Mini Reviews (May 2017)
Unforgettable, Becoming Bond, Ghost in the Shell
Unforgettable (May 12/17)
A decidedly underwhelming (yet somewhat watchable) thriller, Unforgettable follows Rosario Dawson’s Julia Banks as she picks up stakes and moves in with her boyfriend (Geoff Stults’ David Connover) – with problems ensuing as David’s ex-wife (Katherine Heigl’s Tessa) reacts poorly to the cohabitation (to put it mildly). It’s a fairly salacious premise that’s employed to head-scratchingly subdued effect by first-time filmmaker Denise Di Novi, as the director imbues the proceedings with a deliberateness that often highlights the deficiencies in Christina Hodson and David Leslie Johnson’s script – which takes an oddly (and incongruously) low-key approach to a situation that could hardly be more broad. It is, as such, fairly distressing to note that Hodson and Johnson fail to come through with some of the expected tropes of the genre, with, for example, the lack of a satisfactory resolution for Julia’s wisecracking friend (Whitney Cummings) certainly indicative of everything wrong with the all-too-tame screenplay. And yet, Unforgettable does boast a handful of positive attributes that ultimately compensate for its less-than-competent elements – with the effectiveness of the leads’ work and the sporadic inclusion of appreciatively trashy moments buoying one’s interest on an ongoing basis. The long-awaited shift to full-tilt sleaze in the movie’s final stretch certainly ensures that Unforgettable ends on a somewhat positive note, and yet it is, given the potential afforded by the setup, hard not to feel a twinge of disappointment at the film's predominantly lackluster atmosphere.
A bizarre hybrid of documentary and feature, Becoming Bond follows George Lazenby (Josh Lawson) as he progresses through a series of careers to eventually succeed Sean Connery as James Bond – with the movie essentially operating as a series of reenactments triggered by an extensive interview with Lazenby himself (ie it's Drunk History: The Movie). It’s an unusual structure that, for the most part, works pretty well, with filmmaker Josh Greenbaum’s pervasively light touch paving the way for a perfectly palatable (if somewhat erratic) narrative – with Greenbaum, interestingly enough, stressing Lazenby’s love life over his work in film. There is, as such, a heavy emphasis on the protagonist’s on-again-off-again relationship with Kassandra Clementi’s Belinda, and although both Lawson and Clementi are quite good in their respective roles, the pairing ultimately never quite becomes engrossing enough to warrant so much screen time. The ensuing hit-and-miss atmosphere proves problematic, to say the least, and yet Becoming Bond does manage to sustain one’s interest thanks to a continuing smattering of compelling sequences (eg Lazenby’s dealings with Jeff Garlin’s snarling Harry Saltzman). Greenbaum’s decision to give short shrift to Lazenby’s stint as 007 is disappointing, to say the least, and it’s consequently (and ultimately) clear that Becoming Bond isn’t entirely successful as either a documentary or a piece of fiction - which is a shame, certainly, given the almost inherently fascinating nature of its setup and subject.
Ghost in the Shell
Based on a Japanese comic book and set in a distant future, Ghost in the Shell follows Scarlett Johansson’s cybernetically-enhanced Major as she becomes increasingly disenfranchised with her status as an elite soldier and eventually embarks on a journey of self-discovery. It’s clear immediately that filmmaker Rupert Sanders isn’t looking to deliver just another run-of-the-mill Hollywood sci-fi epic, as Ghost in the Shell boasts an incredibly ambitious visual sensibility that remains a consistent highlight within the otherwise subpar proceedings (ie the movie, if nothing else, presents an impressively singular vision of the future). The trouble, however, lies in Sanders’ refusal (or inability) to provide an entry point for the viewer into this expansive world, with the hands-off atmosphere compounded by a one-dimensional protagonist that couldn’t possibly be less interesting or compelling. (It’s an issue that’s exacerbated by Johansson’s disastrously charisma-free performance.) There is, as such, little doubt that Ghost in the Shell’s style-over-substance vibe grows more and more problematic as time progresses, as the movie, for the most part, feels like a series of sci-fi-oriented short films loosely strung together by a common central character. And although Sanders eventually does attempt to ground things by stressing Major’s identity issues, Ghost in the Shell has long-since alienated the viewer and established itself as a handsome-looking but entirely empty comic-book adaptation.