Tag of the Month: Super Heroism (March 2018)

It’s March at The Movie Maestro, and that means it’s time for a new Tag of the Month!

What is the “Tag of the Month?”

Every month, in between my regular reviews, I will be viewing films pertaining to a certain theme, be it seasonal, holiday, or otherwise-oriented. Examples: “Twisted Xmas” for December, something scary for October, etc.

March’s Tag: Super Heroism

monthlytag - March 2018

While comic book and superhero movies have no doubt been a fixture of my reviews for awhile, I decided to make them the focus for this month. This is not only to allow myself the means to catch up on the MCU Marathon, but also to examine the DC offerings in greater depth, as well as some other comic-based and inspired flicks that deal with larger-than-life heroes. Films like Flash Gordon, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, even Birdman will make appearances in my reviews this month as I examine all facets of the superhero, both good and bad.

Keep a look out for the tag #SuperHeroism on my Instagram and Tumblr reviews, and check back here each week for links to them all.

I’m gonna do something a little different here. Since I’ve already been doing a lot of superhero reviews, why don’t I collect them here to give y’all something to read while I’m not posting? Collected below will be all the MCU and DCEU films I’ve reviewed, as well as some other super-heroic flicks.

Iron Man
The Incredible Hulk
Iron Man 2
Captain America: The First Avenger
The Avengers
Iron Man 3
Thor: The Dark World
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Guardians of the Galaxy
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Thor: Ragnarok
Black Panther

Man of Steel

Batman Returns
Flash Gordon
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Innocence)

Last Month: Love Conquers All

Last month, I took a look at several films examining love that conquers all barriers and hardships, romantic, familial, platonic, and otherwise. If you missed the reviews, you can check them out here.


Tag of the Month: Love Conquers All (February 2018)

It’s February at The Movie Maestro, and that means it’s time for a new Tag of the Month!

What is the “Tag of the Month?”

Every month, in between my regular reviews, I will be viewing films pertaining to a certain theme, be it seasonal, holiday, or otherwise-oriented. Examples: “Twisted Xmas” for December, something scary for October, etc.

February’s Tag: Love Conquers All
monthlytag - February 2018

Yeah, I know. A romantic tag for the month of Valentine’s Day. How original. But we all need stories of love at least every now and then to revitalize our tired old hearts, so this is as good a time as any. But, to put a little spin on the proceedings, I’m going to focusing more on the kinds of love stories that make us root for the underdog; tales of unlikely love mixed in with the usual to remind us that there just may be a soulmate for everyone out there.

Keep a look out for the tag #LoveConquersAll on my Instagram and Tumblr reviews, and check back here each week for links to them all.

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Purple Rain
The Shape of Water
The Sound of Music
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
August Rush
Lady Bird

Last Month: Visions of the Future

Last month, I took a look at various futuristic films, ranging the gamut from post-apocalyptic to urban dystopia. If you missed the reviews, you can check them out here.

REVIEW: The Lion King (1994)


Directed by Roger Allers and Bob Minkoff
Written by Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts, and Linda Woolverton
Starring the Voices of Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Jeremy Irons, Rowan Atkinson, Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella, Robert Guillaume, Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin, Jim Cummings, Madge Sinclair

Made in the heydey of the ’90s Disney renaissance, The Lion King represents one of the finer moments of the studio’s creative vision and occupies a high stature in the eyes of the fans, who consistently keep coming back to it, whether in the form of this original film and its sequels, the Lion Guard television series, or the acclaimed Broadway musical.

A young lion prince is born in Africa, thus making his uncle Scar (Jeremy Irons) the second in line to the throne. Envious and devious, Scar plots with the hyenas of the shadowy outlands to kill King Mufasa (James Earl Jones) and Prince Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas), thus making himself King. Soon enough, Mufasa is killed and Simba is led to believe by Scar that it was his fault, and so flees the kingdom in shame. After years of exile with a carefree pair (Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella), the now-grown Simba (Matthew Broderick) is persuaded to return home to overthrow the usurper and claim the kingdom as his own, thus completing the “Circle of Life”.

Despite being mired in the controversy of whether it lifted its storyline and main character from the Kimba the White Lion anime, The Lion King is much more indebted to the classic play of William Shakespeare, Hamlet. The major beats are all there: the King is murdered by his jealous brother, who usurps the throne; the King’s son is forced to choose between avenging his father or allowing that crime to go unpunished, thereby sparing his own life of the responsibility. Simba’s arc through the second half of the film is a precise mirror of Prince Hamlet’s, insomuch that The Lion King becomes, in my mind, the only adaptation of a Shakespeare tragedy to successfully end happily.

But before that arc can begin, The Lion King first treats us to two similar perspectives on the mighty throne of Mufasa: young Simba, and Scar. The youthful cub is anxious to be King, believing that simply because he was born into the line, he will get a free pass to use the power any way he wants. Just like every kid out there who wants to rule the world. As Simba endures his growing pains under the fair and loving guidance of his father, his uncle Scar broods. Played in cunning manner by Jeremy Irons, Scar’s desires aren’t too far from Simba’s–his are just hidden under the lies of adulthood, as he believes his rule will automatically bring about a golden age. Like every dictator that has ever come to power, Scar’s delusions bring about misery and sorrow, like every good villain’s plan should.

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Throughout the first half, we get some wild song sequences, like the tribal-influenced “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” and Scar’s dark “Be Prepared,” and of course, the ever popular and beautiful “Circle of Life.” Each song, some with input from the great Elton John, is bolstered by terrific visual sights of the plains and jungles of Africa, as is the story by each amazing voice actor, led by such talents as James Earl Jones as Mufasa, Jonathan Taylor Thomas as young Simba, and Robert Guillaume as my personal favorite, the wise and wacky witch doctor of a baboon, Rafiki. There is also the incredible attention to detail displayed by the animators, who slip in subtleties of performance into the characters that correspond to their actual animal inspirations.

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The pivotal moment separating both halves is the death of Mufasa, a moment which I’m sure traumatized a lot of kids back in the day (and probably still does). By showing this moment which was only referred to in Hamlet, The Lion King eschews intrigue for sheer pathos, and propels Simba into a life of hedonism with the film’s best comic relief, Timon (Nathan Lane) and Pumba (Ernie Sabella). Out in the jungle, the now-grown Simba (Matthew Broderick) gets to live out most of our most wonderful and illogical fantasies away from the responsibility of life, before reality comes crashing back.

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I could go on and on about the thematic and narrative depth of The Lion King, but since this is a review, I’ll just end on my most basic, unfiltered thoughts on it: I still love it. Far and away, the only film that comes close to it from the Disney renaissance is Aladdin, and that’s mainly due to Robin Williams. This film, while still boasting big names, doesn’t really have one major player that carries the film effortlessly; instead, the strength of the plot and the visual majesty of its setting is what makes The Lion King stand apart from its colleagues.

REVIEW: The Lego Movie (2014)


Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller
Written by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, Story by Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Phil Lord, and Christopher Miller
Starring the Voices of Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Nick Offerman, Alison Brie, Charlie Day, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman

Hey guys, did you know that everything is awesome? That everything is cool when you’re part of a team? Everything is awesome, when you’re living the dream! Indeed it is, especially when that dream is turning the bastard child video series of a multi-million selling construction toy into one of the greatest movies to be released in recent memory.

Emmett (Chris Pratt), a completely ordinary LEGO mini-figure who lives his life like everyone else–according to the instructions–is identified as the most “extraordinary person” and the key to saving the Lego universe. Emmett and his friends go on an epic journey to stop the evil tyrant, Lord Business (Will Ferrell), whose evil plans to ensure order in his world with a powerful weapon threatens to freeze the entire LEGO realm in place–forever! As a prophecy about ‘Special’ comes true with the discovery of ‘Piece of Resistance,’ Emmett must tangle with the likes of Bad Cop (Liam Neeson), Micro managers and ‘Man from upstairs’ during his journey to save the world.

I both love and hate the reactions I get when I list The Lego Movie as one of my favorites. I love feeling like Emmett by the end of the film, with my mind opened to a knowledge and understanding that some people haven’t reached by embracing it as more than a fun time for kids, and I hate it as well, because people just need to recognize. The Lego Movie has everything any moviegoer would ever want: hella good performances by established and seasoned actors, beautiful animation, tons of laughs, and well-plotted story that sinks its teeth into the biggest philosophical questions there are.

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The secret to the film’s incredible fortitude is the creative talent behind the “camera,” namely producer Dan Lin, who originally conceived the project, directors Christopher Miller and Phil Loyd, and animation supervisor Chris McKay. Together, these four men were able to push a corporate-driven production into realms of storytelling bliss that is becoming harder and harder to find among tentpole cinema.

Taking place in a Lego world that is as complete as it is imaginative, the animation appears incredibly lifelike–to the point where most viewers don’t realize they are watching something that is totally computer animated. Everything on screen is composed of virtual Lego blocks, from the buildings and vehicles to even the water, fire, and clouds. Every character is an authentic Lego figure, only able to move in ways the actual toys can, a stark contrast to the cheaply-produced straight-to-video entries from the decade prior, where everything moves in bizarre, rubberized ways. This is all thanks to the creative team, who sought to harken back to most well-known Lego fan films of the 20th Century, like Journey to the Moon or The Magic Portal.

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It is in this homage to the most small-scale, independent filmmaking possible that The Lego Movie shows its true heart, by turning what has always been a business model, or in the sad case of The Magic Portal a corporate shutdown of the little guy, into a deep tale of the relationship between freedom and order. As McKay explains,

“We wanted to make the film feel like the way you play, the way I remember playing. We wanted to make it feel as epic and ambitious and self-serious as a kid feels when they play with LEGO. We took something you could claim is the most cynical cash grab in cinematic history, basically a 90 minute LEGO commercial, and turned it into a celebration of creativity, fun and invention, in the spirit of just having a good time and how ridiculous it can look when you make things up. And we had fun doing it.'”

Emmett’s journey through the narrative only heightens this, weaving threads of Joseph Campbell’s analysis of heroic myths into a film that projects the age-old conflict of the freedom of chaos versus the social contract, represented in bombastic, childlike form by the likes of Morgan Freeman’s Vitruvius (literally the Renaissance Vitruvius), and Will Ferrell’s Lord Business (subtle). In addition, Emmett’s vision of the outside world and the “Man Upstairs” is highly evocative of Plato’s cave allegory, and when Emmett finally reaches the outside, the meta-textual nature of the film really takes off.

Of course, the philosophizing is sandwiched into a film who’s first priority is entertainment, and watching the filmmakers play in several sandboxes worth of sets, haphazardly yet intelligently weaving together everything that makes the Lego toyline so unique and fun is quite the treat. The actors take their cues from the filmmakers, injecting whimsical spontaneity into their performances that always has me grinning from ear-to-ear. Who wouldn’t be giddy at the prospect of Will Ferrell playing the ultimate universal evil, or Morgan Freeman as blind wizard who’s sensitive about being called old?

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When it comes down to it, The Lego Movie is one of the best films of the 2010s already, by far. It’s sheer entertainment value props it up above the usual summer drivel, and its themes of cosmic purpose and the value of personal liberty manage to stick it to the man while he simultaneously makes money off of the message. If you still can’t make it through a whole viewing, maybe it’s time to leave adulthood in the trash can and give it another go, because if Lord Business can be stopped by the wonder of a child(man), than you can too!

REVIEW: An American Tail: Fievel Goes West (1991)


Directed by Phil Nibbelink and Simon Wells
Written by Flint Dille, Story by Charles Swenson, Characters Created by David Kirschner
Starring the Voices of Phillip Glasser, James Stewart, Dom DeLuise, Amy Irving, John Cleese, Jon Lovitz, Erica Yohn, Cathy Cavadini, Nehemiah Persoff

One of the many VHS tapes I wore out as a child. An American Tail: Fievel Goes West may have been the animated cinema equivalent of blasphemy–a sequel to a Don Bluth film made without his presence–but it still holds a special place in my heart for sentimental reasons. It’s actual merits are a little harder to defend, but not impossible.

Some time after the Mousekewitz’s have settled in America, they find that they are still having problems with the threat of cats. That makes them eager to try another home out in the west, where they are promised that mice and cats live in peace. Unfortunately, the one making this claim is an oily con artist named Cat R. Waul (John Cleese) who is intent on his own sinister plan. Followed by their true cat friend, Tiger (Dom DeLuise), the Mousekewitz’s travel west, where Fievel must team up with his Old West sheriff hero, Wylie Burp (James Stewart), to stop Waul.

Bluth’s original film was made towards the beginning of his remarkable directorial career, after he had left Disney and set up shop with Universal studios and Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment. While that relationship would soon end, An American Tail was the result of that pairing. With Bluth out for the sequel, Spielberg proved to be the guiding influence that saved this sequel from complete ruin, bringing on board two likewise former Disney animators, Phil Nibbelink, and the grandson of the great H.G. Wells, Simon Wells.

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Picking up where the original left off with Fievel’s family having settled on the East Coast of America, the film quickly glosses over any and all continuity hiccups quickly, showing that their “land of opportunity” wasn’t all it was croaked up to be. After an attack by a vicious cat gang drives them underground, they are duped into heading west to start yet another new life by the villain of the picture, Cat R. Waul, played with eloquent viciousness by John Cleese, easily becoming the best voice of the film.

Out west in the town of Green River, the mice are again lured into becoming the workforce for the cats building the town, who plan to then feast on the mice as a celebration. Fievel goes to the town’s canine sheriff, the old and tired Wiley Burp, for help, who then enlists Fievel’s cat friend Tiger for a vigorous training and showdown with Waul’s gang. James Stewart, in his final role, voices Burp with all the Western movie star swagger he has left, becoming an excellent compliment to the wild antics of Dom DeLuise as the cowardly Tiger.

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Despite Bluth’s absence, animation technique and style remain mostly consistent with the first film, even in the face of design changes to several characters. In fact, the only real minus I can give to the animators is that the color palette of this film seems a bit bright compared to the rusty bronze of the first, but then again, this could be a consequence of the change of setting to the sandy western deserts of America. The film’s score is as proficient and moving as the original, with the new song, “Dreams to Dream,” as good as “Somewhere Out There” was.

If there’s a major flaw to Fievel Goes West, it’s the story. Clocking in at 76 minutes, it’s shrimpy compared to An American Tail, seemingly missing an entire act before Fievel goes to Burp for help, and spending much of its early minutes establishing yet another “Fievel gets separated from his family” subplot. Even his father doesn’t seem to worried about him after he is lost, considering that this a movie that steals just a bit too much from its predecessor.

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Opening the same weekend as Beauty and the Beast, Fievel Goes West was destined to be smashed by that superior film, even without its narrative deficiencies. However, this said, it tends to be an overlooked piece in early ’90s animation, worthy of just as much praise and attention as any of Bluth’s films from the same period. I just wish there was more of it.

Maestro’s Marathons: Star Wars Day 2017


Rejoice, fellow denizens of that galaxy far, far away! Star Wars Day is once again upon us!

A now-recognized official fandom day by Twentieth Century Fox, Star Wars Day originally began as little more than a pun, “May the 4th be with you.” As these things tend to, it quickly spiralled out of control, becoming a day when Jedi and Sith, Rebels and Imperials alike celebrate perhaps the greatest cinematic saga of all time. This year, however, holds special significance, as it is the 40th anniversary of the original Star Wars film, and of the saga itself!

And so, in anticipation of this glorious day, I’ve prepared a special marathon for you all, revolving around the original 1977 film and its era in keeping with the 40th anniversary. Keep in mind, many of these suggested viewings are fan edits and preservations, so it will take some online hunting to acquire them. But don’t be discouraged, as it isn’t that hard of a feat to accomplish. After all, if Luke could blow up the Death Star…

Star Wars Begins: A Filmumentary by Jamie Benning
Beginning the marathon (pun intended) is one of Jamie Benning’s excellent ‘filmumentaries.’ What is a filmumentary? According to Benning himself, it is a format in which a “viewer can watch a film whilst additional material appears on screen including: deleted scenes, alternate takes, on set audio, text facts and information, audio commentary from cast and crew etc.” Far from being a rehash of previous Star Wars documentaries, Star Wars Begins includes such rare material as bloopers, an alternate opening crawl style, previously unreleased on-set video, in all a truly unique experience in behind-the-scenes archives, playing very much like a branching video commentary to the film.

How to get it: Simply visit Jamie Benning’s channel on Vimeo and watch away!

Star Wars: Puggo Grande

Once you’ve finished expanding your behind-the-scenes knowledge, it’s time for sheer entertainment! But since this is a special Star Wars day, we have to do something different. My recommendation is the Puggo Grande, a homemade preservation of two 16mm prints of the original Star Wars film. “Puggo,” already well known in Star Wars fandom circles for his preservations of two 8mm condensed prints, was able to acquire two 16mm prints, an American print most likely struck for educational purposes, and a Swedish print which he used for the audio and several shots during the Trench run, which were too damaged to recover from the American print. Scratchy and dirty, this version is nonetheless extremely charming to watch, and includes some little key differences in audio from most commonly available versions. I like to imagine myself in a grindhouse theater, or a library screening room whenever I watch it. Pure, cinematic magic.

How to get it: This one is a little tougher, as it is only available as a DVD disc image, meaning you will have to burn it to a disc. To find it, you will have to search through downloads, mostly torrent sites.

Decision Time! Let’s inject a little variety into the proceedings. Once Puggo Grande reels off the projector (cheesy, ain’t I?), pick any one of the other main saga Star Wars films. My pick:

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
I’m going with The Force Awakens, due to its narrative and spiritual similarities to A New Hope, and because, well, Rey is just about one of the best things to happen to Star Wars in ages. It also works as a great metric to see just how much has changed since 1977. Other than this one, I would usually go for either Empire or Jedi, but hey, I won’t diss the prequels today. There’s plenty of room for even them on Star Wars Day, plus, now that I think of it, Revenge of the Sith might be another good choice. The birth of Vader leading into the first introduction of Vader….Gah, I can’t decide! You could even really change it up by remembering that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is hitting theaters soon, and throwing in the first Guardians. Sure, it isn’t Star Wars, but it comes pretty close to being the Marvel remix of it, so why not?

How to get it: Uh…own them.

Decision time again! Your choices are:

The Star Wars Holiday Special
Image result for star wars holiday specialReleased on primetime television during the Christmas season of 1978, the Star Wars Holiday Special is quite the anomaly, seeming more an excuse to broadcast Bea Arthur and Art Carney skits than to advance the world of Star Wars. However, being the first “official” spinoff and hailing from the early era of the franchise, it makes sense to see what all the hubbub’s about. Just be warned; it’s as zany a Star Wars experience as you’ll ever find, with half of the cast appearing high as a kite, loads of reused visual effects shots, a plotline that more follows Chewbacca’s weird (and frankly creepy) family, and Carrie Fisher singing. Yes, she sings. No, it isn’t wonderful. Come to think of it, this one would be a hell of a basis for a drinking game. Note to self….

How to get it: It’s actually available on YouTube!


Star Wars: Droids

Star Wars Droids.jpg
If the Holiday Special is too crazy for your blood, then I suggest you try out a few episodes of the Droids animated series from 1985. Acting as a loose prequel to A New Hope, Droids depicts the early adventures of C-3P0 and R2-D2, that most lovable robotic duo of the galaxy, as they navigate the treacherous new Empire, and serve several different masters. Some noteworthy episodes to consider include “A Race to the Finish,” which features Jabba the Hutt and Boba Fett, and the Roon arc of episodes that finishes the series.

How to get it: The entire 15-episode run is readily available on YouTube.

Double Feature:
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story / Star Wars
Star Wars Day 2017

Close out Star Wars Day 2017 with a truly epic double feature: Rogue One, and the original 1977 version of Star Wars! Click here to check it out in full.

How to get it: For Rogue One, go out and buy it!
If you don’t own or wish to use a VHS copy of Star Wars to view the original version (since it is unavailable officially on DVD or Blu-ray), I would suggest tracking down either Harmy’s Despecialized Edition, an HD reconstruction of the original theatrical version, or Team Negative-1’s Silver Screen Edition, a preservation of a real, 35mm print of the original cut. The Silver Screen Edition will be the harder one to acquire, as it is only available as a disc image that one must burn to a BD. Harmy’s Despecialized is available in several different packages; refer to this guide to acquire one.

And that would be a wrap! Now, of course, these are only suggestions, feel free to mix and match or go against the grain. Even if you cannot acquire some of the fan preservations here such as Puggo Grande or the Despecialized Edition, that’s okay. Star Wars even at its lowest point is still Star Wars. So enjoy the day, and May the Force Be With You!

Maestro’s Picks – April 5, 2017

How goes it, readers and cinephiles?

I’d like to take a moment to first announce some upcoming additions to the blog. As you can see, I’ve already been at work sprucing up the appearance, with a new background and banner. The remodeling will continue throughout the month. I will also be starting several new columns:
Casting Calls: Focusing on both upcoming projects and my own, hypothetical films and    TV series that I would love to see, Casting Calls will feature my own picks for the main
parts as well as the chief creative teams.
Fan Edits: a discussion of fan-made cuts of existing films. I will discuss the community      past-time in my first post, and then move on to reviews of fan edits and news on
editing projects of my own
Weirdo Cinema: a celebration of some of the strangest little gems of cinema.
Maestro’s Double-Bill Drive-In: the flipside of Maestro’s Marathons, Drive-In will
suggest double features for your viewing pleasure, complete with trailer choices and
custom-made posters.

In my review of Beauty and the Beast, I noted that Disney was definitely going to be continuing their live-action remake series for the forseeable future, good or bad. Well, Disney’s latest press release has confirmed that as many as 17 films will be released over the next 10 years, including:

  • Mulan, to be released November 2, 2018
  • The Lion King, directed by Jon Favreau
  • Dumbo, directed by Tim Burton
  • The Sword in the Stone, written by Bryan Cogman
  • Prince Charming, Disney’s first “Prince” film
  • Aladdin, plus a prequel centering around the Genie known as Genies
  • Cruella, a prequel to 101 Dalmatians revolving around the titular villain
  • Winnie the Pooh
  • Peter Pan, along with a Tinker Bell spinoff called Tink
  • Pinocchio
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and a spinoff concerning Snow White’s sister called Rose Red
  • The Little Mermaid
  • James and the Giant Peach

Whew. That was a lot to type, even more to fathom. It seems Disney might be overstretching itself, maybe? I certainly think so. It’s already incredible that they are going to try and push all of these remakes in a decade, but it’s even worse with some of their choices. Peter Pan has already had so many different live action adaptations done recently that most have become box office failures, and there’s already enough Tinker Bell. Ask any parent with Netflix–they’ll tell you. Probably my least anticipated of these are James and the Giant Peach and Aladdin. The latter will be especially difficult to stomach without Robin Williams; there is no replacing him. Period.

The Sword in the Stone on the other hand, that sounds promising.

While Marvel and DC carve out their respective corners of the superhero subgenre, poor Image comics still has yet to get back in the game after the 90s film Spawn. And while there are rumblings of a reboot in the works, it seems another Image work might be coming to the big screen: Invincible. Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg, the writer-director duo behind This Is The End and The Interview, have signed to adapt the superhero comic written by The Walking Dead’s Robert Kirkman. Invincible is a comic I’ve long-wanted to see as a film, so I am hopeful. It won’t be easy, however: in addition to displaying Kirkman’s sense of dark humor, the comic is increasingly violent and bloody. Think Superman, Spider-Man, and Dragon Ball Z all rolled into one, with the violence level of the original RoboCop film. Best of luck to you, Rogan and Goldberg!

We have yet to see a trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, but the rumors are that it will drop sometime next week. Until then, there are more rumors on who Benicio Del Toro is playing. The word is that his character is called D.J., and he’ll be a slimy criminal from a casino planet known as Canto Blight. Make of that what you will.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi will be released December 15 of this year.

Any fans of the sci-fi novel Dune? I am one, and when I heard that Arrival and Sicario director Denis Villeneuve had become attached to direct, I was stoked. Now, Variety reports that Eric Roth, writer of Forrest Gump, has signed on to craft the screenplay. It’s coming together, folks!

We are now only a little over a month away from Alien: Covenant, and the marketing is kicking it up a notch. Last year, Fox designated an official ‘Alien Day,’ a special fan event which included exclusive merchandise releases and theatrical screenings of Alien and Aliens, provided by the Alamo Drafthouse. This year’s Alien Day will be even bigger, with a new official website already having been launched, complete with info on the event and a simulation of the Mother computer from the original film! It seems if you input the right information, you might be treated to some secrets….

Best of all, the new Alien Day will again include screenings, this time expanded to include Regal RPX locations. The films: Alien and Prometheus. Anybody planning on going?

I feel this is the perfect time to announce: I am planning my own Alien celebration here at the Movie Maestro for the week of May 15-21. Now that Alien Day is upon us, I will get something up that day, but my main ‘Alien Week’ will remain unchanged, and will feature reviews of all the franchise’s films, a special Casting Call, a few Fan Edit reviews, and a themed Double Feature. Hope to see you all then!

Catch you on the flip side!

REVIEW: Ghost in the Shell (1995)


Directed by Mamoru Oshii
Written by Kazunori Ito, Based on the Manga by Masamune Shirow
Starring the voices of Atsuko Tanaka, Akio Otsuka, Koichi Yamadera, Yutaka Nakano, Tamio Oki

Usually whenever classic and essential anime is discussed, two titles take center stage: Akira, and Ghost in the Shell. While I have seen the former several times and enjoy it a lot, Ghost has eluded me for all this time. Well, I have finally taken the time to view the original film, and it doesn’t disappoint. In fact, it surprises.

The year is 2029. The world has become intensively information oriented and humans are ever-connected to the network through their readily-available cybernetic enhancements. Crime has evolved as well, allowing hackers to take control over other people’s very minds. Major Motoko Kusanagi (Atsuko Tanaka), a cyborg policewoman working for Japan’s omnipresent Section 9, tracks one such hacker, a mysterious and powerful individual known only as the Puppet Master.

Ghost was a part of the Nineties wave of anime flicks, a veritable golden age of Japanese animation which spawned most of the Studio Ghibli family films such as Princess Mononoke and Pom Poko. On the other side of the spectrum, adult animation saw a resurgence, many of the films being adaptations of manga, or graphic novels. Both Akira and Ghost were popular manga in the late ’80s, and heavily influenced by the cyberpunk movement stretching back to William Gibson’s work and the film Blade Runner, so when Akira earned a feature film in 1988, it must have been inevitable that Ghost would get one. These are where the similarities end.

Whereas Akira is a more hard-pumping action film, Ghost opts for a slow-burn approach, focusing on the suspense of the hunt for the Puppet Master and the philosophical grey area of the film’s setting. To be honest, I was surprised by this, having only heard of this franchise in the past and remembering the action-heavy trailers of the new live-action effort. Don’t take it to mean I was disappointed by this, I rather enjoyed the more quiet form of this work, just be forewarned if you saw the new one first and are expecting endless gunfights and fisticuffs.

Much of the film is a haunting affair; one particular group of scenes extends for about ten minutes, focusing on Motoko’s shaky sense of identity within herself. She is nothing more than an organic brain encased in a high-tech shell, connecting her to a simultaneously feminine and de-sexualized body. If that wasn’t enough to make her question what was left of her humanity, she also contends with another surreal fact of this post-post-modern world in that her brain is also linked forever to the network; her own thoughts are just as easily accessed by her partner Batou (Akio Otsuka) as his are to her. Imagine the inside of your head, the last true vestige of privacy, not only being laid bare to another, but that this arrangement is the new status quo of reality. Scary stuff.

This particular scene is book-ended by two long sequences of motion, weaving slowly through a poor district of the futuristic city as an ancient Japanese wedding song drones. This juxtaposition of both old and new is but one example of how well Ghost handles its surreal and memorable narrative. Usually when a science fiction film is composed mostly of dialogue and creeping montages, it gets boring pretty fast; Ghost handles its pace incredibly well, never reaching a yawn-worthy drag or unbearable preachy-ness.

Conversations always serve a purpose, some advancing the plot and posing mind-bending questions at the same time. Seemingly-irrevelent occurrences with the story almost always give way to disturbing revelations. I, for one, don’t think I will be forgetting soon the look of a supporting character’s face when told that the daughter he longs so much to be reunited with is nothing but a false memory, a face of pure heartwrenching disbelief. I doubt a live actor could ever accomplish what the character model does in that moment. And when there is action, it is meticulously animated to precise choreographic momentum.

Ghost in the Shell was enough of a success to spawn several more productions over the years, including two more films and an anime series, and of course, the American remake. Now, there is another version of this original film known as Ghost in the Shell 2.0, which replaces much of the original animation with CGI imagery, cuts several scenes, and redubs a few voices. I have yet to watch this version, so when I do, I will update this review accordingly.

Akira is still amazing and retains a high status within my favorite films, but Ghost in the Shell has quickly risen to match it. It’s a film that sticks in your mind for days, possibly even weeks, with its unique look into a post-human world where our already ubiquitous social technology has become part of our very body image, and it’s an engaging mystery to boot. Akira is often compared to Blade Runner, but I think Ghost is the closer relative of that classic film, and as such, earns my highest recommendation.