This sci-fi thriller is so visually stunning that it deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as The Matrix or Blade Runner, two films it resembles in various ways, even if it lacks their resonance. Director Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman) pulls out all the stops, expertly deploying an eclectic cast and a continual stream of eye-popping visual effects. This helps make up for the surprisingly thin approach to the story's deeper themes.
It's set in near-future Japan, where Major (Scarlett Johansson) has her brain transplanted into a robotic body after an accident. Weaponised by the Hanka corporate boss Cutter (Peter Ferdinando), she is assigned to work undercover with local police chief Aramaki ('Beat' Takeshi Kitano) and a team that includes muscly sidekick Batou (Pilou Asbaek) and reparative Dr Ouelet (Juliette Binoche). Major's current case has her on a collision course with a mastermind terrorist named Kuze (Michael Carmen Pitt), who is attacking Hanka executives one by one. As she tracks him down, she is noticing strange glitches in her programming, little visions of what might be her past. But these are oddly unrelated to her memories, which makes her wonder who she really was before she became a machine.
The script makes it painfully clear that the title refers to Major's soul in her mechanical body, as if it needed explaining. And there are other elements of the dialog that seem dumbed down for the mainstream, including the way the film sidesteps the big questions it raises about free will, militarised culture and corporate greed. By neglecting these elements of the story, the film wows our eyes and tantalises our emotions, but never gets under our skin. Johansson is terrific at these sort of roles (see also Lucy), and her expressive eyes bring some moving subtext to her scenes with Binoche and Pitt. Meanwhile, Kitano nearly steals the show as the cool old-school master.
Continue reading: Ghost In The Shell Review
The Major is the leader of a specialist armed forces unit called Section 9; the Major and her team deal with specialist cyber terrorist attacks. The reason why the Major is such an effective leader and fighter is she's not entirely human. She was saved by a group of specialist doctors who work at a lab which is part of the Hanka group. The Major can withstand huge amounts of damage to her body 'shell' but that doesn't mean that she's completely invulnerable - if she pushes herself too far, she will eventually die. Her own mortality doesn't stop The Major from testing her limits.
The Major finds herself involved in what could be a huge cover-up; so big, most might presume it attested to nothing more than unproven conspiracy. Treading a line of fact and manipulated reality, The Major and her team must find a way to uncover the truth behind dangerous hacks.
The 2017 movie 'Ghost in the Shell' is based on the manga series of the same name. Whilst in the movie the lead character is known predominantly by the name 'The Major', in the original stories, she was called Motoko Kusanagi.
Continue: Ghost In The Shell Trailer
For most people in the modern world, they don't need to think about the consequences of modern day living, it's hard to think that people still need to mine land physically and often in treacherous conditions. In 2010 the world was reminded of just how risky that job can be.
When a 100+ year-old copper & gold mine in Chile suffers considerable damage to the shaft due to a cave-in, the world's news is quick to report the disaster. All life was thought to be lost and there was little hope of finding survivors, however deep inside the mine, a group of 33 men were fighting for survival. As the world learnt of their battle for survival, the onlookers could only imagine the tribulations the men inside faced. Main communication with the outside world was from one miner called Mario who was affectionately named 'super Mario', thanks to his videos, he could relay information to the support crew telling them about the men's wellbeing and progress.
Director Patricia Riggen's The 33 was filmed with the cooperation of the miners and tells their story from 700 meters underground. The 33 is Patricia Riggen's first major directorial role, though in 2012 she shot Girl In Progress starring Eva Mendes.
Maria Enders is an ageing actress whose best known role was that of Sigrid in the 20 year old play 'Maloja Snake'. The play centres on the relationship between two women - the young and manipulative Sigrid and her older boss Helena, who eventually commits suicide under Sigrid's destructive influence. Enders is now being scouted again for a revival of the production, though this time in the role of Helena. She is reluctant to take on the project, but does so with the encouragement of her trusted young assistant Valentine. Soon she meets a rising starlet named Jo-Ann Ellis who is to play the new Sigrid, but Maria finds her rude and as destructive as her forthcoming character. Soon the pressure and uncomfortable similarities to herself she sees in Jo-Ann get too much for Maria, who's already overcome with grief following her divorce and the death of a friend. Plus, she starts to feel like she could be losing Valentine, who's beginning to think there's something unhealthy about Maria's reliance on her.
Continue: Clouds Of Sils Maria Trailer
Kristen Stewart addresses her directing aspirations
Kristen Stewart may owe her global celebrity to the Twilight Saga, but she takes herself seriously as an actor. And this year she became the first American actress to win a Cesar, France's Academy Award, for her performance in Clouds of Sils Maria as Juliette Binoche's personal assistant.
The 25-year-old has been acting since she was 9. "I wanted to be an actor because I was on a movie set as a little kid," she says. "Both my parents work in film - they're crew. I love movies, and I just wanted to be involved. I got really lucky, I auditioned for a while and then started making films. I used to say that I always wanted to be the youngest director. But now I'm like, 'No, I'm going to wait until I'm properly ready to do that.'"
Kristen Stewart & Juliette Binoche star alongside one another
Intriguingly, Clouds of Sils Maria addresses a craziness in show business that Stewart is all too familiar with. The film contrasts serious actresses like Binoche's Maria ("she's interesting and good and strives to do cool stuff that makes people think") and the Jo-Ann character played by Chloe Grace Moretz ("put-together commercial/commodity-type actresses"). And Stewart is determined to be more like Maria, even if society clamours for the Jo-Anns. "That's what I like about this movie," Stewart says. "Why aren't we as a society mentioning the fact that it's so crazy that there are so many people that are so full of it? Any why are we consuming them en masse?"
Continue reading: Clouds Of Sils Maria Challenges Kristen Stewart
An intriguing Chinese box of a movie, this slightly too-clever drama unpicks the layers of identity that are concealed behind the image of a celebrity. It's so knowing that it can't help but find revelatory meaning here and there, and the performances are raw and fascinating. There's also spectacular scenery and some darkly swelling emotions. But the themes are pushed a bit too hard, and the plot is enigmatic and oddly unresolved.
At the centre is Maria (Juliette Binoche), a famous actress who is aware that as she ages she's entering a new phase in her career. She's headed with her personal assistant Val (Kristen Steward) to a special event in Sils-Maria, Switzerland, to honour Wilhelm, the director who made Maria a star. But Wilhelm dies just before they arrive, so the event turns into a memorial instead. At the funeral, theatre director Klaus (Lars Eidinger) approaches Maria about starring in a new version of Wilhelm's iconic play Maloja Snake, which refers to an unusual cloud formation in this Alpine region. But this time Maria would play the older woman, while rising-star Jo-Ann (Chloe Grace Moretz) takes the ingenue role that sparked Maria's career. While Jo-Ann catches headlines for her bad-girl antics, Maria asks Val to help her get a grip on the alien older character she will be playing.
The story spirals out from here with swirling angles of meaning, as the play within the film becomes entangled with the contrasting public and private lives of the celebrities. Thankfully, even though everything is very pointed, the actors deliver remarkably off-handed performances that are very easy to identify with, revealing their characters' private thoughts and insecurities. There is of course also a further meta-level to all of this, as Jo-Ann's paparazzi-baiting lifestyle echoes experiences Stewart herself has had.
Continue reading: Clouds Of Sils Maria Review
The Berlinale's Golden Bear for Best Film has been awarded to Iranian director Jafar Panahi's 'Taxi'.
Jafar Panahi, the critically acclaimed Iranian director, has won the Berlin Film Festival's Golden Bear for his film Taxi. Panahi has been banned from making films by the Iranian authorities yet continues to work and gain international support. Panahi also stars in Taxi as a driver who meets a variety of people as he drives them around Tehran. The film both celebrates Iranian culture and condemns the censorship imposed by the Iranian authorities.
Lauren Bacall should have the 'Oscar winner' Lauren Bacall.
After over 40-plus years as one of Hollywood's leading ladies, Lauren Bacall - who died on Tuesday (August 12, 2014) aged 89 - had to wait until 1997 for her first Oscar nomination. The 72-year-old had turned in a tour-de-force performance in Barbra Streisand's The Mirror Has Two Faces - out-acting the screen legend herself, as well as Jeff Bridges and Pierce Brosnan.
The Inimitable Lauren Bacall [Getty/1954]
Bacall was considered a shoo-in to win the Academy Award (think Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln) after winning best supporting actress at the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards, but things didn't go to plan on the night. As has happened so often since, the Academy picked its movie of the year - The English Patient - and ran with it, dishing out awards for what seemed like the entire cast. Though what on paper appeared a mere formality became one of the biggest shocks in Oscars history - the French actress Juliette Binoche winning best supporting actress for Anthony Minghella's romantic drama. Bacall's attempt at "I'm happy for you" applause became one of the most talked about moments of the ceremony.
Continue reading: March 24, 1997: The Day Lauren Bacall Was Robbed Of An Oscar
With a stripped-down, bare-faced performance, Juliette Binoche is utterly wonderful in this tense French drama. Based on the real story of artist Camille Claudel, who was locked in an asylum by her family, the film is an unofficial sequel to the 1988 biopic. And it also continues to provocatively explore the impact of religion in society that has infused writer-director Bruno Dumont's work from La Vie de Jesus (1997) to Outside Satan (2011).
The film picks up Camille's story after she has split up with the sculptor Rodin and established herself as an artist in Paris. But her family is worried that she is living the wrong kind of life, so in 1913 they had her committed to an isolated psychiatric hospital. Over the next two years, her doctor (Robery Leroy) and the attending nuns know that she shouldn't be here, especially since the constant noise from the inmates interferes with any attempt to carry on with her work. When her younger brother Paul (Jean-Luc Vincent) comes for a visit, Camille hopes that he'll finally agree to let her out, but his intense religious believes convince him that the arts are evil and that the best way to care for his sister is to cruelly lock her away.
Yes, Dumont is drawing all kinds of parallels here with modern society and the fears people have of art they don't understand, which would probably include many of Dumont's films. But aside from a brief section that centres on Paul, the film is tightly focussed on Camille, and Binoche lets us see right through her. It's a wrenchingly raw performance that reveals all of Camille's conflicting inner emotions, with glimmers of hope and even bliss as well as the deep yearning to have her old life back so she can once again express herself artistically. By locking in so closely on Camille, Dumont and Binoche force us to experience her incarceration with her, including the daily irritations and small mercies.
Continue reading: Camille Claudel 1915 Review
"Clouds Of Sils Maria" is out later this year.
If you follow Kristen Stewart’s career with the irrational passion that this writer does, you’ll no doubt have already seen the trailer for her new movie (well, technically, Juliette Binoche’s new movie) Clouds of Sils Maria. And you will have cheered.
Look at our girl, moving past the unfortunate cloud of Twilight fame to act in a serious, psychological film. We couldn’t be more proud. If you’re not quite as obsessive and have not seen the trailer just yet, you can check out out below.
Watch the trailer for The Hills of Sils Maria below.
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