Ghost in the Shell

April 27, 2017 at 8:56 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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I saw this the other day: being a Wellingtonian, I was curious to see if any of my city was recognisable; I wondered about the story; and having heard about whitewashing complaints, I wanted to see for myself whether if it was justified.

Warning: plot elements discussed.

Firstly, parts of Wellington were still recognisable, under the post-production CGI. Parts of the Central Police Station and nearby carpark were recognisable, despite a whole lot of ‘matt-ed in’ Japanese architecture.

Based loosely on the manga comics, of the same name, we see Scarlett Johansson in the lead role – Major Motoko Kusanagi. I say loosely, because the plot doesn’t really follow the comics. The film explores the origins of the Major, and how she came to be a cyborg – the first. Or is she?

The Major and her squad work for Section 9 – a paramilitary force reporting to the Prime Minister. Such a concept may work in Japan, but it does not really work outside of Asia. In the end, the company who made her body, turns out to be the villain. It was good to see Juliette Binoche, of The English Patient fame, again. She plays the cyborg scientist, Dr. Ouelet, who’s concern for her patient leads the Major to a final showdown.

The film breaks the manga esthetic: the cast is not Japanese, nor are their faces in a manga way. It made the use of Japanese, and references to Japanese companies (not zaibatsu),  a bit strange.The mixture of spoken English and spoken Japanese was quite disconcerting. There are English subtitles for the Japanese, but no Japanese subtitles for the English.  I thought that Scarlett Johansson fitted the manga esthetic quite well; much better than most  of the cast. Perhaps some things are better left as comics or full animations.

There is some blatant product placement. It would not be manga without a motorcycle, and I wonder how much Honda paid for the privilege of supplying the motorcycles :-).

 

Captain America: Civil War

May 23, 2016 at 7:56 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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The third film in the Marvel Film-verse. This film picks up from the second film – The Winter Soldier.

This film is definitely worth seeing: its well put together; it does overdo the action (restraint in an action movie; and it raises a basket-load of ethical and moral questions.

The cast consists of most the those from the second film with some additions: Paul Rudd (Ant-Man), Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther), Tom Holland (Spider-Man), and Marisa Tomei (Aunt May). Of course Chris Evans (in the title role), Robert Downey Jr (Iron Man), and Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow) return; as does Sebastian Stan (Winter Soldier), who’s character Bucky cause the big split-up.

Spider-Man  gets the shortest reboot on record – 10 minutes in his bedroom. Marisa Tomei was a surprise choice for Aunt May. Good luck to her and newcomer Holland in their upcoming Spider-Man movie.

I am not going to talk about the film, because the plot is available on IMDB. For a large ensemble film, it managed to hold it together – staying to a story that threw moral dilemmas everywhere. The film was over two hours long, but things moved quickly.

So the dilemmas:

  • Must one act within a recognised legal framework?
    • After all, such a framework grants a mandate for actions, and a form of oversight.
    • In a self-referential way, a legal Framework grants legitimacy.
    • All actions and collateral damage within the Framework is sanctioned.
  • Can a legal framework ever work against the interests of the wronged? Therefore, staying out of  Frameworks preserves the freedom to act for those wronged (or in peril).
  • Should one stand by one’s friends? in all situations? And by extension, are there times when the unity is preferred over all other considerations?

Steve Rogers (Captain America), Paul Stark (Iron-Man), and Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow) all fall on different sides of these dilemmas; and so there is tension, and ultimately fisticuffs! Honourable friends become honourable unfriends. How are they going to put things back together?

Worth a go at the cinema for the big screen and surround sound.

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

March 28, 2016 at 1:25 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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As I watched the movie, I wondered why Dawn of Justice? It became clear at the end of the movie. I hadn’t thought too much about it prior to sitting down, focussing on Batman v. Superman.

Warning: plot elements discussed.

Batman (played by Ben Affleck) thinks that Superman (reprised by Henry Cavill) is too powerful; that being capable of burning the Earth to a cinder, makes him an existential threat to mankind, and needs to be killed. This is not the classic Batman of old; who when he finds the robber who killed his parents, spared the man. Affleck does a good job, but this is a harder Batman than ever before – he routinely employs deadly force, he is prepared to execute someone (Superman). There is one scene where he disables a roomful of bad guys, 13, but it looked too choreographed. Interestingly, Superman considers that Batman’s vigilante actions lead to unnecessary harm.

The film does a good job of showing the elements that created Batman: his parent’s death during a botched robbery; his discovery of the bat cave; and his need to protect the vulnerable. Superman is shown are as someone searching for themselves; someone who is unsure of his place in the world. He is adored everywhere; but there are those who think he causes as much destruction and death as he averts. It is a strange take on ‘blame the victim’.

Throughout Superman’s angst, he is ably supported by the two people most dear to him: his girlfriend, Lois Lane (reprised by Amy Adams); and his adopted mother Martha Kent (Diane Lane). More on this ‘support’ later.

This film has a number of threads: re-boot Batman; use Superman to re-introduce him to a new audience; introduce a new ‘Alfred’ (played by Jeremy Irons); re-boot Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg); and re-boot Wonder Women (Gal Gadot). Here’s where the Dawn of Justice comes in: apparently DC is using this film to launch a franchise; to launch the Justice League of America.

The original DC storyline was very different: Batman’s beef was not with Superman, but with an increasingly authoritarian government; Batman never set out to kill Superman, he just wanted to distracted him long enough for ‘some’ people to go into hiding.

I don’t mind the change in storyline too much; but re-making Batman into a killer? Batman was always different kind of superhero: he had no super powers – just will power – and he never ever used lethal force.

The film makers missed an opportunity to re-make Lois – to give the character a more modern spin. At the end of the film, during the various fights and what-have-you, Lois could have done more; but her character is left in the past. Adams does her best, but the script doesn’t give her much. This is the 21st century, why should she plead with Batman? she should just have a go kicking his butt! Why couldn’t she retrieve the spear and pass it to Superman? No the script chooses to perpetual the idea that women need protecting: Lex Luthor successfully manipulates Superman through threatening Lois and his mother.

Wonder Women doesn’t get enough screen time. She is almost an after thought. When she first appears in a red dress, to thwart Bruce Wayne’s hacking attempts, there is no real chemistry between her and Bruce Wayne; it was all a bit hurried. Remember, last time we saw Bruce Wayne and a mysterious women – she turned out to be Cat Women.

This is a long and at time very violent film – there is a lot of anger going around – so not the best for young children. At times, the film got a bit laboured – some of the fights went on too long, and the conversation between Wonder women and Bruce Wayne – after Clark Kent’s burial – seemed unnecessary.

But worth ago if you have not read too much of the original comics; and if you have, go anyway – that what being a fan means. The bat gadgets are really cool.

Lastly: there may have been a burial, but no true fan of Superman believes he is dead; especially when the director helpful shakes the dirt off the casket.

Spectre

November 21, 2015 at 9:04 pm | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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I went to the latest James Bond film the other day.Spectre completes the reboot of the 007 universe: the multi-national crime syndicate, that gives its name to the film, is re-introduced; its leader Blofeld is re-introduced; Bond’s beloved Astin Marton DB5 is re-surrected; and other parts of Bond’s early life filled in.

Warning: plot elements discussed.

The film seems littered with homages to previous Bond films: Bond in a white tuxedo; “shaken not stirred”; destroying yet another car; a massive brute of an adversary; driving off with ‘the girl’ in the DB5 into the sunset; it goes on. There have been so many Bond films that it must be very hard to be ‘new’. My one disappointment was that there was no Rolex watch.

This being the information age, there is a new threat: big brother – big data. The Internet-of-Things has a dark side.

Bond is ably played by Daniel Craig; Blofeld is played by Christoph Waltz; and Madeleine Swann, Bond’s love interest, is played by Léa Seydoux. Only time, and the next film, will tell if these two plot lines progress.

The re-boot has tackled some big issues: water and big data; maybe global warming is next. This being the 21st century, it would be nice to see Moneypenny, played by Naomie Harris, and Swann characters do more.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

July 26, 2014 at 10:29 pm | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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I went to this the other night and I was a bit disappointed.

Warning: plot elements disclosed.

The storyline was a classic – two groups with overlapping territories: the humans want to fire-up a dam in the ape homeland. Oh there was a big pandemic that killed most of the human population.

Despite the best efforts of leaders on both sides there will be war – roll on the sequels!

There is too much suspension of dis-belief required: apes teach themselves how to use automatic weapons; former special forces can’t design good defences, nor shoot accurately; cavalry and infantry can charge over open ground against prepared positions and win; and it goes on.

Just to emphasise that it is more of a cowboys and indians thing, at the very end the writer throws in the Untermensch card. Caeser kills another ape by saying that they are not an ape. Star Trek’s : Let That Be Your Last Battlefield did a far better job of holding up a mirror to ourselves.

The special effects a really good, but the rest was a bit formulaic. The original Planet of the Apes has nothing to fear from this film.

Gravity

October 4, 2013 at 9:35 pm | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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Interesting woman-alone story adapted for space – Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is adrift in low earth orbit without a re-entry capsule! George Clooney puts in a cameo.

Most of the film is just Stone/Bullock overcoming one adversity after another. It is quite a testing role for Bullock and good on her for doing something different.

I am not sure if the science – orbital mechanics – all stacks up, but it feels right, and you don’t need a degree in astro-physics to enjoy the movie.

The shots of earth are quite spectacular – even in 2-D. I saw the 2-D version because I did not want to be distracted by the special effects – the storyline and Bullock’s performance held my attention.

Worth a go.

PS: I went again, this time to the 3-D version, and it did make a small difference – some scenes looked better. Also, after a second look, I think that some of the laws of physics were ‘relaxed’: there should have been more rotational motion in the crucial scene with Bullock and Clooney. The final burn to rendezvous with the Chinese space station should have pushed Bullock into a higher orbit.

RED 2

September 27, 2013 at 9:58 pm | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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Warning: plot spoilers.

This sequel picks up a few months after Red [1] finished: Frank (Bruce Willis) and Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) are settling into a safe, if dull, suburban routine. Then Marvin (John John Malkovich) is blown up in the Costco car park and it is all go.

There is a nice touch with “You can’t always get what you want” playing at the funeral – just like in The Big Chill.

Anthony Hopkins is Dr Bailey – the baddy – and I though it was a nice touch for him to get back into the action/spy genre – an early foray was “When eight Bells Toll“.

A running gag is that everyone keeps giving Frank relationship advice! Sarah is not settling into the relationship – because Frank packs her in cotton wool. She just wants to be a kick-ass like Victoria (Helen Mirren) and Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones).

Katja is an old flame of Frank’s, and her re-entry into his life causes some extra tension in the relationship. Katja and Frank have the most amazing driver swap sequence – possibly ever.

Mirren tends to steal the film with here restrained performance.

Its a bit violent, but worth a go.

Elysium (2013)

August 26, 2013 at 10:25 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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I went to see Elysium the other day and it had its moments.

Warning: plot elements revealed.

The first half of the film raises some awkward questions for our time, and the second have is just action.

Max (Matt Damon) is a young man trying to better himself, in a world with a few ‘haves’ and many many ‘have nots’. The ‘haves’ live in a paradise, and everyone else – including Max – is trying to get in. Moral dilemma #1: when resources are limited, how should they be portioned out? In Max’s world, the resources are reserved for a few on a massive man-made satellite named Elysium.

Delacourt (Jody Foster) is charged with protecting the privileges of the privileged few. She is so sure that she is right and that it must be done her way. Moral dilemma #2: does the end justify the means? Delacourt attempts to take over Elysium – to over throw the elected government, to protect it.

Elysium is unpolluted and its technology is ‘like magic’ – particularly the medical technology. This provides the premise for the movie – Max has sustained a lethal dose of radiation in an industrial accident and if he wants to live he must get to Elysium and its medical technology. There are all sorts of complications but he gets there.

Earth is portrayed as a slum – not too surprising given that this is a Neill Blomkamp (director and writer of District 9) film. There seem to be some subtle and not so subtle digs at the South African government.

Max and Delacourt are a bit two dimensional. The villain – Kruger – played a little over-the-top by Sharlto Copley offers some black contrast.

The futuristic gadgets, weaponry and general technology look very real – great special effects. The slums look very real.

Worth seeing in a cinema for the bigger screen and fuller sound.

Iron Man 3

April 28, 2013 at 10:15 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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Plot discussed

Iron Man 3 revolves around: Robert Downey Jr (Iron Man / Paul Stark), Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts), and Guy Pearce (Aldrich Killian – the baddie).

Killian’s organisation is hacking human DNA to upgrade people – faster, stronger, self-regeneration, and able to generate intense heat (normally under control). The only problem is that not all recipients of the treatment are able to control their upgrades and the effect ‘runs away’, generates too much heat, and they explode. This happens so often that they invent a terrorist movement, lead by the ‘Mandarin’ (Ben Kingsley), to cover up the explosions – as bombings! [This is one of the best conspiracies ever!]

Stark’s genius is the key to fixing the bugs in the ‘hack’. Pepper is to be the hostage/lever – she is given the upgrade.

The unacknowledged hero is Jarvis – Stark Industries’ AI (voice by Paul Bettany) – who controls the swarm of Iron Man suits in battle against the upgraded human soldiers of Killian’s organisation.

Of course it ends well – potentially setting up Iron Man 4 to take a very different direction. There is even a remote possibility that Pepper will get her own movie – Pepper’s role is currently too small, and this old Marvel universe restriction holds the franchise back from richer stories.

The film is a bit patchy: there is the Stark character development and being a bit of a metro-sexual with Pepper; then there is Stark, the zero emotional-inteligence geek; and bits of the original Marvel Comic universe 2-D leaking into the film. Still, the film tries to answer the age old question: “Is it the suit that makes the super hero? Or is it the man inside?”

There are some great fight scenes. The Iron Man suits have advanced somewhat from Iron Man I & II.
The CGI effects make this film possible, and so should be seen on the wide-screen.

Olympus Has Fallen

April 21, 2013 at 10:13 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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Olympus has Fallen is strictly a boys’ movie.

Plot discussed – in some detail

Once Ashley Judd’s character dies in the opening minutes – never to be seen again – the film revolves around Gerard Butler (Mike Manning), Aaron Eckhart (The President), and Rick Yune (Kang). Kang – a North Korean – is the bad guy; The President is the ‘game token’ – held for long periods by Kang, but as in most games, it is who hold the token at the end who determines who wins; Manning is a Secret Service Agent – on a self-tasked with getting the token back.

The film is like a tribute to the early Die Hard movies. One man trapped in a building – the White House – with terrorists; will he have enough ammunition? will he have enough time, before his superiors negotiate away everything.

The film works through a scenario where enough ‘red’ forces overwhelm the White House Secret Service Detail and take it over and hold the President hostage. In reality, I hope that the White House has more internal defenses than shown, and that the Secret Service Detail have better tactical awareness – still it is a movie, and hopefully make believe. Once the terrorist hold the White House, they start torturing the nuclear fail-safe codes from the President, Vice-President and Secretary of Defense.

Manning is in the right place – inside the White House – to remove the terrorist one by one. In the end, all it needs is one man on the spot prepared to do whatever is needed – even if he has to wade through a stack of bodies and ditch his morals. There is a reason why this is an R16.

Morgan Freeman makes an appearance as the Speaker for the House, and second in the succession, so ends up negotiating with the terrorists. One in accuracy: he is never sworn in.

The film comes out at a time when tensions on the Korean Peninsula are rising, so that it is a bit more relevant.

I was disappointed that Ashley Judd got so little time on screen.

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