Author Archives: Steve McHugh
Yeah, this is probably going to make someone yell at me.
The original Ghost in the Shell was one of the first anime—along with Ninja Scroll and Wicked City— that really got me interested in anime back in the mid 1990s. In fact I watched it again only yesterday, and it still holds up incredibly well. It spawned a sequel, a TV show; Stand Alone Complex, which is amazing, and another Tv show; Arise, which I haven’t seen yet. In short it’s a classic, and rightly credited with helping to make anime better known to the masses.
If I’m honest, I had little hope for a live-action version made in Hollywood. They’d have the budget, and probably throw good actors at it, but I doubted they’d be able to pull it off.
Then they cast Scarlett Johansson as Major, and that went down like a lead balloon. I don’t really want to get into the whitewashing debate, but I will say this, they should have cast an Asian woman as Major. That’s not really a big surprise, Major is Japanese after all (and I’m not interested in anyone saying “but she doesn’t look Japanese, that’s not a valid argument and you know it), and being Japanese and living in Japan plays a huge part in the original.
The problem was compounded when it came to light that the studio wanted to make Scarlet look more Asian by digitally screwing around. And on top of that, part of the film deals with her being white in the most ham-fisted way they could possibly imagine. I literally facepalmed when it happened. Seriously, Hollywood, if you’re going to take a non-white character and make her white, just change the whole story so it doesn’t remind everyone of the problem for a large part of the film.
Alternatively just hire the right people.
So, yeah, that wasn’t a great start to a film I had no interest in seeing. But as a fan of the franchise, and also of Takeshi Kitano who’s amazing in everything ever, I decided to go watch it. And it’s good. Actually in parts, it’s really good.
So, the negatives (apart from the above). The villain sucks. He’s just not as interesting as the Puppetmaster, and that leads into the biggest problem with the story in that it’s much more overt about everything that happens. The original had little hints and moments where you weren’t quite sure what to trust. This is a lot more neon signs pointing at the badguy. I prefer the subtly.
The ending falls flat too. It’s just sort of a, “oh is that it?” moment, unlike the original. I know it’s a different take, but it’s just really a bit meh.
Now for the good stuff.
Apart from a few occasions (and they’re really bad), the CGI is excellent. Good job all around there, future Japan is both beautiful, and overwhelming. The dirt and grime of its underbelly is brilliant here. It captured the feel of the original film well.
The music is phenomenal. Just absolutely beautiful stuff from Clint Mansell, and I will definitely be buying the soundtrack when it’s out.
Takeshi Kitano as Chief Daisuke Aramaki is wonderful. He’s a badass who takes no shit from anyone, while at the same time staying several steps ahead, and that’s exactly what the character is. I could watch Takeshi Kitano in pretty much anything, but his scenes in this almost steal the film.
Michael Pitt is very good too, although not in it much, he does a lot considering he’s mostly CGI.
Pilou Asbæk is brilliant as Batou. It’s a spot on performance. As is Chin Han who plays Togusa, and although at first it was strange that he was much older than in the anime, it really does work well.
Juliette Binoche is great too, and really does make you care about a character who may or may not have the best moral compass.
So, now to Scarlet. She’s very good. There are occasions, like all films she’s in, where Scarlet plays Scarlet, but for the most part she’s an excellent Major and has the mannerisms and action scenes down perfectly. The action is beautiful too, with some stunning set pieces (and more than almost one frame for frame shot of the original).
So, over all it’s a strange film. It’s very good, very accomplished, and the film flies by, but it’s no where near as good as the original, and Scarlet’s part could have (and should have from my point of view) been played by an Asian woman.
If you can get over that, this is a good film, with some brilliant performances, and incredible visuals. But I’m of the opinion that if you’re going to remake a classic film, you’d best make it better than that classic. And this film simply isn’t good enough to be held up next to the original. It’s very accomplished, and a lot of fun to watch, but the original, and Stand Alone Complex, are considerably better.
I know this might not read like a recommendation, but it is. It’s just a recommendation with a huge asterisk on the bottom. If you like action films, or don’t care about the anime, this is probably for you, but if you hold the anime up as a great film, or the casting bothers you, you’ll probably come away less impressed.
Ever since Promise of Wrath came out last year, people have been asking me about book 7.
So, after keeping it to myself for the last few months, I’m proud to finally be able to announce that I have signed a 3 book deal with 47North, the first book of which will be Hellequin book 7, Scorched Shadows.
The other two books can wait before they’re announced to the world, but needless to say, I’m very excited about what I have coming up in the next few years.
As for a release date for Scorched Shadows, stay tuned for that as hopefully I’ll have something to reveal soon.
Hugh Jackman has had a bit of a up and down career with regards to playing Wolverine. On the one hand, he was brilliant in X-men, X2, and Days of Future Past, as well as having one of my favourite cameos of all time in First Class. He was also the best thing in Apocalypse. But when it comes to his own films, it’s a different story. Origins is one of the worst films in the genre, and Wolverine was considerably better, but didn’t have the best story, and probably some of the weakest villains in a genre that has a problem with crappy bad-guys.
Logan doesn’t fix the last point. The bad-guys in the film are there to chew scenery and get their faces ripped off. There’s no one there who is more than ‘blonde dude number 2’ or ‘that science guy’, they’re all bad, they’re all idiots, and they all deserve to die for ever thinking they can screw around with Wolverine.
However, it’s a small problem in the scheme of things, because this isn’t a film about the bad-guys and how Wolverine will win. Of course he’ll win, he’s Wolverine. This is a film about Logan, Laura and Charles. This is a film about those three people and the family they become. Everyone else is there either to help bring the family closer together, or get killed when they try to tear it apart.
Hugh Jackman is phenomenal in this film. He’s always been an incredible Wolverine, but this is the film he shines in the most. It’s a broken, beaten man who just wants to sail off into the sunset so he can die in piece, but he can’t because he’s not that kind of man, no matter how much he wants to be.
Patrick Stewart is always amazing. Always. And this film is no exception. It’s a bit weird to hear Professor Xavier tell Logan to fuck off on a regular basis, but after dealing with him for so long, it’s also understandable.
If this is both Hugh and Patrick’s last x-men film, then it’s a brilliant one to leave on.
Dafne Keen as the young X-23/Laura is a force of nature in the film, and despite spending the majority of it without ever saying a word, manages to convey so many emotions. She’s wonderful throughout the film, mixing extreme levels of violence with the innocence of someone who is still a child, no matter how much awfulness has been done to her. I hope this isn’t her last film as Laura, because she’s great.
Make no mistake, this is a bleak, dark, vicious film. There’s very little levity, there’s almost no jokes, no witty quips, there’s just an unrelenting darkness. And when you think it’s done, they find a whole new level of it. It’s a tearjerker, make no mistake about it, especially if you’ve grown up watching these characters.
It’s sort of the anti-Deadpool. Deadpool was violent, and silly, and funny, and a joy to watch because it knew what it is and it went with it. Logan is violent, and dark, and bleak, and revels in it.
So, it’s not perfect. The villains are dull and uninspired, the ending can be seen a mile away, and there’s a constant train of thought in your head that says, “ah, they have a moment of happiness, I wonder what horrific thing will happen next.”
The three central performances are key to this film. The action is spectacular, and horrifying in equal measure, but it’s exactly what this film needed. If you have any interest in superhero films, action films, or you just want to see Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart act circles around everyone else in the film, then you should go watch it. This sits alongside the best x-men films. And whoever they get to play Wolverine next (and you know they will), is going to have an exceptionally tough time following on.
I figured, what with the new book being the last one in the Hellequin Chronicles, and me currently writing it, that I’d do an AMA. Now this won’t be on reddit, because I’m not on reddit, so we’ll do it slightly differently.
So, here’s how it’s going to work. I’m going to let everyone ask me anything they like. And in two weeks (ish), I’m going to make a video and answer all of the questions to the best of my ability.
If you have a question you’d like to ask about me, writing, my books, the Hellequin universe or anything else relevant you can think of, leave a message below this post (or on FB/Twitter etc), and I’ll put them all together and answer them all. I’ll post the video (or the links to it) here and on FB and the like. So, have at it people, ask me those questions you’ve always wanted to know.
Rogue One is a very difficult film to review. Taken on it’s own, it’s a bit disjointed and quite possibly one of the most depressing films I’ve seen in a very long time, but as part of a larger narrative, it fills in gaps and shows more about a story we all know. Or at the very least think we know.
First things first. I’m a MASSIVE Star Wars fan. I’ve seen the films/played the games/read the books and comics (although not all of them because I actually enjoy reading). So, this film is aimed at me. It really is too, this film is aimed at people who enjoy Star Wars. Anyone coming into it having never seen a Star Wars film before is likely to get pretty lost pretty quickly, but then why not make a film that caters to the fans?
It is not a perfect film for a multitude of reasons, but first I’ll talk about what works. Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso is excellent, as is Diego Luna as Cassian Andor. They’re essentially the two leads of the film, and they work well together. Neither are whiter than white heroes, and both have a lot of redemption to work toward. Actually, that’s one of the main themes of the film, at least for the Rebel side. A lot of the heroes need redeeming from their past actions (actions which show the Rebels weren’t above using pretty awful tactics to win).
Apart from the leads you’ve got K-2SO who is just magnificent in every single way. Donnie Yen as Chirrut Îmwe is badass. I’ve loved Donnie’s films for years, and I was actually hoping for even more action scenes just so he could be in them. Jiang Wen as Baze and Forest Whitaker as Saw Gerrera were both excellent too.
Unfortunately, the film isn’t without problems. While the story is interesting, and moves along at a good pace, the opening act is a little bit all over the place as they try to show everyone involved. More annoyingly, the middle section just feels like it’s missing a chunk of story. There’s a scene later in the film when Baze calls Jyn Little Sister. There’s no reason for this, and the two didn’t have any heart-to-heart moments or anything, so it just feels like there was a bit cut out.
Ben Mendelsohn is very good as Krennic, but he’s not exactly a terrifying villain. He’s essentially an administrator who wants to advance in the Empire. And he’s constantly being out-maneuvererd by Grand Moff Tarkin. Speaking of which, Tarkin is in the film a few times and yes they CGI’d Peter Cushing’s face onto another actors body, and yes it’s a bit weird. There’s just something off about it, like you’re watching what an alien thinks a human should look like. The same with another CGI character later in the film. They both look a little… strange. Not at first glance, but when they move. It’s odd, and while I get why they used those characters, they probably should have gone with another actor for Tarkin.
Oh, and Vader is in the film, but not for long. That’s not a spoiler by the way, you’d be daft to think he wouldn’t be in it. They’re pretty good, and both show just how terrifying Vader is. I’d have liked to see more of him to be honest, but that would have screwed with the narrative.
The final battle scenes are incredible. In fact all the action scenes are great, but the last 45 minutes is just fantastic.
So, it’s a little disjointed, and some of the characters don’t actually have a character beyond be badass, but as a whole it’s great, and I loved seeing some Star Wars: Rebels Easter eggs
For reference sake, here’s where I’d place Star Wars: Rogue One
Empire Strikes Back
Clone Wars TV show
Star Wars: Rebels
A New Hope/ Force Awakens
Return of the Jedi
Revenge of the Sith
500 feet of putrid crap
Phantom Menace (that last fight saves the film)
The Attack of the Clones.
So, if you’re a fan of Star Wars, go watch it now. If you’re not, then this isn’t the film to change your mind, even if it is really good.
Promise of Wrath has been out for a few months now, and it’s had a brilliant reception, with fantastic reviews. I’ve received many emails from people who have loved the book, and I’m so glad that people are enjoying it.
However, I’ve also had a lot of requests for the Paperback and Audible version. Both of which are now available to purchase.
Click on the links below to go to the Audible or Paperback versions.
I hope those of you who decide to buy either way, enjoy the book. I’ll be starting book 7 soon, so look out for more information on it in the coming months.
Today, I got a lovely little gift through the post from my publisher. It’s a framed copy of Crimes Against Magic for selling over 100,000 copies. It’s a very cool thing to be given, and thanks to everyone who picked up a copy.
I’m not a huge fan of the original Steve Ditko comics of Doctor Strange. They’re just too… well, strange for one thing. It’s not that they’re bad or anything (although they are a hard read by modern standards), they’re just so trippy and so out there.
I am, however, a huge fan of the modern rendition of Doctor Strange, especially the new series by Jason Aaron and the incredible Chris Bachalo (who has been one of my favourite artists since he did Generation X). This film manages to stay closer to the modern day version of Strange, but it still manages to keep a lot of the trippy weirdness from the old days.
First off, Benedict Cumberbatch is brilliant. Not just brilliant, perfect. He is perfect as Stephen Strange, the arrogant and brilliant doctor who’s entire life falls apart after his hands are shattered in a car crash. He’s both serious, and funny (some of the humour in this film is excellent and I loved the cloak), and handles the physical action of the film well.
Chiwetal Ejofor does well in his role as Mordo too, as does Benedict Wong as… Wong. Those three characters are spot on.
Tilda Swinton is great as the Ancient One. Genuinely great, but then she’s great in everything. I know about all of the controversy that surrounded her being chosen for the role, and I agree it would have been better if they’d chosen an Asian actor to play a character who is meant to be Asian in the comic, but they didn’t, and it’s been discussed so often that it seems pointless for me to chime in. Needless to say, Tilda is brilliant, and brings a conflicted, but wise aura to the role, which it needed.
Mads Mikkelsen as the main villain is where the character stuff starts to fall apart. He’s very good at playing what is essentially a very dull villain. Marvel film (apart from Loki) have had a really hard time finding good villains, and this film continues that tradition of having a villain who is just a little underwhelming.
Speaking of underwhelming, Rachel McAdams does fine with what is essentially a bit part to put some romance into the story. It doesn’t really work, and I would have been fine if they’d either given her more to do, or just remove the whole character after the opening act. She’s more plot device than actual character for the majority of the film, and that’s a shame.
I should point out, that despite these misgivings, I liked this film. The story is simple, yet well executed, and the action scenes well done for the most part (there are a few where it was hard to tell exactly what was happening as the camera moved about so much, but they were rare).
The action is the star of the film. There are two sequences in particular, one in a mirror realm, and one on earth that are astonishing. The later of which might well be the most creative fight scene I’ve seen in any Marvel film. They’re both beautiful to watch and mind-blowing with their insanity, and if nothing else this film has set up magic as a terrifying, incredible, beautiful thing, and I look forward to seeing more of it in future Strange films.
The ending (no spoilers) is a little underwhelming too, and frankly the whole film feels like it could have used another twenty minutes to flesh out the villain and made him less of an afterthought. Although the way the ending is done is very creative, and I enjoyed Stephen actually being shown to be smart enough to figure it out.
It’s probably not a top 5 marvel film, but it’s certainly close to it. And the two end credits sequences hint to Strange being in a lot more Marvel films, and a dark turn for a sequel that I’d love to see.
Also, the music, like all Marvel films is phenomenal and completely perfect for the film. I don’t know how Marvel studios keep getting these brilliant scores, but they really are the master of putting them together.
So, it’s two hours of incredible spectacle and great acting, but a simple if well-executed story. My main problem is the villain. Marvel’s best villains are on their TV show, and no one has come close to the complexity of Kingpin, or evil of Purple Man. At some point the films need to correct this, because Marvel have some amazing villains to pick from, and I’d like to actually see them portrayed as a threat, not someone who’s there because the good-guy has to fight someone.
I think the Seven Samurai is one of the finest films of all time. I love the story, the comradery of the characters, the acting, the setting, and the directing. In fact I love pretty much everything about it, but the other thing I love about it is that it’s inspired so many other films, and most of those films have been good. A Bugs Life is one of my favourite Pixar films, and the original Magnificent Seven is pretty much timeless.
But while most re-makes of classic films have me rolling my eyes at the idea—at least to begin with—I never did with this re-make. In fact, I was really looking forward to it.
There were a few reasons for this; Denzel Washington is one of the finest actors ever, Chris Pratt is always entertaining, Lee Byung-hun is a great actor who has done some brilliant films (The Good, The Bad, and The Weird being a favourite of mine). Antonie Fuqua makes films I for the most part enjoy, in fact apart from the dreadful King Arthur, I’ve always at least been entertained by what I’ve seen.
And then there’s the whole western theme. I love a good western. Unforgiven is one of the greatest films of all time, but I’m also glad they’re not done to death anymore, and that people are doing new things with the genre (Bone Tomahawk for one). Now, Magnificent Seven doesn’t really do anything new, but it what it does is fun and exciting.
I do have a few problems with it though. Several of the Seven are under-used, Lee Byung-hun being one of them, but also Martin Sensmeier. They feel like they could have used more time. This is the same for Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and Ethan Hawke, both of whom have interesting characters, but are put in the background for the most part for Denzel and Chris.
Denzel and Chris are both good in this film. Chris Pratt gets a little close to playing Chris Pratt on a few occasions, but as he’s so entertaining I forgive it. Denzel is great, but he’s always great, and his real motivation for joining this group is only hinted at throughout most of the film. The problem is when the revelation comes; it doesn’t feel like the gut punch it’s meant to. It feels like it’s just added to give more to the scene.
Peter Sarsgaard was the villain of the piece and he was… okay. He’s a bad guy who has one part to his personality, and that’s to be a bad guy. I prefer my villains to be a bit more rounded, but he played the part well enough, and I was nice to see him get his comeuppance.
Vincent D’Onofrio really was magnificent, playing a softly spoken character who was almost a force of nature.
Lastly, Haley Bennett was great, really enjoyed her performance, although I wasn’t such a big fan of making her really strong for 90% of the film, and then a cowering damsel in distress when the plot called for it. That sat a bit strangely for me.
But where this film shines is the cinematography, which is stunning, and the action, which is pretty much phenomenal. The gun fights in this film are breathtaking, and the scenes with hundreds of horses running toward this small town is genuinely a brilliant piece of cinema.
So, it’s not really magnificent. It’s good. It’s certainly entertaining, and Denzel was great, but it never got over that good rank. There were times when I thought it would go to great, and I was really hoping for it, but it never quite managed it. It’s certainly worth a watch, as it’s fun and action-packed, and I hope it does well at the box-office, as it deserves to, but it’s not going to go down in history as an all-time-classic.