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Ghost in the Shell (a J!-ENT 4K Ultra HD Review)

July 30, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Considering the other not-so-good Hollywood-made anime live-action film adaptations, one can’t deny that “Ghost in the Shell” is one of the better adaptations from an anime or manga series.  The film just misses the mark of being a wonderful, memorable film and feels like a simplified, less complex version of the original storyline and a film with untapped potential.  But there is always room for improvement if a sequel does happen in the future.

Images courtesy of © 2017 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Ghost in the Shell

DATE OF FILM RELEASE: 2017

DURATION: 126 Minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 2160p 4K Ultra High Definition, English Dolby Atmos, French, Spanish, Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital, English Audio Description, SUBTITLES: English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese

COMPANY: Paramount

RATED: PG-13 (For Intense Sequences of Sci-fi Violence, Suggestive Content and Some Disturbing Images)

RELEASE DATE: July 25, 2017


Based on the comic “The Ghost in the Shell” by Masamune Shirow

Directed by Rupert Sanders

Screenplay by Jamie Moss, William Wheeler, Ehren Kruger

Producer: Ari Arad, Michael Costigan, Steven PAul

Co-Producer: Holly Bario, Jane Nerlinger Evans, Maki Terashima-Furuta

Executive Producer: Tetsuya Fujimura, Mitsuhisa Ishikawa, Yoshinobu Noma, Jeffrey Silver

Music by Lorne Balfe, Clint Mansell

Cinematography by Jess Hall

Edited by Billy Rich, Neil Smith

Casting by Lucy Vevan, Liz Mullane, Miranda Rivers

Production Design by Jan Roelfs

Art Direction by Matt Austin, Simon Bright, Leri Greer, Miro Harre, Ben Hawker, Richard L. Johnson, Agata Maliauka, Andy McLaren, Erik Polczwartek, Brad Ricker, Ken Turner

Set Decoration by Greg Cokerill, Elli Griff, Craig Poll, Calvin Tsoi, Brana Rosenfeld, Kitt Van Der Kidd

Costume Design by Kurt and Bart


Starring:

Scarlett Johansson as Major

Pilou Asbaek as Batou

Takeshi Kitano as Aramaki

Juliette Binoche as Dr. Ouelet

Michael Pitt as Kuze

Chin Han as Togusa

Danusia Samal as Ladriya

Lasarus Ratuere as Ishikawa

Yutaka Izumihara as Saito

Tawanda Manyimo as Borma

Peter Ferdinando as Cutter

Anamaria Marinca as Dr. Dahlin


Set in a world where people are enhanced with technology, GHOST IN THE SHELL follows Major (Scarlett Johansson), who believes she was rescued from near death. The first of her kind, Major is a human mind inside an artificial body designed to fight the war against cyber-crime. While investigating a dangerous criminal, Major makes a shocking discovery – the corporation that created her lied about her past life in order to control her. Unsure what to believe, Major will stop at nothing to unravel the mystery of her true identity and exact revenge against the corporation she was built to serve.


The year 1989 and Masamune Shirow would create his manga “Ghost in the Shell”.

By 1995, an animated film was released and would become a box office hit in Japan, would achieve success via video retail and would also receive critical acclaim worldwide.  So much that even filmmaker James Cameron cited the film as a source of inspiration, saying “The first truly adult animation film to reach a level of literary and visual excellence”.

While considered complex and too some as cerebral, the popularity of the first film would lead to more animated films, animated series, video games and books.

And in 2008, DreamWorks and Steven Spielberg would acquire the rights to produce a live-action film adaptation of the original manga and in 2017, the film would be released in theaters, earning over $169 million in the box office.

The film is directed by Rupert Sanders (“Snow White and the Huntsman”) and would be co-written by Jamie Moss (“Safe House 2”, “Street Kings”), William Wheeler (“Queen of Katwe”, “The Hoax”) and Ehren Kruhger (“Transformers” films, “The Ring”).

The film stars Scarlett Johansson (“Lost in Translation”, “The Avengers”, “Lucy”), Pilou Asbaek (“Lucy”, “Hijacking”, “A War”), Takeshi Kitano (“Brother”, “The Blind Swordsman/Zatoichi”, “Fireworks”), Juliette Binoche (“The English Patient”, “Three Colors: Blue”, “Cache”, “Godzilla”), Michael Pitt (“Seven Psychopaths”, “I Origins”), Chin Han (“The Dark Knight”, “Contagion”, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”), Danusia Samal (“Tyrant”, “Boom”) and Peter Ferdinando (“Tony”, “Starred Up”).

And now, the film will be released on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Paramount.

The film begins with a woman being wheeled in via a stretcher and her brain being removed and inserted in a mechanical body (shell) at Hanka Robotics, the world’s leading developer of augmentative technology.

And the first experimented is made to integrate a human brain versus an AI, and the results on Mira Killian (portrayed by Scarlett Johansson) is a success.  While Dr. Ouelet (portrayed by Juliette Binoche) is thrilled that the experiment had worked, Hanka CEO Cutter (portrayed by Peter Ferdinando) wants to use her immediately as a soldier/counter-terrorism operative.

Dr. Ouelet tells Mira that she was involved in an accident and that her body was too damaged but they were able to rescue her brain.  She was also told that her parents have passed away.

Fastforward a year later and Mira is now a “Major” in the anti-terrorist bureau, Section 9, and she and her fellow operatives Batou (portrayed by Pilou Asbaek) and Togusa (portrayed by Chin Han) working under their boss, Chief Daisuke Aramaki (portrayed by Takeshi Kitano) are trying to prevent a terrorist attack on a Hanka business conference.

As the terrorists attack, Major acts on her own despite her Chief telling her not to to and in the process, she destroys a rogue geisha robot who ends up murdering her hostage.  After Major destroys the geisha robot, a message is given directly to her.

As Major goes for rehabilitation and medication, she tells Dr. Ouelet that she is experiencing hallucinations and that she doesn’t remember her past.

Wanting to know why the geisha robot gave her a message, she tells her partner Batou that she will be diving into the geisha robot and when she does, she knows she is breaking protocol.  But wanting to find answers, she finds out that the robot was hacked by a mysterious individual known as Kuze and Kuze tries to do a reverse hack.

As Major starts to be affected by the reverse hack, Batou has her disconnected and Major was able to extract information that leads her to a Yakuza nightclub.

As Major and Batou continue to investigate, what will they find out about this mysterious individual known as Kuze and because of her belligerence of not following orders, will she be deprogrammed?


VIDEO:

“Ghost in the Shell” receives its first 4K Ultra HD K Ultra HD release and is presented in 2160p Ultra High Definition.

While the setting is in the future, the film reflects that with a lot of CG created buildings and virtual/holographic signs.  For the most part, closeups show great detail and the overall look of the film is cool.  Combining realistic scenes with a lot of CG, the two are able to coexist with great efficacy.

For the most part, the film looks fantastic in 4K Ultra HD.

IMPORTANT TO KNOW: To watch 4K Ultra HD, you will need a 4K UHD TV with HDR and an Ultra HD Blu-ray Player + a high-speed HDMI 2.0A Cable.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

Lossless audio quality is equally impressive. Featured in English Dolby Atmos, French, Spanish and Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital and English audio description.

Considering that this sci-fi action film contains a lot of action sequences, this lossless soundtrack is quite impressive. Surround channels and LFE are well-utilized during the high actions sequences.  And may it be weapon shots to glass shattering, “Ghost in the Shell” sounds magnificent.

Subtitles are in English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Ghost in the Shell” on 4K Ultra HD comes with the following special features:

  • Hard-Wired Humanity: Making Ghost in the Shell – (30:05) A featurette on the making of “Ghost in the Shell” and bringing the popular manga to film and how it took nine years to develop.
  • Section 9: Cyber Defenders – (11:28) A featurette about the anti-terrorist unit, Section 9.  Interviews with the cast who are members of Section 9.
  • Man & Machine: The Ghost Philosophy – (10:35) A featurette with cast and crew discussing the quickly changing technology and the integration of human/technology.

EXTRAS:

“Ghost in the Shell” comes with a slipcover, both the 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray disc and an UltraViolet Digital HD code.


Having loved the animated film “Ghost in the Shell”, I have seen the manga/film evolve as a TV series, animated film, video games and literally captivate people all over the world.

So, when the film was announced that there would be a live-action film starring Scarlett Johansson, as beloved as they are too fans, they are also the harshest critics.

Could a live-action film due the manga/animated film justice?  Will the casting of Scarlett Johansson instead of an Asian actress hurt the film?

There are a lot of things that the film has been criticized and as a fan of “Ghost in the Shell”, you can see this film as being half empty and half full.

For one, I give the creators of the film credit for creating this CG landcape of a futuristic megalopolis.  The film does go into why the character of Major is not Asian.

But there are a few concessions that I can understand why the producers had to do it.  For example, the animated film, while awesome as it is, not everyone is able to follow it.  Many found it too smart, too cerebral for their own tastes, so in order to make money and make this film accessible to the public, the film can’t be too complex.

It’s important to note that in Japan, the film did much better than the original 1995 anime film, they also embraced Scarlett Johansson as the main protagonist.  Having watched many anime live-action film adaptations, believe it or not, “Ghost in the Shell” is probably one of the better adaptations from Hollywood.  You have star power in this film with Johannson, Takeshi Kitano, Pilou Asbaek, Juliette Binoche, to name a few and the acting is very good.  The visual effects are phenomenal.

Now compare this to “Dragon Ball: Evolution”, “The Guyver”, “Fist of the North Star”, “Speed Racer”. Aside from “Edge of Tomorrow”, the majority of Hollywood live-action film adaptations of popular anime and manga series have led to crap.  And “Ghost in the Shell” is no doubt much better than those films I have mentioned.

In some ways, I like to think as those years of crappy anime film adaptations similar to where Marvel Comics live-action films used to be in the ’80s and ’90s.  Until Marvel was able to strike gold with “Spider-Man”, “X-Men” and later with “The Avengers”, “Iron Man” and the plethora of superhero films that are doing wonderfully in the box office, anime film adaptations are starting to show an improvement in quality and that’s important.

In Japan, the country is experiencing a boom of anime to live-action film adaptations with “Fullmetal Alchemist”, “Gintama”, “Jojo’s Bizarre Adventures” starting to generate hype in 2017, people are fully aware of what happens when the film is in the hands of a director who takes the film with a different approach (ie. the two “Attack on Titan” live-action films).

I tend to see the future being bright for anime to live-action films in the future but while Japanese audiences are more accepting, outside of Japan, it’s a different story.  With social media and voices becoming more loud about Hollywood casting, at least the writing does find a way to make sense of Scarlett Johansson’s character.

If anything, I see “Ghost in the Shell” a live-action film that is on the lighter side of storytelling.  Unfortunately, the lighter side of storytelling is what hurts the film because aside from Major and Batou and of course, Kitano as Aramaki is a major win for the film, the problem is the development of the characters and motivations in the live-action film.

I don’t think the film’s antagonist was written all that well and if anything, I found Michael Carmen Pitt’s character, Kuze, to be forgetful.  When Major and Kuze come across each other, I didn’t care for Kuze’s character one bit even after the reveal is made.

I will give the producers and director Rupert Sanders credit for what they were able to accomplish.  The film looks great, visual effects were fantastic, the film featured solid acting but is hurt by its other characters and lack of a gripping storyline.

But considering the other not-so-good Hollywood-made anime live-action film adaptations, one can’t deny that “Ghost in the Shell” is one of the better adaptations from an anime or manga series.  The film just misses the mark of being a wonderful, memorable film and feels like a simplified, less complex version of the original storyline and a film with untapped potential.  But there is always room for improvement if a sequel does happen in the future.

Queen of Katwe (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

January 14, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Mira Nair’s “Queen of Katwe” is an inspirational film but also a commercial Disney film that provides a viewpoint of life outside of the United States and a story so full of hope but also showing the challenges that the poor in Uganda face on a daily basis and how one man has sacrificed a lot in order to help the children in poverty, find meaning in their lives and also bring out the potential they have within. And a young girl who came from a life of poverty, wanting to do better for herself. “Queen of Katwe” is recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2017 Disney. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Queen of Katwe

FILM RELEASE: 2016

DURATION: 124 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, (2:39:1), English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English 2.0 Description Audio, Spanish and French 5.1 Dolby Digital Language Tracks, Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish and French

COMPANY: Disney

RATED: PG (For Thematic Elements, An Accident Scene and Some Suggestive Material)

RELEASE DATE: January 31, 2017


Based on the ESPN Magazine Article by Tim Crothers

Directed by Mira Nair

Screenplay by William Wheeler

Produced by John B. Carls, Lydia Dean Pitcher

Executive Producer: Troy Buder, Connor Schell, Dan Silver, Will Weiske

Music by Alex Heffes

Cinematography by Sean Bobbitt

Edited by Barry Alexander Brown

Casting by Dinaz Stafford

Production Design by Stephanie Carroll

Art Direction by Shane Bunce, Jonathan Hely-Hutchinson, Fritz Joubert, Emilia Roux

Set Decoration by Set Buyer, Melinda Launspach, Jeanette Scott

Costume Design by Mobolaji Dawodu


Starring:

Madina Nalwanga as Phiona Mutesi

David Oyelowo as Robert Katende

Lupita Nygong’o as Nakku Harriet

Martin Kabanza as Mugabi Brian

Taryn Kyaze as Night

Ivan Jacobo as Young Richard

Nicolas Levesque as Older Richard

Ronald Ssemaganda as Ivan

Ethan Nazario Lubega as Benjamin

Nikita Waligwa as Gloria

Edgar Kanyike as Joseph

Esther Tebandeke as Sara Katende

Hope Katende as Hope Katende

Philip Luswata as Minister Aloysius

Peter Odeke as Enoch Barumba


“Queen of Katwe” is based on the vibrant true story of a young girl (Madina Nalwanga) from the streets of Uganda whose world changes when she is introduced to the game of chess, and, as a result of the support she receives from her family and community, is instilled with the confidence and determination she needs to pursue her dream of becoming an international chess champion. It is a remarkable story of perseverance against all odds that will leave viewers feeling humbled and inspired. According to director Mira Nair, “The triumph of the human spirit is not to weep for what we don’t have but to focus on what we do have and allow that to take us to a place we never imagined possible.”


In 2016, the American biographical sports drama film “Queen of Katwe” from director Mira Nair (“Monsoon Wedding”, “The Namesake”, “New York, I Love You”) and screenwriter William Wheeler (“The Hoax”, “Ray Donovan”, “The Reluctant Fundamentalist”) was released in theaters.

Based on Tim Crothers’ ESPN Magazine 2012 article, the film was optioned by Walt Disney Pictures and the project was developed by Tendo Nagenda, a Walt Disney Studios senior creative executive who lived in the United States but his father, who was from Uganda, moved the family to Nagenda at the age of 12.

Passionate about the film’s protagonist and true story, Nagenda personally selected filmmaker Mira Nair at her home in Uganda.  And from there, Nair and Wheeler would begin to craft an inspirational story on the true life of Phiona Mutesi.

And now, the Blu-ray release of “Queen of Katwe” will be available in January 2017.

The film stars Lupita Nyong’o (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, “The Jungle Book”, “Non-Stop”, “12 Years a Slave”), Madina Nalwanga, David Oyelowo, Martin Kabanza, Taryn Kyaze and more.

The film revolves around 10-year-old Phiona Mutesi (portrayed by Madina Nalwanga) who lives with her single mother Nakku Harriet (portrayed by Lupita Nyong’o) and her siblings, which includes her older sister Night (portrayed by Taryn Kyaze) and her brother Mugabi Brian (portrayed by Martin Kabanza).

Phiona and her family lives in the slum of Katwe in Kampala, Uganda.  And the family struggles to survive.  She has never went to school and her mother expects the children to earn money to help them pay for rent and earn money for food.

Meanwhile, Robert Katende (portrayed by David Oyelowo) is trying to find an engineering job but for now, he works at a missionary program helping children, as a soccer coach and teaching the children (which he calls “Pioneers”) on how to play chess.

Brian often watches Robert coaching the kids on how to play soccer and he tries to show him and his friend that playing chess, he used his wits to win money. And immediately, Brian is interested in wanting to play.

Seeing this, Phiona would go to the Pioneers building and watch the children play chess.

Robert sees Phiona watching and he encourages her to come and join the children.  But she is immediately bullied by the kids who tease her of being smelly and dirty.

As Robert and the other kids teach Phiona on how to play chess, he sees a job opening for an engineer position and knows that this job will be a great paying job for he and his family if he gets it.

As Phiona and her brother Brian play the game, she starts to learn from playing against him, even though she loses.  As she continues to practice, she starts to beat the other children.

When an Uganda Chess Federation chess competition is coming up, which allows chess players from various schools to compete.  Robert tries to get his children to participate in the competition by meeting with the school chairman.  As the chairman would not allow the children to compete, because they don’t go to school and can’t afford to pay the entrance fee.  But when Robert tells the chairman that if he allows his children to raise money to participate in the chess competition, they can participate.

So, Robert participates in soccer matches in order to make money for the children’s entrance fees.

But when Phiona and Brian’s mother finds out that they are spending time with Robert, she is worried that Robert may be a gambler.  But Robert, tries to convince Harriet that Phiona is very intelligent and Brian has determination that they have the opportunity to go to the best school if they excel in chess.

And so, the Sports Ministry Outreach program get to participate in their first major chess tournament but immediately the kids are taken back when they see a different side of Uganda.  Children dressed in uniforms, going to fine establishments for school and for the first time, having to learn about eating etiquette and eating with eating utensils and seeing the difference between poor and the rich.

But what happens when the children take part in their first major chess tournament?  And how will things fare for Phiona and Brian?


VIDEO:

“Queen of Katwe” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:39:1 aspect ratio). Featuring close-ups with very good detail, the film looks very good as outdoor scenes are vibrant and interior scenes are well-lit.  With a colorful pallet and wonderful detail, “Queen of Katwe” looks wonderful on Blu-ray.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Queen of Katwe” is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English 2.0 Description Audio, Spanish and French 5.1 Dolby Digital Language Tracks. The film features crystal-clear dialogue and music. Surround channels are primarily for ambiance.

Subtitles are in English SDH, Spanish and French.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Queen of Katwe” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by director Mira Nair.
  • Queen of Katwe: Their Story – (29:37) Behind-the-Scenes of the making of “Queen of Katwe” and the real people that inspired the characters.
  • A Fork, A Spoon & A Knight – (13:14) A short film by Mira Nair about the life of Robert Katende.
  • In the Studio with Alicia Keys – (6:26) Behind-the-scenes with Alicia Keys on the recording of of “Back to Life”.
  • Alicia Keys “Back to Life” Lyric Video – Sing along to Alicia Keys “Back to Life”.
  • Young Cardamom & Hab “#1 Spice” Music Video – The Ugandan hip hop duo’s music video directed by Mira Nair.
  • Deleted Scenes – Featuring eight deleted scenes and optional introductions by director Mira Nair.

EXTRAS:

“Queen of Katwe” comes with a slipcover and a Disney Movie Rewards code.


“Queen of Katwe” is a Disney film in giving audiences a story of an underdog who came from the slums of Uganda to become a chess phenom.

While the film seems simple, filmmaker Mira Nair, who has lived in Uganda, gives viewers the opportunity to see Uganda through the characters of coach/mentor Robert Katende and the young and intelligent chess phenom, Phiona Mutesi.

From Robert’s storyline, we get to see how this young man grew up living in the bushes, losing his mother and being poor to become educated, head of his IT class and has the potential of becoming a successful engineer.  But yet, he knows that with his teaching and mentoring, he is helping children who grew up in the slum with the opportunity to be something better.

Not by teaching soccer, but teaching chess and when he discovers Phiona, a 10-year-old who not only picks up quickly on how to play chess, but sees how she strategizes and sees ahead of how she can win the game of chess against her competitors.  She is intelligent and Robert feels he can help her, find her true potential.

The film is inspirational but it’s also a fascinating look at life of these children who live in the slums, the dangers they face, but also what happens when the children are taken out of their environment and see how people in Uganda, who go to school, have money, are living.  And how they have culture shock but also seeing for the first time, the difference between the poor and the rich.

But while Phiomina is able to accomplish a lot in her young age, her story is still continuing as she just graduated and prepares herself for college. And one can only hope that life for Phiomina continues to get better and that she is able to achieve her goals, not just for the game of chess but also in life and providing a good life with her and the family.

As for the Blu-ray release, picture quality is fantastic. Lossless audio is primarily dialogue and music-driven.  While special features are numerous with wonderful and insightful featurettes, audio commentary, music videos and more.

Overall, Mira Nair’s “Queen of Katwe” is an inspirational film but also a commercial Disney film that provides a viewpoint of life outside of the United States and a story so full of hope but also showing the challenges that the poor in Uganda face on a daily basis and how one man has sacrificed a lot in order to help the children in poverty, find meaning in their lives and also bring out the potential they have within.  And a young girl who came from a life of poverty, wanting to do better for herself.

“Queen of Katwe” is recommended!

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