Stephen reviews: Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Starring Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk, Takeshi Kitano, Juliette Binoche, Michael Pitt, Chin Han, Peter Ferdinando

Directed by Rupert Sanders


I was looking forward to this movie with a mixture of hope and dread. My expectations were set low, but at the same time I had a hunch that Ghost in the Shell was possibly the only anime franchise that might work well as a Hollywood production. The serious tone, cyberpunk setting, and evil corporations mesh well with the kind of FX-heavy, sci-fi action films that Hollywood likes to churn out. So does it work? Well, if by working you mean that it is a functional mass market formulaic Hollywood film, then yes I suppose it does. It checks off all the boxes that modern Hollywood films are supposed to have at any rate.

The film is basically a hodgepodge of scenes from the various anime titles, mostly the first movie, so it was pretty much all stuff I’ve already seen. I can’t really call this a bad thing since this is an adaptation of the story. This live-action film was honestly in a tough spot. It had to stay true enough to the original to avoid pissing off the fanboys, but it still had to have enough mainstream appeal to make a profit. On top of that, there has never been a truly successful Hollywood anime adaptation (sure, I liked Fist of the North Star, but that was hardly a commercial hit), so they were understandably playing this pretty cautiously and avoiding risky artistic decisions. This leaves the film kinda drab, neither good nor bad.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Ghost in the Shell (2017) →

Stephen reviews: Ghost in the Shell: Arise (2013)

Ghost in the Shell: Arise [攻殻機動隊 ARISE, Kōkaku Kidōtai Arise] (2013)

Starring Maaya Sakamoto, Kenichirou Matsuda, Tarasuke Shingaki, Ikkyuu Juku, Miyuki Sawashiro, Kazuya Nakai, Shunsuke Sakuya, Takurou Nakakuni, Yōji Ueda, Tomoyuki Dan, Mayumi Asano

Directed by Kazuchika Kise & Masahiko Murata (ep. 1), Atsushi Takeuchi (ep. 2), Kazuchika Kise (ep. 3), Susumu Kudo (ep. 4)


My journey through the Ghost in the Shell franchise took a snag with Arise, since I should have watched it before watching The New Movie, which is the proper conclusion of the Arise series. But, alas, I confused this series with Ghost in the Shell: Arise: Alternative Architecture, the re-edited for TV version of Arise, and I got the release dates messed up. If I had watched Arise first, it would have spared me a good deal of confusion with that film. But I still think both the series and the film would have been a bit confusing anyway. Of course this is Ghost in the Shell we’re talking about, so confusion is part of the package, but I think watching the film before the series even made the series more confusing.

Arise is a four-episode series, and each episode is a full hour long. Each one has a different crisis going on, but they all build up to finding the origins of a new computer virus called Fire-Starter (or maybe that’s the name of the programmer who designed it) that can rewrite a cyborg’s memories. At this point in the timeline, rewriting memories has never been done before, so the authorities are at a loss for how to combat the threat, and aren’t even convinced it’s actually possible.

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Stephen reviews: Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie (2015)

Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie [攻殻機動隊 新劇場版 Kōkaku Kidōtai Shin Gekijō-ban] (2015)
AKA Ghost in the Shell: The Rising

Starring Maaya Sakamoto, Kenichiro Matsuda, Mayumi Asano, Kazuya Nakai, Ikkyuu Juku, Miyuki Sawashiro, Shunsuke Sakuya, Takurou Nakakuni, Tarusuke Shingaki

Directed by Kazuya Nomura


A few years back I did a rundown of all the Ghost in the Shell films. Since then there have been a few more releases in the franchise, and I figured I would give them a glance before checking out the new live-action film slated to release at the end of March. Now it’s never a good idea to call your new movie in a long running franchise “The New Movie.” It just means that a couple of years later when a newer, higher profile production starring Scarlett Johansson comes out your no-longer-new movie just sounds dumb, and probably confusing for the audience. But I can’t stop some idiot without a scrap of originality from doing just that, so unfortunately we’re stuck with it.

In another really confusing move for a film so concerned about its timeliness, Ghost in the Shell: The It Was New a Couple Years Ago Movie is actually a prequel to the original story, showcasing how Major Motoko Kusanagi put together the team of operatives that work for Section 9. This far into the series we have only heard small bits about her past, mostly that she has been a cyborg since childhood, so I was a bit unconvinced that exploring her background was a good idea. We’ve gone this far without it. Why do we need it now? But the film does go a good way toward establishing some of the motivation for her decisions at the end of the first film, so I think they actually did find a pretty good reason to go back and examine her history.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie (2015) →

Stephen reviews: Patema Inverted (2013)

Patema Inverted [サカサマのパテマ, Sakasama no Patema] (2013)

Starring Yukiyo Fujii, Nobuhiko Okamoto, Shintaro Ohata, Shinya Fukumatsu, Masayuki Kato, Hiroki Yasumoto, Maaya Uchida

Directed by Yasuhiro Yoshiura


This is the first of Yasuhiro Yoshiura’s films that I have seen, and if this film is any indication then he will certainly be a major part of the new era of anime we’re in. Patema Inverted fits neatly in the list of recent family friendly anime films by Makoto Shinkai, Mamoru Hosoda, and others. In tone and style, Patema Inverted leans more towards Makoto Shinkai. While it certainly cannot match Shinkai’s visuals, it has a fair amount of beautiful images to dazzle the eyes. Yoshiura seems to have picked up the science fiction torch that Shinkai set down after The Place Promised In Our Early Days, and I’m happy to see that it hasn’t been abandoned.

The premise of Patema Inverted is that some science experiment went horribly wrong and reversed gravity for a bunch of people who then fell up into the sky, never to be seen again. However, some of these people managed to survive underground, where they live separated from the rest of humanity. Now a young girl named Patema explores a bit too far astray and winds up in a land where she falls upward towards the sky. There she meets a young boy named Age (not the way I would have chosen to spell his name, but I’m not the translator here), and we run into the age-old concept of two people from opposite worlds falling in love with each other.

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Stephen reviews: Bayonetta: Bloody Fate (2013)

bayonetta_1Bayonetta: Bloody Fate [ベヨネッタ ブラッディフェイト] (2013)

Starring Atsuko Tanaka, Daisuke Namikawa, Mie Sonozaki, Miyuki Sawashiro, Norio Wakamoto, Tessho Genda, Wataru Takagi

Directed by Fuminori Kizaki


Usually, I am rather dismissive of films based on video games (and vice versa), but Bayonetta somehow felt like a potentially good idea. I don’t think I had any actual reason for this uncharacteristic optimism other than the vague notion that the game was so absurd it would at least be interesting to see what they did with it in film. This seems to have been a mistake as the film mostly uses the least ridiculous aspects of the game.

As far as video game films go, Bayonetta: Bloody Fate isn’t bad, though. It retells the story functionally while maintaining the game’s style and tone. Bayonetta is a sexy witch with amnesia searching for clues about her past. All she knows is that she woke up in a coffin at the bottom of a lake and angels are out to kill her. She finds out about a church leader named Balder who might be involved somehow, and she tracks him down to find out more. Along the way, mass death and destruction ensue, along with a gallon of fan service.

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Killjoy’s Psycho Circus (2016)

killjoy5_1Starring Trent Haaga, Victoria De Mare, Tai Chan Ngo, Al Burke, Robin Sydney, Stephen F. Cardwell, Lauren Nash, Tim Chizmar, Victoria Levine

Directed by John Lechago

Expectations: Moderate to high.

On the general scale:
onestar

On the B-movie scale:
twostar


John Lechago’s Killjoy films have been the shining star of Full Moon’s modern efforts, easily outpacing just about every one of the studio’s other recent efforts. I was so taken with Killjoy 3: Killjoy’s Revenge (and to a lesser extent Killjoy Goes to Hell), that I made it a point to check out all of Lechago’s other films. I really enjoyed them all — especially Blood Gnome — and they exhibit the same low-budget ingenuity and ambition apparent in his Killjoy films. So I definitely went into his latest film, Killjoy’s Psycho Circus, with an expectation to enjoy it. Instead I came away hoping it’s the end of the Killjoy series (although I know it won’t be).

Killjoy’s Psycho Circus sees the clown (Trent Haaga) in his new semi-mortal state achieved at the end of Killjoy Goes to Hell. He’s hosting his own talk show called Killjoy’s Psycho Circus, and Batty Boop (Victoria De Mare) has tired of his antics and left him. Meanwhile, Beelzebub (Stephen F. Cardwell) is put on trial for losing Killjoy in the last film, and now he’s tasked with bringing Killjoy’s soul back to hell. He simply requests one thing to do this job: a massive space ship! Why? Who cares? Killjoy’s going to space!

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The Bodyguard (2016)

TheBodyguard_1The Bodyguard [特工爺爺] (2016)
AKA My Beloved Bodyguard

Starring Sammo Hung, Jacqueline Chan Pui-Yin, Andy Lau, Feng Jia-Yi, Zhu Yu-Chen, Li Qin-Qin, Tsui Hark, Karl Maka, Dean Shek Tin, Tomer Oz, Du Yi-Heng, James Lee Guy, Sergio Deieso, Maksim Manylov, Avetyan Karen, Hu Jun, Yuan Ting

Directed by Sammo Hung

Expectations: Very high! I’ve been stoked for Sammo’s directorial return since it was announced a couple of years ago.

threehalfstar


The Bodyguard marks the return to the director’s chair of one of Hong Kong’s greatest treasures: Sammo Hung. It’s been 19 years since he released his last two films (Mr. Nice Guy and Once Upon a Time in China and America) on consecutive days in 1997, so to call The Bodyguard “long-awaited” is an understatement. The last time Sammo Hung directed a movie I was in the 10th grade trading 5th generation bootleg VHS tapes to see Hong Kong movies! Times have certainly changed, and as a result The Bodyguard is as much a modern film as it is a product of Sammo’s incredible experience and skill.

Ding Hu (Sammo Hung) was a decorated policeman in his day, but now he’s known as Old Ding to his neighbors. His health is failing him, specifically some form of dementia that is heavily affecting his short-term memory. His neighbor’s daughter, Cherry Li (Jacqueline Chan Pui-Yin), is the only bright spot in his life, but even her upbeat presence is a reminder of Ding’s painful past. Some years before, Ding was babysitting his granddaughter and she got lost, never to be seen again. His daughter refused to speak to him again, so he moved back to his hometown on the border of China and Russia. He bides his time there, waiting to die, living life without joy and with the memory of his granddaughter ever-present in his thoughts.

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