Thursday, April 13, 2017

Ghost in the Machine

Mamoru Oshii’s animated feature ‘Ghost in the Shell’ is considered to be essential viewing and one of the defining anime films of all time.  Not having read Masamune Shirow’s 1989 manga pre-dating it, this 1995 movie was my first entry into the futuristic cyberpunk universe depicted in the popular anime franchise which also includes ‘GitS: Innocence,’ ‘GitS: Stand Alone Complex,’ ‘GitS Stand Alone Complex: Solid State Society,’ ‘GitS S.A.C. 2nd GIG,’ ‘GitS: Arise’ and ‘GitS: The Rising’ (aka ‘The New Movie’).  So when I heard that GitS is being made into a live action movie starring Scarlett Johansson, it became one of my must-see movies of 2017.
ScarJo (in a somewhat stiff performance, but that's hardly her fault) takes on the role of GitS’s main protagonist, Major Mira Killian aka Motoko Kusanagi, the cybernetically enhanced team leader of the highly secretive “Public Security Section 9,” a shadowy black-ops department of the Japanese government.  When a Hanka Robotics meeting was hit by unknown assailants and a hacked killer Geisha robot (cool!), the Major and her team are assigned to go after the mastermind behind the attack, an elusive and mysterious cyber-criminal puppet-master known as Kuze.  As Killian closes in on Kuze, she comes to the increasing realization that things are not as she’s led to believe and begins to question her very own identity.
Mixing the visual style of ‘Blade Runner’ with the hyper-kinetic choreography of ‘The Matrix,’ GitS has a lot going for it in the eye-candy department.  While I can overlook the “white-washing” in casting ScarJo as a Japanese heroine and switching to a “nude” Thermoptic bodysuit, the screenplay is unoriginal and little more than a recycled neo-noir Philip K. Dick-sian conspiracy plot in which the protagonist turns against her masters along the lines of ‘Minority Report’ and ‘Total Recall.’ Nonetheless, fans of GitS should find just enough to recommend here (Spider Tank, cool!)  despite its obvious flaws.

Grade: B+

La Belle et la BĂȘte

Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villenueve’s popular romantic fairy tale ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is updated for the umpteenth time in Disney’s latest live action treatment starring Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans and Josh Gad.  With its “beauty is only skin deep” and “true beauty comes from within” theme and counterpoint to fairy tales like ‘Snow White,’ ‘Cinderella’ and ‘Sleeping Beauty,’ in which the beauty and the handsome prince live happily ever after, it’s easy to see why this fable possesses such a timeless appeal, but few people may be aware that this tale was borne out of social-economic necessity in its time and place, 18th Century France, an era when young women of marriageable age (“beauties”) form alliances with men of wealth and good standing but lacking in appearance (“beasts”) out of convenience rather than love as a matter of course.
You should be familiar with the story by now.  A witch turns a handsome young prince (Dan Stevens) into an unsightly beast after he refused her shelter because of her looks (she’s an enchantress who appeared to him in the guise of an ugly old hag as a test), along with his servants whom she transforms into various mundane household objects.  To break the curse, the princely beast must learn to love another and in turn earn her love in return before the last petal of a rose falls off.  To make a long story short, he manages to do so with a headstrong and bookish young woman uninterested in love named Belle (Emma Watson) in the nick of time despite various obstacles, not the least of which was the rakishly handsome but dastardly villain Gaston (Luke Evans).
Glossy, exuberant and with charm to spare, BatB is another joyous and wonderful Disney offering that’s nigh impossible not to like.  Watson is quite simply radiant, and the fact that virtually all the songs in the film are instantly recognizable and familiar didn't hurt either, making BatB a highly accessible musical for all ages.  With this in mind, it comes as no surprise that this latest incarnation of the classic had already earned its place as the highest grossing live-action musical of all time.

Grade: A