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!

Gun Kata (John Wick: Chapter 2 review)

I love the TV Tropes brand. It’s all about the collection of and education on popular culture, specifically as it relates to common figures of speech. The ones that best convey concepts that exist in various forms of media, like movies, or say, television.

Now for example, in action movies, it’s fairly common for guys to smash and girls to shoot things. But does this action movie fall prey to tropes? Or transcend them?

 

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

Cast: Keanu Reeves, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ian McShane, Ruby Rose, Common, Claudia Gerini, Lance Reddick, Laurence Fishburne
Director: Chad Stahelski
re-released on blu-ray June 13, 2017
********** 10/10

IMDB: 7.8
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%, Audience Score 87%
The Guardian: ***/*****

Chad Stahelski is an American stuntman and director. It wasn’t until fairly recently that he took up the reins and decided to direct a movie, starting with  the first John Wick, and now it’s sequel John Wick: Chapter 2. More importantly, Stahelski is famous for his relationship with Brandon Lee, son of Bruce Lee, who died from a gunshot wound during the final days of filming for The Crow. Stahelski was a good friend, and agreed to replace Lee as a stunt double, even wearing prosthetics to look like Lee, so that the movie could be completed.

He is also currently working on Triple Threat, a movie which stars Tony Jaa, Tiger Chen and Iko Uwais. That said, I think with his well established history in film that Stahelski was more then prepared to take on the action genre, and so far, it’s been to his benefit.

In case you haven’t seen 2014’s John Wick, I recommend you go and do so, because there are massive spoilers ahead.

Taken from Wikipedia and edited down –

Mere days later for, former assassin John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is at Abram Tarasov’s (Peter Stormare) chop shop looking for his car. He demolishes Tarasov’s men, but his car is damaged in the fight. He chooses to spare Tarasov as a peace offering, and heads home.

Aurelio (John Leguizamo) fixes the car, but John is visited by Italian crime lord Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio). We learn that John was able to retire with the help of D’Antonio, and that they have a blood oath which John is required to fulfill upon request. D’Antonio presents the medallion to demand services from John, but John refuses. In a fit of rage, D’Antonio decides to take a grenade launcher to John’s house.

Winston (Ian McShane) reminds John of the two rules of the underworld, and that by breaking the oath he would be marked for death. The other rule being that every assassin has amnesty in Winston’s hotel. John reluctantly agrees and accepts the proposal, which is to assassinate  D’Antonio’s sister (Claudia Gerini), the head of the criminal group called the  “High Table”, a council of high-level crime lords. D’Antonio sends Ares (Ruby Rose), his personal bodyguard, to surveil John.

John easily infiltrates Gianna’s compound and confronts her – Gianna instead chooses to commit suicide. While retreating, D’Antonio’s men flip on John, hoping to consolidate his newfound power. Gianna’s bodyguard Cassian (Common) learns what has happened and begins a relentless pursuit.  They land at Winston’s hotel, and stop their battle at per the rules. Cassian vows revenge.

D’Antonio then opens a $7 million  contract on John and he fights his way through the city, dispatching numerous hidden assassins. He even runs into Cassian again, and wins the fight, so he can make his way to underground crime lord The Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), whose subordinates treat his injuries and guide him to D’Antonio’s location. After navigating a hall of mirrors, John forces D’Antonio back to the the Continental. But despite Winston’s warnings, John kills D’Antonio in the Continental dining room.

Winston unfortunately has to excommunicate John from the order, but gives him another marker and some time to plan his next move before doubling the contract and sending it out globally. This doesn’t phase John, who collects his dog and starts running across the city.

Oddly enough this movie manages to accomplish more then enough in the way to trope fulfillment and furnishing a thin plot to move the action ahead.

But where most action flick fall apart because of their ridiculous premise, John Wick embraces the odd and each element is considered within the framework of the already established world. We can suspend our disbelief because we don’t “really” know how the world of assassins works, but the action and dialogue are slick, allowing the most important motivation of John Wick’s revenge to shine throughout.

Pros: The rules of this world continue to be defined with great consideration and the lack of CGI create better entertainment then anything out there right now. The choreography, the cinematography, even Reeves in the role of John is deliberate.

Cons: Of course, the motivations of the first film are stronger and the action a little more frantic. This movie serves up a lot more of the same, and is a little long as a result. And then we introduce the problem of John as someone who is invincible, and with that Superman complex, a little less compelling.

Runtime: 2 hours 2 minutes

Points of Interest: Keanu Reeves is a talented martial artist, and performed almost all of the stunts himself, with the exceptions of the car crash and falling down stairs. Second time director Chad Stahelski was a stuntman in the Matrix Trilogy. Laurence Fishburne elude to their connections as co-stars of The Matrix Trilogy.

The first John Wick movie was artfully created and a sleeper hit of 2014. This movie is an excellent addition to the catalogue and another example that over-the-top budgets don’t always equal action success. The Fishburne cameo is a welcome addition and perfect demonstration of the skillful layering going in in this movie.

theories Summarized

I really enjoyed this film and I suspect that if you are an action movie fan, Keanu Reeves supporter and even interested in experiments in storytellling, then you won’t blink twice at picking this up. That said, I have to wonder where we can go from here, and hope that Stahelski can put a nice bow on these films after the third is completed. John Wick: Chapter 2 appears to be mindless fun, but it has more then enough world-building to make stand out as one of the top five movies of 2017.

Also, in case you’re looking for another movie recommendation, the latest and greatest Watch Culture vid is now up!

No more theories from me friends, I’m tapped out for the now. But come back tomorrow for some wisdom.

Tim!

Spoilers Ahead (The Fate of the Furious)

I really do love The Fast and the Furious.

The original movie, with all of it’s flaws, is a clear derivation from the equally ridiculous Point Break, and all of the challenges that came with telling a story about a cop gone native.

The story was simple – Brian, as played by the late Paul Walker, was an undercover cop investigating street racers in hopes of uncovering a group of thieves that committed larceny using their cars. Dom, played by Vin Diesel, was the head of one of these gangs, and because of their mutual love of street racing, and Brian’s interest in Dom’s sister Mia, a friendship was born.

One of the things that haters of these kinds of movies seem to forget is that all films are stories. Some of us just happen to prefer certain story themes over others. But all good stories function well at both exaggerating and limiting elements of a tale in hopes of constructing a narrative that affects you on a personal level. I stand by the statement that these are good films.

The original The Fast and the Furious spoke to me not only because of the chemistry between it’s two male leads, but because of how the cinematography was handled, as not once did any shot remain static. Additionally, the attention to crafting relationships with dialogue, as well as the semi-plausibility of it all were essential – I could imagine an undercover cop falling in love with the sister of a suspect, and becoming friends with that suspect and his crew because the cop related to them at some level.

We Ride Together, We Die Together

Each of the subsequent films worked to build on this formula of bonding and added in details to flesh out the stories of Brian O’Connor and Dominic Toretto. Turning them from friends into brothers. This is where the mention of “family” in parodies later becomes brutally apparent. That said, family is what has made these films interesting, the glue that binds them together. Brian gave Dom a 10 second car at the last minute of The Fast and the Furious out of respect and love, but also because another of his best friends, Roman Pearce, was a criminal that he couldn’t/wouldn’t help. In 2 Fast 2 Furious we learned more about Brian’s past, which helped us better appreciate the first film.

Throughout the series Brian realized that family beats out everything, and it became the backbone of his purpose in the stories. Dom served as the father figure that would bring everyone together, and would fight for his loved ones at all costs.

As the franchise evolved, the action sequences and set up for each story became more elaborate, partly because of fan expectations, but also because of a theory I have which demonstrates the heroic nature of the protagonists. They could achieve the impossible, but most importantly, they were at the core, a group of misfits bound by love. They started out as street racers, but were really superheroes underneath it all. This is why when Paul Walker died mid-production of Furious 7,  I had hidden reservations about the future of the franchise.

This Time It Ain’t Just About Being Fast

But when the first trailer for The Fate of the Furious came out, I was still stoked.

Charlize Theron was cast, and I heard rumours that Helen Mirren was a last minute addition. I even did a Facebook live post while I watched the trailer. And as time went on, I enjoyed each of the subsequent trailers that cropped up. Maybe they had found a way to move on without Paul Walker.

After all, the series had managed to progress from robbery and street racing, to drug dealers, to heists, to fighting against international terrorism, why would this film be any different?

Well for a few reasons.

Without going into great detail about the plot of this film, I’ll start by saying that I was glad to go see it, and director F. Gary Gray has done the series justice in terms of cinematography and action sequences, on top of that we get to see the most dramatic portrayal of Dominic Toretto to date.

But it doesn’t have quite that same balance without the glue that is Brian O’Connor. Luke Hobbs, played by Dwayne Johnson, is way too big of a star to properly co-share the screen time with Dom, and adding in former villain Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), just feels dirty and wrong. Lest we forget that Deckard killed Han and several military types en masse as revenge for what happened to his brother Owen.

Deckard then becomes a sort of goofy trigger-happy member of the team in the last act, which, while entertaining, drove me completely nuts. Why couldn’t one of the other members of the team seen more screen-time, like Roman, Tej or Letty? Heck, I’d even have been happier to see more Ramsey, but less Ramsey as object of competition between Roman and Tej.

theories Summarized

In brief, F8 loses some of the charm and brotherhood that made The Fast and the Furious feel like home to me, though to be clear, Dom never really does turn his back on family, in fact, the twist is too good. It perfectly fits with his character. But, if this is a set up for what ends up being a satisfying trilogy conclusion to the Fast franchise post Paul Walker, I hope it’s all worth it.

It could just be a theory, but maybe Scott Eastwood could replace Paul as the new guy with good hair?

Tim!

Avengers 2.5 (Captain America: Civil War review)

Have you watched the best movie of the year yet? Well if you don’t know what I’m getting at, I’m not going to drag this out. It’s time to sit down and enjoy Captain America: Civil War.

 

 

 

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Cast: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, Tom Holland, Daniel Bruhl, Frank Grillo
Director(s): Anthony Russo, Joseph V. Russo
released on blu-ray September 13, 2016
********* 10/10

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IMDB: 8.1
Rotten Tomatoes: 90%, Audience Score 90%
The Guardian: ****/*****

The Russo brothers conduct most of their work in film as a team, whether it’s directing (Welcome to Collinwood, You, Me and Dupree, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War Part 1, and Avengers: Infinity War Part 2) producing, writing, acting, or in post-production. Also it’s kinda weird for me to put You, Me and Dupree down. Though they did have a major hand in directing both Arrested Development and Community, two of my favourite television shows.

It’s going to be challenging for me writing about this movie without pouring out my soul and spilling over the edges of the screen. I will say this as a preface. This is my favourite Marvel movie so far, and it is based on my favourite Marvel story of all time, so it’s really important for me to remain unbiased in my feedback.

I loved this movie. And I think it’s pretty fair to say “spoiler alert.” It features my all-time favourite superhero done right for the first time. Spider-Man is played by Tom Holland and he does such a great job of filling the shoes of someone who has incredible powers, a moral compass, but no idea of what to do with his abilities. He rambles on during the major ensemble fight of the movie, he stutters over his words in trying to keep secrets from Aunt May. Tom Holland was born to play Peter Parker.

The plot of the movie is fairly simple, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) was operating as a literal sleeper agent for Hydra ever since the 1940s, and in the 1990s he intercepted a case of super-soldier serum from the Starks, killing them in the process.

In present day, a team of the Avengers are working to find Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo). Rumlow blows himself up, hoping to kill Captain America (Chris Evans), but Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) contains the blast, throwing it in the air and accidentally kills several Wakandan emissaries.

The UN decides that the Avengers need to be put in check because of the events in Lagos and previous events in New York, Washington DC, and Sokovia. And Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is leading the charge, especially after he is confronted by a mother who lost her son during their mission to stop Ultron a year earlier in Sokovia.

Because Cap had dealt with the infiltration of SHIELD by Hydra agents previously, he doesn’t believe that this is the right decision. Eventually Cap and Iron Man come to blows because of this difference of opinion, building their own teams of heroes. Especially the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), who goes on a mission of revenge after his father King T’Chaka of Wakanda is murdered during a bomb blast triggered during the UN Sokovia accords session. The world thinks the Winter Soldier did it, and Captain America wants to bring in his friend, but against UN oversight.

The events turn out to be orchestrated by Colonel Helmut Zemo, a Sokovian who lost his whole family during the events of the Age of Ultron. He wanted to break up the Avengers from the inside, and worked to get Barnes, Cap, and Iron Man in the same room. Only revealing that Barnes murdered the Starks at the last moments of the film. A fantastic twist that still haunts me after three viewings.

 

Pros: This movie has it all. Action, drama, humour, a great plot, incredible cameos that never feel full, deep connections, and even some references to the Russo brothers previous work.

Cons: There aren’t any. Just kidding. In some ways it feels like a build-up to the next Avengers movie, but all of the movies feel that way upon deeper inspection.

Runtime: 2 hours 27 minutes

Points of Interest: The film lines up rather nicely with the 75th anniversary of Captain America. And 10 years ago, the original Civil War comic book came out. It’s also the Black Panther’s 50th anniversary.

This movie is entertaining throughout it’s long screen time. I barely notice the time fly by as I watch the spectacle unfold. And even when it gets introspective, nay, especially when it gets introspective, you can’t help but become engrossed by the characters. My heart actually breaks when Tony says “I don’t care, he killed my mom.” The Russo brothers have an incredible ability to balance drama with everything else.

 

 

 

Dear readers, do yourself a favour, run, don’t walk to your nearest major retailer or go online and get yourself a digital copy of this movie. I don’t think Marvel is going to do much better than this. We’ve reached the apex of the MCU and it was glorious.

Tim!

Checks And Balances (Ryan Andrade interview)

After some much needed time away from the lab these past two days, I’ve had something of a breakthrough. I realized that not every solution calls for immediate action, dear readers. Sometimes an opportunity will present itself at the last moment, and allow you to regain balance taking you towards the direction you should be headed. Want an example?

Okay. For instance, dating is hard.

It truly does take a lot of time, effort, and energy to go out and meet new people. And if you put all of your willpower into your dating life, the rest of your life kinda falls by the way side. Which quite frankly won’t win you any points with romantic interests in the long run. Unless they too are running into life obstacles and are themselves overwhelmed. But living that way will lead into a whole host of different problems, and likely a messy finish. It’s better for you to have your own shit together (or are at the very least regularly working on your goals), and make some time to pursue romantic relationships. As things move along, you’ll find that the quality of dates you have improve because you can spot red flags in potential mates earlier in the courtship.

But what the heck does this have to do with timotheories or even artist interviews?

Good point dear readers. Well, a lot if I’m being perfectly honest. Creative professionals are not exempt from the challenge of maintaining balance in their lives. I might even argue that it’s more difficult for them to do this because there are less obvious resources available about how to start an art related business then there are for other commodities. Artists have to deal with intellectual property issues, and a considerable amount of ignorance on the value of their work.

Which is exactly what today’s interviewee strives to clear up. His uncanny ability to work his own interests into all facets of his life are a great example of what we should all be doing in order to find and maintain balance.

Ryan Andrade is a journeyman welder who loves the arts. He’s made the time to pursue a post-secondary education while earning a trade and travelling in from Ft. Saskatchewan on an almost daily basis. His down-to-earth mentality of working and keeping things technical without getting hung up on explanations of his art or worrying about what it means, allow him to keep up with the work.

I think you too will enjoy what he has to say about the theme of balance and what he does to follow his own heartbeat. I’m gonna take a note from Ryan and stop right here. I’ll let the interview speak for itself.

And as always, if you want to check out more timotheories interviews or the Cross Talk series please visit our YouTube channel.  And please, please, please share this post and of course subscribe to both the blog and channel!

Now let’s get down to business – Ryan doesn’t have much in the way of social media at the moment. So please send an email to timotheories@outlook.com and I’ll get in contact with him for you.

Lastly my sincerest thanks to Ryan for being rad, real, and ready. See you tomorrow with an album review that’s features an angel and probably my favourite one of the year.

Tim!