Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Posted in action, Action/Hero, drama, Sci-fi, Theater Show with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 5, 2017 by T. August Green

Ghost

The two most undesirable things in the entertainment world might be; adapting a best-selling novel to a screenplay or re-making a classic film into a modern version. I don’t envy either task  but I have tremendous respect for those who poke the sleeping giant.
When the anime classic, “Ghost in the Shell” released in 1995, it set a new standard not only in animation as a whole, but for film-making as well.
Given its sci-fi genre, “Ghost” resists the pigeon-hole of being a period piece, and that says a lot about how far ahead of the curve the anime jumped. It has become a yardstick by which many projects are compared.
Films like “Ghost” often impact people at a young age, it certainly left a huge impression on me, even in the subtitled version. That kind of experience can be the motivation that drives someone to bring that deep, inner passion into a modern work of art.
Anyone that attempts a revival of a classic film faces two demons of criticism that are diametrically opposed. One believes the original work should be honored to the tiniest detail, often panning any changes, including the choice of casting. The other looks for the new work to be different, surprising, and somehow improved, even though they can be vague on how that should be accomplished.
In the end, I paraphrase James Cameron, “Every film should have the ability to stand on it own, even if the audience has never seen the related works.”
I tip my hat to Rupert Sanders and the team that dared to craft such an iconic work of art. This new version brings the classic to life with both subtlety and panache. Some might look at many of the re-created scenes and see an uninspired vision, but I say it takes extraordinary skill to make so many shots look as if the anime itself was somehow charged and rendered into holographic photo-realism.
The original work spawned a television series called “Stand Alone Complex” that followed the continued adventures of The Major and her Section 9 Team. The modern film crew deftly draws on elements of this series (and other sequels) to bring greater depth to both the story and the central character. We watch The Major grapple with the unknown past of her inner ghost, and fight internally with the questions of her own existence. Maybe this isn’t technically bringing something new to the table, but how it was blended into the fabric of the film was well executed.
If there was one thing the original anime excelled at it was lush, detailed backgrounds. The overgrown, overcrowded, tech-heavy city-scapes of the anime reach forward with full force, and kudos to cinematography for shooting the angles that not only immersed you in the Major’s world, but made you feel as though you may drown under its sheer scale.
Many have criticized the casting of Scarlett Johanssen in the lead role as cheap Hollywood merchandising. To some extent that might be true, but when was the last time we saw any major film released without star power of some kind? Some say the lead should have been an oriental actress. Possibly, but if you look at side-by-side stills of the anime and new film, Johanssen nails the image. This is a point I’ve always wondered, why clamor for the oriental casting when most anime women don’t look oriental in the slightest?
There are many other ways the film pays proper homage to its roots. The geisha robots and various holographic advertisements throughout the city promote the Asian lineage. The sole member of the Section 9 Team that values his un-augmented human form is clearly oriental. I also loved how they showcased his loyalty to his old-fashioned revolver. Takeshi Kitano brings the oriental mojo in truckloads as the Section 9 Director. No matter if he is behind a desk deflecting veiled threats or wielding a large caliber pistol like a futuristic Dirty Harry, he never fails to make an imposing presence.
Juliet Binoche also adds depth to both the story and the emotional connection as Dr.Ouelet. So proud of the achievement the Major represents in technology, but also caring as if she were a parent. Dr. Ouelet is torn by the sacrifices made to reach the success of the Major, but is unaware of the adversary they inadvertently created in the process.
I congratulate Scarlett Johanssen on a performance that while action-driven, delivers on several levels. She is hi-intensity under combat conditions, fearless and skilled in every facet of her programmed training. The effects of her invisibility screen are top notch, but its her times away from danger that are most revealing. She walks with mechanical method, and is expressionless despite her inner torment, yet in those moments of personal reflection, the hints of her human ghost come near to the surface. The more she discovers, the more she begins to find the worth in herself, and the closer she slowly becomes to her stoic partner, Batou.
Pilou Asbaek rises to the role of the Major’s closest version of a friend. Batou never fails to have the Major’s back, even if he is picking up her broken pieces. I’m very glad the film adds the back story of how he came to have the cybernetic eyes.
All told, I think “Ghost in the Shell-2017” does its ancestor proud. Is it an exact recreation of the original? No. Is it a significantly different rendition? I would say no, because the material drawn from sequels and Stand Alone Complex was already related, and not written strictly for this film. Is it a worthy execution of the character and the world she lives in? Yes!
Like other remakes, I recommend watching the original AFTER you see the new film. Give the new work a chance to test and challenge your imagination and memory. Most of all, look at the latest version with the innocent eyes of the Major and her quest for knowledge. This is a dark and dazzling motion picture in its own right, and I get the feeling we haven’t seen the last of The Major and Section 9. At least I hope so, because she is an equal-opportunity ass-kicker and I look forward to seeing her in action once again.
T. August Green
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Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Posted in Theater Show, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 21, 2017 by T. August Green

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My hat goes off with a deep bow to Disney for undertaking what must have been the most daunting project in the last 50 years. Forget Star Wars, forget Star Trek, forget any live-action transformation to date. When you green-light the live rendition of one of the most beloved, popular, and timeless animated classics, that takes spinal fortitude.

Let me begin by saying I probably held an unfair yardstick walking into this film. The animated version is one of my all-time favorites, and one of the elite group of movies I never grow tired of watching…repeatedly. In fairness, animation holds a level of unfair advantage in this case. Character expression can be wildly exaggerated for effect, and voice actors need not worry about what kind of motion-capture gestures are required. This has always been the essence of Disney magic and represents a bar almost too high to clear.

Lucky for Disney, there was never a need to aim higher. The last 30 years have seen multiple productions turn into successful Broadway musicals, and live theater is another world in its own right. Song, dance, lights, innovative costumes, and brilliant choreography transform the stage without any of the computer magic motion pictures bring to bear. So the question wasn’t to make it better, it was to combine all the best elements film and stage had to offer into one seamless experience.

Never having seen the stage production, I can only guess at the segments carefully plucked from the tree of talent. No matter, because the result is a visually lush and emotionally rich movie-going experience.

Emma Watson shines as Belle, and what she lacks in musical talent is balanced nicely with the earthy reality she delivers. Watson doesn’t look like she is in costume, and if she accomplished nothing else, she made you forget about Hermione Granger.

In my view, Luke Evans had the biggest boots of all to fill..those of Gaston. The bar-room song and dance of the animated film has to be one of the most sinfully hilarious in cinema history. Its almost impossible to simply read the lyrics without bursting into laughter, and the distorted images of Gaston himself take on the proportions of the Incredible Hulk.

To his enormous credit, Evans delivers enough attitude, narcissism, and hubris to still make you hate him as the villain. Every smile, every song, and every walking strut is spilling over with ego. Gaston provides the great irony of the whole story, the most beautiful among us can possess the greatest ugliness. Bravo, Luke Evans!

I won’t say Dan Stevens had it easy due to make-up and CG, but he filled out the Beast with as much heart as humanly possible. Reaching through the barrier of unrecognizable make-up is no easy feat, but Stevens make you tremble, laugh, and wipe the misty eye before his final transformation.

Kevin Kline brings a new depth to Belle’s father, Maurice. While less of a theme in the original, this version paints a touching back story of why Belle is so precious to him. Their relationship cemented from a young age, the glimpse of her past is provided by Beast, but quickly encapsulates a lifetime of dedicated love for his little girl. Few things are more prized and fiercely protected.

The rest of the cast was equally amazing in such an ensemble effort. My only slight discourse, and I say this with all humor, is that Ewan McGregor will never be confused for a Frenchman.

Whatever you do, DON’T watch the animated classic as refresher and then go see this film. No, leave the vintage art on the shelf for the time being. Go see this film with fresh eyes, a curious mind, and an open heart, ready to drink in a new chapter of Disney magic.

Walt himself said, “That’s what storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We restore hope again, and again, and again.”

Go see “Beauty and the Beast,” and let your imagination tell the story of love and hope to your heart all over again.

– T. August Green

Mr. Church

Posted in drama, Theater Show, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on September 20, 2016 by T. August Green

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Director: Bruce Beresford

Writer: Susan McMartin

Starring: Eddie Murphy, Britt Robertson, Natasha McElhone

Eddie Murphy hasn’t appeared on the silver screen since 2012’s “A Thousand Words,” and that was another vehicle of comedy. No one can blame Mr. Murphy for sticking with the genre that made him a star but box office numbers showed the results were getting thin.

Once upon a time, comic icon actor Tom Hanks branched out into drama and many said it would be the death of his career. History has proven otherwise for Mr. Hanks and given the heartfelt performance in “Mr. Church,” Eddie Murphy could be well on his way to a newfound career.

More than a few critics have panned this film, saying that its too formula-like, predictable, and even unbelievable. They say the only thing stranger than fiction is the truth and screenwriter Susan McMartin is living proof. Granted, she took a couple of creative liberties but I know of few screenplays that don’t. All that aside, the emotional impact of human kindness, love, and loss is delivered in copious amounts.

Anyone who has survived the loss of a loved one, struggled though the hardships life can dispense without warning, and found unexpected support and friendship will find common ground in this film.

Eddie Murphy sells Henry Joseph Church from his very first appearance on screen, and he only gets better as he goes. There is still opportunity for the comic response but they are subtle and well placed. The loud and boisterous style he is more readily know for is channeled into the drunken outbursts of the contentious relationship with his father, and it brings depth to the history of the character.

The entire story is told through the eyes of Charlotte, (Britt Robertson) a young girl whose mother is dying of cancer.(Natasha McElhone) The wealthy, estranged father employs Mr. Church to cook for the terminally ill mother until she passes, but the kindness he finds compels him to do much more. The bonds of friendship reach across the years as Charlotte grows, and through teenage awkwardness, college adventures, and the adjustments to adult life, Mr. Church proves to be the loyal friend Charlotte can always count on.

The story comes full circle as age and failing health eventually claim the life of this trusted man and his giving heart, but the memories he made tied a broken family together with meals, books, and stalwart kindness.

Those who criticize this movie as a racial vehicle or an unrealistic tale completely miss the point. Disney has kept simple themes for decades but they still entertain and lift spirits while drawing genuine tears. Quite simply, it works. Secondly, to demean the real-life events of the author is both cold and cynical while insulting the life of such a kind and giving soul. Many have bemoaned the lack of human storytelling based on goodness and love. I say thank you to Susan McMartin for sharing a serving of her life with us.

“Mr. Church” is an inspiring film about how family and the giving of ones self is far beyond anything money can buy.

T. August Green

Sully

Posted in Drama/History, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 15, 2016 by T. August Green

sully

Almost everyone knows the story about the “Miracle on the Hudson.” But I would venture to say few know the depth of the story behind the event, and even fewer about the man himself.

Tom Hanks seldom lays an egg in front of a camera, and Clint Eastwood has shown his prowess as a director enough times to foster high expectations. In the case of “Sully,” neither man disappoints.

This film places you not only in those tense moments in the cockpit of Flight 1549, but squarely into the nightmares, second guessing, and stressful aftermath of living through such an unprecedented disaster. We all know the amazing outcome of not losing a single soul on board, but the toll it took on the lives of Captain Sullenberger and his First Officer Jeffery Skiles was heavy indeed.

The National Transportation and Safety Board always has the unenviable task of investigating any such event, and in this case, in the face of a media onslaught, they strive for answers to the questions no one wants to ask. For the sake of dramatic effect I imagine, the NTSB plays the role of the antagonist as they attempt to prove the flight could have returned to the airport for the emergency landing rather than the Hudson River.

Aaron Eckhart breathes life and personality into Jeffery Skiles, who is not only Sully’s co-pilot but his staunch supporter every step of the way. Laura Linney has the small role of Sully’s wife, but she pours overwhelming emotion into every phone conversation with her husband as she faces her own battles on the home front. The every day lives of both her and their children are badgered by the press at every turn, raising the stress level to near boiling.

Many other smaller roles are filled as the members of New York’s Finest, and I do mean finest because the NYPD scuba team along with the Port Authority Ferry Boat crews responded to the downed aircraft with heroic speed. They were on site and rescued all 155 passengers and crew in a scant 24 minutes. Not enough can be said for their life-saving reaction time, especially in the light of river water at a deathly 36 degrees.

As the hearing for the loss of Flight 1549 draws to a close, all members involved don headsets to listen to the full cockpit/tower recording, and in those fateful moments we re-live the entire event as it happened. In this brilliant piece of film-making, we see all of the hallmark traits and moments that prove the experience and skill of Captain Sullenberger.

Aircraft don’t pull over and correct problems, and when things go wrong, cool heads, steady hands, and split second evaluation drive decision making under duress. In this high risk world of rapidly decreasing choices, Captain Sullenberger made command decisions and exercised all his ability for the best chance to survive.

We all know his gamble paid off in the best way possible, but you owe it to yourself to let Tom Hanks and Clint Eastwood tell you this story as you’ve never seen it before. Make sure to stay through the end credits for special visit from the passengers of Flight 1549 and their incredible Captain. Bravo, to one and all!

T. August Green

Pete’s Dragon (2016)

Posted in Children, Drama/Comedy, Theater Show with tags , , , , , , , , on August 13, 2016 by T. August Green

PetesDragon

When you were a kid, did you ever have a pet dog who was your best friend in the world? Were they forever by your side, playing or resting, missed you when you weren’t home, and would instantly defend you from anything they thought was a threat? Now imagine that dog was 20 ft tall, had wings to fly, and could camouflage itself in any surrounding…and you’ve got the basis for “Pete’s Dragon.”

Young Pete’s discovery of a new friend in the northwest woods is as charming as it is simplistic, but great fairy tales come to life need not be complex. Robert Redford’s character says it all when he tells his daughter, “Sometimes, you just have to feel the magic.”

Director David Lowery gets the best from Redford and Bryce Dallas Howard as the classic father/daughter duo, as well as Wes Bentley and Karl Urban in the roles of diverse brothers. Everyone fills their piece of the story around young Oakes Fegley, who shines the innocent love of a little boy for his best friend. Each human is just relevant enough to make Elliot the Dragon believable. (Because you catch yourself wishing you could be Pete.)

All too often, remakes of classic films tend to fizzle or lose that original spark that made them great, but “Pete’s Dragon” takes a step into the modern world. Not only does it benefit from current CG technology, it brings a truckload of heart along with it, in many ways surpassing the original.

This film is a delight for all ages, and if you happen to be on the higher end of the age range, just remember that pet from your youth, how much you loved them, and how hard it was when it was time to say goodbye. (Kleenex may be required)

But fear not, “Pete’s Dragon” finds the Disney silver lining in the mountain mists. All you have to do is reach back for that child-like moment when you still believed in magic, and the pet you still love to this day.

  • T. August Green

Zootopia (Home Video)

Posted in Animation, Children, Comedy, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on August 2, 2016 by T. August Green

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“Zootopia” is one of the best efforts from Disney in a long dry spell. Armed with lots of punchy comedy, great sight gags, and plenty of pop-culture barbs, the film about human-like mammals touches on many social issues and sends a strong message in all the right places.

Funny and fun to watch, the voice talents of its stellar cast bring life to each character in relevant ways with just enough animal behavior to keep you in stitches. Jason Bateman pours his best smooth and snarky attitude into Nick Wilde, the ultimate sly fox con-man who falls under the watchful eye of Judy Hopps, the first bunny on the city police force.

Ginnifer Goodwin delivers a hyper-dose of perky over-achiever that is perfect for Judy, who leaves the carrot farm for the job in the big city. The unlikely pair are forced to help each other solve a larger wave of crime plaguing the city as the learn trust and friendship along the way.

Bring the kids and prepare to feel like one yourself along with the toe-tapping, dance-in-the-aisles soundtrack. Two big human thumbs way up!

Concussion (theatrical release)

Posted in Drama/History, Theater Show with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2015 by T. August Green

ConcussionMovie

The dictionary definition of Drama is; any situation or series of events having vivid, emotional, conflicting, or striking interests and results.

 

To call Concussion a drama is a massive understatement, especially if you’re a fan of the game of football. There is no other game that captures the hearts and minds of this country the way football does, and every year as summer wanes to the crisp nights of autumn our tribal instincts are tapped. We dress ourselves with loyal colors and proudly proclaim our allegiance to chosen teams. We cheer with elation in victory and suffer bitterness in defeat, yet with each passing week we raise our spirits once again on any given Sunday.

The players are often referred to as warriors, gladiators, or heroes, but we console ourselves that the game is only a game and not a ruthless bloodsport. We reinforce those thoughts by watching former players as sports commentators, successful businessmen, or those who stand to receive the golden jacket of the Hall of Fame.

Little do we know how much we are shielded from the slow, painful death of the once proud giants of the gridiron. Dr. Bennet Omalu was not a football fan, but a forensic pathologist working for the Allegheny County Coroner’s office. He was considered odd by his peers as he spoke personally to the deceased patients as he performed autopsies, asking for their help in determining the cause of death. To say that Dr. Omalu was thorough would be selling him short. Instead, he was passionate about details until all the information finally added up to a conclusive explanation.

I could spill many superlatives about the performance of Will Smith as Dr. Omalu, but the highest praise would be that after a short time, you forget you’re looking at Will Smith as he struggles at each step to be heard under the barrage of unpopular rebuttal. This becomes all the more potent since the audience knows this isn’t fiction, but hard, brutal truth.

There are thought-provoking dramas, and there are dramas with enormous impact. There are David and Goliath stories, and those about how one man stands against unbelievable odds, refusing to give up the fight no matter the cost. Dr. Bennet Omalu was still a Nigerian immigrant at the time he stood tall against the behemoth we know as the National Football League. At every turn he was told to back down and be silent, but for him, the broken players cried out from beyond the grave, begging and demanding to be heard.

Veteran character actor Robert Morse breathes painful life into the last days of Pittsburgh Steeler center Mike Webster, putting a harrowing face on the pro football legend that fell into the pit of poverty and despair. Reduced to living in his pickup truck, suffering from massive chronic headaches and complete loss of the ability to maintain cognitive thought, he tumbled into agonizing self-abuse that cost him his home, family, and ultimately his life. Other former team-mates watched as they suffered similar symptoms in various degrees, but cat-scan technology of the time revealed no obvious disorder.

Albert Brooks lends his dry, sarcastic wit to the role of Dr. Cyril Wecht, supervisor of the Allegheny County Coroner’s Office. Wecht trusts the judgment of his quirky pathologist and stands by him while delivering the sober warning, “The NFL is so big they own a day of the week. People used to go to church on Sunday, now they watch football.”

Trapped in an antagonizing purgatory, Alec Baldwin delivers pure, heartfelt emotion to the role of Dr. Julian Bailes, a former NFL team doctor now in private practice. Like so many of us, Bailes grew up on the passion for football and to become a team doctor was a dream come true. However, the reality became bittersweet beyond imagination as he watched the players he loved beg him to use any means available to keep them in the game. The vicious cycle of pain-killing that ultimately reduced them to a shadow of themselves was more than he could live with, forcing him to leave his broken dream behind. Mike Webster was his personal friend, and he desperately tried to help but was at a loss on how to proceed.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw shines as Prema, the strong but soft-spoken wife of Omalu that stands beside him through his inner struggles, as well as the onslaught of threats and counter-attacks on his work and findings. They epitomize the example of young people who come to America filled with enormous aspirations only to find how truly difficult acceptance and respect can be to obtain.

An impressive cast list fills out the remaining roles of players and executives, combining to show the long reach and muscle of the National Football League. The double-edged sword of all the positive things football brings to our society and lifestyle are well showcased, but Omalu is unrelenting in his quest to bring the truth to light. Within his own home, he lives with the irony that his wife admires the grace and power of the pro football player, watching and shouting at the television as so many of us do. Yet in these moments of awe and elation, she sees the pressing, vital need of her husband’s research.

Ultimately, as more players fell, the results of Omalu’s findings could not be denied.

This is a powerful and moving film about the human condition of those we too often view as super-human, and the impact of life off the field. The people tasked with the health of football players face the monumental dilemma of providing care for gladiators who want nothing more than to return to the fight. Their mindset in most cases is all they have ever known, and a goal they have pursued with a fiery strength of will.

Dr. Bennet Omalu reached out with gentle, caring hands to embrace a fallen giant, and with fierce loyalty to the spirit of his patient, he provided the humane immortality Mike Webster could not communicate to the world.

Not only is Concussion Will Smith’s finest hour, it is the revelation of a painful reality that cannot be spoken loud enough. This is a MUST-SEE film for any fan of pro football, if only to showcase that for all the thrills these magnificent athletes display in the hundred-yard arena, at end of the day they are as human as any of us. The sunset of their lives deserves the dignity of what they sacrificed for the game, and the entertainment of the millions of fans who watched them.

-T. August Green