GHOST IN THE SHELL (USA/15A/106mins) Directed by Rupert Sanders. Starring Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk, Juliette Binoche, Anamaria Marinca, Michael Carmen Pitt. THE PLOT: In a future where humans are cybernetically enhancing themselves, Major Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson) is the first of her kind; a human brain in a fully synthetic robotic body. A year after her rebirth as the perfect weapon, Major and the taskforce of Section 9 are tasked with protecting Hanka Robotics’ technology from attack by the mysterious Kuze (Michael Carmen Pitt); a mission that has personal repercussions for Major and the past she no longer remembers. THE VERDICT: ‘Ghost in the Shell’ first appeared as Manga in 1989, and the story has gone on to be told in Anime, TV and films, but this new version is the first live action telling of the tale, and is not without its controversies.
Scarlett Johansson leads the cast as the robot/human hybrid Major, and it is her that the title refers to; the “ghost in the shell” being a human brain in a synthetic body. Johansson does well in the role of Major, remaining true to her calling as the perfect weapon, but allowing emotion and confusion to shine through as “glitches” – memories of her past – begin to plague her. Pilou Asbæk plays Major’s right hand man Batou, and the two have some sweet and gentle moments together, and work well together as a crime fighting team. Michael Carmen Pitt plays the villainous Kuze, and obviously has fun with this over the top villain, and breathes life into the role. Juliette Binoche plays Dr. Ouelet, and brings a gentleness to Major’s world, filling the role of mother figure. The rest of the cast features ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano, Chin Han, Danusia Samal, Peter Ferdinando and Anamaria Marinca.
The story, written for the screen by Jamie Moss and William Wheeler, tells the story of Major’s transition rather quickly, and gets it out of the way so the real story can begin. Although it seems as though Major’s past has been forgotten for the first hour of the film, it is then that the story begins to become personal for the central character, and things begin to change for her, and for us. There are times when ‘Ghost in the Shell’ feels a little derivative of past films including ‘The Matrix’, ‘Minority Report’ and ‘RoboCop’, but this was bound to be the case, since other stories have been inspired by ‘Ghost in the Shell’ since it first gained popularity. Sadly, this does give the film a familiar, almost derivative feeling, which cannot be avoided.
Director Rupert Sanders obviously threw himself wholeheartedly into his first feature length directing job since ‘Snow White and the Huntsman’, and his passion for the project shows. The world of the film feels fully realised and the performances are strong, but there are times when the film struggles to keep the pacing going, and to shake off the feeling that we have seen this world, and a story very like it, before. The visuals of the film are well realised, however, and the film manages to handle the controversy that came with casting a non-Asian actress in the lead role rather well.
In all, ‘Ghost in the Shell’ looks good, has a strong story and an interesting world. Where the film struggles, however, is shaking off the feeling that we are already familiar with the world of the movie, as well as the idea that this film was created to set up a franchise that will delve deeper into Major’s past. Still, there is fun to be had with ‘Ghost in the Shell’, if you can put everything else to the back of your mind. RATING: 3.5/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
FREE FIRE (France | UK/18/90mins) Directed by Ben Wheatley. Starring Jack Reynor, Michael Smiley, Cillian Murphy, Brie Larson, Sharlto Copley. THE PLOT: In 1970s Boston, a group of arms dealers – led by Vernon (Sharlto Copley) – and a group of Irish potential buyers for said arms – led by Frank (Michael Smiley – meet in an abandoned factory to negotiate a deal. This tense powder keg of a meet is set alight when Harry (Jack Reynor) realises that Stevo (Sam Riley), the man he beat up the night before for assaulting his cousin, is working for Frank. The resulting shootout becomes a game of loyalty and survival. THE VERDICT: Just a year after ‘High-Rise’, Ben Wheatley is back, this time with a crime drama that feels confined as it is messy and drawn out. With Martin Scorsese on as executive producer, it seems that ‘Free Fire’ could easily have been Wheatley’s Reservoir Dogs, but although it is impressive that the director never lets himself be tied into one genre or type of filmmaking, ‘Free Fire’ may be a story of all hell breaking loose, but it lacks the bang that would truly make it work.
The cast of ‘Free Fire’ boasts some impressive names, including Sam Riley, Michael Smiley, Armie Hammer, Sharlto Copley, Cillian Murphy, Noah Taylor and Brie Larson, it is perhaps the exact point of having so many stars that some of them struggle to stand out. Copley obviously has a whale of a time as the prissy, fussing and slightly awkward arms dealer Vernon, and it is from him that much of the comedy in the film arises, the same goes for Michael Smiley whose gruff exterior but gentle soul lead to some hilarious moments and touching scenes. Larson, Murphy and Hammer do fine in their roles, while Sam Riley plays it up as the drug addled Stevo, and Jack Reynor struggles to get past his rather chewy accent.
Amy Jump’s screenplay for ‘Free Fire’ errs on the side of the shootout, meaning that much of the film’s 90 minute running time is taken up with these bad and badder guys shooting at one another as they try to survive. There are some great one-liners – including Michael Smiley advising someone to shut up and “save it for your autobiography” – but the film is thin on story once the shoot out begins. There is a cleverness to the characters switching allegiances, and the hint of a romance between Murphy and Larson threatens to shake things up, but this is a film that bounces from one set piece to another, and while this may be fun to begin with, it soon feels drawn out and overly long.
As director, Ben Wheatley obviously focused on certain characters over others, allowing Sharlto Copley and Michael Smiley to come to the fore in the film. The trouble is, this leaves much of the rest of the cast at a loose end as they try to keep the momentum of this shoot-‘em-up going. The comic timing displayed throughout ‘Free Fire’ is excellent, leading to several laughs throughout the film, but it is hard to shake the feeling that Wheatley was aiming for ‘Reservoir Dogs’ with ‘Free Fire’, and ended up with something closer to ‘The Hateful Eight’ – although, blessedly, nowhere near as long or quite as self indulgent as Tarantino’s last offering. As well as this, the audience never truly gets to know the layout of the room that these characters find themselves fighting in, so while bullets fly, it is hard to know who is shooting at whom, and when.
In all, ‘Free Fire’ has a strong first half hour before all hell breaks loose and the film loses structure and pace. Michael Smiley and Sharlto Copley are on rare form, with Brie Larson, Armie Hammer and Cillian Murphy backing them up admirably. A tighter pace, more of a reason for things to go south and a clearer sense of the room we find ourselves in could have made for a sharper film, whereas as it stands, ‘Free Fire’ has some great moments, some good, and the rest is weak, long and drawn out. RATING: 2.5/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
THE BOSS BABY (USA/G/97mins) Directed by Tom McGrath. Starring Alec Baldwin, Lisa Kudrow, Steve Buscemi, Jimmy Kimmel, Tobey Maguire. THE PLOT: Seven year old Tim (Miles Christopher Bakshi) is an only child, and is used to getting all of his parents’ attention, as well as three bedtime stories, five hugs and his special song – Blackbird by The Beatles. When Tim hears he is to get a new baby brother he is less than impressed, and when the baby (Alec Baldwin) arrives he knows there is something off about this new kid; he turned up wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase. Tim’s efforts to find out the truth just lead to conflict, however, and it is not long before he hatches a plan to get rid of the interloper once and for all. THE VERDICT: Loosely based on the book by Marla Frazee, ‘The Boss Baby’ is a comic animation that plays with imagination and adventure, but the real gag is a baby being voiced by Alec Baldwin – known for his gravelly tones – and once that gag lands, the film begins to run out of steam.
As mentioned, Alec Baldwin leads the cast as the Baby, and he is on fine form; charming, tyrannical and funny, the Baby certainly feels like a newborn Jack Donaghy – the character that Baldwin played so well in 30 Rock – and it is he who carries the film on his shoulders. The rest of the voice cast do fine in their roles, a cast that features Tobey Maguire, Steve Buscemi, Lisa Kudrow, Jimmy Kimmell and Miles Christopher Bakshi, but this is well and truly Alec Baldwin’s film.
The screenplay, adapted from Marla Frazee’s book by Michael McCullers, plays with the idea that a new baby in a home is always going to be in charge, and older siblings often have a hard time adapting to these infant interlopers. This is an interesting element to the story, except it is quickly shoved aside when it is made incredibly plain that this baby is the Boss, and not just the Boss of the Templeton home. There are gags throughout the film that mainly work because of Alec Baldwin’s voice work, but the reason why the Baby comes to the family is not as satisfying as the writers might think, and the film begins to run out of steam when Tim and the Baby become allies instead of enemies.
Director Tom McGrath plays with different styles of animation throughout the film, and obviously has fun with the imagination heavy sequences of the film, and while the voice performances are strong, McGrath struggles to keep the pace and audience interest going when the adventure section of the film takes hold. The pacing is rather loose throughout, and although the film tries its best to take leaves from Pixar’s book, references to Indiana Jones, Mary Poppins, Toy Story and Batman and Robin leave ‘The Boss Baby’ feeling rather familiar and uninspired.
In all, ‘The Boss Baby’ starts off strong but once the joke of Baldwin voicing a baby lands, the film begins to run out of ideas and steam. There are laughs and fun to be had with the film, but in the end, ‘The Boss Baby’ feels rather familiar and uninspired. RATING: 3/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
GRADUATION (Romania | France | Belgium/15A/128mins) Directed by Cristian Mungiu. Starring Adrien Titieni, Lia Bugnar, Maria Dragus, Maliana Manovici, Vlad Ivanov. THE PLOT: Romeo Aleda (Adrian Titieni) is a man with what seems like a perfect family life; his daughter Eliza (Maria-Victoria Dragus) is a highly achieving high school student, his marriage seems solid and he is a well respected doctor. Underneath the surface however, Romeo’s marriage is on the brink of ending and he is having an affair with Sandra (Malina Manovici). When Eliza is attacked and may be unable to complete her finals – upon which her scholarship to a college in the UK rests – Romeo makes some difficult choices to save his family, ones that have repercussions. THE VERDICT: Director Cristian Mungiu returns to Cannes this year with this family drama; a festival that awarded ‘Beyond the Hills’ Best Screenplay and best Actess in 2012, and Mungiu himself the Palme D’Or in 2007 ‘4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days’. This time out, Mungiu tries to follow in the footsteps of the Dardenne’s mystery solving ‘The Unknown Girl’, but the drawn out running time means the film loses momentum.
Adrian Titieni is strong in the lead role as Romeo; a man who has always been honest and turns toward shady dealings for the first time. Titieni makes Romeo slow to anger, but the character seems to be thoughtful and practical, taking everything in. Maria-Victoria Dragus is fine as Eliza, but other than cry and look scared she doesn’t have a whole lot to do and Malina Manovici is again fine as Sandra, Romeo’s woman on the side, but she is not really given a chance to explore the character fully. The rest of the cast features Lia Bugnar, Vlad Ivanov and Petre Ciubotaru.
The screenplay, written by director Cristian Mungiu, attempts to shine a light on corruption in Romania. By making Romeo a doctor noted for being honest, this says a lot about the country that he lives in – a country that he came back to in 1991, thinking he could “move mountains” – but Romeo’s descent into shady dealings – even if it is just to help his daughter pass her exams – is rather easy, which again shines a light on the state of the country. Aside from that however, the film seems unfocused; drifting from scene to scene, with no character ever seeming that bothered about the big emotional stuff, making the breakdown of a marriage on screen one of the most amicable ever seen. As well as this, there are questions raised that are never answered, and plotholes abound.
As director, Mungiu makes the central performance strong, for the most part, but this then leaves the rest of the cast out in the cold. The choice to have emotionless scenes where drama and passion could have made for a more engaging film is a strange one, as is the choice to have no strong pacing in the film, which leaves it dragging its heels for the most part. As is to be expected, there are no clear answers here, but a stronger edit could have made for a more compelling film.
In all, ‘Graduation’ is a film that feels familiar and predictable at times, and struggles to keep audience attention as it meanders through an emotionless plot. Adrian Titieni is strong as Romeo, but the rest of the cast struggle with the little they are given to do, and the message about the state of Romania’s corruption is made obvious from the start, and repeatedly hammering the message home just drains it of any power. RATING: 2/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
SMURFS: THE LOST VILLAGE (USA/G/89mins) Directed by Kelly Asbury. Starring Ellie Kemper, Julia Roberts, Mandy Patinkin, Rainn Wilson, Demi Lovato. THE PLOT: As Smurfette (Demi Lovato) struggles to find out what her purpose in life is, surrounded by Smurfs whose names tell them what they are good at, she discovers an entrance to a magical place in the Forbidden Forest. Meanwhile, Gargamel (Rainn Wilson) sets out to steal the magic from Smurfs, and when he hears there may be another Smurf village, Smurfette knows she must disobey Papa Smurf (Mandy Patinkin) to warn the Smurfs in the Forbidden Forest that danger is on the way. THE VERDICT: Not quite a reboot of ‘The Smurfs’ franchise, but definitely a step away from the live action/animation combos of the past, ‘Smurfs: The Lost Village’ is obviously aimed at the youngest little ‘uns in the audience, and while the film looks good, there is little here for the older Smurfs fans in the cinema.
The cast of ‘Smurfs: The Lost Village’ is full of familiar names, including Demi Lovato, Michelle Rodriguez, Julia Roberts, Ellie Kemper, Mandy Patinkin, Rainn Wilson, Danny Pudi, Jack McBrayer and Meghan Trainor. It is clear that the cast are having fun with their roles in the film as it is gives them all a chance to be over the top and fun, but none of them really get a chance to make their characters anything more than their Smurf – and other – names might suggest.
Based on characters created by Peyo, and written for the screen by Stacey Harman and Pamela Ribon, ‘Smurfs: The Lost Village’ is full of gentle adventure and sweet affirmations for the little members of the audience, and there is enough danger to keep the plot moving and the audience rooting for our heroes to save the day. As well as this, it is obvious that the franchise wanted to introduce girl Smurfs to the mix, other than Smurfette, and this is what is achieved through ‘Smurfs: The Lost Village’.
Director Kelly Asbury makes sure that the voice performances are high energy and infectious, and the look of the film – particularly the magical kingdom beyond the wall – is bright, fun and cheerful. There are times, however, when the film struggles with pacing, and even though some gags and references to classic films – such as Back to the Future – are thrown in for good measure, this is not a film that is going to engross the adults in the room. As well as this, the use of slapstick and the physical animation of crashes and bangs makes ‘Smurfs: The Lost Village’ feel old fashioned and dated. The songs used are cheery and bright, although Blue (Da Ba Dee) by Eiffel 65 needs to be banned from Smurf films. Forever.
In all, ‘Smurfs: The Lost Village’ is bright and cheery film aimed at the littlest Smurf fans in the audience. The voice cast do fine, the film looks good and plays with the landscape of the Smurf world, but the film plays young and has nothing for anyone over the age of 10. RATING: 2.5/5 Review by Brogen Hayes