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.
Chinatown: a private investigator is led blindly into a complex conspiracy involving murder, betrayal and state-wide fraud. What surprised me most was Polanski‘s bland and underwhelming direction – which I was expecting to be stellar given the endless plaudits Chinatown receives. It doesn’t even feel like much of a Noir compared to staple genre pictures like The Maltese Falcon, or even a modern stab at Noir, like Brick. The story’s slow-burner, and isn’t always the easiest to follow, but worse still, almost none of the characters developed enough to connect with – they just seemed to be there to facilitate the next plot twist. When it finally rolls around the final act is as good as the film gets, but it feels like too little too late – it also may have been crazy / shocking / controversial back then, but when held up against the shocks we see these days, it carries a far lighter punch on modern audiences. For me, the combination of story, direction, acting, script and overall ‘wallop’ are average at best; although I suspect that having appeared in almost every ‘best films ever’ list, maybe the bar was just set far, far too high.
Mission Impossible: when his mission in Prague goes FUBAR Ethan Hunt must prove his innocence and figure out who the real traitor is without the help of the CIA/IMF. This contains pretty much everything that’s cool about spying & espionage, from the high-tech gadgets (hacking/security) to the low-brow survival tricks (cracked light bulb on floor). Brian De Palma is on top form; the complex story is well told, and the moments of drama/tension are just perfect – the NOC list Langley break-in in particular is a beautiful, yet almost unwatchable, set piece – more generally, the film is like a masterclass in ambiance and tension. The director slaps a heavy streak of throwback Noir style: camera angles, soft focus, clothes, hats, music overcoats – not to mention the mystery story. Being a 90s film some of the technology is horrifically outdated, e-mail in particular is laugh-out-loud bad. While Ethan Hunt is no James Bond, the team behind Mission impossible did a great job of lifting from the Bond Blueprint and re-inventing a modern super-spy.
127 Hours: true story of a climber who got an arm pinned between a boulder and rockface, and did the unthinkable in order to survive. I first heard about Ralston way back here, but never, ever thought it would become a movie (well, at least not the factual part). For being 75 minutes of a man who can’t move, Boyle is superb – utilising every trick and effect in the book to keep the story moving, interesting and avoid reparative profile shots again and again… you’d never think someone stuck in one place could be this cinematic. Franco is great; and gets to cover every kind of acting there is – overacting, subtlety, madness, super-cool, heroic and desperate… it’s all there, and it’s great to watch. Surprisingly, he’s not the only major thing in this; it may sound stupid but he could share the credits with his arm, video recorder the boulder, water, sweat – which are all personified to perfection and play pretty pivotal roles in the story. My only real problem was a lack of empathy; mostly because the situation would be totally avoidable if you were sensible and cautious! 127 Hours is a great interpretation of an unfilmable story, Franco is fantastico and every second feels like it genuinely counts.