Saturday, April 8, 2017

But I Digress...Ghost in the Shell: The Spirit Lives?

By Cat


Movie Name/Year: Ghost in the Shell (2017)
Tagline: None Available
Genre: Action, Crime, Drama, Sci-Fi
Length: 107 mins
Rating: PG-13
Production Companies: Arad Productions, DreamWorks, Grosvenor Park Productions, Huahua Media, Paramount Pictures, Reliance Entertainment, Seaside Entertainment, Shanghai Film Group, Steven Paul Production
Producers: Ray Angelic, Avi Arad, Holly Bario, Michael Costigan, Jane Evans, Tetsuya Fujimura, Mitsuhisa Ishikawa, Yoshinobu Noma, Steven Paul, Jeffrey Silver, Maki Terashima-Furuta
Director: Rupert Sanders
Writers: Shirow Masamune, Jamie Moss, William Wheeler, Ehren Kruger
Actors: Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk, Takeshi 'Beat' Kitano, Juliette Binoche, Michael Pitt, Chin Han, Danusia Sarnal, Lasarus Ratuere, Utaka Izumihara, Tawanda Manyimo, Peter Ferdinando, Anamaria Marinca
Stunt Doubles/Coordinators: Yoshinao Aonuma, Marius Botha, Rhianna Buchanan, Steven A. Davis, Amanda Fordham, Damian Halforty, Sarah Hart, Neal Horton, Russell Ingram, Axel Kremer, Ri-Jie Kwok, Guy Norris, Carly Rees, Lauriane Rouault, Gareth Ruck, Glenn Suter, Antony Szeto, Emily Tate, Jacob Tomuri, Min Windle, Tim Wong

I was so excited. I got to go see the new Ghost in the Shell movie today with my Dad. I realized then, that the focus of this week's article just had to be this movie. Hands down.

Ghost in the Shell (1995) was one of the first few Japanese Anime movies I’d ever seen. Akira (1988) was my first. I loved the original, and I adored the follow up animated series Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (2002-2005) even more. This property is sacred ground for me. I even own the DVDs. Naturally, that gave me some initial reservations about a live-action movie.

When I first heard they were planning to make this movie, I had a grumbly moment (as most familiar with the originals have). Though, I do generally try to give things a chance to live up to the hype. When I began to see trailers and images released from production, I began to have hope.

Now, I’ll be upfront here and admit that I haven’t read the original manga that all of this was based on or around. To be honest, the only manga I’ve ever really read was a section of Bleach. (I got tired of waiting on Cartoon Network to show the next season of the animated series, so I read ahead.) So none of my comparisons to ‘the original’ are based on anything from the printed page. My frame of reference comes from the 1995 movie and the series alone.

That being said, let’s address the elephant in the room, shall we? I have heard so many outcries about ‘whitewashing’ in this movie and I’m, frankly, quite confused. I seriously doubt that those that are yelling the loudest about this are really thinking about the original animated properties. The entire Section 9 team was cobbled together from mixed ethnicities. Batou looks like a Scandinavian giant (which I give them big kudos for casting just such a guy as Pilou Asbæk (The Whistleblower, The Great Wall, Game of Thrones) in that role), Togusa looks and acts American, Saito and Ishikawa don’t exactly look Asian, either.

Has everyone forgotten that The Major’s body was a complete construct and it could look however they wanted it to? All told, Scarlett Johansson (Iron Man 2, Her, Lucy) was as much of a dead ringer for the cartoon version of Major Matoko Kusinagi as possible without CGI or prosthetics meddling.

Sufficed to say, I believe the casting here was just spot on. I loved the diversity, and it made so much sense.

Moving on.

The visuals they created for the movie were just absolutely stunning. It was a bit of an optical deluge at times, but it fits right in with the image of the future as presented in this cyberpunk dystopian world. There were so many lights and holograms that your eyes just want to bounce from one thing to the next. It was a brilliant upgrade from the simple signs cluttering the cityscape on screen in the animated movie.

I can confirm for you that they have really done a very good job in keeping the core iconic visuals of the original movie translated into the live-action world. From memorable scenes in the original to a shot of aircraft passing above buildings – they had all the important bits covered.
Now purists might get a bit mad at the plot – but hey, this is a movie remake. You can’t expect it to follow everything to the letter. I actually enjoyed what they eventually came up with. Now it wasn’t perfect, but I think it made for a good representation of the franchise. I re-watched the original movie before writing this review because I wanted to make sure I was right in my recollection. Some of the dialogue in the original was a little stilted – this new rendition smooths some of that out.

The plot runs something along the lines of taking the original movie and throwing it in a blender with the 2 seasons of the Stand Alone Complex series. There are many elements of movie, the puppet-master's ghost hacking, the laughing man, and discoveries from The Major’s past. They didn’t keep to the same origin story, which was something that did moderately bother me – but it wouldn’t be a deal breaker. The rest was just too engaging.

The final verdict? The Ghost, or spirit, of this story as represented by its core animated properties, is very much alive within the shell of this movie’s framework. Go watch it! If you love and want to see more cyberpunk movies like this in the future, we need to stand behind films like this.

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 46%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 62%

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

P.S. -  The closing credits feature the primary theme song from the original movie, ever so slightly mixed.

Lagniappe (something a little extra): The following was the trailer for the original 1995 movie.

Double Bonus! Below is the opening title sequence from the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex animated series, featuring the song Inner Universe by Origa. I actually had a segment of this MP3 as my ringtone for many years.

But I Digress... is a weekly column for that can't be pinned down to just one thing. It's Cat's celebration of tangents, random references, and general fan geekdom that both intertwines with, revolves around, and diverges from our movie-review core. In homage to the beloved Brit comedians, we want to bring you something completely different!

Friday, April 7, 2017

Bloody April Fools (2013) - Foreign Film Friday

Number Rolled: 9
Movie Name/Year: Bloody April Fools (2013)
Tagline: It’s only a joke.
Genre: Horror
Length: 68 minutes
Rating: NR
Production Companies: ESCAC Films
Producer: Sergi Casamitjana, Aritz Cirbian Casado, Marta Rodriguez-Coronil, Lita Roig
Director: Laura García Alonso, Carlos Alonso-Ojea, Dídac Cervera, Marta Díaz de Lope Díaz, Eugeni Guillem, Ander Iriarte, Gerard Martí, Marc Martínez Jordán, Rubén Montero, Arnau Pons, Marc Pujolar, Miguel Sánchez
Writer: Laura García Alonso, Carlos Alonso-Ojea, Albert Camps, Dídac Cervera, Marta Díaz de Lope Díaz, Eugeni Guillem, Ander Iriarte, Celia López, Gerard Martí, Marc Martínez Jordán, Rubén Montero, Adrià Naranjo, Daniel Padró, Arnau Pons, Marc Pujolar, Lluís Segura, Miguel Sánchez
Actors: Joan Amargos, Enric Auquer, Alex Batllori, Manel Dueso, Carmen Flores, Diana Gomez, Xeui Jimenez, Paula Malia, Mario Marzo, Aleix Mele, Barbara Mastanza, Samuel Rubin, Charlotte Vega, Gerard Marti
Stunt Doubles: Alejandra Alonso, Aleix Pujolar

Speech Available: Spanish (Spain)
Subtitles Available: English, Spanish (Spain)

Blurb from Netflix: After stocking up on booze, a group of kids spend the night in an old hostel. Soon, the curse of a long-ago killing begins to demand fresh blood.

Selina’s Point of View:
Quick question.

Why does a non-anthology film need twelve directors and seventeen writers in order to come up with a movie that has no originality?

I’d like that to not be a rhetorical question. If you have the answer, I really want to know.

This film was pretty much every teen slasher ever written. At least I now know that Spanish films have the same tropes as English films. They hit every single one. From the group of teens in the van heading to a vacation spot, to the weird guy at the gas station, to the abandoned structure in the woods. I predicted at least seven lines of the actual script before they came up and the acting was just slightly worse than Nicolas Cage (Left behind, Rage, Joe) during the Wicker Man (2006) bee scene.

Bloody April Fools had absolutely no redeeming qualities. Even the soundtrack put me off. Hell, it even covered my least favorite holiday.

By the way, people have no fucking chill on April Fool’s day. This year one person told me a friend died – he hadn’t. That shit is not a damn joke. I don’t mind pranks, but if your prank is set up to only exist through someone else’s pain, then you’re not a jokester – you’re a dick.

Hatred for the holiday aside. The movie still sucked. Don’t waste your time.

Cat’s Point of View:
I just don’t know where to begin with this one, even hours after watching the movie.

Did I like the movie? I guess that’s a good place to start. The answer is not really. I felt like I’d seen it all before and was predicting most of everything that happened – in general where not specifically. I will say that there was an element that had me guessing til the end; but it wasn’t strong enough to sway my overall opinion of the film.

If you can think of a horror trope involving a group of teens deciding to party in a creepy abandoned place where something bad happened umpteen years ago, then this movie probably has it. The only atypical elements about the whole thing would, unfortunately, be a spoiler to mention. It wouldn’t have been so bad if there were elements woven in to make the audience invest a little more through either dark humor or character development. Sadly, that was mostly lacking and when attempted it just felt awkward.

There was a section of unnecessary shaky cam where the film shifts from standard camera tracking on the characters to first person perspective from cell cams. Were they just trying to cash in on that fad? I don’t know that it was particularly a necessary element to those scenes.

Hell, I’ve got an issue with the title translation of the movie in general. The Spanish name for the film is Los Innocentes, or The Innocents. The English name for this movie is Bloody April Fools. Really? Here, I think we have one of those culture clash moments. The movie revolves around a holiday that is apparently the Spanish equivalent of April Fool’s Day, but it’s in December. I am now highly curious as to why that is, and what the significance of the symbolism used throughout the movie is. Perhaps not knowing the background of those customs caused me to miss a crucial element to the story?

Somehow, I doubt it.

The movie simply suffered from a lack of originality. I am glad that I never have to watch this one again.

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – None
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 20%

Selina’s Rating1/5
Cat’s Rating1.5/5

Trust-the-Dice’s Parental Advisory Rating: R

P.S. Film has a different title in Spanish: Los Inocentes.

Movie Trailer:

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Hush (2016)

Number Rolled: 84
Movie Name/Year: Hush (2016)
Tagline: Silence can be killer.
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Length: 81 minutes
Rating: R
Production Companies: Intrepid Pictures, Blumhouse Productions
Producer: Jason Blum, Jeanette Brill, Michael J. Fourticq Sr., Kate Lumpkin, Trevor Macy, Melinda Nishioka, Couper Samuelson
Director: Mike Flanagan
Writer: Mike Flanagan, Kate Siegel
Actors: Kate Siegel, John Gallagher Jr., Michael Trucco, Samantha Sloyan, Emma Graves
Stunt Coordinator: Chuck Borden

Speech Available: English, French, German, Spanish, Italian
Subtitles Available: English, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, French, Spanish

Blurb from Netflix: A deaf writer who retreated into the woods to live a solitary life must fight for her life in silence when a masked killer appears in her window.

Selina’s Point of View:
I know sign language. Which was kind of a cool thing for a movie like this. I caught little nuances that couldn’t really be portrayed by the subtitles. The creators put a lot of thought into the signs. I don’t know if it’s because the writer/director were already familiar with the language or if the director, Mike Flanagan (Before I Wake, Ouija: Origin of Evil, Ghosts of Hamilton Street), consulted experts to aid him.

I always enjoy getting to use my sign language skills. I don’t have much cause to, I don’t know anyone who’s deaf. My best friend and I use it to talk across the room when we don’t want to be heard, but other than that it’s just some dusty knowledge sitting in my brain since I started learning it out of pure curiosity. (I became curious after reading a short biography about Helen Keller in sixth grade.)

But, I digress. (Hey, Cat’s not the only one allowed to use that term, damn it.)

I heavily enjoyed this film.

Normally, in movies like Hush I can predict pretty much every jump scare. They tend to follow the rules outlined in Scream (1996) pretty closely. This one didn’t. There have actually been films where I’ll mumble what I think will happen and five seconds later, it happens. A few times I’ve actively said a line at the same time as a character in a film that I’ve never seen before.

The people I love hate watching films with me, but that’s not the point.

The point is that my ability to do that speaks more to the quality of the movies than to my skill. Watching a ton of films and seeing the patterns is not a skill. A director being too nervous to steer his film away from every single trope in a genre, on the other hand, shows a lack of skill. That was not a problem for the creators of this movie. They were able to successfully make me feel like I was a fly on the wall watching everything go down.

Even with only about fifteen minutes of actual dialog, I was never bored. The actors all brought their characters to life in a way that made them incredibly realistic. Not just the main actors, Kate Siegel (Hot, Demon Legacy, Oculus) and John Gallagher Jr. (10 Cloverfield Lane, The Newsroom, Short Term 12), either. The supporting actors, Michael Trucco (Killer Women, Revenge, Next) and Samantha Sloyan (Grey’s Anatomy, Fantastic, Losing in Love), also made their characters stand out. That’s pretty rare.

The film followed very few, if any, tropes. I only casually predicted one aspect of the film and it wasn’t really an important one, it certainly didn’t take me out of it.

Hush was original and absolutely thrilling.

I knew it existed, but I haven’t heard much about it since it first came out. I don’t understand why. This film could have easily become a classic – the kind of movie that other directors look to in order to create new tropes.

The only thing that I could think of that might have hurt the film, was the trailer. Hush made Cat’s Top 20 list for April of 2016, but it didn’t make mine. I remember why. The trailer made it look very basic. I figured I’d go into the film, predict every word, and feel like I had wasted my time. I was clearly wrong about it where Cat saw the worth right away.

This is one of those films I wouldn’t have watched if it weren’t for the fact that we roll dice to choose the movies we review. I’m very glad I got to see it, though. It’s a film that I’ll be remembering for a long time.

In the end, I urge everyone to give this film a shot. It was phenomenally good. Don’t waste time with the trailer, just pull it up on Netflix. You won’t be disappointed.

Cat’s Point of View:
This movie was awesome. I mean that both in the literal and figurative sense of the word. I am full of awe for this movie. Hush has made it into my list of favorites, and is the best thriller that I’ve seen in a long time. Can you believe it was filmed in only 18 days?!

I’ve got a confession to make. This wasn’t the first time I’d seen this film. I’d been looking forward to seeing this movie since I saw the trailer while putting together my Top 20 list for April of 2016, where it featured as #9. I missed it in theaters, but the minute it hit Netflix I just couldn’t resist.

There was no less of an edge-of-your-seat feeling with a second viewing. My heart was in my throat as I watched. The main character is so relatable, and her story just draws you in without her speaking a single word. This movie was very demanding of its lead, considering the limitations inherent to Maggie. Kate Siegel (The Curse of the Black Dahlia, Man Camp, Ouija: Origin of Evil) was certainly up to the task.

John Gallagher Jr. (Whatever Works, Jonah Hex, The Belko Experiment) was a good choice for the role of this movie’s antagonist. He had this eerie malevolence about him that fit so well with the killer he was playing. 

Mike Flanagan (Still Life, Absentia, Oculus) seriously impressed me with this one. Perhaps some of his inspiration came from his muse. Siegel has appeared in several of his movies – both before and after the real-life couple were wed. It’s said that the pair came up with the idea for this movie while out on a dinner date.

So much attention to detail was considered when making this film. Everything felt so real. I have to wonder if there’s someone in Siegel’s life that’s deaf or mute that she was able to draw reference from. Whatever the case may be, it was amazing.

I would recommend this movie in a heartbeat and you can bet I’ll definitely be watching it again.

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 94%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 74%

Netflix’s Prediction for Selina – 5/5
Selina’s Trust-the-Dice Score5/5

Netflix’s Prediction for Cat – 4.5/5
Cat’s Trust-the-Dice Score5/5

Movie Trailer:

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Saratov Approach (2013)

Number Rolled: 14
Movie Name/Year: The Saratov Approach (2013)
Tagline: Kidnapped. Ransomed. Delivered.
Genre: Drama
Length: 100 minutes
Rating: PG-13
Production Companies: Saratov Films, Three Coin Productions
Producer: Garrett Batty, Dima Kolchinsky, Maclain Nelson, Jonathan T. Turner, Jake Van Wagoner
Director: Garrett Batty
Writer: Garrett Batty
Actors: Corbin Allred, Maclain Nelson, Nikita Bogolyubov, Alex Veadov, Jennifer Erekson, Bruce Newbold, Peggy Matheson, Paul Mulder, Brett Merritt, Bart Johnson, Shawn Carter, Rocky Myers, Brit Server, Christopher S. Clark
Stunt Doubles: None

Speech Available: English
Subtitles Available: English

Blurb from Netflix: This riveting drama tells the true story of two young American missionaries held captive and brutalized for a week in a remote part of Russia.

Selina’s Point of View:
On first glance, this film feels very heavy-handed with religion. Then you realize it’s about a true story of two Mormons that were kidnapped on a mission – how exactly could that story be told without being heavy-handed with religion? It can’t. Mormons are a very religious people and, in such a dire situation, they would undoubtedly turn to that faith in order to get them through it.

I’ve mentioned in the past that I’m not religious, which is an understatement. My beliefs revolve around science on a level that makes it near impossible for me to believe in the afterlife or God or anything along those lines. I don’t identify as an atheist, simply agnostic.

What I do believe is that religion can be significantly important to people. Not just as a guide, but as a catalyst of finding hope. Blind faith isn’t something I condone, but faith enough to breed hope and love into a world filled with darkness and hate… that is necessary.

The Saratov Approach delves into the faith of two Mormon Elders that were kidnapped and how they used the connection to their religion to make choices that altered the direction events took during their crisis.

Due to the fact that I’m able to appreciate religion, despite my difficulty believing, I found that I was intrigued by the story of Elder Tuttle and Elder Propst. Where others might see prayer as having been a factor in certain aspects of the story, however, I see quick thinking and ingenuity as the deciding factor of certain events. (I can’t be more specific, sorry. Spoilers.)

I felt that the film did a decent job of telling the story of the Elders, even though it did get a touch preachy at certain times. When it was preachy, however, that was because it fit the story. Anything less than that probably wouldn’t have gotten the point across.

Corbin Allred (Anywhere but Here, Diamonds, Robin Hood Men in Tights), Maclain Nelson (Dudes & Dragons, Repo, Diantha’s Crossing), and Nikita Bogolyubov (Riot, Escape from Tomorrow, Iron Fist) were all very good in their roles. I was impressed with Allred and Nelson all the way through, but it wasn’t until the end that I really took notice of Bogolyubov. A few scenes at the end of the film really brought the spotlight onto his character, Nikolai, and he was able to make me understand his motives, even sympathize – a difficult feat when one is playing a villain.

The Saratov Approach was a good film; not perfect, but good. I don’t know if I’d watch it again, but it’s not really my kind of film. Dramas that don’t cross genres don’t tend to do it for me. For people who enjoy religious dramas, however, this is one they would definitely want to see.

Cat’s Point of View:

That’s really one word that sums this movie up for me. This review is really going to be short and sweet because I honestly can’t think of anything negative to say at the moment.

The Saratov Approach was a powerful film. There was a good mix of musical score and story content so that everything was elevated. Corbin Allred (Saints and Soldiers, The Wild Stallion, Granite Flats) and Maclain Nelson (One Good Man, Orcs!, Waffle Street) were believable in their missionary roles. They were portraying a pair of men in a terrifying and testing situation that didn’t lose faith – and I think they pulled it off well.

The subtitles for the parts in Russian were even in glorious yellow to offset against the movie.

I feel like I should remember these events from apparently during the Clinton administration, but sadly I don’t. One would think something like this would make a mark on memory – mine is just fickle sometimes. All the same, the fact that this is based on a true story makes it even more hard-hitting and chilling for what those young men had to go through.

This is definitely a movie that’s worth seeing. I would gladly recommend it, even if I’m not sure I’d watch it again just because religious hostage drama just generally isn’t my thing. It’s worth a mention that while I was watching, it was profound enough that I didn’t mind.

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – None
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 86%

Netflix’s Prediction for Selina – 4/5
Selina’s Trust-the-Dice Score3/5

Netflix’s Prediction for Cat – 4/5
Cat’s Trust-the-Dice Score4/5

Movie Trailer: