Monday 11 December 2017

Ghost In The Shell - Scarlett Johansson is as transfixing and potent as ever

 Cert: 15A; Now showing

Scarlett Johansson stars in sci-fi thriller set in futuristric Japan
Scarlett Johansson stars in sci-fi thriller set in futuristric Japan
Doting dad Adrian Titieni with daughter Maria-Victoria Dragus

First there was Under The Skin. Then came Her. Next, we got Lucy. At this rate, Scarlett Johansson is at risk of becoming one of the most enigmatic sci-fi actresses in modern cinema. Ghost In The Shell, director Rupert Sanders' live-action Hollywood update of the classic Japanese anime franchise, feels like a culmination of her success in the genre, perhaps a lavish send-off before she takes a break from aliens, technology and dystopia?

Each of these vehicles has seen her depict otherworldly characters undergoing varying degrees of disconnect between mind and form, and this outing as Major Motoko Kusanagi is no different. She is a creation of Hanka Robotics, a human brain and soul perfectly integrated into a cybernetic body. She leads a special-ops task force fighting cyberterrorism in a futuristic Japan where everything is digitally connected, and "cyberpunk" is de rigueur. She has emotion and independent thought, and is maintained with affection by company scientist Dr Ouelet (Juliette Binoche), but begins seeing strange glitches in her surroundings around the same time that Hanka comes under attack by a mysterious terrorist.

Corruption and a revelation about the past all bring proceedings down an avenue somewhere in the neighbourhood of Robocop, The Matrix and, naturally, Blade Runner. Anime purists may moan at the simplified plot but newcomers to the brand are unlikely to care given how smoothly all the customary sci-fi action elements fit together. Most of it is aesthetically arresting, partly thanks to DOP Jess Hall.

Ultimately, this is the Scar-Jo Show however, and she is as transfixing and potent as ever.


Hilary A White

The Boss Baby

Cert: G; Now showing

From Look Who's Talking (1989) to Stewie from Family Guy, the concept of a baby trash-talking its parents and generally scheming behind their back will always hold currency.

The latest screen new-born designed to elicit knowing guffaws from parents through a mix of cuteness and menace is this besuited corporate terror voiced (of course) by Alec Baldwin.

The Boss Baby was deemed at the celestial production line (that answers that question ...) to be too serious to go down to earth and be someone's child so he was kept back in Baby Corp HQ.

However, he later arrives to the home of seven-year-old Tim Templeton, who immediately suspects this conniving interloper who has upset the Tim-centric household environment. While the two go at each other hammer and tongs, it transpires that the Boss Baby is on a mission to foil a dastardly plot by Puppy Co, to hog the cuteness market by way of an ever-lasting puppy.

Dreamworks' latest has a manic sugar-rush energy to it that is quite compelling, as is the moral subtext (a wonderfully imaginative child struggling to accept a new sibling). Baldwin gives one or two sly nods to Glengarry Glen Ross ("cookies are only for closers") and Tobey Maguire, Lisa Kudrow and Steve Buscemi all bring distinct timbres to their characters' buffoonery. Some of the set-pieces and retro-animation interludes are filled with invention, verve and wit.


Hilary A White

Free Fire

Cert: 18; Now showing

Despite its super appealing cast, Free Fire is a love-it-or-loathe-it kind of film. Fans of Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump's 2016 film High-Rise will be pre-disposed towards this fantastic 1970s urban western shootout comedy, but will still find it surprising. At just 90 minutes it's short if not entirely sweet, but still loses steam a bit towards the end. However, overall, I greatly enjoyed the energy, originality and bravery of both filmmakers and cast, in a movie made to be different.

In 1970s America, Justine (Brie Larson), has brokered a meeting between two Irishmen (Cillian Murphy and Michael Smiley) and flash South African arms dealer Vernon (Sharlto Copley). Each has hired heavies (Jack Reynor, Armie Hammer, Sam Riley and Babou Ceesay). The meet, tetchy from the outset, goes horribly wrong when personal issues between two of the heavies (Riley and Reynor) get nasty. Cue 80 minutes of fairly gory comedy shootout.

Inevitably, any gory comedy shootout scene will draw comparisons with Tarantino, and Free Fire is certainly more that than Fellini. In ways, however, this reminded me most of Seven Psychopaths, and is not for anyone with delicate sensibilities. The cast are great, the dialogue, although at times a bit try-hard, is often truly funny, although it's essentially all one scene, and therefore hard to sustain energy. But it is original, undemanding, award-bait-free, fun-based cinema and there is an awful lot to be said for that.


Aine O'Connor

Smurfs: The Lost Village 

Cert: G; Now showing

Since their inception in 1958 by the hand of Pierre "Peyo" Culliford, the Smurfs have been an inescapable azure presence on comic pages, TV sets and now the silver screen. Following a pair of live-action film outings in 2011 and 2013, Sony Pictures Animation decided to reboot the franchise in a more straight-up computer-animated format to inject new life into the brand.

That the character of Smurfette - the sole female voice and a stereotyped one at that - copped some flak last time around seems to have been taken into account, as she is very much centre-stage in this action-filled, primary-coloured outing.

A chance encounter with another female smurf and the discovery of a mysterious map leads Smurfette (voiced by pop star Demi Lovato), Hefty, Clumsy and Brainy to a new village populated by Amazonian warrior smurfs. Gargamel (Rainn Wilson of The Office) inevitably also has his beady on this new supply of smurfs, however.

Moana writer Pamela Ribon gives the brand a spring clean while keeping its very young target audience in mind. ★★★

Hilary A White


Cert: 15A; Selected cinemas

Doting dad Adrian Titieni with daughter Maria-Victoria Dragus

For Dr Romeo (Adrian Titieni), the academic prospects of daughter Eliza (Maria-Victoria Dragus) are a way to vicariously fulfil ambitions of escaping the narrow scope of Romania and having a better life abroad. However, just before a scholarship exam for a place in a prestigious UK university, she is attacked and almost raped, which obviously affects her ability to sit the paper. Romeo is determined this opportunity will not pass Eliza by, and compromises his morals via officialdom to secure the best for her, bringing trouble on those around him.

Cannes-winning writer-director Cristian Mungiu returns with a seismic study of desperation, regret and morality that examines the more serious implications of local corruption. Titieni - pretty much in every scene here - is immense.


Hilary A White

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