Tag: James Cameron

Alita: Battle Angel review

Director: Robert Rodriguez

Writers: James Cameron, Laeta Kalogridis

Cast: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Keean Johnson, Mahershala Ali, Jennifer Connelly, Jackie Earle Haley, Ed Skrein

Release date: February 14, 2019

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This is yet another attempt at making a good American live action adaptation of a manga/anime. This is a project James Cameron has been wanting to make for years, but it’s Robert Rodriguez who is in the director’s seat this time. Alita: Battle Angel is certainly an interesting and ambitious film, but it falls short of its goals.

Alita: Battle Angel adapts the manga Battle Angel Alita, which I have not gotten around to reading yet. Set in a cyberpunk future, Alita is an amnesiac teenage cyborg repaired by a kindly doctor named Ido. As Alita gains more memories of her past, she makes friends with a boy named Hugo, and enemies with those in power.

Alita: Battle Angel boasts impressive visuals, some well done action scenes, and a strong performance from the main lead. I was actually taken aback by how realistic the effects were for turning Rosa Salazar’s face into the big eyed anime girl. While there are a few moments of jarring greenscreen, for the most part, everything was seamless. It also smartly mixes in a few practical effects with the CGI. The action scenes are very well shot and directed, with some rather gruesome violence for a PG-13 film. The scenes involving a sport called Motorball are some of the most exciting and fun to watch in the whole film. The world feels lived in with every shot of another citizen or building telling you a little more about the setting and its people. It’s got some great filmmaking and eye candy in it, make no mistake.

All that said, the movie severely suffers from a bloated plot. It’s only just over two hours long, and has material for two or three movies. Rather than focus on one story arc and leave the rest for sequels, it opts to try and cover all of them. It moves from plot point to plot point without giving any one of them time to develop fully. Either cut down on the material, or make it much longer. There is a sport called Motorball in the film’s world that has a whole tournament centered around it, and ends up being integral to the plot and development of the character. It’s barely given any more importance than the other events of the film. The plot is scattershot and tries too hard to cover as many arcs as possible to set up a sequel it hasn’t earned. The longer it goes on, the more obvious it is that the film is struggling to fit in as much material as possible, and it crumbles under the weight of trying to do too much with too little time. Structurally, it plays out like a fighting anime: Alita will fight an enemy, and will either gain memories of her past back or a powerup that makes her even stronger. This sort of story structure would work for a longer form of storytelling, but this is a single movie. Different rules need to be followed.

I have to give attention to some of the dialogue in this script. It’s very cheesy, and not always in an endearing way. Near the end of the film, there’s a death scene that caused me to chuckle because of the lines and the delivery of them. Other lines of dialogue elevate the corniness due to good delivery, or there is a level of cringe that is intentional, such as Alita trying to give an inspiring speech that falls completely flat.

Alita’s cast gets high marks, mostly. Rosa Salazar makes Alita come off as both a badass and an adorably naïve teenager. Salazar’s best acting comes from her use of facial expressions and eyes. It’s an effective and emotional performance that helps us track Alita’s development over the course of the film. In addition to her, Christoph Waltz does a great job as Alita’s father figure, coming across as a warm and wise man but also adding layers to the role. Ed Skrein plays an unlikable bounty hunter named Zapan, and boy does he do a great job of making you hate this tool. Too bad Keean Johnson and Mahershala Ali fail to leave much of an impression, as well as Edward Norton. Yeah, Edward Norton is in this, merely as a tease for movies to come. If you’re going to have him, give him something to do.

Alita: Battle Angel is not an abomination like Death Note was, but it is still not the success we were all hoping it would be. It starts strong but loses steam the longer it goes on. It’s an admirable attempt with very strong qualities, but only an attempt nonetheless.

Score: 5.5/10

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Alien Series review

So for this October I decided to watch every single movie in the Alien franchise. What began as a sci-fi horror movie in 1979 directed by Ridley Scott has now become a massive franchise with sequels, prequels, video games, crossovers across various media, and comic books. I did not watch the Alien vs Predator movies because they are just non-canon fanservice for fans of both properties and I have not seen the Predator movies anyway.

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Alien
It’s been decades since it was first released in theaters and is still one of the best horror films ever made. The story and characters are nothing special but they’re well carried by the actors’ performances and the plot’s pacing. A crew of a commercial spaceship called the Nostromo discover a derelict alien spaceship that ends up housing a dangerous threat unlike anything ever seen. It looks better than most movies in general today thanks to excellent set design, practical effects, and Ridley Scott’s superb direction and cinematography. The eponymous Alien (Xenomorph) is still one of the most menacing horror antagonists ever because of its design (RIP H.R. Giger), and of how there is no complex explanation or backstory for its actions. It’s a predator and the crew is the prey, simple as that. Like the best horror movies, it relies on subtlety and nail-biting tension rather than jump scares and gore. A sci-fi slasher movie where the slasher is a Lovecraftian-esque monster with origins unknown to us. The only negative that drags it down is the characters not being memorable outside of our main lead Ellen Ripley, but other than that it’s still a great movie.

Aliens
This movie is awesome. The sequel that surpassed the original and then some. Ripley wakes up after over fifty years of hyper sleep to discover her daughter Amanda has passed away years ago from cancer, and no one believes her story about how her crew was killed. A Xenomorph outbreak on the colony Hadley’s Hope causes her to team up with the Colonial Marines to take on her old enemy. Directed by James Cameron instead of Ridley Scott, Cameron wisely decided to take the film in an action oriented direction instead of trying to one up the original, thus creating one of the best sci-fi action movies of all time. The universe set up in the original is expanded upon more, the characters are much more memorable, Ellen Ripley cements her status as one of the best female action heroes in history, and it has the best action scenes ever. Like the first movie the story itself is nothing really special, but the characters are vastly better in this one and with Ripley becoming a surrogate mother to the child character Newt in this movie, it’s much more emotionally engaging since it’s genuinely sad to see characters get brutally killed, and extremely happy to see others make it out alive. Hicks, Newt, Hudson, Vasquez, Bishop and then some all make up the best set of characters the series has ever seen. It also has messages about the arrogance of a technologically superior force fighting a seemingly weaker enemy, which was inspired by the U.S.’s bungling of the Vietnam War, so it’s a much smarter movie than it appears to be at first glance. The lines are iconic (“Game over man! Game over!” “Get away from her you bitch!”), the special effects still look great today, it still manages to keep the nail biting tension the original movie had, and the ending has one of the best final battles in action movies ever with the Xenomorph Queen and it wraps up Ripley’s character arc perfectly. You can make other movies in the series but here is where Ripley’s character should’ve been left. Easily now in my favorite movies list, one of the best sequels ever, and the best movie in the franchise. There’s a small but vocal minority of people who hate this movie for moving away from first movie’s horror. Well be careful what you wish for because you get a new Alien movie with an emphasis on horror in the next one…

Alien 3
This is the exact opposite of Aliens. It’s one of the worst sequels ever made because instead of being exciting it’s boring, it’s a slog to get through, the characters are mostly dull and unlikable, has an bad ending and pisses on Ripley’s character. Remember Hicks and Newt? They get killed in the beginning of Alien 3, retroactively ruining the completely wonderful ending of the previous movie! I’m not against movies set after Aliens, but they should have little to do with Ellen Ripley. There are other stories you can tell, as shown with the now non-canon Dark Horse Alien comics and Alien: Isolation video game. There can be a movie about Newt grown up kicking Xenomorph ass, or another movie about the Colonial Marines, but leave Ripley alone. This movie had a notoriously troubled production and was David Fincher’s directorial debut, but not even he can salvage this boring turd. It’s the kind of horror movie that relies on shock value deaths and gore to scare its audience, which gets boring after it happens once or twice. The special effects aren’t even that good thanks to some poorly used and aged CGI, and that’s not even getting into the new prison setting being visually uninteresting with only the colors being grey and yellowish brown. Lastly, Ripley goes from being a badass who kicked Xeno ass to being terrified of the Xenomorph again, then they kill her off at the end of the movie via heroic sacrifice to end the threat once and for all. Some people say the Assembly Cut is a genuinely good movie. It’s not, so don’t watch it for your own sake.

Alien: Resurrection
Accomplishes the impressive goal of being even worse than the third movie. It takes place 200 years after Alien 3 and a new company studying the Xenomorphs clones Ripley. Yep, they didn’t even have the guts to stick with 3’s ending of her character. Even the opening credits are inferior to 3’s, and the worst of the entire series! This is the Batman and Robin of the Alien movies, with terrible acting, special effects, and a campy tone that is disrespectful to its own series. The only good things I can say about it is that its visual style is more interesting than 3’s and Ron Perlman is a blast in it, but everything else is worse. The story I hear is Joss Whedon wrote this script to try to get fired from his job, but studio executives actually took it seriously. If that’s true, then every stereotype of movie executives is pretty much justified. Another Xenomorph outbreak occurs because of corporate incompetence, but this time it’s really inexcusable. The movie takes place 200 years after Alien 3, so they should know the Xenos have acid blood, but their cages aren’t even acid proof! It’s like they wanted an accident to happen! It’s constantly pulling stuff out of its ass as the plot keeps moving that make no sense. Fuck this movie.

Prometheus
This is a prequel to the original movies with Ridley Scott back at the director’s helm. I don’t find it to be the masterpiece it tried to be or the ultimate betrayal of the other movies fans found it to be (Did they forget the last two movies exist?). I’m glad they finally moved on from Ripley’s character so as not to butcher it any further, so that was an automatic plus in my book. I think it has some interesting ideas but the execution left a lot to be desired. It wants to explore the origins of the Xenomorphs and of humanity in general, with an advanced race of aliens called the “Engineers” being the overall antagonists. The problem with this is that it feels torn between being a prequel and wanting to be its own movie, so none of the ideas it wants to explore feel fleshed out. Ridley Scott is still a great visual director that very few can match, and that combined with the much better CGI and special effects for this movie make it utterly beautiful at times. Everything else though, there’s a lot left to be desired. The biggest problems by far are the characters and their stupidity. These people are the dumbest group of researchers that have ever lived. The plot wouldn’t move if it weren’t for their idiotic mistakes, like a biologist approaching a strange alien creature or one of the crew members not telling the others he noticed a parasite in his eye while looking at his face in the mirror. Also, the technology is more advanced despite being a prequel to the other movies, but that’s kind of a nitpick that can be explained by the crew having a higher budget compared to the crew of the first movie who were basically truckers in space. Michael Fassbender’s android character David is pretty interesting, however he’s the only one I liked. Not even the main character Shaw was memorable. I wouldn’t call it good, but exploring the origins of the Xenomorphs with other characters is an interesting premise that a sequel could have built upon. Key phrase being could have.

Alien: Covenant
Whatever potential the ideas from Prometheus had to be fleshed out has gone unfulfilled. It has the same problems as Prometheus but with some new ones too. The characters are uninteresting and make dumb decisions but even more so. David returns from Prometheus and is turned into some cartoonish super villain who created the Xenomorphs just because he could, killed Shaw off screen, and committed genocide on the Engineers between the two movies. The Xenomorphs and facehuggers make their return to pacify the fans who were disappointed that Prometheus had very little to do overall with the actual origins of the Xenomorphs. The best aspect is the good direction from Ridley Scott again, but it’s a very hollow movie overall and at this point I have no doubt he barely cares. The script went through some pretty heavy rewrites, and all the ideas it had before sound way more interesting than the glorified half sequel to Prometheus, half remake of Alien we got.

Overall
This is how I rank the Alien movies from best to worst:
1. Aliens
2. Alien
3. Prometheus
4. Alien: Covenant
5. Alien 3
6. Alien: Resurrection
The first two movies are amazing while the rest aren’t worth watching. Prometheus has its moments but its issues drag it down too much. After the mess that was Covenant, I have no interest in seeing any other movie made in this franchise. They should have called it quits after Aliens, at least in regards to Ellen Ripley’s story. Just watch the first two, then play the video game Alien: Isolation. It’s about Amanda Ripley, Ellen’s biological daughter who died in between the first two movies as she tries to discover the truth of her mother’s disappearance. It’s a pretty good game that actually tells a much better story than the other movies of the series.