but a few). It also doesn’t help that Major is by her nature a blank slate, which is not a criticism of Johansson’s acting who is fine in the role, but it’s hard to root for a character who is mostly emotionless.

Rating 2.5/5 – a missed opportunity by Hollywood this sci-fi actioner lacks substance and originality

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13 Reasons Why – the new Netflix Obsession

Netflix's_13_Reasons_Why_title_screen

If you go onto Netflix there are loads of TV series including Netflix own original series to choose from. But before you settle down to watch establish shows like Orange is the New Black or the latest Marvel instalment consider turning your attention to one of Netflix newest shows. 13 Reasons Why may be based off YA material (which I personally have no problem with) but it is a series adults can, and should, consider vital viewing, especially if you have teenagers yourself.

13 Reasons Why revolves around teenager Clay Jenson who finds a box of audio cassette tapes left on his doorstep. As he starts listening to them he realises the tapes are from Hannah Baker, a classmate who recently committed suicide. Each tape list a reason why Hannah decided to take her own life, and names the individual responsible. As Clay listens to the tapes he realises those named on the tapes have previously been given the tapes before him and that having the tapes means he is one of the reasons why Hannah decided to kill herself.

As you can imagine from the subject matter 13 Reasons Why isn’t always an easy watch, but then it isn’t meant to be. There are lots of news articles about bullying and teen suicide, with social media becoming a new way to torture a victim, something Hannah endures in the show. It’s therefore a testament to the writing that these issues don’t feel sensationalized, exploitative or melodramatic. While this can be a heavy show at times there are also scenes each episode of laughter and touching moments between Clay and Hannah in flashback. Of course these scenes are filled with bittersweet feelings as you already know the outcome for Hannah.

As the show moves between the two timelines, (each episode being one of the reasons why) with Clay in the present and Hannah in the past, we see not only how Clay is reacting to the events but also the other individuals featured on the tapes. Some are remorseful of their actions, others not so much. Some of the reasons taken on their own may not seem like a big deal, which is how some individuals feel. But the message of the tapes, and the show itself is that everyone is responsible for each other. Something you say or do may not seem that bad to you but you don’t know what someone else is going through or how one thing you did may have unforseen consequences further down the line.

Another reason this show elevates itself above other teen series is the casting. Each actor is excellent in their roles. The individuals on the tape range in likeability despite their actions, and the majority of them are given hints of back stories to explain why they may have acted like they did. It may not excuse them but we get a better understanding and it helps make them three-dimensional characters. You also get supporting characters on Clay’s side like his friend Tony ( Christian Navarro) who is also mysteriously involved with the tapes. Then there’s Kate Walsh and Brian d’Arcy James who play Hannah’s devastated parents trying to discover why their daughter killed herself. Both are brilliant in their roles, with Walsh in particular able to grab hold of your emotions and not let go until you’ve cried buckets of tears.

The two stand outs of the show however are its leads Dylan Minnette and Katherine Langford as Clay and Hannah. Langford has a difficult role in playing a character where every possible bad thing that could happen does, and make her feel like a real person and not just a victim. You smile when she has moments of happiness and feel her pain when she’s mistreated. There are specific moments where you can see the hope disappearing from Hannah’s eyes and it’s brutal. Despite knowing the ending you constantly wish during the flashbacks that something will happen to stop her. Then there’s Minnette who is the heart of the show. Clay is a good guy but he still has flaws and sometimes will say or do things he’ll come to regret later. As the other individuals look to see if Clay will remain silent he is the conscience for the other characters, holding a mirror up to what they have done. There are so many scenes where Minnette will just break your heart and he nails the performance.

Towards the last half of the series Netflix have guidance before certain episodes in case viewers may find a few scenes distressing to watch. Those of Hannah’s suicide are particularly difficult to watch and are more graphic than some may be prepared for. It’s not an easy watch but it also doesn’t feel exploitive and importantly it doesn’t romanticise suicide at all.

The show itself is not perfect. It could have been a few episodes shorter and the involvement of Clay’s mother in a bullying lawsuit against the school feels forced. However this is a series that I was gripped by, watching it all over a six-day period (damn work!). It is also a show that will remain with you long after the series has ended and contemplating many of its subject matters and themes. I hope you will consider watching it.

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Power Rangers

Power_Rangers_(2017_Official_Theatrical_Poster)

Five high school students discover an ancient spaceship and they must become Power Rangers in order to prevent an attack by the evil Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks). It’s morphin time!

Ah yes the popular 90’s kid show is back on the big screen. This time the do-gooder teens are introduced in a Breakfast Club type situation and all come from different cliques. We have Jason/Red Ranger (Dacre Montgomery) the jock, Kimberly/Pink Ranger (Naomi Scott) the popular girl, Billy/Blue Ranger (RJ Cyler) the smart one, Zack/Black Ranger (Ludi Lin) the rebel and Trini/Yellow Ranger (Becky G) the loner. Attempts are made to give the Power Rangers some personality to varying degrees of success. Billy/Blue Ranger is the most likeable as the geeky one who is the most excited about being a Ranger. Jason/Red Ranger is the least interesting as a former jock with the obligatory father issues-yawn!

You can feel the film trying to be more modern and diverse such as giving us Power Rangers that are autistic and LGBT and making them sympathetic and relatable. However the LGBT moment is a blink and you miss it, so while the intention is good, you half wonder why they bother. It’s just a shame the film couldn’t take more risks in more areas and be more than a by the numbers adventure.

It might not be so glaring if the action were up to standard, but while the Rangers discovering and testing their new-found powers are enjoyable the majority of the movie is afraid to be fun. The climatic action scenes are underwhelming and you don’t get that wow feeling when the Rangers morph for the first time. It’s almost as if fun is a dirty word.

Still Elizabeth Banks brings enjoyable campness to the villainous Rita Repulsa. Of course she is nowhere near as hammy as the screeching T.V version, but she is the only one to revel in the ridiculous of the premise.

 

Rating 2.5/5 – Banks and Cyler aside this Superhero franchise is average at best

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Rapid Review: Life

Life_(2017_film)

Six members of the International Space Station find evidence of life on Mars. However as the organism grows and develops it would appear that this discovery could be deadly!

Life starts off very tense as you wonder what this new being is and what does it want? The scene where Calvin (yes they named the organism Calvin!) reacts badly for the first time is nail-biting and horrific. As the film carries on you really squirm with every bone crunching and blood splatter moment that happens. There are also some good surprises which I wasn’t expecting to happen.

However after a solid start in the second half the pace starts to drop and the action slows down. Despite attempts to give each character a bit of back story and depth they still manage to do really stupid things. For example the idea of ‘let’s poke an alien life form and see how it reacts!’-spoiler it ends badly. You also can’t help but feel this film might be received better if everyone wasn’t waiting for Alien: Covenant to arrive.

Rating 3.5 – tense and gripping at times but not original enough to really stand out

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Quotable Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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It’s been 20 years (!) since Buffy the Vampire Slayer was brought onto our screens, making us laugh and cry all at the same time. So to celebrate here is a few quotes from my all time favourite show. Enjoy and add any of your own favourite quotes from the series in the comments below.

Xander: “I laugh in the face of danger! Then I hide until it goes away.”

(The Witch)

Angelus:  “Dear Buffy. I’m still trying to decide the best way to send my regards.

Spike: “Why don’t you rip her lungs out? It might make an impression.

Angelus: Lacks… poetry.

Spike: It doesn’t have to. What rhymes with lungs?

(Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered)

Cordelia: Buffy. You’re really campaigning for bitch-of-the-year, aren’t you?

Buffy: As defending champion, you nervous?

(When She Was Bad)

Xander: No one is judging you. It’s understandable. Spike is strong and mysterious and sorta compact but well-muscled.

Buffy: I am not having sex with Spike! But I’m starting to think that you might be!

(Intervention)

Cordelia: (To Harmony) You’re a sheep. All you ever do is what everyone else does just so you can say you did it first. And here I am, scrambling for your approval, when I’m way cooler than you are ’cause I’m not a sheep. I do what I wanna do, and I wear what I wanna wear. And you know what? [Xander smiles] I’ll date whoever the hell I wanna date. No matter how lame he is. [Xander stops smiling]

(Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered)

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Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Beauty_and_the_Beast_2017_poster

The animated Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is great and bookish Belle is a classic Disney heroine. So the live action adaptation of the Best Picture nominated movie has a lot of expectations behind it. Can it enchant a new audience?

Belle (Emma Watson) is an outcast among the people in her village, and longs for something more in life. She soon gets her chance when her father (Kevin Kline) is held prisoner in a mysterious palace for stealing a rose (the fiend!) and swaps herself in his place. However the prince of the palace is an enchanted Prince (Dan Stevens) who will remain under a beastly appearance unless someone can see beneath th beast and fall in love with him. Who could that be?

It can come across as Beauty and the Beast Karaoke as the live action film follows the same plot, characters and songs as the animated version. But considering how popular that movie is the studio would be crazy to change too much and most of the changes are to enhance characters (such as making Belle an inventor) or explain plot holes from the animated movie (such as why no one knows about the big freaking castle nearby). Most of these changes are welcome addition however it’s a shame the new songs don’t shine as much as the classics.

After the new prologue feature Dan Stevens in pre-Beast get up the film properly gets going as we follow Belle around her village set to the song ‘Belle’. From then on the audience is easily drawn into the story all over again. It has to be said the sets and costumes are a feast for the eyes, and while they can’t match the gorgeousness of the animation there’s still something striking about seeing this all come to life in live action.

Emma Watson is wonderful as Belle, bringing warmth, intelligence and modern sensibilities to Belle. At first I wasn’t sure about Dan Stevens’ Beast however the more interaction he had with Watson’s Belle the more I was drawn to his character. The stand out character though has to be Luke Evans’ Gaston who looks as if he was ripped out of the animated movie to play the dastardly villain. Evans strikes the right balance of humour, menace and over the top theatrics to bring Gaston to life. His and Josh Gad’s LeFou have a great rendition of the song ‘Gaston’ and is one of the many highlights of the film.

Theres been much made about Disney’s first openly gay character being present in this film and the ‘gay moment’ will have most people saying “is that it?” However on reflection it is still a big step in Disney history and the fact that Disney knows their box office will be restricted because of this (with some countries rating it adults only or banning it outright altogether) means it’s a brave move on their part. As this movie is also the first to feature an interracial kiss, one can hope Disney can continue taking further steps towards diversity in its future films.

Beauty and the Beast is an easy film to be swept away and charmed with, and with everything that’s going on in the world its nice to whirl yourself into a world where kindness and inner beauty shines through.

Rating 4/5 – sure to be a new family favourite, allow yourself to be their guest at a cinema near you

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Kong: Skull Island

Kong_Skull_Island_poster

Its been 12 years since the last Kong movie (which is like 1000 years in Hollywood’s remake/reboot happy world) so now the world is given Kong: Skull Island. And as Kong is due to battle Godzilla in 2019 Godzilla vs Kong, this Kong is bigger than we have ever seen him before. But does bigger ultimately equal better?

As the Vietnam war is coming to an end a group of scientists, soldiers and (somehow) a photojournalist are sent on a secret journey to a mysterious island. When they get there they are quickly met by a gigantic ape (guess who!) and he is not pleased to see them. However Kong is the least of the problems as the island is full of many dangerous creatures that may prevent them from ever leaving Skull island.

Considering I was not particularly bothered by another King Kong movie Kong:Skull Island is way more fun then it has any right to be. Unlike 2012’s Godzilla, Kong: Skull Island has a lighter tone allowing some laughs to come in and makes sure we see plenty of Kong from the off. This newer, bigger Kong looks great thanks to the special effects with much attention made to small details such as the palm of his hands that really works. The various creatures are also respectively cool and/or creepy. Those who have arachnophobia like me should watch out for the giant spider scene!

The human characters are perhaps not as engaging as they should be considering the talent involved but neither are they such a drag that you’re hoping the islands inhabitants would east them already. Maybe cutting a few characters out would have helped give the film more focused.  Also a little more depth should have gone into Tom Hiddlestone and Brie Larson’s characters to really make them stand out, but I’m mostly relieved that Larson has broken the best actress Oscar winners curse of following a win with a dreadful genre movie (Halle Berry and Charlize Theron, I’m looking at you). The most memorable character is John C. Reilly’s former soldier whose been stuck on the island since the 40’s and may have lost some of his marbles but provides a lot of the movie’s humour.

The move away from the 30s setting to the 70s setting is a risk that pays off as we’re viewing Kong in a new way and through the eyes of characters who’ve seen the horror of the second world war and the Vietnam war. The movie tries to draw more parallel and references between these experiences which is not always successful but at least it tries something different. Its more successful as an entertaining action/monster movie than when it takes itself too seriously.

Rating 3.5/5 – not a classic but a fun monster mash adventure for a night at the cinema

 

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