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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Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines


Viewed – 28 July 2015  Blu-ray

Following in the wake of the seminal classic Terminator 2: Judgement Day was not going to be an easy task.  Director Jonathan Mostow however, whilst not being James Cameron, has managed to deliver a decent if flawed entry in one of my favourite movie franchises.

terminator 3

John Conner (Nick Stahl) is a loner drifter who ten years following the events of T2 has seen Judgement day come and go without a Nuclear War and thus chooses to live off the radar.  That is until a female Terminator known as a T-X arrives in town, hell bent on tracking down a series of targets, including veterinary doctor Catherine (Claire Danes).  As before however, another cyborg follows and this time ol’ Arnie is out to protect John Connor and Catherine and goes up against the most advanced Terminator yet.

This continues but fails to innovate on the Terminator lore, with several copycat sequences borrowed straight from T1/T2 but given corny jokes or silly updates that prevent this movie gaining it’s own identity.  Kristanna Loken is effective and subtly-sexy as the female Terminator (that arrival…) and proves a worthy villain, while Danes adds some good female feistiness in the absence of Linda Hamilton.  Stahl however can’t fill the boots of Edward Furlong and lacks all of his charisma and personality; delivering a character who, however pivotal to the plot, is difficult to like or even sympathise with.  Schwarzenegger thankfully looks like he’s having a ball, even if his line-delivery and the sheer-bad-assery of previous (and even the latest) movies is lacking here.  As a competent director though, Mostow does manage to fill the movie with some terrific action (a huge, multi-vehicle chase thatJohn Connor obliterates many shops and buildings comes to mind…) decent effects and a good pace.  It’s just a shame then that with all such ingredients intact, we still get a movie that brings no real surprises and is stuck with a rather limp ending.  That said, on it’s own merits, this was still a fun, action-packed experience with a few stand-out moments.  Even as the weakest of the franchise, T3 is by no means a disaster.

The Blu-ray may lack a bit of punch in the image quality, but makes up for this in a hefty Dolby True HD soundtrack that really comes to life during the action sequences.  However it’s in the extras where this release impresses most, with several featurettes spanning all aspects of the making.  Most notably we also get a cast & crew commentary and a special cine-chat talking heads feature that plays along as you watch.    Not too shabby for a still enjoyable also-ran.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3 /5

(the Blu-ray)  3.5 /5

Ten of the best


Top Ten lists are sort of something I enjoy doing, especially at the end of each year.  But Top Ten Favourite Movies of all time?  Harder.  I used to have a list a while back of which some of the movies below used to appear on.  Yet I gave up putting them in a particular order as they are so different some of them, comparing is impossible.  So find below Ten movies I think have had the greatest effect on me, either growing up, inspiring me (writing, movie tastes) or just hitting me on an emotional level.

fight-club

Fight Club

Made me a big fan of the movies of David Fincher and has arguably Edward Norton’s finest turn.  Style, effects work in a movie that didn’t need it, a great soundtrack, that twist and endlessly quotable.

Gran Torino

Emotional, heart-wrenching, funny, touching with one of Eastwood’s best performances.  The cast of newcomers surrounding him are also first-rate.

gran torino

21 Grams

Complex and twist-filled with three stunning performances (especially Naomi Watts) and a script that is quite literally genius.  Tough going but well worth the journey.

21grams

Pulp Fiction

Possibly still my all time favourite movie.  The dialogue is amazing, funny, very cool and  believable.  The sound track is stuff of legend and performances across the board are superb.

pulpfiction

Leon

Natalie Portman’s debut.  Ice-cool, Gary Oldman’s looniest but greatest villain, Jean Reno as a lovable assassin and Luc Besson on stunning form.

leon

Annie Hall

All of Woody Allen’s best ideas, cleverest dialogue and touching observations rolled into one perfect movie.  Diane Keaton is excellent and Allen has never been funnier.

Annie-Hall

Terminator 2: Judgement Day

James Cameron fully realising Terminator … stunning effects work, amazing action sequences, Arnie at his best, Linda Hamilton as the most bad-ass female role model since Ellen Ripley.  The ultimate sci-fi blockbuster.

terminator 2

Blue Velvet

Weird but one of David Lynch’s most coherent works, with a great cast (Hopper is just plain nuts) and haunting music and a dream-like atmosphere.  Sexy and disturbing just how Lynch should be.

blue-velvet

Goodfellas

The finest gangster movie ever made, fast, packed with ideas, dialogue, people getting wacked, great dialogue and great performances throughout.  Martin Scorsese at his very best.

goodfellas

The Shining

Stunningly filmed, creepy as hell, scary, with an amazing Jack Nicholson and a true directing auteur in the shape of the late Stanley Kubrick.  The best horror movie ever made?  Quite possibly.

The-Shining

Titanic


Viewed – 20 July 2008  DVD & revisited 27 July 2013  Blu-ray

Picked this up rather cheap recently, and thought it really deserved a review.  James (Avatar) Cameron’s 1997 epic disaster movie / love story took no less than 11 Oscars at the time, and once you have sat through the 3hr+ movie, it’s not hard to see why.  Everything about this grand spectacle reeks of class.  The production design is outstanding, fully recreating one of the most famous ships in history, and with a credible cast, some of the finest special effects I’ve ever seen, and a second half that always leaves me shaken & stirred – this movie deserves to go down (no pun intended) in history as a cinematic icon.

Leonardo_682x400_453794a

Ok, that love story may not be based on fact but leads Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio give it their all, and make for a very romantic pairing, their attraction never in doubt.  I have heard some criticize this movie for its slushiness – and yes, sometimes it is laid on a bit thick, but without it, it would be a journey of hopelessness and doom … not exactly audience grabbing entertainment.  Cameron was right to not have the sinking as the film’s focus, and with that achieves a ‘classic Hollywood’ feel comparable to Gone With The Wind, and all the schmaltz that comes with it.  I’m guessing the cover is a nod to that much admired classic of yester-year.  Even the over-blown camp of Billy Zane’s scorned fiance can’t spoil this. On reflection having watched this movie several times, I feel DiCaprio is a little too arrogant, whilst Kate Winslet (has she ever looked more beautiful?) at times manages to look unsure of herself, despite her likability.  Yet it has to be said what Cameron put them through to capture some of the scenes here, especially during the sinking is nothing short of incredible – that even if they aren’t perfect, the physical demands of this must be applauded.

The Blu-ray is damn pretty.  The movie has a slight softness to it but close up detail is exceptional and the photography hit me as quite jaw-dropping.  There is a distinct layer of grain that gives the movie a very film-like look, and along with a bassey 5.1 sound track that brings James Horner’s emotional score to life – this is every bit the HD treatment fans could have wished for.  The 2 disk Blu-ray boast 3 commentaries (one by the director, another from cast & crew, and a third from Titanic experts / historians).  We also get several in-depth documentaries including the new ‘reflections on Titanic’, an exhaustive photo gallery as well as deleted scenes and outtakes.  A superb package for what is one of the most enduring movies of all time.  Essential.

Verdict:

(the movie)  5 /5

(the Blu-ray)  5 /5

Strange Days


Viewed – 02 February 2012  Blu-ray

German import review

Kathryn Bigelow may be more known these days for her Oscar-winning war movie The Hurt Locker, but once upon a time, she was one of the coolest directors around, responsible for the likes of vampire classic Near Dark, Keanu Reeves & Patrick Swayze thriller Point Break, and also this much underrated techno-thriller.  Based on a story by her then husband James Cameron (Terminator 2, Avatar) this tells the story of former cop turned dealer Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes) who instead of pedaling drugs, peddles ‘clips’; fragments of other people’s experiences recorded by a black market device known as the squib, and sold in clubs to rich business men.  He offers people the chance to experience things they would not normally experience, such as sex or armed robbery.  He’s the santa clause of the subconscious.  However, when a famous politically-themed rapper is murdered, events spiral out of control as a desperate hooker and two psychotic cops become involved and soon Lenny is racing against time to piece together the clues, as the clock ticks ever closer to the millennium.

At the time this was released (1995), there was much speculation about what the new century would bring, what would change, the millennium bug and everything that came with it.  Several other movies followed similar themes, but none did it in such a stylish, controversial and accomplished way as this.  The story tackles themes of racial tension, sex, violence, technology and love with intelligence.  At times some of the dialogue is a little too cool sounding to be convincing, and it does get quite complicated during its 2hr 20 minute running time.  Also some of the more controversial moments, like a first-person-perspective rape sequence, sit uneasily within the otherwise ‘cool’ vibe.  Yet the performances from not only Ralph Fiennes (playing against type), but also Angela Bassett, Tom Sizemore and a wonderfully sleazy Juliette Lewis (showing off a powerful rock chick persona) impress regardless.  Yet above all this is Bigelow’s show, and her direction is classy and confident.  She’s an incredible action director and with a daring but brilliantly written script to bounce her (ahead of its time) camera-trickery and booming soundtrack off, this remains one of those movies, that for me … made the nineties.

Strange Days hasn’t always been treated the best, with an almost bare-bones DVD version previously, boasting a pointless 40 minute commentary from the director and a non-anamorphic widescreen transfer … and at the time of writing, has yet to get a major release on Blu-ray.  Thankfully German label Kinowelt Home Entertainment has seen fit to release the movie as part of their Blu Cinematech label, in deluxe gate-fold packaging and with behind the scenes featurettes, a music video and a photo gallery.  Best of all the movie has been treated to a decent HD transfer that really upgrades the movie from previous releases, even if the mostly night time setting stops the picture from really popping.  The rock soundtrack sounds nice and punchy though and dialogue and effects are crisp throughout.  This is the kind of respect the movie has been sorely missing for years, and for now makes it the only edition worthy of your money.

Verdict:

(the movie) 4 /5

(the Blu-ray) 3.5 /5