Review of Alita: Battle Angel

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This is a science-fiction action movie based on the 1990s Japanese manga series Battle Angel Alita by Yukito Kishiro. The film was released by 20th Century Fox in February 2019. It was directed by Robert Rodriguez, co-produced by James Cameron and written by James Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis. Weta Digital created the special effects. Rosa Salazar stars as the cyborg Alita, Keean Johnson as Hugo, and Christoph Waltz as Dyson Ido. I notice this is on the ballot for the Dragon Award.

Iron City is a noisy, industrial dystopia after The Fall. It’s full of decaying tech, dangerous street gangs and bounty hunters stalking their prey. Above it floats the pristine sky city of Zalem where the rich and powerful live. A dismembered cyborg falls from the sky city into a trash heap in Iron City and is found by Dr. Dyson Ido. He attaches her head and torso to a body he previously built for his daughter, and calls her Alita. When she wakes, she has no memory of who she is. Alita makes a best friend in Hugo and starts to explore her capabilities, which seem to be very physical. She competes in Motorball against other cyborgs and does well. When corrupt forces in the city suddenly come after her, she finds she has high-level fighting skills. Can she save herself and her friends?

The most unusual feature of this film is the protagonist Alita, a CGI animated character created with the aid of motion capture, while most of the other actors seem to be live-action. Alita has huge eyes and first appears as just a head and torso, which is later attached to different bodies. Unlike early efforts at placing animated characters into live-action films, Alita fits in well and has fairly natural movement, though she’s still clearly animation. The film doesn’t have much of a plot, but instead explores Iron City, presents Alita’s backstory through flashes of memory and introduces characters who are apparently emerging from her past. There’s plenty of action and fight-choreography, and an emotional climax when Hugo is at risk.

On the not so positive side, Alita’s character remains flat, regardless of emotional moments and pained facial expressions. This makes the sentiment seem forced. Clearly the film is aimed at an audience who is familiar with the manga, but if you’re not, the plot is confusing because the flashbacks aren’t enough to explain the full situation. There are some apparent cameos among the characters, which suggests the main purpose of this installment is to set up for sequels.

Two and a half stars.

Review of Independence Day: Resurgence

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This film is a sequel the 1996 film Independence Day. It was directed by Roland Emmerich and written by Roland Emmerich, Dean Devlin, Nicholas Wright, James A. Woods and James Vanderbilt. It’s distributed by 20th Century Fox. For anyone unfamiliar with the 1996 film, Earth had to repel an alien invasion.

The film picks up about twenty years after the last one ended. The UN has set up the Earth Space Defense (ESD) system and has researched alien technology to use against future alien invasions. There are now military bases on the moon, Mars and Saturn’s moon Rhea. ESD director David Levinson meets with Dr. Catherine Marceaux and African Dikembe Umbutu who has found an intact alien ship that has sent a distress call their home planet. A strange ship appears near the moon base, and Levinson thinks it’s a different design from the last invasion, possibly a different race of aliens. The Security Council votes to destroy it anyway. Space tug pilots Jake Morrison and Charlie Miller pick up Levinson, Umbutu, Marceaux and accountant Rosenberg and head for the wreckage. They find a container but are interrupted by another alien ship that suddenly emerges and destroys the defense system before it can respond. The ship then begins to drill toward the Earth’s core in order to harvest the heat as fuel, which will destroy the Earth’s magnetic fields. Former President Whitmore interrogates a war captive and finds that a Queen is directing the invasion. An ESD fleet attacks the Queen’s chamber but they’re caught inside the alien ship. In Area 51 Dr. Okun has wakened from a 20-year coma. He opens the container and an AI reveals its mission is to locate and evacuate survivors of the energy Harvesters. Inside the aliens’ ship, the ESD fleet survivors steal alien fighters and follow the Queen’s ship, which is headed to Area 51 to destroy the AI. The ESD forces use the AI to lure the Queen’s ship into a trap and Whitmore volunteers to pilot a tug on the suicide mission. He sacrifices himself and destroys the alien ship, but the Queen survives. Whitmore’s daughter Patricia flies a fighter in a last-ditch effort to neutralize the Queen’s shields and allow the ESD forces to kill the Queen.

This is another watchable film. The script isn’t awe inspiring, but it has all the requirements, including the hot young fighter pilots, the older, self-sacrificing statesmen and the nerdy scientists. It has a lot of fast action and a touch of romance from the younger cast members. However, it’s another of those action-adventure flicks where you have to do a massive suspension of disbelief to cover the bad science and plot holes. Will Smith carried the first Independence Day, but there are no real standouts in this cast. Jeff Goldblum as Levinson probably does the most to carry it. Interesting, I was really taken by the space tugs. Animation has come a long way since Jar Jar Binks.

Three stars.

Review of Deadpool

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I’ve been to the movies again. Let’s hear it for a winner!

Background: This is part of the X-Men franchise. Apparently their budget was low to begin with, and then cut again just before they started work on the film. So, no one was expecting very much from this character? It’s a box office smash. The result is highly creative, suggesting budget cuts might benefit lots of other overworked Hollywood projects. This is also an R-rated adult film, which means they’ve made about $300 million in the first weekend without the teen market.

Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein. Directed by Tim Miller.
Plot: Nothing outstanding here. Wade Wilson is a former special forces veteran who is now working as a mercenary. He meets escort Vanessa Carlysle and the two have hot sex, which blossoms into a serious relationship. They’re on the point of marriage when Wade is diagnosed with terminal cancer. He’s approached by an organization that offers an experimental cure. This turns out to be a shady organization that creates dangerous mutants through torture to use as slaves for hire. Things don’t go as planned, leaving Vanessa in jeopardy. I’ll let you go see the film to get the rest.

What makes this such a success? Deadpool is an antihero. This allows the film to make fun of lots of different things, including itself. The opening credits tell us the film stars “God’s Perfect Idiot,” is produced by “Asshats,” directed by “An Overpaid Tool” and written by “The Real Heroes Here.” That pretty much sets the tone for the whole thing. Apparently the budget cuts reduced roles for characters that would have detracted from the stars and greatly cut the action sequences (thank God!).

One thing I’ve not seen mentioned anywhere else: This was a visually stunning film. The two leads are very easy on the eyes, and much of the action sequences are executed in a complex, slow motion ballet. The sword work is outstanding. I went so far as to look up some making-of videos. I thought it would all be done with wires, but I don’t see them. Instead, it looks like they just launched people into the air. Whew.

Of course, there’s not a lot of depth to the script, but you can’t have everything. I’m going to go all out and give this one five stars.

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