Tagged: Scarlett Johansson

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.

John Ostrander: Odder Ends 2014

This week I’ve got a bunch of different topics and themes but none of them seem to be developing into a coherent column. So I think I’ll take parts of all of them and just stitch together into a hodgepodge column. It’s the end of the year so maybe I can get away with it.

If you’re doing a SF tent pole movie, you want to hire Zoe Saldana and use her prominently. She played Neytiri in Avatar, Uhura in the two latest Star Trek films, and Gamora in Guardians Of The Galaxy and she’s going to be in the next installments of all these films. They all made what is technically called a shitload of money. Coincidence? I think not. In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if she shouldn’t be cast as Amanda Waller. (Sorry, Oprah.) I really want the upcoming Suicide Squad movie to sell like hotcakes and spawn sequels and Amanda Waller related merchandise. Okay, I’m crass. Still, think about it. . .

Peter Capaldi has finished his first season as the new Doctor and I like his Doctor McCrankypants. It’s a nice variation of the past few Doctors. Not as crazy about all the writing, tho, and I really am beginning to feel it’s time for showrunner Steven Moffat to move on. When Moffat is good, he’s really good and he’s rarely outright bad but he’s often becoming mediocre. He seems, to me, to not always think things through. Or he gets clever for the sake of being clever.

Best Animated Film I Saw This Year – How To Train Your Dragon 2. The animation was better than the original and the story wasn’t a re-hash of the first but actually advanced the characters. It was fun but also had real emotional depth and impact. In fact, it was a better film than many live action serious movies I saw. It took chances.

Best Marvel Film I Saw This Year – a lot of people would say Guardians Of The Galaxy and I loved it too. It was just wonderfully entertaining. However, I liked Captain America: The Winter Soldier even more. Chris Evans is to Steve Rogers/Captain America what Christopher Reeve was to Superman. Why doesn’t Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow have her own movie? How the hell did they get Robert Redford go play the main villain? (Oh, right – money.) And Samuel L. Jackson just has deep reserves of cool to call on. The movie also had a major impact on Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. which was an added bonus.

Just finished reading Alexander Mcall Smith’s latest installment (number 15!) in his No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, titled The Handsome Man’s De Luxe Café. The series is set in Botswana, Africa, and features Precious Ramotswe, her partner Grace Makutsi, and their friends, co-workers, and clients in and around the city of Gabrone. The characters are all African and the author is white, born in Rhodesia, now living in Scotland. He writes the characters with great love and understanding, along with a great love for Africa in general and Botswana in particular. Reading each new book is like visiting old friends. The mysteries are mostly small matters and not really the focus of the series. It is the people. I recommend the series and, while I suggest starting at he beginning, each book is admirably written to be accessible even if you haven’t read the others. I will warn you that they are quiet books, slow paced, but wonderful reads.

Final note: just an update since so many of you expressed concern following my recent triple bypass. I’m healing nicely and recovering well. My general practitioner, on my last visit, pronounced me “medically boring.” I’ve never been so glad to be called boring.

Well, that’s 2014. Drive carefully, drink responsibly, party carefully, and we’ll all reconvene in 2015.

Happy New Year, y’all!

 

Box Office Democracy: “Lucy”

The nicest thing I can think to say about Lucy is that it is exactly how I would have remade 2001: A Space Odyssey if I had done it when I was 16 years old.  I would have replaced the male astronaut with an attractive woman, kept the trippy end sequence and replaced the first two-thirds of the movie with a mediocre tribute to Hard Boiled.  I also probably would have struggled to fill 90 minutes and would have added some really strange filler to get it to a marginally respectful run time like 89 minutes.  Thankfully no one was willing to give me $65 million to make a movie when I was 16 (unfortunately no one will do it now) but we’re stuck with what Luc Besson made here.  I was stuck at least; you might still be able to save yourself. (more…)

John Ostrander: The Super Glass Ceiling

 

Well, I finally saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier this past week. Yeah, I’m a Johnny-O come lately. Got to see it in my preferred format these days, IMAX 3-D, and I and My Mary had a really good time. To me, Chris Evans’ portrayal of the Star-Spangled Avenger ranks with Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of Superman, and that’s top of the heap.

The movie also asked some interesting and morally murky questions. How far should we go to make things “safer”? CA:TWS was a political thriller as much as it was a big time action feature (and it was a big time action feature). It paid homage to its comic book roots, taking elements from comic book continuity, treating them with respect, and frequently bettering them.

There were also great performances all around. How the heck did they get Robert Redford to agree to be in it? One explanation I hear was he has grandchildren but I have to think that the other was he had a well written character and some great lines. It was a good part. Anthony Mackie made Sam Wilson/The Falcon a high flying character and more than a sidekick, as Sebastian Stan did for Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier. And, of course, there was Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, with some choice action sequences, some twists and turns, and a persona that places him morally between Cap and the villains. He was like a male Amanda Waller and I mean that in the bad-assest way.

And then there was Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow. The one question I had as I left the theater (in addition to “When am I going to see it again?”) was “When are they making a Black Widow solo film?” I already knew the answer to that. She’s scheduled to be in the next Avengers outing and she might be in the next Captain America or Iron Man film but there is no solo film yet scheduled for her.

That brings us to this week’s real topic: Why the hell not?

The Black Widow is as badass as they come. She is a consummate fighter and an accomplished spy. She is beautiful, sexy, funny, and with the suggestion of an interesting backstory, she can be ruthless and can hold her own with not only S.H.I.E.L.D. but the The Avengers as well. She’s played by Scarlett Johansson, who is gorgeous and sexy and an incredibly talented and accomplished actress. What more do they want?

They’re making a movie about Ant-Man, for crying out loud. Ant-Man. And a little later this summer they’re bringing out Guardians Of The Galaxy. The previews look like fun and I’ll probably see it, but The Black Widow has got to have better name recognition and so does Ms. Johansson.

Over on the Warner Bros lot, they’re making a film featuring Superman and Batman and shoehorning in several other characters, including Wonder Woman. There is no talk of a Wonder Woman solo film. I read the studio head make a wistful, “We’d like to do it” sort of noise but, again, nothing is on the horizon.

Why the hell not?

I’ve heard the past rationales: they don’t think the audience will support it. They point to Catwoman and Supergirl as proof. Here’s an answer: don’t make a sucky superhero film. Batman And Robin or Superman Returns didn’t kill off those franchises. They gave them pause but both franchises got re-boots and started again. This time, they made good films that found an audience.

Would a movie starring a female protagonist sell? Look at Katniss in The Hunger Games movies. Tough warrior, good with a bow and arrow, complex character and the movies sell. Role model for young girls everywhere. Do they seriously expect us to believe that the Black Widow or Wonder Woman can’t do the same?

We’re left with one conclusion: Wonder Woman, for all her powers, can’t punch her way through the glass ceiling. And that’s a damn shame.

REVIEW – Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Marvel’s promise that everything will change after Captain America: The Winter Soldier was no understatement.  A solid plot, witty banter, some very surprising returns and couple seeds for future films resulted in what may well be the best Marvel film yet.  Marvel seems dedicated to show that not all comic book movies are the same.  The upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy is clearly set up to be an action comedy, and Winter Soldier is at its heart a political intrigue thriller.  It still carries the hi-tech trappings and gadgets of a superhero story, but it’s a much more grounded film, touching on rather sober topics like dealing with life back home after a term in combat, the eternal questions of how much freedom will people surrender in the name of safety, and the simple question, “Who do you trust?”.  There’s no way to discuss the film without hitting numerous spoilers, so before we do this, does anyone want to get off?  (more…)

REVIEW: Don Jon

Don JonOther than reading content here at ComicMix, we can stipulate that the Internet is for porn. There’s even a song confirming that fact. It’s easy access for free has transformed already sexist ideals of what sex is all about. An entire generation is being raised in the belief that women will drop their tops for beads, will perform sexual acts in the hopes of winning a Dare Dorm competition and professionals will do just about any act, in any position, for your, ahem, entertainment.

As a result, there are men out there who go to clubs, get laid and surprisingly remain unsatisfied. Multi-hyphenate Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been giving this kind of male some thought, dating back to 2008, and turned it into an interesting meditation on the matter in the entertaining Don Jon. Gordon-Levitt wrote, directed, and stars in this snapshot of the East Coast male. His Jon is a man of principals who includes taking pride in his home, his body, and in his immortal soul as witnessed by his weekly visits to the confessional. Still, he enjoys frequent one-night stands and when the women prove to be real and not the willing fantasy images on his laptop he returns there, frequently, to satisfy his needs. It’s an addiction to which he is totally blind.

He’s seemingly content with his minimum wage job in the service industry, a devoted son to his parents (Glenne Headley, Tony Danza), and lacks ambition. That begins to change when he spots the hot Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), who was raised on the romcoms of the last two decades and whose expectations of the perfect mate are equally unrealistic. But they have chemistry and he before she has sex with Jon, she begins to reshape him. First, she convinces him to go to community college and then forces him to give up porn, which he tries to do but resorts to watching on his phone, even in class, which catches the amused eye of Esther (Julianne Moore). She playfully gives him a DVD of erotica which he rejects out of hand, not understanding the difference or her interest in him.

Bit by bit, we see the stresses on Jon and Barbara’s relationship which oddly shatters at Home Depot when she refuses to let him buy Swiffer refills because men don’t do that. As they drift apart, Esther, who has been recently widowed and has a more solid grip on the world, turns out to be the one who shows Jon there are ways to be satisfied with a friend/partner/lover. Their age difference barely comes up and there’s a sweetness to their story.

Gordon-Levitt plays everything on an even keel, never overly exaggerating the actions or characters, infusing each act with its own look, feel, and sound, subtly guiding the audience through Jon’s final maturation into adulthood. The performances are uniformly strong from Johansson’s gum chewing Jersey girl to Danza’s short-tempered dad.

The film, out on a combo pack (Blu-ray, DVD, Digital) now from 20th Century Home Entertainment, looks great in high definition. There’s a satisfactory assortment of special features including the Making of Don Jon, where Gordon-Levitt nicely credits his varied collaborators; Don Jon’s Origin, a look at the writing process across the years; Joe’s Hats, writer, director, star; Objectified, a look at gender roles; Themes & Variations, a nice look at each act’s unique feel. Finally, there are four HitRECord Shorts, where Gordon-Levitt invited people to submit their creations on the same theme which occurred during the making of the film.

Take a look at “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” trailer

Captain America returns! Here’s the official first trailer for Captain America: The Winter Soldier — in US theaters April 4, 2014. The sequel to Captain America: The First Avenger stars Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp, Hayley Atwell with Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury.

After the cataclysmic events in New York with The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier finds Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, living quietly in Washington, D.C. and trying to adjust to the modern world. But when a S.H.I.E.L.D. colleague comes under attack, Steve becomes embroiled in a web of intrigue that threatens to put the world at risk. Joining forces with the Black Widow, Captain America struggles to expose the ever-widening conspiracy while fighting off professional assassins sent to silence him at every turn. When the full scope of the villainous plot is revealed, Captain America and the Black Widow enlist the help of a new ally, the Falcon. However, they soon find themselves up against an unexpected and formidable enemy—the Winter Soldier.

Based on the ever-popular Marvel comic book series, first published in 1941, Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier is produced by Kevin Feige, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, from a screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely. The executive producers are Louis D’Esposito, Victoria Alonso, Michael Grillo, Alan Fine and Stan Lee. The film releases April 4, 2014, and is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.