Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (Mamoru Oshii)
Following the acclaimed Ghost in the Shell, this installment follows Bato through a maze of virtual worlds and crazed robots as he tries to discover the reason for a string of brutal murders committed by semi-sentient play-bots (dolls). Beneath all this is the mysterious disappearance of the Major and her connection to Bato.
Pros: Absolutely stunning visually. This film has taken Japanese animation to new heights, in my opinion, and any films that cannot match its beauty are missing something vital. The story in this, while hard to follow, is brilliant. There are a lot of fantastic ideas being portrayed here as far as cyberpunk is concerned. This is a must see.
Cons: As mentioned, the story can be hard to follow and this one suffers from being quite obviously a serious film. There is little comedic relief here (though some). If you can’t devote your full attention to this one, then don’t bother. Rating: 4/5
The Call of Cthulu
This attempt at recreating one of Lovecraft’s most celebrated horror stories as a silent movie follows a small cast of related characters as they try to unravel the mysteries of the monstrous Cthulu.
Pros: A novel attempt, that’s for sure. The producers of this film went all out to recreate the silent movie film, albeit on updated film technologies. It has a certain kind of Lovecraftian charm to it that would otherwise be lost to those unfamiliar with his work.
Cons: As much as the directors tried to justify why they wanted to go with the silent movie approach (some nonsense about how the only good way to do Cthulu is to do a silent movie, and more nonsense about how silent movies don’t have dialogue, which they do), the entire project falls apart. This might have been terrifying in 1920, but we are in the freaking millennium, and as such, there’s no logical reason why one cannot update Lovecraft so that it might actually scare the crap out of viewers today. The silent movie approach doesn’t work anymore, and so anything that might be taken from Lovecraft ends up lost in the attempt to keep with his time period. It’s cut, but it just doesn’t work.
The God Who Wasn’t There (Brian Flemming, Documentary)
Flemming’s controversial short documentary takes a stab at Biblical accuracy and the problem of fundamentalist religion.
Pros: A lot of brilliant observations are made here. Flemming is decent at making his point without dabbling in loads of slightly inaccurate facts and the like. It raises a lot of good questions and grounds itself firmly in the authority of some notable historians.
Cons: Some of the points need stronger backing. I think this is too short to be as effective as it should be, and the ending falls far from the mark it needed to hit. There were a lot of great things in the middle, but Flemming needed to take this further. One of the things that bothered me about this documentary is that Flemming does not have the flair of non-theist critics like Dawkins or Hutchins. He needs to work on that.
The Mists of Avalon (Anjelica Houston)
Based on Marian Zimmer Bradley’s novel, this take on Arthurian legend takes a look at the events through the eyes of the women. From the birth of Arthur to the rise of his son, Mordred.
Pros: The visuals are nice and the music is okay. The story takes forever to get to the meat and potatoes, but once it does, at least it is somewhat interesting. Too bad for all the other bits, though. It could be worse.
Cons: Characterization is absolutely wretched in this movie. Characters act in ways that make no sense (parents just letting their children be whisked off forever, willy nilly, with barely any protest, and other things like that). This movie was supposed to highlight the women, which it does, but ultimately it made me hate the women more than I did the men. Why? Because all but a handful of the women are scheming, conniving, backstabbing witches. Only one or two of the characters are remotely likable. Also, the cast for this is a mixed bag (I think Julianna Margulies is a terrible choice; she’s annoying when she cries). Anjelica Huston is awesome, but she is not given a great role here. The men are inconsequential precisely because they are shoved off to the side. I could go on, but I’ll cut it off here. This one just sucks. Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that apparently people didn’t age during King Arthur’s days…
The Man Who Wasn’t There (Billy Bob Thornton)
Set in post-WW2 America, this tale of a barber disillusioned with his relatively meaningless life and his cheating wife collects together murder, blackmail, and noir to create an interesting psychological piece.
Pros: The visuals are quite appealing and all of the actors fit right into place. The story itself is rather interesting, but, to be honest, the plot is mostly irrelevant. The key purpose of this tale is to examine the psychological arch of the main character.
Cons: Some parts move rather slow and the feeling of the piece is, I think, problematic for most viewing audiences. There is not a lot of action here and most it is told in an internal monologue style. This makes for a piece that is incredibly introverted. It’s good, but imperfect in that regard.
And there you have it. Comments appreciated!