Film review: Ghost In The Shell

170323095718-ghost-in-the-shell-movie-full-169jpg

Ghost in the Shell is out now on Digital Download.

106 minutes

Directed by: Rupert Sanders

Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Michael Carmen Pitt, Pilou Asbaek, Chin Han, Juliette Binoche

First, the good news: in 2017, for the first time ever a superhero film starring a genuine actual woman person proved a big hit at the box office.

However, it wasn’t Ghost in the Shell. It was Wonder Woman.

The mystery, of course, is not so much why this happened but why this hadn’t happened before. There are a few possible explanations:

Explanation 1: Cinema audiences are all similar in character to Donald Trump. They claim to like women but secretly fear and despise them (even the ones who are female themselves): Happily, FALSE. Resident Evil, Underworld, Tomb Raider and other female-led non-superhero films have done well with audiences after all. As did Wonder Woman…

Explanation 2: No one outside the Geekzone knew about characters like Elektra, Aeon Flux, Catwoman and the franchise Ghost in the Shell. Everyone knows Wonder Woman: Probably TRUE, yes. Except in the case of Catwoman, who everyone knew but which was truly dreadful.

Explanation 3: That’s just it! Wonder Woman was actually good. All those other films were bad! Surprisingly, this is generally TRUE too (although Ghost in the Shell, as we shall see, isn’t bad). But why should this be…?

Explanation 4: Women are just bad at playing superheroes. FALSE! Garner, Theron, Johansson were and are all good actresses. It’s not just Gil Gadot, great as she is.

ghost-in-the-shell-movie-image-scarlett-johansson-motoko

Explanation 5: Filmmakers really haven’t got the knack of making superhero films for women until now. Oddly, this is more likely to be the explanation than anything else.

Perhaps I am wrong to group Ghost In The Shell alongside these other films. It is arguably a different kettle of fish. It is science fiction, a direct remake of the Japanese anime which is  in fact one of the most successful animes  there had ever been. it’s Blade Runner type setting is reasonably visually impressive and the film is certainly action packed. Johansson is fine as the synthetic human who has been transformed into an anti-terrorist operative  although it is difficult to reject the widespread criticism that an Asian actress would have been more suitable for the part.

Ghost In The Shell is never awful but it isn’t especially original, lacks a sense of humour and is sometimes quite boring. Great films do sometimes fail at the box office. This did fail but ultimately really isn’t great.

Ghost-in-the-Shell-Trailer-Scarlett-Johansson

Star Wars book reviews: 2017

rogue-one-jyn-ersa-geared-up

Let’s face it: here is something about Star Wars. Nothing compares to it. It is simultaneously one of the biggest films of all time and a cult favourite. These reviews cover just a small sample of the huge range of Star Wars books released (mostly) in the past year. 2017 is, of course, the 40th anniversary of the original film’s release. The strange thing is none  of these books are even being released because of that. There are always just lots of Star Wars books being released anyway and these are some of them.

r1-profiles

Art of Colouring: Rogue One A Star Wars Story and Star Wars Rogue One Profiles And Pictures have both been released by Egmont to capitalise on the success of the recent mildly enjoyable Rogue One film. The colouring book has its weaknesses -why would any one want too colour in storm troopers who are black and white anyway? – but both are otherwise competent enough. Make Your Own U-Wing (also Egmont) similarly does exactly what it says on the tin.

colouring

A more philosophical supposedly grown-up approach to the franchise is taken by former Obama Administration official Cass R. Sunstein in The World According To Star Wars (pub: William Morrow) which is good but mostly silly.

bz4v-square-orig-1

Much the best book on the history of the franchise is Chris Taylor’s How Star Wars Conquered The Universe (Head Zeus, 2015). Utterly absorbing and totally comprehensive.

taylor-how-star-pb

Finally, before her untimely death last year, Carrie Fisher’s memoir The Princess Diarist (Bantam Press, 2016) generated a disturbance in the Force by revealing the then teenage actress’s on set affair with Han Solo actor Harrison Ford, then in his thirties and nearing the end of his first marriage.

u-wing

“I love you!””I know!” is the couple’s famous exchange in the film. And we should know  too. The affair is already referred to in Chris Taylor’s book mentioned above.

Fisher’s final book is not really a fitting tribute to her formidable talent. The diary extracts written by her younger self are not really fit for publication. The rest is lightweight fare from a great writer on lazy form.

Ultimately, though no books have been released entitled How Smokey and the Bandit (which was released at about the same time as Star Wars) Conquered The Universe. Why? Because Star Wars is utterly unique. Truly, a Force unto itself.

fisher

 

Book review: Magic Words: The Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore

warrior-4-front-cover

In 1978, Alan Moore decided to quit the job at the Nottingham gas board and dedicate himself full time to breaking into the comics industry as a writer. It was a high risk strategy. He was twenty four years old and his young wife was pregnant. But Moore saw it as his last chance to exchange a job he hated for a career he loved.

Success came slowly with occasional one-off stories (Tharg’s Futureshocks) in the new science fiction comic 2000AD. Late came Skizz, D.R. and Quinch and my own personal favourite The Ballad of Halo Jones. More success came through the short lived and inappropriately titled Warrior comic (it was not war-related at all). Moore provided the backbone to the comic between 1982 and 1985, most famously with V For Vendetta, set in a late 1990s futuristic fascist dystopia. He also wrote Marvelman, now known as Miracleman, a promising superhero strip derailed by a legal dispute with Marvel Comics. This proved an forerunner to his greatest success, DC’s The Watchmen.

ballad-of-halo-jones-book-3

Today, Alan Moore is still in Nottingham, in his sixties and one of the most successful comic writers ever albeit one with a bit of reputation for disputes with his employers or prospective filmmakers attempting to adapt his works (Moore has famously never seen any of the four films directly based on his works).

His fascinating story is detailed thoroughly by the always excellent Lance Parkin in this comprehensive biography.

Magic Words: The Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore by Lance Parkin, published by Aurum Press (2013)

magic-words-alan-moore-w

Book review: The Impossible Has Happened by Lance Parkin

The Impossible Has Happened

The Impossible Has Happened: The Life and Work of Gene Roddenberry, Creator of Star Trek. Author: Lance Parkin. Aurum Press. Published: July 21st 2016.

It has been fifty years since the creation of Star Trek and the franchise is undeniably going strong. A new film and a new TV series are both scheduled to appear later this year.

Twenty five years after his death, the reputation of the series creator Gene Roddenberry is more uncertain. On the one hand, he has been subject to a personality cult almost as elaborate as that surrounding Scientology creator and sci-fi author. On the other hand, he has been demonised as a fraud, a philanderer and a phoney. The truth, as usual, lies somewhere in between.

He was born in 1921 and served with distinction as a pilot in the Second World War. After the war, ironically he came very close to death in a Pan Am air crash which killed seven people in 1947. He served in the US police force drifting into TV writing and creating one non-Star Trek series, a police-themed one called The Lieutenant. He then created Star Trek which ran for three series between 1966 and 1968. At the time, it was neither very successful or a failure. Mission Impossible which ran at about the same time was probably more successful. Leonard Nimoy indeed joined the Mission Impossible cast after Star Trek ended. But unexpectedly, Star Trek became a huge success after it had ended through syndicated repeat showings. The show grew and grew and grew.

Many of the myths surrounding Star Trek seem to come from stories Roddenberry himself told at science fiction conventions in the 1970s. Some had the commendable aim of consolidating a following for the series but others clearly had more to do with Roddenberry’s ego. Yes, the series did end after three series but Roddenberry’s claims that it was ended unfairly by small-minded producers don’t add up. It was no longer profitable and the last series was significantly worse than the others. Roddenberry also subsequently exaggerated his own role as a champion of equality and civil rights claiming falsely that he fought narrow minded studio heads over the issue In fact, though he wasn’t racist by mid-20th century standards, the 1960s series only ever featured as many other minorities as most other US TV series of the time. Nichelle Nicholls’ Uhura, for example, was barely ever given anything important to do. She was one of many women Roddenberry had affairs with and in truth, the original series really didn’t have a progressive role towards women at all.

Leonard Nimoy certainly grew to hate Roddenberry. The man would often claim sole credit for the success of the series, ignoring the contribution of many others. He had no role at all in the making of the most acclaimed film 1982’s The Wrath of Khan (which he hated) and his own increasingly drunken, ageing cocaine-addled influence partly explains why the ultimately excellent Next Generation series had such a dull start.

Author Lance Parkin provides a balanced portrait of a man who for all his many flaws took TV on a journey where no one had gone before.

StarTrekFEATURE

Blu-ray review: High-Rise

HighRisePoster

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Sienna Miller, Jeremy Irons, Keeley Hawes, Elisabeth Moss, Reece Shearsmith. Director: Ben Wheatley. Released: June 18th 2016.Studio Canal

Anarchy has often made material for some surprisingly dull films.

As exciting (or depending on your viewpoint) terrifying as a good riot may be, its difficult to maintain the sustained energy of a genuine rumpus for long on screen. It’s true Quadrophenia was enlivened by a memorable battle between Mods and Rockers while Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing was essentially all a big build up to an urban riot. But JG Ballard’s celebrated 1975 dystopian drama High-Rise is all about a riot: essentially a sky rise building’s not so gradual descent into violence and barbarism. How long can a film continue to shock, titillate and surprise you over a two hour period?

Quite a lot as it happens. Hot British director Ben Wheatley (Sightseers) is in many ways a perfect fit for this sort of thing and ably assisted by a cast of beautiful and not so beautiful people, this just about works while never quite scaling the heights of a novel which has influenced everything from the Blockmania of Judge Dredd to David Cronenberg’s early tower block based horror Shivers.

Indeed, as the accompanying featurette on author JG Ballard reminds us, Cronenberg is one of a number of directors (along with Spielberg) to tackle the late author’s books before. Set in a futuristic version of the Britain of the 1970s and featuring audio commentaries and interviews with cast and crew, High-Rise probably won’t be your favourite film of this year. But it will probably be one of the more interesting.

 

 

Book review: Star Wars latest Egmont titles

Adventures_in_Wild_Space_cover

Some of you may not like to hear this, but Star Wars is to some extent supposed to be children. How else do you explain the Ewoks? Jar Jar Binks? Cast your minds back: Who are the stars of the opening scenes of the original film? Luke? Obi Wan? No. C3PO and R2D2. Doubtless you yourself were a child when you were first sucked in by the Force. It is thus hardly surprising then that the franchise (now ultimately ran by Disney) is still keen to attract as young audience.

tumblr_o15gzg6lvr1txyxg8o1_1280

With this in mind, Egmont Publishing have released the following three books aimed at children of eight and above in a new series entitled Adventures In Wild Space. These focus on Milo and Lina Graf who embark on a perilous journey across space to rescue their parents who have been kidnapped by agents of the Empire. The action takes place between the events of Revenge of the Sith (the last and best of the three prequels) and A New Hope (otherwise known as the”first” one). All three books are good fun and have pictures throughout.

Adventures_in_Wild_Space_The_Nest_cover

They are:

Star Wars: Adventures In Wild Space: The Snare by Cavan Scott

Star Wars: Adventures In Wild Space: The Nest by Tom Huddleston

Star Wars: Adventures In Wild Space: The Escape by Cavan Scott (a prequel to the other two in truer confusing Star Wars style).

bounty hunt

Also released are a novelisation of The Force Awakens by Michael Kogge, a picture book version of the same recent enjoyable film and a fun flap-lifting interactive book set in the Star Wars universe, Bounty Hunt.

SW pic bookStar Wars Force Awakens Novel

Book review: 2001: A Space Odyssey

Book review: 2001: A Space Odyssey.

By Arthur C. Clarke.

Illustrations by Joe Wilson.

Published by The Folio Society.

All illustrations from The Folio Society edition of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

. © JoeWilson2016

2001: A Space Odyssey is a long film. Having experienced both it and the actual year 2001, it must be said the film seemed the longer of the two.

In summary: Music. Prehistoric ape men throwing bones into the air. Spaceships moving very slowly to classical music. Leonard Rossiter. The excellent HAL shutdown sequence. The space baby bit which nobody really understands. Many hippies came away in 1968 thinking they had seen the best film ever made. Perhaps they were right. No one had after all, seen Timecop then.

Some muse that the film proves that director Stanley Kubrick helped fake the Apollo 11 moon landings the following year. This seems unlikely. Kubrick was after all a very meticulous director, famous for insisting upon multiple takes. If he had been hired to film the moon landings, they would probably still be being filmed.

This is not the film, however, it is Arthur C. Clarke’s much more palatable book, illustrated for the first time (by artist Joe Wilson). It is not a predictive text. Having cleverly predicted the moon landings would be in 1970 (he made the prediction in 1945 and was only one year out!) Clarke seems to have been about a century out at least in predicting how advanced we would be by 2001. Anyone hoping for the discovery of a giant space baby in that year would have been sorely disappointed.

But this is ultimately an enjoyable and nicely illustrated read. Scoring it out of 2,500, I would unhesitatingly give it…2001.

Star Wars timeline: From A New Hope to The Force Awakens

 

forceawakens

A long time ago…

1977:

The first film, initially entitled just Star Wars is released. It is an unexpectedly big hit, easily beating its nearest rivals Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Smokey and the Bandit to become the biggest US film of 1977. Taking inflation into account, as of 2015, it is the third biggest grossing film of all time. None of the younger members of the cast are well known at the time of the film’s release. Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia)j is  the daughter of actors Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds.  Harrison Ford (Han Solo), an ex-carpenter had appeared in director George Lucas’s second film American Graffiti and had been in the as yet unreleased, much delayed Vietnam epic Apocalypse Now (1979).  Mark Hamill plays Luke Skywalker, a character Lucas once envisaged being called “Luke Starkiller”.

1978:

Star Wars is nominated for the Best Picture Oscar but loses to Woody Allen’s acclaimed comedy Annie Hall. No other Star Wars films have been nominated for Best Picture his in the years since. In fact, no science fiction film has ever won the Best Picture (although Avatar appears to have come close).

The first toys and novelisations of the saga appear. Some of the books contradict things which occur later in the films (some feature Luke and Leia marrying, for example).

The famously terrible Star Wars Holiday Special is broadcast on US TV.

star-wars-cinematography

1980:

Star Wars Episode V The Empire Strikes Back is released.  The first film is now dubbed Star Wars Episode IV A New Hope (in 1981) and prequels are clearly planned for the future. Empire is directed not by George Lucas but by Irvin Kershner. New characters include Yoda, Lando Calrissian and Boba Fett. Debate continues to rage as to whether A New Hope or Empire are better.

Hamill also appears in World War II drama The Big Red One this year, in a largely futile bid to escape typecasting.

empire

1982:

Star Trek II changes its name from The Vengeance of Khan to The Wrath of Khan, to avoid any confusion with the forthcoming Star Wars film, Revenge of the Jedi.  In the end, the Star Wars sequel’s name becomes Return of the Jedi anyway.

1983:

Episode VI Return of the Jedi directed by Welshman Richard Marquand is released. It is fondly remembered for the Ewoks and for Jabba the Hutt but is usually considered narrowly the worst of the original trilogy. It is still a smash hit though. There will be no more official Star Wars films for another 16 years. Indeed, at this point, Lucas seems less keen on the idea of ever producing episodes I-III at any point at all.

President Reagan, a Star Wars fan, calls his new ambitious (and ultimately unworkable) Strategic Defence Initiative, “Star Wars”.

star-wars-return-of-the-jedi

1984:

TV movie Caravan Of Courage: An Ewok Adventure is released. A follow up Ewoks: The Battle For Endor is released in 1985.

cindel-caravan-courage-ewoks

1985-1987:

The Ewoks, an animated series aimed at younger children, runs for two series.

1985-1986:

Animated series Droids starring C3P0 and R2D2 runs for one series, with Anthony Daniels reprising his role as C3PO. It is set somewhere before A New Hope but after the three as yet unmade prequels.

1987:

Ten years on from Star Wars, George Lucas seems to have abandoned plans for any Star Wars prequels and is distracted by Indiana Jones and Star Wars related projects as well as the aftermath of his divorce.

Star Wars has also trigged a sci-fi boom at the movies since 1977.

Carrie Fisher begins a career as a successful novelist with her semi-autobiographical novel Postcards From The Edge. Despite a troubled personal life, she enjoys smallish roles in The Blues Brothers, Hannah and Her Sisters and When Harry Met Sally during the decade. Harrison Ford is now one of the biggest stars in Hollywood thanks more to Indiana Jones and well received roles in the likes of Witness and Blade Runner than specifically to Star Wars itself. Hamill, stung after being rejected for Tom Hulce’s role in Amadeus (1984) has taken a break from acting.

Mel Brooks releases his rather belated Star Wars spoof Spaceballs. Featuring Pizza the Hutt and the catchphrase “the Schwartz be with you,” it receives mixed reviews.

Jedi director Richard Marquand dies suddenly, age 49.

george-lucas-museum

1992:

Now in his forties, Mark Hamill begins voicing The Joker, for Batman The Animated Series. It proves to be probably his most successful non-Star Wars role and leads to lots of other voice work.

1993

Lucas announces plans to make three films set before the 1977-83 trilogy, after all.

yoda-main

1994:

Peter Cushing (Grand Moff Tarkin) dies, aged 81.

1997

To mark the franchise’s 20th birthday Special Editions of all three films. Although many fans are keen to see the films on the big screen, many are annoyed by the sometimes intrusive changes Lucas inserts into these and later new editions.

1999:

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace is released. It is directed by George Lucas and is his first film as director since 1977’s Star Wars. He also directs the two subsequent sequels Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. The cast (with the exception of newcomer Jake Lloyd who plays young Anakin) are, unlike the 1977 film, mostly quite well known already: Ewan McGregor , Natalie Portman, Liam Neeson, Samuel L. Jackson.

The Phantom Menace makes more money than any of the first six Star Wars films (ignoring inflation).

The film disappoints many however,  criticism (now often on the internet) largely centring on, the racial stereotyping evident in the character of some of the alien species, the character of Jar Jar Binks and the apparent overuse of CGI (and many other things). The character of Darth Maul proves popular, however.

Phantom-Menace-screencaps-star-wars-the-phantom-menace-27341714-1280-720

2000:

Sir Alec Guinness (Obi-Wan Kenobi) dies age 86. He did not enjoy the production of Star Wars (Harrison Ford dubbed him “Mother Superior” on set) but liked the finished product when he saw it. The role did make him very rich but he disliked the fact that he was soon better known for it than anything else in his forty years on screen.

Obi-Wan-Kenobi_6d775533

2002:

Episode II Attack of the Clones is released with Hayden Christiansen (then largely unknown and indeed still so, aside for this role) joins the cast as the older Anakin. A light sabre fight featuring Yoda proves popular and generally the film is slightly better received than Phantom (although does much less business).

Star-Wars-Episode-II-Attack-of-the-Clones

2003:

Genndy Tartakovsky produces Clone Wars, an acclaimed animated series set between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.

darth_maul_clone_wars_a_l

2005:

Episode III Revenge of the Sith, the third and final prequel is released. It is much more popular than either Phantom or Clones with fans and is the second highest grossing SW film thus far (ignoring inflation). Most fans prefer the 1977-83 trilogy, however. There are no more proper Star Wars films for another decade.

2008:

Star Wars: The Clone Wars, an animated film is released. It is panned by the critics and flops at the box office. Despite this, a new Star Wars: Clone Wars TV series begins. Tartakovsky, who was behind the first Clone Wars series is not involved.

clone wars annual

2010:

Empire director Irvin Kershner dies aged 86.

2012:

Disney buys the Star Wars franchise off Lucas for $4.05 billion or £2.5 billion. Plans for a new trilogy, the first directed by JJ Abrams, then at the helm of the two recent Star Trek films.

2013:

Clone Wars is cancelled as focus shifts towards the new films.

2014:

Star Wars Rebels, a 3D CGI animated series set between Revenge of the Sith but before A New Hope begins.

dooku

2015:

Rogue One, a spin off Star Wars film is due for release in 2016, followed by another spin off film based around Han Solo’s early years.

Ford, scheduled to feature in The Force Awakens is slightly injured in a light aircraft crash. His 73rd birthday is in July.

Christopher Lee (Count Dooku in the prequels, though better known for many other roles) dies aged 93.

The Force Awakens is scheduled for release later this month.

force awakens

Book review: Whoniverse – An Unofficial Planet By Planet Guide To The Universe of Doctor Who by Lance Parkin

who

Book review: Whoniverse – An Unofficial Planet By Planet Guide To The Universe of Doctor Who From Gallifrey To Skaro by Lance Parkin.

Published by: Aurum Press

Out: October 22nd 2015

The Doctor is in. And he is is likely to remain in for some time. Even ignoring the inconvenient interruption of the years from 1989 to 2005 (when aside from a failed TV movie, Doctor Who was not on TV), the series nevertheless has an impressive legacy, stretching back to 1963. And the universe within the show, helpfully covered by Lance Parkin here, obviously covers countless millennia and numerous imaginary worlds and timelines.

It perhaps goes without saying that this is a book for true fans of the series, starting as it does with almost academic sounding chapters entitled “the structure of the universe” before launching into accounts of the likes of Kaldor, Peladon and The Shadow Proclamation. This is not a history of the series or an episode guide but a guide to the wider Who universe. In truth, I am perhaps not a big enough Who fan to fully appreciate it. Many others would.

That said, with great pictures throughout taken from the show and the long running Doctor Who Magazine, this would be a worthy addition to any coffee table.

David_Tennant_hints_at_Doctor_Who_50th_anniversary_return

Book review: Where’s The Wookiee?

gbtv-wookiee-roar

Where’s The Wookiee?

Published by Egmont

Out now

Make no mistake: you definitely wouldn’t miss a Wookiee if you ever saw one in real life. They are tall, hairy and look like yetis. If you’ve seen the character Chewbacca in Episodes IV to VI (as in, the old, good ones) or in the trailer for The Force Awakens, you’ll know exactly what they look like, for he is the most famous of them all. There’s also a bunch of them in the most recent proper Star Wars film, Revenge of the Sith.

Of course, as they don’t actually exist in real life you’re unlikely to ever see a Wookiee outside a science fiction convention. This fun children’s book, essentially based on the format Where’s Wally or if you’re American, Where’s Waldo, allows you to spot a Wookie (and indeed other characters) amidst a busy but charming array of nicely illustrated crowd scenes. Sometimes you’ll spot him instantly. Sometimes it will take ages. But he’s always there. That’s just the way the Wookiee crumbles.

A great way to keep the children quiet for a good while then, especially if they love Wally (which by the way is no more a typical British name than Waldo is) and/or Star Wars.

As Chewbacca himself would say: “Yeeaarraagh grruuughhh muurraa yaarg!”

wookiee book