Here's a look at the new movies I saw this week.
Ghost in the Shell
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Michael Pitt, and Juliette Binoche
Synopsis: Based on the comic book by Shirow Masamune, "Ghost in the Shell" is set in the near future where humans are getting cybernetic enhancements. But that's not the limit of the future. The tech company at the heart of the story is trying to look to the future, and that means creating Mira (Johansson), a woman with a human brain and a completely synthetic shell of a body. That makes her the perfect hybrid, and the perfect weapon. But she also has these "glitches" that she can't explain. Soon, a nefarious figure begins attacking the scientists that worked on the project and Mira begins to wonder what the connection is to her. This film has a very interesting story and look. The scene set by director Rupert Sanders reminds me a lot of "Blade Runner," and the film has a strong cast and engrossing story. It draws you in to the world, the characters and the mystery in a good way. Johansson is great in the lead role, and Pitt makes a convincing nemesis. There have been some complaints about the "white-washing" in the casting, and that feels fair when watching the production, but the film is solid in its production. This is a movie that feels like it tells a complete and satisfying story while also opening the door to a potential franchise. That's a fine line to walk, and this does it well.
Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, suggestive content and some disturbing images.
Verdict: Three stars out of four.
Going in Style
Starring: Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin, Ann Margaret, and Zoey King
Synopsis: Last summer, “Hell or High Water” painted a bleak picture of banks and finances in America. It was a sort of Bonnie and Clyde-style thrill ride about a pair of brothers who, faced with foreclosure on their mother’s ranch after a predatory loan, decided to make the bank pay. They did it by robbing a few banks and using the chain’s own money to pay their debts. It was a film that resonated with a lot of people, especially in the current climate. The film was even nominated for Best Picture. And you couldn’t help but wonder if it was the beginning of something. “Going in Style” has practically nothing in common with “Hell or High Water.” It’s set in a big city, it centers on a trio of retired friends and it’s a comedy. But it is also about a failed economic system that leaves average people feeling victimized, on the verge of losing their home, and desperate to find a solution. This is a different kind of film. It’s a family comedy and a buddy comedy, but it also feels relevant to our times. While it treats the subject in a comical way, this movie is making a statement about the banking system, corporations and our economy. And, much like with “Hell or High Water,” I can’t help but wonder if this is part of a growing trend. It’s also just a fun movie to watch. Caine, Arkin and Freeman are incredibly talented actors, and they work well together here. They have fun with the conceit of the film, their age and the story. And it works in a delightful way. And each of them does something a little different. Freeman, as always, brings plenty of pathos and has one of the more emotional arcs in the film. Caine has a wonderful rapport with King, and also has some great scenes with Peter Serafinowicz, who plays his ner-do-well son-in-law. And Arkin has some fun scenes with Ann Margaret, who plays his love interest. It’s clear the trio had fun making the movie, and that translates to the screen. Director Zach Braff – best known for his work in front of the camera as the star in “Scrubs” – does a nice job with the film and the pacing. The story plays out in some ways you don’t expect and brings plenty of laughs to go along with some more emotional moments. This is a solidly made comedy that is great for a wide audience.
Rating: PG-13 for drug content, language and some suggestive material.
Verdict: Three stars out of four.
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson, Ariyon Bakare, and Olga Dihovichnaya
Synopsis: Hollywood has a proud history of sci-fi horror films. There's nothing as scary as things going wrong in space, especially when aliens are involved. The "Alien" franchise has thrived on that premise since 1979, and is about to unveil its sixth film this summer. "Life" fits right in that vein. In fact, I would describe it as a poor man's "Alien." The film is set on the International Space Station and features a crew receiving a probe from Mars that may have life beyond earth. But, predictably, that life is something the crew is unprepared for, and something they might not survive. I thought most of the plot here was incredibly predictable, right down to the "twist" at the end, which I saw coming from a mile away. The performances and effects here are fine, but there's nothing special. And the story feels stale and overly familiar. The script comes from Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, the writers behind "Deadpool," so I thought there would be some more humor. But this film is overly serious. It doesn't maximize the charisma and talents of Reynolds, which is a shame, and doesn't seem to make the most of Gyllenhaal's range. They were the two big names attached to the project, and both are fine but neither has a compelling character. This movie is just OK, which is likely why it was released in the no man's land of March despite its cast and high concept.
Rating: R for language throughout, some sci-fi violence and terror. Enter with caution.
Verdict: Two stars out of four.
Friday, April 14 — "Fate of the Furious," "Spark"
Friday, April 21 — "Unforgettable," "Born in China," "Free Fire," "The Promise"
Friday, April 28 — "Sleight," "The Circle," "How to Be a Latin Lover"