Here’s The Trailer For The Truth!


The Truth is a film about the strained relationship between an legendary actress (Catherine Deneuve) and her screenwriter daughter (Juliette Binoche).  Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda, it’s his first film to be set outside of Japan and not to be in his native language.  Completing the international feel of the production is Ethan Hawke, cast as Binoche’s husband.

The Truth received some favorable reviews when it played at both the Venice and the Toronto Film Festivals earlier this year.  It will be receiving a general release on March 20th of 2020.

Here’s the trailer!

Film Review: Ghost in the Shell (dir by Rupert Sanders)


Last night, I finally saw Ghost in the Shell.

Now, before I start in on this review, I should admit that I’m hardly an expert on the manga on which Ghost in the Shell was based.  (In fact, as soon as I wrote that previous sentence, I called my boyfriend over and had him read it, just to make sure that I was using the term manga correctly.)  A few years ago, I did watch Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 film version.  And while I don’t remember a whole lot about the animated Ghost in the Shell, I do remember that I was never bored while watching it.  I wish I could say the same about the live action Ghost in the Shell.

Don’t get me wrong.  The live action, Westernized Ghost In The Shell is truly a visually impressive film.  It takes place in the near future, in the fictional Japanese city of New Port City.  New Port City basically looks like the city from Blade Runner, just with a somewhat more colorful visual scheme.  Everywhere you look, there are gigantic holographic advertisements and sleek, neon buildings.  But, as advanced as New Port City may look at first sight, it’s also full of dark allies, cramped apartments, and gray cemeteries.  Visually, it’s a perfect mix of  outlandish science fiction and brooding film noir.

Or, at least, it is the first time that you see it.  Unfortunately, director Rupert Sanders has a habit of using the visuals as a crutch.  It seemed as if, every time a new plot point was clumsily introduced, we would suddenly cut to another shot of New Port City at night, as if the film was saying, “Don’t worry about narrative coherence!  Look at the city!”

After about 15 minutes, I decided to take the film up on its suggestion.  I stopped paying attention to the slow-moving story and I focused almost exclusively on the visuals.  That’s a shame really because, from what I understand, both the manga and the original film are deeply philosophical works that balance style with thematic depth.  Unfortunately, since there’s no real depth to the live action Ghost in the Shell, you really have no choice but to focus almost exclusively on the style.

Ghost in the Shell takes place in a world where the line between human and machine has become blurred.  Everyone is getting cybernetic upgrades done.  One character, Batou (Pilou Asbæk), even gets new eyes halfway through the film.  Major (Scarlett Johansson) is unique because, while her brain is human, her body is totally cybernetic.  She is a member of Section 9, an anti-terrorism task force.  Major has only vague flashes of memory of who she used to be.  She’s been told that her parents were killed by terrorists but she doesn’t know if that’s true or if that’s just more manipulation from Cutter (Peter Ferdinando).  (It’s no spoiler to say that Cutter turns out to be a not nice guy.  He’s the CEO of a Hanka Robotics and when was the last time you saw a movie where a robotics CEO didn’t turn out to be a not nice guy?)  After Section 9 thwarts a cyberterrorist attack against Hanka Robotics, Major starts to wonder who she is and who she can trust.  Everyone tells her that, because she has a human brain, she’s also a human.  But Major still feels lost and without an identity.  When she starts to get too close to discovering her past, Cutter sets out to not only destroy her but all of Section 9 as well…

There’s a really good movie in which Scarlett Johansson plays a lost soul looking for her identity in Japan.  It’s called Lost in Translation.  Or, if you just want to see Scarlett playing someone who is learning more and more about herself and what she’s capable of, you could go watch Lucy.  (I don’t care much for that movie but some people seemed to like it.)  Or, if you want to see Scarlett play an enigmatic being who explores the world while hiding her true form in a human shell, you can always go watch Under the Skin.

(I highly recommend Under the Skin, which is as thought-provoking as Ghost in the Shell is shallow.)

This is what’s frustrating.  Scarlett Johansson gives a really good performance in Ghost in the Shell but she’s continually let down by a script that refuses to take the time to really explore anything.  We get a scene or two of Major wondering what it means to be truly human but the movie is always more interested in getting to the next action scene.  There’s a lot of talk about what it means to be human but there’s no real exploration.  Ghost in the Shell has all the depth of one of those old sci-fi shows where aliens (and, occasionally, androids) approach bemused humans and ask, “What is this thing that you call laughter?”

Ghost in the Shell ends with the hint of more films to come.  Personally, I’d rather see Scarlett Johansson in a Black Widow solo film.  When is that going to happen, Marvel Studios!?  Let’s get to it!  As for the live action Ghost in the Shell, it’s just frustrating and forgettable.

But the city looks really good!

Playing Catch-Up: Clouds of Sils Maria (dir by Olivier Assayas)


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It’s a little bit disheartening, to be honest, to see the lack of attention that has been given to Clouds of Sils Maria.  Kristen Stewart has picked up a lot of awards for her supporting performance and she might even get an Oscar nomination on Thursday but otherwise, the film has been ignored and that’s a shame.  Last year, it was one of the best films to be released here in the States.

Of course, it’s difficult to talk about Clouds of Sils Maria without also talking about Maps To The Stars.  After all, both films premiered at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival and both of them deal with an aging actress struggling to remain relevant in an industry that prizes youth above all else.  The main difference between the two is that Clouds of Sils Maria is a great movie while Maps To The Stars is a pretentious mess.  And yet, when initially released, Maps To The Stars was the more critically acclaimed of the two films.

Why was that?

I imagine it has something to do with the fact that Clouds of Sils Maria demands a certain amount of intelligence on the part of the audience.  Whereas there’s neither a subtle moment nor an unexpected detail to be found in Maps To The Stars, Clouds of Sils Maria rewards repeat viewing.  Clouds of Sils Maria invites the audience to ponder its mysteries and it does so without spelling anything out.  Clouds of Sils Maria is all about nuance and, as such, it’s not exactly the ideal film for critics who make their living off of clickbait.

As for what the film is about, it tells the story of Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche), a world-famous stage and screen actress.  20 years ago, Maria became a star when she appeared in both the theatrical and the film versions of Maloja Snake.  Maria played the role of Sigrid, a callous young woman who seduces a middle-aged, bourgeois woman named Helena.  When Sigrid eventually abandons Helena, the older woman is driven to suicide.  Though she is now closer in age to Helena, Maria continues to think of herself as being Sigrid.

When the writer of Maloja Snake dies, Maria is offered a chance to appear in a new stage production.  However, this time, she will be playing Helena and a young American actress named J0-Ann Ellis (Chloe Grace Moretz) will play Sigrid.  (Jo-Ann is better known for her scandalous private life than her acting.  Moretz appears to have a lot of fun playing the Lindsay Lohanesque Jo-Ann.)  At first, Maria does not want to play Helena.  She dismisses the role as being boring and says that she cannot see herself playing such a “normal” character.  (As well, Maria is haunted by the memory of the death of the actress who originally played Helena opposite Mara’s Sigrid.)  Even after Maria is finally convinced to take on the role, she continues to insist that she’s not right for it.  As quickly becomes apparent, it’s not so much the role that upsets Maria but what the role represents.  By playing Helena, Maria will be admitting that she is no longer the invulnerable Sigrid.

In order to rehearse, Maria retreats to a remote cabin in the Alps.  Accompanying her is Valentine (Kristen Stewart), her assistant.  At first, it seems that Val and Maria have an almost sisterly relationship but it quickly becomes obvious that the out-of-touch Maria is largely dependent on Val for any information about the outside world.  (Maria has to be constantly reminded that she can google any information she needs.)  Despite needing her, Maria occasionally talks down to Val (especially after learning that Val thinks Jo-Ann is a good actress and that Val likes a sci-fi film that Jo-Ann has appeared in) and Val occasionally seems to be annoyed with Maria’s neediness.

In the Alps, Maria continues to try to learn Helena’s role and, as the weeks pass, her line readings go from awkward to natural.  Reading opposite her, in the role of Sigrid, is Val and, often times, it’s difficult to distinguish between the play and reality.  How much of Val and Maria’s relationship is real and how much of it is just a rehearsal?

Clouds of Sils Maria is a visually stunning film, one of that is fully mystery and beautiful images.  Even more importantly, it’s a film that features three strong roles for three talented actresses, all of whom do some of their best work.  Clouds of Sils Maria did not get the attention that it deserved when it was first released but it’s never too late to discover a good movie.

Lisa’s Way, Way, Way Too Early Oscar Predictions For January!


James Franco OMG

Obviously, it’s way too early to start speculating about who and what will receive Oscar nominations in 2016.  I mean, that would be crazy, right?

So, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.  Just like last year, I’m going take a monthly wild guess and try to predict what might be nominated.  Next year, around this time, we’ll look at the predictions below and probably laugh.

Since the year just started, these predictions should be taken with more than a few grains of salt.  Needless to say, these predictions are heavily orientated towards what played at Sundance this week and also towards films that were directed by the usual suspects.  For instance, I know next to nothing about St. James Place but it stars Tom Hanks and it was directed by Steven Spielberg and, when you’re guessing this early in the year, that’s enough to earn it a listing.

 (And before you laugh too much at how influenced this list was by Sundance, consider that the campaigns for both Boyhood and Whiplash started at Sundance.)

Of course, for all I know, the release of some of these films might be delayed, much as how Foxcatcher was moved from 2013 t0 2014.

With all that in mind, here are my way, way, way too early Oscar predictions for January!

Best Picture

Brooklyn

Concussion

The End of the Tour

Grandma

The Hateful Eight

In the Heart of the Sea

The Martian

The Revenant

St. James Place

The Walk

Best Actor

Matt Damon in The Martian

Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant

James Franco in I Am Michael

Tom Hanks in St. James Place

Jason Segel in The End of The Tour

Best Actress

Juliette Binoche in Clouds of Sils Maria

Blythe Danner in I’ll See You In My Dreams

Jennifer Lawrence in Joy

Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn

Lily Tomlin in Grandma

Best Supporting Actor

Albert Brooks in Concussion

Bruce Dern in The Hateful Eight

Jesse Eisenberg in The End of the Tour

Sam Elliott in Grandma

Tom Hardy in The Revenant

Best Supporting Actress

Julia Garner in Grandma

Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight

Kristin Scott Thomas in Suite Francaise

Kristen Stewart in Clouds of Sils Maria

Meryl Streep in Suffragette 

Best Director

John Crowley for Brooklyn

Ron Howard for In The Heart of the Sea

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for The Revanant

Quentin Tarantino for The Hateful Eight

Robert Zemeckis for The Walk

The Walk

Trash Film Guru Vs. The Summer Blockbusters : “Godzilla”


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Here’s the thing when it comes to any and all Westernized takes on Japan’s most famous movie monster — Hollywood’s just never going to “get it” because, frankly, it can’t. Oh, sure, Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla is head and shoulders above Roland Emmerich’s 1998 abomination of a film, but the simple fact is that the Big Green Guy and all of his scaly, serpentine brethren that came to us courtesy of the venerable Toho studios were, at their core, celluloid manifestations of a deep-seated atomic angst that only a country that had been on the receiving end of, as Sting put it, “Oppenheimer’s deadly toy” could ever really give birth to. And while Ken Watanabe’s Dr. Ichiro Serizawa character does, in fact, explicitly mention Hiroshima and Nagasaki in this flick, it’s pure window dressing — Edwards and screenwriters Max Borenstein and Dave Callaham didn’t actually live through a time when they had to actively wonder what sort of nuclear fission-induced mutations were lurking beneath the waves just a few miles offshore, so they just can’t communicate that sort of unease with the same authenticity that the original Godzilla did.

And to those who would argue that a young Japanese filmmaker wouldn’t be able to imbue a project such as this with any more immediacy than Edwards does because they wouldn’t have lived though those horrific final days of WWII either, I’ve got one word for you : Fukushima.

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There’s also something about CGI in these flicks that always has, and always will, suck, no matter how “good” it is : you know, in the back of your mind, that it’s just not there. To be sure, Edwards and his visual effects crew do a bang-up job of realizing their monster once they do, finally, reveal him, but no matter how “unrealistic” watching the original Godzilla smash cardboard miniatures of buildings may be by today’s standards, it still feels more “real” than the essentially flawless computer graphics of 2014 can ever hope to. But maybe that’s just me —-

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Still, don’t get the wrong idea : I’m not so much “down on” the new Godzilla as I am completely indifferent to it. To be sure, Edwards’ heart seem to be in the right place here, and he’s very likely doing the best job that he can do — it’s just that his best is nowhere near good enough. A slow-burn plot doesn’t help matters much, either, and while I’m all for a prolonged buildup that leads to a big payoff, frankly the “character arcs” of all the principal players are so dull and uninvolving that when Compu-Zilla finally does make the scene, it feels more like a relief from soap opera-style tedium than anything else. Thankfully, there’s some effectively-realized mass destruction to bump up the “wow” factor a bit, and Godzilla doesn’t turn out to a solo act (that’s all I’ll say about that), but it’s still definitely a case of “too little, too late” as far as excitement here goes and a smorgasbord of good performances (Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, David Strathairn, Sally Hawkins, and the aforementioned Ken Watanabe) and bad (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen) find themselves having equally gone, more or less, to waste when the proverbial train finally leaves the station.

Plot recaps probably make as much sense here as they do for a Hulk comic book — sure, the set-up matters on some level, but it’s all about “Hulk smash!” at the end of the day, isn’t it? Suffice to say that the main reason the various intermingling sub-plots here really don’t work is because the film goes from small-scale to so-big-it’s-off-the-scale at the drop of hat, with no transition period in between for either the characters or the audience. It’s all just a bit jarring — but maybe that’s not such a bad thing when I think about it because, truth be told, I was getting a little sleepy.

The “who are the real monsters?” theme that Edwards toys with is frankly a little bit old, too, and honestly represents something of a cop-out ( and here’s where my “Westerners will never get this right” thesis comes into play, by the way) :  sure, humans are bad news, we’re destroying everything, etc. I know that. But some of us are worse than others, and any side willing to drop a nuclear bomb and murder hundreds of thousands of innocent people in order to “win” a war is due for some special criticism, in my view . The makers of the original Godzilla understood that fact, even if they couldn’t say so explicitly, while in the franchise’s 2014 iteration we just all suck. No one, specifically, is to blame, and hey, it’s too late for recriminations anyway when you’ve got an overgrown reptile tearing up the town. Or something like that.

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Still, the film’s third act is enough to make even a hardened cynic like me gasp in awe on numerous occasions, and the “childlike wonder factor,” for lack of a batter term, really does kick into high gear here as events steamroll toward their conclusion. It’s worth the price of admission for the awesome (even if it is computer-generated) spectacle the final 45-or-so-minutes deliver. Sure, I wish we’d gotten nothing but a bad ride on a  bumpy road from start to finish, but I guess I’m still willing to take what I can get. Felling like you’re 12 years old all over again for even a little while is better than never feeling like it at all.

And yet — in addition to being this film’s greatest (perhaps even only) saving grace, perhaps that last act is also its greatest weakness, because it exposes the essential, unavoidable truth at the heart of Edwards’ Godzilla : it’s good enough to make you remember why you love monster movies in the first place, but nowhere near good enough to actually be one of those monster movies  that you love.

Godzilla – Attack at Pacific Promo Scene


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It is just a week to go before the premiere of Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla and the marketing has begun to go into overdrive.

In addition to trailers and the latest tv spots, Warner Bros. has begun to release clips and behind-the-scenes to help announce the latest arrival of the King of Monsters.

We have here a brief clip that shows the Big Guy taking on the U.S. Navy as it tries to defend Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay it straddles. This marks two straight years that the Golden Gate Bridge has been threatened and/or destroyed by these damn kaiju.

Trailer: Godzilla (Asia Edition)


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Gareth Edwards’ upcoming Godzilla film has been gaining some major hype and buzz since last year’s Comic-Con and with each new teaser and trailer that the studio releases. Yet, outside of more and more looks at the King of Monsters himself we really haven’t seen anything to tell us that there will be other kaiju in this film.

Well, this latest trailer released for the Asian market finally answers the question of whether Godzilla will be wreaking destruction on human cities by himself or doing so while fighting other kaiju. From this latest trailer we see several glimpses of other giant monsters with a flying one being the most obvious. Some think this could be a new iteration of Godzilla rival and sometimes ally Rodan, but I’m hoping that it’s something new and that Rodan and other famous kaiju from past Godzilla films get introduced in later films (if there’s to be any).

Godzilla is set for a May 16, 2014 release date.