Ghost In The Shell (2017)-Film Review

Yes this live-action adaptation of the anime sci-fi cyberpunk 90’s classic was released at cinemas many months ago but I missed it back then. I was given a copy of it for Christmas and so now I have seen. There was a few reasons why I didn’t catch it back at the cinema months ago, and one of those reasons may have been due to the slightly uncomfortable issue of ‘Whitewashing’ in the film which very many people were critical about. Why did it star Scarlett Johansson? Did it need to have her? It is seen as an American movie-did it have to be? Could it not have been Japanese made with full Japanese cast of actors?

There were several arguments around these issues of the film production-why was the lead character played by a white American actor? But then the response was that the character of Major Mira Killian was not specifically Japanese in the original manga or anime and was possibly wearing a body and also is a cyborg so she could be created in any visual design way. And on it continued.

So yes, that all may have put me off seeing it or paying my money at the cinema which may have been endorsing this kind of possibly Americanisation of original Japanese entertainment. I could understand it in other ways as well-Scarlett Johansson was at the time of production possibly the highest paid Hollywood actress/female actor due to her role as Black Widow in the Marvel movies, which is a similarly well trained, highly physically capable heroic character so it does right in that sense. Plus, they would have thought it the best thing to have her in this film as it would possibly draw such a huge audience because of her.

So anyway, lets talk about the movie. I am also a big fan of the original anime film from the mid-90’s. If you already knew about it, you may have seen over time how frequently it had been stated that without Ghost in the Shell there may have been no The Matrix. That’s possibly true, as the Matrix trilogy especially the first film did seem to take so much visually and stylistically from this anime/manga classic. I did see the anime G.I.T.S. a couple of years after Matrix was released and I really was shocked at the similarities.

Besides the controversies of production, with this live-action version of G.I.T.S. what do we get? Is it a very close remake? Is it only inspired by the original anime?

Well this is where it did not do so well for me as it is not a total remake, or exact shot-for-shot live-action version but it does feature several very memorable scenes from the anime movie which look almost exactly the same (made extremely well) and the story uses some of the anime feature length story with some elements from episodes of the anime series as well. This resulted in a film which did not really give me a fascinating original new tale, but I mostly knew where it was going all of the way through to the end.

In some ways now I do actually regret not seeing it at cinemas or even on IMAX because along with the recent Blade Runner sequel this movie really does look absolutely mind-meltingly stunning visually. It gives us what Ridley Scott probably exactly wanted for the original Blade Runner all those years ago. It looks just like Scarlett Johansson is walking through that movie and you almost expect her to bump into Deckard on the neon-lit streets. It also contains some of the very best science fiction special effects I have seen in recent times when we seen Major taken apart, reconstructed, broken, her face opened out, other similar cyborg characters and robotic creations. They all look seamless and breath-taking.  These are different times for Hollywood with their international cinema audiences changing and evolving and so I can probably (cynically) understand the very international main actors cast around Johansson. This is no bad thing just different to the anime and does feel possibly forced. But then they added in Juliette Binoche who of course is really great and added a maternal bond element with the Major. Strangely they cast Japanese legend Beat Takeshi Kitano-which is fine, as he is a fantastic actor/director-but he has his own dialogue in Japanese and subtitled while no other characters do in the movie.

Another big difference is that this live-action adaptation is nowhere near as philosophically deep or profound as the anime original. I’ll be honest, I had to watch the original a good couple of times for so much of the philosophical theories and issues to sink in and absorb them. With this version, a thin level of the questions around humanity, the self, cyborg, A.I. and robotics are probed but not with too much depth. It would be wrong to have the script be exactly the same as the original but I did feel they could have worked on this more but then in many ways it still is a Hollywood movie aiming for as wide an international audience as possible.

This film is not a total let down. It is not as controversial as you may have been led to believe. If you have not ever seen the original anime or manga you will possibly really love it. You may wonder if it is a Blade Runner spin-off movie. I felt that it was also a little too short. If you have seen the anime movies and series or the manga go see this anyway because it is still very much worth seeing. It is not entirely perfect but it is still a really great new sci-fi movie which does begin to ask some questions about how robots, A.I. and technology may radically alter our lives in only a short time from now.

 

James E. Parsons is author of two SF books Orbital Kin & Minerva Century (a cyborg mystery in space) out now in paperback, ebook and hardback in all good bookshops and online. Also his first horror novel Northern Souls is out now in paperback/ebook.

Advertisements

Yet more Hell to raise…Hellraiser- Judgment trailer

There seemed to be some big problems with the release of this latest new Hellraiser sequel. The whole film had been made and finished many months ago but it has been sitting waiting for some distributor to give it a chance. The director is Gary J. Tunnicliffe who has been a special effects creator on several previous Hellraiser films as well as scripting the last sequel.

Before any images from this new film came to the public, Tunnicliffe had been increasingly vocal about his personal vision for this new sequel, hoping to make something very much connected to the original world of Hellraiser, and including familiar Cenobites. One major issue here was that like the previous sequel, original modern horror monster icon Doug Bradley would not be playing the lead Cenobite Pinhead. The previous sequel Hellraiser: Revelations-which does not yet seem to even have had a UK dvd release-used an almost unknown actor to portray the famous ‘Pope of Hell’ and many fans were enraged by this. It was very similar to a few years ago when Jackie Earle Haley replaced Robert Englund as Freddy Krugger in the A Nightmare on Elmstreet remake. That film really didn’t go down well with long-time fans and the Hellraiser franchise is experiencing similar friction. But with Englund and Doug Bradley both while very great actors, also getting older in years; if we want more sequels or to see the iconic characters on screen we probably require new younger actors. But how many sequels does a movie need?

There have been over half a dozen sequels in the Hellraiser film series now. The first produced by the multi-talented writer/artist Clive Barker whom created the idea in the beginning. The third movie went very American, but had some interesting backstory. The forth film was possibly too much of a challenge on too small a budget but fascinating. Since then the other sequels have been mostly hit-and-miss, and it has been noting that some were made from rewritten old unknown horror scripts collecting dust in Hollywood. Will this new sequel be the one to really reinvigorate the series?

How much is left to say in the world of Hellrasier, how many more tales to explore?

Well in comicbook form, Hellraiser has been doing great things over the past decade or so with help from Barker and others. The difference there being that in comics visually there are no budget issues, you can see and depict whatever comes to mind and also they are probably less likely to be so censored as films.

Hellraiser:Judgment is release on dvd/Bluray in under a month in the U.S., no UK release date as yet. The trailer does look like the film has had some very focused and devoted effort and attention put into it being something worth seeing I think. Plus the new actor to play Pinhead (Paul T. Taylor) does actually really look the part.

 

James E. Parsons is author of two SF books- Orbital Kin & Minerva Century, available now as paperback/ebook/hardback in shops and online internationally. His first horror novel Northern Souls is available now (under James Parsons).

Justice League (2017) Film Review

All these years up against the mighty Marvel studios must have been such a challenge and creative pressure. Finally a few weeks ago we got to see the most famous DC comics characters united together as the Justice League on screen for the first time. This was of course several years after Marvel did the same with their iconic characters in Avengers Assemble to great success.

Between each DC superhero movie since around 2010, Marvel gave us usually two great movies each year and DC repeatedly floundered with not entirely amazing or only half-way successful films such as Green Lantern and Man of Steel. They looked great most of the time, everything at first seemed in place but fans and critics just were not convinced.

Green Lantern starring Ryan Reynolds cost a huge amount of money and hardly made back any of it. Man of Steel did well enough at cinemas but only received very mixed responses. All the while Marvel comics films featuring Thor, Iron Man, Hulk and Captain America all cleaned up financially and creatively.

After Man of Steel, DC continued on with their dark and brooding vibe and gave us Batman V Superman and this polarised audiences even more. Oh god, it was well over two hours long. Oh my word, it seemed to move at a glacial pace. Where was all of the action? Oh, in the very last 35 minutes. That film did not go down well at all (I actually…yes I do like it but do understand the negative responses) and next up came Suicide Squad. This next wacky, day-glo movie decided to mimic the Marvel movies and lighten the atmosphere and tone-more jokes, ‘zany’ characters, plenty of action. Well, besides some very obvious reshoots all the way until the film was released, which made the studios and producers seem very insecure and very desperate; again this movie had mixed reactions from cinema goers.

What were DC doing wrong? Did they know? Did they care? What were Marvel studios doing right? The trailers for Suicide Squad had a load of clips for scenes which did not end up in the film, it had some great music not in the actual movie…a real mess. Hold up though, I do still like the film (somehow…) even though as a few people have pointed out it had many really terrible mistakes all through it, some of the scenes and action sequences look very cheap and it could have been so much better. But we got over it. How? Wonder Woman hit cinemas in her own full length movie this summer. What a movie it was. Glorious, joyous, great fun film. It looked splendid, the direction was really great, the lead actress was perfect-everything came together just right.

Thanks to that one movie showing that DC film studio could do it right eventually we once again built up our hopes for their version of Avengers Assemble, the first movie to feature the most famous DC heroes together. Less than one month ago Justice League landed in cinemas. It did take me awhile to see it, but that was just due to things in life. Personally I may even have been more excited about seeing how this movie turned out than the new Star Wars sequel at Christmas.

Superman is dead. The world mourns and Bruce Wayne/Batman starts looking to put together a new team to fight some mounting mysterious threat. Justice League does start slow, in some ways, careful but lighter both visually and in tone. There had but much consideration to the changes to be made after the problems of Batman V Superman. Gradually as Wayne meets and contacts Aquaman, Cyborg, the Flash and Wonder Woman the story starts to move with more pace. What are the obvious changes and new elements? Humour, jokes and quips from each of the heroes but especially The Flash. This does help, it makes the whole film feel more fun, less of a grind. Yes Batman V Superman was very dark and moody, but I think it was intended to be like that and that Zack Snyder possibly was wanted to lighten things up when this film finally arrived. It may not have simply been the effect and competition with Marvel and the Avengers films. The actual Justice League comics were often more colourful and fun than the individual Batman, Superman or even Flash comics.

Like the Marvel hero movies, the Justice League are up against some all-powerful evil villain. He is named Steppenwolf and has some kind of mythological story legend. The actual plot of Justice League is quite blatantly similar to the Avengers long building Infinity War storyline-evil super villain needs to collect powerful mysterious things, put them together and can then rule the world/galaxy.  It doesn’t really get much more complex than that. That may be fine actually. I think the main problem with the movie is probably that we don’t really know or then care who this crazed Steppenwolf villain is as we’ve seen it many times before. That is not the real problem, more than the writers didn’t try to make the villain and plot something just a bit more different and get us more interested. Ironically, the Marvel movies often have forgettable or naff villains but are finally getting over than hurdle and now DC have fallen right into it. This is something I think they just about managed to conquer in the Wonder Woman film.

On the whole I actually do like most of Justice League-I was surprised how much The Flash and Cyborg were involved in the story and on screen and enjoyed both of them. Wonder Woman again really great-yes though possibly too many close shots of her butt, I mean really? The direction and cinematography I thought were really great actually. There were some really fantastic action sequences and I loved the visual style of the film. So do I thank Zack Snyder or Joss Whedon for the parts of this film that I enjoyed? Do I thank both men? It does feel like Whedon really added a lot into the script when he came onboard. So overall, it may not have felt as if it had a seriously important story or villain to overcome and it may have just served to start off a series of Justice League movies, which is fine. I don’t think most reviews you may see or heard are to be taken so seriously. This is a great fun movie. You do feel confident that it could be the start of a new positive chapter in DC movies from this point on if things can still go that way. I hope they do.

 

James E. Parsons is author of two SF books- Orbital Kin & Minerva Century, both available in bookshops and online now. His first horror novel Northern Souls was published in October and also available in shops and online as well.

Stranger Things Renewed For Season 3 — Welcome to the Legion!

Today Netflix announced that they are renewing Stranger Things for a third season. This news doesn’t come as a surprise to any of us, but it is still nice to hear that they are going ahead with thh series. Season 1 and Season 2 of Stranger Things are available for streaming on Netflix so, until a fine third season…

via Stranger Things Renewed For Season 3 — Welcome to the Legion!

American Horror Story:Cult- Review

And so it ends. Too political? Too desperate? Has the show really lost its way now?

Many fans of this annual show wait to see and hear any news early on about what the new series will be called, what the theme might be. This year we learned that it would be subtitled ‘Cult’ which was mysterious enough but we soon also learned that it would be inspired by or take place around the U.S. election period. Would that be a good idea? It had seemed that in the last couple of years ratings may have fallen, fans may have believed that the show was losing the strong focus and writing it had in the early series. Soon after this title news we also heard that it would involved clowns…could the show appear to seem any more desperate to jump into contemporary news and pop culture? (the new remake film of Stephen King’s IT was due in cinemas worldwide as this new series was starting and with Halloween on the way, more concerns about ‘Killer clowns’ was rising).

I will say that I was only possibly half way pleased with the last series, which went for a meta-post-modern show within a show, found-footage Blair Witch style with a dash of Texas Chainsaw, fear of outback Hillbilly savage American wilderness. With news that this series was typing itself to real political events such as the recent election, the Alt. right on the rise and Trump America tensions; would this make the show too serious and pious?

Early on we get a brief cameo from Twisty the clown-a series four popular character- but this was only a bluff. The killer clowns were soon to follow. So the show began with the first three or four episodes showing us two running storylines of these nightmare clowns attacking people in service stations and homes, alongside a tale of a young man with disturbing increasing fascist Alt. right opinions and ideas. As the show moved along young man Kai becomes the focus-a real world political monster, and the killer clowns eventually have their mystery deconstructed.

This series does not give us what many people and horror fans might consider ‘real’ monsters such as vampires, serial killers, witches as previously. Did those fans feel cheated? Were the writers trying to force real issues into what has often been a very unreal heightened show?

There certainly are still very many bloody deaths and graphic violent scenes in this series, don’t worry about that. It also have a good deal of humour in the first half of the series as this time they add in zany sensation Billy Eichner from Billy on the street. Yes it does get almost ludicrous and soap opera so far in but as the main villain, regular star of the series Evan Peters rides the whole tale masterfully. I almost even fear for the mental health of the actor as he puts himself through many extreme scenes and characters so often.

Towards the end of the series it seems to almost turn into Fight Club with a strong stench of Neo-Nazi terror but this is played through to observe the endgame result of crazed cult leader Kai and his downfall. So did we really get cheated out of monsters and terrifying horror this year? We may have seen one of the most relevant and chilling monsters American Horror Story has yet put on screen.

James Parsons is author of two SF novels- Orbital Kin & Minerva Century, both available now in paperback, ebook, hardback. His first horror novel Northern Souls was published this Halloween-paperback/ebook from all good bookshops now.

‘Bot vs ‘Bot! ROBOT WARS Comes to Blu-ray 12/15 — Horror Society

From director Albert Band (I BURY THE LIVING, DOCTOR MORDRID) comes ROBOT WARS, Full Moon’s sister film follow-up to 1989’s cult hit ROBOT JOX. In a gas-ravaged future Hell, the United States is divided into two opposing blocs, the North Hemi and the Eastern Alliance and targeting them both are roving bands of pirates known as the Centros. While…

via ‘Bot vs ‘Bot! ROBOT WARS Comes to Blu-ray 12/15 — Horror Society

The Void (2016) Film Review

This was the main movie I decided to go with this Halloween. I usually pull out a couple of horror classics or films which I really like, that way I can be sure not to be disappointed. This year I thought, no I’m going to watch one or maybe two fairly new horror flicks for a change.

Now I had heard and read quite a lot of good things about this new movie over the last year or so. I had heard that it actually had practical special effects-okay this does happen, but often they just turn out looking terrible. In this case the feedback was that these effects worked really well. Surprise there, plus I grew up on 80’s horror movies where it was all about lots of latex and animatronic effects clear to see and buckets of blood and gore all over the show so this appealed to me.

It also seemed to have a fairly distinctive and original concept and mysterious idea in the story which seemed to make it stand out from a number of recent horror movies. I’ve been waiting for something to come along which was brave enough to offer up a new mythology, a fully formed world of terror instead of yet more twenty-somethings running around with some masked killer on their trail.

So this movie seemed mysterious and confident, just what I wanted. Halloween, get ready for this in my dvd player.

If you haven’t seen it yet I won’t let out too many spoilers or I’ll try not to do so. The story takes place in and around a small town hospital with a young police officer observing a number of shocking and creepy events connecting up around him and the small set of main characters. They become trapped in the hospital as they soon notice a large number of what seem like hooded cult members surrounding the building while it is soon enough clear that something not of this world is trying to take them down…

This movie does have a strong 80’s vibe and several films come to mind while watching it such as Assault of precinct 13, The Thing, Hellraiser, Phantasm and others. It is often quite claustrophobic and intense. Considering that the directors had only previously made shorter spoof parody genre movie, with this movie they conjure up genuine serious cinematic terror all the way.

It was good to see a new horror film which soon enough moves at a quick pace and has a cast of good enough actors which help build up the panic and hysteria of the story around them. Some have said that the plot gets quite confused or disjointed as it goes on. There may a couple of plot holes but the main issue has been that many felt it was quite derivative of some of the classic 80’s horror films I have mentioned. Also there are two strands of terror coming in to attack the main characters and yes, in some ways these two elements may not exactly make totally logical sense.

I can assure you though that the film does have a bunch of really impressive set pieces, a load of blood and gore spilling out all over the place. Some of the acting may be a little hit and miss at times but generally it works well enough. Ultimately this is a genuine bold new spectacle of a horror movie. It all builds and builds toward a final head-trip of an ending.  It might be good to see some kind of sequel to this movie if the directors would be interesting in the idea.

So if you are a fan of some of the most bloody and creepy 80’s monster movies with a sharp supernatural twist this could be the one you have been waiting for right here. Dare you enter the VOID?

James E Parsons is author of two SF novels-Orbital Kin & Minerva Century. His first horror novel Northern Souls has been published this Halloween. All three are available from all good bookshops or online now.

 

 

Searchlight: John Carpenter — This Is Horror

He does not need an introduction. John Carpenter is one of the Masters of Horror. A maverick, visionary, and extremely influential, Carpenter’s work taps into the visceral, primal fears we all know too well, driving our nightmares with iconic imagery and pulse-pounding suspense, with his tongue firmly in cheek for a lot of it. He’s…

via Searchlight: John Carpenter — This Is Horror

Star Trek Discovery renewed for season 2 — Sci-Fi Bulletin: Exploring the Universes of SF, Fantasy & Horror!

CBS All Access has renewed the latest Star Trek TV series for a second season. “In just six episodes, Star Trek: Discovery has driven subscriber growth, critical acclaim and huge global fan interest for the first premium version of this great franchise,” Marc DeBevoise, president and chief operating officer at CBS Interactive explained. “This series […]

via Star Trek Discovery renewed for season 2 — Sci-Fi Bulletin: Exploring the Universes of SF, Fantasy & Horror!

Blade Runner 2049-Film Review

(Spoilers Alert ) Here we are over three decades after the original SF movie classic was in cinemas and flopped but gained an ever-growing cult fan-base and actually influenced almost all sci-fi films, books, television ever since.

I had been reading a few articles and interviews with the new director Denis Villeneuve (whom had recently had success with SF alien first contact film Arrival) and the actors involved this time including Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling. As the original film was set in 2019 which is only a couple of years away right now the new sequel moves further in time but only by around thirty year so that it could still be some sort of ‘near future’ story. Given the current advances in AI and robots, DNA/gene splicing and research and bioengineering we can potentially believe some of this new story could take place in some ways in our actual near future.

For decades now of course the fans of the first film have long debated the truth of Rick Deckard-was he human or replicant? Thanks to around half  a dozen versions of the film from director Ridley Scott there have been a number of ways to interpret the film. Is this one of the reasons it has been such a cult favourite for so long?

The story does move on this time. There has been a catastrophic global blackout on energy and data which helped the original Nexus replicants to escape and hide. The company did collapse due to scandal after the many dangerous escaped replicants such as the ones we know from the original movie. After time a new visionary businessman named Wallace has come along and has designed new breeds of replicants with longer and natural lifespans but he does have some deadly intentions for the long term.

We follow a new Blade Runner named simply K in this sequel as he starts to find some clues which begin to lead him to an extremely important case which breaks apart what he thinks he really knows about himself and his work. With this story, we start knowing that K is a new natural lifespan replicant Blade Runner-we know that he knows this, but what he uncovers still leads toward the end of what he thinks of as his truth and the true work he is doing and for what reasons.

Often criticism of the original movie argues that it lacks enough narrative, short on story and character at the expense of breath-taking visuals and soundtrack above all else. I understand that, but do not entirely agree with it. With this sequel, of course it does resemble the original in very many ways. This will keep the many loyal old-time fans pleased, but again it might provoke those same negative comments to some extent.

We are now more than thirty years down the line from the first Blade Runner movie. The fans and viewers have grown old with that film (and the many different director’s cuts and theatrical versions). So in some ways this sequel really did have to offer more for cinema audiences in terms of story depth and detail, to some extent at least. Over the many years there have been at least one spin-off sequel novel, a sort of sequel videogame and comic-book versions which have moved the story on in a number of ways, and so there have been a number of possibly strong enough concepts and ideas to move forward with if and when a sequel was ever made. Some really did not like the idea of a sequel to this particular cult classic. Was it another cynical cash-grab from Hollywood? If it was, well it is forgiven and a relief to find that it is a bold success.

I have seen in the last week or more since it was release, at least two extremely positive reviews from a couple of very well respected UK film critics whom I usually trust. I have also read and heard a small number of negative remarks, and these are possibly justified in some ways.

It is good to see that the director has mostly kept the film quite stripped down of CGI besides the girlfriend of K and a few other effects which help support the near-future atmosphere in subtle ways. There were actual miniature sets made and real international locations filmed and I think the combination of these worked really well did help connect this with the original film. Along with this, the film just looks absolutely stunning. at least four or five times I was sitting there thinking to myself ‘my god, that looks so amazing’ as I watched the screen.

It is I think even longer than the original Blade runner movie, and does seem to pack in a fair amount of more story, twists and detail this time around. This might be one aspect which almost made it feel too different to the original, but again we are in 2017 now, the core fans of the original are probably older and willing to take in more narrative levels this time. Thankfully I don’t think it goes quite too far with this.

With the actors and acting I largely think they were all great choices. Ryan Gosling fits the world of Blade Runner really well, and feels like a new younger Deckard-which fits in well with the film later on. Harrison Ford is held back until really fairly late on in the film but this works and feels natural for the story. It seems Ford understood this thankfully. Someone recently didn’t seem to like the performance of Jared Leto as new corporate messianic businessman. I think it probably is more about the almost repetitive and not entirely always required dialogue he is given. He could have opened up the character I think but it may have posed a danger to the overall film.

But this is a sequel to Blade Runner and it is the direction, set design, soundtrack that we really want to see work well and it certainly does give us what we’ve been waiting for. We see much more of what we only had brief glimpses of in the first movie. This is a truly breath-taking vision of a possible future, bringing to mind Spielberg’s A.I., The Matrix and Dune in different ways among many other scifi visions.

Go see this movie on a very big IMAX screen if you can. This is another example of a rare and very worthy sequel to a highly influential and classic sci-fi film.

 

James Parsons is author of two SF books- Orbital Kin & Minerva Century, both available now in all good bookshops and online. His first horror novel Northern Souls is published 31st October.