Commentaries

Friday, March 31, 2017

GHOST IN THE SHELL



GHOST IN THE SHELL

Film Review by Fiore 


Once again, I had the ability to see GHOST IN THE SHELL without knowing anything about the character or the storyline.  As such, I can say I enjoyed this movie, which was really a mishmash of several high profile sci-fi classics.  GHOST IN THE SHELL is based on an Anime cartoon series.  Anime fanboys tend to be more vociferous than Marvel fanboys, so their overall reaction should be taken with a very large grain of salt.  For my part, this movie combined enough weird sci-fi/fantasy elements and action to make it well worth viewing.

It is the future, and the distinctive line between man and machine is diminishing rapidly.  Most humans are robotically enhanced.  Imagine having the ability to enhance any element of your body.  (Okay, now get your mind out of the gutter; though that’s what I thought of, too.)  So, the average schmuck you encounter can have enhanced abilities you may not want to contend with, depending on  the circumstances.

Given this scenario, the industrial military complex (naturally, there can never be another antagonist in the minds of Hollywood) want to take enhancement a step further.  They design a complete artificial life (AI) robot, and simply drop a human brain into the apparatus.  The concept is to have an unstoppable weapon, with the ability to think, reason and make human decisions in the field.

The first of these AI weapons is Major, played by Scarlett Johansson.  She is the supreme warrior, feeling no pain, with the ability to teleport and bend space.  She commands a team of mercenaries that includes: Batou (Pilou Asbeak); Han (Chin Han); Ladriya (Danusia Samal); and Ishikawa (Lasarus Ratuere).  They are all under the tutelage of Aramaki, played by Takeshi Kitano, a wise old warrior, much in the vein of Yoda.  The merc team is very similar to Michael Biehn’s team in ALIENS. 

Major is nearly a carbon copy of Peter Weller’s ROBOCOP, except with the enhanced ability to teleport.  In fact, the central conflict in GHOST IN THE SHELL is exactly the same as ROBOCOP.  Major begins to remember her past, and her memories of the past are interfering with her functions.  As an AI, she must come to terms with what she is, and who she was.  This will alter her belief system and her loyalties.  The key plot point is Major’s discovery that she is indeed, not the first of her kind.  There are others, and they all share a bond. Like Will Smith’s I, ROBOT, this is a familiar theme to robot movies, so viewers will feel comfortable with it, while enjoying the enhanced SFX.


1.1        KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:

1.      THE ATTACK ON THE AFRICAN AMBASSADOR
2.      SWIMMING WITH THE JELLYFISH
3.      THE HEALING OPERATION


Technically, GHOST IN THE SHELL looks great.  The futuristic city is filled with moving things, and all free air space is filled with advertisements.  In this, the city looks like and copies stylings from Harrison Ford’s BLADE RUNNER.  Credit Production Designer Jan Roelfs with the look. 

Jamie Moss and William Wheeler handle the screenplay based on the comic by Masamune Shirow.  They do a fine job introducing the characters, setting up the plot and then keeping within the established framework.

Jess Hall provides sound cinematography, though the dreaded close-up quick editing action sequences are used, and, as always, it is a major distraction.  There is actually no reason for this.  Richard Norton, martial artist extraordinaire and close compatriot of Chuck Norris, serves as the fight choreographer.  So, the only reason for this type of cinematography is to mask the actors’ inability to dedicate enough time, like Keanu Reeves in the JOHN WICK series, to actually learn the moves.
 
Once again, I’ll state my editor theory:  more than one editor on a film detracts from the overall message.  GHOST IN THE SHELL utilizes two editors, Billy Rich and Neil Smith.  There are key segments in the second act, and yes, even one in the third, which drag.  It is a bit unsettling because, until these scenes, the film just flies. 

Overall, Director Rupert Sanders helms a decent sci-fi flick that has enough purloined elements from other films to emit an air of comfort, especially for a movie more seeped in Japanese culture.

Let’s take a look at the report card for GHOST IN THE SHELL:


ACTING = C
CINEMATOGRAPHY = B
SOUND/MUSIC = A
EDITING = C
LIGHTING = B
SCRIPT = B
SFX = A
ACTION = A




Without the chains of familiarity of the GHOST IN THE SHELL comic, I was able to enjoy this movie version.  It looks impressive on the big screen, and if you have the chance, see it in 3D. 




Tuesday, March 28, 2017

THE ZOOKEEPER'S WIFE



THE CHASTAIN CRUSADE

Film Review by Fiore 


Every year, Hollywood releases at least one film pertaining to the Holocaust.  This is because, as Mel Gibson knows, Hollywood is run by Jews; or as Mel Brooks said: “If it wasn’t for Jews and queers, there would be no Hollywood”.

Frivolity aside, it is good Hollywood continues to produce these films.  The Holocaust was a horrific time in history; and unfortunately, it is receiving short shrift among the Millennials.  I’m not certain if this is due to the revisionist history permeating text books today, or if the entire generation is only concerned with matters originating on their birthdays.  Whatever the cause, too many today have forgotten the horrors of the Holocaust.  Even more important, they have forgotten the attitudes and ideologies that led to the Holocaust.  Therefore, many cannot see the parallels between Nazi Germany and the current Muslim jihad and kalifate. Tragic, indeed, for those who do not learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.  So, I, for one, am glad Hollywood continues to make these films.  Back in my production days, I had the opportunity to shoot and edit presentations made by Holocaust survivors.  Their tales were compelling, tragic and heroic.  They are stories which should not be whitewashed in history.

That said, THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE is not a particularly good film, even though it has a good subject.  Starring Jessica Chastain, Johan Heldenbergh and Daniel Bruhl, it is based on true events of Jewish smuggling through the Warsaw Zoo during the Nazi occupation of Poland.  The film is choppy and tediously slow.  It serves more as a showcase for Jessica Chastain, who seems to be on a personal mission to create politically relevant films.  In her efforts to be a celluloid crusader, Chastain mugs for the lens too frequently.  Her German/Polish accent is spot on in some scenes, but weak and strained in others.

The film begins as if it is a female-driven remake of DR. DOOLITTLE.  Chastain whirls through a zoo, talking, in her own manner, to all the animals, who love her endlessly.  The opening scene sets up the running theme through THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE that animals are better than humans.  It’s a message sure to cause ripples of joy among members of the Sierra Club.

Act two of THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE is like watching paint dry.  Screenwriter Angela Workman takes a sabbatical from face-paced writing and drags the technicians, actors and viewers through a quagmire of needless scenes.  The problem is one of adaptation.  To concentrate on the star’s role, scenes are established so Chastain can shine at the expense of the flow of the story.  Because of this, a key character transition, where Chastain’s husband, Jan, played by Heldenbergh, suddenly shifts from zoo keeper to freedom fighter, is glossed over, creating a sequential rift in the plot.  Jan’s story is more compelling, unfortunately, Heldenbergh is not the star.

The antagonist in the film is obviously the Nazis.  As an aside here, no one ever details why the Nazis hated the Jews so much, and why they felt it was necessary to remove them from the Earth.  Just show the grey or black uniform, or the swastika, and the image of evil is immediately ingrained.  It is like a bearded man wearing a turban.  The Nazi malevolence is embodied in Burhl’s character of Lutz Heck.  He plays the part well.


1.1        KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:

1.      STOPPED AT THE GATE
2.      HELPING THE ELEPHANT
3.      THE BASEMENT DISCOVERY


Director Niki Caro weaves a meandering tale, and receives little help from Editor David Coulson.  As a result, THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE loses its impact, and then endures for at least 40 minutes longer than necessary.  The tale’s time transitions are sporadic and perplexing. 

Let’s look at the report card for THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE:

ACTING = C
CINEMATOGRAPHY = C
SOUND/MUSIC = C
EDITING = D
LIGHTING = C
SCRIPT = D
SFX = D
ACTION = D



There are many good films about the Holocaust.  THE PIANIST; DEFIANCE; THE READER; IN DARKNESS; OUT OF THE ASHES; LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL to name just a few; but THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE doesn’t come close to the lofty heights those films attained. 

Friday, March 24, 2017

LIFE



ANOTHER GOOD MONSTER FLICK

Film Review by Fiore 


I must commend the Hollywood studios.  This year already, they released some fine monster movies:  THE GREAT WALL; KONG: SKULL ISLAND; SPLIT; DON’T KILL IT; THE VOID; and now LIFE.  LIFE boasts an all-star cast, and very talented folk behind the camera.

Years ago, technically I should say decades, a schlock-b sci-fi film found a following and became a cult classic.  It was IT: TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE.  It was a regular on Chilly Billy’s Chiller Theatre.  It was about a trip to Mars that ends in disaster.  A research space crew returns to Earth, unaware a Martian creature is a stowaway on their ship.  The creature systematically eliminates the crew members, as they desperately attempt to kill the creature before they land on Earth.  LIFE is basically the same story, but with better SFX and a bigger budget.

For LIFE, it’s best to explore the technicians first.  Seamus McGarvey is Director of Photography.  He is best known for his work with Director Ridley Scott, but within the past few years, he has worked on two FIST OF FIORE AWARD winners: Gareth Edward’s GODZILLA; and Ben Affleck’s THE ACCOUNTANT.  His work in LIFE is exemplary, as many of his visuals highlight the film’s tension.  There is one sequence of the crew fighting the creature in an air tunnel, that is a bit confusing, mainly due to the zero gravity elements; but, overall, the visuals are great.

Nigel Phelps is Production Designer and responsible for bringing the monster, “Calvin”, to life (pun intended).   He worked on Brad Pitt’s WORLD WAR Z, the TRANSFORMER movie series and THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR, with Jet Li, which featured abdominal snowmen, dragons and harpies in addition to mummies.  He also served as Art Director for Tim Burton’s BATMAN.

Jon Ekstrand pens an epic score.  The end credit theme is worth sitting through until the end.  It is the sixth time Ekstrand collaborated with Director Daniel Espinosa, but it is his most ambitious work to date.

1.1        KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:

1.      THE RAT
2.      BATTLE IN THE AIR LOCK
3.      ROD SERLING ENDING


An orbiting space station is due to receive a capsule module returning from an eight-month sample gathering expedition on Mars.  Among the samples, the scientist find life; a single cell, constructed like the cells on Earth.   This one, however, begins to show extremely aggressive behavior and soon begins to grow at a rapid pace.

The scientists on the space station are: Jake Gyllenhaal; Ryan Reynolds; Rebecca Ferguson; Olga Dihovichnaya; Hiroyuki Sanada; and Ariyon Bakare.

LIFE takes about 22 minutes to set up the premise and characters.  During that time, the movie drags; however, if you make it through the warm-up.  The rest is a thrill ride.

Let’s look at the report card for LIFE:


ACTION = A
CINEMATROGRAPHY = A
SOUND/MUSIC = A
EDITING = B
LIGHTING = B
SCRIPT = B
SFX = A
ACTION = A



LIFE was not given a press screening.  This is usually done when the studio has little faith in the film’s box office clout.  On this one, they were wrong.  See it on the big screen.  It’s worth the price of admission.