Ghost in the Shell (2017) a (mildly) belated review

Back in 1995 and after becoming a popular Manga comic within Japan, the animated version of Ghost in the Shell was released to great acclaim.  In fact, it, along with the animated Akira, were the two major anime releases that brought a virtual wave of such material to the attention of fans within the United States.  Here’s the animated film’s trailer:

Not so very long ago I saw the anime film (for the second or third time) and gave it a review which you can read here.  From my review of the anime film:

Ultimately, (Ghost in the Shell) becomes something not unlike 2001: A Space Odyssey, a meditation on the thin line between machine and humanity.  While by today’s standards the story may not be quite as deep and mysterious as it was when it was released (there have been many such meditations offered since), Ghost in the Shell still holds its own.

Fast forward to last year when word came out that a live action version of Ghost in the Shell was in the works and that it would star… Scarlett Johansson in the lead role.  Unfortunately for her and the film itself, this coincided with people realizing -and becoming quite vocal- about Hollywood “whitewashing” ethnic roles.  The Major, the protagonist of Ghost in the Machine, many argued, should be played by an Oriental woman and not someone like Scarlett Johansson.  Worse, the film’s ending (I’ll get to that in a bit) kinda pressed one’s nose into that whole controversy.

I know, I know… such a minor matter to worry about nowadays when dealing with all the lunacy in Washington D.C., sexual harassment, etc. etc., but I suspect the outrage in no small part helped to make the live action version of this film fizzle at the box office.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Ghost in the Shell, the live action film, was directed by Rupert Sanders, who had a hit with Snow White and the Huntsman.  While that film managed to have a sequel made, Mr. Sanders moved on to make Ghost in the Shell and the controversy that followed.

Look, I understand the controversy.

If you are making a movie set in a futuristic Japan -a setting that is central to the story- then perhaps you should think about having a more “Oriental” cast of characters rather than a couple and, certainly, you may have wanted to think specifically of using an Oriental actress to play the lead role.

Having said that, let’s face facts here: Scarlett Johansson is about as BIG a star as one could get to play the lead role in a film whose protagonist is an ass-kicking cyborg.

When I finally got to see the film yesterday, let’s also face facts, so much water has gone under the bridge (Trump, sexual harassment, etc. etc.) that I couldn’t really get myself all that riled up to the casting choice controversy, though to be honest it never did rile me up all that much to begin with, at least in this particular ocassion.

So I just sat back and watched the film and tried to judge it on its own merits.


Look, Ghost in the Shell isn’t a bust.  Far from it.

Its visual looks clearly pay an awful big tribute to Blade Runner, as did the original anime, and there are several scenes within the live action movie which mimic the anime scene for scene.

The movie stumbles, however, when the film makers alter the story presented and, frankly, dumb it down.  What was originally, as I pointed above, a mediation on the fine line between machine and humanity becomes, frankly, a remake of the original 1987 (not the terrible remake) Robocop.  Only, its not nearly as exciting and the action sequences are competent but rarely exciting.

The Major here is a machine created by a company to be a bad-ass cop but hidden within her is an actual soul which, eventually, comes out.  The corporation people that did this to her are bad and she emerges by the end to show her humanity.

Again, Robocop.

If I want to see this story, why bother with the live action version of Ghost in the Shell when I can simply watch Robocop again?

I’ll get into the film’s ending (SPOILERS ABOUND!), so if you want to see the film without it being spoiled, don’t go past the trailer below.

In sum, Ghost in the Shell is a decent enough film with some beautiful visuals whose biggest problem, if you’re not too bothered by the casting whitewashing, is that it echoes too strongly the plot of Robocop and is never as exciting in its action sequences as one would have hoped they’d be.  Having said that, I’ve seen far, far worse.

Now, the film’s ending.



So here we have a movie that, like Robocop, features a machine/human hybrid where the corporation has tried to use the person’s “soul” in a machine.  They’ve also tried to remove all memory traces and those memories start to come back.

By the movie’s end, the Major knows who she is and this is where that whole whitewashing stuff really comes roaring back.  For the movie takes place, like the anime and the manga, in a futuristic pseudo-Japan and the person the Major was… was an Oriental female.  In the closing moments of the movie, the Major sees her tomb and tells her mother “You no longer have to come here”.


Again, the whitewashing stuff didn’t bother me as much as it did many others, but the filmmakers, with this ending, essentially acknowledge their whitewashing and throw it back in the faces of those who were protesting such a thing.

I grant you, they didn’t do this on purpose as I’m certain filming of the movie happened before this controversy blew up to the proportions it did, but still… how unfortunate.

Ah well.

Sketchin’ 37

This is my latest piece…

Really like it, was happy with the results… sort of.

Sometimes you make a piece and parts of it work really well while others… don’t.  In the full sized piece, you get more of Angelina’s body but I felt the face was what really, really worked in this picture so I cropped out the body.

Interestingly, I wouldn’t mind zooming into the face even closer and remove a little more of that lace.

We’ll see. 😉

News of the very grim…

Over on, I found this story, written by Kaori Enjoji and James Griffiths…

Ghost ships wash up in Japan with skeletons on board

Here’s a photo from the article, showing one of the ships that grounded ashore…

Japanese officials gather on Nov. 27, 2017, near a boat washed ashore in Oga, Akita Prefecture. Authorities found eight bodies in the unidentified wooden boat.

So, what’s this about?

The article (I don’t want to give it all away, so if you are interested please click on that link and read!), notes that the ships are thought to come from North Korea and the reason they’re showing up has to do with the ugly conditions in the country: Food is scarce and the country has allowed more and more people to fish for their food… and many of these people do not know and/or do not have the proper experience to do so.

They sail out and get lost or lose control of their vessel in the currents/weather and become lost and unable to save themselves.

A horrible, horrible way to die.

The article truly sends chills down my spine.

Six Wakes (2017) a (mildly) belated book review… and more!

Been a while since I’ve offered an opinion on a book but sometimes you run across one which is so intriguing, so fun, that you have to give it a shout out.  Afterwards, I’ll offer another review… at least of a book I tried and had to give up on…

First, the positive review:

Released early this year, Mur Lafferty’s Six Wakes is a really clever, enjoyable sci-fi book that reads like an Agatha Christie mystery, but set in outer space (for the most part).

The book is an interesting amalgam of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and, to some extent, Murder on the Orient Express.

And Then There Were None, perhaps Agatha Christie’s best known novels, involved a group of 10 strangers are brought together to a remote island and then they’re knocked off… one after the other, and the big mystery is who brought them here and why is this person killing them off.

Now take that general concept and have the main characters already killed off and their latest clone versions are awoken moments after the last of the original crew was murdered on a large vessel in deep space and have these “new” clones of the murder victims try to figure out who killed their previous selves… and why.

In this novel, one’s last stored memories are imported into the fresh clones and in the case of the people aboard the ship, the last memories are from when they boarded the vessel some 24 years before.  They have no idea what happened between then and now, and the mystery of which one of them -one or more!- were involved in the ghastly murders committed and why.

As I mentioned above, the book also had some similarity to Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, but to delve into that aspect would be a little too spoilery so I’ll just bite my tongue.

By the way, though there are similarities in concept, this is absolutely NOT a negative but rather a compliment. My admiration for the works of Ms. Christie is high and for me to put this book in that sphere is indeed a compliment.

The only negative I would give the book is that in the early chapters things take a little bit to get going and the back and forth between the present and sometimes very distant past got a little confusing given we’re introduced to many characters almost at once.  However, when you have a grip on who’s who, things really click.


Now, the book I didn’t make it through…

Stephen King is arguably the most popular novelist today, having sold many millions of copies of his books over the years and having not only released a staggering number of works, but also having a staggering number of them be made either for the movies or TV.

So I don’t feel too terribly bad giving one of his novels a big thumb’s down.

Joyland sounded really interesting, based on the description on the back of the book.  The time frame the story took place in, for the most part the early 1970’s, was also intriguing to me as I was a very young child at the time and was curious to read a story set in and around that era.

But the book, unfortunately, proved dull and off-putting.

I managed to get some 60+ pages into it when I decided enough was enough.  The book purports to be a mystery/thriller with supernatural elements but what it really appears to be is Mr. King doing a thinly veiled growing up/maturing story… and it proved a real chore to read.

If you’re doing a story about someone growing up, then try to make the character interesting and the main character in this novel, at least to the point where I read it, is more annoying than interesting.  Love sick and blue balled (pardon the expression, but its a fact of the book) by a girlfriend we’re told early on is about to abandon him and then, for sixty pages, we keep coming back to her and his feelings for her and it… is… soooooo… irritating.

I recommend Six Wakes.  Can’t say the same about Joyland.

Happy (belated) Thanksgiving…

Hope everyone had a great time with family and friends and acquaintances and didn’t bring up any politics.

That’s a sure way to destroy one’s evening!

As for me, I didn’t eat all that much but nonetheless managed to have enough turkey and the triptophan found in it that by the time it got dark I fell in the bed and crashed so hard that…

What’s that?

You say that the triptophan in the turkey isn’t the reason people get so tired?  According to Kevin Bennett of Pennsylvania State University, it isn’t the cause and he wrote the following article to prove this…

Snooze after eating the bird?  Don’t blame triptophan

Here’s the money quote from the above article:

There are far more important factors leading to those post-turkey comas, not least of which is Uncle Clarence’s story about parking at the airport. Add that to free-flowing booze combined with a load of carbohydrates followed by plenty more booze and you have a fool-proof recipe for dozing off on the couch. 

Welp, I don’t drink alcohol so “booze” wasn’t a factor for me.  I guess it was the carbs?

Regardless, hope everyone had a great time!

About all these sexual harassment/assault stories of late…

Is it just me or does it appear every famous/sorta-famous male out there is a creep?

I’m glad women are, in this day and age, empowered to speak up about these things which, sadly, in the past were brushed under the rug.  I’m also alternately enraged and shaking my head at the growing list of people who have been accused of these types of acts.  Though clearly some of the revealed actions are far more heinous than others, I hope my fellow men view this as a teachable moment.

Men, think about what you’ve done in the past.  Take a good, hard look in the mirror and see if any of your actions when you were younger or -the Gods forbid- recently might fall into the category of sexual harassment or -the Gods forbid redux- assault.

And for fuck’s sake: Don’t do this sort of crap.  Don’t ever do this type of crap.  Behave.


At this point, either you do this or prepare yourself to face some potentially huge consequences.

Sketchin’ 36

It has been a very -in fact too long- a time since I posted new artwork.  Why?  Because I’ve been incredibly busy and simply haven’t had the time to put (Apple) pen to (iPad screen) paper.

This weekend, I was determined to remedy that situation and, voila, here you go!

The subject is actor Scarlett Johansson and the role is the Black Widow.

As successful as Marvel has been with their movies, its weird they haven’t bothered to make a Black Widow standalone film.

Ah well, perhaps in the near future.

Murder on the Orient Express (2017) a (extremely mildly) belated review

Back in 1974 director Sidney Lumet gathered together a mega-star cast including Sean Connery, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Jacqueline Bisset, Vanessa Redgrave, etc. etc. etc. to star in the movie version of what is easily Agatha Christie’s best known Hercule Piorot novel (if not best known novel, period!) Murder on the Orient Express.  Playing the lead role of super-detective Hercule Poirot was Albert Finney.  Here’s that movie’s trailer…

There would be other versions of this most famous novel made for both the large and small screen and a couple of weeks ago famed director/actor Kenneth Branagh offered his version of this famous story.  In making his version of the film, it appeared Mr. Branagh was looking toward that 1974 version and, therefore, made sure to fill the movie with some very big names.  Here’s the trailer for Mr. Branagh’s 2017 theatrical release of Murder on the Orient Express:

As one can readily see, among the famous actors participating in this movie, in which Mr. Branagh not only plays the Poirot role but also directs, is Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Derek Jackobi, Daisy Ridley, etc. etc.

As a fan of Agatha Christie and her writing, I’ll be the first to admit that her murder mystery novels are about as close to science fiction as you can get with regard to the mystery genre.  The fact of the matter is that her mysteries are usually byzantine and feature events that, if one were to look very closely at them, would fall apart in the harsh light of “reality”.

Then again, that’s the case with most works of fiction.

So, if you know the depressing truth that in “real life” murders are usually the result of opportunity combined with a person’s twisted and disturbed impulses, you also know there is often no “clever” solution to a murder and when all is said and done you’ve got a bunch of sad/twisted people who are hardly “upper crust”, well spoken, and “beautiful” like those present in Ms. Christie’s novels.

But you know what?  If you’re willing to do the proverbial “suspension of disbelief”, you’re in for a fun time… as fun as you can with a subject as dark as murder.

In Murder on the Orient Express, we have a classic “locked room” mystery.  Actually, a double locked room mystery: A person is murdered within his locked room and within the confines of a sealed train.  Within this train we have our genius detective and 12 suspects, all of whom present shifty eyed stares and less than truthful statements when asked what they were up to at the time of the crime.

All the elements of a classic mystery are there and, to someone like me, that alone proved a freaking blast.

If you’re a fan of old railroads and trains, the movie is incredibly beautiful to look at, though I suspect much of what you’re seeing is CGI.  CGI or not, it is beautiful.

Mr. Branagh’s direction is fluid and his characterization of Poirot turned out to be quite wonderful.  The mystery is presented in a very linear manner and allows viewers to follow the breadcrumbs from murderer to suspects and, if you’re clever enough, you may be able to figure out the ending just before Mr. Poirot figures it out for you.

That’s the really good stuff.

The bad?  Well, Mr. Branagh the director sure does like Mr. Branagh the actor.  The fact of the matter is that Poirot is front and center in this movie and, despite the big named actors around him, his character hogs the spotlight a little too much.  Other than Michelle Pfeiffer, who gets to act out a little more, the other actors are held back too much.

Perhaps I’m being too harsh with regard to Mr. Branagh.

After all, the large cast are playing suspects and, as suspects, they are supposed to hold back whatever truths they’re hiding.

Still, I wish I could have seen a little more emoting from many of them.

Despite this, Murder on the Orient Express works much more than it doesn’t and the complaints I point out above are very small stuff.

Thankfully, the movie follows Ms. Christie’s novel closely and, much to my relief, the conclusion is pretty much straight out of the book.  I admit going into this film I was afraid Mr. Branagh and company would get cute and try to pull some kind of switcheroo with the movie’s conclusion/resolution.  The fact of the matter is that what makes the novel successful is the way it ends and, in that, this movie nailed that particular bit.

I also liked the way this movie hinted at the next mystery for Poirot and pointed to another of Agatha Christie’s famous novels.  That one was made into a film as well…

To which I say: Bring it on!


Justice League (2017) a (right on time!) review

Yesterday I wrote about the just released Justice League and, based on some of the negative reviews, worried this film might be suffering from a reviewer’s bias.  Critics seemed to so hate the movie this one is a direct sequel to, 2016’s Batman v Superman, that I couldn’t help but wonder if that might cloud their opinion of this film.

While in between we’ve had the release of Wonder Woman, which met with near universal adoration, that film wasn’t directed by Zach Snyder and, let’s be clear here, Mr. Snyder is the individual receiving most of the blame by certain critics and fans who don’t like these films.  And like it or not, Justice League is his third foray into the DC Universe.

I’ve beaten this particular dead horse for a while, but I liked BvS, though I will admit the theatrical version of the film doesn’t hold a candle to the extended “ultimate” cut that came later and was released to home theater.  Obviously Warners/DC were anxious with the film’s original run time and wanted to cut the thing down for theatrical release so that it wouldn’t cut down on showtimes but, in the end, a hacked product was released and the longer version was clearly the intended version which should have been released.

Regardless, the theatrical cut of BvS received some absolutely brutal reviews/reactions and with work already initiated on Justice League Warner Brothers got nervous.  They attempted to win back the fans/critics by offering several of them an extended visit to the Justice League set while the film was in production and had Mr. Snyder talk about how this new film would be a different animal, much lighter in tone versus the more somber BvS.

Then in May, word came that due to a family tragedy Mr. Snyder was leaving the film before it was completed.  Co-screenwriter Josh Whedon, who made a splash directing both Avengers films and was announced as the director of the upcoming Batgirl film, would finish the film up and be responsible for any re-shoots.

Mr. Snyder’s departure was due to the suicide of his daughter and, while an undeniably great tragedy, there were those who wondered -an icky thing- if he was going to be fired from the DC works eventually anyway.

Regardless, with Mr. Whedon in charge of finishing up the film, there was renewed skepticism regarding what the finished product would look like.  Would the film be a mess?  Re-shoots, rumored to be pretty extensive, were made with Mr. Whedon in charge.  Again, how coherent would this film be?

Two days before the film was officially released Warner Brothers lifted the review embargo and new controversy flared when pushed back the release of their score for the film to promote See It/Skip It, their new program which was meant to “premiere” scores of new films.  Fans, understandably, were again skeptical: Was this Warner Brothers’ doing?  Were they nervous about the film’s score?  If so, did they force rottentomatoes to hold back on the reviews?

Ultimately, the rottentomatoes score was released and… it wasn’t terribly good.  The movie currently sits at a below average 40 percent positive among critics.  Interestingly, the fan reaction is considerably more positive.  Among fans, the film sits at 86 percent.  Over on metacritic, the movie stands at 46 percent positive among critics and 7.2 (out of 10) among the fans.

A wide disparity indeed!

As a fan of BvS, there was never a question that I’d see this film.  But, based on all that stuff I just wrote about above, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about the overall product.

This Saturday morning, I had the free time and decided to give Justice League a try.  I entered the theater with the proverbial “hoping for the best” attitude but, deep down, expecting the worst.

The opening minutes of the film proved something of a slog.  While not terrible, the opening act was a very slow burn and I wondered if the rest of the film would go this way.

Things picked up considerably when we get to the introduction of Cyborg, Flash, and Aquaman.

After these characters were introduced and integrated into the film, the movie, IMHO, started to soar.  That, in a nutshell, proved to be Justice League’s greatest strength: The characters and their interaction among each other.  It was just so much… fun.

As good as it was, the film kicked into another, even higher gear with the return of the character everyone knew was coming back: Superman.  I won’t go into the hows and whys of the character’s return, but suffice to say when he does return, things get even better, and his interaction with the Flash, in particular, is (dare I say it?) super-fun.

Now, the movie does have its issues and I’m in agreement with many who have pointed them out: The villain is not the most memorable character but I personally felt he was good and scary enough.  The CGI effects, at times, weren’t as good as one would have hoped, which is strange given the fact that the movie had as big a budget as it did.  Perhaps this was due to time constraints.  Who knows.

But those two things for me were the only two things that one could point to as being true negatives.

I should also note that this is the first of the DC films to use what has become standard with Marvel films, ie the end clips.  Justice League has two of them, and both of them are delightful, IMHO.  The first one, featuring Superman and Flash, was pure mana to a comic book geek like me.

Now to address the elephant in the room: What about cut scenes?  There was something like 45 minutes to an hour reportedly cut from this film.  When I saw BvS in theaters, though I liked the film, I could sense the fact that things were missing.  With Justice League, I didn’t have that same reaction.  It felt like all the “important” stuff was there.  Still, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t curious as to what was left on the cutting room floor.  I fully anticipate a longer, “extended” cut of the film when it eventually makes it to the home video market.

In sum, while not perfect, I very much recommend Justice League.  It presented flesh and blood versions of very familiar and beloved characters in a fun and at times rousing way.

I hope we’ll see more… especially what was hinted at in that second post-credit sequence.