Critical Hits & Misses #304








For today's musical hit, we have Ed Sheeran's "Shape of You"



Today's critical rolls: What other women do you think LEGO needs to make sets for? Or maybe instead of specific historical figures, you'd like to see LEGO produce more women in certain careers?

Critical Writ has a super-duper strict comment policy that specifies a single rule above all others: we reserve the right to ban you for being a terribad citizen of the internet.

Ghost in the Shell Film Analysis Part II: Aesthetics

I can’t find a better word that encompasses set design, cinematography and so on, therefore ‘aesthetics’ will have to do.

Do any readers remember how in my write-up about the film preview I waxed on about how the influence of Transformers and TRON: Legacy had ruined sci-fi flicks’ colour palettes? Yes, I rescind that criticism in regards to this film. I’m capable of admitting when I’m wrong. To cut a long story short, while I had already seen both Ghost in the Shell anime films by Mamoru Oshii’s by the time I saw the film preview at the cinema, I could not remember at the time much about Ghost in the Shell: Innocence; the second anime film.

Because of this I didn’t catch on to the fact that the live-action film’s colour palette is modeled on Ghost in the Shell: Innocence, rather than on the first anime film. A friend I went with to the cinema when I saw the live-action film was the one who pointed it out to me, so I looked up and skimmed through the second film. I saw both anime films about six years ago; that’s over a quarter of my life, so cut me some slack here.

Anyway, I still maintain the whole look of the film is very washed out, the colour palette is drab, and the only really vibrant colour that pops out is green — something most evident when Chief Aramaki and Cutter have their final face-off at Cutter’s office. The film would be much improved visually if they just did away with the filters. there is too much blue. Me no likey. You can watch this video about some of the work New Zealand VFX studio WETA did on the film, and see for yourself how much better the pre-processed scenes look:


Still, I have quibbles with the special effects in this film. At some points they don’t look real. The intro of the film, where they make the body of the Major, can be labelled as CGI from a mile away. And some effects from the fight scenes don’t look quite right. Major Mira Killian’s body sometimes looks nude, or sometimes looks as if it has a flesh-coloured skin-tight armor (which is actually the intended effect.) There’s a particular stunt in the final fight scene against the mecha controlled by Cutter where the Major runs up some debris, which looks really cartoony, and it was way too evident that Scarlett was using stunt wires.

Speaking of action scenes, my enthusiasm for the first action set piece featuring the robo-geishas has been dampened somewhat upon further reflection because it turns out it’s a problematic scene, but I still can gush about gorgeous it is. I talked in the article about the preview how it seemed a great update on the theme of a Japanese tea salon, and so on.

Now I want to talk more about the robo-geishas themselves. It didn’t hit me until I skimmed through Ghost in the Shell: Innocence, however, the robo-geishas are a fusion between the Hadaly model that goes amok in that film for reasons that’d be spoileriffic, and the karakuri ningyō, a type of traditional Japanese automata mostly sold as luxury items from the Edo period onwards. It bears saying that Japanese automata are also featured in Ghost in the Shell: Innocence when Batou and Togusa go visit uber-hacker Kim, albeit in a very low-key way. If anybody watched the video on the work WETA did for the film, then one would have seen a lot about the robo-geishas, the artistry of their costumes, the faces, everything. I would like people to compare and contrast with the surprisingly complex movements of these Japanese dolls:



Amazing, isn’t it? And I like that. I like that the filmmakers did not only lean on the anime films but looked to the original sources of inspiration in order to make a more immersive experience. It’s reinventing the material.

The city in general, was clearly meant to evoke Tokyo. The city is never named inside of the film specifically, but the ambience, the ads, apartment buildings, everything just screams ‘Tokyo!’ There were tons of Japanese writing everywhere. The holographic ads that were pervasive throughout the cityscape and storefronts really add to the ambience. They were just so full of life, advertising different products, fitness; and they featured lots of (presumably) Japanese people just modelling around.

(Side note: In keeping with the multi-cultural approach, there is even an ad featuring a woman in a niqab in the background on top of a building! And one with a Buddhist monk. The buildings were also appropriately oppressive and industrial-looking, ideal for a steampunk setting.)

There was nary a plant in sight, which contributed to the artificial feeling of the whole city and how it has changed. In the blocks of the heavily residential areas there was a lot of garbage, giving off an air of overpopulation.

Another scene I really liked is when Major Mira Killian has to accompany Batou through a street market, and Batou picks up bones for his dog. They managed to blend seamlessly the future with the streetmarket. In my country there are several streetmarkets and I felt transported into that. I can really see how this vision of the future the film presents to me could become reality. The holo ads were ubiquitous, and ‘hung’ in the same way banners would or how paper ads would be plastered to the stalls. There were even some people bickering in the background at the various stalls and sellers. Why was this scene so brief? It’s literally one of the best things ever.

Having said all that, the Ghost in the Shell anime films didn’t shy away from colour in their urban settings, unlike this live-action adaptation. It’s as if the producers feared if the reds and yellows looked too bright, somebody might confuse this film with a happy film, somehow.

Ghost in the Shell: Innocence anime film, screencap from the parade scene
Look at all the pretty colours in the anime films.

The soundtrack is nothing much to write home about except for some sort of bell rings in certain moments that, to my ears, echoed Kenji Kawai’s Making of a Cyborg, an OST from the Ghost in the Shell anime film. I suggest you go listen to it, it’s absolutely gorgeous. Also, Making of a Cyborg makes an appearance for the film’s credits, so it’s a nice homage.

A lot of the heavy duty machinery, such as the robot that fights Major Mira Killian in the climax, are just the models from the anime films and the mangas updated to look believable in the live-action adaptation. It’s good work, although nothing particularly original. Also, to give credit where credit is due, all the extras were either appropriately outfitted to the setting or had some post-production done over them so they looked like another one of the faceless individuals amongst the cybernetically-augmented masses.

I’m not too happy with the editing, though. In several of the fight scenes, after a while it just looks messy. There’s a fight scene where Major is electroshocked by Kuze in dark light conditions, and it cannot be appreciated in full effect because of the filters and the confusing editing. The idea is cool; its execution, not so much.

Next week, Part III!

Rosario is an early-twenties, outspoken woman, who likes to burrow between piles of books, and store miscellaneous trivia in her head.

Critical Hits & Misses #303





For today's musical hit, and because why not, we have Imagine Dragons and "Whatever It Takes"



Today's critical rolls: We definitely need more films by women and for women. What other stories/movies/adaptations would you like to see directed by women (and maybe, what women directors do you have in mind?)


Critical Writ has a super-duper strict comment policy that specifies a single rule above all others: we reserve the right to ban you for being a terribad citizen of the internet.

Ghost in the Shell Film Analysis Part I: Live-action vs. Anime Canon

I’m sure you noticed that in my film review I didn’t complain about the Major acting out of character. It’s because that is not a criticism I’m not interested in making, and I’m going to explain why.

It’s tempting to compare the Major to how she behaved in the anime films. Scarlett’s Major is very much her own character. It is  tradition in the Ghost in the Shell franchise that they offer their own interpretation of the characters in every incarnation.

The Major’s character in the anime films is quite different from how she is in the manga – especially in the beginning –and from how she is in the anime series Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and yet again from how she is in Ghost in the Shell: Arise. Just to get into the oldest characterizations, the manga and anime films: In the original manga by Shirow Masamune, at the beginning, the Major is a hard-drinking woman who likes to party and who is a total bitch, but she becomes more ponderous and introspective after her fight with the Puppet Master; whereas in Mamoru Oshii’s films she is philosophical and mature from the outset.

A screen capture from the manga Kôkaku Kidôtai (Ghost in the Shell). Volume 01, chapter 3.1
The red-head with her legs spread and her boobs censored?
Our manga hero, ladies and gentlemen.

The manga can be legally bought here, translated into English and published by Dark Horse.

That said, the Hollywood action flick gets inspiration from the anime films. In fact, it draws almost exclusively from them, while carving out its own narrative.

That’s a good place to start, with the narrative. You see, in the anime films, the narrative is slow-paced; they don’t repeat anything and expects the audience to figure things out for themselves and, if you haven’t been paying attention, one might find oneself very confused as how usually happens with Ghost in the Shell: Innocence, the continuation of the original Ghost in the Shell anime film. This Hollywood film is a lot more in-your-face, and tries to repeat things the audience might find relevant for later. However, the live-action film is not intellectually insulting, it has some subtlety in it — colour me shocked, for real! Clearly, it expects that the audiences have brains and wants them to use them.

As for characters, the film introduces some reworkings and tries to build on the canon. Dr. Ouelet is one such invention; never in any of the prior incarnations of the Ghost in the Shell story do we find out exactly how Major acquired her cyborg body and who gave it to her. Cutter is another one. Major herself, in the manga and anime mediums, has origins shrouded in mystery, since they’re not actually all that important to the ultimate questions the story grapples with; ‘what is existence?’ and ‘is she alive?’ Dr. Dahlin (Anamaria Marinca), the specialist from Hanka Robotics that assists Batou and Major in the forensics investigation of the first killing, is quite obviously inspired in Dr. Haraway, Section 9’s forensics specialist in Ghost in the Shell: Innocence.

There is an interesting twist to Batou himself; in all his prior incarnations he had already had his cybernetic eyes, whereas in the live-action film he acquires them during the film’s run, which is fairly significant because it ties into the film’s themes. Tragically, there is a bunch of under-utilized characters in the live-action film, such as the mostly-muggle Togusa (Chin Han), the understated badassery of Chief Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano) and fellow Section 9 team member Ladriya (Danusia Samal), and whom I presume is a sex worker called Lia (Adwoa Aboah). I have to make a note of the fact that Togusa being mostly unaugmented is important for Major in the Ghost in the Shell anime film, whereas in the live-action film Togusa just exists to be contrasted to other augmented characters. On the other hand, Chief Aramaki in the anime films and the live-action incarnation seems to be of similar disposition. I really like him as a character, and if he were real, I’d really like him as a person.



I don’t recall if it’s ever mentioned in Mamoru Oshii’s films, but in the manga the corporation that provides and cares for the augmentations and artifical bodies of the people in Section 9 is called Megatech. Hanka Robotics fills that role. I believe the name change was done because, in the 90s, ‘Megatech’ was just a low-key name for a megacorp of a cyberpunk world, whereas in 2017 it’s a clichéd name that today’s genre-savvy audiences are going to find cheesy. This film does not want to be cheesy. So there has been some changes made in service of better translating the film to modern audiences. Note that this is not a consideration for Western audiences in general, just a capitulation to the awareness of genre tropes in today’s audiences.

Overall, I think the changes have been in favour of the narrative… for the most part.

Stay tuned for Part II!

Rosario is an early-twenties, outspoken woman, who likes to burrow between piles of books, and store miscellaneous trivia in her head.

Critical Hits & Misses #302






For today's musical hit, we have Bishop Briggs and "River"



Today's critical rolls: Happy Hump Day! How is your week going?


Critical Writ has a super-duper strict comment policy that specifies a single rule above all others: we reserve the right to ban you for being a terribad citizen of the internet.

Ghost in the Shell Film Review

Yes, yes. This should have come out a long time ago. Now, let’s get on with it!

The Ghost in the Shell live-action film has had some… troubles, to say the least. Box office troubles, to be specific, since 41 million dollars of revenue as of this writing is a flop. The white-washing  didn’t help, as well as the sad, sad, fact that Paramount doesn’t seem to get why this is important, which can be frustrating for advocates and activists. From the outset, I’m not going to delve into any white-washing issues in any depth since a great deal of commentary has been made elsewhere, far more eloquently and by people more knowledgeable of the topic than I can ever hope to be. In fact, I linked you to very good resources about some of the discourse surrounding white-washing at the beginning of my write-up about the Ghost in the Shell live-action film preview.

But there is still plenty to say about it. This will be your only warning, there will be spoilers. You all have been forewarned; let us summarize the plot:

The Major (Scarlett Johansson) is a full-body cyborg, a human brain in a synthetic shell, made in a project headed by Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche) and Hanka Robotics CEO Cutter (Peter Ferdinando). Her amazing mechanical body confers her all sorts of abilities, such as enhanced strength, than come in handy in the film’s numerous fight scenes. Then, a Hanka Robotics representative  gets brain-hacked and killed. So our protagonist, who happens to be part of a government counter-terrorism division called Section 9, starts investigating the crime with her trusted companion, Batou (Pilou Asbæk). Eventually they find out, after another murder, that the question they should be looking to answer is ‘who is targeting high-level employees of the Hanka Robotics megacorp?’

Gif showing the Major shooting a robo geisha who says "collaborate with Hanka Robotics and be destroyed".
Not ominous at all.
When that becomes apparent, Dr. Ouelet becomes a target, so she has to be rescued by her cyborg-baby, The Major. After this, she figures out a way to contact the killer, who calls himself ‘Kuze’. It turns out Kuze is the cyborg prototype that came before her in the project that made her, and that Hanka has taken their memories. Kuze’s motivations is to gain back what he has lost, his memories. This causes a rift between the Major and Dr. Ouelet, and Cutter orders Dr. Ouelet to kill the Major. Rather than killing off the Major or wipe out her current set of memories, Dr. Ouelet chooses to give the Major back the memories from her previous life and to save her life, which makes Cutter kill Dr. Ouelet. The Major becomes a fugitive; she faces off with a giant robot controlled by Cutter, and wins epically. Then she finds her biological mum and newfound satisfaction in her job. The end.

Huh, will you look at that? I managed to avoid spoiling the film too much.

The film, quite subtly for your standard sci-fi Hollywood fare, deals with themes of personhood, consent and transhumanism. Unlike most cyberpunk films, it avoids pontificating that cybernetics will eat your soul; transhumanist body modification is just something people do. I have no idea if the creators intended this as an explicitly feminist theme, but the theme of consent is very thematically important. One character, Dr. Ouelet, committed such a grievous violation by tampering with the minds and bodies of societal rejects, that she had to die to redeem herself. Even if the film is a bit in-your-face about it, it can be fairly satisfying; it’s not just mindless entertainment.

Gif of a scene of the yakuza's club fight scene in the Ghost in the Shell live4-action film.
The action is pretty cool, too.
Okay, I totally lied. You also need to know the twist: Section 9’s Major Mira Killian is in reality the brain-in-a-jar version of runaway Motoko Kusanagi, who had her memories wiped out in a shady experiment to turn her into a weapon. Her biological mum is Japanese. Holy white-whashing.

Score

 I award this film 7/10.

The Ghost in the Shell live-action film has lots going for it. It’s a solid action piece that makes the fullest of the tech inherent to the setting, most action scenes are well-edited, creative and entertaining. The world is very well-developed and I, personally, find it believable on several levels. However, it has one Big Issue: Racism. It’s embedded in the world-building in a very icky way. A review is too short a format for me to expand on that, but watch out for my Ghost in the Shell analysis pieces!

In absence of the racism, I would have awarded this film a 8/10 score, due to some editing and pacing issues, musical score, etc. And, even in the presence of racism, I cannot award it a 5/10, because this is not a mediocre film, and I cannot say it’s 6/10 because, clearly in themes and other aspects, a lot of thought went into making this film. But racism is such a big disqualifier, that I have to reflect in my score somehow and this is why the Ghost in the Shell film gets 7/10.

That said, can I, in good conscience, recommend any readers to watch this film? No, I cannot. If you care about diversity, about being respectful, about being mindful of the impact our actions and choices have on people, then I think you shouldn’t spend the green in your pocket on this film in any way or form, even merchandise. I cannot stop you if you want to see this film anyway, and it’s not a bad experience; but I’d really rather you didn’t.


Rosario is an early-twenties, outspoken woman, who likes to burrow between piles of books, and store miscellaneous trivia in her head.

Remaketober 2017 Week 2: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre



In the last 2 years we have lost so many iconic and influential people from every aspect of entertainment, from film, to music to literature, that some of them began to run together a tiny bit. I don't think that's totally fair to some of the people who passed on who may have helped inspire hundreds of people, to say nothing of some who helped kickstart entire subgenres. So while I wanted to address It for my first week of Remaketober (partially to spare me having to write it its own review) for the rest of the month, I'm going to be addressing movies by some dearly departed horror icons.


1974:
When I say the title of this movie, I feel like it's a title people who don't know movies don't take super seriously, and I understand that. The title is a silly one, evoking the schlocky movies titles of its era that were so ubiquitous that they were eventually spoofed in a movie written by Rita Mae Brown. So when I say that this movie is one worth taking seriously, I occasionally get odd looks.

Still, when you actually sit down to watch this movie, its always surprising how restrained it is. Not that the content isn't grim and horrifying, but its not the blood splattered gore fest that the title evokes in your mind. The amount of blood is bordering on nonexistent, kept mostly in cutaways and off screen, but it gets its point across nonetheless.

Honestly, while the title grabs your attention, the thing that sticks with you about this movie is the pervading sense of dread and horror that saturates every frame. Even before the actual violence begins,  it manages to give you the sense that something isn't right. Once the violence actually does begin, it's so intense that by the time the film rolls into its legendary finale, the horrifying ending is almost a relief. Sure, that final image will haunt your nightmares, but at least you survived the movie.

It's not a perfect film, occasionally reflecting its low budget and on-set learning curve, but the energy and intensity are enough to overcome how cheap it was and its occasional weak pacing. It's a real low budget success story, a shining example to anyone who ever wanted to become a filmmaker but doesn't have the money to pull a Tommy Wiseau. And it's definitely a timeless sort of movie that in no way needed a remake.

2003:

I f**king HATE this movie. I hate every worthless second of it. Everything that was good about the original, every interesting idea it had in its head, every unique stylistic choice, everything that made the original movie noteworthy and worthwhile is stripped down to an utterly generic slasher flick. The only notable things about it are how sadistic it is and by extension that it was one of the films that helped kickstart the torture porn wave that enveloped and devoured the horror genre for over half a decade.

It's actually kind of ironic: With its dark visuals and gleeful embrace of gore and torture porn, this film has a lot more in common with the silly movies which it title resembles than the original. It has a couple of reasonably effective sequences, but honestly, there's very little that's worth discussing about this film.

The script is weak and lifeless, with one dimensional characters and all the subtly and interest from the original drained in favor of turning Leatherface into a Jason knockoff. Most of its direction is similarly awful; director Marcus Nispel being a reasonably successful music video director before this movie (and it shows, since the movie is moving way too fast and scaring you way too little) but would go on after this film to direct some of the worst movies of the 2000s such as 2007's Pathfinder, 2011's Conan and 2009's Friday the 13th...stay tuned.

There's more I could probably summon to say about this awful awful movie, from its terrible acting to its somehow even worse prequel but honestly, I've been done with spending time and energy on it. And to be even more honest, given that they're making another goddamn Saw movie, I'm worried that giving this movie too much attention will cause the torture porn wave to come back. So I'm just going to quietly end this review and move on.

Elessar is a 27 year old Alaskan-born, Connecticut-based, cinephile with an obsession with The Room and a god complex. 

Critical Hits & Misses #301



Apologies for missing CH&M yesterday! I've been on vacation and it slipped through my radar! 



Today's Google doodle is celebrating the life of Selena Quintanilla, and in that spirit, today's musical hit is Selena's "Dreaming of You"



Today's critical rolls: What are some of your favorite politically-inclined comics (either heroes, or individual issues/run, or a particular series)?


Critical Writ has a super-duper strict comment policy that specifies a single rule above all others: we reserve the right to ban you for being a terribad citizen of the internet.

Critical Hits & Misses #300





For today's musical hit, we have SZA and "Love Galore"



Today's critical rolls: Happy Friday! What's on the agenda for the weekend?


Critical Writ has a super-duper strict comment policy that specifies a single rule above all others: we reserve the right to ban you for being a terribad citizen of the internet.

Critical Hits & Misses #299





For today's musical hit, we have LANCO and "Greatest Love Story"



Today's critical rolls: Would you like to see Batman (or any superhero, of any company) push the gun control message? Or are you of the "comics shouldn't be political" persuasion? ;)


Critical Writ has a super-duper strict comment policy that specifies a single rule above all others: we reserve the right to ban you for being a terribad citizen of the internet.