Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Following a terrible crash, Major (Scarlett Johansson) is rebuilt with the best cyber-enhancement tech available. Built and trained to be the perfect soldier, she is uniquely placed to help in the fight against a new level of cyber-terrorism: hacking into people’s minds. But, who is the mysterious figure behind it all, and what do they want from Major? She’s about to find out that perhaps nothing is as it seems.

Anime is one of the things that I think I should be more into, at least on paper. The original Ghost in the Shell (1995) was one of my first forays, partly to see the original ahead of this remake, and mostly because it gets raved about a lot. I’m afraid to say I wasn’t all that impressed – it’s definitely a genre in and of itself, and something you have to get your head around to really appreciate.

So perhaps slightly backwards to most viewers, my hopes for the live-action movie were that I’d be able to understand it a bit better – so yeah, it probably has been dumbed down, but that worked in my favour! And yes, I could follow the story a bit better, although having seen the original also made a lot of things make more sense. It’s an odd one. I completely get why fans of the original found this so disappointing.

I ended up really liking the look of the piece, transferred scene-for-scene at times from the animation, although again I might be alone with this.

Aside from all that, going in ‘blind’ you get a sci-fi-y action movie, with a futuristic Japanese setting, and a mildly convoluted story line that doesn’t quite click together.

Released: 30th March 2017
Viewed: 14th April 2017
Running time: 107 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6/10

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

A bookish young woman is captured by an enchanted prince. Only love can break the spell that transformed him into a beast – and his servants into various household objects. A tale as old as time, the song says – and sure enough, here we’ve got a pretty straight retelling of the 1991 Disney animation, although this time with real actors.

To be honest, while I do think this was a good updating – a few story elements are brushed up a little, and Belle is a bit more feisty – and I’m aware of quite a few people really loving it, if anything I was just a tad disappointed. Then again, I wasn’t quite the right age to totally adore the original either, so maybe that’s a factor.

The first issue I had is the cast. Emma Watson isn’t a favourite of mine anyway, and I’m not the only one who found her surprisingly wooden in this. So many times the expression on her face was disgust instead of fear, or fear instead something more complex. And while she has a sweet enough singing voice, it really lacks any oomph necessary for this role, and the technical shenanigans to get ’round that become a little too obvious.

It doesn’t help that her co-star is a CGI monstrosity, and I don’t mean that in a particularly good way. With modern tech, I think I’ve just come to expect something… better. Likewise with the supporting cast, all voiced well enough by the likes of Sir Ian McKellan, Emma Thompson, and Ewan McGregor, but I just felt the CGI lacked a bit of charm at times, or just couldn’t sit entirely comfortably in a ‘live’ setting.

The only cast member I did wholly like was Luke Evans as Gaston – he looked made for the role, and has quite the set of lungs on him! Of course, when you’re left only really liking the baddie of the piece… urm…! o_O

Which is a lot of complaining for a movie I’m about to rate 7/10, and to be honest it wasn’t all that bad – just, as I said, a little disappointing for me. On the plus side, it looks lovely, and the filmmakers took the wise choice to add to the familiar songs, rather than start over, so there was a lot of toe tapping smiles. If the story felt a little bloated in the expansion for me, I’ll bow out gracefully as not exactly being the target audience – new, or nostalgia-led.

If you do enjoy this, you might be pleased to know that live-action remakes are being talked about for all sorts of other Disney classics, including Aladdin, Dumbo, and The Lion King! (you can read more on Cineworld‘s blog).

Released: 17th March
Viewed: 25th March 2017
Running time: 129 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 7/10

Ben-Hur (2016)

Judah Ben-Hur is a pacifist prince in a Jerusalem being overtaken by Rome, until his adopted Roman brother, Messala, returns from the wars and falsely accuses Judah of treason. After 5 years as a galley slave, a shipwreck and chance meeting with a chariot racing team in town for the opening of the new ‘circus’ (arena) gives Judah a chance for revenge.

I’d suggest that the trailers for Ben-Hur have been quite clever in ramping up the action – that shipwreck, the iconic chariot race – and yet utterly fails to mention to the unwary that this is, in fact, something of a religious movie. Because there happens to be a local carpenter in the area, telling anyone who’ll listen that “love is the way”…! I wonder if this is the reason so many reviews are so dire?!

But then, the movie offers plenty of reasons to rate poorly anyway. The CGI is rather obvious, as is the tale of redemption being played out. That said, the action and tension are reasonably well handled – right up until the preachy last act, sort of glued on after that chariot race.

Ah yes, the chariot race. It starts well, but to be honest the tension just didn’t last for me as it kept going. The necessary speed of the thing goes from ‘wow’ to ‘wait, did it finish?’. It doesn’t help that the CGI is quite in your face, nor the knowledge that the 1959 version is one of the classic scenes of cinema, ever – and was pretty much just done for real. This? Meh, in comparison.

Overall, though, it wasn’t actually as dire as I’d feared. I do like Roman history – even if it is horrendously brutal (more in suggestion than gore on screen, right enough, but still a bit of a shock for a 12A). Still, the story isn’t really presented as well as it could have been given the scope, alas, making the raison d’etre of the piece really just those two big action scenes. Hmm.

Released: 7th September 2016
Viewed: 9th September 2016
Running time: 125 minutes
Rated: 12A but quite gory and violent

My rating: 5/10

Ghostbusters (2016)

Ah, you already know how this goes: when ghosts start appearing in New York, a group of scientists – fresh from losing their academic posts – set out to capture evidence of the paranormal. Unbeknownst to them, the increase in spooky sightings isn’t random – someone is doing their best to break the barrier between worlds. Joined by a subway worker with an impressive knowledge of the city’s history, and a cute receptionist with an impressive lack of any kind of knowledge, can these ‘Ghostbusters’ prevent ghost-a-geddon?

Oh yeah, forgot to mention: the GB team are all women. But y’know what? It matters not a jot, so 😛 to all the people complaining about it.

All the naysaying about recasting the roles from the classic Ghostbusters (1984) with women has rather unfortunately overshadowed a rather fun movie. Reviews I’ve read tend to either rip into the gender-swap, or go overboard in ignoring it or bigging it up, and hailing the movie as brilliant – maybe as a backlash to the sexism, who knows? Honestly, though, I think neither of these positions is true: the team works just as well with female geeks as it ever did with males, but the movie is only okay, not brilliant. Not because it’s a remake, or because anything has changed, but – for me – just because only about half the humour worked for me. “Can I bring my cat to the office?” “I’m allergic to cats.” “No, no – Mike Hat is my dog’s name.” Urm, really? o_O

The movie also slips just a little over the line for me in terms of referencing the original or other movies. The cameos – pretty much all the original cast – are all fun, with lots of little references like “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts.” However, by the end I was half-wondering if there were just a few too many such moments propping up the not-terribly-strong story. Which is otherwise fine – a little bit different from the original, so thankfully not a slavish remake, but still entirely predictable.

The only thing I did really love about the film was the character of Holtzmann, as played by Kate McKinnon. While the spotlight was more firmly on the Bridesmaids re-pairing of Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig, McKinnon was not-so-quietly scene stealing every wacky moment she was on screen, portraying the doesn’t-give-a-damn mad scientist brilliantly. The fourth member of the team, Lesley Jones, got rather short shrift from the script, I think, and Chris Hemsworth’s utterly dim secretary was slightly in danger of just being irritating – albeit great fun before that!

So. Recommended? Sure, why not. Worthy of either the hype or anti-feminist backlash? Nope. It’s an okay, fun movie, absolutely nothing more or less.

Released: 11th July 2016
Viewed: 26th July 2016
Running time: 116 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6.5/10

Point Break (2015)

Back in the early nineties, I was a young teenager slightly obsessed with a movie called Point Break. Surfers robbing banks to fuel their ‘endless summer’, the ‘young, dumb, and full of…’ urm… FBI agent who infiltrates the gang – something in that grabbed my attention, and I watched it a LOT.

Fast forward more years than I care to count (really?! THAT long ago?!) and it still seems weird that we’re remaking this now. But, here we are: the 2015 (released in 2016 in the UK) version, now with Bigger Stunts!, Added Danger!, a Global Cast!, and a lead actor who makes Keanu Reeves look like the best actor ever! Seriously, stop giving Luke Bracey acting roles: he can’t. The expressions that roost on his face as he tries to emote are just… urgh.

I’d also like to raise objections to the only female role in the movie being downgraded from a pretty kick-ass Lori Petty to some spaced out hippy earth mother with little purpose other than to not wear adequate support garments. Seriously: we’re supposed to be less sexist now!

The other changes are theoretically supposed to widen/update the appeal. For instance, making the ‘surfers’ into a more diverse(ly accented), globe-trotting bunch. Hmm. In fairness, making them all extreme sports adrenaline junkies really ups the scope for thrills and danger, and what this movie does have going for it is some huge action scenes involving some amazing locations and scenery.

Alas, the attempt to add another layer to the story could have worked: the baddies aren’t just funding their fun, they’re eco-warriors on a spiritual quest (bra. Sorry, flashbacks). Until the script writers got a little confused about whether they were giving back to the poor or to ‘mother earth’, who I’m not sure would find explosives all that ‘giving’, thank you very much. Hmm.

I cannot recommend this movie, really. And yet I was in such a foul mood going in that the grand spectacle and daftness actually ended up being a lot of fun. Hey: sometimes watching people fall from a great height sort of puts your own sh*tty day into perspective, right?! 😉

Released: 5th February 2016
Viewed: 5th February 2016
Running time: 114 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 5/10 and I’m possibly being generous!

Fantastic Four (2015)

Well, it’s finally happened: the Marvel logo at the start of the film is no longer a guarantee of fun. This movie was pretty darn dreadful – I think they should have let Fox keep all the ‘credit’ and distanced themselves as much as possible from this po-faced, misjudged, badly edited, sorry excuse for a super hero dirge.

Rumours are that the studio are to blame for interfering with the director’s cut of the movie. It makes sense. The opening half isn’t so dreadful, with introductions to the characters before the ‘accident’. That the momentous events are caused by so much utterly unlikely shambolic behaviour from a bunch of supposedly bright scientists is perhaps excusable – IF the movie were any fun. Sadly, it isn’t.

The one saving grace, for me, is the explanation of why the four characters get different abilities from the one accident. That is it. Oh, okay – some of the special effects and sets look good (sadly, Kate Mara’s wig looks dreadful – how hard would that have been to get right, instead of distractingly dire?). And, alright: the characterisations are an improvement from the previous adaptation (especially the Invisible Girl) – but I still didn’t like a single one of them, and quite frankly they were given about as much to do as the scenery.

My advice is: when you see the ‘one year later’ card flashed across the screen, leave. My cinema-buddies seemed to enjoy it enough, but I couldn’t stand the blandness, the terrible (lack of) storytelling, the inconsistencies, and most of all the utterly humourless way it’s all done. Everything is finished off with the obvious setting up for a sequel I can only hope never sees the light of day!

Released: 6th August 2015
Running time: 100 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 3/10