Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Though I feel like I may be painting a target on my own back for saying so, I enjoyed Ghost in the Shell. This Guardian article expresses a similarly positive view.

Parts of the movie reminded me of the 1995 version, which I vaguely remember as flawed, bogged down by abstruse exposition. If people don’t like the 2017 version, it seems to be because it feels too personal, emotional, and actiony in comparison. The “problem”, in essence, is that a mainstream American movie doesn’t match the tone of a foreign cult classic. I’m not sure I understand why anyone expected it to, or even thought it should, though I do applaud the suggestion that the script could have been sparser.

Many have complained that most of the cast wasn’t Asian. That doesn’t bother me because the genre is sci-fi; it’s hard to insist that the ethnographic landscape of the future is being misrepresented, especially when everyone in that future is some kind of cyborg.

I like the theme of self as defined by choice, but—as disproportionately dedicated as I am to the life of the mind—I believe the implications of a complete mind/body dichotomy are only philosophically relevant in a fictional future world where brain transplants are possible. Here and now, we are not our brains; we are who we are in large part because of how we are embodied. Injuries, even those we fully recover from, can disrupt an otherwise stable sense of self. (Case in point: A Leg to Stand on, a book about neurologist Oliver Sacks’s recovery from a serious mountain-climbing injury.)

Another way to think about the mind/body theme is from the standpoint of a political prisoner. A government can jail you, torture you, or even kill you, but it can’t change your mind because your mind (the ghost in the machine) remains yours and yours alone—unless you live in Orwell’s dystopia, in which case, all bets are off.

And speaking of 80s, I loved the choice of automobiles for this movie. They didn’t look like cars of the future, they looked like cars of the past. Or science-fiction of the past, at any rate. The setting had a Blade Runner kind of feeling to it; but this time the neon lights were all 3D, none of the skyscrapers were pyramids, and none of the robots were owls or snakes.

Keep reading for a plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/ghost-in-the-shell/id1213171514

Continue reading Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Logan (2017)

Logan was bloody, morbid, and sad.

There were some darkly funny and grimly satisfying moments, but in general I’m not a fan of the trendy “decrepit superhero” trope, which is what governs the entirety of this 137-minute film, a gritty, R-rated, sci-fi/western production marking the end of the seventeen-year era in which Hugh Jackman has played Wolverine.

I was impressed by the female star’s Hugo Weaving-like frowny face, which she used for almost the entire movie, and the character (portrayed by a digital collage of the actress, her stunt-double, and a laboriously created CGI avatar) seemed pretty capable.

It’s hard to call the movie a triumph for her, though I would have liked to. For one thing, the tone of the movie is hardly triumphant, and for another thing, the movie isn’t about her, or even about her relationship with Logan, it’s about Logan. (It says so right there in the title!) So although she drives the plot, and one or two of the cars in the plot, unquestionably, she’s still second fiddle.

Keep reading for a plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat. Continue reading Logan (2017)

Annie (1982)

Huh. Well, I really don’t know what to think of Annie. On the one hand, it’s really long, and as some reviewers point out, it doesn’t really go anywhere or mean anything, but on the other hand, I’m super nostalgic about the songs! I had fun watching it, but I have no idea whether a child or adult who has never seen it before would enjoy it.

Keep reading for a plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Also below: Some things about the movie that surprised me, and the history of the character as she has appeared in a wide range of media from 1885 to 2014.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/annie/id281680630

Continue reading Annie (1982)

Looper (2012)

Looper has a time-travel premise, but it wasn’t at all what I expected. It was better.

I was perhaps expecting something like Edge of Tomorrow, if only because I read a reference to this movie when reading an article about that one a year and a half ago. But no, there is hardly any Groundhog-Day style repetition, just two simultaneous versions of one guy: a younger one (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and an older one (played by Bruce Willis).

As I was watching it, I started to think maybe Looper would be like Paycheck, a sci-fi movie in which a hunted, mind-wiped character has to figure out some mysterious clues he gave himself, or Predestination, a time-travel movie in which there are some really strange relationships between the characters. But although it’s just as flawed as any time-travel movie, Looper isn’t really that complicated.

Looper has some dystopian futuristic stuff and some magical sci-fi stuff (mostly done with practical effects and not overbearing CGI), but the heart of the movie is not sci-fi, it’s drama. The themes include justice, redemption—and motherhood, of all things! The resolution of the conflict doesn’t hit you hard because it’s a clever gimmick, it hits you hard because it’s a deeply felt moral choice.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/looper/id575490887

Keep reading for a plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading Looper (2012)

Doctor Strange (2016)

I dare you to find a review of Doctor Strange that does not contain a variant of the word “kaleidoscope”. The special effects are indeed special.

As for the rest, you’ve got a gifted, wealthy, arrogant neurosurgeon, recently come down in the world; he gets his comeuppance from an ancient mystic who he hoped could give him back the use of his hands but who instead involves him in the struggle to protect Earth from some kind of evil purple chaos. Will he learn to suppress his ego, to conquer by submitting, or will he be seduced by raw power and the promise of immortality?

I loved the laugh-out-loud magic-meets-mundane humor as well as the special effects, but if you’re not a fan of fantasy, this Marvel Studios production will probably stretch your patience too far. There’s a bit of that same “the real world isn’t real” stuff that’s in the Matrix, which is fine as long as you don’t apply such fictional logic to the real real world. It’s not very tempting to do so, though, since the movie itself barely even takes the magic seriously.

What it does take seriously is the message. The movie wants us to remember that mental, physical, and mystical talents are all ultimately meaningless—or catastrophically destructive—if not wielded humbly.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/doctor-strange-2016/id1164294784

Keep reading for a detailed plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading Doctor Strange (2016)

Robin Hood (1973)

Disney’s Cinderella has more cat-and-mouse antics in it than us grown-ups tend to remember it having; Disney’s Robin Hood, similarly, seems to have more marching in it than I would have thought possible. It’s a charming story, though, possibly in part because of all that celebratory marching!

I love the despicable babyishness of Prince John, the adorable aspirations of the rabbit kid who wants to be just like Robin Hood, Marion’s demure wistfulness about her childhood sweetheart… and the way the snake somehow has eloquent body language despite not having a body. (Snakes are so awesome!)

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/robin-hood/id656527876

Keep reading for a detailed plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat as well as a few other thoughts on the movie.

This post is part of a series on versions of the Robin Hood legend.

Continue reading Robin Hood (1973)

Inferno (2016)

In Inferno (2016), Robert Langdon (played by Tom Hanks) and some woman follow a trail of clues that are tied to European religious art and history, as in The Da Vinci Code, only this time the focus is Dante, and Langdon doesn’t know how he got to Italy or why there are people chasing him. The movie doesn’t seem to be popular with viewers or reviewers, but it was plenty entertaining, if you ask me.

What makes the complicated puzzle plot work for me? Partly, it was Langdon’s initial puzzlement about what’s going on, which puts the audience right in the thick of things—we’re not looking over the shoulder of a pompous art expert, we’re looking over the shoulder of a confused victim. We catch glimpses of memories or dreams but, like Langdon, we can’t quite catch hold of them, and whether or not we know where we’re going, we have to keep moving.

Partly it was the amazing Italian settings. I mean, hiring Tom Hanks is expensive, but the filmmakers also apparently rented every major tourist attraction in Florence, and one or two in Istanbul as well, stopping in Venice along the way. Or they just recreated a bunch of famous places in a studio in Budapest, one or the other. (Actually, some of both.)

Partly it was the freakishly believable terrorist, an extremely rich but extremely delusional white guy who gave a bunch of TED talks about how humanity cannot allow the world’s population to double again and who took it upon himself to try to solve the problem by developing a virus that, when released, would cause immense amounts of pain and suffering but also ensure the survival of the race… by cutting the world’s population in half—decimating it, one might even say—like the Black Death did when it made way for the Renaissance.

Partly it was that I particularly liked one of the secondary characters. While I found the villain’s death cult genuinely threatening, I found his pragmatic mercenary quite amusing. (In this much at least, reviewers seem to agree with me.)

Why wasn’t the movie liked?

Maybe it was too cerebral and not actiony enough. Thrillers have to have Bond gadgets in them, not Renaissance paintings.

Maybe, as more than one reviewer says, it’s the related problem that Tom Hanks’ talent is “wasted on the role of Dr Robert Langdon, an academic who is sort of a brainier, duller Indiana Jones.”

Or maybe it’s just that Dan Brown’s novels aren’t very different from each other (or particularly deep), and it hasn’t been long enough since the last installment for people to find his offering very, well, novel.

Anyway, upshot: if you don’t go in expecting the art-historical conspiracy-theory trail-of-clues plot to resemble what spy movie heroes and real-life detectives typically do to prevent catastrophes and solve crimes, respectively, then you may, like me, be entertained. The plot of Inferno is needlessly complicated and fundamentally illogical, but (unlike that of Point Break) it’s still coherent.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/inferno/id463979057

Keep reading for a detailed summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading Inferno (2016)

The Infiltrator (2016)

I expected The Infiltrator to have more tension, violence, and fear than it actually did. At the heart of the movie is (the real-life story of) a friendship betrayed; the core of this movie is not danger, or even justice or remorse, but sadness. I wasn’t expecting that.

They picked the perfect actor for the role; here you have Bryan Cranston again transforming (albeit temporarily) from a mild-mannered husband to an absolutely driven liar, imposter, and corrupt kind of dude (you know, like he did in Breaking Bad).

The deadly game that the character Robert Mazur plays is reminiscent of the antics seen in Catch Me If You Can (2002), only the consequences of exposure aren’t jail, they’re much, much worse. Bob is in the car when a contact he was meeting with is shot dead and the car flips over. So it’s not as if there’s no fear, no tension, and no violence at all.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/the-infiltrator/id1133650155

Keep reading for a detailed plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading The Infiltrator (2016)

Total Recall (1990)

Despite my distaste for the sleaze, cursing, and blood in the Schwarzenegger version of Total Recall, I have to say that overall it’s a much better movie than the 2012 remake!

Viewers’ overall preference for the original seems to be widely attributed to nostalgia or fondness for Arnold’s acting, but in fact what makes the old movie better is that the characters’ actions and relationships just make so much more sense.

Arnold is an ordinary manual laborer of the future who’s so obsessed with going to Mars that not even his seductive wife can distract him from his dream of going there. He visits a business called Rekall that sells memories of perfect adventures and vacations that people can’t have in real life, but something goes wrong during the memory-implantation procedure and suddenly Arnold is being hunted. He goes to Mars, gets the girl and saves the planet. Or does he?

Feminism accounts for some of the differences between the original and the remake. The 1990 version has a feisty female rebel and a feisty female secret agent, but the rebel is a prostitute and the secret agent is also more or less hired out. Those roles had some ground-breaking elements but didn’t totally suit the sensibilities of two decades later. Also, the alien and psychic elements were dropped and obviously the setting was changed.

Interestingly, the original movie, I’m told, isn’t much like the story it was inspired by, Philip K. Dick’s “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale”.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/total-recall-mind-bending/id539413297

Keep reading for a detailed plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading Total Recall (1990)

Total Recall (2012)

This remake of the 1990 Schwarzenegger sci-fi movie Total Recall (1990) is flashy but far from amazing. I didn’t buy the sci-fi, I didn’t buy the romance, I didn’t buy the political cause. I heard clear echoes of Paycheck (2003), Upside Down (2013) and The Matrix (1999) but nothing really gripped me. Paycheck and sold the romance better. Upside Down sold the political cause and the romance better. Say what you want about Keanu, The Matrix sold the romance, the cause and the sci-fi better!

The premise of the movie, loosely based on the Philip K. Dick story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale”, is that when some average Joe in the future can’t shake the feeling that he isn’t average, and one day goes to try out a recreational technology that can implant memories, and asks to live out a spy fantasy, he discovers that he is, supposedly, already a spy! Things spiral out of control from there. There’s lots of chasing, holograms, hovercars a la Minority Report (2002), sideways elevators, and explosions. In the end he saves the world and gets the girl, as per usual. In many ways, it’s a passable sci-fi/action/romance movie, but I can see why it’s been panned—it’s hard to care what happens to this guy.

Also, the hovercars aren’t the only things in the movie that are lifted (ha ha).

Watching the Total Recall remake proves about as inspiring as a trip to Costco. Every now and then something shiny and new catches your eye, but mostly you’re just eyeballing stuff you’ve seen a hundred times before.
http://www.wired.com/2012/08/review-total-recall-remake/

One could also draw parallels with Vanilla Sky (2001) and Inception (2010). Or even the bizarre novel Sophie’s World.

The main actor, Colin Farrell, in this movie looked like a less boyish version of Brett Dalton, the actor who plays Grant Ward in Marvel’s Agents of Shield. (In a later and very, very strange movie I saw recently, The Lobster (2015), Colin Farrell looks more like Ned Flanders than Grant Ward.)

I think it was a nice touch that protagonist and factory worker Douglas Quaid is shown reading an Ian Fleming (James Bond) novel during his commute through the Earth. The internet says it was The Spy Who Loved Me.

The special features on the DVD weren’t so special. There’s a gag reel, which is okay but kind of unexpected since this isn’t a kids’ movie or a comedy. There’s a thing called “Science Fact or Science Fiction”, which is basically an interview with a guy who believes anything and everything will be possible eventually, if it isn’t already—an attitude I find unrealistic and somewhat poisonous. Finally, there’s a bit about how The Fall was designed which doesn’t shed much light on the thing at all, given how unintuitive and in fact highly implausible the technology is.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/total-recall-directors-cut/id559737629

Lots more thoughts below, including a detailed plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading Total Recall (2012)