Atomic Blonde (2017)

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Lorraine could only vaguely remember last night’s David Hasselhoff concert…

Atomic Blonde is another in a line of films that includes Edge of Tomorrow and Kingsman: The Secret Service, insofar as it seems to be an original, non-franchise genre movie in a sea of sequels and remakes. Like those movies, a slight adjustment of the viewer’s abysmal ignorance reveals that it is another relatively obscure comic book adaptation, based on Antony Johnston and Sam Hart’s graphic novel The Coldest City. Set in snowy Berlin in the days before the Wall came down, MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is tasked with retrieving a vital, watch-shaped MacGuffin that could reignite the dying embers of the Cold War. Given that the city is a powder-keg brimming with political unrest and sporting representatives from at least five different spy agencies, including fellow Brit David Percival (James McAvoy), French naïf Delphine LaSalle (Sofia Boutella) and CIA interloper Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman), horrific, deplorable violence and backstabbing a-plenty abound. As loyalties twist and switch, and Broughton must discover exactly who she can trust. Continue reading “Atomic Blonde (2017)”

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

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The greatest friendships are built on a foundation of laughing at others’ misfortune.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been likened more to a mega-budget serialised TV show than a bona fide film series. Each installment juggles the task of telling a story of its own, while both relying upon and providing story elements from the movies before and after. This has the advantage of being able to tell longer stories with characters already familiar to dedicated audiences, in a fairly consistent world sprinkled with references and in-jokes. However, there is a significant weakness in this narrative lattice insofar as it can make the films inaccessible to casual viewers. This is an issue largely avoided by the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, easily the most remote films in the MCU. Because of their extraterrestrial setting, the original and the newly-minted Vol. 2 have the space to tell their own outlandish tales, and feel complete and self-contained. Under the direction of a filmmaker like James Gunn, they have a distinctive and irreverent style, and stand-out as satisfyingly original with a cinematic universe that can sometimes feel increasingly homogenous. Spoilers ahead. Continue reading “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)”

Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Views on adaptation can vary from person to person. For purists, fidelity is paramount. The are so attached to a piece of media that any change can only serve to diminish, because it is already perfect. Conversely, there are those who see an absolutely accurate re-creation as a complete waste of time. Since the original version exists, an exact replica is superfluous. Rather, the opportunity should be taken to do something novel with the premise or characters, to put a new spin on a familiar story. The Ghost in the Shell franchise certainly leans towards the latter philosophy, being no stranger to divergent incarnations. This is no surprise, since the concept contains huge scope. After the manga, there have been at least four separate continuities spread across movies, TV shows and video games. The new live-action film is yet another take on the mythos, taking elements from its forebears and attempting to strike out in its own direction. In this it has decidedly mixed success, getting caught between a desire to retain iconic scenes and images, and to be its own thing. It’s fairly impossible to discuss this movie properly without spoilers, so consider this fair warning going forward.

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We Need to Talk About Motoko

Confession time: I am a huge fan of Ghost in the Shell. The 1995 anime classic is a tightly-paced, visually-stunning, beautifully-scored masterpiece that blends big ideas with kickass action. No Ghost in the Shell, no Matrix, and to me that’s unthinkable. Major Motoko Kusanagi is a great protagonist, struggling to understand her own humanity as an artificial person with an organic brain. Her situation foreshadows issues we will all have to face before too long, as the technology that is already encroaching upon our lives becomes more integrated into our very beings. The announcement of a live-action Ghost in the Shell ought to have been cause for tentative celebration, an opportunity to see this story brought to a new generation. Instead, the whole enterprise has been overshadowed by a piece of highly questionable casting: Scarlett Johansson will play the Major.

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Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Co-authored with Amy Bowring

Disney is, of course, an evil, money-hungry empire seemingly intent upon subsuming every element of your childhood under its huge and imposing mouse-shaped banner. Beyond the acquisition of Marvel and Lucasfilm, Disney has begun to make live-action versions of some of their most beloved animated features, beginning with Cinderella and The Jungle Book. Despite how iconic the original versions of these films are, they are arguably a safe bet and fair game for re-adaptation. Both are well over half a century old. Disney’s latest offering re-tells a tale a mere 26 years old, a tale considered by many to be the high-water mark of the Disney Renaissance of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, a movie that was the first animated feature to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. Remaking Beauty and the Beast is a curious blend of sure thing and huge risk; there are millions of people primed to love this film, and who will be ready to riot if it fails to live up to expectations.

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Kong: Skull Island (2017)

King Kong deserves respect as one of the great fables to come from cinema, as well as for its pioneering special effects. The story of man’s hubris in bringing an incredible force of nature into the heart of the human world and suffering the terrible consequences for their lack of respect is a great parable, simple enough to explain to a child and yet layered with nuance. The story is one of personal arrogance, of racism, of colonialism, even of a kind of early environmentalism. Kong: Skull Island is the latest in nearly a century of re-releases, remakes and rip-offs, and is notable at least for its departure from the original. While it is not the most revolutionary version – which remains Kong’s Japanese excursion, during which he gets caught up in an illicit mining scheme and battles a robot doppelganger in downtown Tokyo – it shifts the focus in an interesting direction. And for left bereft of giant monsters causing ridiculous mayhem, this change is most welcome.

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Back Down the Rabbit-Hole

My initial reaction to the rumours of a new Matrix movie was a textbook example of violent and impotent fanboy rage. “Are you fucking kidding me? How dare they sully this hallowed ground?! It’s only been 18 years! You can’t fix what’s already perfect! They’re going to change it and make it suck!” This bleating it perhaps emotionally justifiable, but it doesn’t survive more than a moment’s actual though on the matter.

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