Peek A Boo, I See You (Ghost In The Shell (1995) review)

Deus ex machina are supposed to reveal truths of the world, not leave it covered in darkness. Which is why this film is rather prophetic, and should probably be in the queue for monthly consumption, at a minimum.

 

Ghost In The Shell (1995)

Cast: Atsuko Tanaka, Akio Otsuka, Koichi Yamadera, Yutaka Nakano, Tamio Oki, Tessho Genda
Director: Mamoru Oshii
re-released on blu-ray Sep 23, 2014
********* 9/10

IMDB: 8.0
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%, Audience Score 89%
The Guardian: ****/*****

Mamoru Oshii is a Japanese director and screenwriter. He has directed a ton of anime films and television shows, including Urusei Yatsura, Red Spectacles, Ghost in the Shell, Avalon, and Patlabor 2: The Movie. His directorial style has often been detailed in how different it is to most films made in the United States, with visuals being the most important element to him, followed by story, and then characterizations.

The Wachowskis and James Cameron have been in awe of his work for decades, especially with Ghost in the Shell, so I thought it fitting to time my review of the original film with the release of the live-action remake. Because, well, it’s even more relevant today than it was 20+ years ago.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

In 2029, with the advance of cybernetic technology, the human body can be “augmented” or even completely replaced with cybernetic parts. Another significant achievement is the cyberbrain, a mechanical casing for the human brain that allows access to the Internet and other networks. An often-mentioned term is “ghost”, referring to the consciousness inhabiting the body (the “shell”).

Major Motoko Kusanagi (Atsuko Tanaka) is an assault-team leader for the Public Security Section 9 of “New Port City” in Japan. Following a request from Nakamura (Tessho Genda), chief of Section 6, she successfully assassinates a diplomat of a foreign country to prevent a programmer named Daita (Mitsuru Miyamoto) from defecting.

The Foreign Minister’s interpreter is ghost-hacked, presumably to assassinate VIPs in an upcoming meeting. Believing the perpetrator is the mysterious Puppet Master (Iemasa Kayumi), Kusanagi’s team follows the traced telephone calls that sent the virus. After a chase, they capture a garbage man and a thug. However, both are only ghost-hacked individuals with no clue about the Puppet Master. The investigation again comes to a dead end.

Megatech Body, a “shell” manufacturer with suspected close ties to the government, is hacked and assembles a cybernetic body. The body escapes but is hit by a truck. As Section 9 examines the body, they find a human “ghost” inside its computer brain. Unexpectedly, Nakamura arrives to reclaim the body. He claims that the “ghost” inside the brain is the Puppet Master himself, lured into the body by Section 6. The body reactivates itself, claims to be a sentient being and requests political asylum. After the Puppet Master initiates a brief argument about what constitutes a human, a camouflaged agent accompanying Nakamura starts a diversion and gets away with the body.

Having suspected foul play, Kusanagi’s team is prepared and immediately pursues the agent. Meanwhile, Section 9 researches “Project 2501,” mentioned earlier by the Puppet Master, and finds a connection with Daita, whom Section 6 tries to keep from defecting the country. Facing the discovered information, Daisuke Aramaki (Tamio Oki), chief of Section 9, concludes that Section 6 created the Puppet Master itself for various political purposes. This is why Section 6 is desperately trying to reclaim the body.

Kusanagi follows the car carrying the body to an abandoned building. It is protected by a large walking tank. Anxious to face the Puppet Master’s ghost, Kusanagi engages the tank without backup and is nearly killed. Her partner Batou (Akio Otsuka) arrives in time to save her, and helps connect her brain to the Puppet Master’s.

The Puppet Master explains to Kusanagi that he was created by Section 6. While wandering various networks, he became sentient and began to contemplate his existence. Deciding the essence of humanity is reproduction and mortality, he wants to exist within a physical brain that will eventually die. As he could not escape section 6’s network, he had to download himself into a cybernetic body. Having interacted with Kusanagi (without her knowledge), he believes she is also questioning her humanity, and they have a lot in common. He proposed merging their ghosts, in return, Kusanagi would gain all of his capabilities. Kusanagi agrees to the merge.

Snipers from Section 6 approach the building, intending to destroy the Puppet Master’s and Kusanagi’s brains to cover up Project 2501. The Puppet Master’s shell is destroyed, but Batou shields Kusanagi’s head in time to save her brain. As Section 9 closes in on the site, the snipers retreat.

“Kusanagi” wakes up in a new cyborg child body in Batou’s safehouse. She tells Batou that the entity within her body is neither Kusanagi nor the Puppet Master, but a combination of both. She promises Batou they will meet again, leaves the house and wonders where to go next.

For me, it’s tough not to watch this movie and be reminded of The Matrix. I had the unfortunate experience of watching that movie a great many years before this classic, and the repeated viewings of The Matrix trilogy over the years haven’t helped either. And so, the story is a familiar one, exploring self-identity as we relate to machines in a time when humans and machines have become interchangeable. God praise the internet, amirite? And the timeline is not that far away either, in both the film and reality.

Consciousness, humanity, autonomy, empathy, and mortality are all explored in a relatively short hour and twenty-some minutes. In a time when international corporations have basically done away with national identity too.The ghost in the shell is literally a play on the wandering consciousness that inhabits the meaty husk, and it wants to know if we hear it’s voice.

Pros: Visually compelling and with a message which has allowed it to age far better then films like Blade Runner or Total Recall, Ghost in the Shell is violent, emotional, and poetic to experience.

Cons: The individual characters are difficult to warm up to, but it might just be all of the robot parts they have imbedded.

Runtime: 1 hour 23 minutes

Points of Interest: Motoko’s eye are intentionally animated to not blink very often, giving her a feel of a doll, rather then a human. The title of the manga which inspired the film is written as an homage to the Arthur Koestler work, The Ghost in the Machine.

theories Summarized

So is the 2017 film better than the 1995 one? I’d like to think not, and not for the obvious whitewashing allusions that have been to popular on the internet over the past year or so. In fact, Mamoru Oshii has gone on record to state that the Major may or may not be Japanese, but regardless of her current appearance, her name and body have changed numerous times, and so it is in fact acceptable to have Scarlett Johansson in that role.

But I think the problem is that the anime far better depicts the story at hand, and that the visuals are far more compelling with their mix of traditional drawing and CGI. The Matrix will never be the same for me. And that’s no theory.

And speaking of things that The Matrix tried to wreak… Andre and I have a new Watch Culture video up for your viewing pleasure. Please tell us if you agree that Equilibrium is worth a watch, and if not, your comments are appreciated.

Tim!

Thunder Buddies (Broken Social Scene, Hug of Thunder review)

Every once and a while, we all need a hug. Especially when it gets weird and dark.

 

Broken Social Scene – Hug of Thunder

released July 7, 2017
********* 9/10

Broken Social Scene are a Canadian indie rock band (yay for Canadian content!) formed by Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning. Sometimes they have six members, and sometimes they have nineteen band members, because above all, Broken Social Scene are a musical super group of popular Canadian indie rock acts and solo artists…

Metric (Emily Haines, James Shaw), Feist (Leslie Feist), Stars (Amy Millan, Torquil Campbell, Evan Cranley), Apostle of Hustle (Andrew Whiteman), Do Make Say Think (Ohad Benchetrit, Julie Penner, Charles Spearin), KC Accidental (Kevin Drew), Valley of the Giants (Brendan Canning), Land of Talk (Elizabeth Powell), Raising the Fawn (John Crossingham), Reverie Sound Revue (Lisa Lobsinger), Treble Charger (Bill Priddle), Jason Tait, Justin Peroff, Jason Collett, Ariel Engle and a few other people have all featured at one time or another.

Altogether, they have released a whopping five studio length albums since their inception in 2001, which I think is pretty admirable given that all of these artists are in at least one other full-time band.

Despite misgivings that no band can be this big and still sound like the individual artists within, BSS manages to do just that. Sometimes they are chaotic and experimental, other times they are orchestral, sometimes they are sad and introspective, and still other times they are celebratory, but they are never timid in their presentation. Hug of Thunder is no weak sauce either.

This isn’t your Spider-Man album, no pulled punches people, please.

BSS spend most of the album letting us know that they are counter-culture, and by that, I mean that they refuse to share dream pop tracks and emotionally abuse people on the internet. This is a community of people shouting the importance of community, when most of us are screaming about politics into our phones. It resonates with the hipster nihilism we started to experience in the early 2000s, the stuff that took root in popular culture and grew into a field of bullshit weeds.

Ideas of love, community, sexuality, and honest to goodness rock and roll seem to have been completely forgotten about in recent years, but BSS refuse to give up on us ingrates. They’ll elevate us up, despite the incredible effort it takes to produce tracks like Gonna Get Better, tittle track Hug of Thunder, and Vanity Pail Kids.

I’m not gonna lie, this album deserved better than the world it’s been brought up in. Our celebrations of libertarianism are so common now that it’s tough to stomach the idea of pulling together and getting along, but Please Take Me With You and Skyline insist, almost plainly that we do. Though never quietly.

But here’s the catch, while you can consume this album in parts and pieces, it’s actually best viewed as a whole. Recognizing that a stable of musicians reunited after a seven year hiatus in order to combat against global indifference is a far stronger statement than Protest Song can deliver all on it’s own. Broken Social Scene have come together to release a pragmatic optimism, and that is probably the best antidote we could receive. Unabashed positivity isn’t realistic in 2017, but stating that the world is ending is foolish too.

We need to keep up the fight and keep working, vigilant without naivety. A challenge to be sure, but I wouldn’t have the message delivered any other way.

Pros: Halfway Home, Gonna Get Better and Protest Song are all excellent demonstrations of the gentle-hearted politics of this album, Hug of Thunder being a personal favourite.

Cons: At certain intersections the lack of a frontwoman or frontman is difficult to digest, and leaves the album feeling disjointed, like a compilation or a soundtrack, rather than an album. But this rare.

Runtime: 52 minutes

Points of Interest: In March of 2017, Broken Social Scene made an appearance on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, featuring past members Emily Haines, James Shaw, Amy Millan, and Evan Cranley, indicating we would see the a return to form. Ariel Engle is a new member of the band, and she has worked with Andrew Whiteman on AroarA previously, which is how she was introduced to the rest of the troupe.

The best and worst parts of Broken Social Scene come from their ability to work together as a group, and in taking it a bit safer with this record, those aspects become more apparent. This is still an excellent record, but not perfect because the exploration isn’t quite where it has been previously. Their message is amazing though, which makes up for a lot of that safety net.

theories Summarized

To put it in brief, this is an anthem for a new generation of apathy. The WIIFM (what’s in it for me) drone need not apply themselves in this case, because Broken Social Scene are all about that open concept of love, empathy and pulling together as a greater community. I’ve not much else to say, except that you really should listen to this album. And those are all of my theories on the matter.

Tim!

Be Formless. Shapeless. Like Water (Brendon Greene musician interview preview)

Bruce Lee is one of those iconic figures that so many people seem to be inspired by.  Especially people who want to make a motivational point for others. To be fair, he did accomplish a great many different things in his rather short life in order to earn that title. And he IS damn quotable.

Credited with changing how Asian people were viewed in American cinema was a big one, but that is just one of his many incredible feats, not to mention setting world records in martial arts, founding the martial art of Jeet Kune Do, and becoming a pop culture focal point of the 20th century.

Bruce Lee was multi-talented too – an actor, director, martial artist, instructor, and philosopher.

One of the reasons why people are so easily and regularly inspired by Bruce Lee (I suspect anyway), is because of his philosophical views on life. I am sure you’ve heard your share of Bruce Lee quotes in your lifetime, even if you didn’t know it yet. Take this gem for instance.

This is one of my favourites, but there are hundreds of them out there. I’ll tell you too, people love to make posters out of Bruce Lee quotes too.

Now you’re probably wondering why I’m even writing about Bruce Lee, because this looks like an artist interview post. And yeah, you’d be right if you are thinking that. It just so happens though, that this martial arts icon has inspired a new friend of mine too. And how.

Brendon Greene is a very interesting fellow. His life has been rife with challenges, or opportunities as I’m sure he would call them. From those opportunities, Brendon has figured out what his purpose in life is. Which is why he decided a very short time ago, after running to office in the Green Party, to open his own record label – Conscious Collective. Brendon regularly teaches musicians how to get started, produce an album, and distribute it too. Plus he loves to manage new talent and make beautiful music, to boot.

Today I give you a sneak peek of an interview I had with him recently on his role as a mentor for younger musicians, and how Conscious Collective is community oriented. This preview asks the question about who a burgeoning musician should work with, and what kinds of content they should consume.

And Brendon delivers.

 

theories Summarized

I hope this interview preview was useful creative cuties. Brendon has a lot more to say too, but you’ll just have to come back in a week if you want to hear the rest of his story. I promise it will be just as entertaining as this clip, if not moreso.

With a ton more heart and pop culture references, this is an interview that prefaces a new series I’ll be producing with Brendon too! But more on that later. I’m out of theories for now, and I need to get some shut eye.

Tim!

Hoo Rah (Kong: Skull Island review)

We need a king to protect us from the evils humanity, as well as the darkness of jungle. That much should be obvious by now.

 

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John Goodman, John C. Reilly, Corey Hawkins, John Ortiz
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
re-released on blu-ray July 18, 2017
******** 8/10

IMDB: 6.8
Rotten Tomatoes: 76%, Audience Score 71%
The Guardian: n/a

Jordan Vogt-Roberts is an American director and screenwriter. His directorial debut came with The Kings of Summer, a coming of age comedy that was released in 2013. So a bit of an odd twist that he followed it up with this action gem, and that he will also direct the future Metal Gear Solid movie. But who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? That’s right, only The Shadow knows, also there is a surprising amount of comedy to be had here… and so I move on.

Kong: Skull Island is the second monster film in the new MonsterVerse franchise that Legendary Pictures started down the path with in 2014’s Godzilla. There are two more monster movies lined up in the next few years, another Godzilla movie which will introduce Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah, and the much anticipated Godzilla vs Kong, expected to debut in 2020.

But enough about that, let’s get into the jungle and discuss the surprisingly entertaining Kong: Skull Island. One that both audiences and critics agreed upon!

Courtesy of Wikipedia

After a dog fight, in the midst of World War II, two fighter pilots parachute to an island, and then engage in close combat, but the fight is interrupted by a behemoth ape known as Kong.

Fast forward to 1973, government agent Bill Randa (John Goodman) hires former British SAS Captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), a skilled tracker, to guide an expedition to map out an island known as Skull Island. Escorted by a Vietnam War helicopter squadron led by Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson, the group is joined by photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson). Packard’s men begin the operation by dropping explosives developed by seismologist Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) to map out the island. However, the air unit is attacked by Kong, who kills a number of military personnel and scatters the survivors  into two groups across the island.

After being confronted by Packard, Randa reveals his affiliation to the secret government organization Monarch, which was trying to prove the existence of monsters and determine their threat to humanity. The other survivors, including Conrad and Weaver, try to get to a rendezvous point to meet a resupply team arriving in three days’ time. They encounter the local Iwi natives and an older Marlow (John C. Reilly). He reveals that Kong is the island’s guardian, worshiped as a god by the natives for protecting the island’s inhabitants from many predators, including reptilian underground monsters dubbed “Skullcrawlers”. They have killed Kong’s ancestors, leaving him as the last of his kind.

Packard’s group begins making their way to Chapman, one of the survivors, whose helicopter crash-landed elsewhere. Meanwhile, Chapman is ambushed and eaten by a Skullcrawler. Conrad’s group helps Marlow complete a boat built from parts scavenged from the original downed planes. They regroup with Packard, who insists on searching for Chapman, though his true objective is to find and kill Kong.

Marlow leads the two groups to a mass grave littered with the bones of Kong’s kind. A Skullcrawler attacks the group, spitting up Chapmans dogtags and killing Randa and many soldiers. Learning about Chapman’s death, a vengeful Packard blames Kong for the deaths of his men and becomes determined to kill him. The two groups part ways, with Conrad and Weaver finally encountering Kong up-close, and resolve to save him.

Packard’s group triggers napalm explosions to lure him in. And it works. Conrad’s group arrives and persuades the other soldiers to spare Kong, but Packard refuses to stand down. Then, a massive Skullcrawler emerges from the lake, and Packard is crushed to death by a recovering Kong. The Skullcrawler overpowers Kong at first and chases the humans, but Kong rips it up. Kong also saves Weaver from drowning, as she had been knocked into the water during the fight, and allows the survivors to leave the island.

During the credits, Marlow returns home, reuniting with his wife, meeting his son for the first time, and watching a Chicago Cubs game on television. Post-credits reveal ancient drawings of Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah, and even a fight between Godzilla and Ghidorah.

With just the right mix of action, over-the-top deaths, and seemingly unintentional comedy, Kong: Skull Island is an homage to the B grade monster movies of the past. You want to see Kong jump-punch a helicopter, and he does it. It’s even rewarding to watch all of the different creatures destroying the soldiers as they traverse the island.

What starts out as a slow ride with very little in the way of plot, speeds up in the second act, and we finally get a great story along with some silly characterizations that serve as filler for the the king.

Pros: Kong looks amazing and is incredible as a Lovecraftian type deity. John C. Reilly helps ground the story with his man-out-of-time bit. The CGI is well done too.

Cons: Almost all of the actors are mismanaged here, with Brie Larson coming off confused, Samuel L. Jackson feeling stiff, and Tom Hiddleston having nothing to do.

Runtime: 1 hour 56 minutes

Points of Interest: Vogt-Roberts was inspired by video games to include many POV shots of guns being fired, even taking inspiration from Resident Evil to show a helicopter hitting the ground. Marlow and Conrad are references to Joseph Conrads book, Heart of Darkness. As well as Apocalypse Now being a thematic and visual inspiration.

I think it needs to be emphasized that this is not a kind and compassionate Kong, he is fighter, tough as nails and only accepting of humans upon them proving themselves to him. The allusions to Heart of Darkness are welcome, and the shift away from the the three other adaptations is satisfying too. This is excellent popcorn fare.

theories Summarized

Despite the way too large ensemble cast, and the silliness that is needed to get us to Skull Island in the first place, this movie works well in so many ways. And thankfully John C. Reilly is able to serve a good role as something of a protagonist, despite such a small character arc. I think after the disappointing Godzilla remake, Legendary are finally on the right track.

But that’s not all the theories for today, I’ve got another Watch Culture episode to share too.

Direct quote from André “It’s cool in this era too, man,” which let’s you know that Luc Besson did good with this movie from the 1990s. But you should just watch the episode, because this episode is full of gold.

Tim!

And He Kept On Preaching In The Synagogues (JAY-Z, 4:44 review)

If I owned a sports bar, clothing line, sports agency, and multi-millions in real estate and art investments, people would probably come running to hear me too.

 

JAY-Z – 4:44

released Jun 30, 2017
********** 10/10

Sean Corey Carter, bettter known by his stage name JAY-Z, which has also been written as Jay-Z, Jay Z, Jay:Z and Jaÿ-ZJay-Z, Jay Z, Jay:Z and Jaÿ-Z, is an American rapper and businessman. Or should I say, business, man? As it says directly on the album cover, this is his thirteenth studio album, and it’s probably one of this most mature efforts yet.

I mean yeah, Reasonable Doubt was groundbreaking, and The Blueprint a masterpiece, while The Black Album made us miss him, but 4:44 is his apologetic letter for being an asshole, and man does it sing with sincerity and truth. It’s personal, poetic, and poised to take the place of top hip hop record of the year, ironic given that his wife had a top charting album last year. JAY-Z is a legend, and 4:44 is his opportunity to put together an album for him. This is not a cool album, trying to keep up with current day hip hop, there are no singles here. If anything, it sounds like it was put together quickly and abruptly.

So yeah, this is and isn’t a response to Lemonade. It’s more about us getting to see JAY-Z as a fallible human. He raps about being black and racial inequalities, infidelity, his daughter, politics, his personal wealth, and a total dismissal of his ego. It’s fucking brilliant.

But it’s not for your average fan, it’s for those who appreciate his legacy and understand who he is and what he has done for the game.

Kill Jay-Z is a direct reference to the time that Solange Knowles attacked him in an elevator, and it brings up the degradation of his friendship with Kanye West. Also he apologizes for the first time officially to Beyonce, confirming that Lemonade is a true account. He later does that and more on title track 4:44, especially apologizing to all of the women in his life that he has played.

One of my favourites songs is The Stoy of O.J. and it features my favourite line of the album too. This comes when Hova raps “I’m not black, I’m OJ….OK” that sarcasm is a beautiful aftertaste to the cutting wine it was served with. But it’s not like Jay hasn’t rapped about his financial freedom before, nor the fact that black people won’t have security until they understand how Jewish people get rich off of credit. A bold statement within a real album.

Smile is another essential track about his mother Gloria Carter, who outs herself as a lesbian, but JAY-Z lovers her all the more, and encourages all of us to love who we love because life is ever-changing.

We get to see the classic dissing raps of older Jay on Caught Their Eyes and  Marcy Me, going after Prince’s Estate on the first of these two tracks, respectively. Or should I say disrespectively?

Of course the middle of the record also features Family Feud which is a gold mine of lyrics and beats from the heart. It addresses the old schools and new of hip hop, with Jay-Z proving that he has still got it, after all, on track closer, Legacy, he proves family extends to all black people. He wants to leave something meaningful behind in his business work.

Pros: Absolutely essential tracks to this record are The Story of O.J., Smile, and Family Feud. But every song has an element of sincerity to it, making this the most intimate JAY-Z album to-date.

Cons: It’s somewhat awkward to listen to Bam and Caught Their Eyes, they aren’t the most flow friendly tracks. Also that awkward hook on Moonlight about the La La Land fiasco. Seriously?

Runtime: 36 minutes

Points of Interest: Featuring appearances from his daughter Blue Ivy, his mother Gloria Carter, Frank Ocean, The-Dream, and wife Beyonce, this stripped down album has a certain vulnerability to it which we’ve never seen before.

As I mentioned before, this is not your latest and greatest clubbing hip hop record. It is chock full of thoughtful and revealing songs, and deserves the attention of an alumni of JAY-Z’s work. To say that he is the greatest rapper of all time isn’t that big of a boast – the confessional nature of this record solidifies his reputation.

theories Summarized

If it hasn’t been made clear for you just yet, JAY-Z is a business, man. Him and Diddy are almost tied for the most financial successful rappers of all time . But that’s not what this album is about. It’s a testimonial to his screwups, him owning his coldness, and settling into middle age. Hova has worked with so many different arists over the years, but I find it fitting to mention his 2004 collaboration with Linkin Park before I close this post off. RIP Chester Bennington. Jazzy will hold it down for you from here on out.

Tim!