Review – Shell Schlock (“Ghost in the Shell”)

Based on both the ultra-violent Japanese manga comic book and animated film, this adaptation combines elements of I, Robot, Blade Runner, The Matrix, Strange Days, HBO’s Westworld, RoboCop, A.I., and Surrogates, while at the same time still paying homage to the original source material. But was all that too much?
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Set in Japan in the future, technology has grown exponentially with common place things like ginormous colorful 3D holographic moving billboards, daily cybernetic upgrades to your body, and the Hanka Corp. that oversees everything… specifically Section 9, an anti-terrorist unit. Their #1 commander is Major Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson), who is a cyborg, except for her human brain that was taken from her near-dead body years ago. In this elite and diverse squad of soldiers, the Major’s BFF and lieutenant is Batou (Pilou Asbaek), a white-haired bear of a man.

There’s been some nasty cyber-hacking going on, and I don’t mean on computers, I mean on people! Every person has plug-in neck modules and it looks like some mysterious criminal mastermind called Kuze has done the unthinkable; he’s hacked into the minds of robots and people in order to control them to kill. His target seems to be members of the Hanka Corp, but for what reason? The head of Hanka, Chief Daisuke Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano) is plenty worried, as is his nasty-piece-of-work project leader, Cutter (Peter Ferdinando).

The Major tries to trace Kuze by using herself as cyber-bait, but nearly gets hacked out of existence, but that’s nothing compared to almost getting killed when tracking his signal to a bar. Saving Batou’s life (he gets cybernetic eyes later), they are closing in on Kuze, as his killing spree continues within the House of Hanka. Finally catching a break, Killian finds the elusive Kuze but, much to her surprise, he reveals a shocking secret that causes her to re-think her very existence.

Now that her eyes are open, she decides go after the truth within the Hanka Corp, just like Kuze did, starting with her doctor (Juliette Binoche) who confirms all the rumors and those weird glitches she’s been seeing. Will Killian discover her true identity? Will the real bad guy be found in the Hanka Corp? Will Kuze find out more than he bargained for? And IF they were making a cybernetic shell for Killian’s ‘ghost’, why didn’t they make her Japanese?

One thing’s for sure, IF you saw the cerebral and very confusing 1995 anime version, you’ll no doubt recognize quite a few doppelgangers in this movie; scenes that match almost identically to the animated film. Blame that on director Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman) who must’ve been a fan, because they were done with meticulous care and precision. The man also loves his slo-mo shots and does a nice job of directing, but I had the feeling I was watching another Zack Snyder film. One saving grace to this movie is the screenplay, written by Jamie Moss, William Wheeler, Ehren Kruger which, thankfully, takes the confusing and strange plot of the animated version and evens it out.

However, that being said, many of the bizarre and tantalizing bits are now lost in translation and what you’re left with is a standard story of corporate espionage combined with A.I. cyber-hacking. Yawn. Been there, seen that. The eye-candy is impressive though; the Major’s skin-tight techsuit, for example, and all the CGI is very nice, as are the stunts.

All the while looking fantastic and retaining the same feel as the original film, the plot has been shanghaied and reworked into a listless and overdone story.  As far as the cast is concerned, the ‘diversity agenda’ plays its part and, even though its set in the heart of Japan, we have an eclectic cast of various races with various accents. Johansson is  miscast here as Major, as it seems she’s playing the same character from 2014’s Lucy, or an altered version of Black Widow.

Blade Runner (1982)

 
Where do YOU stand on the Blade Runner controversy? One of the single biggest questions in cinema history sprung from this epic sci-fi movie by Ridley Scott that, to this day, still hasn’t been answered to anyone’s satisfaction. The question? Well, we’ll get to that later, but first, the review. . .
 
Adapted from Philip K. Dick’s novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, this outstanding movie takes place in a dystopian future L.A. and the perils of one Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a burnt-out blade-runner. These guys are cops who are experts in hunting down and ‘retiring’ androids (called ‘replicants’) if they get out-of-line. And it looks three of them (Leon, Roy, and Pris) defied the ban that all replicants face if they return to Earth. Led by Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), they want answers and God help who gets in their way! Deckard reluctantly agrees to hunt them down and, during his investigations, begins a relationship with Rachael (Sean Young), an advanced replicant from the powerful Tyrell Corporation.
 
But these replicants are SO human-like that telling them from humans is nearly impossible, unless you’re highly trained. And they’re damn smart. Pris (Darryl Hannah) cleverly coerces J.F. Sebastian (William Sanderson), a robot toy maker, to sneak Roy into the Tyrell Corp to meet “his father”. Let’s just say, this family reunion doesn’t go well. Deckard has his hands full killing… I mean, retiring brutish Leon (Brion James) and lethal Pris, along with others, but Rory is a sneaky one. In the the exciting fight scene on the rooftops, high above the streets of L.A., Deckard sees something he wasn’t expecting. . . Rory giving up and accepting his own death with dignity and grace! In the end, Rory just wanted to be human more than anything.
 
Deckard decides to leave the smog-choked city with Rachael and start a new life somewhere safe and peaceful. And THERE in lies the controversy. Depending on which movie version you see (and there are quite a few), the burning question remains: is Deckard a replicant? Since 1982 this question has been argued and batted about from whole websites to YouTube videos solely devoted to answering this very puzzle. And nobody, not even the Ridley Scott or Harrison Ford has the definitive answer! However, rumor has it that Scott’s upcoming long-awaited sequel, Blade Runner 2049, will finally have the answer! Wait for October 6th for that!
 
As with many studio releases vs directors visions, there were some major squabbles and, not surprisingly, this movie had its share of problems. From casting complications to script changes to altering the ending, Scott never got to make the movie HE wanted to show to the people. . .until 2007. There are several ‘cut’ versions, some with more or less violent action and some with or without Harrison Ford’s voice-over narration. There was an “uncut” version in 1987, then a so-called Director’s Cut in 1991, then finally, Scott’s pure vision (with added/cleaned-up scenes that included new CGI effects and a fixed stunt that originally looked bad) came out in 2007 called The Final Cut. 
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