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What Went Wrong With ‘Ghost in the Shell’?

Culture
Photo courtesy of Paramount

The controversial movie bombed at the weekend box office

The sun is currently shining in Southern California, but there’s a storm cloud hovering above the Paramount lot. The studio, already in the middle of a rough patch after a string of flops, is currently enduring a nightmare scenario. Ghost in the Shell—their $110 million sci-fi experiment and potential franchise-starter—is officially a flop, finishing the weekend with an almost invisible $18.6 million, good enough for just third place behind Beauty and the Beast, which continues to clean up, and Boss Baby, which won the weekend at nearly $50 million.

At this point, Ghost in the Shell cannot be separated from the whitewashing controversy that dogged the film almost an entire year before its release, when it was announced that Scarlett Johansson would be playing Major, a character that is Japanese in the source material, an iconic Japanese manga, upon which Ghost in the Shell is based. But as the autopsy of Ghost in the Shell’s disappointing box office result is being conducted, the question remains: What kind of an impact did the casting controversy have—if any—on the movie’s flimsy debut?

It’s very possible—and even likely—that the studio’s strategy of casting a white movie star in a role that should have probably gone to an actor of Asian descent backfired. The reason Johansson was cast as Major—a gun-toting, ass-kicking cyborg—in the first place was because of the actress’s recent emergence as an action star. While Johansson made a name for herself in indies like Ghost World, Lost in Translation, and Match Point, her star power and visibility reached the stratosphere thanks to her role as Black Widow in the incredibly lucrative Marvel Cinematic Universe. Then, in 2014, Johansson helped turn Lucy—another sci-fi action movie, this one from director Luc Besson—into an out-of-nowhere box office hit, solidifying herself as one of Hollywood’s few proven box office entities. Along with Charlize Theron and Jennifer Lawrence, Johansson became one of three women on the planet that studio execs trusted to top-line an action movie. 

That was the rationale used by screenwriter Max Landis, who tried to explain Johansson’s casting last October. And in a move that likely had Paramount executives breathing a sigh of relief, Mamoru Oshii, who directed the original Ghost in the Shell animated movie, defended Johansson’s casting for reasons that had nothing to do with keeping investors happy. "What issue could there possibly be with casting her?" he told IGN. "The Major is a cyborg and her physical form is an entirely assumed one. The name 'Motoko Kusanagi' and her current body are not her original name and body, so there is no basis for saying that an Asian actress must portray her. Even if her original body (presuming such a thing existed) were a Japanese one, that would still apply.”

Oshii’s reasoning aside, the controversy surrounding Johansson shrouded the movie up until its release, with Johansson herself having to awkwardly defend the decision in several interviews last week. Speaking to Good Morning America’s Michael Strahan, Johansson said that her character “is living a very unique experience, she is a human brain in an entirely machine body, she is essentially identity-less.” Johansson also felt comfortable that the movie itself would put the controversy to bed. “I would never attempt to play a person of a different race,” she said. “Hopefully any question that comes up of my casting will hopefully be answered by audiences when they see the film.” Almost immediately after the interview, The Media Action Network for Asian Americans accused Johansson of lying

More alarm bells rang when the studio only screened the movie for critics two days before its release and forced them to hold their reviews until the day before. Typically, when a studio is confident in its final product, it will screen the movie to critics early, in order to build positive word-of-mouth on social media and let the movie’s presumably high Rotten Tomatoes score seep into the public consciousness. No such thing happened with Ghost in the Shell, leading to bad buzz before the first review dropped. And when the first reviews did hit the web, the domino effect was fast and devastating. Most publications complained that the movie was all style and no substance, a visually striking action movie that ultimately betrayed the original’s heady philosophical leanings. (Ghost in the Shell currently sits at a less-than-stellar 43 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.) In fact, many critics called it an “Americanization” of the original, with complicated themes surrounding human consciousness abandoned for mindless action set pieces. And The Atlantic’s David Sims went as far as accusing the film of using a late twist to explain away Johansson’s presence to audiences. “A third-act twist attempts to confront Johansson’s casting in a way that ends up feeling awkward, misguided, and vaguely insulting to Oshii’s film, summoning the specter of its original protagonist in an effort to explain why the Major’s 'shell' might look like the American actress,” he writes. 

But most people agreed that among the movie had flaws, Johansson herself was not one of them, and that the actress gives an appropriately haunting and robotic performance (which makes sense, given that she plays a haunted robot). The New Republic call her “the best thing the movie has going for it.” Still, her appeal was not enough to overcome the accusations of whitewashing, with Megan Colligan, Paramount’s marketing and distribution, admitting that “it had some impact, but it was more of the impact overall on reviews,” she said. “I think people are becoming more vocal on these types of issues.” After the lessons learned with Ghost in the Shell, she is probably—and hopefully—right. 

Photo by Imani Givertz

Premiering today via NYLON

Small Talks, aka Cayley Spivey, has come a long way since starting a band, then becoming the entire band herself and forging her own fan base from the ground up. On her recent album A Conversation Between Us, she began to unpack any lingering baggage with one particular song: "Teeth." Today, she premieres the accompanying music video exclusively via NYLON.

"'Teeth' is about my personal battle with letting go of the past," Spivey tells NYLON, admitting that it's easily her favorite song off of A Conversation Between Us.

Watch the video for "Teeth" below.

Small Talks - Teeth (Official Music Video) - YouTube www.youtube.com

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Photos by Joe Maher/Getty Images, Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for TIME

Must have been pretty awkward

Taylor Swift and Sophie Turner were guests on the U.K.'s The Graham Norton Show together, which must have been awkward for Turner's husband, Joe Jonas, seeing as he also happens to be Swift's ex. I wonder if his name came up?

The interview doesn't come out until Friday night, but promotional photos show the two sharing a couch. Swift is making an appearance to perform her new single, "ME!" while Turner is promoting her new film, X- Men: Dark Phoenix. But it seems necessary for the two to be asked about Jonas.

Swift was just on the Ellen DeGeneres Show earlier this month, where she brought up the fact that she felt bad for putting Jonas "on blast" on DeGeneres' show back in 2008 by telling the audience that he broke up with her in a record-setting short phone call. But, according to Swift, she and Jonas are chill now, since it happened pretty long ago, which means she's probably already hung out with Turner and maybe even gossiped about him with her.

We can only hope that they get the chance to spill some tea on television.

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Screenshot via YouTube, Photo Courtesy of HBO

"That's! His! Auntie!"

Leslie Jones has rewatched the Game of Thrones finale with a beer in hand, Seth Meyers at her side, and a full camera crew ready to take in all her glorious reactions. Spoilers ahead, but, if you haven't watched last week's episode already, that's kind of on you at this point.

When Jon Snow started to make out with Daenerys, also known as his aunt, only to stab her through the chest moments later, it was emotional whiplash for everyone watching. And, Jones' reactions—both from her first and second viewing—sum it all perfectly.

"That's! His! Auntie! [gagging noises]," Jones says before making an aside about calling the police if her uncle ever tried to do the same. But then the knife goes in, and Jones screams. "Did you see that?!" Jones asks, "Yeah bitch, that's a knife in you." Meyers points out the funniest part of all: "Why are you so upset about someone kissing their aunt but totally fine with someone killing their aunt?" Jones replies, "Because that bitch needed to go," and, well, same.

Other highlights from the comedians' rewatch include comparing Dany's victory speech to a bad improv gig, predicting that their dogs would have less of a reaction to their deaths than Drogon did to his mother's, and more.

Watch all of Jones' reactions from this Late Night clip below.

Game of Jones: Leslie Jones and Seth Watch Game of Thrones' Series Finale youtu.be

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These lyrics are a lot

Robbie Tripp, aka Curvy Wife Guy, is back with a music video, titled "Chubby Sexy," starring his wife and a trio of models. In it, Tripp raps about his bold choice to find women with an average body size attractive.

The video begins with a series of statements laid over some pool water: "Curves are the new high fashion," "Chubby is the new sexy," "We Out Here." Tripp posits that these queens deserve an anthem, which they do. What they do not deserve is this Cursed Song. As he lists all the names he knows to call them by (thick, thicc, and BBW), one model (who I really, really hope was paid well) squirts some lotion down her cleavage, and Tripp begins dancing.

"My girl chubby sexy/ Call her bonita gordita," Tripp states in his chorus, before going on to compare "big booty meat" to the peach emoji. Another thing he mentions is that his wife can't find a belt that fits her waist, and that's why he calls her James and the Giant Peach. He then tries to dab. Here are some of the other Cursed highlights from his, uh, verses:

Got those Khaleesi curves/ Knows how to dragon slay
She like a dude that's woke/ We like a girl that's weighty
Some say a chubby girl that's risky/ But they ain't met a curvy girl that's frisky
Imma dunk that donk like I'm Andrew Wiggins.
Thick like an Amazon/ Built like Big Ben.

Tripp says one thing in the video that I couldn't agree more with: "She don't need a man." No, she does not. Please run. If you must, watch the entire video, below. Or send it to your nemesis!

Robbie Tripp - Chubby Sexy (Official Music Video) www.youtube.com

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Photo by Emma McIntyre / Getty Images.

See the promo here

It was bound to happen. The Kadashians and Jenners have committed themselves to letting the cameras roll on their lives, for better or for worse. So if you thought that the Jordyn Woods and Tristan Thompson cheating scandal was off limits, you thought wrong. The trailer for Sunday's episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians was just released, and it involves the famous family working through the fallout of what happened when Woods went to a party at Thompson's house.

The teaser includes the infamous clip of Khloé Kardashian screaming "LIAAAARRRRRR." It's still not explicitly clear who prompted that strong response. She could be responding to Thompson, who clearly isn't always honest. Or she could be reacting to Woods account of the events on Red Table Talk. But the most revealing moment comes when we see Kylie Jenner—who was Woods' best friend before all of this happened—react for the first time.

In a heart-to-heart conversation, momager Kris Jenner says, "For you and Jordyn, it's like a divorce." Kylie only offers this in response: "She fucked up." Based on Woods' version of events—which I'm inclined to believeThompson is the one who fucked up. Still, I'm hoping for some kind of reconciliation between the two longtime friends. Perhaps we'll have to wait until next season for that.

Check out the promo video below.

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