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No one will accuse this movie of not looking great.

Ghost in the Shell as a 20 years removed live action adaptation of a seminal anime film is at once completely unnecessary and completely inevitable. We live in a weird period where the tropes and signifiers of the cyberpunk genre are everywhere we look. It makes a sort of sense that the most influential pieces of that history are being reclaimed and re-positioned for modern audiences. Not only is Ghost in the Shell a thing that happened, but Blade Runner is getting a sequel, shows like Incorporated also pay direct homage to and update the William Gibson and Margaret Atwood cyberpunk vision for the 2010s. But when you watch Marvel movies or the CW superhero shows, the technological gimmicks as well as many of the technological themes stories address (artificial intelligence, human enhancement, etc) are also present.

This is because we kind of live cyberpunk now, we’ve got all the big elements: sketchy corporations accruing more and more power, poorly understood technological progress unevenly distributed and always dovetailing between transcendence and frivolity, and a world where high-tech gadgets and cybernetic crime, warfare, and identity are taken for granted.

So what time could be better than now for an adaptation of Ghost in the Shell? This movie’s historical and iconographical relevance is only rivaled by its failure to address another cornerstone of our times: the latter days of white supremacy in an increasingly global context. Make no mistake, Ghost in the Shell is a very political film but it accomplishes this accidentally and becomes a “useful fool” in the discourses of identity politics, racial/cultural hegemony, and the gyre of entertainment representation. Now, maybe you’re not interested in all that shit. Read the review anyway, because I’ll be getting into the more technical stuff that works or doesn’t first. If you’re looking for a quick summary of the kind I usually put here, let’s say that Ghost in the Shell is… okay. Too much of the narrative is simplified or compromised, and while the imagery and action is beautiful and memorable it also frequently feels cheap outside of the really great practical effects and props that are sprinkled throughout the movie. It also has pretty rad music, though they should have used the ’95 theme more.

//SPOILERS//follow.review Read the rest of this entry »

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Yeah well, we all know why we’re really here.

There’s deep and then there’s “deeep”. The latter is used sarcastically when someone has said something they may think is deep, but probably is not. Enter Lucy, a film that goes so far beyond “deeep” that it can’t help but create an entirely new term: Lucy-deep.

Does this mean that Lucy is a silly movie? Why yes, it does. But it also has an excessive amount of fun and audacity with that silliness. It is thus that one uses the term Lucy-deep with fondness rather than scorn (well, maybe a little scorn).

Lucy is sort of bad, but sort of fun too. It’s not a “so bad it’s good” movie but it’s not quite a near miss movie either. It’s weird because it’s so bonkers and so proud of itself that you almost can’t help grinning instead of cringing, even when it’s doing its level best to make you cringe so hard your face turns inside out. Read the rest of this entry »

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Wonder how this will turn out?

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a hot commodity in the unabashed success that is Marvel’s “Phase 2”. This post-Avengers run of sequels to the flagship solo superhero movies has been a prodigious leap forward in terms of care and quality and The Winter Soldier is no exception. In every way it is bigger, better, more self-assured, and more fun than its predecessor. But because it stays rooted in character, it relies fully on both Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers for its weight and impact. Beyond that, The Winter Soldier proves without a doubt that these movies can play with genre conventions without ever flinching away their essential nature as superhero movies. In this way, the Marvel films are following a tradition where superhero stories have always been at their best when they use their fantastic elements to comment on social issues, politics, ideology, and ethics.

All these movies lean in on each other, comment on each other, and strike out in bold new directions. It’s a unique enterprise, something we remind ourselves again and again is the first time anyth project like the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) has ever been attempted. Partly we do this because we’re in awe that this happened at all, that it continues to happen. Partly we do this because these movies keep getting better and keep not letting us move on to a place where the merit of the MCU stagnates or becomes obligatory.

That’s maybe the coolest thing about this movie. Past the scale and the action and even the depth, it’s that it feels like a breath of fresh air. When you think about it, that’s kind of crazy. Not that The Winter Soldier is perfect, mind you, but it perhaps comes the closest (at least technically) of any Marvel film thus far. If anything, it’s only flaw is more of a virtue: it leaves us very much wanting more. Read the rest of this entry »

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This could be a sort of emblem for a generation of single men.

Don Jon is Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut. People love the guy, for all the right reasons, and this film will probably only make them love him more. Maybe not for all the right reasons. Some people are going to like this movie only by ignoring what it is saying to them.

With Don Jon, he has an agenda that not everybody is going to like. No one really wants to have their perceptions and attitudes held up in a mirror and then stripped away, even subtly as this film does it. That said, Don Jon is subtle enough with its criticisms of contemporary gender assumptions that I think a lot of people will miss the criticism altogether and feel they are watching a comedy about overcoming porn addiction. Of course, Don Jon could be described that way, but it’s got a lot more going on.

The film is really about indicting both sides of the issue. It’s a bit more interested in objectification, especially from the male perspective, but it makes plenty of room to share out the criticism with the ways women are also taught to categorize, ritualize, and finally objectify their male counterparts. Don Jon is not a preachy film. This is the reason why it is as good as it is. It’s got an easygoing attitude toward the subject, where the protagonist’s journey of self-discovery is subtle and incremental, but no less revelatory.

Gordon-Levitt brings us along for the ride with subtlety, humor, and a deft hand with the social criticism, never crossing over into hostility or judgmental tones. This is key to keeping the film appealing, especially to people who exhibit many of the same behaviors as the characters in the film. Behaviors which hopefully the film will show are worth rethinking.

Read the rest of this entry »

And then this happened.

Warning: There will be spoilers

My version of what everyone is saying about The Avengers is that we’re now living in the post-Avengers world. For over 3 years, everyone knew this was coming. The Avengers is a huger part of the public consciousness than it ever was as a comic and now that the movie has finally arrived, and the big ballsy gamble paid off, it’s going to get even bigger. No joke, The Avengers is hands-down the best Marvel movie yet made and is almost hilariously easily the best superhero movie yet made. This is because Joss Whedon was the right guy, with the right cast, and the right amount of money to create a big blockbuster movie that is a total treat, presenting set-ups and pay-offs not only within its own confines, but dependent on 4 years of Marvel movies and 40 years of Marvel comics.

Just how right is Whedon? It won’t even surprise anybody who’s watched shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and especially Angel that the guy is the world’s leading expert on juggling superhuman egos and powers with humanizing vulnerabilities, attachments, and aspirations. While able to juggle the likes of Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor, Whedon shows the potentially unique ability to let each character weave their way in and out of the core narrative, making sure that everyone has their moment in the spot light. And yes, this extends to Black Widow, Hawkeye, and especially the Hulk. Not only is Whedon the first filmmaker to give us a Hulk we can stand up and cheer for, he also manages to take an eye-candy non-character like Black Widow (as far as Iron Man 2 had it anyway) and turn her into someone far richer. If you’re well-versed in Joss Whedon’s work, his ability to capture depth in character and theme with a deft and effortless hand isn’t going to surprise you. All I can do is tell you that he pulls it off here, and then some, and for everyone else: this stuff is what makes this movie so very exceptional. Read the rest of this entry »

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