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 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

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

Prisoners


Viewed – 29 September 2018  Netflix

I’d heard good things about this 2013 thriller but had not got around to watching until last night.  Starring two actors I always enjoy, Hugh Jackman and especially Jake Gyllenhaal … this looked like essential viewing from the very moment I’d heard about it.  Telling the story of two suburban families who’s young daughters go missing one day, this follows the ensuing investigation that doesn’t bring many leads, causing Jackman’s father to take the law into his own hands.  He decides to abduct the number one suspect and beat out some answers, whilst at the same time the detective in charge of the case, Gyllenhaal attempts to unravel and mystery.

Prisoners

Directed by the acclaimed Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Blade Runner 2049) this is a taught and hard-hitting with above average performances not only from the leads but also Maria Bello.  Unlike similar missing persons movies this raises questions of what’s right and wrong, although never did I not understand the desperation and pain experienced by the worried parents.  With echoes of movies like (the underrated) Death Sentence and Zodiac, the gradually complex investigation is delivered with no end of tension, twists and turns.  It kept this viewer guessing throughout and even if the final reveal is a little too neat, I was still left satisfied.

It’s a lengthy movie but never slow or stretched out and kept me gripped.  A few questions are left unanswered at the end, with a mystery considering a character’s obsession with mazes left up in the air.  But this was still solid entertainment with atmospheric direction and a stunning turn from Jackman making him one of the best working today.  And to think I came to this for Gyllenhaal who whilst very good is left overshadowed.

Verdict: 4 /5