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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The Incredibles 2


Viewed – 22 December 2018  online rental

I don’t watch as many animated movies as I should be, and realize I’ve missed out this year some big hitters.  However on browsing the latest rental releases, this took my interest as I recalled really enjoying the first movie.  This long time coming sequel pretty much picks up where we left off, with our super-hero family having to go about their crime fighting adventures in secret, with a law having been passed outlawing people with powers.  This brings in a wealthy brother and sister who propose to change things for the better by hiring Elastigirl (voiced by Holly Hunter) to showcase just how good super heroes are to the masses.

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I’m a little bit sick of this concept of the public unsure of or shunning super heroes.  They almost becoming the enemy when there’s all too many actual enemies out there.  A similar plot device was used in Captain America Civil War and Batman V Superman.  Why does Hollywood think we want our heroes being portrayed with such distrust and fear?  Aren’t they meant to be the heroes?  Thankfully this admittedly very entertaining and visually arresting movie jumps between such plot threads and a twist on family responsibilities and throws in plenty of spectacular action.  The villain though is sign posted a bit too well and I guessed their identity easily.  Also there’s a clear feminist slant to the reversal of roles and some of the dialogue and themes, which yeah is everywhere right now.  As unnecessary as it clearly is in a movie that was never just about the male lead anyway.

The voice work is top notch though including a welcome turn from Breaking Bad’s Bob Odenkirk, and Pixar’s animation is as gorgeous as ever (even if the character design is a bit ugly … what’s with Elastigirl’s massive ass?).  Overall and considering the long wait for this, I was expecting a bit more … the villain is forgettable and cliched and the story adds nothing to the formula.  As it stands though, this is still a lot of fun regardless of wasted potential.

Verdict: 3 /5

A Quiet Place


Viewed – 04 November 2018. Online rental

Few. I’m just trying to catch my breath. Well, if this wasn’t one of the most tense and gripping movie viewing experiences I’ve had in a long time, I don’t know what is. The always dependable Emily Blunt leads this sci-fi horror drama about a small family trying to survive in a wilderness where ravenous creatures (aliens?) hunt and kill anyone and anything that makes a sound. So this young couple and their children live a life of silence, sign language and dread. You see, to add to their plight the teenage daughter is deaf,which makes her highly vulnerable and Blunt is pregnant.

This is a film dripping with tension, impending doom and director John Kransinski squeezes every ounce of emotion and fear from the characters, making me care so very much for them. This movie does an incredible amount with hardly any spoken dialogue, relying instead on the rawest of human expression and the threat of death to pummel home its situation that only gets more desperate as the movie progresses. That labour scene alone is one of the scenes of the year for me. The sound here is also pretty much a character in of itself and a decent sound system is recommended to get the full experience.

Occasionally the characters do make some stupid decisions considering the situation and the creatures are nothing that imaginative. However for a concept where I went in expecting just another gory survival horror … what I got was a whole lot more. A must see.

Verdict: 5 /5

Escape From New York


Viewed – 25 November 2018. Blu-ray

Director John Carpenter remains one of my favourite directors of all time. That’s not to say all his movies are masterpieces, but he firmly places his signature on all of them and I usually come away enjoying many aspects. The same can said for this cult favourite from 1981.

Kurt Russell plays Snake Plisken, a legendary soldier who on his arrival at a maximum security prison facility thats taken over Manhattan island in a futuristic version of New York … is about to be incarcerated for armed robbery. However after the President’s plane gets hijacked and he’s forced to board an escape pod launched into said prison island, the government call on Snake to go on a rescue mission. I remember loving this concept as a kid and hell, nobody looks more bad-ass than Kurt Russell with an eye patch and a semi-automatic. However I also recall not really being that into the movie itself.

Not much has changed. This is a particularly moody piece disguised as an action-thriller. It has all the required ingredients of pure popcorn entertainment, but somethings missing. The movie takes its time throughout and lacks any real thrills (not helped by what appears to be a tiny budget). However Carpenter helps by sprinkling several colourful characters here and there (with a stand-out Harry Dean Stanton) and along with Dean Cundey’s atmospheric and gloomy cinematography mixed with Carpenters own synth score, this still held my attention. Donald Pleasance, a Carpenter regular also pops up as the President, although lacks his usual presence. Overall this is Kurt Russell’s show and he’s great as a character way cooler than the movie he’s in, and every second the character is on screen, I couldn’t help but be mesmerised. One of those cult favourites still worth a watch, but not as memorable as its reputation might have you believe.

This new Blu-ray from Studio Canal comes in deluxe fold-out packaging boasting a poster, art cards and a detailed booklet. The movie is in decent shape (offered up in both 4K and HD editions) boosted by two soundtrack options that includes a new 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack that although far from a surround showcase, sounds heftier and sharper than the otherwise acceptable stereo score. The picture whilst understandably gloomy is detailed and does the job marred only by an overly soft presentation. I didn’t get to check out the 4K transfer as I don’t have access currently to a 4K screen. Extras consist of a 52 minute documentary, deleted scenes etc. and four commentaries – which round off a very impressive package. Oh and they threw the CD soundtrack in also.

Verdict;

(the movie) 3 /5

(the Blu-ray). 5 /5

Solo – a Star Wars Story


Viewed – 20 November 2018. Online rental

I was disappointed and somewhat annoyed by The Last Jedi, so like many others I suddenly felt cautious about a Star Wars movie the same way I’d felt cautious going to see Revenge of the Sith. This spin-off gives us an ‘early years’ snapshot of none other than Han Solo, which I’ll admit was an intriguing idea. Solo (a perfect Alden Ehrenreich) is from the off a likeable rogue who unwittingly gets signed up for the imperial infantry after getting separated from his love interest in the shape of Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke. However once amongst a rag tag group of soldiers he teams up with Woody Harrelson’s smuggler and also makes a new, hairy friend.

Directed by Ron Howard this is immediately entertaining and slickly made. It starts off energetically and barely lets up, with a sharp script that throws in several nods to the classic franchise as well as introducing us to a fun, twist filled caper. The banter between the characters is great, and I especially enjoyed the new droid L3, and how she’s a sort-of girlfriend to notorious womaniser Lando Calrissian! That train sequence is first rate also. However with a focus on smugglers and thieves and not so much the empire or any sort of rebellion, this has a different vibe than what we’ve seen before. The plot for what it is is simple though and the transporting of a valuable item from one group of people to another is only their to bring certain characters together. Yet the origins of the Millennium Falcon and some of Han’s boasted escapades (the kessel run?) was certainly fun to see play out.

A final twist proves overly confusing (unless you have indulged in any of the expanded universe), and Emilia Clarke is surprisingly bland. Thankfully then, this still nails it where it counts … adding its own flavour whilst managing to retain the feel of what a Star Wars movie should be.

Verdict: 4 /5