Ghost in the Shell (2017) Review 

     Ghost in the Shell has been a seminal classic in anime for over 20 years, with its complex themes of humanity’s relationship to technology, it’s questioning of human nature, and the spirituality that comes with it. Sounds really deep and cool right? Well, good luck finding it in this incarnation. 

     The story begins about the same, Major (Scarlett Johansson) is a human robot hybrid working for the authorities to stop cyber crimes from happening. But soon enough she’ll discover her former identity, and the truth if she is really just a ghost in the shell. 

     I know that there are times when you need to separate the film at hand, and the source material but this time its unavoidable. The material doesn’t work for an American audience. All of the nuances, the spirituality, the philosophical aspects are all gone in this version. It’s like a shell of its former self and yes, the irony is not lost on me. 

     Did the director tell the actors not to act, and just stand there and be set dressing? Don’t get me wrong, the film is visually stunning, and does look like an anime come to life, but at what cost? The story’s soul. Trust me, an origin story is a terrible substitute for actual characterization. She even acts the same when she finds out the truth. Its almost hilarious. 

     What it comes down to is that the movie is poorly acted, when they attempt to, excruciatingly written, and just plain boring. The pace is so laborious that I wish I got paid to see this, so I’d have something to show for it. 

T2: Trainspotting (2017) Review

     It’s incredible how 20 years went by in a wink. How we all reach a point in our lives, and wonder where the hell it all went. 

     T2: Trainspotting is a shockingly stunning follow-up to the original, catching up with the core group consisting of Renton (Ewan McGregor), Spud (Ewen Bremner), Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), and Begbie (Robert Carlyle) twenty years after Renton stole 16,000 pounds from his “so called mates”.

     This leads to not just Renton to confront his past actions, but the others as well, some in jail, some running hustles, others attempting suicide, just the usual stuff. 

     Much like the original film, the film is light on plot, but man is it heavy on the characters. This is a great thing, actually, its downright refreshing. One of the few films in years where I didn’t see the actors on screen but the characters I’ve known and loved for two decades. 

     I finally got to see my friends again. 

     I need to put these doubts to rest, something I lost hope in ever writing; A sequel that actually treats its audience with respect. 

     The first thing I was worried about was that this film was going to negate/undo the growth and catharsis of the original, shitting on the iconography that I held so dear. 

     It didn’t. My God, it actually works as a companion piece to the original. Can you a imagine, a follow-up twenty years later and it’s not a cash grab? It’s actually about something? 

     As someone who grew up watching Trainspotting the themes of regret, anger, and worthlessness hits close to the heart. That you can only run for so long before you have to stop and face it. It resonates so deeply, even I’m not sure I’ve fully processed it. 

     I can’t believe that director Danny Boyle had a film like this in him. He manages to avoid the pratfalls associated with going back to the well and made an original work that isn’t a retread of his glory days. He didn’t make the same movie twice, he gave this entry its own voice with an energy that I was sure wouldn’t even come close to the original. 

     There have been so many films, so many filmmakers who have tried and failed spectacularly to recapture the iconography of their past, or the churning out of retro properties from long ago youth, that I almost wanted to laugh at how Danny Boyle made a movie about the yearning for the past. And how terribly sad such an endeavor is. 

     It’s always about the future, it’s always about having hope. Its about choosing life. 

     

How Logan (2017) is the Unforgiven (1992) of the Comic Book Film Genre

     It truly is the end of an era. Even though there has been a steady flux of superhero movies since 1989, the true boom of the genre kicked off with 2000s X-Men. With that came Hugh Jackman’s instantly iconic performance as Wolverine/Logan, a role so synonymous with the franchise that he gets shoehorned in every chance they get. 

     Its been known for a while that this was to be the man’s final portrayal of the character, and as soon as I saw the opening shot, I knew that to be the case. 

     That this was going to be the comic book film version of Unforgiven. 

     I’ll cut to the chance in saying that what these two movies have in common the most is about eras coming to an end, and old heroes have no place in the world anymore. 

     Both films deal primarily with an ageing protagonist at the end of his “career” both have one close friend, and both are thrown into the last job by a young hothead. Hell, I was astonished that Logan even dealt with the stories of his exploits becoming books, and the stuff of legends. 

     While Logan deals with a specific character as its focal point, Unforgiven had its own original character but with the weight and history of its actor, Clint Eastwood. He made a name for himself playing as The Man with No Name; someone who had no past, no future, no heart. Even though the character has a name, William Munny, deep down fans of the western saw this as what became of the Man with No Name. 

     Unforgiven marked the end of an era where a most popular genre (the western) had long past it’s popularity, and the film acts like a eulogy. Where the lines between good and evil don’t exist anymore (or possibly never did), where morality became an old wives tale. 

     While superhero films are not going to come to an end anytime soon, but they sure are on a decline in terms of quality. A lot of troupes are being rehashed in new window dressing, and people have taken notice. 

     Logan is a film that is predicting its own genre’s future; a barron wasteland of regret amd missed opportunities. Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of The Wolverine is at last where it should always have been: a monster filled with rage, and mourning. 

     Thinking back on the film, I recognize that this movie makes the end of an era; the current crop of superhero movies would never have been possible without X-Men. 

     As much as I lament that this is the end, but I do truly hope that this is the beginning of something new. Logan is without a doubt, a drama. Yeah there’s action in the flick, but the movie took its time to reflect, to build, to give its characters personality. It makes sense to have Wolverine be the gruffed hero at the end of his journey. He was the one with the most mysterious past, the one who was always more of an icon than a full blooded character. 

      The Western ascetic is no accident. The parallels between Logan and Unforgiven are undeniable, and both serve as the final word on their icons: One was the Man with No Name. The other was Logan. 

Blumhouse Productions has Lost their Fucking Minds on the New Halloween Movie…

     Alright this isn’t new news; I seriously needed a couple of weeks to process this. I’ll try to articulate this as best as I can. 

     I already wrote about how Miramax lost the rights to the Halloween franchise because it shouldn’t take you over half a fucking decade to release an installment, and they deserved to lose their cash cow. Assholes. 

     Well, it was announced awhile back that John Carpenter was going to return as a producer and maybe composer. Blow me, just make the damn movie. 

     The last idea that was thrown around was having The Shape about to be executed for his rampage back in ’78, with the kid of one of the investigators being trapped in the prison. It’s a good idea that got tossed before I could even get excited. 

     I’m just having Myers withdrawals. 

     It was announced that David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express) is going to direct and co-write the script with Danny McBride. 

     Danny McBride. 

     Danny Mc-fucking-Bride.

      Yes. This fucking guy. Kenny Powers himself is going to write the new Halloween movie. 

     Let that sink in. 

     I’m just… What the fuck…? Oh, so we’re clear, I’m not upset that he’s doing the movie. I’m all for actors and writers doing something out of their comfort zone; I’m losing my shit because this needs to happen! This:

     Its fucking crazy! And McBride knows some dark shit, as a lot of comedians do, so I want to see these guys tackle the Shape like they got something to prove. Imagine that: a Halloween flick made by passionate filmmakers? Don’t let me down fuckers, make this shit happen! I don’t give a shit if the movie sucks, I just want to see how this will turn out! Blumhouse has killed it recently with Split and Get Out so make the movie already, Fuck! 

Get Out (2017) Review 

     Ever since I was in my early teens, and I caught a showing of Night of the Living Dead on tv, I was floored. The flick is terrifying, but what stands out the most is that the main character of Ben is black man. In a film made in 1968. Well, to be more accurate, what stands out is that Ben survives the night, only to be shot in the head by a posse with checking if he was undead first. It was sad, and left me in shock. 

     Jordan Peele’s Get Out is evocative of the social commentary that Night of the Living Dead had. Some overt, like the opening, some more subtle, like the attire worn at the party, but its influence is all over the picture. 

     Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is nervous to meet his girlfriend, Rose’s (Allison Williams), parents because they don’t know he’s black. But not to worry, Missy and Dean (Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford) are those cool white liberals that are so understanding. Even if there is something off about them…

     As Ipreviously mentioned, I love a horror film with some social commentary, and a big deal has been made about Get Out’s message on interracial matters, but that shouldn’t be the first thing to look at. Competency, and skill as a horror film should be looked at first, and done well, or no matter how powerful your statement is, it will falter. 

     Jordan Peele knows his horror films, Jesus Christ. 

     Peele knows that a horror film’s success or failure depends entirely on its pacing and editing. John Carpenter’s Halloween being the prime example. Peele is aware of when to hold back, when to drop hints, and to actually have likeable sympathetic characters. It’s like a foreplay before the big climax. 

     Luckily, the performances serve the material so well; Keener and Whitford know exactly the right balance between sweet and creepy. Right out of the gate, you know something is wrong, but they’re so nice (perfect metaphor for race). Kaluuya’s performance as Chris hits his beats perfectly. He is the conduit for us, the audience, and its been such a long time that I felt scared for a character in a horror movie, much less one that I was actually rooting for. Trust me, that’s all too rare. 

     I’m so happy to see a filmmaker make a film that is evocative of the horror films of the 60s and 70s, one’s were filmmakers put their fears on screen for us to experience. And Get Out is one hell of an experience. 

Starman (1984): The Most Underrated Love Story Ever. (Spoilers)

     On this Valentine’s Day, I was thinking of some romantic movies to basically cry over (I keeps it real). Strangely though one movie has randomly come up time and time again among my male friends: John Carpenter’s Starman. 
     Never heard of it? 

      First, sit in the corner and think about your life choices

      Secondly, be prepared to happy cry your ass off, because it’ll give you hope in love. 

      Thirdly, it’s a science fiction flick, so it’s alright for men to cry. If you don’t, you must have the darkest of souls, and need professional help. 

     The premise is pretty straightforward: An alien has crashed on earth and needs to get home. He comes across a widow (Karen Allen) who’s grieving over the death of her husband (Jeff “The Dude” Bridges). The “Starman” takes her late husband’s form from a hair strand. After losing her shit, she reluctantly drives him to the rendezvous point. 

     And obviously she starts to fall in love with him, but that’s not makes this movie special. There’s way too many reasons. 

     Jeff Bridges is clearly, one of the greatest actors who has ever lived. I’m not kidding. I may be in the minority, but this role is the best performance he has ever given. With his clipped speech, and awkward, jerky movements, I thought this was a real story about an alien (I was not a bright child). The man gives a balancing act of weird, but gentle, comical, but without condescension.

      I have never been more in love with Karen Allen in my life because of this movie. Its her character arch that the whole movie hinges on. yeah its predictable that she’ll fall in love with the Starman, but my god its so organic, so effortless, that you accept its formula, and move on. How does she make being strongly vulnerable so easy? You feel sorry for her, sure, but you don’t pity her at all. I admire her. And the train scene…

     I’ll try not to cry, but the train scene (too late) is so beautiful. Karen Allen’s character, Jenny Hayden, cannot have children and explains it to the Starman. On the train, stowing away, they make love. 

     Then he tells her he gave her a baby. That it would be both her husband’s baby, but also his baby.

     Jesus Christ. 

     He tells her he will be a teacher, and if she didn’t want it, he will stop it. The genuine emotions in this scene are so masterful. He tells her happily, she is just overwhelmed. 

     The music in this scene, by Jack Nitzsche, is going to break you in tears. Especially the final scene where he has to say goodbye to her. Where she finally gets to say goodbye to a form of her husband. I mean, man, she gets to have a baby now. Trust me on this, the music will get you. 

     The funny thing is, I completely forgot about how the US military is after them because alien? It makes some important points about the savagery of humanity  (especially the deer scene), but its the love story at its core that makes me weep. 

     And still to this day, my father bitches about how a sequel was never made. Seriously, every person who’s seen it wants to know what happened to the baby. I kid you not, Jeff Bridges said this even in an interview for Tron: Legacy. 

     For this Valentine’s Day, this movie will bring couples together. Even the most cynical. You won’t regret it. 

John Wick Chapter 2 Review

     All of this started because of a dog. Jesus. 
   

      A couple of years ago, John Wick graced our screens and quickly became one of my favorite action movies of all time. Rarely do you see a film that manages to take a simple premise, hoods killed his dog, and it propels you into a world so dense, so rich that you just want to stay in it. 

     I can’t remember the last time a new sequel made me so giddy with excitement. 

     John Wick (Keanu Reeves) has just gotten satisfaction from killing the assholes who killed his dog, and is ready to retire… again. But someone from his past is back to collect a debt, a blood oath that if he refuses could have dire consequences for his existence. So, the carnage begins again. And you’ll never be happier. 

     John Wick Chapter 2 needs to be taught in films schools on how to craft a sequel. This isn’t a retread, but an actual continuation of the story. Sure this time he’s not causing millions in property damage because someone killed his dog, but you still get sucked into this world that was only glimpsed at in the original. 

     Yes, here’s a follow-up that expands upon the foundation of the original. 

     The action here comes off as nothing short of art. Seeing the picture, I was astonished at how much of a comic book feel it generates. I’m talking an actual old school comic book, with deep, rich, luscious colors, blood splatters that would make Jackson Pollack proud, and editing so precise that, holy shit, I can see what’s happening in the scene. This needs to be the standard, not the exception. 

     When the original was released, I proudly included it among the best films of 2014. I have never been happier to say that I saw a sequel that is in so many ways better. Chapter 3 can’t get here soon enough. 

Why the Ending to Trainspotting was Perfect 

     With the recent release of T2: Trainspotting in the U.K. I got to thinking again about how much I’m both excited, and terrified, about the prospect of a sequel, especially 20 years later. 

     Full disclosure: I read the sequel novel, Porno about 10 years ago, and to say I was not impressed is to put it really mild. God, that book was terrible and a waste of a follow-up. So when I heard that not only was there going to be a movie, but that if anything, it was going to barely reference the novel, I felt relief. 

     But there was something still eating away at me; I still didn’t really want a sequel to one of my favorite films of all time. I loved the characters, yes even Begbie, and I did want to know what happened. But still…

     Of course the easy answer was that the ending to Trainspotting was just the perfect note to end the film on. 

     Renton is a character that goes through the perfect arc for himself. In the opening, Renton dismisses the idea of “Choose Life” and conform to the foundations of society. Well, because of the heroin. 

     Let me get to the point: The ending is such a satisfying conclusion because of the fact that Renton was put through such hell during the film. I mean the second half obviously, when he kicked his habit and actually started living a life for himself. 

     Then Begbie and Sick Boy show up and mess it all up for him. 

     Renton was in a real tight spot, and finally had enough to the point that he straight up stole 16,000 pounds. Any one of us could only wish we had that kind of reckless courage. 

     But what brought tears of joy when I saw the film the first time was this line:

         “So why’d I do it? I could offer a million answers, all false. The truth is that I’m a bad person. But that’s going to change…”

     To fully recognize that you’re a “bad person” when you so clearly are, is such an overwhelming positive realization, that you can help but smile, at least, at such self discovery. I applauded in my room, and I was so content. 

     I’m not gonna lie, I always caught myself wondering what happened to the guys; what became of them. I especially thought of Renton and hoped that he chose life, and settled down to a blissful life. That was the beauty of the ending: the possibility of hope to a character that more than earned his happiness. 

     That sums up why, ultimately, I am worried about T2: Trainspotting. The ambiguity will be gone, and I will find out what happened to them. I guess I don’t want the ending negated because the filmmakers couldn’t think of a decent fucking story. I hope that isn’t the case, but there’s only one way to find out. 

Split (2017) Review

     Director M. Night Shyamalan has gotten a bit of a bum rap in the past decade or so. After hitting  such heights with The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable the man couldn’t pull a good movie out of his ass even if he ate The Godfather frame by frame. 

     But after the pleasant surprise that was The Visit, I was hopeful that he could keep the train going and I’m happy to say that he seems to be on the right track. 

     After being abducted along with her two friends, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) comes to the realization that her abductor(s) is a man (James McAvoy) who suffers from multiple personality disorder. 23 to be exact; some helpful, like Hedwig, some not so much, like Ms. Patricia. While Casey does have to come to terms with her past, she has to figure out which personality is a friend, while another may emerge and cause chaos. 

     Shaymalan has always excelled as both a writer and director when his films deal with ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Split almost plays like a chamber piece, one location, but not quite. The film is more intimate, nearly uncomfortably so. 

     Taking a cue from Hitchcock, there are some very uncomfortable themes at play, but Shaymalan doesn’t exploit it. I do wish this was explored just a bit more, but to do so would overshadow the story, and even the performances. 

     James McAvoy, its safe to say now, is the most underrated actor of his generation. The role(s) as presented are daunting for any actor to play, and McAvoy manages to pull it off. His performance, if it faltered, would have made the film come to a screeching halt. There were parts where I felt terror in his acting. Believe me, its a lot more difficult than can be credited. 

     Also the role of Dr. Fletcher, played by Betty Buckley, is the absolute perfect supporting performance to McAvoy. What should have a been an exposition role, Buckley managed to sell the concept of the story. There is such a quiet passion in the role, such dedication to her character that it makes the suspension of disbelief, well, believable. 

     Shaymalan is back in form here, proving that he needs to make more films on an intimate, human scale. Extravagance was never his strong suit, his characters were. While this may not be his best film, but it sure as hell beats everything he’s done in the past decade. And if you’re a fan of his early work, you owe it to yourself to see this one. Trust me on this.

Moana Review 

     It still astonishes me that Disney can still make a movie like Moana. Let’s not kid ourselves here, Disney can still phone it in and they’ll make a shit ton of money. A shit ton. But with the advancement of technology, which makes for an abundance of lazy animated films, the filmmakers here took such care of the story, and the technical elements, that the company just keeps setting its own bar higher than before. 

     Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) has just been made the chief of her tribe, but harsh times have fallen upon the tribe; fish, coconuts, you name it have become scarce. So its up to Moana to find the person responsible for upsetting the gods. Yep, she has to find the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) in order to set things right. 

     It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a Disney princess movie where so many elements just fell perfectly into place. The humor, the animation, everything. Moana is a technical marvel to behold. The fact that while CGI animation is pretty much the standard nowadays, but the filmmakers also use traditional hand drawn animation as well (in particular Maui’s tattoos) just floored me. On that level, the movie needs to be studied in film courses. 

     I am fully aware that pretty pictures do not a good movie make; Moana herself as a character is such a revelation. It wasn’t until the end that it dawned on me that she has no love interest at all. Let that sink in…

     A Disney princess without a love interest. 

     All she gives a shit about is saving her home and her people. That’s all. This is so different from any other Disney princess movie. To break away from an almost hundred year formula just makes me question existence itself. Believe me folks, this is not the norm. 

     God knows when was the last time I had a shit eating grin throughout an entire Disney movie. The lush colors, the strong characters (HeiHei is my spirit animal), just the exuberant joy that seeps through every frame, every song, is something that is sorely lacking in not just family fare, but films in general.