Tag Archives: scarlett johansson

Ghost In The Shell (2017)

Ghost In The Shell posterSince it’s release in 1995 the anime of Ghost In The Shell has become one of the touchstones of not only Japanese animated films breaking through into western culture (along with the likes of Akira and the Miyazaki films) but has become a heavy influence on science fiction cinema of many sorts from The Matrix to Dredd and beyond.

So now, some 22 years later, the long developing ‘Hollywood remake’ has hit the multiplexes with Scarlett Johansson leading an international cast, also including Juliet Binoche and ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano.

The story here concerns Johansson’s Major Mira Killian, a cyborg member of a kind of top-secret law enforcement agency, and her teams mission to take out a mysterious new threat who is killing off high level scientists from the company who created the Major’s robotic body. From there things head into a fairly predictable conspiracy plot.

While there’s nothing wrong with the plot per se, and it does use the conspiracy to explore a similar notion to the earlier animated version, it is hampered hugely by a near total lack of definition in the characters all of whom are at best two-dimensional renderings of fairly well-worn stereotypes – even Major who of all the roles has the most scope for something more.

Scarlett Johansson as Major Mira Killian - Ghost in the Shell

Johansson as Major

While this same criticism could be levelled at many of today’s blockbusters everything around the central group of characters just feels somewhat bland with a script that relies too much on spoken exposition to both move the story on and labour its point with visuals that, while technically impressive, never wow like it feels they should and display no sense of flair or originality.

Given the fact at least some of the cast are known talents it’s hard not to conclude that a major part of the problem lies with director Rupert Sanders, the man previously responsible for Snow White And The Huntsman which had many similar problems.

On top of this came the fact that there is a sense that Ghost In The Shell was produced somewhat ‘by committee’, trying to simultaneously target both the mainstream American (western) movie audience, the increasingly important Chinese market, the Japanese market and fans of the original.

Ghost in the Shell - Batou and team

The rest of Major’s team

While the original anime version of the film helped establish new tropes of future urban dystopia this version does little to build on that, strangely giving it a feeling that it is copying the very things the original influenced both visually and in terms of its story and characters.

This all comes together to leave a film that, while not technically bad, just feels flat and uninspired which, given the legacy of its progenitor, makes it a massive disappointment and a missed opportunity that probably arrived two decades too late, if it ever even needed to arrive at all.

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Hitchcock posterThe story of the making of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is one that has been debated and retold in various forms time and time again, but one account seems to have become the definitive – Stephen Rebello’s Alfred Hitchcock and The Making of Psycho – and it is on this that Hitchcock is based.

I first encountered Rebello’s book while studying Psycho as part of my media studies course so when I heard it was the basis of a dramatic movie about the time in ‘the master of suspense’s’ life I thought it was an odd choice, but, it turns out there really is a great story to tell in there.

Taking us through both the personal and professional trials and tribulations of Hitch’s life, circa 1959 and ‘60, we see the relationship between the director and his wife as well as the relationship between him and his film (and its source material) and him and his leading ladies (both past and present).

We also get to find out more than I expected about Alma Reville, Hitch’s wife, almost so much that the film could have been called “The Hitchcocks”.

Anthony Hopkins in HitchcockAlong with the personal side we also get a glimpse into the making of the movie including many of the well-known little moments such as the filming of the shower scene and Mrs Bates’ surprise appearance in Janet Leigh’s dressing room.

All that comes within Hitchcock’s 98 minute run time which leads me to what I think is the main issue with the film – it tries to pack too much in to really make anyone of them deep enough to totally engage.

scarlett johansson in HitchcockWhat this left me feeling was that this is a film with a great story but really in search of a script that has a purpose. A striking aspect of Hitchcock is how it attempts to paint a duality within the director’s character, but even this feels underdeveloped, particularly when its inviting comparison to the similar motif in Psycho.

As well as being somewhat thematically imbalanced the script also features some occasionally very off dialogue, as it seems to try to fit in some of the famous quotes that were supposedly uttered on and around the set, but often to the expense of sense and at other times it seems the characters are simply talking in cliché.

Helen MirrenOk, so far, this hasn’t sounded like a good review, but, actually I did come out of the cinema with a smile on my face and I had enjoyed it and this was largely down to the performances and a few clever elements of the direction (specifically the visual links drawn between Hitch’s well known TV personality and the Ed Gein source of Psycho).

Anthony Hopkins makes an interesting caricature version of Alfred Hitchcock that seems to channel his take on Hannibal Lector through a less psychopathic filter and add in a bit more of the humour of Hitch which Hopkins nails, particularly as we watch him at the Psycho premiere.

Helen Mirren also puts in a great performance as Alma, despite some ropey dialogue, and translates 90% of her characters arc with her actions and emotions, rather than the dialogue, which really serves to show her skill as an actor – not that it was ever in doubt – but it’s really highlighted here.

James D'Arcy as Anthony PerkinsThe other characters are generally fairly lightly painted but James D’Arcy’s Anthony Perkins is an excellent imitation and similarly Scarlett Johansen seems to channel Janet Leigh, as much as we get to know of them here anyway.

In the end Hitchcock succeeds despite itself, thanks largely to its cast and, while I found it interesting, I did wonder if it would have been as interesting to someone with less of an interest in film, and specifically Psycho, and as a whole, it didn’t really seem to know what it was trying to say about either the man or the film he was making.

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