Film Review: Johnny Mnemonic (1995)

Also known as: JM (Japan)
Release Date: April 15th, 1995 (Japan)
Directed by: Robert Longo
Written by: William Gibson
Based on: Johnny Mnemonic by William Gibson
Music by: Brad Fiedel, Mychael Danna (Japanese release)
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Dina Meyer, Ice-T, Dolph Lundgren, Takeshi Kitano, Denis Akiyama, Henry Rollins, Udo Kier, Tracy Tweed, Don Francks

Alliance Communications Corporation, Cinévision, TriStar Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

“You can’t shoot me.” – Johnny Mnemonic, “Not in the head.” – Takahashi

I saw this in 1995 and thought it was a cool movie, even if it was a bit wacky. Watching it in 2021, the year that the film’s story takes place, I can say that it hasn’t aged very well.

Also, they definitely didn’t come close to predicting an accurate 2021.

Still, this is a cool movie, even now, and the fact that it is outdated makes it somewhat endearing.

If I’m being honest, it’s hard not to like Keanu Reeves in anything. But then add in the always alluring Dina Meyer, the badass Dolph Lundgren, punk legend Henry Rollins, gangster rap legend Ice-T, Udo Kier, Takeshi Kitano and set it in a dystopian cyberpunk future and you have what should be a winning formula.

The problem (and for some, a benefit) of the movie is that it is the epitome of ’90s sci-fi action.

For someone like me, that’s a pretty good thing. But with that usually comes strange, experimental special effects, as CGI was really still in its infancy. Plus, there is a certain stylistic panache that makes this seem clunkily crafted with garish, fantastical tech and old tech retrofitted to seem futuristic.

Through modern eyes, films like this can be described “retro futuristic”. With that, it’s near impossible, once dated by a long passage of time, for these movies to not come across as hokey and kind of silly.

Regardless of all that, I still like the movie for the most part. The actors are all fine in their roles, even if a few of them hammed it up a bit too much. But I also don’t blame the actors for that, as the real issues from the movie seem to come from its direction.

It’s hard to really see what the director’s vision was, as the picture is kind of sloppy, confusing and poorly edited. While other people were involved in these aspects of making this film, it still falls on the director to take all these elements and make his vision come through. Johnny Mnemonic, from an artistic standpoint, just feels amateurish.

In the end, this is fairly entertaining if ’90s cyberpunk flicks are your thing. However, without Keanu Reeves, I think that this is a really forgettable movie that probably would’ve never gotten the cult following it obtained had Reeves never been in it.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other cyberpunk movies of the ’80s and ’90s.

Film Review: The ‘Battle Royale’ Film Series (2000-2003)

It’s been a while since I’ve seen Battle Royale, so I figured I’d pop the DVD in and rewatch this almost masterpiece. After doing that, I figured that I’d watch the sequel, which I have never seen.

Battle Royale (2000):

Release Date: December 16th, 2000
Directed by: Kinji Fukasaku
Written by: Kenta Fukasaku
Based on: Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
Music by: Masamichi Amano
Cast: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Taro Yamamoto, Masanobu Ando, Kou Shibasaki, Chiaki Kuriyama, Takeshi Kitano

AM Associates, Kobi, Nippon Shuppan Hanbai, MF Pictures, WOWOW, Gaga Communications, Toei Company, 113 Minutes (Original Release), 121 (Extended Cut)

Review:

“So today’s lesson is, you kill each other off till there’s only one left. Nothing’s against the rules.” – Teacher Kitano

This film is a classic. That is a bold thing to say but unless you have seen the film, it may be hard to understand why.

I could rave about the direction, the material, the stylistic approach of the gore-filled bits and so many other factors. Apart from all that, the film just hits you in the stomach. It is over the top and the fact that all this gruesomeness is happening to kids, really has an effect unlike any film I had seen before it. It’s severely dark, somewhat campy, sometimes sweet and insanely ambitious.

For those who don’t know what it is about, the Japanese government gets tired of asshole kids and passes a law. The law creates a lottery where a school is picked and its students are tricked into going on a field trip, only to be gassed and wake up on a strange island and forced to kill one another until their is just one survivor. It’s like Hunger Games without the suck factor. Also, it came first and is about a thousand times better, as a film.

Battle Royale is a symphony of a lot of beautiful dark shit leading to a crescendo that is jaw-dropping and for lack of a better word, “awesome”. There is a reason why this is one of Quentin Tarantino’s favorite films. Truthfully, in the history of Japanese cinema, this cracks my top ten for sure… maybe even my top five.

I actually don’t want to reveal too much because I’d rather people just experience this incredible motion picture.

Rating: 9/10

Battle Royale II: Requiem (2003):

Release Date: May 18th, 2003 (Cannes)
Directed by: Kenta Fukasaku, Kinji Fukasaku
Written by: Kenta Fukasaku, Norio Kida
Based on: Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
Music by: Masamichi Amano
Cast: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Ai Maeda, Shugo Oshinari

Fukasaku Group, TV Asahi, WOWOW, Tokyo FM, Sega, Toei Company, 133 Minutes (Original Release), 152 (Extended Cut)

Review:

“We declare war on all adults!” – Shuya Nanahara

Considering that I hadn’t seen this film and have such a high level of respect for the first one, I was excited to throw this in the DVD player. And then it started.

Battle Royale II tries to capture the magic of the first film but fails in many ways.

I can’t completely trash it, as there are bits that I enjoyed. But ultimately, even though these films have ridiculous premises, this one just had a lot of really unbelievable shit, even for being a sequel to a film with such an over the top story to begin with.

The plot follows a new group of kids who are forced to raid an island in an effort to murder a terrorist who has been banding kids together in an effort to destroy the evil adults of the world. Wow, it comes off as even more ridiculous summing it up in one sentence like that. Anyway, the format of the film was different than the first but it just didn’t give us anything worthwhile even though they attempted something fresh.

I enjoyed the first hour of the film, which centers around the raid on the island. Once that part is over and the two groups of fighting kids meet face-to-face, the film just gets boring as hell and quickly goes downhill. The last act is more action and violence and it keeps one’s interest but does so just barely.

I could’ve done without seeing the sequel and Earth could’ve done without it even being made. The open-ended ending of the first film was perfect and should have been left alone.

Plus, this thing is so damn long and it didn’t need to be.

Rating: 5/10

Film Review: Ghost In the Shell (2017)

Release Date: March 16th, 2017 (Shinjuku premiere)
Directed by: Rupert Sanders
Written by: Jamie Moss, William Wheeler, Ehren Kruger
Based on: Ghost In The Shell by Masamune Shirow
Music by: Clint Mansell, Lorne Balfe
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Michael Pitt, Pilou Asbaek, Takeshi Kitano, Chin Han, Juliette Binoche, Michael Wincott

Paramount Pictures, DreamWorks Pictures, Reliance Entertainment, Amblin Pictures, Arad Productions, 106 Minutes

Review:

Almost every single review I have seen of this film bitches about the whitewashing of its characters. To the point where the movie isn’t even discussed, it is just attacked by social justice warriors disguised as movie critics looking for anything to latch onto and rant about for 600-to-1000 words.

In all honesty, I don’t give a shit. American remakes of foreign films are typically full of famous Hollywood Americans. I don’t recall anyone bitching about the The Deaprted not featuring Chinese actors and it went on to win a bunch of Academy Awards and was the Picture of the Year.

When comparing The Deaprted to Ghost In The Shell, the context of each is different. The Departed was set in Boston, as opposed to Hong Kong like its source material Infernal AffairsGhost In The Shell is set primarily in Japan but I don’t recall the character of Major ever being specifically given a racial identity apart from a Japanese surname, as she is a brain set inside of a shell (or a cybernetic body). Besides, and a bit of a spoiler alert, she is shown to have been Japanese before her brain was put in the shell that looks like Scarlett Johansson. Although, in the film, her surname is changed to Killian from Kusanagi in the source material.

But I’m here to talk about the movie and not get fixated on the sociopolitical rhetoric it seems to be drumming up. Besides, at the end of the day, Hollywood has always been racist.

In regards to the content of Ghost In The Shell, the film actually turned out to be better than I anticipated. I thought that there was a lot more that could go wrong with this picture and that it was a risky move for something that didn’t really need to be made. I still don’t think that it needs to exist, as it isn’t great, but I did enjoy the 106 minute investment I made. Granted, I doubt I’ll ever watch it again.

First of all, the visuals are gorgeous and they did a fine job recreating the world of the manga and film in a live action format. The color palate was alluring, the cinematography and especially the lighting were superb and the costumes and sets were perfect.

Unfortunately, the visuals are the biggest positive of the film.

Scarlett Johansson was very dry and emotionless. I get that the part calls for that but she felt distant in the worst way possible and it was hard to connect to her. The only time you really feel anything, is when she discovers her mother and they meet for the first time.

Pilou Asbaek and Takeshi Kitano were both fabulous, though. Asbaek really became Batou and Kitano was a stellar choice to play Chief Daisuke Aramaki. Both men brought gravitas to their roles.

Michael Pitt was pretty good as well. His body movement and voice felt authentic, even if there were effects added in post production. Even though he is a cyborg like Major, his performance was much more human than Johansson’s.

Juliette Binoche was solid as Dr. Ouélet. She had a gentleness to her and even though you knew she was into some bad stuff, she was able to convey that she was a good person underneath and not once did I think she would turn her back on Major. She serves the story well and was a pivotal part in the film despite not having a lot of screen time.

The plot seemed to borrow from various parts of the overall Ghost In The Shell mythos. It has been awhile since I’ve seen the original anime and television series. I’ve also never read the manga. The gist of the story is there but it just isn’t that exciting and you never feel emotionally invested in it. The problem could be in that the film feels like a summary of events and not its own fleshed out tale. I’m not really sure where it could go, if there were a sequel in the future. I also feel that a sequel is as unnecessary as this film was, which did nothing to justify its existence.

Again, the ambiance of the picture was stunning eye candy but it isn’t anything that hasn’t been seen before and presented in a better way. Ultimately, it looks like an update of the visual style from 1982’s Blade Runner but we have an official sequel of that on the way later this year.

I’m not wholly against anime movies being made into live action blockbusters but they need to be treated with care and done in a way that can justify their existence. I’ve never been a fan of the idea of Akira becoming a movie with real actors. Ghost In The Shell just strengthens my argument against it.

While I am huge on the visual aspects of the films I watch, that element alone isn’t enough to make a great picture. Ghost In The Shell had enjoyable moments, where I thought it wouldn’t deliver in any way, but ultimately, it is a shell without the ghost. If anything, the visual razzle dazzle is there to distract from the lack of everything else this needed to work.

Rating: 6/10