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April 10, 2017 - Going In Style

Robbing a bank is no easy task, and it’s even harder when you are over 70 years old, as our main characters learn in Zach Braff’s remake of Going In Style. An attempt early in the film by Joe (Michael Caine) and Willie (Morgan Freeman) to steal from a grocery store ends in a humorous low speed chase that also gets third buddy, Albert (Alan Arkin) in trouble with the store security team. After getting off with a warning from the security manager, Joe and Willie realize they must get better prepared if they are going to pull off the heist.


The original Going in Style was released in 1979 and featured George Burns as the main character. With the recent trend of remaking all that is old, Zach Braff gives us a modern upgrade from the original crime comedy. Besides the main plot, three elderly friends decide to rob a bank, the two movies are not much alike. The film begins with Joe at his local bank at the time that it gets robbed. After a brief interaction with one of the robbers, he is less traumatized by the incident and more intrigued that the robbers got away without and trouble. He soon learns afterwards, along with Willie and Albert, that the pension funds that they were all receiving have stopped due to a new company buyout. With a family to support (Joe’s daughter and granddaughter stays with him), he begins to think about ways to make quick cash to save his house, which leads him to his decision to rob the bank. After some convincing, the other two are on board and they begin their plan to rob the same bank as earlier.


With this cast of talented actors and story, Going in Style gives us a fun adventure that keeps your interest. Michael Caine does a wonderful job as Joe, the leader of the group, who wants the best for his granddaughter. Morgan Freeman, who seems to do one of these “old people go on an adventure” types of movies each year, also does not disappoint. His reasons for wanting to rob the bank is quite different though, as his kidney failure is getting serious, and he wants travel to see his granddaughter before he gets worse. Alan Arkin provides a good compliment to the other two, as the most reluctant member of the three. He doesn’t have any family to concern himself with, and he doesn’t mind being broke, so he has no reason to become a criminal. He eventually agrees to the plan, once he learns that the bank will have their pension money. This leaves his motivation as the weakest of the team, but it’s a Hollywood movie and we must have the team together. They all add great comedy though, and caters to the crowd of the older movie going population. There a good amount of age jokes, and references that an older crowd would enjoy. Besides the comedy, Zach Braff does a good job of setting up the tension on whether or not they can pull it off. On the day of the robbery, Joe, who walks his granddaughter to school every morning, brings along her estranged father to help do the walks in the future. There is a lot of uncertainty on if Joe believes he will succeed, and wants to prepare for the worst. The feeling of dread continues throughout the day as Joe, Willie, and Al do final preparations. I won’t go into too much detail about the plan, but they have come a long way from the grocery store incident, and it shows.


Overall, Going in Style hits a few high marks, primarily with the actors, but does not do much more than entertain. The comedy is there, as well as a story that will keep your interest, which is good enough for the intended audience.


B-


-Adam Eltarhoni

April 3, 2017 -  Ghost in the Shell Review

Within the first 15 minutes of Ghost in the Shell, our main character Major (Scarlett Johansson) infiltrates and takes out a group of villains with relative ease. From jumping off a building, to attacking the criminals in her invisible outfit, the movie gives us a taste of the style and action to be expected. How does she manage this feat? Major is a cyborg, the first of her kind she is told, one that has a human brain placed in a robotic body. This is a future where people can get cybernetic enhancements to any part of their body, and she is the next level in this technical evolution.


It is always a tough task to take a beloved franchise such as Ghost in the Shell and turn it into a live action film. First appearing in 1989 as a manga, Ghost in the Shell takes place in a futuristic Japanese city and follows the story of Major, who is a member of an anti-terrorist force known as Section 9, it became an anime film in 1995 followed by a series and another film. With a lot of source material to pull from, writers Jamie Moss, William Wheeler and Ehren Kruger along with director Rupert Sanders create a film that seems to be a mix of old references and new details. In addition to Johansson as Major, the cast features Pilou Asbæk as Batou, Major’s partner in the force, Michael Pitt as Hideo Kuze, the man Major is hunting, and Takeshi Kitano as Chief Daisuke Aramaki, the head of the police force. While Scarlett is a little bland as Major, the others do a wonderful job in the film. The setting is also nice. Section 9’s city feels over the top, with its holographic advertisements everywhere, but also realistic, with its run down areas and overcrowded landscape.


For the plot, Ghost in the Shell has the feel of an anime, and for an audience who hasn't seen any previous material, such as myself, the story is entertaining without being too dependent on the source material. It has a feel of a 90s plotline though, and does not offer too many surprises.  One year after becoming a cyborg, Major begins to have “glitches” in the forms of visions she sees in real life. She has no knowledge of her life before becoming a cyborg, and Major begins to think these glitches may have something to do with her past. Meanwhile, she is also on a hunt for a mysterious person who is looking to take down the Hanka Organization, one of the largest robotics company in the world. Helping her with this task is Batou, the hard scrabbled partner who prefers feeding stray dogs over hanging out with people. The back and forth between the two feels natural, and adds to some of the best moments of the film. On top of that is the previously mentioned action sequences that make the movie an entertaining experience. The fights are fun, and the shootouts are even better, leaving you wanting more.


The film is not without its problems though, with a clichéd dialogue being the primary issue. The interactions with the Hanka corporation CEO Cutter and most other characters are full of one liners that are laughable, and the movie does not want to let you forget that Major is like a “ghost in a shell”, repeating this concept constantly, as if we don’t get the meaning of a human in a robot body. Certain scenes seem unnecessary as well. Major’s visit to the bottom of the bay for some alone time provides no real importance besides the fact that it is pretty to see the sea creatures swimming around her. While Johansson, as mentioned earlier, does not add much to the character, although without seeing any previous material from the series, it may be intentional.


Overall though, we are given a fun futuristic action movie that doesn’t try to be overcomplicated or surprising. As long as that is all you are expecting, you will be entertained.

B+


-Adam Eltarhoni