Movie Review: Ghost in the Shell


Let me give you the short version first. I have no idea what is wrong with audiences or critics who have been complaining about this film. It is very timely. It is gorgeous, and it is a good movie.

Actually, I can very directly tell you why this movie has been torpedoed by critics. It has essentially been plagued by issues with typecasting, whitewashing, etc. that have been blown way the heck out of proportion, e.g., in reviews like this. I’m not going to go into that. It’s a waste of time. Instead, let’s focus on the film itself.

My first point is that the film is timely. It’s about your personality and your privacy in the digital age. Republicans are pushing a bill that allows for your personal data, history and possibly even content to be sold by ISPs. Similar to how Major has no real rights to her mind, her thoughts, and even her own body. We’re incorporating devices into our lives that are going to be even more personal than smartphones. Implants, though they seem so farfetched, are not that far off in our future. There is already so much pressure on teenagers and young people to conform to a certain type of beauty and a certain type of online, social intelligence, that it is not farfetched to believe that a social pressure might be exerted to enhance beauty with implants. In South Korea, the rate of plastic surgery is astronomical to conform to beauty standards within the society.

As more of our job market is taken over by robots, there is going to be an incredible amount of pressure on the next two generations to push themselves scholastically to be able to get a job. Is it so farfetched to believe that people might resort to implants to store more information, help them process data faster, and learn faster? Do jobs faster? Be stronger? Be smarter? Be better? And who owns that data? According to our current congress, it’s going to be the companies. So, this movie is extremely timely. You should watch the movie if for no other reason than to keep that idea fresh in your mind.

Second, the movie has a solid flow and is comfortable to watch. The characters are reasonably well-defined on a sci-fi concept that is markedly different from our world today. World building in a 2 hour movie can be a hard thing, but the director did a good job of not just world building but also character development and story plotting (editors I’m sure had a lot to do with that).

Third, the movie is downright beautiful. The robots, such as the geishas, are really well done. It presents the ugliness in humans as well as our softer features and beauty, in a way. It presents the scenery of a Shanghai or Hong Kong or Tokyo built to the extreme that all anime and cyber punk books have pushed since the 80s. My wife didn’t like the 3D projections on buildings, but it’s not that far off from what you would expect to see after visiting a major Asian metropolis right now.

The movie is a solid 4 out of 5 stars. There is absolutely zero reason to avoid it in theaters. My wife and I both enjoyed it, and she absolutely hates anime. I doubt she could have sat through the original movie. This movie SHOULD have opened up American audiences to these important themes about digital privacy and self in an age of implants and cybernetics (which is fast upon us), but because of whitewashing conversations run amok, we’ll have to wait longer to have that conversation on a large scale. I would still recommend seeing it.


Warcraft Movie Review

My Background with Blizzard (feel free to skip to TLDR)

For this review, I should probably divulge a bit of my gaming background (which can help you understand if this review is at all biased). In my youth, I played a lot of real-time strategy (RTS) and turn-based games. Some of my favorites growing up were Panzer General, Final Fantasy Tactics, Romance of the Three Kingdoms IV (and basically anything by KOEI at the time, including the American Revolution-focused one) and even some old computer games like Seven Kingdoms (which I have yet to meet someone else who has played this fun game).

I actually didn’t play my first Blizzard game until well into my teens, but the company has stuck with me. I played Warcraft I, but I had some pretty extensive experience at the time with other RTS games and, quite frankly, I wasn’t that blown away by it. It was fine. It was fun, but I only played it through once before I went to other games. I didn’t play another Blizzard game until I had left high school and my first year of college. One of my friends introduced me to Diablo (which was amazing), and I retroactively played through Warcraft II, which was pretty good, and Warcraft III, which was amazing, and I started creating custom maps and various nerd levels of immersion. Starcraft followed, but for several years, I stopped playing any Blizzard games.

It was several years later that a friend told me about World of Warcraft, and I played that for a few years before leaving the world of Azeroth for ~4 years or so. I was burned pretty seriously by the real-money auction house (RMAH) nonsense in Diablo II back when it was very poorly led, and at the time, I vowed to not play another Blizzard North game. I have kept that vow with Diablo II, even though friends have told me that after the lead developer left, everything got much better. I came back a few years ago and have been raiding and raid leading in WoW pretty much ever since. However, I’m not a lore junky. I really play the games for the real-time strategy aspects of raid leading, rather than caring much for the story.

TLDR: I have played most of the Blizzard games and have a love-hate relationship with them. It’s more love than hate, and the hate is mostly a result of poor management of some of the franchises and a hatred for myself at allowing games to distract me so well from getting meaningful things done. I didn’t remember the plot to Warcraft, the original, as I really wasn’t that enthralled with it at the time, so I wasn’t invested in the characters or setting, really, before I went to the movie.

The Warcraft Movie


For anyone following Blizzard, you probably know that the Warcraft movie was something promised many years ago (2006) and it has essentially taken 10 years to get to the screen due to various production setbacks. After a while, it became a kind of joke–like Starcraft Ghost–that was oft repeated by the gaming masses. However, the movie is being released this weekend, and I got a chance to see a test screening yesterday.

Before I went, I took a look at the Rotten Tomatoes score, which has a current review of 20%–pretty atrocious. I read some of the critics reviews, and I read some of the viewer comments, and I prepared myself for the worst. I almost didn’t see this movie, but I decided to give it a chance.

I was not disappointed. The movie is great for any lover of fantasy and speculative fiction, and I’ll go into why by responding to some of the reviews.

What the critics are saying

I will start with one of the critics that I frequently roll my eyes to the most, Scott Mendelson. If you read through his review, you’ll see that he is heavily biased against video game franchises. He notes his bias towards these kinds of genres, citing Assassin’s Creed in the same breath as Gods of Egypt (which was not a video game property, as far as I’m aware).

To understand the critics’ spectrum, let’s take a look to someone who was using “Lord of the Rings” as a baseline instead of other video game properties. He flatly states in his review that ‘this is not “Lord of the Rings.” It’s barely “Dungeons & Dragons.”‘

This is essentially the main points of concern you will see repeated in critical reviews. It’s another video game movie. It’s trying to be Lord of the Rings but fails. Etc.

Why the critics are dumb

I only have a blog post to really address this, so let me just keep this short. Critics tend to favor movies that 1) glorify preserving nature (e.g., Avatar or basically any movie going against big corporations), 2) have a ridiculous, unforeseen plot that keeps them guessing or that challenges genre norms (this is hard for critics to find because they have experienced so many movies), 3) exposes something deeply human that moves the reviewer (generally needs to show deep emotional connections between people and other people or something insightful about the dangers of people and technology) or 4) have major respect for a director and assume a deep dive of the movie will provide deeper meaning.

Warcraft is not going to fit into any of these categories. 1) It shows a race of beings who destroy an entire world before the movie starts, and only a portion of them seem worried about the effects of this mysterious fel on the environment. It does not punish the Orc people for this wanton abuse of nature, and this offends more liberal sensibilities. If a movie does not rectify such behavior, it’s generally panned by critics. It’s just the truth about liberal critics. 2) It is mostly predictable. It even has a particular, kind-of-awkward love story that you have recently seen in a Hobbit movie–though with different races and I should note that the Hobbit story between an elf and a dwarf came roughly 2 decades after the same scene was basically done in the Warcraft game back in 1994. 3) The movie focuses on the response of humanity to an invading threat. There are people dying all around, and the mechanisms that had once brought safety to the world of Azeroth, are failing them (even the alliances between men, dwarves and elves.) There really isn’t much time to stop and develop close connections, and there were some editing decisions that limit the impact of the attempts at establishing a love story between the two worlds. This is very forgivable as the scope of the movie is sweeping and grand. 4) Duncan Jones has two previous movies under his belt–both with great Rotten Tomatoes scores–but most of the reviewers see this movie as a small blip against him. I think this bias started beforehand because Warcraft is a departure from the types of films Duncan worked on before this film, and critics tend to look unfavorably on that.

It seems like if a director does big budget but is true to what the critic liked about the earlier films, it’s forgivable, but if they make a big budget story that doesn’t try to satisfy the first 3 major critical appreciation categories, then the critical response tends to be very negative. The film still has merit, however, regardless of how the critics viewed the movie as failing in the first 3 categories.

Why you are going to like this movie


The characters and setting are a lot of fun. Medivh? You get how powerful the guy is without any real backstory. He will do things that are extraordinary. You’ll dislike him for certain things, but he is constantly redeeming himself in ways large and small.


The interactions between Anduin Lothar and anyone else. Anduin is essentially like Strider from Lord of the Rings but stronger as a character in basically every way. He’s not yet in power, but he has all the makings of it. He’s not self-doubting (which is one of the more annoying things about Strider in LotR). He makes good decisions you can understand. Honestly, I have always played Horde in these types of games because I think being a bad guy is more fun, but this performance makes me rethink that position.

Garona is a bit of a hit and a miss. I understand how hard this must have been to play, and it’s humorous how the portrayal was done. You will laugh at how blunt, practical, and honest orcs like the Frostwolves can be. It ends up being their bane, but the complexity of the Orcs is a radical departure from Lord of the Rings fare. Orcs in traditional fantasy were not caring, loving, or capable of reason. They were monsters and had a lust for killing humanity that was at points ludicrous and inexplicable. Here, in this story, you are going to understand why, and you are going to root for them and the humans at the same time. Durotan’s portrayal is pretty awesome, and his fight against Guldan is everything it should have been.

Guldan is as powerful as Medivh¬†(if not moreso because of the lengths he will go for power) and his portrayal is both convincing and repulsive (as it needs to be). As someone who did not remember this plot at all (it’s been 2 decades since I played this game), this all played out well for me. I enjoyed the plot, the characters, the amazing powers, etc.

The CGI is some of the best that has been produced for a fantasy film. You are going to love how computer graphics bring these orcs to life. You will believe those are the real actor muscles. You will forget about the teeth being unnatural, and the griffon being a mythical creature who is not really moving so fluidly. The CGI is not overdone. It is immersive. It is used for good effect. The magic system will make sense without you needing it explained to you. It is used, the effects are obvious, and the toll it takes on characters like Medivh and who suffers when Guldan uses his magic are practical, obvious, and reliable.

In other words, the plot makes sense. The magic makes sense. The scale is epic. The love interest is perhaps a bit rushed (I believe editing might have had something to do with this), but the action and story are unique and interesting.

Bottom Line

I believe that if you are reading this blog, you are going to like this movie. It was very well made, both from a technical CGI perspective and from a plotting and character development perspective. It doesn’t have the opportunity to say something super important about humanity (at least, not the kind of lesson critics believe movies should have), but it does say something about humanity’s willingness to sacrifice and compromise for the greater good. It also presents Orcs in a way that is relatable and presents a good conflict in the viewer’s mind that justifies the Orcs being seen as both enemies and allies.

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Movie Review

So, there are three ways to experience the Millennium Trilogy (aka “that girl with the dragon tattoo thing”, as I’ve heard it referred to). The absolute best way to experience the story would be through the three books. I think we can all agree on that. Second would be the Swedish version that is available on Netflix. The third is the new feature film released this week in the U.S.

First, let’s talk about the 2nd option (the Swedish version). Even with subtitles, Noomi Rapace nails the best portrayal of her that I could want. Lisbeth is strong, confident, and utterly damaged. She doesn’t need a man. She’s better off without any of them–even Mikael. She’s brilliant, cunning, and as my wife says “kicks ass.”

Anyone who has seen what happens to a script that gets run through the Hollywood meat grinder knows exactly what happens to a European film adapted for American audiences. Look no further than the 2010 version of “Death at a Funeral”. I still shudder at even thinking about trying to finish that film (I couldn’t even get half-way through it the first time). Let’s face it. Sometimes, Hollywood butchers a good script.

That’s not so with the 2011 version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” They didn’t butcher it. There are improvements, and there are places where the movie didn’t live up to the Swedish version. Let’s go over a few things without giving too much away.

First, the opening credits of the latest edition are a lot more engaging. There’s a sort of black oil thing going on, and I can never get enough of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant song. It’s just good fun. If there’s one thing that Hollywood still does better than anyone else, it’s flashy CGI. A++ on this effort.

Now, the most important part of the movie: Lisbeth. Not as good. Oversexed in this one and not in a way that really moved the film along better. The key scenes (like the rape) are pretty well done (as far as effect is concerned)–though I’m still partial to the Swedish version in how disturbing it was. There’s one thing I didn’t really like about Lisbeth’s character here though: she’s too… well… nice. She asks Mikael to lay down. She’s warm when I feel she shouldn’t be. She openly loves Mikael and is upset by him still sleeping around. I’m curious to how David Fincher will rectify this major change in her character. After all, her coldness is supposed to be a family trait–one she shares with her brother and father. You’re not supposed to melt the ice cube, imo. That was part of her charm and intrigue. We’ve also lost a way for her old guardian to explain to Mikael more about her father and what he’s done and is doing. I sure hope it isn’t Mikael’s daughter that manages to somehow decipher this (you’ll get this reference when you see the new version–if you’ve seen the old one).

She’s still intriguing though. And her T-shirts made my wife and I giggle. She’s still stand-offish to other people and the essence of the character is still intact. Mikael has a much larger role. Lisbeth doesn’t really solve as much as she did before, and I’m not sure if that’s altogether a good thing. After all, the next two movies are supposed to be all about her and her family. Will the audience be able to follow the big transition from “All Mikael” to “All Lisbeth” in the sequels? Probably.

This may seem like a bad review of the movie. In actuality, it’s not. I just really liked the Swedish version. My wife and I plan to go to the theater again to watch the Hollywood adaptation. We both saw and loved the Swedish version, but the new movie was very good. It was just different.

So, go out and see the new “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” movie. But see the Swedish version too. It’s probably best to watch the Swedish version second.

More movie reviews and a silly video

First, the silly video. Here’s a cat on a turtle.

Now, back to some movie reviews for Netflix titles. I love Netflix, and my wife loves to sleep. This could cause a lot of problems, but thankfully, Netflix has a large gallery of foreign films with English subtitles, which allow me to play the movie low and not miss dialogue. Not all foreign movies can be watched this way though and still have a decent enjoyment level. So, in this series of reviews, I also add a Sleeping Roommate Score (SRS) to indicate the likelihood of being able to watch the movie with a sleeping roommate or spouse in the next room and manage to not get yelled at and perpetual evil looks the next day.

First, the good. Max Manus.

From its interesting and casual storytelling of the work of saboteurs to its emotional and epic cinematography, this is a movie that keeps you interested and guessing. It’s a hero’s tale and though much of the story can be predicted, it was so well crafted that even predicting the plot felt rewarding. The dialogue mixes between languages so you’ll have some subtitles. Mixed with the action sequences and explosions, this means you cannot really watch this with a sleeping roommate nearby. But my wife stayed up to watch this one with me. It’s worth a watch.

Title: Max Manus
Rating: 5 stars. Excellent movie.
SRS: 2 star. You should not try watching this with a roommate sleeping near you.

Now, the unusually surprising. They’re not five stars, but they’re 3-4 stars and worth watching as a cinematic experience. And just me admitting to this is something that brings up very mixed emotions. Uwe Boll… has managed… to direct… two decent films. Yes, the director of Blood Rayne and Blood Rayne: Third Reich (both very terrible, btw).

Now, a warning. Apparently, the only thing Uwe Boll appears to do decently right now is extremely graphic violence. So, keep in mind that I have an ability to try to look past gory scenes, especially if there is a purpose in it.

Title: Rampage
Rating: 4 stars. Not a perfect movie, but for Uwe Boll, wow. It’s important to remember that this is a heist film and an interesting perspective on society. If you can get past the slow build and the insane psychopathic rage, you may actually say “you know… that’s actually ingenious.” And then you’ll realize you just said that about a Uwe Boll screenplay and directorship. Worth a watch.
SRS: 1 star. Under no circumstances will you get away with watching this on Netflix, hear the dialogue, and not anger sleeping persons.
WARNING: Language and Extreme Violence

Title: Attack on Darfur
Rating: 4 stars. Again, not a perfect movie, but it is a powerful portrayal of the conflict. From what I’ve read, real Darfur survivors were cast in the movie and much of their parts were unscripted–Uwe Boll listened to them and let them re-enact things that had happened to them and their families and friends. The plot of the Americans? Very fantasized. But, it is a movie and the American presence may help ground the story for most viewers.
SRS: 3 stars. Mixture of English and subtitles for the Sudanese and Arabic dialects. The good news is that the loud parts will become very obvious to you. There’s a huge battle scene, and almost everything after that point can be watched and not heard (or heard softly).

BOTH of these movies were started before I realized they were him. I’ve picked up a few others after I find his occasional success. The successes are a rarity though.

Title: The Warring States
Rating: 2 stars. Mostly bad. I love Asian movies. I’ve seen pretty much every movie set in the Three Kingdoms period that has ever been made. This movie tries to romanticize the historical setting of a possible author of the Art of War back in the Warring States period, but it is no Three Kingdoms. The CGI battles look very cheap. Some of the fight scenes are good, but I didn’t use the word “great” and I certainly didn’t say “All”. The death scene was just ridiculous. You’ll know the one I’m talking about when you see it. It’s not the fact that the person died. It’s that they’re even able to interact as they did. And it happens at the end, which is 9x worse than this happening in the middle or somewhere less memorable and lasting.
SRS: 5 stars. You can totally watch this with the subtitles on and volume down.

Movie Review: TrollHunter

So, I have this addiction. Sometimes instead of writing or researching, I’ll browse around Netflix and pick out random movies. This fascination with mostly low budget film has resulted in me rolling around on the couch for thirty minutes laughing at the absurdity of Megashark versus Giant Octopus (Syfy is by and large a terrible, terrible network and 30 minutes was the extent of my willingness to play along) and the remake of Moby Dick (also SyFy), but it has also resulted in me finding gems like 13 Assassins and the surprisingly good TrollHunter.

TrollHunter Trailer:

TrollHunter impressed me in a few distinct ways. First, it went with a Blair Witch angle and actually nailed the type of first person, campy camera crew feel. Second, Norway is just a gorgeous country, and I’m pretty sure you could film an old man running through the country in his skivvies and you’d at least have a 3 out of 10 star film review from me. And third, the pacing, story, and willingness to kill a main character was appreciated. Once the director did that, I was expecting the worse for our film crew, but it built a living folk hero instead.

I was very pleasantly surprised all around with the film. Definitely an indie-budget movie I would recommended. Even the special effects are 9x better than what I expected.

Review: 4.0 out of 5.0. Recommended.

Happy reading and viewing everyone!

Edit: Just found out that Rotten Tomatoes gave TrollHunter an 82%, so I’m definitely in agreement with critics on this one!

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