Ghost in the Shell

March 31, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Michael Pitt, Juliette Binoche
Directed by: Rupert Sanders (“Snow White and the Huntsman”)
Written by: Jamie Moss (“Street Kings”) and William Wheeler (“The Hoax”) and Ehren Krueger (“Transformers: Age of Extinction”)

In the ’90s, adolescent me had all kinds of under-the-radar alternate entertainment thrown at me by virtue of being a socially-awkward fat nerd. Some things stuck hard, like comic books, “Mystery Science Theater 3000” and “Space Ghost: Coast to Coast.” Others even I deflected, like Magic: The Gathering and anime—then only accessible on VHS from higher-end comic book shops, not counting the mass-market, sanitized Japanese exports like “Sailor Moon” and the fledgling days of “Pokemon.”

I feel like I gave anime a fair shake, though, and hyper-violent cartoons with occassional nudity was an easy sell anyway. But still, nothing. As I moved into my 20s, the ubiquitousness of DVDs led to me sampling one of the masterworks of the genre I had long heard about, 1995’s “Ghost in the Shell.” And again, it didn’t take. I shook hands with anime and we went our separate ways.

But, because genre filmmaking is a beast that can’t be satiated, it was only a matter of time before “Ghost in the Shell,” with its cyberpunk-robot storyline easily retrofitted for American audiences, was given the big-budget Hollywood treatment—and the endlessly debated, probably problematic whitewashed casting that goes with it.

Set in a future where humans augment themselves with cybernetic implants and live in cities filled with Golem-like holographic advertising avatars, “Ghost in the Shell” opens with the creation of the Major (Scarlett Johansson), the first synthetic humanoid with a real human brain inside of it under the care of Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche). Major’s real body was damaged in a terrorist bombing, so she is told, and Ouelet saved her life. Since the Major is a product of the probably-evil Hanka robotics corporation, she is of course weaponized and made to hunt down terrorists with a multinational team, including the hulking, dog-friendly muscle with cybernetic eyes Batou (Pilou Asbæk), the closest Major comes to having a partner. They’re on the trail of a super-hacker named Kuze (Michael Pitt) who’s working to assassinate Hanka scientists—but his reasons remain mysterious until the Major is able to get close to him and recover her memories, changing everything.

As a dull amalgam of “Blade Runner,” “The Matrix,” and HBO’s “Westworld,” “Ghost in the Shell” is a beautiful-looking film that proclaims to be about identity, but fails to find one of its own. Its the type of movie that, 15 years ago, cinephiles would have salivated over as showcases for their home audio/video setups—a special-edition DVD in a shiny foil packaging, all gloss with nothing underneath. It’s a shame, too, because Johannson once again proves herself to be a badass female action hero in an industry severely lacking them. After this and the travesty that was “Lucy,” can we stop dicking around and just give her a “Black Widow” movie already?

I, Origins

August 7, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Michael Pitt, Astrid Bergés-Frisbey, Brit Marling
Directed by: Mike Cahill (“Another Earth”)
Written by : Mike Cahill (“Another Earth”)

As many moviegoers who jump on board with everything director/writer Mike Cahill pitches to them in his new independent sci-fi drama/romance “I, Origins,” there are bound to be just as many who scream foul. Cahill isn’t the type of filmmaker who spells things out for audiences. Once they enter the black hole of this particular film’s narrative, there’s really no way to crawl out of it. Ask Cahill for help and he’s bound to be standing over you, shovel in hand, digging deeper.

Thematically, “I, Origins” is the type of film that could be considered implausible for people who walk into the theater with a mind closed to the possibility that not everything they believe on a spiritual front is true. With a number of recently released movies that have already catered to those who take their religious beliefs at face value (“God’s Not Dead,” “Heaven is for Real,” “Son of God”), a film like “I, Origins” might rub a few the wrong way just like Darren Aronofsky’s interpretation of “Noah” did back in March. (How fictional rock monsters are more fantastically absurd than Biblical talking snakes, I have no idea).

Still, Cahill has something to say and, despite the fact he doesn’t define or categorize anything with much initiative, he does present a number of complex ideas for people to sift through and come up with their own theories. If you can stand to do a little work (and aren’t the kind of moviegoer that automatically disregards clashing and sometimes convoluted theories as pretentious banter), then “I, Origins” just might be a film to deem beautiful, uplifting and philosophically deep.

In the film, actors Michael Pitt and Brit Marling play two molecular biologists, Ian and Karen, whose research leads them to believe that God may not exist based on experiments they are conducting on worms. As far-fetched as that may sound to some, Cahill carefully crafts his script around a peculiar love story between Ian and an exotic woman, Sofi (Astrid Bergés-Frisbey) whose eyes become the catalyst for Ian’s lofty hypotheses – one that will disprove creationists worldwide.

Extremely ambitious all around, save for Pitt’s static performance, “I, Origins” not only explores the idea that a higher power does not exist, it also delves into topics like soul mates and déjà vu and everyday coincidences (like looking at a clock at the exact time it changes to 11:11). It’s a smart film that covers its bases and plays out like a mystery as Ian travels across the world searching for answers that may never come.

With Cahill in the driver’s seat, you can definitely bet on those answers not being served on a sliver platter. And that’s not a bad thing at all. If you like your movies wrapped up neatly with a nice little bow, “I, Origins” is going to be a tough one to get through. For everyone else, there hasn’t been a more thought-provoking film this year.

Funny Games

March 7, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt
Directed by: Michael Haneke (“Cache”)
Written by: Michael Haneke (“Cache”)

There are so many reasons why someone would want to remake their own film shot-for-shot after the original premiered 11 years ago. For German director/writer Michael Haneke, one of those reasons could be that in 1997, “Funny Games” was seen by only a handful of art house aficionados looking for a horror picture they could see and still tell their elitist friends about.

There is no reason Haneke shouldn’t feel pleased with the warped story he conjured up back then. If this was the only way he thought he could earn a second chance to get it out to them masses and take advantage of the torture porn fare that is so popular today, by all means have at it.

Haneke’s film, however, is more multi-layered that the psychotic games Jigsaw plays with his victims in the “Saw” series and much more terrorizing from a humanistic perspective than any number of hillbilly mutant killers living in “The Hills Have Eyes.”

When you aim to terrify someone from a psychological point of view, you have to be spot on. With “Funny Games,” Haneke delivers an obvious statement about America’s love of violence all the while playing hypocrite to his own beliefs by adding to the genre in uninspiring fashion.

Still, it’s a chilling tale, which follows two affluent young men who take a family hostage in their vacation home and make them play sadistic games for their own amusement. Actors Michael Pitt (“The Village”) and Brady Corbet (“Mysterious Skin”) do make the perfect incarnates of evil as they mess with the minds of Ann (Watts), her husband George (Roth) and their son Georgie (Deavon Gearheart). Like Christian Bale in “American Psycho” or Matt Damon in “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” Peter (Pitt) and Paul (Corbet) are sharp and always one step ahead of those they make suffer.

Its pretentiousness, however, is too much to handle at times. Haneke is a talented filmmaker. If you’ve seen “Cache,” you will realize how well he can pace a story and twist a viewer’s imagination. But in “Funny Games,” it’s more of a long, well-planned out experimental project that is attention-grabbing but ultimately meaningless. If you want to see some recent mind-screwing at its most brutal see “Hard Candy” and skip out on these “Clockwork Orange” wannabes.