Going in Style (2017)

Capsule Summary (spoiler free):

Going in Style is a remake of the 1979 movie of the same name. The situation has the same basic premise, but it’s been modernized. A fine effort by director Zach Braff. The story is mildly tense, entertaining, and funny, and the cast of veteran actors makes it worth seeing.  Definitely recommended.

Standard Review (contains plot spoilers):

Joe (Michael Caine) is at the bank, trying to resolve a problem with his pension from the steel mill where he used to work. There have been problems because there haven’t been any deposits from the fund in a while. While talking to the unhelpful manager, the bank is robbed by masked gunmen. They are in and out with a few minutes, but not before Joe and the manager are confronted by one of the robbers.

Joe and his two lifelong pals Willie (Morgan Freeman) and Albert (Alan Arkin) find out that their pension fund is gone, thanks to some corporate trickery.  As fallout from this maneuver, the bank’s about to foreclose on his mortgage, putting him, his daughter and grandchild on the street. That infuriates Joe, who  decides that he needs to rob the bank that’s handling the pension funds.

Joe convinces Willie and Albert to join him, and the three of them find out what they need to do, thanks to a workable, but slightly convoluted stream of events.

Naturally, nothing is ever that simple, and there are complications, but that’s the fun of this film. The interplay between the three of them is wonderful, and “smooth”, because it’s clear the actors work well together. I’m surprised they haven’t appeared in other films before, because it seems like they have.  There are some other cameo appearances by well-known, older actors I won’t mention, and they properly gel with the situation. Going in Style builds to a conclusion that had me guessing to the end. I won’t say how close it is to the original film’s finale.

With the upcoming summer blockbusters about to burst on the scene, I think I can safely say this movie will make it to my top 10 of 2017.


Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Ghost in the Shell started as a Japanese Manga (comic), was adapted to a well-received animated film in 1995, then a successful animated series that ran from 2002-2005, and then another movie in 2004, another movie in 2006, and another in 2008, and a reboot of the story in 2013.  All of these are based on the original manga, and have been received differently. When it was announced that there would be a live-action film based on it, expectations were higher than high.

Throughout these interpretations is the same basic story. It is the future. Robotics and cybernetic implants are commonplace. Many people are enhanced with implants and can do extraordinary things. That also leads to crime. Within the Japanese government, Public Security Section 9 is a force who deals with counterterrorism and all sorts of computer/cyber crime. There are variations to this in the various instances of the adaptations, but the rest of this review discusses the film in question.

The Major(Scarlett Johansson) is the first of her kind – her brain is placed in a completely cybernetic body. Her sense of self is called the Ghost, spirit, or soul, if you will, and her body, the Shell. As a human, she was rescued from downing, and as such, the Hanka Corporation chose her for this experiment. Deemed a success, she is assigned to Section 9. Fast forward to a year later, she is the point person on a suspected attack on a hack involving a high-level person in the Hanka Corporation. Someone is trying to steal information from him by sending a robot geisha to a dinner/reception he is holding. Something is amiss, and the Major is put on the case.

That all transpires within the first 10-15 minutes of the film, and I will not divulge any more. There is a lot of furor about the casting of Scarlett Johansson, because the Major has always been a Japanese woman.  I personally was disappointed, originally, and I don’t know why it was done, but perhaps it could have been related to getting funding/approval for the movie to be made, at all. I will say that they “address” that in the story, but I won’t say more, as it’s part of the story.

There is plenty of action in this film. It’s all highly choreographed, as have been the various animations in the past. The kineticism and energy of these scenes have been one of the most appealing aspects of the previous incantations, and here they meet expectations. The computer and hacking scenes are a little less interesting, as the previous shows have made a strong effort to ratchet up the visual nature of them. Here, they are interesting, but not as visually stimulating.

Along with the visual, there is a lot of dialogue to pad the story with “history” and explanation of the concepts. Those moments can drag for people who are familiar, but they are necessary for people who aren’t.

This film is visually stunning. This is a very rich world, and they can only do so much in a movie that runs 1:47. There are a couple of characters who are well known within the series, but are relegated to them having a scene or two that seem perfunctory, like “I’m this guy, and I do this (and then they do it)”. Again, that’s them loading up the story so there can be a sequel, or they are providing these  elements to make the faithful happy. I can’t say, though there’s a ton of material to cover for this movie so that people understand what’s going on.

One aspect of the previous versions of this show has been the music. The choices were always interesting and full, on their own. Many different styles were used. Here, Clint Mansell, an exceptional composer, has done a decent job, however none of his work was truly memorable. There’s nothing “wrong” with what he wrote, but it didn’t fully work, for me.

The background cityscape this movie exists in is full of Eye Candy – super-sized advertising via hologram, people with various implants walking in the background, crazy vehicles of all sorts and sizes, and so on. There’s a lot to see, and I suspect after several viewings there will still be more to discover.

All this being said, it is a good film. It’s an updated re-telling of the 1995 movie, with some things added on that came along from the series. The final confrontation is acceptable, but not mind-blowing.  I did see it in 3D, but there wasn’t enough that used it well (besides the city scenes) that I recommend you see it in 2D. Overall, it’s a mixed bag, and I suspect people that aren’t too familiar with the story will like it more than those who are.


Logan (2017)

Logan is the latest film from the Marvel X-Men comic book franchise. This review presumes you are aware of the previous movies, if not the comics. Its primary focus is on the X-Man Wolverine, aka Logan (Hugh Jackman).

It’s a few years in the future. Mutants have been eradicated from the face of the Earth, except for a few holdouts, like Logan. The remaining ones are in hiding. Logan is eking out a meager existence as a Limo driver. We see that he’s living in Mexico, and most of the money he earns is to pay for medications for Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who is very ill. Also with them is Caliban (Stephen Merchant), another mutant who takes care of the three of them.

All of them are getting by, until one day, a woman approaches Logan, and says she knows who he is. She wants to pay him to drive a little girl to a remote place in the Northern U.S.  The girl’s a mutant, too, but Logan initially refuses, for fear of being discovered, however, fate has other plans. There are people searching for the girl, and they’re not too happy. The movie becomes a chase, but that’s only a part of the story.

This is a well known story, at the fundamental level. The world-weary guy who wants to remain alone is thrust into the role of caregiver, and realizes what must be done. The first example of this that popped into my head was Father Goose, but there are many others. It’s a good story, if told well, and in this case, it is. In previous X-Men films, the mutants and their powers are at the forefront of the story, but in this one, they almost take a back seat to the plot. I am pleased that they do, which allows the writers to come up with a real story that, on its surface, is a bit silly for most of the X-Men movies.

I do recommend this film. Please note that it is rated R for violence, and there is a lot in this movie.