Archive for Film & DVD Reviews

Ghost in the Shell (2017)

ghostintheshellGhost in the Shell (2017)
12A | 1h 47min

This live-action take on the anime original is not as deep and philosophical as the original. It streamlines the themes of the cult original Manga created by Masamune Shirow in 1989 but does honor its spirit (quite literally) and the 1995 anime film. Although it does not capture the unsettling, melancholic feel of the original. Fans of the ’95 film should go in with an open mind. Yes, the plot has been streamlined and it doesn’t have nearly the same level of information or attention to detail but, let’s face it, if it was the same as the animation it would be attacked as an unnecessary remake!

The plot remains the same: the mind of a human is rehomed in a technologically advanced body.That body is provided by robotics corporation Hanka who want to create a squad commander for a government counter-terrorism force, Section 9. This human/robot hybrid becomes ‘Major'(Scarlett Johansson). Major and her team are hunting Kuze (Michael Pitt), who is assassinating Hanka scientists for motives which are, at the start, unclear.

The action is set in “New Port City” which some have compared to “Blade Runner’s” Los Angeles – although I agree with film critic Mark Kermode that it is more like the setting of The Fifth Element (1997). Visually, this film is a feast with great sets, costumes, and images that stick in your mind.

There is a very good cast with fine performances from Batou (Pilou Asbæk) and Takeshi Kitano as Section 9’s Chief, Daisuke Aramaki. The casting has caused some controversy. There were objections on the grounds that an Asian or Asian-American actress hadn’t been cast to play a character who was Japanese in the original (albeit of a cartoon of a brain implanted in a robot body!). Others took a different view. Sam Yoshiba, director of the international business division of Kodansha, the manga’s publisher, told The Hollywood Reporter, “Looking at her career so far, I think Scarlett Johansson is well cast. She has the cyberpunk feel. And we never imagined it would be a Japanese actress in the first place.” He added, “This is a chance for a Japanese property to be seen around the world.” Mamoru Oshii, director of the original 1995 Japanese animated film, also endorsed the choice of Scarlett Johansson as lead. The film’s original director has defended the casting too: “What issue could there possibly be with casting her?” Oshii told IGN last month. “The Major is a cyborg and her physical form is an entirely assumed one.” Paramount pictures have said that the publicity focus on casting has harmed the film at the box office. Kyle Davies, Paramount’s president of domestic distribution, has highlighted “the conversation regarding casting” which he believes “impacted the reviews.”

“You’ve got a movie that is very important to the fanboys since it’s based on a Japanese anime movie,” Davies told CBR. “So you’re always trying to thread that needle between honoring the source material and make a movie for a mass audience. That’s challenging, but clearly, the reviews didn’t help.”

It’s sadly ironic that debates about ethnic identity should have impacted a film which is very much concerned with individual identity.

Whilst Major is an efficient (spectacular!) killer she is troubled by memory flashes of a previous life. The film, like the original, raises the question of identity and how far it is linked to memory. The mantra repeated several times: “We cling to memories as if they define us, but they don’t. What we do is what defines us.” fails to convince me. Memory does define us. Anyone who has seen someone suffering from Alzheimer’s could tell you that it is witnessing the loss of identity that is one of the most painful things to come to terms with. The person you knew, quickly or slowly, disappears. Despite the fact that I don’t accept the assertion that actions alone, not memories define us as individuals this is a thought-provoking story. True some of the big questions of the original are missing. When does a mind become a computer, at what point does a program become a mind? Once something becomes aware of itself does that change things? Still, how many action high-adrenaline action movies come with philosophy attached at all? Ignore the carping critics and go see it! If you haven’t already, make time to see the ’95 anime original too.

action movies come with philosophy attached at all? Ignore the carping critics and go see it! If you haven’t already, make time to see the ’95 anime original too.

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Logan (2017)



A more vulnerable Wolverine/Logan


15 | 2h 17min | Action, Drama, Sci-Fi | 1 March 2017 (UK)

Logan is the 10th film in the Wolverine franchise. It’s very different from all the earlier ones. It’s 2029 and Wolverine/Logan (Hugh Jackman) is being slowly poisoned from the inside and is not recovering from his wounds as he used to. Logan is an alcoholic struggling with his life and past. It’s the first time we see a vulnerable and uncertain Wolverine. Professor X (Patrick Stewart) is in bad shape too, slowly losing his struggle with Alzheimer’s and ALS, which is a major concern when his mind is a weapon of mass destruction! Logan has a melancholy feel and deals with themes of mortality and deterioration. Alongside that are bloody combat scenes. Though the scenes of violence are stylised they are not comic book. The script has quieter scenes which establish that the death of characters matter and that there is pain and suffering. Because we see Wolverine now as vulnerable the stakes for him (and emotionally for us, the audience) are higher in every fight scene. Logan is a much deeper and serious film than any other in this franchise.

The plot is fairly uncomplicated. At the start, Logan is attempting to isolate himself from the outside world. He is doing fairly well until a woman appears with an urgent request–that Logan shepherd an extraordinary young girl (Laura, played by Dafne Keen) to safety. He becomes involved despite his intentions and the film becomes a chase/road trip hybrid.

Logan draws on Westerns. He is like the aging, lone gunslinger trying to tap what is left of his humanity and compassion to do the right thing in the face of what seems like overwhelming odds. These references are made explicit as Laura watches 1953’s Shane on TV and when words from that film are woven into the plot. The villains are clearly black hat. Dr. Rice (Richard E. Grant) and Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) don’t have many redeeming features but both actors turn in fine performances within the limits the script gives to their characters.

Logan has delivered for fans. It is an adult film which deals with serious issues and brings a realistic feeling of closure to the story. It was a brave gamble to make a film like this but it has turned out to be a winning bet.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

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Moonlight (2016)



Juan and the young Chiron

Initial release: 21 October 2016 (USA)
Director: Barry Jenkins
Screenplay: Barry Jenkins
Certificate: 15

It’s easy to fall into cliches or simplify when looking at the African-American experience. Bary Jenkins’ Moonlight doesn’t make those mistakes, however. His film portrays a man at three stages in his life. The man, Chiron, doesn’t fit stereotypes. We first meet Chiron at age 10, pick up his story later in high school, and then fast forward to reveal the man he has become.

Chiron (Alex Hibbert) is trying to understand his sexuality at all three points. He is different and his classmates realise this early on and bully him because of it. His home life in a Miami project is tough. His mother (Naomie Harris) is a drug addict and prostitute. His role models are Juan (Mahershala Ali) and his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monae). Juan is a local drug pusher. Yet Juan is a complex character who plays a sympathetic, strong surrogate Father for Chiron. Juan is not a bad person just a person who does bad things. None of the characters in this film are reduced to being symbols. Moonlight deals with the reality that drugs give dealers power and financial independence. Juan tries to teach Chiron the importance of not letting others label you or impose an identity on you. Chiron starts to reject his dismissive nickname ‘Little’ and even question why people give others nicknames.

Chiron (played now by Ashton Sanders) is still being bullied as a teenager. He is also still developing his identity (a major theme of the film). He has his first erotic experience with his friend Kevin (Jharrel Jerome). After this, he also starts to fight back against his tormentors.

About ten years later we see Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) again. He is physically much changed. Gone is the scrawny teenager being dominated by others. Instead, we see a physically powerful and dominant man. Yet this man is still grappling with his sexuality and trying to understand what it is to be a man. When he visits Florida from his new base in Georgia the scene is set for him to confront the question of who he really is.

I’m conscious that what I’ve written above may make this film sound depressing or indicate that its appeal would be limited. Neither would be true. Moonlight, despite what could be a bleak subject matter, is a positive film. Moonlight is a socially conscious film which shows the power of empathy and love. It is beautifully filmed and has at times a dream like quality. Even though it deals with a gay man coming to understand his sexuality it has a message that is more universal. It can’t be reduced to an ‘issue’ film about race or sexuality. At its core, the story is about how we, as humans but more specifically men, develop our identity. That’s why this film has general appeal and should and is being watched by a wide audience.

Moonlight made me think about how art can open our hearts and minds and give us a glimpse into the reality for others. Here I was sitting in a cinema in Edinburgh watching a compelling story of a black kid growing up in Miami. It’s a fine testament to the creators of this film that I was gripped by his story, drawn-in and never felt alienated or estranged.Nor did I ever want to judge but simply to understand.

I’d go further and say that not only does Moonlight deserve to be watched but because of its depth it deserves to be watched more than once. The list of films you can say that about isn’t that long!

Reviewed by Pat Harrington


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Suffragette (2015)

Directed by Sarah Gavron
Produced by Alison Owen and Faye Ward
Written by Abi Morgan
Starring Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter,Brendan Gleeson,Anne-Marie Duff,Ben Whishaw and Meryl Streep
Running time 106 minutes


A film that pulls no punches

Summary: In early 20th-century Britain, the growing suffragette movement forever changes the life of working wife and mother Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan). Galvanized by political activist Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep), Watts joins a diverse group of women who fight for equality and the right to vote. Faced with increasing police action, Maud and her dedicated suffragettes must play a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse, risking their jobs, homes, family and lives for a just cause.

The film is centred on the character of Maud (Mulligan) who lives with her husband and son and works in a laundry. The laundry is a terrible place with poor conditions and pay and routine, open, sexual harassment and assault. A co-worker named Violet (Anne-Marie Duff) encourages Maud to come to secret meetings run by Edith and Hugh Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter and Finbar Lynch). Maud gets involved in the struggle. Maud loses a lot, personally, from her involvement with the cause.

Being a suffragette wasn’t genteel. It wasn’t just about writing letters to an MP or attending a meeting.

The suffragettes were angry, organised and militant. Their leadership affirmed and incited this. This film leaves you in no doubt that those fighting for votes for women were prepared to take direct and dramatic action.

The film shows how the suffragettes attacked both government and private property. For example, the attack on 1 March 1912, where about 150 women were given hammers, told exactly which windows to break, when to break them, and how to hit panes low so that glass would not fall from above.    At 5.45 p.m. in Oxford Street, Regent Street, the Strand, and other prominent thoroughfares, well-dressed women produced hammers from handbags and began to smash windows. The firms whose windows were
damaged included Burberry’s, Liberty’s, Marshall & Snelgrove, and Kodak. Police arrested 124 women.The damage was estimated at £5,000. The film also follows the women as they plan to attack the property of Lloyd George. At 6 a.m. on 18 February, 1913 the bomb set by Emily Wilding Davison and accomplices wrecked five rooms of his partly-completed house being built near Walton Heath, Surrey.

Suffragette also features perhaps the most famous incident of direct action: the 3 June 1913 disruption of the Derby where she was run down by the King’s horse, Anmer.

Her skull was fractured, and she died five days later without having regained consciousness. Suffragette depicts the huge and impressive funeral of Emily who was considered a martyr by the cause.

Of course the violence was not all one way. The government responded to the suffragettes with repression and brutality. The police had them under surveilance and sought to ‘turn’ some into agents. The scenes of women being beaten by police and force-fed in prison are harrowing. The suffragettes certainly fought back (Dr Forward, the medical officer of Holloway Prison which used force-feeding was assaulted by suffragettes using a dog whip).

Suffragette is an inspiring film showing ordinary women prepared to fight and sacrifice for their rights and those of others. How far their direct action advanced the cause of “Votes for Women” is debatable. Yet their determination and, yes, violence was certainly a strong part of a wider movement that eventually won. Of course it simplifies the complexity of events but, hey, they are telling a long story in 106 minutes!

Suffragette ends with a roll of dates showing when various nations gave women the vote.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

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Review: Pixels (2015)

pixels12A | 1h 46min | Animation, Action, Comedy | 12 August 2015 (UK)
Director: Chris Columbus
Writers: Tim Herlihy (screenplay), Timothy Dowling (screenplay) | 2 more credits »
Stars: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan

Tonight I had a crack at the 2015 film, Pixels, starring Adam Sandler. I had intended to watch it at the cinema but when I saw it had an IMDB score of 5.7 I passed it up. I don’t always go by the IMDB score, especially not if it’s a film about any specific subjects I’m interested in, but due to its low score in combination with its young target audience and evident silliness, I postponed it until it had come out on DVD & Blu-ray.

I do like science fiction but it’s hard to take Pixels as true science fiction because it’s so far removed from reality, and so comedic. It’s more of a science fantasy comedy. I’ve seen many films starring Adam Sandler and am quite used to him, although, I’m of the opinion Happy Gilmore and Punch Drunk Love are the only genuinely good films he’s been in. The rest are too formulaic and he sort of mails his performances in. He has a bit of a knack for the kind of character he often plays and just seems to always wing it and believe he’s doing a good job. Sometimes he convinces others!

Anyway, Pixels is about an extra-terrestrial attack on Earth. Some sort of space capsule was shot out into space with some footage of old arcade video games and when an advanced extra-terrestrial civilization came upon it they were too stupid to figure out it was video games and took it for a declaration of war from Earth. As a result they send 3D pixelated real life versions of the video games to Earth and the only way to beat them is to win according to the games’ rules but with real human players in the real world instead of on an arcade machine. The aliens explain through a television broadcast that if the humans lose the Earth will be eradicated, or words to that effect.

Interestingly, and a bit annoyingly, you never see the aliens. Instead, they use old footage of celebrities, such as Madonna, to convey their messages. I don’t know how this was done but the mouths move in perfect sync with what they are saying.

The film seems like a bit of a send up of the way the world works. For example, the President happens to be a childhood friend of Adam Sandler’s character, Sam Brenner, who happens to be a child arcade video game prodigy. Of course, that comes in handy, because he can save the day by beating the aliens in the real world version of the video games. All of these elements are used to make what appeared to be a giant mockery of the US government and its military. The proper soldiers can of course do nothing against the pixelated Pac Man, etc., whereas Sandler’s Sam Brenner character has all the answers and is the hero. If only the world were like that.

There is minimal exploration of exo-politics in the dialogue, which is the politics of Earth’s relationship with other planets and their inhabitants, should there be any we have a chance at communicating with.

It has a number of cliched scenes of a romantic nature.One female character is chided for not being interested in Sandler’s character due to him being a home-theater installation man and presumably not particularly wealthy. Yet there is a huge amount of superficiality about the beautiful women in the film, with the male characters near-drooling over stereotypical female pin-up types. Quite a double standard on the part of the writers! A woman being interested only in a wealthy man and the male characters being only interested in beautiful women are equally superficial in my book and both deserve chiding. Either embrace and accept both sides or condemn them both, instead of attacking one and giving the other a free pass, as is done in Pixels.

Although there is action, it isn’t that well choreographed. The CGI is excellent but the actual sequences are quite rudimentary in comparison with more intricate ones like there are in films like Transformers, Fast & furious, and Star Wars.

All in all, not bad, but not great. Very light entertainment. I didn’t have to think too hard. Points for creativity, even though they didn’t elaborate much on their initial idea.

Reviewed by Alistair Martin

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Film Review: Trumbo (2016)


Release date: February 5, 2016 (United Kingdom)
Director: Jay Roach
Running time: 2h 4m
Screenplay: John McNamara
Stars: Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, Elle Fanning, John Goodman

Bryan Cranston is great in the role of Dalton Trumbo a screenwriter who was blacklisted by Hollywood for his Communist Party membership in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Trumbo was one of the “Hollywood 10” held in contempt of court for refusing to co-operate with the House Committee on Un-American Activities whose politically inspired witch hunts were supported enthusiastically by the likes of John Wayne and Ronald Reagan as well as a significant portion of the American media and public at the time.


The Hollywood Ten.  Front row (from Left): Herbert Biberman, attorneys Martin Popper and Robert W.Kenny, Albert Maltz, Lester Cole. Middle row: Dalton Trumbo, John Howard Lawson, Alvah Bessie, Samuel Ornitz. Back row: Ring Lardner Jr., Edward Dmytryk, Adrian Scott.

They appealed the conviction for contempt to the Supreme Court on First Amendment grounds, but it allowed their convictions to stand. In 1950, Trumbo served eleven months in the federal penitentiary in Ashland, Kentucky. In the 1976 documentary Hollywood On Trial Trumbo said of his trial:

“As far as I was concerned, it was a completely just verdict. I had contempt for that Congress and have had contempt for several since.”

The film is a historical narrative which does not shy away from showing the pressure to betray friends and the price paid not just by the individuals persecuted but also their families. It shows people buckling under that pressure and giving up names to the Committee in return for being left alone. As the pressure is put on old friendships and relationships are tested. Trumbo is a difficult man to keep down, however. He has a droll wit and cunning which kept him going in the face of adversity – as well as plenty of cigarettes and booze! He has something more though, talent and a work ethic that would put most to shame. Trumbo was prolific.

Instead of giving up in the face of persecution Trumbo used pseudonyms and ‘fronts’ to get his work on screen and get paid. After leaving jail he wrote thirty scripts under pseudonyms, for B-movie studios such as King Brothers Productions. The Brave One (1956), written for King Brothers, even received an Academy Award for Best Story credited to “Robert Rich”. He used MacKinlay Kantor, author of the short story it was based on, as a front for Gun Crazy (1950) and Ian McLellan Hunter for Roman Holiday (1953), which also won an Academy Award for Best Story (presented originally to Hunter).

The public crediting of Trumbo as the writer of both Exodus and Spartacus in 1960 marked the end of the Hollywood Blacklist. The support of director Otto Perminger and Kirk Douglas was key. Trumbo was reinstated in the Writers Guild of America and was credited on all subsequent scripts. In 1975, the Academy officially recognized Trumbo as the winner of the Oscar for The Brave One, and presented him with a statuette. Trumbo died in 1976 but his widow was presented with an Oscar in 1993 for Roman Holiday. Eventually in 2011 he was given full credit for the script of Roman Holiday.

Aside from the great performance from Cranston it’s worth mentioning Helen Mirren playing the Commie hating columnist Hedda Hopper and John Goodman as the B-movie producer, Frank King, who works with Trumbo.

Trumbo should inspire as well as entertain you. Anyone who has faced political persecution will recognise that the worst aspect is emotional and psychological, the way relationships are warped, the betrayals and the strain placed on family, colleagues and friends. Yet this is a film which eventually has a happy ending. That’s a testament to the talent, hard work and sheer refusal of a principled man to be beaten down. Whatever one thinks of his politics we all have something to learn from Trumbo.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

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spotlightfilmposterDirector: Tom McCarthy
Writers: Josh Singer, Tom McCarthy
Stars: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams
Certificate: 15
Release Date: 29 January 2016 (UK)
Runtime: 128 min

Spotlight is the story of how the investigative journalists of the Boston Globe (operating under the name of the title) brought to light the cover-up of child abuse by Catholic priests in the Archdiocese. It’s a controversial, gripping and heart-wrenching film.

The investigation gets underway only with the arrival at The Globe of a new managing editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber). Unlike the others, Mr. Baron is neither a Boston local nor a Catholic. In fact he is Jewish and knows little of Boston. The script hints that only ‘outsiders’ lack the cultural shackles that prevented many in Boston from investigating the Catholic Church. Baron puts Editor Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton) and his three reporters: Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfieffer (Rachel McAdams), and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) on the case.

What follows is a pretty straightforward but fascinating account of the investigation. In this respect the film resembles All The President’s Men (1976). The investigation starts small looking into the case of John Geoghan, a retired priest then the subject of multiple civil lawsuits for historical sexual abuse. The reporters reach out to victims and research the movement of the abusive priests from Parish to Parish or being placed on ‘sick leave’. They try to get information from lawyers involved in out-of-court settlements, seek access to sealed court documents and get confirmation of facts from insiders. Shock sets in as the sheer scale of the abuse and cover-up is slowly revealed. Evidence of the role of Cardinal Bernard Law, Boston’s formidable archbishop, in the cover-up begins to emerge.

The lawyers depict a range of reactions to the abuse. Eric Macleish (Billy Crudup) made money settling cases (and silencing victims) for the church. Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci), another ‘outsider’ fought, against the odds to get the victims heard, while Jim Sullivan (Jamey Sheridan) is confused – settling cases for the church and feeling guilty about it.

Spotlight makes you reflect on the nature of Faith. Faith challenged by the corruption of institutions whose function is to nurture it and by the evil actions of human agents. The Spotlight team don’t have a mission to ‘get’ the Catholic Church. Mike Rezendes is a lapsed Catholic who wants to believe again, Sacha Pfieffer takes her Mother to Church weekly and the Editor of the team Walter “Robby” Robinson is active in Catholic charitable and social circles. Their discoveries are disturbing for them as well as for practising Catholics. Spotlight deals with the harrowing subject sensitively and the overwhelming mood is one of sadness tinged with anger.

It encouraged me to learn that members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection Of Minors sat down recently to watch Spotlight on the eve of a three-day panel that was being held at the Vatican to address clerical sex abuse. Vatican also praised the film, calling it both “compelling” and “honest”. Light really is a goodt disinfectant.

The story hit the front page of The Boston Globe in January 2002. The paper won a Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for its investigative journalism.

By Patrick Harrington

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