Ghost In The Shell

First, we have to talk about whitewashing. Given the controversy, it’s what you think about walking into the cinema.

I’m certainly in the school that thinks it would have been great to have a Japanese lead – but I can also understand why they didn’t go that way. It’s a big budget movie with a ridiculous amount of CGI. Financing its $110m cost would have been challenging with an unknown actress. And what’s more, Scarlett Johansson looks a lot like the Major from the manga – who has blue eyes.

Casting controversy notwithstanding, the film constantly reflects its Japanese origins. There are kanji everywhere, there are noodle shops and geisha doll robots, and above all there is the magnificent Beat Takeshi, who delivers nearly all his lines in Japanese because it’s the future and everyone understands him perfectly. Despite the Hollywood remake, this particular slice of pop culture is very much made in Japan. Continue Reading →


Red Dog True Blue

Somehow I missed the box office powerhouse that was Red Dog, but if you did too, never fear – not only is this more prequel then sequel, but you get to watch a bit of the original during this second instalment. In the framing narrative, our protagonist Mick takes his two kids to watch it, along with every single other Australian family.

When he gets home, he tells his boy – who wants a dog – that he once had a canine bestie, back when he was a boy. That dog became Red Dog. So what they’d just watched on screen was a reconstruction of the later adventures of the dog that he once owned.

Someone will no doubt write a PhD on the intersection of history, fiction and metanarrative in the to-be-continued Red Dog trilogy, but it isn’t at all necessary to get your head around that. Because this is a simple tale of a boy, his dog, and his grandpa, along with a few other characters from a remote station in the Pilbara.
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La La Land

The ever-charming Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in a whimsical musical set in Hollywood and directed by Damien Chazelle, the wunderkind behind the extraordinary Whiplash?  Sign me up!  It’s a while since I’ve been this excited to see a movie based on the creative team alone.

On paper, La La Land sounds like a guaranteed cinematic slam dunk.  Or, in terms that Chazelle is probably more comfortable with, a killer Coltrane tenor solo that blows the roof off Birdland, or something.

If you’re wondering whether La La Land is worth seeing, wonder no more – there’s a reason it’s among the favourites this award season. But I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as I’d hoped, and while although several elements of it still leave me smiling whenever I think about them,  the story’s overall trajectory didn’t entirely pay off for me. Continue Reading →


Rogue One

This is not Star Wars, but ’A Star Wars Story’. No crawl, no theme, and the camera pans up, not down, to reveal something that looks like a Star Destroyer but turns out to be a planetary ring. We aren’t in Kansas, I mean, Tatooine any more, people!

Once, we had to wait years between instalments from the galaxy far, far away. Now, we have three Star Wars franchise movies in eighteen months, given the likely timing of the first Han Solo instalment in May 2018. And this means a lot of pressure to get quite a few stories right in a compressed time period.

Fortunately, via Marvel, Disney has shown itself to be brilliant at franchise management, keeping releases regular, quality control surprisingly consistent, and choosing stories with considerable variety (think Ant-Man, Guardians), which fit into the overall cinematic universe that they serve. And now that they own arguably the most popular franchise in history, Disney is trying to adapt its formula to an expanded universe many already know from the, um, Expanded Universe. Continue Reading →


Office Christmas Party


Every Christmas, Hollywood inundates us with holiday-themed movies, hoping that our bonhomie will extend all the way to the box office. Sometimes this works a treat – think Elf – and other times they have all the delight and ingenuity of opening a pair of socks on Christmas morning, like Bad Santa 2.

Office Christmas Party, which has the most literal name for a comedy since The Hangover, to which it owes quite a debt – sits squarely in the Christmas cracker genre. But fortunately there’s enough on offer to keep most viewers entertained, just as long as you don’t mind those comedies where they go for a joke every twenty seconds, ranging from witty wordplay to the gratuitously scatological.

Personally, I don’t – as long as enough of the humour is funny. Here, even the more unsuccessful gags – like the very literal gagging when Jason Bateman fellates an ice sculpture – are quickly over, followed by something better. By my count, around half of the jokes landed, and given the sheer quantity of them, that was enough for me.

It also has an enormous cast of likeable actors doing what they usually do, which very much lacks ingenuity but delivers solid, endearing results. Honestly, it was like a meeting of Typecast Anonymous. Continue Reading →


Underworld: Blood Wars


What are the odds that anyone would bother to watch the fifth instalment of the Underworld franchise without having seen the previous four? Slimmer than it’s ridiculously buff cast, no doubt. And yet that’s precisely what I did.

Being fairly fresh to this reviewing caper, and very confident that a great deal of assumed knowledge wouldn’t be required to watch leather-clad vampires battle scruffy werewolves – sorry, ‘lycans’, which I assume they chose in the hope it’d sound less silly – I went in cold.

It’s all very cold, in fact. Not only are the vampires free of warm blood, not only does much of the film take place somewhere near the North Pole, with ice vampires who look like Lord of the Rings elves who lost out to bloodthirsty bats, but the entire film is so heavily graded that the only thing that isn’t tinted blue is the ubiquitous blood. There’s enough black leather to clothe even the largest motorcycle club, and I haven’t seen this many pale faces since my student job in a computer shop . Continue Reading →


Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

JK Rowling is on an incredible winning streak. The Harry Potter series was one of the most successful movie franchises of all time, with eight films that were all critically acclaimed hits – at least if you’re willing to overlook some cringe-inducing acting in the first two.

Already this year she’s successfully continued Harry’s story into the future, with the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which features the central trio in middle age, and is selling out shows as quickly as they’re released. Now, her new series of movies is taking us to two places we haven’t been before – America, and the 1920s.

As her fictional world expands at the rate of a Chinese artificial island, surely at some point Rowling’s due a George Lucas-style comeuppance, where she reveals Lord Voldemort’s high midichlorian count. Continue Reading →


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