The Watchers

The Watchers

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Ghost In The Shell (1995)

Ahead of the release of the live-action remake starring Scarlett Johansson (which opens in the UK at the end of the month), I thought I should watch the original anime that the film is based on. Luckily, it is one of my partner's favourite films so we had a copy to hand.

It's 2029. Cyberisation is now widespread. Criminals are becoming more sophisticated and, as such, a new way must be found to deal with the threat. So Section 9 was set up- a small group of police (with various levels of cyberisation) to help combat crime. Major Motoko Kusanagi is one of the operatives on the team. The Major and the rest of Section 9 come up against a new threat: a powerful hacker known as the Puppet Master, who can literally hack people...

Directed by Mamoru Oshii and written by Kazunori Ito (based on the manga by Masamune Shirow), Ghost In The Shell is widely considered to be one of the seminal works in anime history and, along with Akira (1988) and the films of Studio Ghibli, is responsible for bringing anime into the mainstream in the West.

It packs so much into its relatively slight running time of 83 minutes. It's a political conspiracy thriller. It's high concept science-fiction. It asks deep philosophical questions about what it means to be human and what indeed makes us human.

The Major is a full cyborg- her body is completely synthetic- but is possessed of memory, personality and character. She questions whether, because of her full cybernetic body, she still has any humanity and even questions whether her memories are real or artificial to make her feel more 'human'. When she finally meets the Puppet Master, these existential questions get thrown into full relief. It's an absolutely fascinating and thought-provoking part of the film.

The style of the film comes from a process called 'digitally generated animation', a combination of traditional cell animation, computer graphics, and audio which is entered as digital data. Amazingly, the animation still holds up 22 years later; indeed, we watched a section of Oshii's 2008 updated version (Ghost In The Shell 2.0) which featured updated 3D animation, that- by today's standards- looked incredibly dated. Hisao Shirai's cinematography is superb and the music, by Kenji Kawai, is just sublime.

It's definitely worth watching, although it's a film that requires and rewards your full attention.


Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Review: The LEGO Batman Movie (UK Cert U)

There's always a danger when a popular character in an animated movie gets their own spin-off. What can be amusing in small doses may not be so much when extended to a full film. The joke can sometime wear a little thin. Films like The Penguins Of Madagascar and Minions showcase this to greater or lesser degrees. Arguably, Batman was one of the best things about The Lego Movie. So how does he fare having his own movie?

Actually, really well. I loved every minute of The Lego Batman Movie.

From the opening voiceover to the end credits roll, the film is stuffed to the ginnels with humour, charm and energy. The film mercilessly sends up previous incarnations of move Batman (from the 1960s Adam West movie right up to 2016's Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice) but it's done so well and without malice, it's utterly enjoyable.

Will Arnett's voice performance as Batman/Bruce Wayne is just superb. He channels everything you associate with the Dark Knight; the brooding and alone-ness, keeping people at arm's length. The rest of the voice cast are similarly superb, with Michael Cera (an actor I've never been particularly fussed on) giving a lovely turn as Robin/Dick Grayson, the young orphan inadvertently adopted by Bruce at a charity gala who becomes Batman's right-hand man. Rosario Dawson is strong and no-nonsense as new commissioner Barbara Gordon who seeks to clean up Gotham without resorting to brooding vigilantes.

Frankly, if Jeremy Irons wasn't doing such a bang-up job of playing Alfred onscreen, I'd say get Ralph Fiennes in. Based on this performance, he'd be fantastic in the role. Zach Galifianakis (another actor I'm not massively fussed on) is great as The Joker. There's a clever subversion of romantic comedy tropes with the relationship between Batman and The Joker (with Joker particularly crushed that Batman doesn't consider him his 'greatest enemy'). There's also appearances from the vast majority of Batman's classic Rogues' Gallery which will please fans of The Dark Knight.

Just as with The Lego Movie, this film contains appearances from a lot of other franchises and series (including, but not limited to, Harry Potter, The Lord Of The Rings and Doctor Who, which I particularly enjoyed). I would imagine because Lego has the rights to a lot of things because of the Dimensions license, the screenwriters pretty much decided to throw everything and the kitchen sink in. But it works.

I'm not going to overanalyse it. I came out of the cinema absolutely buoyant after seeing The Lego Batman Movie. It made me laugh. A lot. I enjoyed all the references and the Easter Eggs. Definitely one for the DVD shelf.   

Rating: 5 out of 5


Sunday, 5 March 2017

Review: Arrival (UK Cert 12A)

Twelve spacecraft appear across the globe, speaking an unintelligible language. In the US, the army draft linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) to help interpret and communicate with the alien visitors and- on her insistence- take her to Montana so she can communicate with them directly. Alongside theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), Louise begins to speak to the aliens to discover the purpose behind their arrival.

Directed with flair by Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Prisoners, Incendies), with a screenplay by Eric Heisserer (adapted from a Ted Chiang short story entitled 'Story Of Your Life'), Arrival is a thoughtful, mature slice of sci-fi.

Let's address this right now. Amy Adams' performance was utterly superb and I can see exactly why there were cries of 'snub' when the Oscar nominations were announced. She can most certainly count herself unlucky to have missed out for one of the strongest performances she's ever given. She carries the emotional weight of the film- she is the heart and soul of it- and is just heartbreaking in certain scenes. Louise is fragile, but not weak; compassionate, but not a bleeding-heart; assured, but not arrogant. Another brilliant performance from one of the best actresses of her generation. 

Renner is also strong as the geeky, easy-going Ian. There's a really strong chemistry between Renner and Adams which helps to sell the interactions between Ian and Louise which is always good. Whilst the story is very much focused on Louise as the main character, Renner shines when he's on screen. There's strong support by Forest Whitaker as Colonel Weber, who helps recruit Louise in the first place; what could have been a fairly generic, by-the-numbers Army role is lifted by Whitaker's warm and sympathetic performance. There are also nice turns by Michael Stuhlbarg and Tzi Ma as an unsympathetic FBI agent and a bellicose Chinese general respectively. 

Technically, the film is very accomplished. The visual effects, from the design of the spacecraft to the design of the aliens and their linguistic symbols, are all superb. The score, by Johann Johannsson, is also sublime. 

The reveal of what the aliens' purpose is will probably make or break the film for you. I personally liked it, and found it interesting, but I can understand why some people might not agree with it. I found it raised some interesting psychological and philosophical questions which have stayed with me long after the film. 

If you like your sci-fi a little more cerebral, a little deeper than standard, then definitely give this a go. Also, don't be put off by the awards hype- it is truly deserving of the accolades it has received.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Thursday, 2 March 2017