Major dilemma: “Ghost in the Shell” (2017)

ghostDo androids dream of electric sheep—and if so, what colour? There’s no easy way around it: the loaded issue of whitewashing has been haunting this American remake of Japanese anime Ghost in the Shell ever since Scarlett Johansson was cast as the cyborg Major, and it’s going to haunt the film even more now that audiences have had a chance to see it. Mamoru Oshii, director of the 1995 classic, may have dismissed the whitewashing debate in his support of the new film1, but the knives are still out—and with good reason. Had director Rupert Sanders and his team ignored or come up with a clever solution to their perceived racial switch, the remake might have at least dodged these charges; instead, the new movie doubles down on the problems in an effort to dispel them. And lest you think too much is being made of the issue, just wait ’til you see the film. Continue reading

Monkey shines: “Kong: Skull Island”

kongThings get pretty crazy when you party on Skull Island. A squadron of helicopters is strafing the Vietnamese jungle, recklessly dropping depth charges to the sound of Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” while grunts banter and a Nixon bobblehead leeringly presides over frenzied war-movie cutting. The composition is pulp poetry, writ large in the B-movie palette of apocalypse magic hour. Abruptly, a massive palm tree comes crashing through the windshield of one of the choppers in violent POV. Shots spin chaotically, Nixon gets upended like a devil cross, and Ozzy Osbourne’s voice recedes into ghoulish reverb on the soundtrack. The culprit is one pissed-off local— an enormous, angry simian, to be precise—who swats at the intruders in ways that would give Merian C. Cooper nightmares. There’s an ingeniously crude cut from a soldier falling to into the ape’s jaws to a fellow crewmember taking a hearty bite into his sandwich. “That was an unconventional encounter,” sandwich guy is forced to admit, before indifferently resuming his lunch.

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Review: Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman

salesmanRevenge ain’t what it used to be. Where movies once dispatched their wronged characters on black-and-white journeys of violent retribution, two of the most compelling films in recent memory have taken curiously complex approaches to exploring the phenomena of retribution, guilt, and—most explicitly—desire. Paul Verhoeven’s Elle twisted along a wildly unexpected route of female agency in response to its triggering rape, and now Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman, in focusing almost exclusively on the male reaction to a possible sexual trespass, offers a fascinating counterpoint when that agency is completely denied. Continue reading

Review: xXx: Return of Xander Cage

xxcageBrace yourself, ’cause here comes the early 2000s nostalgia, jacked up on Mountain Dew, covered with muscle tatts and riding a snowboard to the sound of a big beat remix. Oh sure, you could question the need for a second sequel to a 15-year-old film, clearly propped up on Chinese investment money and banking on cultural amnesia, or you could just welcome xXx: Return of Xander Cage as the New Year gift to the current cinema that it is—a Sistine Chapel of transcendent stupidity. For real: “Jacked up on Mountain Dew”—with love and apologies to Talladega Nights—is an actual line of dialogue in this motion picture. Continue reading

Review: Robert Zemeckis’ Allied

allied-1From the moment Brad Pitt drops into the opening frame like a celestial object descending from some matinee idol galaxy far, far away, to the point, minutes later, that the camera sizes up an impossibly glamourous, probably duplicitous Marion Cotillard in a cosmopolitan café, Allied already seems to be two meta-textual steps ahead of its audience. You want movie stars swooning over each other in an illicit romance? Well, here they are. Continue reading