Alita: Battle Angel


Viewed – 07 January 2019  Cinema

Director James Cameron (Titanic, Terminator 2) had been hoping to helm this adaptation of the popular Japanese manga.  However, his attention these days is focused on the Avatar sequels, and so with a large degree of supervision he passed his passion project onto Robert Rodriguez, a risky move in my opinion as the once celebrated genre film maker hasn’t had a major hit in a while, with Sin City probably being his last movie to make any sort of rumbles. 

Alita

Set in the distant future, this has Christoph Waltz’s cybernetic limb doctor stumble upon the remains of a robotic girl, and goes about bringing her back to life, only to discover she has incredible fighting abilities.  ‘Alita’ you see, has clouded memories of a past that is linked to the hovering city of Zalem, ruled over by omnipresent ruler ‘Nova’.  What was she before?  What do her memories hold secret, and why are thugs seemingly hellbent on capturing her?

Visually stunning and with state of the art technology, this is a fun adventure with a breakout performance by Rosa Salazar as Alita (underneath Avatar-style CGI).  Along with a great Guipetto-like turn from Waltz who always lends presence to each movie he appears in and a story that cracks along at a good pace, I found myself having a great time with this.  Occasionally the CGI over-load reveals some shortcomings with one such scene looking like the actors are not part of the scenery (the rooftop scene), but in many other aspects it’s jaw-dropping (Alita herself bug-eyes and all, and those mutant bad guys).  The movie also falters at being clearly the beginning of a much larger story, with too many questions left unanswered.  Also the love story sub-plot is a tad cheesy, and less said about Jennifer Connelly’s performance the better. 

Yet with solid world-building and some bad-ass action (the bar fight, the motor-ball sequence), not only has Rodriguez found his groove … but Cameron can also be proud to finally realise such a vision.  Roll on part 2!

Verdict:  3.5 /5

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Blackkklansman


Viewed – 05 February 2019 online rental

An African-American cop in the 70’s infiltrates the Klu Klux Klan in a bid to expose them and prove himself at the same time.

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This movie had a strange vibe. Lead actor John David Washington stood out like a comedy actor in a straight movie who still thinks he’s in a comedy. The subject of racism and the KKK is clearly being satirised but sits uneasy with such a serious, sickening subject. This is not helped by the movie eventually throwing in shocking real-life footage to hammer home its point. Director Spike Lee has always been one of the strongest voices for black culture and black cinema but here his intentions feel misguided. The story based on a book isn’t as compelling either and I came away wondering just what had the main character achieved? Star Wars’ Adam Driver is decent as a fellow detective and performances overall are decent. Lee’s has delivered a stylish, authentic looking movie yet also fills it with some odd music cues with an overall 70’s blaxploitation feel.

Aqs a different take on the subject of racism and as a movie that certainly has some fun and intriguing moments it’s worth a watch … I just think it would have been more impactful played entirely straight.

Verdict: 3 /5

The Mule


Viewed – 30 January 2019

The last time I watched legendary actor Clint Eastwood would probably be Gran Torino, a movie which has become one of my favourites.  So sitting down to this was with some anticipation and well, would such an actor put himself back in front of the camera again (considering he’s also a respected director) for anything less that something worthwhile?  Let’s see.

The Mule

Eastwood plays Earl, an elderly man who has spent much of his life missing out on important events with his family in favour of growing his horticulture business.  Yet when he falls on hard times and age seems to be finally taking it’s toll, he attempts to reconnect with his loved ones.  However when attending his granddaughter’s engagement party he is approached by a guy offering him the chance to make some money.  All he has to do is drive – something Earl is very experienced in.

This gently observed and absorbing story is anchored by a wonderfully nuanced performance from Eastwood who turns a self-centred, world-weary character into a loveable, charming man who’s adept at turning even the riskiest situation to his favour.  The way he gets in the good books of ruthless Mexican drug dealers, who go from threatening him to befriending him is just a joy to watch.  Add to this the growing relationship he builds with his estranged family, and I was totally invested in what was going on.  Bradley Cooper is on board as a dedicated DEA agent and Diane Weist (remember her?) plays Eastwood’s ex wife.

One character development later in the movie is a touch cliched and some ideas feel a bit out of place despite the humour intended (Eastwood and some hookers?), yet the story expertly juggles an increasingly deadly scenario with emotional and heart-felt family drama that really got in the feels.  A must watch.

Verdict:  5 /5

Leave No Trace


Viewed – 23 January 2019  online-rental

I’d only heard about this movie as being worth a watch after watching a top ten of 2018 run down by respected British movie critic Mark Kermode, and as I often like many of the movies he recommends, I thought I’d give it a shot.  This gently-paced father and daughter drama follows a troubled man (the often brilliant Ben Foster) as he attempts to live in the wilderness of a vast national park with his young daughter (newcomer Tomasin McKenzie).  However soon the authorities intervene and attempt to re-intricate them back into normal society, raising questions regarding the young girl’s welfare.

Leave No Trace

Immediately this is a very convincing depiction and I quickly began to care for the two principle leads and wanted them to be aloud to live however they wished.  After all they seemed happy in each other’s company and caring for each other’s wellbeing. However as the movie progressed  I learnt more and began to also question how they were living, and that had me glued to see how things might turn out.  Director Debra Granik has delivered a story (based on a book) that is both moving and heart-breaking primarily down to very believable performances.  I’d also hazard a guess that other characters in the movie were played by real people as themselves for that added authenticity … and it works very well indeed.  I should also mention that the cinematography on show, whilst not flashy and more documentary-style is at times beautiful.

Yes, I’d have liked for a few more things to happen; a bit more danger or repercussions and that pace is tough at times … but as a movie that gets you thinking and questioning your principles, I have to recommend this one.

Verdict:  4 /5

Prince of Darkness


Viewed – 20 January 2019

In my ongoing quest to watch and review director John Carpenter’s back-catalogue, we come to this 1987 somewhat ignored entry in his filmography.  Starring genre favourite and Carpenter regular Donald Pleasence as a priest who stumbles upon a decades long secret held by a church, that has been housing a sinister, mysterious force in it’s basement.  On the death of the priest last given the task of keeping the secret er…secret, Pleasence turns to a college professor (Big Trouble in Little China’s Victor Wong) who recruits a group of students to monitor and understand the strange discovery.

PrinceOfDarkness

I’ve been a fan of this movie for a while, having caught it on TV numerous times.  However on viewing it recently it dawned on me that it’s night quite the sum of it’s parts.  Firstly the acting varies from passable to pretty bad, and dialogue is delivered like the cast are reading autocues, with a consistent lack of feeling.  The setting is at least creepy and unnerving and acts as a character of it’s own, and the weird vat of green mist / goo is suitably is ominous.  Also in the final act the movie cranks up the freakiness and proves effective especially once the evil presence starts taking affect on various characters.  The idea is probably a bit too ambitious for it’s own good and doesn’t quite deliver either in scares or concept, feeling half-finished.  It also takes itself way too seriously.  Not one of Carpenter’s worst, but not up their with his best either.

I didn’t manage to pick up the also available deluxe edition of this Studio Canal release that comes in the same packaging treatment as the recently released Escape from New York and The Fog, but we still get some decent extras.  This includes the always essential John Carpenter commentary, as well as interviews, scene analysis, trailers, behind the scenes featurette and a photo gallery.  The movie itself is in decent shape, with Carpenter’s eerie score proving especially effective in DTS HD 5.1.  Dialogue is also crisp and the movie looks good, if a little smudgy and overly soft in places.  Overall above average treatment for a fun if ultimately unsatisfying movie.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3 /5

(the Blu-ray)  4 /5