Alita: Battle Angel Review

Alita Battle Angel is the latest manga adaptation brought to western cinema. With a talent packed cast and James Cameron attached as a producer overseeing Sin City director Robert Rodriguez, I had every reason to be excited for this film. The trailers hadn’t intrigued me much into the premise, but I was keen to see what this impressive talent pool could produce.

First things first, huge shout out to Weta Digital, who have outdone themselves with the special effects work on this film. Alita herself is incredibly detailed, fully animated and absolutely flawless from start to finish. There is a hefty load on the special effects team in this film, with so many cyborg/mech suited people in close proximity and fighting together it could easily begin to look like a well polished video game cut scene. It never does, and the work they’ve done here is simply magical stuff. Each action scene is shot well, and director Robert Rodriguez deserves credit for combining the effects and action so well.

Alita, being the title character, is very much the driving force in the film, and huge credit goes to Rosa Salazar for her performance. It is fully motion capture, and she gives a performance the legendary Andy Serkis would be very proud of. Her performance may be brought to life by the magicians at Weta, but she still has to bring her A game to make this work and she does just that. Backing her up, and the next best in the movie for me, is Christoph Waltz, who has a voice that is so distinctive I think I’d enjoy him reading a dictionary. His characters relationship with Alita was the most endearing part of the film to me, with their dynamic playing out like a typical Father/Teenager at times.

The rest of the cast is certainly not bad, but nobody is remarkable. Keean Johnson is a newcomer to me, and plays love interest Hugo. He is fine, but the connection between them felt a little rushed and even if it did at times surprise me with where it went, I think this could have been handled better and would have added more emotion to the final act of the film. This films biggest crime for me is the use of talents Jennifer Connelly and Mahershala Ali. The former is very much a side character, who does have an air of intrigue and a decent arc, but not one I felt any connection or investment in. It happened, but I didn’t care either what the outcome of her arc was.

As for Mahershala Ali, he is one of my favourite actors right now, and he is criminally under utilised as the antagonist of the film. We saw in the first season of Luke Cage how intense a performance he can bring to a villainous character, but here he isn’t given the licence to own the screen like he can. He is good in the film, but he isn’t given enough. There are several minutes of the 2 hour run time that we spend with Alita going from place to place, developing the love story element of the film that didn’t really work for me. I would have much rather spent this time understanding Ali’s motivations and what he sees as his role in this enticing world.

That brings me onto my favourite part of Alita, the world building and lore we are given. I often find this type of setting, with one city raised (both literally and socially in this case) above the doldrums, to be a bit cliché and boring. Think Hunger Games, but with more intrigue around the upper class world. The fact this is set 500 hundred years into the future allows for as much creative licence as you could want with regards to production design, and I found the restraint when it comes to the humans costume designs contrasted really well with the cyberpunk designs of the cyborgs and mech suits we see. The technology of the world is futuristic but lived in, and it works really well in my opinion. All this on top of the intrigue around Alita’s past makes me very keen to see more from the world this franchise has introduced.

Alita is a really entertaining film to watch, and if you get your head round the lore and find yourself hooked in by the world you will really enjoy the film. The antagonist is under developed, and the sequel baiting is obvious from about half hour into the film, but I think there is a lot to enjoy about Alita Battle Angel.

Good: Amazing special effects, brilliant world building, great main character, even if she has a superman like problem by the end.

Bad: Love interest didn’t work for me (may well for you) and an underused special weapon in Mahershala Ali.

7/10 – Solid start for the franchise, I hope we get to see more.

Polar Review

Polar is the latest movie Netflix have put out on their service. Starring Mads Mikkelsen and Vanessa Hudgens, it certainly has enough talent in the cast to deliver a good film. Directed by Jonas Akerlund I wasn’t sure what to expect, but a quick glance at his IMDB page shows a career made directing several different music videos and documentaries until last years Lords of Chaos, which i didn’t see, so this is the first time i have seen anything from the swedish director. 

The premise of Polar is relatively simple, Mads Mikkelsen plays Duncan, the best assassin in the world, and he is on the verge of retirement. To get out of paying his pension fund, his employer wants him dead before his 50th birthday. That’s the core of it, and it does function well to give everyone motivations to do what they’re doing. In addition to this, the dynamic between Mikkelsen and Vanessa Hudgens’ Camille is by far the best dynamic between any 2 characters in the film, and those actors are the best thing in this movie.

Mikkelsen is a man tired of the life he has led and glad to retire. This can seem at times like he is sleep walking through the film with no expression, but in small moments you do get the hint that it’s all part of the character of Duncan. Hudgens’ plays a character with a past that I didn’t see coming, and I found her the most compelling character in the film.

On the antagonist side of things, unfortunately things aren’t so stellar. I love Matt Lucas’ comedy, but for me his portrayal of the main villain Blut was way too over the top and at times silly. The character would fit in perfectly in a little britain sketch version of this premise, but the rest of the film just doesn’t fit with his odd behaviour. The other antagonists are okay at best, with the only real notable character being Vivian, played by Katheryn Winnick. She isn’t as over the top as the rest of the people on her side, and her character seems to have more depth to her than the rest of the cast aside from Duncan and Camille.

Being a film featuring an assassin, there is of course a healthy serving of action. At times the action is thrilling, a mix of John Wick and Tarantino that really pops and entertains. At other times, the action is hard to decipher, as there are way too many cuts to different angles to make sense of what is happening. The praise heaped on scenes like that hallway scene in daredevil should really be noted by action directors, as cutting 100 times just confuses and blurs the action, meaning it becomes visual noise that doesn’t really do much for the viewer. There is even a scene where Duncan is just pouring a drink, and taking a sip, before relaxing in his chair. A perfectly normal scene that sets him up for his future life that he views himself leading. I counted seven cuts to different angles, really not adding anything to the scene and just keeping your eyes moving.

This cut heavy style, along with a lot of the choices made in the wardrobe department, strike me as habits a director has picked up from making so many music videos. Music is all about the beat, cutting and making the flow of the pictures fit the music is what you are looking for. In a movie, and especially in action scenes, this style just doesn’t work for me.

Polar is an interesting film to watch, and I can really see what the film makers were   aiming for. It’s like John Wick without the action expertise, and Tarantino without the expertly written dialogue. There are some great moments, and two really solid performances. Unfortunately those grievances I have, and the 20-30 minutes of unnecessary ass and tiddies that can be cut straight out of the film, make Polar a slight let down for me.

Good: Hudgens is good, Mikkelsen with an Eye Patch doing his Solid Snake audition, and an interesting twist.

Bad: Antagonist’s are poor and some of the decisions made in the editing room/directors chair didn’t work for me.

4/10 – Decent Idea, Poor execution. 

Avatar (2009)- Review in time

Thinking about what I should review first in my “movie that came out years ago that I haven’t previously reviewed” series of posts was something I was struggling with. That is right up until this past weekend when I by chance ended up watching Avatar. The highest grossing film of all time with well over $2 billion raked in, and a film so many people struggle to remember a lot about, I’ve always been intrigued how this film made so much of an impact and then seemingly slipped out of the publics consciousness.

When was the last time you saw anyone dressed as a Na’vi person on Halloween or at a comic con. Avatar came, the world went mad for it, then it left. Watching it again with that knowledge really makes you wonder how well the next installments planned for release in the next couple of years will do.

Avatar feels like a truly epic experience. The effects, the scale, and the attention to detail of the world they have built is incredible. It really does make you long to visit Pandora, and this is probably avatars biggest strength. From the Na’vi’s culture to the flying beasts and creatures around them, you’re transported to a different world.

Sam Worthington in the lead role of Jake Sully. He’s good, but struggled to really command the film at times. Zoe Saldana is great as Neytiri and supports well alongside Sigourney Weaver. Stephen Lang plays the snarling army commander who fills the role of the main antagonist although the film is not just about the antagonist against the protagonist.

Jake Sullys journey exploring and learning the ways of this new culture is the heart of the film, as well as the blossoming relationship between him and Neytiri. It’s one of many subplots and messages the film juggles and for the most part director James Cameron does a good job of not letting things get too convoluted. Where the film does lack a little is in the motivations behind the antagonist, who I think comes across as pretty one-dimensional. He is easy to predict and despite enjoying the performance of the actor the character just felt a bit thin.

Avatar is at its best when you are focused in the incredible world built by James Cameron. It is so colourful, vibrant and full of wonder that just watching the screen is a joy in itself. The core story isn’t anything groundbreaking, with parallels to several other films, but nothing has ever, before or since, built a world so vibrant.

Weirdly the film it reminded me most of that has come out since is Warcraft. What i mean by this is that the world itself in both films is more interesting than the individual characters we meet. In both cases I can comfortably say I would enjoy seeing a return to these worlds, but I think I would actually prefer it if the next instalment doesn’t focus on the characters we have already met. Rather than that, I would like to explore more of Pandora and the Na’vi, perhaps not even having human characters at the centre of the story.

Good: The world is simply incredible to see, even after 9 years of superhero and star wars films, Avatar still looks amazing. The messages it strives to deliver re: the environment are still just as relevant today.

Bad: With more interesting main characters, or a more charismatic hero or villain, this would have been an even bigger hit, if that’s possible.

Test of time: The film holds up well, and as previously said, the messages are still just as relevant today. The upcoming sequels will be a real test on how well Avatar stuck with the general public, as big event movies are becoming a regular thing now which was not the case in 2009.

8/10 – Avatar is still stunning to watch. 

La La Land Review

Director Damien Chazelle follows up my favourite film of 2014 Whiplash with La La Land. Considering how much I loved the directors previous effort, and the addition of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone I was very excited to see this movie. La La Land is a love letter to old Hollywood musicals, and it is simply fantastic. 

Inspired by the likes of Grease and Singing In The Rain, this movie brings the magic of those movies into the modern day. It has been a long long time since i can remember having this much fun with an original musical and a huge part of that is director Damien Chazelle. The transitions into and out of musical numbers is seamlessly done, and I never found any of the songs jarring like they often can be in musicals. The lighting, something you rarely notice in films, is used brilliantly at times like a stage play and it really does enhance the music.

Now he has made 2 of the best films in recent times he will likely be courted for some bigger budget projects, but i personally hope he continues to produce these remarkable original movies. He does a magnificent job here, and I would be shocked if Chazelle isn’t nominated for Best director, and would not be surprised at all if he takes the prize (although i am yet to see every contender yet).

Astaire and Rogers, meet Gosling and Stone

I often wonder what it would’ve been like to witness Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers at the time they was around. Luckily in the modern day we have Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. The two have mesmerising chemistry, and the way they play off each other completely hooks you in their romance.

Emma Stone shows again she is an unbelievably talented actress, and I had no idea she could sing and dance so well. She plays a young actress struggling in the tough world of Hollywood, and completely sells the role in one of the most rounded performances of the year. She’s funny and bright when needed, and then spins on a dime and makes you care when things don’t go exactly how they was supposed to.

As for the lead man, Ryan Gosling is brilliant. This man is too good looking and talented. He’s funny, he can act, sing, play all kinds of musical instruments and he can dance. So much talent in all these areas means we have to assume he is absolutely terrible in bed, as no man can have everything. Jokes aside, he matches Emma Stone stride for stride in this film and both of them deserve some awards recognition on top of what they already have.

Verdict

Damien Chazelle had a tough act to follow in Whiplash, but somehow he has not only matched it with La La Land, he has surpassed it. This is one of the best films in recent times and unless you have an unhealthy hate of musicals and films, this is a delightful film for everyone.

10/10 – La La Land is one of my favourite films.