Who are you? Who am I? And how sure are we of that?
While the low-hanging fruit this week is to talk about how tight Scarlett Johansson's bodysuit is in the new live-action Ghost in the Shell remake, the more interesting discussion is on the film's ideas about identity and reality. Are any of us who we think we are? What role does the reality of unabashed narcissism of our "selfie" society play in determining our identity in this ever-expanding digital universe ruled by corporate overlords? All of this was pure science fiction back when the original Ghost in the Shell manga comics and animated flick were released in Japan in 1995. Nowadays, who can say?
Johansson (Ghost World, Under the Skin) stars as Major, a human brain transplanted onto a cyborg body after her real body was destroyed in a terrible act of terrorism. She's the first of her kind and, once she's brought online, Major becomes an agent for Public Security Sector 9 battling evil hackers and cyber terrorists in a post-cyberpunk future, where the bad guys can hack into other people's minds. Along the way, Major embarks on a whirlwind quest of self-discovery as she struggles to filter the truth from the fake news. Is Major real or is it all just a program? Is she a cog in the machine or a self-realized life form? Are any of us any different?
And how do these themes hold up in a Hollywood movie made 22 years after the source material? While it's no secret Ghost in the Shell was inspired by 1982's Blade Runner, the story and ideas have also heavily influenced Hollywood sci-fi ever since (without Ghost in the Shell there would be no Matrix). It remains to be seen how audiences will handle familiar material or themes of identity in an era when everything is a remix and everyone pretends to be perfect versions of themselves. It definitely doesn't expand on the ideas presented in the original.
The good news is this live-action remake is a visually astounding. Director Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman) and his team pull out all the stops — incredibly top-notch CGI, some uber-voyeuristic camera work, and sex-symbol Johansson in a suit that fits the way a balloon fits the air inside it. But it can't match the original's intensity. Perhaps this is due to just how influential the original flick was, or maybe it's because live-action remakes of cartoons never play as well (see also Beauty and the Beast), but in any case this one will be interesting to hold up against the Blade Runner sequel slated for release in October.
Also opening this week at the grand ol' Village 8, The Boss Baby is a cartoon that will never be remade as live action. The trailer (admittedly, all I saw because the idea of sitting through the full 97 minutes is about as appealing as losing your house key in a colostomy bag) seems obviously aimed at adult Alec Baldwin fans in a desperate grasp at the adult audience. Baldwin stars as a baby who has the mind and manners of a cut-throat Wall Street CEO and yeah, if you are still reading after that you may as well just go see it. I'll pass.
In other news, Trainspotting 2, the most anticipated movie of the year, a sequel 20 years in the making that reunites the entire cast and creative crew from the original, is only playing at one theatre in Vancouver and will likely never come to town. This is the world we live in now — The Boss Baby over the natural continuation of one of the greatest films of our generation. And studio execs wonder why digital piracy is a thing.
Speaking of which, the Download of the Week is a throwback to the 1980s with lesser-known John Hughes classic Uncle Buck. Starring the late John Candy as a good-hearted schlub tasked with caring for his brother's children for a week, this one effectively pushes the boundaries of polite family film and reminds us that the '80s were actually a much more daring era than they get credit for. Watch for a pre-Home Alone Macaulay Culkin, and scene-stealer Jean Louisa Kelly as she delivers one of the best examples of teenage angst ever committed to film. Candy would have been 67 this month; pour some on the block.