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Ghost in the Shell 2017 poster

We saw this last night; as warm-up, I'd watched the 1995 anime the previous evening and may watch it again for further comparison.

GitS2017 is *not*, despite what might seem from the trailer, a straight remake. It does include several iconic scenes from GitS1995 recreated in live action with astonishing fidelity and detail, but embeds them in a quite different plot (which I understand to take elements from other parts of the GitS franchise, such as Stand Alone Complex, which I've not seen.) That plot - and I'm trying to avoid spoilers here - is one that many genre fans will recognise and be familiar with, although it does get taken in some interesting directions.

Scarlett Johansson's casting is of course controversial. To an extent the cross-racial casting turns out to form part of the plot, although whether that justifies it is another question. Johannson's performance is generally good; if it is at times flat and alienated, she is meant to be a character very alienated from humanity as a whole. Of the other cast, Takashi Kitano stands out as Aramaki, who perhaps translates best from GitS1995. For me, the disappointment was Batou; Pilou Asbæk does his best, but it's hard for anyone to convey the odd combination of physicality, gravitas and quirkiness of the anime version. (I commented to Siân that the only actor who really came to mind who might do full justice to the role would be a somewhat younger Ron Perlman.) Juliette Binoche puts in a good performance as the cybersurgeon who helped rebuild the Major, but again genre fans might find her role seeming familiar, as it is rather reminiscent of Sinéad Cusack's in V for Vendetta

Visually, GitS2017 is amazing, and will join Blade Runner and The Fifth Element - both of which it echoes - as a striking vision of future cities. GitS1995 fans will either enjoy spotting the references and recreations from the earlier anime, or will be driven to distraction by them. 

Overall: worth seeing, but you should avoid having either unduly high or unduly low expectations.

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Bridge of Spies isn't a legal drama in the usual sense; there are a few courtroom scenes in the first part of the film, but the trial of Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (played in a quiet but captivating performance by Mark Rylance) is hardly shown. Rather, this is very much a film about Abel's lawyer, James Donovan (Tom Hanks), and his experiences both of representing - reluctantly at first - a very unpopular client, and then negotiating a swap of Abel for downed U-2 pilot Gary Powers.

I thought I'd like the film as someone interested in Cold War politics, but ended up enjoying it more as a lawyer. In particular, Bridge of Spies highlights two key aspects of being a lawyer: the fundamental ethical issues of duty to your client, and the importance of carefully planning, and resolutely adhering to, a negotiating strategy when seeking a compromise. We see the former as Donovan is subject to pressure from the CIA to divulge privileged discussions with Abel and to public and professional disdain for representing an enemy of the state, and the latter as Donovan seeks to broker a deal swapping Abel for both Powers and Frederic Pryor, an American student held by East Germany.

If I have a criticism it’s that Bridge of Spies rather compresses the timeline of events without really making this clear. From the film, you might think that Abel’s trial was followed not long after by the downing of Powers’ U-2, and that the idea of a swap of Powers for Abel arose very soon after that. In fact, Abel’s trial was in the latter part of 1957, Powers was shot down in May 1960, and the exchange on the Glienicke Bridge in Berlin took place in February 1962. That said, the film is apparently fairly accurate, although one scene that seemed unlikely to me (Donovan, against all legal protocol, lobbying a judge in private and without the other side being represented) turns out in fact to have been created for the film (Donovan did make the argument about the value of keeping Abel alive rather than executing him, but in open court, as part of his submissions on sentence.) All in all, highly recommended.
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What this is: a pretty good, very stylish and often quite funny Cold War spy romp.

What this is not: a film with Illya Kuryakin in it.

Oh, it has a character called Illya Kuryakin, but he's not the Kuryakin of the TV series as played in a career-making role by David McCallum. Armie Hammer plays the film version as a suaver version of Arnold Schwarzenegger's character from Red Heat, or perhaps a slightly less psychotic incarnation of Red Grant of From Russia with Love, highly competent but perpetually on the edge of beating someone to a pulp. I'm not quite sure where this character interpretation came from; perhaps, having landed Hammer in the role, Guy Ritchie realised that he was never credibly depict Kuryakin in the McCallum mould, and so went for Hulking Action Hero instead. 

Henry Cavill, by contrast, makes for a surprisingly good Napoleon Solo. [ profile] purplecthulhu commented to me before I saw the movie that Cavill manages a feat rather like Karl Urban does in respect of DeForest Kelley in the reboot Star Trek, of capturing the essence of another actor's performance of a classic role without anything so crass as a simple impersonation. Cavill isn't Robert Vaughan, but his Napoleon Solo is recognisably Vaughan's Solo. 

There are two poles for Cold War dramas: stylish early 60s, as in early Bond or, more recently, X-Men: First Class (Kevin Bacon's Sebastian Shaw being the best 60s Bond villain we never had) or grim and squalid early 70s, as in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy or the BBC's recent spot-the-Birmingham-location-fest The Game. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. plonks itself very firmly in the first camp and the production and design team clearly had a fantastic time. (I would suggest someone run an appropriate classic-cars-and-cosplay event but it already exists.) I was sure the aircraft carrier had to be CGI and I was right, but it's amazing how well-done this was; if only there was an audience to justify remaking The Battle of the River Plate or Sink the Bismarck! with modern effects.

[ profile] attimes_bracing was surprised at how much she enjoyed The Man from U.N.C.L.E. despite never having seen the original series. In many ways that might help, as if you're not familiar with the source material you won't be thinking "but that's not Kuryakin" all the way through. 

Verdict: fun and visually wonderful, but TMfU purists might enjoy it less than everyone else.
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(Warning: cut-text discussion contains spoilers up to the end of S4 of Person of Interest)

This was a Christmas present to myself, so S and I sat down to watch it last night. I've long been aware of C:TFP but had never actually seen it; my interest was reignited by seeing a comment from Jonathan Nolan that it had been one of his inspirations for Person of Interest, which we've very much enjoyed.

As S noted, C:TFP suffers a bit if you see it now by having been so influential that it's been endlessly imitated, and the plot was probably far more original and striking (at least to non-sf-readers) when it was made. War Games and The Terminator are just two films that followed in its footsteps, with Skynet's apocalyptic future arguably being a vision of what would have happened if Colossus/Guardian had followed through on its threat to offer, as an alternative to "the peace of plenty", "the peace of the unburied dead."

Some of the plot points are indeed surprisingly modern. Colossus' exponential self-development can now be seen as an early depiction of the Singularity, and it's interesting to note that this starts before Colossus is put into communication with its Soviet counterpart Guardian. The visual depiction on a map board of Colossus' attempts to re-route its blocked link to Guardian also feels surprisingly modern given the film's age, although early experiments with ARPANET had just begun. And once Colossus/Guardian begins its constant surveillance of Dr Forbin, its point-of-view shots are clear inspiration for those of The Machine in PoI.

So, given the influence of C:TFP on PoI, are there any pointers going forward for the latter?

SPOILERS for Seasons 3 and 4 of PoI )
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[ profile] attimes_bracing commented a little while back that she'd seen very few classic sf movies, and wondered about catching up. So, last night, we started with Forbidden Planet.

Now, I hadn't watched FP for literally decades. I have a dim memory of us showing it at a video night at the SF club at university, and I'd definitely seen it before I first went to see Return to the Forbidden Planet (the stage musical) in London in 1989 or so. So my briefing to [ profile] attimes_bracing was that this was very early in the 'humans explore space' genre (1956), that bits of it would seem familiar because it had been very influential on a number of TV series, and that she should expect it to be, well, a product of the 1950s.

Ouch. I'd forgotten how much a product of the 1950s it was.

We have an all male, all white crew. Well, the C-57D is clearly a military ship (we twice see Commander Adams holding discipline sessions with crewmen) and that would have been typical for small US ship of the era. The real problems start when Altaira, Dr Morbius' daughter, turns up. Everyone from the C-57D, its captain included, immediately start drooling over her to the point of begin blatantly distracted from what they are meant to be doing, and within a very short time one of them is manipulating her into kissing on the grounds that it's meant to be good for her.

Frankly, the more interesting twist the movie could have used would have been to have it turn out that the monster assaulting the crew had been generated by the Krell Machine not from Morbius' subconscious, but from Altaira's.

(Of course, that's not how 1950s scriptwriters would have done it, and if they had it would no doubt have led to a very misogynist denouement.)

Putting that aside for the moment, FP still stands up well in some areas. Morbius' tour of the Krell Machine is one of sf cinema's great visual scenes, and was echoed by Babylon 5; the effects work is surprisingly good for the time, although I'd be interested to know how much it was influenced by pulp sf-magazine covers of the 30s and 40s. The crew's battle with the Id Monster is also done well, and I suspect that any modern CGI remake would actually be less effective by probably being tempted to show more.

Next up: probably 2001, which at least has less creepiness.
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Until I read this Metafilter post I hadn't heard of Kyle Kallgren and his film review site Brows Held High, but on the strength of these two videos I'm going to have to keep an eye on him.

First, Kyle analyses one of my favourite Shakespeare adaptations, Richard Loncraine and Ian McKellen's Richard III. How did I miss the cinematic reference in the opening scene before?

(There are a couple of odd pauses in this and the next video, BTW. I think they must have been edited together from shorter chunks.)

And here he dissects - in the sense of 'rips into bloody giblets' - Shakespeare conspiracy theorists in general and Roland Emmerich and his film Anonymous in particular. I especially like the way he does a textual analysis of Independence Day to deduce that Emmerich must be a homophobic Jewish-American Republican, formerly in the Air Force, with a stripper wife, two children, an adorable dog and a Mac.

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This film really didn't grab me. Pacific Rim didn't take itself at all seriously, and had a huge sense of fun despite what was actually a very dark scenario. Godzilla is ponderously serious - or rather it tries to have a air of ponderous seriousness, without actually getting any gravitas or serious emotional investment out of its cast, despite having far more supposed human melodrama on screen than actual monster action.

There are some impressive scenes, although they tend not to be ones with the titular monster. The high-altitude parachute drop through a beautifully-rendered stormy sunset cloudscape, accompanied by the Ligati Ligeti chorus from 2001, is amazing, but in hindsight feels as if it was ripped from a much better movie (Monster Apocalypse Now?)

minor spoilers )

Frankly, I'd like an immediate re-release of Pacific Rim on the big screen so we can refresh our memories of what a cinema outing to a proper monster movie should be.
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The Marvel Cinematic Universe does Three Days of the Condor style 1970s political paranoia thriller, and succeeds impressively well. It doesn't hurt that Robert Redford plays a major role, but in that respect so does Washington DC, a city that, via a hundred political thrillers and dramas, has become a character in its own right. In one very nice visual reference, SHIELD headquarters' placement on the Potomac leads gives us a scene where a central character stands in a glass-walled lift against a backdrop view of the Watergate complex.

Other people who saw the film earlier have done better analyses than I could, and I'll point to

as just a couple.

Oh, and one very nice in-joke that, taken literally, adds another movie to the MCU...

spoiler )
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It's been a long wait, but Part I of [ profile] cairmen's World of Warcraft Machinima fan movie Death Knight Love Story is now online!

More info at the dedicated film site

Time I think to repost my report on photographing the Brian Blessed recording session.
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 Via this Metafilter post I learn that there is a biopic about Frank Sidebottom / Chris Sievey, starring Michael Fassbender and Maggie Gyllenhaal, and that this is an actual thing.

Best comment so far to the Guardian article this links to:

"I can't wait for the Clint Eastwood-directed biopic of John Shuttleworth, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Shuttleworth. With extensive CGI to recreate a Y-reg Austin Ambassador, 'cause there aren't any left."
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The Daily Dot asks whether a movie can fail the Bechdel Test but still be respectful of female characters, and suggests that Pacific Rim is evidence that it can.

It's an interesting argument, and I think there is a good case to be made that Pacific Rim does very well as a film with effective female characters except for the Bechdel Test. It certainly manages a lot of non-tokenistic diversity, but in hindsight it does seem unfortunate that Mako is the only female character given any substantial screen time. (There is the female pilot of the Russian jaeger, but she has hardly any dialogue with any of the main characters.)

Looking at the cast, we have three main characters:

Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) - male, white, American
Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) - male, black, British
Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) - female, asian, Japanese

and six supporting characters:

Herc Hansen (Max Martini) - male, white, Australian
Chuck Hansen (Robert Kazinsky) - male, white, Australian
Tendo Choi (Clifton Collins) - male, Asian, Chinese
Dr Newton Gieszler (Charlie Day) - male, white, American
Dr Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) - male, white, Anglo-German
Hannibal Chau (Ron Perlman) - male, white, God alone knows

That's a reasonable amount of ethnic diversity, rather less cultural diversity (Gottlieb, despite his name, is depicted as being as British as they come) and no gender diversity. Pacific Rim fails the Bechdel Test because the writers created a well-developed female character and then forget to give her any other women to talk to. (She does, as that article notes, get a lot of time talking to another non-white character about matters that have nothing to do with sex or race.)

I think the lesson to be drawn from this is that the Bechdel Test may allow for the odd exception, but that it is still a good litmus test, and that if a film is respectful to its female characters in all other respects then it will look even odder if it doesn't show two of them holding a conversation that's not about men.
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Is Skyfall the best Bond film ever? I wouldn't say that, as it's too dependent on what your definition of a really good Bond film is. But it's certainly one of the best, and completes the task begun by Casino Royale of both rebooting Bond and the same time coming full circle back towards the tone of the best of the Connery-era films.

Aspects I particularly liked )

Bits to quibble about )
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Shaun of the Dead meets Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. This is one of those films that pretty much does what it says on the tin; highbrow it isn't, but [ profile] darth_hamster and I nearly fell of the sofa laughing. (Mind you, we had the extra fun of watching the zombie invasion of Tower Hamlets - when we weren't laughing, we were playing spot-the-location around Poplar and Bow.)

Not recommended if you don't like low-cost SFX gore. Highly recommended if you like to see Honor Blackman and Richard Briers machine-gunning the undead through E14.
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When [ profile] darth_hamster said that the Skyfall trailer looked good but she'd not actually seen either of Daniel Craig's Bond films I went to the DVD shelf and offered up Casino Royale. She quite enjoyed it and so when I noted that I had Quantum of Solace, and it followed directly on from the events of the first film, we watched that too.

I have to say I remembered Quantum of Solace as, well, not being that good really. But it does benefit from being watched as a double-bill with Casino Royale, perhaps because the ongoing plot from the first film comes to the fore rather more and so diverts from the rather weak and unfocussed plot of the second.

(In fact, this is Quantum of Solace's problem. Even the day after watching it, I have to think hard to answer the question 'what happens in its first half?'. The classic structure of a Bond film has the first half setting up the Big Bad leading up to a confrontation in the second half. But for Quantum of Solace the set-up is provided by Casino Royale; the first half the film is reduced to providing a new aspect of the Big Bad, which works OK in the context of both films taken together but less so standing alone.)

However, on rewatching Casino Royale I noticed a plot hole so huge I'm surprised I've not seen more mention of it. (Indeed, looking online for discussions of plot holes I mainly find complaints about the unlikelihood of the outcome of the card game.) Yes, this is a Bond film, but it is one that tried to reboot the sequence into more contemporary realism, so it's not so easy to arm-wave it away.

Huge spoilers )
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Rather better than I'd feared it might be, and, according to [ profile] darth_hamster, far better than she'd expected.

I normally try to avoid 3D because I find it's usually a gimmicky distraction, but as Dredd seems almost impossible to find other than in 3D we decided to put up with it. I was pleasantly surprised: 3D is actually used well for a change - about the first time I've seen it used decently since Avatar.

Alex Garland and Pete Travis have done a remarkably good job in striking a balance between keeping Dredd grounded enough to feel realistic while still making it clear that this is a futuristic dystopia. We still have the Cursed Earth, psychic mutants and 200-floor arcology Blocks, but clothing, vehicles and weapons (other than the Judges' Lawgiver) are strictly contemporary. Mega-City 1 is depicted as far more open than in the comic strip - more of an endless, scaled-up LA - but that actually adds to the realism; you get the feeling this is a vast, grim conurbation covering several states rather than just a very big city. At times Dredd feels reminiscent in its grittiness of District 9; at other times, an updated version of the balletic gore of 300 (it should be noted that Dredd is an extremely violent movie.)

Karl Urban nails Joe Dredd, impressively acting through his stubbly chin which, quite rightly for the part (we are still staring hard at you, Stallone), is all we see of his face. If his portrayal is rather one-note, that's because Dredd is a one-note character, but that note is played and held perfectly. Olivia Thirlby is good as Anderson, a rookie Judge tougher and more resourceful than she thinks she is, while Lena Headey is as excellent as usual, portraying a crime boss who is exactly as tough and resourceful as she thinks she is.

Dredd seems to have garnered good reviews, getting a remarkable 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Hopefully it will do as well internationally as it seems to have done here, because it's crying out for a sequel.
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Non-spoiler summary: Having watched the trailers several dozen times, I fear I had assembled in my head a rather better movie from which they drew than the one I actually saw. Prometheus is visually stunning, intense, at times shocking (it must have scraped its '15' rating) and with excellent performances from Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender, but it also suffers from thin supporting characters, dubious plotting and, above all, a seeming confusion as to what sort of movie it wants to be. Worth seeing, but hardly the all-consuming behemoth of awesome that the buildup has led us to expect.


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I think we need a new term for works that are somewhere between a true sequel (or prequel) that sits fully within continuity, and a reboot that takes some of the original's situations and characters but starts over. The Incredible Hulk, for instance, is not really a sequel to Ang Lee's Hulk as details of Bruce Banner's background are different, but it nonetheless works as one in that features the same core characters who have experienced in broad, essential terms the events of the first film.

X-Men: First Class is very much in this category in respect of its relationship to the X-Men trilogy (albeit as a prequel rather than sequel). It's not entirely consistent with the existing films, but for the most part the differences are relatively minor, the sort that can be explained by our assuming that a character who describes an event in one way that we later see taking place in another was simplifying or misremembering. True, there are a couple of times in First Class when we can only assume that certain characters forget rather a lot over the subsequent forty years, but it's not as if long-running TV shows with supposedly solid internal consistency haven't pulled the same stunt - Babylon 5 being a particularly egregious example thanks to In The Beginning. The two really glaring continuity issues both related to one scene - the 'twenty years earlier' prologue to X3 - and perhaps the price of accepting First Class as being in the same continuity as the other films is to quietly pretend that scene didn't happen.

So what does First Class give us? The best Sixties spy-thriller aesthetic in a long time, for starters. (I'd say 'since The Incredibles', but that's in a class of its own what with being completely animated.) You know every aspect of Bond-era spy films that the Austin Powers movies mercilessly parodied? First Class reclaims them all and plays them as near to straight as anyone could manage. Indeed, as spoilers abound )

Fortuitous timing moment: [ profile] darth_hamster had never been around Oxford until our mini-holiday the other weekend, which was just in time for her to gleefully recognise some of the locations of Charles Xavier's student (and drinking) days. (Genuine Oxonians will be a little confused though by the conversion of the building on the corner in front of the Bridge of Sighs into a pub. Surely he would have been just around the corner in either the Kings Arms or the Turf Tavern?)

Spoilerly Nitpicks )

So, overall very impressed. It's great fun, well-acted, respects continuity without being a slave to it and manages to be cool and serious at the same time. Also, thanks to the Big Bad, a whole load of young actors now have a Bacon Number of 1...


Feb. 20th, 2011 04:58 pm
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Very, very funny if you have any experience of fandom, and like most Pegg/Frost films you lose track of the in-jokes and references. Hardly highbrow, but it left [ profile] darth_hamster and me in stitches.
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Inception. Gosh, that was good, and I'm glad I managed to very carefully avoid spoilering myself for it.

Also impressed by the sheer number of diagrams on the Interweb explaining what went on, although it wasn't actually too difficult to follow.


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Simon Bradshaw

September 2017



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