Ghost in the Shell (2017)

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Despite being a watered-down, gaijin-version of the 1995 animated film by the same name, the latest feature-length GitS flick — the first live-action production to enter into the canon — is still a wonder to behold. This visual feast of cutting-edge CGI “reboots” (if you will) the story of Major Kusanagi, a human brain in a [sexy] cyborg body that investigates cyber crimes in a near-future, cyberpunk reality. Sadly, it is true that most of the esoteric intrigue of the original has been deleted to make space for a simpler and semi-predictable plot. But I was nevertheless pleasantly surprised by the final result: It’s a gorgeous and exciting homage to the classic anime (with many scenes taken directly from its superior predecessor) and it succeeds at eliciting some rather genuine compassion for its central, robotic characters.

Fans of the GitS franchise, which now includes four movies and two-and-a-half long-running TV series, have plenty to squabble about, of course. (And, yes, it is lame that Caucasian actors were cast in the lead roles of this traditionally Japanese production.) But Scarlett Johansson was fine and Michael Pitt (who was listed as “Michael Carmen Pitt” in the opening credits) was great, while Pilou Asbæk (who played Batou) and Takeshi Kitano (who played Aramaki) completely stole the show.

I was truly terrified that “Hollywood” would butcher these beloved characters of mine on-screen. But, in IMAX 3D, they looked stunning — and, more importantly, the underlying themes of memory and identity, which are recurrent throughout the GitS series, are thankfully intact. There are no improvements per se; the animated entries still boast all of the Major’s high-water marks. But this new, live-action version manages to hit all the right buttons. (The filmmakers even worked in an awesome spider-tank scene.) Just try not to expect anything to be as good as its source material.

I insist upon four pot leafs out of five:
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Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Monsters vs. Aliens (2009)

Monsters vs Aliens

If you’re going to read this blog, I suppose there’s something you should know about me right off the bat: I fucking love animation. I’ve been obsessed with the medium — especially the pure, hand-drawn and stop-motion stuff — ever since I discovered He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and Voltron: Defender of the Universe as a child. (I actually broke my wrist, swinging a plastic sword around and shouting, “I have the power!” when I was two years old.)

That said, I continue to watch a lot of animated features as an “adult,” and I recently took a chance on the 2009 Dreamworks release known as Monsters vs. Aliens — a 90-minute CGI romp that blends references from all the major science fiction films of the past 50 years into a silly and colorful adventure. Overall, I found it to be extremely decent. It never attempted to get deep or pull on any heartstrings, but it maintained its light and breezy tone from beginning to end, evoking a few genuine chuckles along the way. It also benefited from some really great voice acting by well-known artists such as Reese Witherspoon, Kiefer Sutherland, Will Arnett, Rainn Wilson, Amy Poehler, and Stephen Colbert.

The computer animation was adequate enough to propel the story at a steady pace and dazzle the senses every once in a while. And, even though the characters’ mugs were — for the most part — ugly as sin, the animators managed to create some really brilliant facial expressions that added a little more depth to the already punchy dialogue. They also gave us the wonderfully behemoth and dead-eyed mutated bug, known affectionately as Insectosaurus, whom I will never forget. The movie would have gotten an extra pot leaf if it had been filmed one cel at a time. But it maintains a certain charm of its own, and it is in no way offensive to even the most sophisticated sensibilities.

Three pot leafs out of five:
Pot Leaf Pot Leaf Pot Leaf

Monsters vs. Aliens (2009)