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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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euronewsEARLIER this year I was lucky enough to spend a brief family holiday near Alicante in Spain. As I’ve mentioned a few times before I have a fairly bizarre hobby – obtaining English language papers abroad and reviewing them for Counter Culture. (I also wanted to cement my reputation of possibly being the world’s slowest reviewer – you’ll know what I’m talking about when you read when I was in Spain and when this review was published!) Therefore, I made a bee line to the local tourist information office where I picked up copies of Euro Weekly.

Euro Weekly dubs itself ‘Spain’s largest FREE local newspaper in English’. The copies I got hold of covered the Costa Blanca North and were issues 1612 (26 May – 1 June) and 1613 (2 – 6 June).

Both issues were written, printed and distributed before EU Referendum. Because of the number of expatriates living in Spain – the Costa Blanca itself has over 30,000 alone which represents the highest concentration of Britons in all of Spain – it’s not surprising that much attention was given to it.

The EU-related debate kicked off in issue 1612 with an interesting article by Matthew Elliott. Can’t buy me love: why Spain owes us ‘nada’ actually took Spain to task for not insisting that foreigners fully assimilate – and that included the British:

‘Frankly it’s embarrassing that many Spanish allow Brits and other foreigners to walk all over them, criticising their cultural traditions such as bullfighting, without offering a real fight.’

Of great interest was an earlier observation he made about the disconnect between the ‘powers that be’ in Britain and ordinary working folks. I think it actually goes to the heart of why so many white English working class voters supported Brexit. Elliott was bang on the money when he noted:

‘There has always been a tension between the high-brow elite who believe they know what’s best for the commoners, and the visceral urge most people have, to tell these patronisers where to stick it.’

Another article – A threat of a new right by John Smith – in this issue looked at the current migrant crisis and also noted the disconnect between the political classes and ordinary working folks:

‘Many countries within the EU are agreeable to taking in these migrants/refugees but their electorate is understandably not so happy and we have seen some of the problems that can arise when two completely alien cultures clash, with Germany perhaps being one of the best examples of how good intentions can have dreadful consequences.’

John Smith also had a EU-related article in issue 1613 of Euro Weekly. He was of the opinion that the EU could well be doomed if Britain left. He thought that Greece and Portugal would want to follow:

‘All in all, there are a number of very well-paid former national politicians and civil servants who are very worried about their financial future and their pensions, let alone their ability to form a United States of Europe.

Whatever happens, and assuming that there is no immediate break-up of the EU, then it seems clear that the time has come for the bureaucrats to back off and to give the member states more say in the future of their own countries or else there will be the chance of a never-ending feud between Brussels and individual member states, but a lot now depends on the integrity and honesty of politicians within the 28 member states.’

The same John Smith seems to have got himelf in hot water for some comments he’d made in a previous issue of Euro Weekly. I didn’t see the column in question but a couple of readers wrote in complaining about his ‘ill-informed’ article. One reader – Demon Lee B.Sc. MBA (Hon) PhD – seemed to advocate a form of free trade with the old British Commonwealth:

‘Due to our membership of the EU, the UK gave up many trade ties with former commonwealth countries and leaving the EU will permit the UK to rebuild these trade agreements and relationships.’

Interestingly this is appears to be similar to the position taken by the Global Markets Free Nations group: Is this a case of great minds thinking alike?

As an aside – and whilst on the general theme of great minds – I recently came across this quote from Brendan O’Neill, editor of Spiked Online I feel that O’Neill is a true non-conformist and free thinker. And he’s not afraid to rattle a few cages. Talking about the relationship betrween Africa, Asia, Europe and relating it to Brexit he doesn’t mince his words:

‘Just about had a gutful of Remain commentators saying the masses’ vote against the EU has sanctioned racism. These Remainers voted for an institution that discriminates against African and Asian migrant workers in favour of white European ones. They voted for an institution whose Fortress Europe policies have contributed to the deaths of thousands of Africans at sea. They voted for an institution whose agricultural policies have pummelled food industries in Africa (causing thousands of people in Swaziland to lose their jobs and Mozambique to lose £100m a year on its GDP, for just two examples). They voted for an institution whose restrictions on GM products have prevented African nations from creating a plentiful food supply: such “hypocrisy and arrogance comes with the luxury of a full stomach”, as one Kenyan scientist put it. And they voted for an institution that has *paid* African dictators to keep their horrible, pesky peoples from coming to Europe. Racist much?

Please, stop with the racism stuff. Your beloved EU is not some happy-clappy multicultural outfit. It is discriminatory, it fucks over Africa, and it forces non-white migrants into the most degrading, life-risking situations. You voted for that, and we voted against it, so come down off your high, white horse.’

That’s telling them alright!

Another reader – Ian Munro – who described himself as ‘a proud Briton who has served his country’ also took issue with John Smith’s EU article. Mr Munro worryingly suggested that if you ‘want to know how the UK is run, just look at any programme from the old Yes Minister series.

Having worked closely with the inner workings of Government, it is pretty much 100 per cent accurate, very alarming and so, so frightening. State the facts, not the fiction!’

The paper acted in a fair way by allowing John Smith to state his credentials and defend himself. In doing so he noted:

‘I try to be balanced in what I write although sometimes I may appear a little frivolous, but am in favour of remaining within the Union and do so fear that people will cast their votes without understanding the situation.’

Now that the UK has voted for Brexit I’d be interested to hear the views of expatriates in Spain. To be honest, I don’t think that they have much to worry about. The EU will probably do a lot of sabre rattling but at the end of the day I think that big business will dictate what counties like Spain do. Money is God to these people so the politicians will simply dance to the tune of capitalism.

And whilst I’m not an expert on the Spanish economy, I feel that it’s highly unlikely that Spain would refuse to trade with Britain or allow Britons to holiday or live in Spain. For instance, UK tourism to the Valencian Community (which includes Alicante and Benidorm) rose by 29.6 per-cent on last year. For a country that appears to rely heavily on tourism this represents some clout in terms of spending power! Indeed, the fact that a previous issue of Euro Weekly consisted of 232 pages – with many of them featuring adverts – is testament to British spending power in the Costa del Sol.

With the EU referendum out of the way both issues of the paper covered similar themes.

Issue 1612 led with Beware the beach vendors. I must admit that the more aggressive beach vendors – along with the usual ‘lucky, lucky’ men – do my napper in. Indeed, I often wonder if any have been physically assaulted by irate holidaymakers as they don’t seem to take no for an answer and keep pushing their luck.

The Euro Weekly article noted the threat posed by unofficial, unlicenced traders who ‘sell cocktails, sangria and mojitos or wedges of watermelon’ where the drinks were ‘probably made up on a side street and the fruit was cut up in the boot of a car.’ The threat to public health is obvious and the advice is to stick to local bars where items are prepared in hygenic conditions.

I absolutely love different cultures so I’m always on the look out for news of different events. An aricle abouit the Corpus Christie festival therefore caught my eye. In the Valencian Community it’s held 60 days after Easter and consists of various events – including the La Poala parade wehere members of the Corpus Christi Association walk through the streets while people throw buckets of water over them. This is something I’d like to see sometime in the future.

Another articles that caught my eye included the town of Javea introducing recycling on the school timetable – I’m ‘into’ environmental issues so I found this idea very interesting – and a feature which looked at news from the British, Dutch, German, Russian and Scandavian press.

As could be expected, both issues of Euro Weekly featured dozens of feature pages and advertising. Features including finance, business, legal, politics, TV, health and beauty, sports, shopping and puzzles. And the advertising pages covered everything from ‘Air Conditioning’ through to ‘XXX Relaxation’ (whatever that may mean!!) via ‘Locksmiths’, ‘Pool Services’ and ‘Wig Specialists’.

I always like to look at the property adverts and must admit I was tempted by some of the properties that were for sale – maybe my ‘lucky’ Lotto numbers will come up one day so I could afford to live in the lap of luxury!

Reviewed by John Field

READ this article in conjunction with:

Majorca Daily Bulletin…/10/26/majorca-daily-bulletin/
Costa Blanca News
Two Weeks In Spain!
Round Town Times
There’s A Buzz Across The Costa Blanca!…/theres-a-buzz-in-the-air-ac…/

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The Remains of Tom Lehrer (Performed by Adam Kay)


Adam Kay provides a great introduction to the life and dark humour of Tom Lehrer

Gilded Balloon Teviot, Edinburgh
13 Bristo Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9AJ
Till Monday 29 August (not Wednesday)

I was introduced to the satirical songs of Tom Lehrer by a good friend. I first heard National Brotherhood Week and then went on to listen to many more. His darkly funny songs have both entertained and horrified audiences for decades. It was good to see that though Lehrer retired from performing over fifty years ago the audience at the show contained many young people.

Adam Kay took us through the life of Lehrer in a roughly chronological order with amusing commentary interspersed between the songs. Some of the songs had been updated but where historical context was needed Kay provided it (as with  Alma where he told us about her three husbands: Gustav Mahler, composer; Walter Gropius, of the Bauhaus school of design; and author Franz Werfel).

The updated version of The Masochism Tango was very good and Kay performed both this and the original. It’s brave to update and reinvent some classic songs but Kay pulls it off.

Kay performed well known and less well known songs (although sadly not Wernher Von Braun, one of my favourites) and even encouraged some audience participation. We were asked to shout out suggestions on a variation of the L-Y song. One brave member of the audience even got up on stage and sang The Elements (although he was provided with lyrics!).

Kay is an accomplished performer who is clearly knowledgeable about the life of Tom Lehrer and his songs. I was amazed to hear the poem sent to Harvard by Lehrer as an application. Fans of Tom Lehrer will love this show (as I did) and those who haven’t yet been introduced to his black humour are in for a treat. I’ve seen quite a few shows at the Fringe this year but this one has been the most fun!

Five stars

Reviewed by Patrick Harrington

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Who Killed Pablo Neruda? (A Poet’s Journey)


Pablo Neruda

Mystery, poetry and the unknown contents of a white bag spark a young woman’s quest into the life, death and writing of the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.
Age category: 12+

Quaker Meeting House, Edinburgh
7 Victoria Terrace, Edinburgh, EH1 2HE

Pablo Neruda was to Chile and the Spanish-speaking world what Robert Burns was to the Scots; a national poet with a strong romantic bent; radical politics and a complicated personal life.

This play introduces the great man’s poetry; albeit (for the most part) in its English translation. This play recounts one young American woman’s search to find out more about the life, the mysterious death and the poetry of the Chilean bard.

Neruda had been the Chilean representative in Madrid at the time of the Spanish civil war. He was friendly with the gay Spanish poet Garcia Lorca.  Lorca’s murder by the Francoists led to his political radicalisation.  He became supporter of the Communist Party and lived a life on the run from the Videla regime in the 1940s.

Neruda was a man of great contradictions; he supported Stalin, he was a womaniser, yet he wrote the most wonderful and tender love poetry. This is brought out clearly in this ‘jukebox’ play.

Neruda made many enemies.  He was in hospital suffering from terminal cancer when the Allende government was overthrown in a military coup by General Pinochet  (with covert CIA help) in September 1973.  Within a few days, Neruda was dead. The claim at the time was that he had suffered a heart attack.

For years it was rumoured that he had been poisoned on Pinochet’s orders by a lethal injection given to him by a doctor in the hospital. The results of an autopsy conducted on the poet’s exhumed remains in 2013 were released in June 2015 suggesting that he was infected with a highly toxic bacterium. It looks like Neruda really was murdered.

This production is an affectionate look at the poet; with his imperfections and his sublime verse. The Syracuse University Department of Drama have produced a real gem; a fine introduction to the great man’s work for newcomers and a great reminder of his greatest hits for those who already know and love it.

Reviewed by David Kerr

Four Stars ****

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Let’s push for a set of UK postage stamps to honour David Bowie

ziggystarduststampBack in 2010 the Royal Mail released a set of 10 special stamps featuring classic British album covers including David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, the Rolling Stones’ Let It Bleed, New Order’s Power, Corruption and Lies and Coldplay’s A Rush of Blood to the Head.

Just 12 special stamp sets are produced each year. “The thing about stamps is that they are 1-inch works of art,” said Philip Parker, the Head of Stamp Policy for Royal Mail. “And thinking about this we thought that the old 12-inch vinyl cover is a great work of art. We thought putting them on stamps would be a great way to celebrate this art form.”

There is now a petition to get David Bowie a royal mail stamp range all of his own. Here at Counter Culture we think that’s a great idea. We think it would be a superb way to commemorate his life and work. The petition was started by a Bowie fan and can be found at:…

At the time of writing 7,899 people had signed it. Come on Bowie fans we can do better than that!

Full list of album-cover stamps issued in 2010:
• David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
• Blur’s Parklife
• The Clash’s London Calling
• Coldplay’s A Rush of Blood to the Head
• Led Zeppelin’s IV
• New Order’s Power, Corruption and Lies
• Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells
• Pink Floyd’s The Division Bell
• Primal Scream’s Screamadelica
• The Rolling Stones’ Let it Bleed

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