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Film review: Ghost in the Shell

Sci-fi `Ghost’ is confusing `Japanamation’ feature. `When Night is Falling’ an overwrought love story.

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Two new "art" films opened at the Tower Theater Friday, Japanese animation and a romantic drama with a homosexual twist.

— "GHOST IN THE SHELL" is another "Japanamation" feature, with a science-fiction story that is a bit more interesting than most, though it is also overly complicated and occasionally confusing.

As is usually the case with these films, however, the emphasis is clearly on the intricate, technological animation — and some of it is stunning, bolstered by a heavy dose of computer-generated art. (It's that same old mixed bag, however — eye-popping machinery and backgrounds and stiff human figures, sometimes with a stationary picture lasting a couple of minutes as only the characters' lips move.)

The story . . . as near as I can tell . . . has a government cyborg agent named Major Motoko Kusanagi trying to track down a mysterious virtual reality intelligence known as "The Puppet Master." (Actually, it's more of a brainy computer virus on the loose.)

There's all kinds of cyberspeak, technical mumbo-jumbo and specific references created for this fantasy world of the year 2029, but basically it's bad guys vs. good guys, each with special powers.

In the film's most crass, juvenile touch, Major Motoko must take off her clothes in order to become camouflaged . . . that is, she becomes invisible. This allows the animators to display the naked female form throughout the film. (OK, it's just a cartoon, but you will note that when a male character renders himself invisible early in the film, he puts on a cloaking device rather than stripping.)

The violence isn't as gory as in some others, and the characterizations are, in general, more compelling.

In fact, in some ways, "Ghost in the Shell" offers some hope that another effort down the line may actually live up to the promise made by "Akira" a few years ago. But this one isn't quite there.

"Ghost in the Shell" is not rated but would undoubtedly receive an R for violence, nudity and some language.

— "WHEN NIGHT IS FALLING" is the overwrought story of a Christian college professor named Camille (Pascale Bussieres) who is led out of her stale existence when she falls in love with another woman. This includes her non-married relationship with a male professor at the college (Henry Czerny, who explains at one point, "We're committed").

The object of Camille's affection is Petra (Rachael Crawford), who is a performer in a bizarre circus, (at one point she does a sort of feminist clogging dance).

Their romance begins tentatively and, naturally, leads to all sorts of questioning by Camille of her previous values. But in the end, love conquers all — including death (of both humans and dogs).

"When Night Is Falling" begins as if it has something to say, but as the film progresses, it just becomes more and more ludicrous, with literal flights of fancy, heavy-handed symbolism and graphic sex scenes.

Oh, and that ridiculous, bodice-ripper dialogue, as when Petra says, "Camille, I'd love to see you in the moonlight with your head thrown back and your body on fire." Or when Camille says that she and Petra will be "like `Thelma & Louise,' without the guns."

Right.

"When Night Is Falling" is not rated but would receive an R for sex, nudity and profanity.