Movie Review: Ghost in the Shell

Ghost in the Shell


Despite being caught up in another Hollywood whitewashing controversy, Ghost in the Shell—which is based on the comic by Shirow Masamune—is actually a pretty entertaining action film. Scarlett Johansson—the source of the controversy, as the character she plays was originally Japanese—does an excellent job as Major, the world’s first 100% cyber soldier. The film drags at times, but the futuristic production design is excellent, and there are some genuine twists throughout. You might be better off waiting for video, but Ghost in the Shell is worth checking out eventually.
The movie begins with Major (Scarlett Johansson) lying on a surgery table. She can barely move. It turns out, or so she’s told, that she was in a terrible accident and that while her mind survived, her body did not. In this futuristic world, cyber enhancement is a general way of life, as body parts are routinely replaced with technology. Major (formerly a young woman named Mira Killian), however, is the first person who is entirely made up of cyber-enhanced technology. We cut to a year later, and Major is now a super-soldier working for the Hanka Robotics to help rid the world of criminals.
Working closely with her partner Batou (Pilou Asbæk), Major thrives in her new role, but she cannot shake the feeling that all is not what it seems. She hallucinates memories that occurred before her accident, and she eventually comes to find out from her once-trusted doctor Ouelet (played by Juliette Binoche) that although Major is the first successful attempt at fully connecting a human mind to a completely robotic body, she is not the first. In fact, there have been many before her. With Dr. Ouelet’s help, Major escapes and discovers even more secrets about her former identity. With Hanka Robotics on her tail, she must learn the whole truth in order to save herself and find out how Mira Killian ended up a test subject of the powerful organization.
Scarlett Johansson does a fine job as Major, aside from the controversy surrounding her casting. Critics say that Johansson’s portrayal of an originally Asian character furthers entrenches Hollywood in the whitewashing of characters of color. Others might say that a big-budget movie like Ghost in the Shell needs an A-lister like Johansson in order for the film to have enough of an audience to make its money back. While whitewashing is certainly an issue in the entertainment industry—and thankfully one that has been garnering a lot of attention in the recent years—one could also make the argument that the mere fact that this movie now exists will encourage fans to go back and read the original comic book and see the animated film from 1995. Either way, Johansson is terrific in the role, in both the emotional moments as well as the action-packed scenes that fill most of the film’s 107-minute runtime.
The production design, done by veteran Production Designer Jan Roelfs, and the beautifully futuristic landscape shots of Japan make the film visually stunning. There is certainly some digital enhancement throughout, as the buildings in the background look like something out of The Jetsons or The Fifth Element, but the end result is really something to behold. This, along with Johansson’s performance, almost make up for the fact that the story is fairly convoluted and the secondary characters are extremely one-dimensional. Are the visuals and leading performance enough to make this movie a top-notch action film? No, but they do make it mostly entertaining.
Ghost in the Shell is an engaging, albeit somewhat cliché and shallow, attempt to cash in on a successful comic franchise. Scarlett Johansson does action better than just about anybody, and despite the legitimate concern of Hollywood whitewashing, it is hard to imagine this role being played by anybody else. The production design is great, the story is acceptable, and the pace is fast enough to keep your attention. See this one when it comes out on video, and in the meantime, check out the original comic, as well as the 1995 animated film of the same name.

Mike Danner is an actor, a painter, and a Cubs fan. He has a Master’s Degree in Film Production from Chapman University, his favorite movie is Jaws, and he enjoys a good breakfast sandwich. He currently lives in Los Angeles.

Movie Review: Get Out

Get Out


Get Out is one of the eeriest, funniest, and most socially relevant horror film to come out in decades. The film, which is the directorial debut from Jordan Peele (of Key & Peele fame), tackles racism—specifically racism from rich, liberal-leaning white people—in a fresh and powerful way. Daniel Kaluuya is excellent as Chris, a black man going home to his white girlfriend’s house to meet her parents for the first time. The rest of the cast is pitch-perfect, with Allison Williams as Chris’ girlfriend Rose, Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener as her parents, and Lil Rel Howery providing much of the comic relief throughout the film as Chris’ friend Rod. If you enjoy horror films that make you think, then Get Out is for you.

The film begins as a young black man (played by Lakeith Stanfield from TV’s Atlanta) walks through an affluent neighborhood while talking on his cell phone. After he hangs up, a creepy car slowly drives by, playing a foreboding 1930’s tune “Run Rabbit Run.” Without giving too much away, let’s just say that the song chosen for the scene is an appropriate one. After this opening, we meet Chris (played by the previously mentioned Kaluuya, who is probably best known for playing Bing in a terrific Season 1 episode of Black Mirror), a talented photographer living a comfortable existence in a nice loft apartment in the city. Soon, his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams, best known for her work on HBO’s Girls) shows up, and they pack for a weekend getaway to Rose’s parents’ house. Chris is getting progressively more worried about their trip, however, especially when Rose reveals that she has not let her parents know that Chris is black. She reassures him by letting him know that her father “would have voted for Obama for a third term if he could have.”

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Movie Review: I Am Not Your Negro

I Am Not Your Negro


I Am Not Your Negro is one of the most important films of the decade thus far. Based on author and social critic James Baldwin’s unfinished book Remember This House, and directed by filmmaker Raoul Peck, the documentary discusses what it means to be black in America, from slavery to the Civil Rights Era to present day. Samuel L. Jackson gives an impassioned narration, bringing life to Baldwin’s words in only the way Samuel L. Jackson could. Nominated for Best Documentary Feature, this powerful film is a must-see.

Baldwin’s book Remember This House, which he was still working on when he died, makes up much of the film. The book is written from the perspective of three black Civil Rights leaders, all of whom were close friends of James Baldwin, and all of whom were murdered in the 1960s. These men are Medgar Evers, who was killed in June of 1963; Malcolm X, who was killed in February of 1965; and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was killed in April of 1968. Throughout the film, Baldwin’s words are used to help us reach a better understanding of who these men were, beyond the characterizations that modern society has come to know. For example, we know that Malcolm X and Dr. King had competing philosophies throughout their lives, but when each of them died, they both saw and understood the world rather similarly.

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Movie Review: Paterson



“We have plenty of matches in our house.

We keep them on hand always.

Currently our favorite brand is Ohio Blue Tip,

though we used to prefer Diamond Brand.

That was before we discovered Ohio Blue Tip matches.”

So begins Paterson, Jim Jarmusch’s newest film about a bus driver/poet named Paterson living in Paterson, NJ. Adam Driver (GirlsStar Wars: The Force Awakens) plays the titular character, with a superbly nuanced performance that will stay with you long after you leave the theater. The poems used throughout the film, all written by real-life poet Ron Padgett, are elegant, understated, and almost dreamlike. Paterson is a beautifully told, intimate story that contemplates the poetry that exists in everyday life.

The film opens on Monday morning, as Paterson wakes up next to his sleeping girlfriend. We watch as he goes through the course of his day, which includes writing poetry, driving a bus for the city, spending time with his girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), unenthusiastically walking his girlfriend’s dog Marvin (Paterson does not like Marvin), and having a drink at his local watering hole. After Monday concludes, the movie continues to take us through a week in the life of Paterson, the ups and downs, the victories and defeats, the poems.

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Movie Review: Manchester by the Sea

Manchester by the Sea


Kenneth Lonergan’s first film in five years might be his best to date. Manchester by the Sea is a subtle masterpiece about grief, family, and reconnecting with buried emotions. Casey Affleck is terrific and deserving of the early Oscar buzz that his performance is generating, and Lucas Hedges is fantastic, as well. A film that is both tragic and uplifting, Manchester by the Sea is not one to miss.

The film opens with a flashback. Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is on his family’s fishing boat with his nephew Patrick (the young version, played by Ben O’Brien) and his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler), with Lee and Patrick bonding over shark mythology. Later, we see Lee in his new environment—the somewhat catatonic janitor of an apartment complex in Quincey, MA. Soon he gets a phone call, and we know the news is not good. His brother Joe has passed away due to congestive heart failure, a condition that we learn he has been suffering from for some time now. With this news, Lee winds up in Manchester-by-the-Sea, his hometown, and a place he has not been in a while due to tragic circumstances that unfold in flashback throughout the film.

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Movie Review: Southside With You

Southside with You


Summer, 1989. Do the Right Thing tackles race issues in America and puts director Spike Lee on the map. Janet Jackson’s hit song “Miss You Much” plays on radios across the country. And a 28-year-old Harvard Law student named Barack Obama goes on a date in the Southside of Chicago with his summer advisor, Michelle Robinson. Southside with You is illuminating, entertaining, and the film’s leads, Tika Sumpter and Parker Sawyers, are both terrific. Opening in a limited number of theaters, this is definitely one to check out on the big screen if you can.

At the beginning of the film, we are introduced to Barack Obama (Sawyers) and Michelle Robinson (Sumpter), each in their element as they prepare for what they both classify as “not a date.” As each gets ready, we get a great sense of their environments and how they interact with their loved ones. Barack is calm and cool as he smokes a cigarette and talks on the phone with his grandmother, who warns him that he better not be late for his date or he’s not going to get a second one. Michelle gets ready and keeps telling her parents Marian and Fraser (Vanessa Bell Calloway and Phillip Edward Van Lear) that she is Barack’s advisor and that this is definitely not a date, just two colleagues going to a meeting, even though she is clearly dressed for a date.

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Movie Review: Lights Out

Lights Out


When the lights go out, Diana shows up. Lights Out, based on a popular short film that went viral in 2013, stretches a simple premise from three minutes to 81 minutes, and provides a few decent scares in the process. While definitely not a perfect movie, and not even the best horror movie to come out this summer, you can definitely feel producer James Wan’s master touch from time to time throughout the film. David F. Sandberg, writer and director of the short, does a serviceable job in his feature film directing debut, the actors do what they can with the somewhat limited material, and there are some genuinely frightening scenes throughout.

The film begins ominously, in a dimly lit warehouse on a dark and stormy evening. Here we meet Paul (played by Twilight’s Billy Burke), who is on the phone with his son Martin (played by Gabriel Bateman, who also appeared in James Wan’s Annabelle). Martin complains his mother is acting strange and “talking to someone,” and Paul promises he’ll be home in an hour (spoiler alert: he will not). After Paul’s assistant sees the figure of a woman appear every time she turns out a light (this opening scene is actually very similar to the short film, even down to the actress Lotta Losten), Paul begins to lock up for the night. Soon, lights are turning off on their own, the figure that appeared to Paul’s assistant is now aggressively pursuing Paul, and you can probably guess what happens next (remember the above spoiler alert).

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Movie Review: The Conjuring 2


The Conjuring 2


If you are already scared of nuns, then The Conjuring 2 will probably give you nightmares for the rest of your life. America’s favorite ghost hunters, Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by the terrific duo of Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), are back in this sequel to the popular 2013 horror film. While the jump scares accompanied by loud music cues are plentiful, director James Wan is also able to maintain a prolonged sense of terror throughout. The cinematography, the score, and a tight script pull you into the world of one of the better scary movies in recent memory.

The Conjuring 2 takes place six years after the original movie, this time in England during the Christmas season of 1977. The Hodgson family, which includes single mother Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’Connor), daughters Janet and Margaret (Madison Wolfe and Lauren Esposito), and sons Billy and Johnny (Benjamin Haigh and Patrick McAuley), begins to experience some strange things in their home. At first, as is always the case, it starts off small. A bump in the hallway, a banging on a bedroom door. But soon, chairs are being flung across the room in front of the children, the mother, the neighbors, and even the police. Eventually, the Warrens are called in to investigate what the newspapers have dubbed “England’s Amityville”.
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Movie Review: The Nice Guys

The Nice Guys


Shane Black’s first film since Iron Man 3 is funny, action-packed, and pairs the unlikely duo of Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling to perfection. Set in 1970s Los Angeles, The Nice Guys is an entertaining buddy action-comedy about two private detectives who investigate the death of a well-known adult film actress and try not to kill each other in the process. The performances are terrific across the board and there is plenty of heart in between laughs in this enjoyable summer flick.

The film opens with the death of porn star Misty Mountains (played by Murielle Telio), as she crashes her convertible in the backyard of a luxurious Hollywood Hills home. Soon, we are introduced to Holland March (played by Gosling), a two-bit private eye who has been hired by an elderly woman named Mrs. Glenn (Lois Smith) to look into the death of her niece, Misty. March is a single father trying to be a role model for his twelve-year-old daughter Holly (played by Angourie Rice), while struggling with the fact that he is not a very capable private investigator. Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) is also a private eye, who is hired by Amelia Kuttner (Margaret Qualley) to inflict some pretty serious pain on Holland March for sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong (in case you are wondering why Ryan Gosling is wearing a cast on the film’s poster).

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‘The Jungle Book’ Review

The Jungle Book


Jon Favreau, who has become a master of both the understated indie comedy as well as the mega-budget blockbuster, combines heart and spectacle with his rendition of The Jungle Book. The film includes terrific newcomer Neel Sethi as Mowgli, a star studded cast of voice talent, and some of the best effects in recent memory. There is action, adventure, and plenty of lessons to be learned by children and adults alike.

The Jungle Book, based on the Rudyard Kipling stories from the late Nineteenth Century, combined with elements from Disney’s 1967 animated feature of the same name (including updated takes on several of the songs from that movie), tells the tale of Mowgli, an orphaned man-cub. Having been rescued by a panther named Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley, who also provides the film’s narration) when he was just a baby and raised by a pack of wolves, including adoptive parents Raksha and Akela (voiced by Lupita N’yongo and Giancarlo Esposito, respectively), has adapted quite well to the life of the jungle, but still finds he doesn’t quite fit in. One day, a tiger named Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba), bent on revenge for the scars on his face that were caused by a man, vows to kill Mowgli once the rainy season begins, forcing Bagheera to take Mowgli on a journey back to the man village. After being separated from his protector Bagheera, Mowgli encounters many colorful characters on his adventure through the jungle, like Baloo the Bear (voiced perfectly by Bill Murray), a python by the name of Kaa (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), and a gigantopithicus named King Louie (voiced by Christopher Walken).

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