Tagged: Ghost In The Shell

Box Office Democracy: Bottom 6 Movies of 2017

6. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

If this was just about wasted potential, Valerian would easily be on the top of this list.  There are five worse movies this year but none of them have a fraction of the visual artistry displayed here by Luc Besson.  Valerian has some of the best design I’ve seen in a movie all year and two of the most inventive chase sequences maybe ever.  It also features a terrible script that meanders forever over trivial nothing and merrily skips past dense plot without a moment for inspection.  I loved watching the action but I never really understood why any of it was going on.  Toss on top some of the worst chemistry I’ve ever seen between an on-screen couple (and honestly maybe Dane DeHaan isn’t ready to be a leading man) and this is an unpleasant movie to watch at any volume above mute.

5. American Assassin

I sincerely thought that we were past making movies like American Assassin now that we’re on year 16 of the obviously never ending War on Terror.  I assumed we were past movies that seemingly exist solely to demonize and dehumanize brown people on the other side of the world.  This is a movie with no nuance or subtext or anything.  It’s predictable, dreary, and the worst kind of weighty.  It depicts a world in which people are nothing but weapons for the nation as one we should want to be in.  It also runs for 15 minutes past any events of consequence happening and expects us to sit and care about literally nothing happening.

4. xXx: The Return of Xander Cage

If you’ve ever seen those posts where someone feeds a computer a bunch of data about one topic or another and then the computer spits back an attempt at making original things of the same set, you could understand how they probably wrote the script for xXx: The Return of Xander Cage.  It’s trying to be every successful action movie of the last ten years all at once.  It has a multi-cultural cast, numerous exotic locations that all happen to be filled with parties full of white people, and a bunch of supporting and cameo roles given to people intended to draw in audience in foreign markets.  There’s nothing holding the movie together so it’s easily the most boring movie I’ve ever seen that also features trying to use an airplane to hit falling satellites.  Movies are more than the sum of their parts and XXx: The Return of Xander Cage is a great lesson in that.

3. The Mummy

I long for the days when studios would just make movies with the idea that they could make an obscene amount of money from them.  Now it seems like they don’t want hundreds of millions of dollars unless they know it directly leads them to the next 100 million.  There were fine ideas in The Mummy about a woman who would not be cast aside and wanted to seize absolute power to punish her family.  That character doesn’t get to exist on screen because we need develop Tom Cruise to be the hero of the Dark Universe and we need time for Dr Jekyll and for the people who hunt monsters.  It is needless and exhausting.  The Mummy might not be an objectively terrible movie but it is so impossibly frustrating it needs to be recognized here.

2. Ghost in the Shell

Just to get it out of the way: this movie would make it on to this list just because it’s racist and tone deaf.  Deciding, in 2017, that it’s a good idea to make a movie based on an iconic Japanese manga/film/media empire and cast almost exclusively white people is astonishing.  It’s an irredeemable failure solely from looking at the poster.  Then it’s not even a good movie.  They threw out all the stories they presumably licensed the material for and instead gave us a milquetoast cyberpunk paint-by-number.  When the studio found out the Blade Runner sequel would be released in the same calendar year they should have shelved the project until we all forgot what could be done.

1. Transformers: The Last Knight

I suppose I should have some respect for Michael Bay as an auteur at this point.  He can’t possibly be hurting for money.  Nothing would stop him from getting lazy and putting out shorter films to try and goose his grosses by squeezing in another showing.  Bay is going to make these monstrous, incomprehensible, films and they’re going to be exactly as he wants them to be and as long as he pleases.  It would be charitable at this point to call these movies pointless.  There’s definitely a point: People who know things are idiots and people who shoot things are awesome.  They’re never going to stop with these; we should all just adjust our lives to accommodate them.

Box Office Democracy: Ghost in the Shell

Scarlett Johansson in Ghost In The Shell

I’m sort of curious why Dreamworks even wanted to pay for the rights to make a Ghost in the Shell movie if they weren’t particularly interested in doing anything with the property they acquired. They seemed interested in making a cyberpunk movie, a cyberpunk movie about a badass lady android with some identity issues. I’m pretty sure you could just make an original one of those, no one owns cyberpunk or androids.  If you’re going to pay for a beloved property you could try and tell a story they’ve already told, or at the very least not one that’s just like one they’ve told but much simpler and with a healthy dose of cliche.  I don’t understand why you would buy a Japanese franchise and decide that you only want the Japanese-ness to be set dressing.  If this was an original property it would be a dull movie with a draggy second act; as Ghost in the Shell it’s a colossal failure.

For the movie adaptation they decided to make Ghost in the Shell an awful lot like Blade II. The Major is the first of her kind and her special forces team needs to take out a mysterious terrorist who turns out to be a failed attempt to create the same thing that The Major is.  if you replace “terrorist” with “vampire” and “The Major” with “Blade” that is a perfectly apt description of Blade II.  I happen to believe that Blade II is a terribly under-appreciated movie; it isn’t because it has the world’s most compelling plot.  In things it does worse than Blade II the bad guy i always talking about having his own neural network and there’s a location with a bunch of what look like religious types plugged in to some machines but they never even attempt to define any of that stuff.  It appears to be an artifact from when the plot more closely resembled the animated movie from the 90s and they didn’t want to throw away any of the imagery.

There’s some fantastic visual design in this movie.  The city sequences look a little like Blade Runner turned way way up.  There are these recurring holographic fish through the advertising in the movie, and there’s a certain sense of high tech whimsy inherent in seeing insubstantial fish float all over the place.  There’s a sequence where the robot design becomes absolutely chilling as a robot clearly designed to appear normal and non-threatening becomes less and less tethered to human form as it experiences more and more distress, showing off the horror of inhumanity.  I also enjoyed the cloaking device effect when they let it shimmer and fade and much less when it felt like an excuse to not actually film some action sequence or another.  It’s also an exceptionally well scored movie if you’re as into this vaguely pulsating cyberpunk-style of music as I am.

None of this is super important though, because the biggest problem with Ghost in the Shell is that it’s profoundly racist.  The central plot is all about how to make the next step in human evolution the brains have to be taken out of Japanese people and put in to more perfect robotic bodies, robotic bodies that happen to be Caucasian.  Despite taking place in a clearly Asian city (filmed in Hong Kong but seemingly trying to invoke Tokyo) none of the starring roles are played by Asian people.  There are two Asians in Section Nine but neither has an incredible number of lines.  The evil corporation is seemingly exclusively staffed by white people.  It’s like Dreamworks wanted the Japaneseness of the story but didn’t want to use any Japanese people as anything but small parts and set dressing.  Asian writing can be in the background, Asian people can be the majority of the extras, but if anyone needs to do a bunch of talking this movie would just prefer if they were white.

Ghost in the Shell would be a bad movie even if it had perfect racial politics, but instead it gets dragged down in to being a dreadful slog of a movie.  It’s poorly paced, the action sequences run hot and cold, and there’s just too much unexplained nonsense to let the movie work even at all.  This is a movie that will look great on the resume of a visual effects artist and everyone else will spend the rest of their careers trying to gloss over it.  Ghost in the Shell is a lousy movie and a repugnant adaptation of a beloved property.

Joe Corallo: Shell Game

Ghost In The Shell 1

This was supposed to be a lighter column for me. I had seen Iggy Pop play over at The Capital Theatre in Port Chester last Thursday. I was going to write about how it was an absolutely incredible show, talk a bit about Iggy Pop’s career and how he was a major influence on the comic book series The Crow. Then I read this. And this. I saw friends of my get incredibly upset over this. Hell, I’m upset too. So without putting up much of a fight with myself, I decided this week I’d tackle the growing embarrassment that is the Ghost In The Shell live action adaptation.

Ghost In The Shell was one of the first anime movies I had watched. When I was a kid, I grew up on Voltron, Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball Z, and many others. The Sci-Fi channel (before it was the SyFy channel) used to do Saturday Anime in the mid to late 90s. That exposed me to a lot of different anime movies. They had commercials for the anime movie adaptation of Ghost In The Shell and I eventually got the DVD. It was fantastic. Visually stunning and engaging in a similar way to me as Akira or Serial Experiment Lain.

Dreamworks Pictures is currently deep into the production of the Ghost In The Shell live action movie, slated for release on March 31, 2017. It’s been reported that this has been a long anticipated project. Personally, I’m fine with my anime movie staying an anime movie without a live action adaptation. We all saw how movies like Speed Racer and Dragon Ball: Evolution turned out. Ghost In The Shell may prove to be worse than those.

Let’s get into some details that we know about the movie so far. It’s being directed by Rupert Sanders. It’s written by Jonathan Herman and Jamie Moss. It’s starring Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbaek, Michael Pitt, Takeshi Kitano, and Juliette Binoche. Notice something a bit off about all this? If the answer is “no” congratulations! You’re part of the problem. If your answer is “I thought this was a Japanese property. Isn’t nearly every single person listed here white?” then we’re on the same page.

Ghost-in-the-Shell-102615In addition to all of that, Dreamworks Pictures admitted to using VFX technology to attempt to “shift the ethnicities” of white actors in the film with CGI to make them appear more Asian in post-production. While plans to go through with this have been scrapped, I do want to make something clear for everyone. At least one person working high enough on this movie identified that barely any Asian actors on screen was a problem.

That person managed to convey that was a problem. Either that person or another person high enough in the production proposed that they could try to use a modern version of yellow face that they don’t have to call yellow face because it’s done by computers now and we all know that yellow face is bad, but the intentions behind yellow face apparently aren’t to those working on Ghost In The Shell. Person with this idea to use modern yellow face was able to get enough traction from the production for them to actually try it. The fact that we are even so inclined as to say that at least they didn’t go through with it in the end shows just how low the bar is for institutional racism in Hollywood.

Now the fault here certainly lays heavily on the production team, but how much of it is on the actors themselves? Scarlett Johansson is certainly a talented actress that’s a proven cash grab at the box office. So few women in Hollywood have been elevated to this level. Shouldn’t we celebrate Scarlett Johansson being elevated like this and ignore the fact that the character she is playing is supposed to be Asian?

No. Nope. Never.

Nearly every single woman that has been elevated to a similar position to Scarlett Johansson in Hollywood has been cis straight and white. The reason is because they’re the ones given a disproportionate about of the opportunities. Scarlett Johansson is not desperate to break into the industry. She’s a leader there. Someone that’s admired by many. She is successful enough to turn down a role like this. She should have turned it down. I’m sure she’s turned down plenty of roles in her career to play characters that she actually fits the description of. Why did she have to take this one? Or Pilou Asbaek? Or Michael Pitt? Or Juliette Binoche?

It’s because of casting decisions like this that predominantly straight cis white men and women dominate the box office. Arguments are made about needing big names to get butts in the seats. However, there are plenty of examples that counter that point. One prominent example related to comics is Superman: The Movie. Other than a couple of names who all had smaller roles, the movie was led primarily by unknowns. Also movies like, you know, Star Wars. And if Johnny Depp has taught us anything lately, it’s you can still be a Hollywood giant and star in box office disaster after box office disaster and still get picked over someone whose background and ethnicity better fits the role he’s playing. He is 1/16th Native American though, so that must count for something to someone apparently.

So how does this happen? The short and obvious answer is because not enough people see this as a problem. And it is a problem. It’s a hard problem to combat, and even gigantic box office bombs like 2013’s The Lone Ranger can’t seem to discourage Hollywood. It would require a sea-change. One of which would be going against one of the current cash cows they’ve been milking, comic book movies which technically Ghost In The Shell as a manga falls into. Movies that are primarily dominated by straight cis white men. It’s okay though, Black Panther is finally getting his own movie over at Marvel only about 54 years after the civil rights act, and Captain Marvel only 99 years after the 19th amendment.

You know, progress.