Movies


Last night I introduced a friend of mine to the 2008 movie Speed Racer. He’s about a half generation or so younger than me, in his early 40s, but similar enough in age that he remembers the old TV series fondly.

When I was a kid, I would run home every day from school because at 3:30 Speed Racer, the old Japanese anime, would come on. It was followed by another favorite, Star Blazers, these older shows having been dumped for cheap on local broadcasters out of Philadelphia. Speed Racer was a corny show about a young race car driver who got involved in all sorts of crime-fighting, all while trying to finish races. His car, the Mach 5, was a marvelous GT two-seater with jump jacks, sawblades to cut through obstacles, and other high-tech innovations. It was wonderfully stupid (and on a more recent view, glacially paced by today’s standards…)

I didn’t know a single kid who didn’t like the show. It was popular enough Hot Wheels kicked out their notoriously close to copyright infringement “Second Wind” car. (And yes…I’ve had this since I was a kid.)

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I was highly skeptical when I heard the then-Wachowski Brothers were doing a movie. I had liked The Matrix, but the sequels had been unimpressive, for me. Right before release, Warner Brothers dropped the first seventeen minutes online and was surprised to find that the directors just might have actually managed to capture the essence of the old show. I was in the theater that first show with maybe a dozen other people. For the next two hours, I was assaulted by a frenzy of color and sound, an amazing score by Michael Giacchino (this century’s John Williams…). This kaleidoscope of color and computer generated imagery was derided by a number of the critics. “Twelve-year-old boys should be wowed, but for the rest of us, it will depend on your appetite for eye candy…” was Tom Charity’s comment on CNN.com, and in that blurb he captures the challenge of the movie: Yes, the colors are cartoon bright, the world they build is both that of the 1960s and some alternate future, the technologies are ridiculous…but this is a movie about a guy with a car with f***ing sawblades that pop out the front! His dismissal of this as something for twelve year old boys was exactly the point when I had watched the preview online. This is the world when you were eight or ten or twelve, when everything was possible. This is the world of the Hot Wheels tracks you built, when you drove your Matchboxes up the side of that cliff (played by the arm of your mom’s couch); if you pay attention, you’ll see some of the race tracks are those toy racetracks from when you were a kid!

You have to watch the movie as that kid you have to be. If you do, you can look past the eye candy, and what you get is an earnest and beautiful movie about a young man coming of age, and his family’s difficulty in accepting this. But accept it they do, and they go on to help him achieve his goals, despite the pain and fear they suffer in doing so.

Speed Racer is the second of three sons to Pops Racer (brilliantly played by John Goodman). The whole family is racing obsessed, but not for money, for the pure joy of it. The eldest brother, Rex, is a superb driver who gets caught up in the criminal element of the racing world and fakes his own death to protect them. Rex’s seeming fate, for them, provided a lot of the drama for the movie when Speed cuts out on his own to “be the best”, but is confronted with the villains of the piece, a racing sponsor E.P. Arnold Royalton. Royalton looks to co-opt Speed and when he doesn’t play along, he seeks to ruin the Racer family.

During one of the meetings, Speed tries to explain this childlike world that the movie presents and the Racers represent. At the end of a heart-felt speech, Royalton laughs in his face and says, “I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that sickening bit of schmaltz…are you ready to put away your toys and become a real race car driver?” The villain isn’t just a corporate bigwig who sponsors races and fixes them for his enrichment, he’s the real world, seeking to crush the joy and innocence out of us. The Wachowskis had anticipated exactly the tack many of the reviewers you can read on Rotten Tomatoes take: the movie isn’t serious. It’s cheesy. It’s too bright, colorful, energetic, simple-minded. That was the challenge of the movie, to accept this childish world as you did when you were running home to watch Speed take on some guy in an improbably fast race car that was bent on some kind of evil.

The fight isn’t just Speed against the corrupt machine behind racing. He’s the inner child fighting against a reality that wants to break up your family, crush your dreams, and consign you to mediocrity.

Textually, it is a masterpiece. Visually, the eye candy is designed to pull the viewer through the story, and even this is a tremendous feat. I’ll leave that to someone who covers this better than I will:

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While I’m not especially interested in the pageantry and self-congratulatory nonsense of the Academy Awards, particularly as they’ve become a never-ending platform for vapid people’s political opinions, I do truly enjoy movies and the artistry and workmanship that go into them. The last year was a pretty good year, as well, for films and I’ve gotten to see a lot of the them.

So here’s the list, who I suspect will win and who should, and who should have been nominated but wasn’t.

Best Picture:

“Call Me by Your Name” (This is the one I suspect will win, without even seeing it. The subject matter will make it dear to the acting community’s hearts.)
“Darkest Hour”
“Dunkirk” (This was an excellent film for the strange way time was used and the exceptional sound design.)
“Get Out” (This is the one I want to win. It’s a great debut for Jordan Peele, with a solid script, and a nice creepy Hitchcock-flavored bit of suspense. It won’t win, but should.)
“Lady Bird” (Did anyone actually finish this movie..?)
“Phantom Thread” (Daniel Day Lewis in another period piece.)
“The Post” (Reporters courageously being creative in the face of Nixonian evil. If Call Me doesn’t win, this might just because of the political climate. Resist and all that…)
“The Shape of Water” (It’s pretty, the acting is good, but it’s Starman…but with carboard vilains. What, the ’50s weren’t a stellar time for civil rights? That’s a brave stance, Guillermo! I wanted to like it, but it’s overrated in the extreme.)
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (Haven’t seen it. Supposedly the performances are tremendously good, and it’s Martin McDonagh writing.)

What should have been nominated (but not win) was Blade Runner 2049. It took the source material and used the themes better and more subtly, blended the look and music seamlessly to make it seem a natural extension of the original, had performances on par with anything in the list above, and was a good detective story on top of that.

Lead Actor:

Timothée Chalamet, “Call Me by Your Name”
Daniel Day-Lewis, “Phantom Thread” (Dan, seriously…leave someone else to win an Oscar.)
Daniel Kaluuya, “Get Out” (This guy should win. Period. His work in this movie is superb.)
Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour” (If they don’t give it to Day-Lewis, this will probably be Oldman’s year, just on the strength of his long career of good work.)
Denzel Washington, “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” (It’s Denzel. He’s always solid. He’s no Kaluuya.)

Who should have been nominated (but not win): Hugh Jackman for Logan. If you haven’t seen it, you should. Jackman does some of his best work. The other good performance overlooked was James MacAvoy in Split — he’s playing multiple characters and his posture and the way he shifts he face, you know which character you’re looking at before he speaks. Brilliant.

Lead Actress:

Sally Hawkins, “The Shape of Water” (She won’t get it, but should.)
Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (She’ll get it.)
Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya”
Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird”
Meryl Streep, “The Post”

Hawkins is simply amazing in Shape. She and Jenkins are the things that elevate this film, outside of Del Toro’s always-amazing eye. I think Sylvia Hoeks deserved a nomination (but not a win) for her work as Luv in Blade Runner 2049. BR was a movie with good performances by all of the female cast, but Hoeks really stood out. The other actress that got shafted because it was a genre film was Dafne Keen in Logan. A first timer knocking it out of the park while starring with Jackman and Stewart, both doing some of (if not the) best work of their careers? Come on…

Supporting Actor:

Willem Dafoe, “The Florida Project”
Woody Harrelson, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Richard Jenkins, “The Shape of Water” (Great performance. Probably won’t win.)
Christopher Plummer, “All the Money in the World” (He might, based on a fantastic performance turned in during last minute shoots and a lifetime of good work.)
Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Where the f*** is Patrick Stewart for Logan? I had a father with Alzheimers and he nailed it…he deserved a nomination but not a win. (“Hey, Scott, do you think Logan was one of the better movies of the year or something?” YES, and not because it was a superhero movie — it was a Western noir/road trip/family in crisis movie…that also had superheroes.) Between the contenders, I think Jenkins should probably win.

Supporting Actress:

Mary J. Blige, “Mudbound”
Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”
Lesley Manville, “Phantom Thread”
Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird”
Octavia Spencer, “The Shape of Water” (Probably going to win.)

Strangely, I can’t think of a female supporting role that really stood out this year. There were a lot of solid performances and roles, but nothing that made me say “Ooo!”, unlike the lead actresses (Hawkins and Hoeks, especially.)

Director:

“Dunkirk,” Christopher Nolan (It really should be between this and Get Out.)
“Get Out,” Jordan Peele (For a directorial debut to be this good, he deserves it.)
“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig
“Phantom Thread,” Paul Thomas Anderson
“The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro (I think Del Toro wins this one, if only on the strength of the visuals and technical aspects of the film.)

Denis Villeneuve should have been up for Blade Runner 2049. Maybe not a win-worthy movie, but it’s a brilliant technical achievement that blends an original story to the iconic source material, and manages to do it better. That’s not nothing.

Animated Feature:

“The Boss Baby,” Tom McGrath, Ramsey Ann Naito (No. Read the book.)
“The Breadwinner,” Nora Twomey, Anthony Leo
“Coco,” Lee Unkrich, Darla K. Anderson
“Ferdinand,” Carlos Saldanha
“Loving Vincent,” Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman, Sean Bobbitt, Ivan Mactaggart, Hugh Welchman (I suspect this one wins.)

Can we just start nominating the CGI-heavy Marvel movies for this category? They’re damned close…and what, no Monster Trucks!?! (Who thought that was even a good title, much less an idea?) The obvious one missing here is The Lego Batman Movie, which did all of the Batman themes better than the live action movies . It shouldn’t win, but it should have been nominated, especially over Boss Baby.

Animated Short:

“Dear Basketball,” Glen Keane, Kobe Bryant
“Garden Party,” Victor Caire, Gabriel Grapperon
“Lou,” Dave Mullins, Dana Murray
“Negative Space,” Max Porter, Ru Kuwahata
“Revolting Rhymes,” Jakob Schuh, Jan Lachauer

I have not seen any of these, so I can’t opine.

Adapted Screenplay:

“Call Me by Your Name,” James Ivory (Another win, just because of the material.)
“The Disaster Artist,” Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
“Logan,” Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green (This should win. It won’t.)
“Molly’s Game,” Aaron Sorkin
“Mudbound,” Virgil Williams and Dee Rees

What should have been nominated: Geof Johns and Allan Heinberg for Wonder Woman. That men wrote women that well — they should get a nomination but not a win.

Original Screenplay:

“The Big Sick,” Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani
“Get Out,” Jordan Peele (He should win. Period.)
“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig
“The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor (The story is awful, the villain is cliche, so no — he shouldn’t win.)
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Martin McDonagh (McDonagh’s a great writer with a fantastic ear for language. It should probably be between him and Peele this year.)

The other screenplay should be here is Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River. Seriously, see it. And Hell or High Water, which is even better.

Cinematography:

“Blade Runner 2049,” Roger Deakins (This should win, hands down. It won’t.)
“Darkest Hour,” Bruno Delbonnel
“Dunkirk,” Hoyte van Hoytema
“Mudbound,” Rachel Morrison
“The Shape of Water,” Dan Laustsen (This is the winner.)

Best Documentary Feature:

Best Documentary Short Subject:

“Edith+Eddie,” Laura Checkoway, Thomas Lee Wright
“Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405,” Frank Stiefel
“Heroin(e),” Elaine McMillion Sheldon, Kerrin Sheldon
“Knife Skills,” Thomas Lennon
“Traffic Stop,” Kate Davis, David Heilbroner

Haven’t seen any of these, so no opinion.

Best Live Action Short Film:

“DeKalb Elementary,” Reed Van Dyk
“The Eleven O’Clock,” Derin Seale, Josh Lawson
“My Nephew Emmett,” Kevin Wilson, Jr.
“The Silent Child,” Chris Overton, Rachel Shenton
“Watu Wote/All of Us,” Katja Benrath, Tobias Rosen

Haven’t seen any, no opinion.

Best Foreign Language Film:

“A Fantastic Woman” (Chile)
“The Insult” (Lebanon)
“Loveless” (Russia)
“On Body and Soul (Hungary)
“The Square” (Sweden)

Haven’t seen any of these, no opinion. I have a friend who suggests Dunkirk should have been in this category for the impenetrable (to him) English and Scottish accents.

Film Editing:

“Baby Driver,” Jonathan Amos, Paul Machliss (This should win, but won’t.)
“Dunkirk,” Lee Smith (I think this is a possible win.)
“I, Tonya,” Tatiana S. Riegel
“The Shape of Water,” Sidney Wolinsky (I suspect this wins.)
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Jon Gregory

Sound Editing:

“Baby Driver,” Julian Slater
“Blade Runner 2049,” Mark Mangini, Theo Green (It should be between this and Dunkrik.)
“Dunkirk,” Alex Gibson, Richard King (This should be the winner.)
“The Shape of Water,” Nathan Robitaille, Nelson Ferreira
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Ren Klyce, Matthew Wood

This is actually one I have a strong opinion on. Dunkirk makes brilliant use of sound. The gunfire is piercingly loud and realistic (except for the scene in the boat, where it’s too loud; the gunshots would be muffled, with the sound of the bullets coming through the metal being more pronounced.) The music and sound all work together to continually ratchet up the tension. This movie is a masterpiece of how to use sound and music.

Sound Mixing:

“Baby Driver,” Mary H. Ellis, Julian Slater, Tim Cavagin
“Blade Runner 2049,” Mac Ruth, Ron Bartlett, Doug Hephill
“Dunkirk,” Mark Weingarten, Gregg Landaker, Gary A. Rizzo (I suspect this wins…and should.)
“The Shape of Water,” Glen Gauthier, Christian Cooke, Brad Zoern
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Stuart Wilson, Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick

Production Design:

“Beauty and the Beast,” Sarah Greenwood; Katie Spencer
“Blade Runner 2049,” Dennis Gassner, Alessandra Querzola (This should be far and away the winner. It won’t be.)
“Darkest Hour,” Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer
“Dunkirk,” Nathan Crowley, Gary Fettis
“The Shape of Water,” Paul D. Austerberry, Jeffrey A. Melvin, Shane Vieau (Wins.)

One that got shafted here was Ghost in the Shell, which might not have been a success, but had amazing design work on par with Blade Runner 2049.

Original Score:

“Dunkirk,” Hans Zimmer (This should win, if you take it in context with how it propels the movie. Removed from that, it won’t win.)
“Phantom Thread,” Jonny Greenwood
“The Shape of Water,” Alexandre Desplat (I think this wins.)
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” John Williams (This is a good contender for obvious reasons.)
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Carter Burwell

Original Song:

“Mighty River” from “Mudbound,” Mary J. Blige
“Mystery of Love” from “Call Me by Your Name,” Sufjan Stevens
“Remember Me” from “Coco,” Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez
“Stand Up for Something” from “Marshall,” Diane Warren, Common
“This Is Me” from “The Greatest Showman,” Benj Pasek, Justin Paul

Don’t actually care on this one.

Makeup and Hair:

“Darkest Hour,” Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski, Lucy Sibbick
“Victoria and Abdul,” Daniel Phillips and Lou Sheppard
“Wonder,” Arjen Tuiten

Again…

Costume Design:

“Beauty and the Beast,” Jacqueline Durran
“Darkest Hour,” Jacqueline Durran
“Phantom Thread,” Mark Bridges (It’s a movie about a fashion designer. Win.)
“The Shape of Water,” Luis Sequeira
“Victoria and Abdul,” Consolata Boyle (Win if they don’t give it to Phantom Thread.)

Visual Effects:

When I first heard they were doing a sequel to Blade Runner, one of my favorite movies, I was appalled. I saw the original theatrical release on opening day, and once the director’s cut came out — correcting the damage done by the producers with the original — I was even more enthralled. There’s a “final cut”, as well, which is essentially a cleaned up version of Ridley Scott’s original workprint (and a gigantic f@#$ you to say producers…)

Did we really need a sequel? NO!!! Then I heard the original writer, Hampton Fancher, was back. The director was the excellent Denis Villeneuve of SicarioPrisoners, and The Arrival fame. Intrigued, I still wasn’t going to see it. Clips and trailers followed….so yeah, I went and saw it.

Blade Runner 2049 takes place 30 years after the first movie, and other than the connection to Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard character, is it’s own story and stands on its own without viewing the original. The essential plot points: a “blade runner”, police assassins who “retire” replicants — genetically engineered suprahumans — stumbled onto a box of bones at the site of an execution retirement of a replicant played by Dave Bautista (who steals the scene handily from Ryan Gosling.) The bones suggest that it was a woman who died in childbirth…and that she was a replicant, something supposedly impossible. His police captain (Robin Wright continuing to build her resume of tough female leaders) sets him loose, looking for the child she gave birth to.

There’s a lot more intriguing exploration of what intelligence and humanity is in this latest movie, and it handles it much more deftly than the original film — partly because science fiction has matured dramatically in the last 35 years. There’s a hologram girlfriend that may or may not be sentient…or it that just a really smart expert system giving you what you want to hear? K, the lead character, played with a nice hollowness by Gosling (whom I never particularly liked, but after The Nice Guys, I think he’s improving) is a replicant, his responses bounded by regular checks of his personality and emotional matrices, but he starts to identify with the child he’s hunting. The villain is Luv, right hand “angel” to Niander Wallace — the man behind the latest iterations of replicants who wants the secret to replicants breeding; he simply cannot make them fast enough to continue humanity’s exploration of the galaxy. Sylvia Hoeks plays her, and she’s fantastic. In fact all the female players in this movie are at the top of their games.

Harrison Ford is back. Deckard is old and tired, and has been hiding out in the ruins of Las Vegas. Ford is obviously enjoying himself in this picture and it shows. There’s a nice bit of the is he or isn’t he a replicant?, but they don’t spoil it with an answer.

There’s a lot going on in the movie, and it contains a better plotted detective story and more big-set action pieces than the original. This leads to a long run time of 2:44, but I didn’t notice it at all. I suspect, however, on repeat viewings this will be more apparent.

The visuals are stunning, and a nice extrapolation from the original picture. It feels like the same world, just more run down. Villeneuve used a lot of practical sets and effects, with CGI to enhance — something a lot of the new filmmakers have been doing. There is a lot going in the background, as there was in Scott’s movie, and nicely the film makers decided not to try and “correct” the world for today — it is an alternate world where the Soviet Union is apparently still around, where the mega-buildings of the original film extend to a gaudy Las Vegas that looks like the ruins of the city from Artificial Intelligence, with massive female statues in suggestive positions. And apparently, Peugeot eventually builds aircars and is back in the US market.

The sound is loud, and the Hans Zimmer seems to be on a mission to create the most ear-splitting musical noise he can. However, he weaves nearly all of the musical motifs from Vangelis’ excellent Blade Runner score throughout the movie, and this creates an emotional and narrative throughline with the new film.

So is it worth it? Yes! Not kinda yes, but a resounding one. I think this movie takes all the ideas from the first one, does it better and with more emotional core, and it has a more compelling story. On my rent to full price scale, I’d give this a “go see it in IMAX, if you can.”

This movie rolled up on Amazon Prime last night. Since I had just watched once of my not-so-guilty pleasures the night before (Streets of Fire) by the director, Walter Hill, and I’ve liked Michelle Rodrigue since her premier in Girlfight (excellent film!) I figured it would be Hill’s signature pulpy tough-guy movie schtick.

Hill is one of those directors that can make a bad movie so cool, it’s good (The Warriors, 48 Hours, Red Heat, Streets of Fire (Come on! SLEDGEHAMMER fight!), Last Man Standing), or take a total dump (Supernova, Another 48 Hours, Brewster’s Millions, or on screenplay duty for the execrable Alien 3.) The Assignment is stuck somewhere between.

The social justice warrior and transgender crowds, every ready to take offense, will immediately go apoplectic over the very premise. A cold blooded hit man (Rodriguez) kills the worthless but beloved brother of psychotic doctor Rachel Kay, who has him picked up by some of her underworld buddies and in a combination of revenge and social experiment about whether gender and identity are tied for physical expression performs a sex change operation.

Frank Kitchen (said sex change recipient) wakes to find himself a herself and proceeds to follow the revenge play tropes through the rest of the movie. High art? Nope. As exploitative as Pedro Alvodómar’s The Skin I Live In? Certainly not, although that is from a respected “important” director. It’s also obviously suffering from a low budget (it’s a Saban production, after all…) and Hill is working with what he’s got. There’s a lot of dark street scenes with neon lighting, shootouts in grimy rooms, and cartoonish thugs working for the “Doctor.” As such, it’s missing that cool style Hill usually brings to films like this.

Other than a few shots to establish Rodriguez’s character as a man (with full frontal prosthetic), then as a woman, and to highlight the discomfort with his new form, there’s little titillation to the movie. This is a straight tough guy revenge film, with Rodriguez doing sterling tough guy (but now as a woman) stuff: talking tough, blasting people with .45s, and generally acting passably well through it. Is Hill making any statements on gender issues or transgender roles? Nope. This is simply the hook for the not-so-good guy to do his…her stuff. Kitchen doesn’t want to be a woman, but too bad! Kay wanted him to suffer, but also to see if he would embrace his “opportunity” to be something different.

 

Weaver is incarcerated throughout the movie, and we swap between Kitchen’s story and hers. It’s an awkward construction, but the scenes between her blood-chilling “Doctor” and her psychiatrist (played by Tony Shaloub) are fun and played with the mirth a story like this require. It’s a lurid pulp novel story as the use of comic art transitions informs us: a bit stupid, but in the end mindlessly(ish) entertaining.

So is it worth it? On my scale of “Don’t even borrow it” to “Go full price and 3D/IMAX”, it’s a firm rent. If you like Hill’s pulp movies, like Last Man Standing or 48 Hours, you will probably enjoy it, even if it’s not good. If Hill had brought his style A-game, like he did to Streets of Fire or Last Man Standing, it would have definitely be a good matinee movie.

If you’re offended by anything gender-related, avoid it.

So, I’ve been reading some of the reviews. The fans of the original movie, and the snobby end of the film reviewing community are blasting it for various reasons. Others seem taken with it. I went this weekend with the wife to see the live action Ghost in the Shell.

I’m a big fan of the 1995 anime film and the subsequent Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence. I’m a bigger fan of the series Stand Alone Complex, which hits many of the same beats on the nature of intelligence and humanity, gives the secondary characters more time, but has the time to build the world and political of Masamune Shirow’s future Japan. So I had high hopes, but low expectations — films like Ghost in the Shell rarely translate well for a general Western audience. And that was precisely who the filmmakers were targeting. This was an expensive movie; they need a wider reception than anime fans.

So…how was it?

The good: Johannsen manages to do an excellent job with the muted emotional expression the Major has in the anime. Pillou is superb as Batou (my favorite character of all the iterations…), and Beat Takeshi nails it as Aramaki. The practical effects — the Shirow-esque cars, the street sets, the use of an actual robotic skeleton and muscle model for the shell sequence — are all top notch, although I though the riot of CGI rendered holographic advertising was a touch much. The other good thing, the movie takes the cybernetics of this world right down into the Uncanny Valley. The cybernetics aren’t cool, they’re creepy — from being able to see how Batou’s new eyes are inserted into his eye cavities, to other bits and bobs, to the overly stylized geisha robots, everything is off.

The “meh”: The rest of th team doesn’t get enough time. This isn’t much different from the 1995, where Saito, Pazu, Boma, and Ishikawa only get a few moments, at best. The addition of another female officer for diversity-sake cut into the material that would usually go to Ishikawa. The bad guy is your standard-issue corporate bad guy, and the bad guy who is actually a victim of the Evil Corporation™ is underwhelming. We’ve seen this before. In the movie and show, the government and their machinations are the real villains.

The homages to the excellent action pieces from the 1995 film sometimes work, sometimes don’t. The street chase into the canal, where the Major kicks a guys ass while still camouflaged works here, as well; the geisha scene is riffing — much better — on the first episode of Stand Alone Complex; and the classic Major vs. tank scene is recreated but with a lot less verve. Overall, that balanced out for me as “meh.”

The bad: Togusa, the nearly all-human cop, is the entre for the viewer in almost every version of this universe, the guy you can kind of identify with. He gets nowhere near enough time on screen (but does use a Mateba, fans!) The change of Kusinagi’s background makes her more accessible for Western and general audiences, but loses some of the point of the character. The Major is so good at what she does because, in the other iterations, she’s been a cyborg since a childhood accident…she really is more machine, at times, than human. That was the crux of her identity crisis in the other iterations. The “fake background” subplot just doesn’t work as well.

Overall, the movie is a decent adaptation of a movie that is superior in many ways, but itself suffered from some of the cultural shortcuts in storytelling that Westerns don’t use. It’s less talky than the original, but that means the philosophical elements lack some of the impact. It is stylistically good, with a real tech-porn kind of setting, and aspects of it are truly excellent, but substance-wise it lacks some of the depth of the original (and a lot if you compare it to the mind-bending sequel Innocence.)

Is it worth it? If you’re a fan, yes. You will most likely enjoy it, but it might not topple the original in your affections. If you’re a fan of the SAC, you’ll like it less, I suspect. On my scale from “Never Watch It, Even If There Is Nothing Else On” to “Rent It” to “Full Price”, this is a solid matinee, and maybe a full price.

Here’s a cool little short out of Argentina…

Killer robots? Check. Marines in trouble? Check. Game over, man! Game over! Check

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