Critical Hits & Misses #310

For today's musical hit, we have Sabrina Claudio and "Belong To You"

Today's critical rolls: Happy Halloween! Are you dressing up? What as? Maybe conducting witchy rituals (I'm Wiccan, Samhain is special to me!)? What's going on today!

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Remaketober 2017 Week 4: Dawn of the Dead

George Romero is such a towering figure in the horror genre that its hard to separate him from the subgenre he created, more or less from scratch. Even when we intentionally try to separate him from the genre, to highlight some of his other works, it becomes nigh on impossible to discuss them without the subject of zombies coming up. This is my long form defense of the fact that I originally intended this week to be devoted to The Crazies, but was forced to shift it over to being about Dawn of the Dead.


While Night of the Living Dead is the original zombie film, and a great film in its own right, its always been kind of...awkward. It is, was and always will be a very amateur movie, built on a shoestring budget and with a visually obvious learning curve for everyone on set. Its an important movie, and still a great one, but its never been all it could be.

Dawn doesn't have that problem. In terms of being the best movie it can be, Dawn succeeds with flying colors. Even now, with the zombie genre having spent most of the last 10 years being so overexposed that I got sick of it, Dawn of the Dead still holds up. Its not only the most effective zombie movie of the last few...ever, but its also the one that managed to set the template for how to make a good zombie movie.

Its still kind of rough, but its story works better than most zombie films, even while the point about consumerism is very very blunt (the guy who decides to sit down in the blood pressure cuff during the zombie attack still cracks me up to this day) but hey, anti-consumerism messages are never bad in my book and the bit towards the end of the 2nd act where the characters are just trapped in the mall feeling empty is great.its

I got issues, sure; The conflict towards the end feels kind of manufactured and the script is kind of rough, but the great direction and incredible special effects from Tom Savini do more than enough to carry the movie through its occasional bumps. A true masterpiece, and probably still the greatest example of its subgenre.

Which means that remaking it is always a risk.


I feel like when I say Dawn of the Dead is Zack Snyder's best movie, I am accidentally saying it's a good movie. A far more accurate definition would be that it is his least bad. It is still bad in all the way Snyder's movies are bad, but it doesn't take itself too seriously and it even has some attempts at out and out humor. Heck, I can even see the marks of its writer, James Gunn, especially in its music choices (the Richard Cheese cover of Down With the Sickness being used reminds me a lot the ending song from Slither).

Its also got all of Snyder's strengths: It looks great, with a solid grasp of how to time and execute action setpieces and gore effects. It overall has a very strong look, with a lot of great gory moments. Its much more an action movie than it is a horror movie, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. I can't imagine what Snyder's attempts at directing scares would look like, but I doubt he has the subtly or restraint to pull it off.

Which leads me to the film's failings, which are common to much of Snyder's films. It has a weak script, handles its non-action scenes awkwardly (feeling very uninterested in exploring the characters or their relationships) and is just sort of paced oddly. It opens very strong (I am a pretty big fan of the opening scene at the house and the opening credits, like the opening credits of the much worse Watchmen, are fantastic).

And this is the risk of making a remake of such a classic horror flick, it makes comparisons inevitable, and its one you're probably not going to do well in. On its own merits, the Dawn of the Dead remake is generic but reasonably enjoyable zombie flick with Ving Rhames in it (which is always a point in a movie's favor). Compared to the movie which shares its name and setting (and little else) its most just bad.

Still, that opening is killer.

And thus passes another year of Remaketober, which went off mostly without a hitch despite some personal issues. I hope to see you all here again next year.

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

Critical Hits & Misses #309

For today's musical hit, and in the spirit of celebrating the excellent news that America woke up to this morning regarding 45 and his army of scumbags, here is an oldie but goodie: The Rascals and "It's a Beautiful Morning"

Today's critical rolls: What's your favorite horror film? Do you even like horror genre? Why or why not?

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 IV: Themes

Yes, the film has themes! And they tie into each other! The film isn’t just throwing things to a wall and seeing what sticks. What a pleasant surprise.

Major Mira Killian, throughout the film, constantly asks herself whether she is a real human or not. At times, she doesn’t feel much like a person. There is a scene that can be found in the trailer, where the Major is having her arm repaired by Dr. Ouelet, who scolds Major Mira Killian that she needs to be more careful, but the Major tells the doctor that maybe next time the doctor can make her better. Major Mira Killian’s artificial body is an important source of conflict in regards to how she feels about her personhood.

There’s this lovely scene where the Major is all confused after finding out about Project 2571 and she is trying to find herself, where she goes looking around what I assume is some sort of red light district. There, she finds Lia. Major Mira Killian asks Lia whether she is human (she is). This tells us something subtle, both about the world, and about one of the many reasons the Major feels inhuman: The line between robots and cyborgs has become so blurred in this world that one cannot know at first sight whether it’s a robot or not. Sharp-eyed viewers might remember the robot bodyguards at the business meeting between the Hanka Robotics rep and the President of the African Federation; they looked like human bodyguards until they were shot out all to hell and slumped on the floor.

Lia, once they are in a private room, asks the Major what is she — the Major’s answer? She doesn’t know. Lia has fake eyelashes and something that I assume to be some sort of synthetic skin that covers her mouth and nose areas, possibly to enhance sensations (I have no idea.) It speaks volumes about the internal conflict the Major is facing that she asks Lia to take all of that off, and then, and only then, does the Major gives into a kiss for the human contact she craves. It’s a lovely character study, and something which the film doesn’t explore to its full potential.

Gif screencap of the kiss between the Major and Lia, in the Ghost in the Shell live-action film.
Best character moment.

Also, it’s a reference to her manga character, where her sexual preferences are ‘anything that moves’, and there are several lesbian encounters depicted.

The theme of personhood and humanity is really important to her character arch. However, the film never disputes the fact that she is human, there’s no sense of narrative stakes in regards to her arch. Never at any time does the audience questions whether the Major is human, so her conflict over that is just to give her some emotional growth in the film, given that she is an uber badass so we know she’ll eventually prevail in the action scenes over her opponents.

(Side note: The film starts and ends with bookends. At the beginning, the Major is on top of a building at night, waiting for orders, and decides to go inside in spite of Chief Aramaki’s orders. At the end, the Major on top of a building in daylight, waiting for orders, and gets Chief Aramaki’s permission to throw herself into battle. But this time the Major is sure of who she is as a person; it can be said nighttime and daylight during this scenes reflect her inner turmoil.)

This leads us neatly into another major theme in the film. The reason why humans and robots cannot be easily told apart is transhumanism. Transhumanism is a philosophy that can be succinctly described as humanity taking the reigns of our own evolution via technology in order to overcome human limitations. In an unusual fashion for a Hollywood cyberpunk film, this film is not explicitly anti-transhumanist. I can rattle off a bunch of films where transhumanism doesn’t exactly come out on top, such as Transcendence (2014), Blade Runner (1982), Surrogates (2004), and so on and so forth, but this is the first time I’ve come across a film where transhumanism is presented featuring not only its ugliness but all of its potential.

Shot from the Ghost in the Shell live-action film showing spider-like robot hands for ultra-fast typing.
A blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment:
Check out those super-efficient robot-hands.
On one hand, with all the brain-hacking going around, that’s clearly a huge inconvenience. The possibility that our memories might become even more subjective and unreal is terrifying. This is pointed out to us in three instances: The garbage collector who gets brain-hacked into a family life so beautiful that he simply cannot deal with the fact that all of it is fake so he kills himself, the way Kuze and the Major have both been wiped out of memories to the point it drives Kuze mad and in a search for them, and the fact that none of the memories present in the head of the Major at the beginning of the film are hers save for the hallucinations Dr. Ouelet is hard at work to suppress.

There’s also the fact that personhood is becoming even more convoluted and arbitrary. Kuze doesn’t feel the need to live out as a human, he invites the Major to upload her ghost into the neural network he created, to evolve and leave those humans behind, but Major Mira Killian feels that the physical world is the world for her. So does that make Kuze less of a person? Clearly, no; although a villain, his suffering is distintly human, a ‘disposable’ runaway once named Hideo who has been robbed of his own self. As pointed out when discussing personhood, it’s becoming very difficult to tell apart humans and machines; although, there seems to be an in-universe consensus that, in the case of full-body cyborgs such as the Major, the fact that she has a ghost, a brain, is what makes her human, as Batou points out to her after the robo-geisha fight scene (which makes the Major mad because, to her, that is a poor consolation when she cannot ascertain for herself that there is indeed a brain doing the thinking.)

But there is also so much potential, so much convenience. The way Section 9 can communicate with each other without talking, the incredible strength in the Major’s cybernetic body, as well as a host of other, more mundane things. One of the first things we learn about humanity in the film’s world is that humanity increasingly looks at their bodies as something you can just upgrade with a better part born out of human ingenuity. The instance in which this is most clear is also when we meet face to face the rest of Major Mira Killlian’s co-workers; there’s Ishikawa (Lasarus Ratuere), who the others are egging on to showing them if he has gotten another improved body part, and he shows all of them a belly scar — he has gotten a new liver. Now he can party all night, baby! And this is not presented as a bad thing, it’s just something that happens. Or the little girl who can sing French; imagine how incredible would be to be able to learn a new language just like that.

I suppose that, narratively, we are meant to take a more negative view of transhumanism since the story nudges us that way. When we learn about the Major’s true identity, it turns out Motoko spent some of her time being what would be the equivalent of a Luddite in this film; she used to spray-paint protest slogans about the way we were losing our soul to cybernetics. But aside from this bit, I don’t feel as if body modification is presented as bad. It’s just a feature of the setting, something everyone does; maybe a necessity by this point.

Which takes us to consent. This is the third major theme the film deals with. While the Major having a fake body, and people having high-tech body parts are not presented as bad things, what is presented as unequivocally wrong is whether they consented to those modifications.

The reason Kuze is a villain, is that he not only is on a killing rampage, but that he’s violating people’s very minds. Dr. Ouelet has to die to be redeemed, because she messed with Kuze’s and the Major’s minds, as well as those of 97 other people! You should already feel uneasy about the iffy conception this world has of consent from the business meeting between the Hanka Robotics rep and the President of the African Federation, for the daughter of the Hanka rep has been modded. Obviously such a young child cannot understand the extent of the, perhaps irreversible, modification she was being subjected to. Was she even asked about it? Probably not.

Every time there is a mod explicitly presented as positive, is because those people consented to it. Like how Batou upgrades his eyes and then he comments that he will finally have eyes as good as the Major’s, Ishikawa’s new liver. The fact that Togusa doesn’t want to get modded is treated as old-fashioned, but not bad; charming in a way akin to the way Aramaki prizes his Magnum. And the most monstruous villainy is that of Cutter’s, who, in service of power and profit, utterly disregards the bodily integrity of those society has deemed as disposable in pursuit of his goals. The Major has to give her consent in order to have her mind messed about. Or at least that’s what she thinks. The most bone-chilling event in the film is when the Major is repeating, like a mantra, ‘my name is Major Mira Killian and I do not consent to this data deletion’, to which Dr. Ouelet replies, ‘we never really needed your consent’.

The themes tie into each other. They weren’t chosen at random.

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 #308

These kids are the freaking best

For today's musical hit, I'm not sure I'm ready for Taylor Swift in all her mostly naked cyborg glory in her newest video, "...Ready For It?"

Today's critical rolls: TGIF! What's on the agenda this weekend? It's the weekend for Halloween parties, are you heading to one? If not, what's going on?

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 #307

For today's musical hit, we have H.E.R. and "Every Kind of Way"

Today's critical rolls: Looking forward to Stranger Things 2? What kind of spooky 80s movies do you like?

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 III: Setting

We really need to talk about future Japan, because it’s fascinating. The film has several things present from the manga and the anime films, as it is to be expected, but the filmmakers infused the setting with its own originality.

That right there is a cool video showing what I’m talking about. It compares some filming locations in Hong Kong with the film. The work they did is astonishing.

While some people might be annoyed by the fact that no characters other than some Japanese background extras and Chief Aramaki seem to speak actual Japanese on-screen, I’m actually not all that bothered by it. The film establishes a possible reason for this at the outset. When the Hanka Robotics rep that gets brain-hacked and the President of the African Federation are having a business meeting, the Hanka rep plays a recording of a child singing in French. It’s his daughter, and he tells the President of the African Federation that in the time that it took his daughter learn Au claire de la lune (a French folk song), she learned the entirety of the French language. Done.

Clearly the daughter has the latest language implant tech, unlike our adult characters who each speak in their respective languages — nonetheless they can still understand each other. Yes, I know; this is a lazy way of not including too many foreign languages in order to, in a business exec’s mind, not to alienate the US audience and so on, but at least it’s supported by the setting itself. And it’s not an something paraded in front of us, either.

Major Mira Killian has fake memories in her brain, implanted by Dr. Ouelet as ‘motivation’ to fight terrorists with Section 9. You see, the story goes that she came into Japan in a refugee boat that was blown up by a terrorist attack. The damage was so bad that she lost almost all of her body. Leaving aside the fact that this revelation that comes near the climax, while a surprise, it’s already substantiated by the poor garbage truck driver that had fake memories hacked into him by Kuze. It should tell us something about the setting that the Major finds it plausible that she came in a refugee boat.

The Japan in the film is more ethnically diverse than today’s Japan; many ethnicities can be seen in the background. There’s a particular shot that shows this best; what better way to convey the changing face of the film’s Japan than by doing a close up of a Black Buddhist? It plays with the stereotype, even though, in the real world there are Buddhists who are black, it’s not what is usually pictured when we hear the word ‘Buddhism’.

Shot from the Ghost in the Shell live-action film showing ethnically diverse Bhuddists.
I like the symmetry in the shot, too.
Today’s Japan is a nation that’s estimated to be 98,5% ethnically Japanese; it’s a fairly homogeneous country. Clearly, as the film’s cyberpunk world emerged, in typical cyberpunk fashion, other nations buckled under the power of megacorps and destabilized, causing an influx of refugees.

A lot of cyberpunk works would be set inside of one of this megacorp-run nations, or in another sort of dystopia. Something that has always made the Ghost in the Shell franchise unique is that, in contrast to other works, in future Japan the rule of law still pervades hard, as pointed out in the first confrontation between Cutter and Chief Aramaki — Aramaki immediately dismisses the notion that the Prime Minister would take Cutter’s word over his own. Which makes it extra brilliant, in a way, that the live-action adaptation updates future Japan to be more ethnically diverse, because of course refugees would strive to go to the most stable nation possible in times of strife. It’s kind of a subtle nod to the situation we are living in right now in the world.

That’s not to say there aren’t any shady buisness deals or anything. Major Mira Killian and Batou at some point shoot up some sort of yakuza underground club, not to mention the whole of the unethical experiments tied to Project 2571, the one that resulted in the creation of the Major. There’s also a scene where some shady trafficker, when Batou and the Major are on the way to the marketplace, attempts to sell the Major some black-market body parts or something.

Gif from the live-action Ghost in the Shell film showing the major on the way to meeting Lia.
In general the street scenes are amazing.
Look at the background details.
I don’t know where to put this, but the film thinks itself very clever when it turns out that, before the Major, there has been other 98 people that have been experimented on to become full-body cyborgs and weapons useful to the Major. So this makes Major Mira Killian the 99th test subject, a human-machine dream combination, working at Section 9.

I told you future Japan was fascinating.

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 3: The Last House on the Left

Wes Craven was such a towering figure in the horror genre, it's hard to remember that his ratio of good movies to not good movies was...tenuous at best. Oh he's definitely got some classics in there and a few just straight up good movies, he's also got a lot of stuff I don't think is very good (I hate the Scream franchise. There, I said it, I can't unsay it). But that makes the stuff that is worth defending very, very much worth defending.


Going to bat for The Last House on the Left is one of those things that makes me feel uncomfortable, because it's a very rough movie to actually watch. I end up defending it in the same spirit as I often end up defending Irreversible or Dogtooth, or maybe some of Cronenberg's more extreme work. It's definitely not for everyone and should come with a laundry list of warnings and caveats, but damned if it doesn't totally grab my attention the entire time I'm watching it.

Of course while Dogtooth or Videodrome are buoyed past their difficult to stomach content by some incredible filmmaking and solid themes, The Last House on the Left is much rawer, the filmmaking much less solid, but in a way that almost works in its favor. Its a punk rock approach to filmmaking, in the vein of Clerks or maybe Evil Dead, with enthusiasm and raw talent making up for a lack of polish.

Speaking of, one of the other things that gives the film a big boost is how relevant it feels to the moment it came out. I'm sure other critics have noticed the similarities in how the film is shot to footage coming out of Vietnam during during the same time, which gives the film a sense of reality that makes the horrifying goings on even more horrifying, especially given the similarities Krug and his gang have to the then-current Manson family.

None of this is to say the film is flawless, its still got some issues (mostly due to an on set learning curve that trips up...well basically everyone but the Coen Brothers). First movies are always a little rawer and shakily put together, but a good director can still take that and make a great movie. The Last House on the Left is a very hard to watch film, but its definitely one with an impact and and style that would be hard to replicate.


Which is why I suppose the remake didn't even bother to try. There were lots of directions the remake could have gone, from updating the imagery and themes to be more in line with the Iraq war footage of the time to putting it more in line with the then popular (albeit on its last legs) torture porn subgenre, and I half expected the latter going in. But I didn't expect the movie to just sort of...sit there.

To be clear, when remaking a movie whose primary selling points were its shocking content and how incredibly raw and of-the-moment the filmmaking was, you need to add a new selling point. The slick, high cost production value automatically discards the intensity and sense of reality given by the original's style and obviously the content can't be as shocking given that its just a recreation of the existing content (and, if we're being honest, far less extreme than other contemporary horror films like Saw, although given how much I hate Saw and its contemporaries, that's not a complaint).

Instead the movie just recreates the basic outline of the original film with only a vain attempt at a happy ending inserted to make you feel like there's a difference, which is missing the point a fair bit. Maybe if the film had ended Texas Chainsaw style, with the sense that even though some of the victims survived, they're permanently scarred by the experience, but the film can't even manage that much.

I've reviewed a lot of bad remakes for Remaketober, but aside from maybe the shot-for-shot remake of Psycho, this is probably the most pointless remake I've ever covered. Questions of whether it's good or bad don't even enter into it, it just has no reason to exist. If the original film is equivalent to Clerks then the remake is equivalent to Mallrats; the same basic bones of the story but somehow infinitely more soulless and empty inside.

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

Critical Hits & Misses #306

For today's musical hit, have the ever wonderful Lindsey Stirling and "Brave Enough"

Today's critical rolls: In honor of one of my favorite people on the planet (Lindsey Stirling) wrecking face on Dancing with the Stars this season (rooting for you all the way, Lindsey!), do you enjoy dancing? If so, what's your favorite kind of dance? If you can't/don't dance, what would you learn if you could?

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 #305

For today's musical hit, here: have Camila Cabello performing "Havana" at the Radio 1 Teen Awards

Today's critical rolls: Happy Monday! We're quickly rolling up on the holidays already. What are you looking forward to in the upcoming holidays? (that includes Halloween, y'all)

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 #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.


 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.

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.


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.

Praise Amaat, Ann Leckie's New Book Is Out

2015 was an innocent time, if you can remember that far back. That was what, eighty years ago? Yet I remember it like it was yesterday; the world seemed sane, and Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch trilogy concluded with Ancillary Mercy. It was a bittersweet read, as I just wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Breq and friends. Leckie said she was likely to return to the universe, and lo, she has delivered. Provenance is a new stand alone novel in the same setting, where the conclusion of The Imperial Radch has set the wheels of change throughout the whole galaxy.

Ingray has a hard time impressing her adoptive mother. In Hwae society, the head of the household passes their name onto a selected heir, and Ingray’s brother is shaping up to be first choice. Ingray concocts a scheme that will see her broke, but will not fail to get attention: bust the disgraced Pahlad out of a prison that no one has ever escaped from and find out where e hid the priceless artifacts e had stolen. But that was the easy part; the hard part is a murder conspiracy that gets in the way!

After the events of Ancillary Mercy, at first this book seems like a step backward. The Hwae are far from the Radch, and the civil war there is only a matter of gossip and speculation. The situation that Ingray has found herself in, however, becomes increasingly large-scale as the story progresses. What might have been an inter-family struggle slowly boils up to a simmering threat of war.

And it is a slow boil. Much of the book is discussion between characters about what other characters might possibly be thinking or doing, but it’s okay because Provenance is primarily a mystery wrapped up in science fiction. Ingray is no Poirot, but through conversation she works her way through what the hell is going on and how to move from one crazy plan to another, not unlike how Agatha Christie’s detectives arrived at the truth. Unlike many cozy mysteries, Leckie avoids sticking to any type of formula. The plot seems to be going one way before a amphibious alien piloting a mech drops in on the scene to complicate things even further for poor Ingray, and that’s just one example of the kinds of roadblocks that pop up unexpectedly.

I’ll admit, I really miss Breq and the Radchaai, and practically cheered when a Radchaai side character showed up (then I turned on the kettle because I always think, “You know what would be rad? Chai.”). That said, I’m glad we got to have a look outside the empire, and I’m very glad that Leckie is still playing with gender. The Hwae have three gender classifications, which the Radch evidently still have trouble with. Once a person comes of age, they can announce their preferred gender pronouns. Like in the Imperial Radch trilogy, the primary focus is not on gender at all, but it does play it’s part in the general themes of identity and belonging. Like Breq, Ingray and Pahlad (or is it Garal?) do not know exactly where they belong. While it is acceptable on Hwae to declare gender identity and have it respected, changing names, changing allegiances, and challenging tradition while still honoring the past are central themes of this book. Why, yes, there’s alien politics and mysteries to solve, but as in Imperial Radch, there is more to the story than just fun sci-fi adventures.

The only criticism I have for the book is that Ingray’s motivation for her original harebrained scheme does not align with the unsure, meek girl we spend most of our time with. The synopsis in the book cover describes her as “ambitious”, but for the most part she is coasting on what is expected of her rather than acting out of a desire to win a title. I understand that her mother expects her to take risks, but she puts herself in a huge amount of debt and risks her very position in the family in the first few pages. Ingray is much smarter and collected than she gives herself credit for, but her reasoning for busting Pahlad/Garal out of Compassionate Removal just never seemed in character, especially reflecting back after the ending.

I didn’t love Provenance as much as I did Ancillary Justice, but I loved Ancillary Justice enough to stay up until four am reading. Provenance didn’t keep me up late at night, but I still happily zipped through it in just three days and it is a worthy addition to the universe Leckie has created.

Provenance was published by Orbit and released on September 26, 2017, and is available wherever fine books are sold.  

Megan “Spooky” Crittenden is a secluded writer who occasionally ventures from her home to give aid to traveling adventurers.