Shin Godzilla (2016)

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This is why it’s imperative to never expose your rubber duckie to radiation.

The mere fact that a movie about a massive monster wreaking mayhem upon a major metropolis begins with roughly half an hour of solemn and serious politicians blathering slightly too quickly in a series of utterly forgettable conference rooms should seem like a bleak sign. Even considering how many movies in the Godzilla series focus heavily on a human story almost to the exclusion of kaiju action, none have been quite so fascinated with the minutiae of governmental process. But this political thriller is less C-SPAN than Armando Iannucci, blending the anti-nuclear message of the 1954 Godzilla with a dry satire of the current state of Japanese politics, particularly their response to crisis. The main character is not a stalwart soldier or brilliant scientist, but a bureaucrat responsible for coordinating the reaction to a natural disaster, albeit one involving a gigantic and rubbery sea creature that spews fire and radiation. Caught between the indecision of his superiors and the call for a scorched earth response by the US-led UN, young prime ministerial aide Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa) must find a way to defeat this monster with the help of a team of scientific rejects and crackpots. Continue reading “Shin Godzilla (2016)”

Colossal (2016)

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Where’s the Kaboom? There was supposed to be an Earth-shattering Kaboom!

Some genre mash-ups seem effortless. Space is an environment perfectly unsuitable to human life and probably full of things that want to eat, brainwash or melt us, hence the ease of sci-fi/horror. A world steeped in testosterone, where every problem can be solved by the conscientious application of automatic weapons is inherently ridiculous, making action/comedy a no-brainer. A dramedy about a person dealing with addiction and failure is, surprisingly, not an apparently natural complement to an effects-heavy, destruction laden kaiju flick. Colossal is one of the most original films to come along in a while, at least partially because it has some of the trappings of a science fiction movie without really being sci-fi. The giant monster stuff is symbolic and mostly background to the real drama, though still contains roughly as much kaiju action as 2014’s Godzilla. Continue reading “Colossal (2016)”

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)”

Aliens (1986)

Holidays are one of the best reasons to watch movies, among the literally trillions of other reasons to watch movies. Christmas offers a cornucopia of choice, from timeless classics like It’s A Wonderful Life, to adopted festive films like The Wizard of Oz and Jurassic Park, to the best and least-festive Xmas flick of them all: Gremlins. Other occasions do not offer so many options. For my money, Mother’s Day offers only one serious option, one of the greatest sequels ever made, James Cameron’s Aliens. If Alien turned Ellen Ripley into a hero, Aliens is where she ascends to the status of true badass, one of the Holy Trinity of amazing sci-fi movie heroines alongside Sarah Conner and Leia Organa. Aliens expands upon the original concept into a very different kind of film, and confidently ticks every box on the ideal sequel checklist. Continue reading “Aliens (1986)”

Sequence Day Three – Supergirl (1984) & Hardware (1990)

Over the weekend of 7-9 April, 2017, in collaboration with the Comic Studies department at the University of Dundee, overseen by the world’s only Professor of Comics Dr. Chris Murray, and the city’s very own festival of geekdom Dee Con, Dundee Contemporary Arts is running Sequence, a series of films inspired by comic books and animation. 

Supergirl holds the distinction of being the first American superhero feature to star a female protagonist, an achievement that becomes all the more important given the fact that movies about female superheroes can easily be counted on less than two hands. After the mediocre-to-awful Superman III, the intent was to spin off from the franchise, elevating the largely unknown Helen Slater, in the same way as Christopher Reeve was, in the role of an iconic DC character. Given the obvious lack of a Supergirl II, this was ultimately unsuccessful, and the quality of the movie must take its share of the blame for this. Feeling as though several scripts were thrown together without regard for consistency, pacing or basic coherence, Supergirl shows only moments of greatness in a broadly dull and oddly small story.

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Sequence Day Two – Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993) & Watchmen (2009)

Over the weekend of 7-9 April, 2017, in collaboration with the Comic Studies department at the University of Dundee, overseen by the world’s only Professor of Comics Dr. Chris Murray, and the city’s very own festival of geekdom Dee Con, Dundee Contemporary Arts is running Sequence, a series of films inspired by comic books and animation. 

If Heavy Metal‘s view of “mature” content is that of a hormone-addled teenager, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm takes a more genuinely adult perspective, despite being aimed at a younger audience. Based on the celebrated Batman: The Animated SeriesMask of the Phantasm utilises its longer running time and higher rating certificate to tell a story of revenge that delves into the psychology behind loss, and what separates vengeance from justice.

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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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Sunshine (2007)

Mashing genres has given us some of the best films ever made, but can be extremely fraught if done poorly. For every Blade Runner (science fiction/film noir), Assault on Precinct 13 (Western/thriller) or Scream (horror/comedy), there are countless clumsy and inconsistent messes that, in reaching for two disparate goals, achieve neither. Sunshine is by no means among the worst examples of this technique, but remains an intensely frustrating film. It seems to lack the courage to simply be a tense and thrilling tale of human perseverance and survival, instead tossing in a half-hearted, third act horror twist that falls completely flat.

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