Ghost in the Shell (2017) – Review

The fuss of casting a white actress in the lead role of Ghost in the Shell can at last take a (temporary) backseat. It helps that the actor in question is Scarlett Johansson, she has the screen presence to divert attention to what is important. As always, that should be the plot.

Playing the role of the Major, a rank we see her attain here after a short opening sequence that reveals her “creation” and/or alteration. She is Mira Killian, her brain is planted into a perfect engineered cybernetic body made by Hanka Robotics. The CEO there, Cutter, sees her as a weapon and wants her up and running as soon as possible.

The designer, Juliette Binoche’s Dr Ouelet (because white people make, as well as look, like the best of Asia in this future world), sees Major as a living person. Most definitely not an object. And therein begins our moral tale of consciousness and what constitutes life. However, unlike the animated original, these themes – along with the entire movie – have been made more accessible for a mainstream audience.

It means the deeper philosophical questions have been dumbed down and the action sequences, instead pioneering like its forbearer, become generic and lifeless. They do pay homage to scenes from the original, at times it’s as if moments have been lifted from there. And the authenticity of the environment is solid throughout.

It falls down when it comes to adding suspense and the journey Major undertakes to reveal her true identity (it isn’t Killian). It’s noble they tried to add the backstory in what they must be hoping is a franchise, but everything is far too obvious.

Whether it be Hanko turning on Major, to the main plot of seemingly malevolent AI that is looking to bring down Hanko. This third-party intelligence is at odds with Major’s views of the world, leading to Hanko losing faith, despite Dr Ouelet’s protests.

It seems tech companies like to be run by bad guys once they’re making revolutionary strides forward. Hanko is like RoboCop’s OCP. A company in deep with the government and run lawlessly from within.

Visually, it can be stunning at times. A body suit clad Johansson is always going to be easy on the eye, and as mentioned, the set pieces breathe life into the world they are trying to replicate from the original. Perhaps the finale goes too big on the Hollywood action, and the setting feels at odds with all that came before it.

But as something to look at, whether it be Major, Hideo (we see why he needs the goggles), the city, or most of the fight scenes, it deserves the title: Ghost in the Shell.

It even tries to carry the heart of the original and gets a free pass, this time, because of the leading lady.

Sadly, it just lacks that something special beyond the performance of Johansson to make it noteworthy. The 1995 version was ground-breaking in many ways, this is the exact opposite. It plays it safe, using standard techniques and methods we’ve seen a million times before in countless forgettable movies.

Hopefully there is enough of an interest to allow Section 9 another chance but without Rupert Sanders in the director’s chair.

5/10

Kong: Skull Island – Review

“Let’s face it baby, these days, you gotta have a sequel,” to paraphrase Stu from the 1996 film Scream. If that was remade today, it’d be something like this: “‘cause let’s face it baby, these days you gotta have a shared universe.” Thanks to Marvel’s unprecedented success at juggling many balls in one massive shared cinematic universe, every studio and its dog is trying the same trick.

The latest Ghostbusters was supposed to launch a shared series of films. It failed. Of course, DC is trying the same. It’s struggling. Legendary is trying its hand with a MonsterVerse, which brings us to the relaunch of King Kong. This trip to Skull Island is primarily to familiarise the audience with King Kong in the universe that 2014’s Godzilla took place in.

The opening credits use the same montage technique as the Gareth Edwards monster film but there is no direct connection, Godzilla showed the years 1954, 1999 and 2014. Kong’s tale predominantly takes place in 1973 (after seeing a US pilot and Japanese dogfight counterpart crash land on the island in 1944).

The premise being John Goodman’s Bill Randa wants to travel to an island that defies detection. He’s convinced – because of something he saw as a child – that prehistoric animals exist in the modern day. He thinks Skull Island is a haven for them. Of course, he’s correct, and the island isn’t just home to a massive monkey. There are things that make the dinosaurs look fluffy.

Randa uses the end of the Vietnam war to leverage the powers that be to use the returning military for a little excursion. Enter a team. Shared universes need teams, even if the decades that divide the movies means it’s a onetime shot.

Tom Hiddleston is James Conrad, a former SAS man turned mercenary, reminding us why he can never be James Bond. Brie Larson turns up as photographer Mason Weaver. She is a do-gooder that has been on the cover of Time and is looking for the next big shot, regardless of the danger. And we have Samuel L. Jackson playing Preston Packard, the leader of the squadron assigned to land on the island.

Brie Larson Hiddleston Kong Skull Island

Along for the ride are a few scientists, their biggest contribution is discovering we live in a hollow world. Yep, we can forget science when given massive monkeys with five fingers. Do we need pseudo-science to makes sense of it? Clive Balls does believe the world is flat, so perhaps some people will buy into this. Plus, it could explain the appearance of further beasts in upcoming Godzilla films.

Because the scientists need to probe, they dropped seismic charges to determine the composition of the land mass. Or as they appear to Kong: bombs.

There is no slow build-up and a big reveal to Kong like in all of his previous outings. Here, the King is front and centre from the off. He takes out the incoming helicopter squadron with ease. The moment is perhaps to pay homage to the original battle from 1933 on the Empire State Building. If so, all it does is alert us to the fact there is no tension or investment.

The survivors meet up with that crashed 1944 pilot, he turns out to be Hank Marlow, played by comic actor John C. Reilly. He provides relief in a film that doesn’t really need any. Godzilla (2014) was criticised for being too dark. It literally lacked a colour palette. This movie goes too far in the opposite direction.

The banners on buses and building gave us the hint. Those garish colours fill the big screen. What it loses in mood swings it toward cartoon. In doing so, the characters follow suit. Samuel L. Jackson, as well as reusing his own lines from Jurassic Park, and paraphrasing himself from Pulp Fiction, becomes the single-minded human antagonist.

He’s miffed Kong killed his invading crew. Hank Marlow explains, Kong keeps the dangerous monsters at bay and the island’s indigenous people safe. Jackson doesn’t care. It’s as unrealistic as his pouch – something a soldier returning from years of war in Vietnam just wouldn’t have.

Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts must have had a checklist of classic Kong shots – like the blonde woman lay in King Kong’s open palm – but he missed the vital element. Kong’s powerful scenes work when you feel for the character. In this outing, we don’t have time to care for the big guy.

And Brie Larson, arguably the most talented actor in the film, can get the damsel in distress and looking up in awe facial shots down to a T all she wants, it means zero if the world she’s working in is soulless.

The action is visually perfect, the actors do their best with a limited script, but it lacks the intelligence Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla strived for in pursuit of a more accessible action flick. I hope to see Kong again, next time I hope he reminds us why we used to care.

6/10

Game of Thrones – Season 2 – Review

The beginning of season two takes a few minutes for you to settle in. We are expected to just understand who the new faces in Westeros are. The displaced Robert Baratheon sees his true heir Stannis bang heads with brother Renly. It takes a while to accept Stannis as a main player due to the absence of screen time in season one but he meddles enough to grab your attention.

He’s aligned with the Red Lady aka Melisandre. The actress that plays her Carice van Houten replaces Denise van Outen as my favourite sexy woman with a Dutch sounding name. It’s amazing what dropping an H and spicing up a first name can do. In the show, what she can do is also magical but it’s dark. The sort that gay brother Renly falls foul of.

With Stannis on the march, he is a clear threat to the Lannisters’ hold on the throne. They are too busy playing games with themselves at King’s Landing. Cersei is trying her best to ignore Joffrey’s cruelty and control the Imp, Tyrion. His Achilles Heel is former prostitute Shae. He’s given some rest bite when Cersei targets the wrong hooker but the tension on this subject threatens to be there for some time.

As added protection, Tyrion as the King’s Hand promotes Bronn (lesser known member of Robson and Jerome) to commander of the watch, or in plain English: nails bodyguard that kills for cash. He’s a likable figure in a city of misfits. IE, The Hound prevents Sansa from getting raped and killed but comes across as a guy you wouldn’t wanna share a meal with.

The Lannisters’ main threat comes in the form of Robb Stark – King of the North. He is winning battles and moving toward King’s Landing, looking to avenge the death of his father. On the way, he breaks the promise to marry a daughter of Walder when his head is turned by Talisa Maegyr, the Florence Nightingale of Westeros.

His problems mount when Catelyn Stark releases The King Slayer Jaime Lannister (with Brienne The Warrior Woman as an escort) in exchange for her daughters. They are in a bad way. Sansa prays Joffery’s eye will turn elsewhere (it kinda does but she’s still a toy) and Arya is now independent and surviving on her wits alone. Her son, Bran, is doing the same.

Starks with power but divided in more ways than one.

Jon Snow, the bastard Stark, finds himself on a covert Night’s Watch mission. It goes wrong (had to, didn’t it) and he ends up siding (for real or not?) with the Wildlings. There, his former red-headed female prisoner happily informs him he knows nothing. And so begins a love affair, of sorts.

While Robb is advancing well on the Lannisters, he should have kept one eye on home. Exiled Theon Greyjoy returns to capture Winterfell. He was only trying to impress his biological father, whom was none too impressed.

Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys Targaryen continues her journey with growing dragons and actual numbers on the ground. She spends the season in Qarth. I won’t ruin surprises but needless to say, not everyone has the best of intentions for the Mother of Dragons. Hers is one of the most engaging plots and we begin to see her ruthless side and her true power.

The season highlight is episode nine’s Blackwater (10/10). It contains the battle of the same name. The finale Valar Morghulis (9/10) sees Arya make an ally that could prove beneficial and she can thank for her freedom, and a final shot that makes you want more.

The addiction has taken hold…

8/10

Game of Thrones – Season 1 – Review

If you’ve never heard of HBO’s Game of Thrones, welcome back from the coma you’ve been in – the world’s missed you. Before the next season hits our screens in June 2017, Simms View will recap each chapter so far. First up we have the world setting, Sean Bean led, first season. In hindsight, is it worthy of its critical acclaim?

“Don’t believe the hype,” a great song, and a great way to approach fan-favourite telly. Game of Thrones is at a great disadvantage here. It’s been hyped to the heavens (and its seven Gods, the old and the new) and attempts to make an expansive fantasy series manageable for the small screen.

It begins with the world of Westeros in disarray. The King’s Hand –  kinda like his advisor and Executive Officer –  has been killed.

This happens to be Ned Stark’s (played by Sean Bean) so as head of the Stark family, he goes to investigate. Once there, King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) makes him the replacement Hand of the King. These old pals are unable to see out a peaceful collaboration because Robert’s wife is a Lannister and they have their own ideas for domination. These don’t include the most powerful family from the North – The Starks – being anywhere near the throne

Ned’s younger son sees how Robert’s kids are made when he catches Cersei Lannister being rodgered by her brother Jaime. He pushes the boy from his high viewpoint, leaving him out of action. Jaime is already seen as a villainous character, his moniker is: “King Slayer”, because he stabbed the last man on the throne in the back, paving the way for a change in family at the helm.

More acts of betrayal follow as the Lannisters don’t want Baratheon to realise his kids are really his brother in law’s children, made with his own wife.

The focus of the main throne in Westeros is only one claim. Further afield in Esso, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), daughter of the murdered true king, is being used as a possession by her abusive brother to unite with the Dothraki tribe.

She’s from line of people that used dragons but they’re extinct . . . except for three eggs she receives as a wedding gift. Imagine if she had the ability to give them life…

The most popular character has to be Peter Dinklage’s Imp, or to use his proper name: Tyrion Lannister. A “half-man” that is a blight on the Lannister family name. Better known for whoring and drinking, two acts he does very well. But his lack of height and apparent carefree personality act as good cover for his higher intelligence.

Speaking of shamed family members, we have Jon Snow, bastard of Ned Stark. Having been raised by the Starks he joins the Night’s Watch. They are impartial protectors at the Northern Wall. What they’re protecting the lands from isn’t instantly clear in season one.

Neither are a lot of other key aspects. And some characters that you will loath here (Sansa Stark) develop in later years. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s hard to see how season one got such a free pass. To delve any deeper would give away too many reveals, so a pause for now.

If you find it slow going, stick with it. Things get much better in season two and are far less predictable.

6/10

 

Ghostbusters (1984) – Review

The world is Ghostbusters crazy again. Well, sort of. The relief has been palpable as the reboot of the franchise received good reviews after months of slating. One trailer earned the dubious honour of being the worst ever to air on YouTube. Not to go against the grain here, we’ve decided to look at the original, before taking in the latest incarnation. Nostalgia is creating a haunting spectre, so who you gonna call? Simms View.

It is hard to not be nostalgic when revisiting the 1984 Ivan Reitman movie, written by stars Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis. During childhood, VHS tapes of it were played to destruction. Scenes traversed the line between family and adult, comedy and horror, fun and terrifying.

On reflection, the world has moved on and those lines are more blurred in society than ever before. Ghostbusters is still dark for a kiddies’ movie, the very first ghost we see in the library will still pop chills into younger viewers, but it’s atmosphere surpasses nostalgia.

And it should be noted, that the special effects still stand up today. The reboot has been accused of looking like an Xbox game in parts. Here, the spirits look otherworldly.

That opening scene also sets the tone with some cheesy lines: “Listen, you smell something?” I always smell with my ears. But that had already been preceded with Bill Murray’s ingenious sarcasm, when admiring a spookily tall set of books, “You’re right, no human would stack books like this.”

This is a marker and an insight to the perfect balancing act the film pulls off. Great smarmy wit from the legend that is Bill Murray, action scenes that jump out, slapstick moments (men get slimed), to great confrontations (Walter Peck), and a sense of the mystic.

A strong cast keep it rolling along. Has Sigourney Weaver ever been sexier. Her character is the love interest for Murray’s Peter Venkman and becomes possessed by Zuul. She becomes the Gatekeeper to Rick Moranis’s Keymaster. The scenes before his possession as Louis Tully add the light humour, again, balancing what is to come. His run across New York to escape the beast is one that stuck in the mind from childhood.

Weaver Ghostbusters.png

As do countless lines: “And the flowers are still standing.” “It’s a sign all right, a sign we’re going out of business.” “Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together…mass hysteria!” “Don’t cross the streams.” “I couldn’t help it. It just popped in there.”

The whole team get in on the act, again, perfect balance. Aykroyd’s Ray Stantz brings the childlike enthusiasm to the team and is one half of the technical side. His knowledge is surpassed by Ramis’s Egon Spengler, who can appear too serious but Venkman is the polar opposite – you guessed it: balance.

Ernie Hudson plays the late addition to the team. His character, Winston Zeddemore, is the everyman in need of a job. He does the best with what he’s given but it does feel as if he was shoehorned into the movie. They should have brought him in earlier or given him better screen time. That’s not to say he’s unimportant but he is poorly utilised.

It’s when Winston is sat chatting about the end of days, Mick Smiley’s “I Believe in Magic” starts playing, and the ghosts escape across the city.

Nowadays, the big finale has to be OTT, and often misfires. The original Ghostbusters hits the spot. I mean, how can an ending not be good when you see a giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man traipse through New York?

Very few popular movies age as well as this one. The anger aimed at a reboot is understandable when you walk through the original again. Time has not diminished the finished product. It isn’t perfect but therein lies some of its charm.

9/10