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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Dark Water


Back in the day I was confident that the Japanese version of The Ring (aka Ringu) was the scariest movie I had ever seen.  However in subsequent years the reputation of Jap horror and it’s uprising has been diluted by a series of inferior American remakes and over-use of some of its tropes (there’s always a dead girl with long hair over her face).  So my attention waned.  Yet recently I’d been craving that ‘something special’ I had originally stumbled upon, and so I found myself lured back when I saw this get the special edition treatment.

Dark Water

Coming from the director of the Ring movies, Hideo Nakata my hopes were high and although I’m aware of the U.S. remake of the same name I’ve never bothered to see it.  Here we have a fairly familiar story of a single mother and her little girl, who move into a run down apartment building during a messy custody battle between the woman and her ex-husband.  Whilst there, it becomes clear there’s a strange presence, seemingly linked to a patch of water coming through the ceiling of the apartment.  Set in an eerie pastel-grey coloured building, the atmosphere is one of stillness and gently growing dread.  Performances on a whole are decent but it’s the story that intrigues, helped in no small way by Nakata’s masterly direction that fills the rather slow pace with discomfort and genuine creepiness.  I’ve said it before but something that is sorely lost when such movies get remade, is a sense of their setting, something that works particularly well here.  Something about how Japanese actors portray themselves, their formalities and customs and how they interact with one another can be ‘eerie’ at times, and it’s no different here.  The mystery at the heart of this is a good one and builds to an intense climax with at least one truly terrifying moment.  It may not be that far removed from what Nakata did in Ring, but how he makes something as familiar as water, constant rain or an over-flowing bath unnerving, is an accomplishment in it’s self.  One of the other great Jap horrors you might have missed … that’s well worth seeking out.

Dark Water ArrowAs expected from Arrow Video this is another packed Blu-ray release.  Image quality is a little underwhelming whilst clean but very soft, seeming to lack fine detail overall but does it’s job for what is purposely a dreary looking movie.  I should add that on the whole the subtitles are good but occasionally white backgrounds can cause some of them to become less clear to read.  Sound is much more impressive and helps build up atmosphere with good separation to make things like running footsteps and dripping water very effective.  We also get a detailed booklet in the case as well as the Blu-ray & DVD.  Extras consist of several featurettes including interviews with cast, as well as a couple more pieces, one being a new interview with Hideo Nakata, discussing his work and themes.  No commentary isn’t all that surprising, and along with dual sided cover art, this is another decent release.

Verdict:

(the movie)  4 /5

(the Blu-ray)  3 /5

When Marnie Was There


Viewed – 02 October 2016  Blu-ray

It’s with a heavy heart that I review this movie.  You see, it’s officially the final film of the famed and I’d say culturally important animation house, Studio Ghibli.  It’s a crying shame that the company chose to end, but at least I’m happy to say they’ve ended on a high with this wonderfully sweet and very heart-warming tale.

WhenMarnieWasThere

Anna, a teenage girl finds she can’t fit in with school or in general and is often sad and lost.  After an asthma attack and a visit to the doctor however, her parents send her to stay with her aunt and uncle for the summer.  Once there, still shy and struggling to enjoy the time away, she spots an old, abandoned mansion across the river and feels incredibly drawn to it.  One night on visiting the mansion she see’s a young girl and the two of them quickly bond.  But who is this girl?  Is she real or just part of Anna’s imagination?

AnnaDirected by Hiromasa Yonebayashi (Arrietty) and based on the book by Joan G Robinson, this gently observed story is full of the as expected gorgeous hand-drawn animation with obsessive attention to detail and captivating, quirky characters.  Anna is introverted and got her issues, whilst Marnie, the girl in the mansion is the exact opposite; free spirited and full of energy, but also hides her own troubles.  I really enjoyed the mystery of this, the fantasy elements reminding me of that classic children’s tale The Secret Garden, and it was fun having my own ideas where it was all going.  Yet the movie is clever enough to lead you in one direction then take a sudden turn that for me proved even more surprising … and rather powerful.  It also got quite creepy in places and for a moment I wondered just how dark this story was going to get.  Yet as a swansong for the famed studio, this may lack some of the absolute visual wonder of say Spirited Away but it’s more subtle yet no less engrossing story proved a worthy conclusion to an illustrious legacy.

I’m going to miss having new Ghibli to look forward to.  Although I’m grateful they’ve given us such works of art, like this to cherish for years to come.

Verdict:  4 /5

The Forest


Viewed – 02 July 2015  Online rental

Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games) plays Sarah, a young woman whose twin sister has gone missing following a trip to Japan.  She was last heard of heading to a famed forest where it is said people go to commit suicide.  Fearing for her sister’s safety, Natalie quickly gets on the next flight.

the forest

A simple concept given some far eastern horror atmosphere due to the setting and plenty of Japanese superstition and ghost stories.  It’s been a long time since I’ve watched a horror like this which clearly borrows from the Jap-horror scene that has mostly been abandoned in recent years.  Memories of the American remakes to The Grudge and One Missed Call came to mind so I was starting to fear for another by the numbers horror … which this is to an extent but with a strong turn from Dormer who is increasingly becoming one of my go-to actresses, and plenty of tension in a strange and unfamiliar setting … I was suitably unnerved.  A couple of decent scares help and the plight of Sarah’s sister, a friendly guy who may or may not be on the level and some creepy ‘what’s that in the forest’ moments made this good fun.  The ending let’s things down a bit despite offering up an interesting turn of events … but I was left bewildered by some set ups that didn’t go anywhere (were the photos on the guy’s phone real or in Sarah’s head?).  We’re also left knowing as much about the forest by the end as we did at the beginning.  Frustrating considering the actual forest exists in real-life.

I’d still say give this a go however.  It relies a bit on clichéd horror tropes to get by and fails to develop some of it’s more interesting ideas … but for 90+ minutes it’s fun, scary and creepy and sometimes that’s enough.

Verdict:  3 /5

Princess Mononoke


Viewed – 25 May 2014  Blu-ray

I have wanted to give this much acclaimed Studio Ghibli film a second viewing for a while, and now that it has finally arrived on Blu-ray a film I originally was a bit mixed about, I can give a final verdict on.  This tells the tale of a young warrior, Ashitaka who after saving his village from a demonic boar, is cursed during the battle and forced to leave.  He soon stumbles upon the plight of mining colony who seem  hell-bent on destroying the local forest, regardless of the spirits and animals present, due to a power-hungry governess.  At the same time Ashitaka spots a young girl who is living amongst the wolves, and the villagers refer to her as Princess Mononoke, the wolf-girl.  Before long Ashitaka is torn between his loyalty to a village that take him in and the survival of a sacred forest, as war breaks out.

Princess-Mononoke-wallpaper-HD

This grand spectacle is full of quirky characters, some decent voice acting from the American cast shoe-horned in to replace the original Japanese (Claire Danes especially giving Princess Mononoke plenty of attitude), but its Miyazaki’s magical world and that charming Japanese art style that wins through, with a good story where you are soon routing for Princess Mononoke & Ashitaka and booing the villains.  At two and a quarter hours, it’s certainly epic, both in imagination and emotion, and it’s not hard to see why this is so regarded among movie fans; yet it also drags in places, which could make some viewers restless, with plenty of time given to bland dialogue and mundane moments like eating and working.  On this second viewing however, I was able to better appreciate the (at times) slow pace and the sheer artistic beauty of it all, as well as comedic side characters (the feisty female workers) and the various action sequences (Mononoke’s attack on iron town).  Although I do think it would benefit from about ten or twenty minutes being cut just to make it zip along more.   Yet for it’s character design, setting and echo-friendly message, this remains a land-mark.  I enjoyed it, even if for me it still pales next to Ghibli titles like Spirited Away or Howl’s Moving Castle.

This Blu-ray release from Studio Canal is impressive.  First and foremost the image is vibrant, sharp and very clear, with none of the smudgy, rough appearance that graced the DVD – clearly having been polished up quite a bit.  Add to this a stellar 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack with great use of the surrounds and pounding bass (when those drums beat … wow) and the orchestral theme is delivered wonderfully.  Dialogue is also very clear and easy to hear at all times (we also get the original Japanese soundtrack which I didn’t sample).  Extras are somewhat limited as they often are on these Studio Ghibli UK releases, but we do get a trailer, storyboards and a featurette.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3.5 /5

(the Blu-ray)  4 /5