Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (Short Review)

Sometime last year, I watched Ghost in the Shell for the first time. I haven’t actually seen it again, but I remember that it was impressive, dark, and intelligent. My flawed memory doesn’t allow me to remember things in much more detail than that – sorry.:-)

Last night, I fired up Innocence, the sequel of sorts. The Major is now in cyberspace, Batou is his usual impassive self, and “gynoids” are running around killing people.

Having seen the reviews at Amazon, I wasn’t expecting much. The movie seems to have been roundly trashed, except for general agreement that it’s beautiful.

And is it. I found myself almost breathtaken at one sequence after another. I would give an arm and a leg to be able to produce something so visually stunning. If you are one of those people who refuse to watch anime because you think it’s “cartoony,” you’re truly missing out. Sequences to watch for:

  • The opening “birth” sequence
  • The ghost hack at the drugstore
  • The “fly-by tour” of the information city
  • The parade scene
  • Kim’s mansion

And the storyline is great. For those people whose heads it flew over, get over it. If you like some thought and some depth to your stories, rather than having things spoon-fed to you, you’ll enjoy this. Lots of banter in the form of quotes, and some thoughtful exploration of human nature using both dialogue and great juxtaposition of imagery.

Overall, I’d recommend this to anyone. Gets a 9/10 on my rating scale.:-)

Good Music Gone Bad

I will shamelessly admit that I purchased Nelly Furtado’s Whoa Nelly! a few years ago, mostly on the strength of the “Party’s Just Begun” song that was also included on the soundtrack to Brokedown Palace (I never saw the movie, but the soundtrack rocks!).

Recently on the radio, I’ve been hearing this really irritating country-tinged song, so I finally made myself listen to figure out who I hated so badly. After spending 5 minutes deciphering whiny, nasal lyrics drowned by whiny, nasal violins, I managed to puzzle out the words “powerless” and “things you do” – Google did the rest. To my disappointment, it was Nelly Furtado.

So, Nelly Furtado, “Powerless” is crap* – if that’s the typical tone of your new album, there’s no way in hell I’d even bother to download it.

(* “Crap” describes my personal opinion. Objectively it’s just a song, but to my ears it’s painful. YMMV.)

ScaredSacred and the Aliens

On Thursday afternoon, I found myself standing in line at the Royal Ontario Museum in downtown Toronto, waiting to be escorted down into a dusty basement theatre to see Velcrow Ripper’s new documentary, ScaredSacred. Another International Film Festival offering, the film seemed to be a bit off the beaten path, and both my girlfriend and I separately chose it when we were looking through potential movies to see.

I went in prepared to see a gory bloodfest, since the whole premise of the movie is that Ripper visits all sorts of “ground zeros” of the world, looking at the devastation and trying to find the “sacred” in it. What I got was something quite different – not quite depressing, not quite uplifting.

The documentary covers a lot of ground. Ripper starts in Bhopal, moves on to Cambodia, Hiroshima, Pakistan’s Afghan refugee camps, concentration camps in Germany, Israel and the occupied territories, Bosnia, and elsewhere. He seems to be doing this as much as a personal pilgrimage as anything, since he starts his journey feeling like the world is becoming a bleaker place by the day.

Oddly enough, I still find it difficult to package a reaction to this film. “Breathe in suffering, breathe out compassion.” I see Ripper being fired at by Israeli soldiers in a walled-in Palestinian village, then I see him eating a hamburger in some burger joint in NYC.

I think what makes the film so difficult for me to digest is that Ripper doesn’t offer any practical solutions to the violence and destruction he documents. Granted, this is something that humankind has found itself fairly unable to do as a whole, but somehow I found it difficult to empathize one man’s catharsis into some sort of positive personal experience. That isn’t to say that the film wasn’t touching – I don’t think anyone could watch a 14-year-old Afghan girl struggling not to cry as she describes her father being killed in front of her without sensing that pain – but rather that it issues such a highly emotionally-charged call to arms without providing a leader, in many ways.

During the question-and-answer session with Ripper following the screening, he made the comment that he found the world to be a bleak place, and that he was not an optimist. Rather, he was hopeful. Being able to find a doctor treating chemical-sickened patients in Bhopal, an old Sikh musician in Kabul who protected his instruments against the worst of the Taliban, the RAWA women’s movement in Pakistan, the couple in Serejevo creating art to maintain sanity under a hail of bullets – these things, he said, provided him with hope.

Maybe it’s too much sociological training on my part, but I find it difficult to be hopeful. Ripper himself acknolwedged that for every experience of the sacred, there were dozens of people he met who were violent, revengeful, angry – and this, I think is the broader state of humanity. Ripper recognizes something I’ve long said, that the problem is the “we and the them.” It’s that tendency of humans to want to separate themselves into friends and enemies, always a dichotomy.

What’s the solution? In all honesty, I think that nothing short of the threatened death of the planet due to, say, asteroid or supernova, or perhaps a nice alien invasion – nothing but these will even begin to make humanity unite and focus on the common good and stop the destruction, vengeance, and exploitation.

I, for one, welcome our new…

Kung Fu Hustle Impressions

Having just returned from the world premiere of the Stephen Chow film Kung Fu Hustle courtesy of Toronto’s International Film Festival, I thought I’d offer a spoiler-free impression of the film.

The film was visually awesome. Lots of great imagery, good special effects, and impressive martial arts throughout. Chow seems to have taken a bit of quite a number of movies and woven them into something quite interesting. The Film Festival take keeps mentioning the Shaw Brothers, but this is way before my time and I can’t really comment. What I can say is that I recognized homages to the Matrix, Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs in particular), Untouchables-esque gangster films, possibly Shaolin Soccer, every classic Western and kung fu movie, and even old-fashioned slapstick cartoons (as well as a Jim Carey Mask-esque flair here and there).

The acting was pretty good. Over the top, but I’ll get back to that in a minute. Despite this being a Chow film and starring Chow, the real star of this film would be Yuen Qiu, in my honest opinion. She and actress Huang Shengyi showed up for the premiere, and Yuen Qiu was introduced as the eldest sister of Jackie Chan, which is interesting. Anyway, she totally rocked as the landlady in this film, and basically stole the picture.

Perhaps the most interesting thing to me was a lurking feeling that this whole movie could easily have been a stage production. There are about three main locales within the set, and the over-the-top acting actually works because it creates that musical/stage feeling rather than simply smothering you with cheese. I would almost like to see it done on stage someday, although I suppose the special effects might be difficult to recreate

Anyway, from my tired perspective, I’d give it two thumbs up. This is a film I laughed all the way through, and despite some Tarantino-esque graphic scenes which shocked at first, was entirely comedic. I’ll be adding it to my film library when it’s out on DVD, and wouldn’t mind seeing it again in movie theatres, assuming it’s released in North America.

Harry Potter and the Da Vinci Code

My rant du jour is actually two-part, but given the propensity of J.K. Rowling to title her books “Harry Potter and the…” it seems fitting to title this as I did. Harry Potter and the Da Vinci Code. Somehow that just sounds frightening, doesn’t it?

As always, some disclosure to start things off. I’ve read the first three Harry Potter books; I believe Rowling is on what, book six? And I’ve never read Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. Still, I feel qualified to judge both of these based on a variety of reasons, the most important of which being simply that I feel like it.

So, let’s begin. The Da Vinci Code. Oddly enough, I’ve seen this book in the news so many times in the past few months, but I have never once heard any friend or acquaintance of mine mention it. I suppose that’s not a big deal, but if it was THAT good, you’d think that at least one person I know (and I do know many, many people) would be bragging about it. Not even the most pretentious intellectual snobs I know have reported reading this book, nor have any of my Stephenson-and-Eco-reading hacker [in the original sense of the word, dammit!] buddies mentioned it.

Still, I continually see it in the news. That didn’t bug me, and it would’ve never gotten a word out of me if it weren’t for two things I found today. First, Da Vinci Code readers invade the Louvre. Okay, I get it. Sad. Pathetic. Not noteworthy, since it’s an isolated….wait. Now Da Vinci Code readers harass Milan ‘Last Supper’ guides. Okay, this is becoming noteworthy.

What is it about people these days? I understand that fat, workaholic Americans generally presume that everyone else in the world is like them. That’s why Lidia Sanvito wasn’t shocked at Americans asking her questions about the Last Supper with its obviously feminine character to the right of Christ. I mean, because everyone is like Americans, of course Lidia had read the Da Vinci Code until the covers fell off of her copy. Poor Lidia. And since Dan Brown suggested that the aforementioned figure was actually Mary Magdalene, Lidia says, even Italian Catholics are asking her stupid questions about the painting. Let it go, people. This one has been solved.

To add a nice dash of burning, salty insult to a bleeding injury, Da Vinci Code [DVC] fans are invading the Louvre, harassing the staff and asking dumbass questions like “Is this where the curator died?” What the…? I’m sure that the Louvre’s employees were all there when the curator was most foully murdered, because there is no line between fiction and real life, and the bloody mops are still in a janitorial closet somewhere. Why the hell can’t people get a grip? Oh, that’s because they’re too busy running into St. Sulpice and accusing the priests of running a church built on a pagan temple. I mean, Dan Brown said it, so it must be true. Anyway, just to accomodate these rabid morons, apparently the Louvre is now running special Da Vinci Code tours. Excuse me while I vomit.

Whew, I feel moderately better. Oh, shit. I just read my title and realized I have more to tell. Harry Potter…oh yeah, the boy wizard who magically turned a dull housewife into a billionaire. I don’t begrudge Ms. Rowling her millions; what astonishes me is that people I know actually read this series. Funny enough, not a single person I’ve asked actually thinks that Rowling is a good writer. The conversations go like this:

ME: Why do you think Harry Potter is so popular?
THEM (in chorus): Because he’s the underdog hero who uses magic!
ME: Underdog hero? He’s a stupid little brat who beats up his cousins and disobeys his aunt and uncle.
THEM(chanting): Magic! Magic! Magic! Magic!

The best explanation I can puzzle out is this:
1) Modern kids are so pathetically controlled and disenchanted that Harry Potter offers a way for them to vicariously experience a sense of empowerment. This is incredibly, incredibly sad. They need a fantasy of a school where they matter, where they actually have some power. The whole success is about power, which I think kids lack. They are aware, I think at a younger age than we give them credit for, that they are basically being herded through a system which prepares them not for a future where they have any power and actually matter, but for a life of being herded through one employment after another, none of which matters an iota in the future of human history.

So why do adults read it then?
2) Modern adults are so pathetically controlled and disenchanted that Harry Potter offers a way for them to vicariously experience a sense of empowerment. Having a bad day at work? Did your boss bitch at you? Well, worry no more! Relax and let yourself be enveloped in a world where you can magically banish your troubles. Bully beating you up? Zap ’em. Hungry? Zap some food. Zap this. Zap that. Zap zap zap.

Probably the single most annoying thing about the Harry Potter series is that Rowling’s “world” (if it can be called that) is totally arbitrary. Why does magic work in the Rowling world? Why, when Harry waves that wand of his about, does something magical happen instead of the stupid stick smacking him in the throat and strangling him? No particular reason. There aren’t any spirits or gods or djinns or ANYTHING. And why should we care if Harry fights Voldemort? Everything Rowling says indicates that Harry and Voldemort are somehow the same. *So, now this gets interesting. If Harry and Voldemort are the same, and if Voldemort killed Harry’s parents, then, voila! Harry killed his own parents!

*See, now your boy hero dripping a sad innocence has changed into a snarling little devil who likes to torture babies, is delusional, and is into self-mutilation (“No, VOLDEMORT put that scar there, not me!”). Tell me again. Why should I care about Harry Potter?

No, Rowling’s work is pretty much crap. Entertaining crap, sure. I’ve read worse, and seen worse on TV. However, for Rowling to make $1 billion from something that is crap says something about the world we live in today – and the masses of rabid Dan Brown fans invading art history treasures says the same thing. I’m not sure I like that message.

*My girlfriend is a Harry Potter fan, and has pointed out that I’m taking elements of the story literally when they’re meant to be figurative. As I explained to her, this is intentional. A full treatise on what’s wrong with the story would require days to write and a book’s worth of space, and I simply don’t care that much. Plus, this version is much more fun.:-)