Ghost in a Shell (2017)

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Ghost in a Shell directed by Rupert Sanders and based on the cult-favorite Japanese Manga of the same name by Masamune Shirow  is yet another valiant but flawed effort from Hollywood in converting foreign works to mass directed blockbusters. The original source material which boasted stunning visuals and a heady existential and philosophical questions appear to have been diluted in its live-action recreation. Perhaps, in its effort to ensure mass appeal, the writers felt the need to make the movie fit into the now-too-familiar trope of the dystopian fad,  resulting in many of the complex questions of the original to be glossed over.

Although the movie is not one to write home about, it is still a beautifully made film with memorable set pieces that in themselves make it worth the watch. That being said, I feel that this movie, given its desire to have a wider audience and its sacrificing of the source materials more difficult aspects, felt tepid when it came to its action sequences. Even the famous fight between the invisible major and the hacked assassin failed to translate in this film. The fight scenes not only failed to give the film a shot of adrenaline that would have pleased a good chunk of its target audience but they were also largely forgettable.

All in all, the ghost of the movie felt too weak to shine through the glossy veneer of its shell.

Rating: B-

The Leftovers (TV series)

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Rating: A

How do you write about a show like The Leftovers? The first five episodes of the show were probably the most depressing I have ever watched for some time. Dealing with the lives of the people who lost families and friends in an event called the Sudden Departure where two percent of the global population disappeared- this is definitely no light TV serving. And yet, you stick to it — intrigued, puzzled and more importantly relating to the characters and their often futile attempts at normality and sanity. But as Emily Nussbaum’s review similarly observes, a sudden shift in tone and pace takes place in episode 6 (The Guest) with a focus on one of the most compelling characters of the series, Nora Durst (played by Carrie Coon) and an episode of stolen identity and magical hugs. It reminds me of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez short story—- of surreal events brought around or happening in the most mundane circumstances.

A hard-sell of a show but a satisfying think piece for those who are brave enough to take the plunge.

 

Black Sails (Season 1)

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Rating: B

Just finished the first season of Starz’ Black Sails and in true Starz fashion, there was a lot of violence and sex in the series. But just like Starz’ other shows such as Spartacus and Pillars of the Earth, there is more to these series than gratuitous nudity and unnecessary gore. True, these elements are great ratings bait but beyond that, Starz managed to carve a niche for itself- showcasing bold shows that aren’t completely zombie fodder.

Black Sails is a prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson‘s novel Treasure Island and tells the story of a band of pirates under the command of Captain James Flint and their quarry, Spanish treasure galleon Urca de LimaThe first few episodes, introducing the characters and painting a picture of the Golden Age of Piracy boasts great cinematography and believable effects but doesn’t quite sell the characters quite well. Propelled by an engaging plot and dangling a number of loose ends, the show gets better as it draws to the end of its eight-episode season, ensuring that audience would definitely want to stick around for season 2.

Overall, it’s a good but not great show. I’ve already read a number of reviews and many are in agreement that character development is lacking in the first season. However, reviews grow more positive in the succeeding seasons. And despite the not so stellar turnout of the first season, it has managed to pique my curiosity and I intend to find out what happens in the next season.

 

 

Book Review: Bel Canto (2001) by Ann Patchett

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Rating: A

Set in an unnamed South American country, a party is thrown in honor of a visiting Japanese tycoon goes awry when a small guerilla band, intending to take the president as hostage, breaks in. Unfortunately, the president has opted not to attend in favor of watching his favorite soap opera resulting in the taking of the entire party as hostage.

Loosely based on the Japanese embassy hostage crisis (or Lima crisis) of 1996–1997, the novel portrays at what can happen when people with no common language and from widely different backgrounds find themselves having to live with each other as  negotiation drags on.

Among the hostages are Mr. Hosokawa, the Japanese businessman and opera enthusiast; his translator, Gen; Roxanne Cross, a celebrated opera singer; and Reuben Iglesias, the vice president and other dignitaries and guest. And as the negotiations with the government drags on with weeks turning into months and drawn together by the appreciation of music and opera, unlikely relationships begin to grow between the hostages and their captors.

A subtle, lyrical and beautiful meditation on how friendships and love can be found in the unlikeliest places.

 

 

Fourth Man Out (2015)

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Andrew Nackman’s Fourth Man Out, a funny and endearing take on a young man’s coming out experience. Adam (Evan Todd), a closeted garage mechanic decides on his 24th birthday that it’s time to break the news to his friends: Chris (Parker Young), Ortu (Jon Gabrus), and Nick (Chord Overstreet).

This isn’t your angst-ridden and gloomy gay movie where the homosexual experience is depicted as one ordeal after another but a rather idealized, humorous, and heartfelt portrayal of the coming out theme. Sure, there are bumps along the road- but they are mostly shown as hurdles that only make the reward at the end all the more sweeter.

Rating: B+

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Jackie (2016)

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Another brilliant performance from Natalie Portman who portrays the iconic Jackie Kennedy in this film, following her life after the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy, in 1963. This thoughtful and revealing film is clearly an acting piece for Portman who might have seen it as a challenge for her acting chops aside from chance of playing such an iconic character.

Although despite Portman’s excellent acting I felt that the film fell short of capturing the full potential of many of the scenes of Jackie’s life that they chose to include in the film. In particular, the film’s non-linear storytelling strategy which has been employed to great effect in a number of other films instead took away from the gravity of certain moments in the narrative. Take for instance the rather forgettable birthday scene of her son which happens just a few days after the death of her husband.

On the other hand, the active mythmaking and the securing of her husband’s legacy that Jackie fights for during a large part of the film are also its most powerful and effective scenes. Here, we see a glimpse of the powerful woman behind the rather sterilized and much-marketed fashion icon image of Jackie Kenney.

Recommendation: Watch it for Natalie Portman’s performance and as an incentive to learn more about Jackie.

 

Preacher (Season 1)

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Preacher  developed by Sam Catlin, Evan Goldberg, and Seth Rogen for AMC starring Dominic Cooper is a welcome addition to my list of top shows to watch. A dark comedy featuring a small-town preacher with a dubious past who suddenly becomes a host to a mysterious entity that allows him to literally compel people to think and act in a certain way through speech. Initially half-heartedly taking on his father’s church and duties, Jesse Custer upon discovering his new abilities, realizes that he now has the power to effect actual change to the lives of his flock. Naturally, everything comes with a price and we see him making more problems that actually solving them. In one of the best moments of the show, he accidentally sends a teenager, Eugene Root / “Arseface”, to hell. Throw into the mix, his Irish, vampire best friend, Cassidy who quite literally dropped down from the sky and his extremely capable ex-girlfriend,  Tulip O’Hare and you have a rip-roaring fun show that doesn’t shy from asking questions often skirted by other shows who are often too quick to borrow religious elements but would rather gloss over the tricky parts.

Aside from the great acting particularly from Ruth Negga and Dominic Cooper, the show’s season finale is one for the books. Don’t take my word for it and watch it.