Sunday, 23 April 2017

Unforgettable (2017) (Review)


If you are one to be enticed by erotic thrillers, you'll know what to expect with Denise Di Novi's Unforgettable; if you're unfamiliar with the genre, you will still probably work out exactly where this one is going in the first five minutes alone. Di Novi's directorial debut unfortunately becomes a thing of great irony, as the picture (starring Katherine Heigl and Rosario Dawson) is the very definition of okay. It is a watchable and sporadically entertaining popcorn flick but an equally forgettable and disposable one, tantamount to a Lifetime movie or a two-hours-to-kill-on-a-rainy-day Netflix watch.  

With her ex-husband happily engaged to Julia (Dawson), Tessa Connover (Katherine Hiegl) is struggling to cope with the end of her marriage and the thought of another woman mothering her daughter, Lily. Facing personal demons of her own, Julia's attempt to adjust to her new found happiness is obstructed by Tessa's scheming and plotting. Determined to put an end to the new lover's relationship, Tessa's jealousy continues to heighten before making a drastic decision to take matters into her own hands.

Unforgettable certainly is a glossy film to look at, with some terrific direction from Denise Di Novi aiding the intense atmosphere it attempts to build throughout. From lingering shots constructing a unsteady intensity, to the tighter and closer shots utilised in the more intimate moments, the steamy thriller utilises its lightning and settings as effective metaphors. Tessa's sexual encounter (while an unfair, stereotypical allusion for villainy) is actually framed with a beautiful precision, notably contrasted with the sterile home environment and operating to show a mercurial woman, erratic and uncontrollable. It's easy to see where Di Novi has taken inspiration from, with the likes of Basic Instinct and Fatal Attraction serving as obvious reference points, enriching the visuals with a neo-noir quality that truly impresses on an aesthetic level. Its splashy production elements are satisfying, with some great locations designed to show the difference between the two woman, as well as some great outfit for Tessa, in particular.

Another element elevating the picture from sub-standard genre fare to something of a little more worth is the two central female performances; while their characters are rather one-note and poorly sketched, both Heigl and Dawson deliver committed turns with the material they are afforded. Heigl goes hell for leather as the camp, savage villain at the film's black heart, a highly-strung and possessive ex - a Catfish/Big Little Lies/Scream Queens/Desperate Housewives hybrid. Obviously haunted by her upbringing and obsessed with her own vanity, she continually strives for perfection and Heigl nails that; it is a rather hypnotising turn all told and while we certainly won't be seeing her on any year-end lists, you can appreciate the performance for elevating the film considerably. Dawson, naturally likeable, develops some of the emotion and torment of the piece, ensuring that audience's are rooting for her throughout, enrapturing them to will for her to either tell the truth or discover the truth before things get too bloody. Pushing against a poor script, they both come out of this rather well and their verbal (and physical) sparring peppered throughout Unforgettable are very often highlights of the picture.

Where Unforgettable becomes forgettable though is with the lacklustre script, a screenplay that feels wholly (and I mean wholly) predictable and uninspiring. You are continually waiting for a twist that does not come into fruition and it certainly offers nothing new to the genre, plumping for tropes and conventions like there is no tomorrow. It plays its major card way too early and would benefit from an additional mystery and some restraint, appearing happy in placing everything in frame from the word go. In medias res, one of my biggest pet hates in cinema, pretty much ruins anything the trailers haven't already given away, removing the element of surprise that typically ensnares a film with the tension it deserves. That's not to say it doesn't have its moment but the formulaic play-out is underwhelming to say the least. Furthermore, the characters are incredibly basic distillations of archetypes, with the script offering little in the way of substance to either the characters or the story beyond the initial premise. It is snappy enough but a ten minute trim would not go amiss, as the second act appears to sag ever so slightly. On the whole, Unforgettable is a wasted opportunity, with the script becoming the main influencer in that pervading feeling.

By no means should you rush out to see this one, but if you have a couple of hours to spare or want to stay in on a rainy day, maybe check this one out somewhere down the line. It offers nothing new to genre fans and even those somewhat blind when it comes to the sub-genre (like myself) will probably work out exactly where it is heading - but thanks to some lovely directing work and visuals, as well as two committed performances from Dawson and Heigl, you'll be entertained by this trashy genre fare. At best, it will be an entertaining 100 minutes; at worst, it will feel like a wasted opportunity that you will very quickly forget.

(6/10)

Summary: Most ironically, Unforgettable is the most forgettable film of the year so far. That's not to say it's actively bad - as two committed lead performances (from Katherine Heigl and Rosario Dawson) and some effective visuals prevent that - but it's not all that great either.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Delusion (2017) (Review)


Delusion, a micro-budgeted feature-length from writer, director and producer Christopher Di Nunzio is a deliberately slow and brooding musing on mental health, executed in a rather smart and absorbing way indeed. Clocking in at only 85 minutes and starring a relatively unknown cast, Di Nunzio's project is a real melting pot of genres, incorporating elements of supernatural horror, thriller, mystery, drama and Neo noir effectively. On the back of a successful festival run that earned the film the runner-up position for Best Guerrilla Film (Feature) alongside a plethora of other accolades, it is now available to rent, buy or stream on Amazon for those wanting to see what the fuss is about. While the film may fall short of brilliance more regularly than one would hope, you cannot fault the sheer enthusiasm, and relative success, of the film-maker bringing his vision into fruition.

Frank Parrillo's (David Graziano) mental health is slowly beginning to mend after the death of his wife. When he supposedly receives a letter from her, three years after her passing, he desperately attempts to move on again. However, when in the presence of a mysterious woman, after crossing paths with a psychic who foreshadows his death and apparently meeting a man whose existence he cannot confirm, Frank realises it is time to confront his demons head on; a choice that could ultimately lead him to a far darker reality.

'Christopher Di Nunzio The Director' is easily Delusion's MVP. Delusion is a masterclass in making the absolute most out of a limited budget, ensuring every last penny counts by continually delivering deliciously dark and alluring visuals, providing a true declaration of Di Nunzio's skill and talent behind the camera. In the post-production, Nunzio amplifies the arresting visuals with some truly efficient editing techniques too, particularly benefitting the more supernatural-inspired elements of the film; in less poised hands, this could look incredibly messy but Nunzio has no problem utilising these techniques confidently, executing them very effectively on screen. Cinematographer Nolan Lee plays a large role in securing an aesthetic that remains absorbing and somewhat hypnotising throughout, with an obvious eye for detail and talent for making the most basic frame one that helps build an eerie atmosphere. Jessica-Lee Van Winkle's make-up is precise and spectacularly detailed, pulling us into the supernatural world we get brief glimpses at, with her tremendous work matched with some lovely, mysterious costume designs. Everything about this film visually is truly impressive and enthralling, easily becoming a stylistic gem that deserves to be marvelled at.

Coming undone slightly, the script is a tad on the clunky side in certain moments, appearing somewhat stifled by unnatural and awkward dialogue - particularly when delivered by some of the less experienced cast members. Some performers appear to struggle delivering the supernatural, hexing rhetoric in a meaningful or believable way, appearing somewhat uncomfortable in doing so. Where the script excels though is, bizarrely, in the subtle and considerate approach to its thematic content; Delusion's intricate and complex portrayal of mental health is a thought-provoking one, with the metaphors mastered skilfully, accentuated superbly by the top-notch editing, filming and visuals. To Di Nunzio The Writer's credit, he crafts a genuinely substantial backstory for Frank, managing to balance building a world for the audience to be dropped into and one that appears partially blank, with revelations shading Frank's life over the course of the film. On the whole, the script is hit and miss, but thankfully swings to the former more regularly; a little tightening here and there is required, and it would make significant improvements.

One element that is likely to play a huge factor regarding how you favour this film is its pacing; to some, it will be a difficult slog, tedious and monotonous and without the fast-paced thrills you may be in search of; for others, it will be something of an absorbing exercise in subdued film-making, caring more for atmosphere than thrills and screams. I can see both sides of the argument and I genuinely understand and sympathise with the conflicting opinions, somewhat sitting on the fence myself. It is clear that the decision for a slow-burner is a deliberate one rather than accidental, with that resolve alleviating some of the issues with it. It certainly helps create an atmospheric and absorbing piece of film, playing into genre conventions satisfyingly. That doesn't mean that it always effective though, with the film unfortunately failing to maintain your interest during its middle stretch, drifting into moments of dubiety. No one can be blamed for that so to speak, as that is dialled down almost entirely to the viewer and their personal tastes; this sedated pacing was not completely to my taste but that doesn't mean you cannot recognise the advantages of the set-up and the moments where a relaxed pacing is benefitted.

Delusion aims high and while it may fall short every now and then, one cannot fault the talent and passion involved in bringing this supernatural horror-thriller-mystery hybrid onto our screens, delivering a promising distillation of themes and genres that hits more often than it misses. Di Nunzio's blurring of reality and dreams offers an obscure but developed insight into mental health, portraying this theme in an intricate and complex way, seldom considered before as inventively and accurately in a horror film. It is startling that this film, in all its beauty, was made on such a small budget, impressing in that its scope always exceeds its scale. On the whole, Delusion is a restrained, proficient piece of surrealism cinema that combines genres terrifically. Most people will either love it or hate it; sympathising with each viewpoint and looking at it on a more analytical level, I land somewhere more in the middle - but it swings upwards for the beauty contained within the feature film, allowing for a new found appreciation for the surrealism genre.

(6/10)

Summary: What Delusion lacks in scale and script work, it makes up for in scope, themes and aesthetics, crafting a generally effective feature-length that succeeds by borrowing from a number of genres and supplying terrific visuals.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Fast & Furious 8 (2017) (Review)


Fast and Furious 8 or The Fate of the Furious or Fast 8 or Furious 8 or F8: Stopping World War 3 (depending on which corner of the globe you are from) is the continuation of the action franchise that has become something of a phenomenon over the course of its sixteen year history. What once started as a small-time series focused almost entirely on street-racing has scaled the box office and exists as one of the most lucrative franchises in cinema. F5 turned the gear up considerably and F6 continued the goodwill but F7 took it to a whole other level, currently registering as the sixth highest-grossing film of all-time due to a super-charged domestic and foreign performance and the unfortunate passing of Paul Walker, becoming something of a must-see event and certifying itself as one of my favourite films of 2015. Two years later, the sequel is pulling into cinemas to unofficially kick-start the summer blockbuster season; how does the $250 million budget flick measure up and should you be racing to the nearest cinema to see it?

Attempting to settle into a more normal life, the Furious' teams lives are changed when Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) is approached by a mysterious woman who convinces him to turn on his team and family to work for her. Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) discovers that Cipher (Charlize Theron), the criminal mastermind and cyber-terrorist behind Dom's corruption, is using him as the muscle to advance her plan for world control. The betrayed team - Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris Bridges) and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel)  - are joined by once-enemy Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) and Eric Reisner (Scott Eastwood) to eliminate the threat and stop Dom while he can still be saved. Kurt Russell returns alongside a few familiar faces, with Helen Millen joining in on the fun in this all-new adventure that continues to push the franchise away from its modest routes into total box office domination. 

It's no small secret that Furious 7 is a favourite mine; whether it was the added emotional resonance of Walker's untimely passing or that it was genuinely one of the strongest blockbusters of the year, it became a guilty pleasure. Following on from that turbo (and emotionally) charged instalment was certainly a difficult feat, but F8 just about manages it - but only by the skin of its teeth. It's a satisfying instalment for the petrol heads at one with the series and more casual viewers (like myself) will enjoy it as the popcorn fest it is, as willingly delivering more of crazy, gravity-defying set pieces the film has become renown for in its later chapters. If you haven't been won round by the franchise yet, this will not be the picture that alters your mindset - but knowing what to expect aids this picture greatly, adjusting expectations to the chaos, mayhem and stuns that consume it. F8 features some terrific set pieces and stunts - including an elongated frozen river finale and a second act New York City street carnage - splashing the budget left, right and centre with smashing cars and explosions freely. Helming all of this is F. Gary Gray, whose direction is snappy and fast-paced, in line with the unfolding feast of special effects and stunts; one standout scene, in which Cipher emerges from the darkness and plays her next card is really effective, with an understanding of when and where to tighten and widen the frame, using his technical ability as a real source of tension. It's not always this solid and occasionally it loses a focus in the most action-packed sequences but he does a relatively fine job all things considered.

Positioning Dom as a rogue is a decent idea to work with and offers a plethora of new dynamics and reactions to explore, calling the franchise's most prevalent theme into question: family has always been at the centre of these films, with that continued in this latest chapter in admittedly more skewed methods. While the explanation and play-out to Dom's betrayal is understandable and relatively gripping, introducing a couple of shocks and twists in the tale, a few unfulfilled plot holes could have averted a whole heap of the pandemonium witnessed, an increasingly frustrating oversight that provokes screams of 'JUST TELL THEM!'. More so than perhaps any other entry into the series, F8 appears to be more a collection of insane set pieces first, story and narrative second; these two half don't marry quite as well this time round but there is enough in the buffer time between set pieces, including sharp servings of humour and some moral probing, to tide you over. It's noticeably darker thematically, with the idea of a cyber-terrorist with Cipher's abilities perhaps more daunting than a more archetypical villain in the vein of the Shaw brothers because of the times we live in, preventing the film or series from becoming a one-note flash in the pan, evident from its long-lasting reign on our screens. Keeping it refreshed is its ever-changing locations, in line with the Bond series in this respect; the opening drag race features some beautiful colour palettes with its beach-themed setting, significantly different to the ice-caped final stretch. It's rotating roundabout of setting changes and landscape qualities invigorate F8, with the film continuing the tried-and-tested structure well.

Returning players provide similar-note performances, with Vin Diesel perhaps developed the most in this instalment to explore this newly found outlaw streak. Gibson and Bridges continue to deliver the hilarity with their witty one-liners and putdowns, something Johnson and Statham are developing nicely too - with the latter receiving some of the best character beats throughout the entire runtime, even if his involvement in the mission doesn't sit quite right (he did, after all, kill a team member and prove a general menace throughout their time head-to-head with him). Rodriguez is solid but sidelined more than expected, with the possibility in exploring the personal impacts of Dom's treachery largely bypassed, while Emmanuel is still yet to gel effectively with the team. Of the new players, Theron stirs a reliably impressive performance into the mix but is afforded very few action beats beyond one scene outside of her headquarters; despite her work in Mad Max: Fury Road proving she has the capability to hold her own during the more physically demanding scene, it is a shame to see this untapped streak go to waste. Her villainy is menacing more so in regard to the modern day implications and threat than because of the writing itself but she isn't completely wasted, crafting a strikingly different but equally brooding enemy for the team to takedown. Eastwood, an obvious placeholder for a more permanent 'replacement' of Walker's Brian is weakly sketched but carries potential while Helen Mirren's brief but punchy cameo is some terrific casting by the team and promising for future appearances. While the 'team' element to the characters and their relationships is not as pronounced this time round (with the team largely fractured during the the second act and most of the first and third), the franchise has, to its complete credit, allowed audiences to feel a part of that family - would we really be as forgiving of Dom if it wasn't for the way the writers (and Diesel himself) have ensured we have connected to him over the film's sixteen year run? No, certainly not. It may be dismissed for being disposable, big, stupid and dumb fun (and most of the time, it would holds it hands up to and admit) but you forget that this film has succeeding where many films have failed and survived way longer than most, growing when most films decline over time, and this is another satisfactory instalment in extending that canon.

Don't come to Furious 8 if you prefer a nuanced character drama with intricacy; don't come to F8 in search of Oscar-worthy performances and ground-breaking direction; don't come to F8 if you've not warmed to the series with prior instalments; simply, come to F8 if you want a couple of hours of fun and enjoyment, whether a casual viewer fond of prior chapters or a petrol-head obsessed with the other seven films, as this carries the torch efficiently. While F8 does not come close to the emotional resonance as the Furious 7 and the set pieces are not quite as inventive as previous films, it does more than enough to satisfy with a 136 minute turbo-charged swirl of explosions, stunts and cars, one that is as relentless as it is sharp. The performances and characters are decent, the narrative is fine and the set pieces are impressive, delivering what you came for if little else. F8 won't change minds or hearts but powers on for those hooked with the franchise, with an increasing ability (as seen in the numbers) in picking up passengers with each passing film. There's still enough fuel in the Furious tank.

✬☆
(7.5/10)

Summary: Fast & Furious 8 supplies more of the same if little else - but with a rotating setting, characters we have become connected to and fast-paced action set pieces, there's enough fuel in the tank to be entertained by and keep the franchise in (at least) second gear throughout

Highlight: Comedy was well utilised throughout and the two big set pieces - New York and Russa - are terrific and entertaining.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Orphan Black - Season 5 Predictions


What you want and what you receive is very often two completely different things: following my season five wishes last months, it's now time to make my predictions for the fifth and final season of Orphan Black, which premieres in two months today. The Final Trip promises a lot in store for Clone Club, with the little sci-fi action-thriller that could bound to wrap up multiple plot strands, send some characters into the sunset and deliver twists by the bucket load in the remaining ten episodes. Spoilers have been few and far between and the details are rather thin on the ground, so anything and everything below is pure speculation on my behalf.

Without further ado...


Deaths

Orphan Black have always been understandably reluctant to pull the trigger on their main characters; arguably, no major LEDA clone has been killed off (aside from Beth whose death kickstarted the events of the series). Helena, Rachel and Cosima have all come close to kicking the bucket, as has Delphine - but only Paul and Leekie have had more permanent end destinations in regards to the main set of characters. While any death would shake the series to the core so close to the end of its run, I'm expecting at least a couple of our LEDA clones to meet their maker (not sure that saying works in a show about clones but you get my drift)...

Rachel seems a dead-cert to wind up carried out the show in a coffin, with the central dual between herself and Sarah likely to end with spilt blood; to paraphrase a popular cinematic franchise, "neither can live while the other survives". That same idea can be carried into my next death sentence - Helena. Sweet, psychopathic Helena would (now) do anything for her seestras, including die for them - and that is exactly how I expect her story to play out. Poetic almost, Helena's story is beginning to come full circle and season four struggled to find anything for her to do, resulting in my death sentence for the more eclectic of the two originals. It would break my heart into a million pieces (and I'd go as far as to call her my favourite character) but there would be something rather beautiful about sacrificing her life after she spent the first season hellbent on destroying them. While I'm at least thinking Rachel and Helena will reach the series finale, I expect M.K. to be less lucky; rumour had it, an early draft of season four's finale had the latest clone added to the batch succumbing to her illness and it's a notion I expect to be translated into, perhaps, the fifth season premiere - or at least early into the ten-episode run. LEDA characters aside, Mrs S seems the most likely to die, much like Helena, protecting her family: it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest.

Cosima, Alison and Krystal seem a pretty safe bet to make it out of the show alive, all slightly ahead of Sarah, who may prove to be a surprise death if the show runners really want to pull the carpet from under our feet; it would also continue to reflect the idea that her story is aligning with Beth's, particularly after The Antisocialism of Sex last season. That said, I struggle to seem them leaving Kira mother/grandmotherless and I'll give Sarah the edge in surviving the events of the series over Mrs S.


Biggest Clone Scene Yet

It would be an absolute tragedy if audiences were not treated with the largest ever clone scene yet, topping the four clones (Sarah, Helena, Alison and Cosima) involved in the dinner party sequence at the end of season three. Orphan Black are always looking for news ways to push the boat out and top the last thing they did so I really expect the 'go big or go home' mindset with this one. These clone scenes have very often been the pinnacle of Orphan Black and although time consuming to shoot and technically difficult, I imagine they will want to do all they can to impress us and leave a searing reminder as to why the show amazed and excited us so much.

Could we also be treated with more clone interactions, after season four has arguably thin on the ground regarding those? Many of our central clones have yet to meet and the final season would be a brilliant way to explore dynamics. We have more clones than ever in play at the moment and how great it would be to see the likes of Helena and Krystal or Cosima and Alison interacting with each other.


A Wedding and A Funeral


Following and combining the previous two predictions, an idea floating around my head at the moment is a massive funeral scene featuring all of the clones. The three biggest clone scenes to date have been somewhat joyous in nature - from season's three dinner party and dream sequence to season two's ground-breaking dance party - so perhaps the team will want to consider another angle or tone to play with; imagine, the clones collating at the back of Helena's funeral, in tears and comforting each other. Of course, they'd have to give us some light to that dark and another euphoric scene of eating and celebrating to counterbalance  the darkness but either way I am feeling very emo right now.

Although supposedly spoiled by a recent BBC America promo,  a wedding between everyone's two favourite scientists - Cosima and Delphine - was all but guaranteed. It feels that, more so than any other character, the writers want to grant the pair a happy ending, particularly after everything they have been through, and what would be better than to cement their love with a wedding. Oh, and the wouldn't it be a lovely touch to have the seestras as bridesmaids.


Neolution Focus

Each season of Orphan Black has featured a very distinctive theme; season one focused on the mystery of the clones and the religious extremist threat posted by Helena and her ilk; season two largely revolved around DYAD and the figureheads spearing the mission, most notably Doctor Leekie and Ethan Duncan; season three shifted into Castor territory with DYAD (and Delphine) playing somewhat of a background role; Neolution took centre stage in season four, seemingly fronted by Evie Cho. For the most part, I am expecting Neolution to remain the clear focus from now out, as they remained to be the ringleaders at the end of season four. I expect an exploration into the history of the group and their (ancient) founder, P.T. Westmoreland and part of me expects the big baddie of the season (following in the path of the Proletheans, DYAD, Castor and Neolution) to be represented by a Neolutionist Rachel. It would stew the show down to its fundamental theme of sisterhood and, after the show has heralded for returning to basics last season, it would be unwise for the duality of the Sarah-Rachel rivalry to be ignored


Origins

While we know the main faces and figures behind the human cloning experiment and some of their aims and goals, we still don't quite know the whole story - why they did it in the first place, how many clones are running around, what their plans were beyond the LEDA and Castor sets and many, many more. Season five is bound to explore these primary idea further, perhaps rewarding us with some answers to the above questions while undoubtedly giving us more to contemplate as the season progresses.  While I could not even begin to predict the answers to these questions and its a stab in the dark for anyone else either, the whole 'origin' element is definitely a theme I expect to be at the forefront of the season, giving us the final answers to questions that have sustained the show's history. Pervading questions need wrapping up and that starts with the clones themselves.

Another question that has persisted since the show's very first season is regarding Sarah's daughter; Kira proves to be a revelation, not only for being the only child of a clone but due to her somewhat supernatural abilities and senses, able to detect when the clones face danger. It's been an interesting plot development as the intensity and drama heats up - but it is about time we had some sort of explanation. She's been out of the fold for a good chunk of the past two seasons - thawing out in Iceland during season four and playing Minecraft, somewhere away from the main action, in season four. Thrusting her into the central frame and placing her abilities under a microscope would wipe be rewarding for audiences and would no doubt allow the terrific Skylar Wexler to continue to impress us.


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Let me know your predictions for Orphan Black's fifth season; you can also check out my previous Orphan Black articles...

Monday, 3 April 2017

Ghost In The Shell (2017) (Review)


Despite proclaiming my love for film and openness to almost any style of cinema, anime-manga is a genre that has evaded my interest and its popularity is not something I can quite comprehend; the style just does not sit right for me and thus I have no interest in it whatsoever. Still, each to their own but I go into the live-action adaptation of Ghost in the Shell with no knowledge, low expectations and a relatively open mind. Despite being based on one of Japan's most popular manga series, beyond the 'whitewashing controversy' due to the casting of Scarlett Johansson in the lead role and trailers chocked full of spoilers, Ghost in the Shell is a completely new property to me and one I can enter into blind, so to speak.

Set in the near future where the line between humans and robots is becoming increasingly blurred and fractured, a young woman named Motoko Kusangani - the sole survivor of a cyberterrorist attack - becomes Major Mira Killian (Johansson) after her body is destroyed beyond repair with only her brain surviving, subsequently transported into a new 'shell'. Trained as a counter-terrorism operative, Major and the team learn of a link between increasing technology hacks and the murder of high-ranking Hanka consultants, requiring them to locate and quash the treat before wider-spread damage can be inflicted; at the same time, the Major becomes frustrated at her lack of understanding regarding her life before the shell, facing an identity crisis of sorts. Director Rupert Sanders is in charge of the Paramount Studios release and has positioned the film in the pre-summer blockbuster window, which in itself has become just as crowded as the main summer season. Does Ghost in the Shell manage to stand out for the right reasons, or is it just an empty shell?

Without question, this has to be one of the most visually-arresting live-action releases in quite some time, creating an eye-popping world that is never dull to look out and experience visually. From the towering holograms over cityscapes to the inventiveness of the Major invisible movements across plains of water and the high-tech set pieces, every penny of the film's reported $110 million production budget is evidently splashed onto the screen thanks to some marvellous special effects and neon-infused visual treats - a decision that, although possibly costly with the film underperforming and underwhelming so far, gives audiences something to appreciate when the narrative lets up (but more on that later...). Sanders helps anchor the film and its vision with technical precision and eye-candy imagery, with the production design team aiding with some fantastic costume designs, landscapes, settings and concepts. Full of personality, the film's soundtrack is effective in building some tension, even when nothing else can sustain it and personality is a massive issue with the rest of the film...

It seems though that with all the focus on the top-notch effects and impressive visuals, everyone forgot to pay attention to the script; sandwiched between two reasonable acts is an inexcusably spiritless second that is shockingly dull, drifting into lengths of boredom that the film never really recovers from, despite sparking a few signs of life in the third and final act. It's a complete narrative shambles. Rather than a runtime issue (although it would benefit from a 15 minute trim), Ghost's main issues arises from its misguided pacing, as by the time you have been dragged through the snooze-fest that is act two, you struggle to care for anything else that proceeds it, bogged down by a lack of energy and haunting spirit that the boredom will never end; when said boredom eventually surpasses, the damage has already been done and it ends up fighting a losing battle to redeem itself. It lacks a sense of cohesion and, although this may be more of a reflection of my own intelligence than the film itself, I was required to read a plot summary afterwards in order to garner a stronger idea on what the hell just happened. Despite an abundance of interesting thematic questions the film could contemplate, it never really considers any of them nearly profoundly enough, a notion which could have otherwise elevated this middling film to something more substantial. Ghost just doesn't stand out from this blockbuster-of-the-week template we have going on at the moment, particularly in the shadows of bigger names such as Logan, Kong: Skull Island and Beauty & The Beast. It's forgettable and derivative exercise and really rather shallow and empty.

And now we're on to the cast, namely Scarlett Johansson. Now, just what do we do with you... In terms of casting based on emotional range, skill and acting precision, Johansson is the perfect fit; she expertly balances the line between stilted robotic and an icy, aching human hybrid, both a weapon and a victim and she handles it very effectively. Yet, viewing the casting choice on a political level, the waters are incredibly murky; the explanation given is surprisingly satisfactory - after all, a brain has no race or colour and considering that was all that supposedly remained of Motoko, could be transported and assumed into an empty shell of any colour or race - but it admittedly reeks of Hollywood's commerciality triumphing over political correctness and that does leave a sour taste, emphasised by the controversy kicked up before hand and has perpetuated throughout its promotion. It's a very bittersweet situation to be left in but alas, the performance really is the last of this film's worries. Ghost's supporting cast are all solid enough in their roles and everybody pulls their weight as expected without ever standing out.

Ghost in the Shell is an empty visual spectacle, favouring its aesthetic beauty so extremely that everything else plays a distant second fiddle. No one can deny the stunning world created and effective soundtrack in play and you'll be hard pressed to find someone who thinks Johansson's performance is actively bad, even if they disagree with the casting choice itself. Those three elements can only bolster the film for long enough though, as the most pressing error - the uneven, spiritless script and dreadful pacing issues - sees the high-tech world come crashing around them. Its intriguing themes and ideas of humanity and identity are largely ignored beyond the surface details and additions, electing for a more general run-of-the-mill blockbuster with any goodwill inspired from the first act ripped to shreds by a damningly boring second act. Ghost in the Shell is certainly a misfire, a missed opportunity and largely forgettable but at least it is darn gorgeous and even when numbingly boring in the middle act's lull, you can rely on the visuals and/or Johansson to provide a temporary distraction.

(4.5/10)

Summary: Ghost in the Shell, ironically, is all shell and no ghost, an empty spectacle so inherently focused on arresting visuals with little else beyond a solid star turn from Scarlett Johansson to save it (a casting choice which in itself is haunted by a controversy the film never fully justifies or escapes). 'Style over substance' has never felt more apt.

Highlight: Just how incredible some of the visuals really are. They've not wasted a penny.