Ghost in the Shell: in a future where people are ‘more cyborgs than human’ a criminal virus-entity known as ‘The Puppet Master’ is trying to find the perfect humanoid host to hijack. Watching this now, after experiencing +20 years of Sci-Fi it’s amazing to see how much influence this movie has had on the genre’s modern landscape: you’re continually reminded of things like The Matrix (pretty much just one big homage), Metal Gear Solid, Inception. A.I., Lucy, Ex Machina… The storyline is complex, and feels way ahead of its time – talking about computing, A.I. and robotics in ways that we’re not even doing yet, over twenty years on. Technically, the film is visually astounding; the way it captures light / reflections / textures, and blends 3D rendering with cell animation is truly mesmerizing. There are however a lot of ‘filler’ or stretched out scenes in order to hit the ‘feature length’ mark: very long credits; pointless (and long) montages; and even irrelevant scenes. The root of the film is the question “what makes us human?” Unfortunately, this leads to a lot of waffle between the characters about the ‘ghosts’ (souls), ‘self’, and brain/body connections… overlong and over-wordy scene after scene brings this up in a “Philosophy 101” manner; but ultimately, the question is never really answered. Peppered with brief and intense action set pieces, but primarily pop-philosophy; Ghost in the Shell is a film that looks fantastic and is easy to admire or respect, but it’s not particularly entertaining, and feels intellectually inferior compared to the ideas it’s struggling to wrestling with.
47 Ronin [mild spoilers]: follows a group of disgraced samurai as they set out to avenge their murdered master. As it’s a Hollywood film it obviously contains every single ‘western portrayal of Asia’ pitfall imaginable – everyone speaking ‘Engrish’, exotic mystique, ninjas/samurai everywhere, forbidden gaijin romance, cherry blossom, western warrior, kanji writing, tradition, tradition, tradition… Because of this – and given the foul reviews this received – I was expecting something woeful, but this is pleasantly surprising. The visuals are fantastic: it is a touch over-styalised – some parts feel like Sucker Punch set in feudal Japan – but the costumes, textures, sets, CGI backgrounds are all eye-poppingly sumptuous: it’s up there with The Fall’s immaculate design. Story-wise, other than a few swashbuckling & sword fighting action set pieces, this is definitely more of a drama than you expect: the story arcs are all fairly standard until the ‘happy’ ending – a mass samurai suicide instead of a mass criminal hanging – yay! The biggest complaint you hear about this is that it’s nothing like the original story: WTF?! This is a blockbuster movie… and there are so many fictionalized accounts of this tale that there’s a specific entire genre term for it – Chūshingura! The weirdest thing about 47 Ronin is that it plays to two wildly different audiences – it’s half respectful and traditional samurai movie; and half Game of Thrones style middle-earth mayhem (battles, questing, magic & mythology). Overall, it’s an interesting, and beautiful, oddity that could have been great, but is by no means a terrible movie.
Un Prophete: a petty criminal makes big waves in jail as he climbs up the criminal ranks inside the prison. This is the very epitome of a very, very broody-moody slow burner. In saying that, the direction’s absolutely solid, with key scenes being well handled and delivered – it’s just that at 155 minutes it could have just done with more brutal editing though – there’s lots of filler scenes that seem to just ramp up the runtime, and too many slow shots of the main guy looking contemplative for my liking. It’s very French, with what’s clearly some big French, socio-political issues and a French focus on race, identity and . Acting-wise, prison leader Cesar wipes the floor with everyone else; such a fantastic range. The story’s as grim, downtrodden, depressing, gritty, worst-case-scenario non-glamorised crime drama as you can get. It’s strange because I remember being blown away by ‘The Beat that my Heart Skipped’, however despite their similarities, ‘Un Ptophéte’ (and ‘Rust and Bone‘) feel like they’re handicapped by the pace.
3-Iron (Bin-Jip): a young man takes temporary residence in the homes of holidaying families; washing their clothes and fixing their broken stuff as payment. The central character is absolutely fascinating: peculiar, creepy, kind, well-meaning, frugal, meticulous, disturbed, zombie-like… what makes it all the more unbelievable is that he doesn’t say a word for the duration – it’s an exceptional performance. The central aspect of the film is a bit odd, but it’s the attention to detail and ghost-like existence of the characters that make it all so unsettling. The film gets a tad silly towards the end with the hiding in plain sight/shadow dancing stuff, but it’s poignant and justified nonetheless. Being such a peculiar love story set in a bizarre situation, I can see why people wouldn’t like this film; it’s also two almost-speechless leading roles, but the performances are haunting and memorable – if you give this a change and ‘buy in’ to the idea – 3-Iron is a truly unforgettable film.
Take: A parent and a gambling addict are linked by a life-changing event, and years later they each have to face their demons. Depending on how you feel, the film’s fragmented narrative will make or break this for you – it combines two completely different filming styles (indie/arthouse & power-drama) and there’s four different stories playing over two timelines – so it takes a while to properly tune in. When it’s indie/arty, the film gets a little cold and isolating but when the drama kicks in it more than makes up for this – playing the long-game with a slow-burning, dramatic, poignant, gritty story that comes to a head in an intense 15 minutes near the end. This was one of Renner‘s last films before – and undoubtedly a huge factor in his casting for – the Hurt Locker: he does really well with his repenting scumbag character. I’ve never been a big believer of Minnie, but she delivers plenty of clout here – hats off to by both leads. It could do with being a little shorter and punchier – cutting the clunky religious scenes with pastor, and lots of long, heavily-filtered arty shots – but it there’s also some lovely/striking lomo-style ‘Americana’ visuals to be found. If you can handle a non-linear story, and like your drama fairly hefty, Take is well worth the effort.
Wrecked: A man wakens up in a mangled car at the bottom of a cliff, with no memory of what happened and a shattered leg, he has to survive and figure it out. Sounds interesting, but it boils down to Adrien Brody being stuck in a car for 30 minutes then crawling around in the woods for a further 50 minutes. It’s a poorly told story, with nothing significant revealed until the last two minutes, which is pointless as you never connect with the main guy. Brody’s good, but doesn’t have to do much more than grunting, crawling and crying. Would have been a walkout after 60 minutes if it had a longer run time – it’s a shorty. Wrecked is a nice concept, but with crap execution – feels like a rushed, poorly planned project that was shot in a couple of days.