Scattered Thoughts on Us

March 24, 2019

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There will be spoilers, so go see the movie before you read any further.  The movie is definitely worth seeing. Read the rest of this entry »

Alita: Battle Angel

March 8, 2019

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There’s a type of film that is so in love with its source material it can’t get out of it’s own way.  Alita: Battle Angel is one such film.  After many, many years in development, initially by James Cameron (I recall thinking Luc Besson’s Angel-A was some type of adaptation because it was in the news at the time), and now finally brought to the screen from his script by Robert Rodriguez, it is very clearly a film that has suffered from overthinking.  It’s a property doomed to failure in a lot of ways, and though I have absolutely no knowledge of the manga from which it is adapted, I’d imagine it doesn’t lend itself to easy adaptation. 

Alita (Rosa Salazar) is a 300 year old cyborg found in a scrap heap and brought back to life by cybernetic surgeon Ido (Christoph Waltz).  She meets a guy, there are bounty hunters, ne’er do well scientists struggling with loss, a gargantuan cyborg baddie, an underworld (literally, in this case) kingpin, a violent sport called Motorball, a grieving mother who has sold herself out to get back to the good place, and a shadowy overlord living in the sky.  There is a lot going on here.  If I could hazard a guess, the creators didn’t know how much they could get away with or, more precisely, how many movies they would get to pull out of the property, and as a result, there are about 9 different stories all given short shrift in such a jarring fashion that it’s impossible to get your grounding.  It’s difficult enough to establish an entire world without feeling like you’re intentionally holding back information to fill out the details, and it’s another thing entirely to try to cram everything into two hours.  It’s a rare case in modern cinema where a 6 hour Netflix series would have been preferable, but this is one. 

The set pieces are good enough that I have to assume they were the starting point, and the job of the writers was to fill in the gaps to get to them.  It feels creaky as hell because of this, and it results in an early ominous warning from Ido to Alita never to pay attention to Motorball to, 90 minutes later and with absolutely no character development on his part to signal a change in ethos, he’s happily suiting her up with custom skates to join the league.  The visuals are striking at times, even if early scenes of Christoph Waltz hunting down a Jack the Ripper type killer with a giant hammer made me wish there was a Bloodborne movie instead.  The set pieces really are quite something, and Salazar’s CGI Alita is sympathetic enough that I want to root for the movie to work.  Unfortunately there are about four too many climaxes and endless interstitial scene handwaving to ever get fully on board.  It’s half assed and corny and punctuated with arresting visuals so, basically, it’s the ultimate Robert Rodriguez movie.  Bill Pope’s cinematography should be singled out for the sheer range of styles that have to be accomplished in a single film, but other than that an Alita’s genuinely affecting character, it’s a mess.  If it was shorn down to a few of its plot lines, it might have worked.  Instead, we get a team of talented people whose reach far exceeded their grasp.

Annihilation

March 1, 2018

annihilation-plant-evolution-elementsWell trodden territory in some ways, and yet also utterly unique in it’s derivations for a (US, at least) theatrical release, Alex Garland’s Annihilation is the kind of messy, intriguing, and at times utterly enthralling science fiction that drives me to consider it beyond the walls of the multiplex even as I’m sure much of it doesn’t hold up.  A (very loose, from what I’ve been told) adaptation of the first of the Southern Reach trilogy of novels by Jeff VanderMeer, the film sees Natalie Portman as an ex-army biologist thrust into a top secret base in Florida after her presumed dead special forces husband returns home after a year absence before promptly spewing blood all over the back of an ambulance.  The base is observing a phenomenon called “The Shimmer”, based on the fact that it, well, shimmers the color spectrum.  She volunteers to join a team that’s potentially on a suicide mission to venture into The Shimmer to better understand it’s peculiar affect on everything around it, especially as the “everything around it” is expanding rapidly.  Things go Stalker pretty quickly, with ample time for brief bouts of the sci-fi horror Garland has ventured in previously in his screenplays for Sunshine and 28 Days Later Read the rest of this entry »

Dunkirk

July 24, 2017

dunkirk-movie-preview-01_feature.jpgThough an inspirational story of true heroism against almost impossible odds, I can’t say I’ve ever been too keen to see a movie about the famous rescue at Dunkirk.  Though it’s etched in history due to its strategic importance (survival of the army meant survival of Britain and the Allies) as well as the famous Churchill speech it inspired, a film version lends itself too easily to ponderous patriotism and hokey sentimentalism.  It also seems quite boring.  I get the impression, having now seen Christopher Nolan’s depiction, that he probably felt the same way – at least, about the boring bit. Read the rest of this entry »

A Ghost Story

July 22, 2017

a-ghost-storyGiven the revival of Malick since the late 90’s, it’s no surprise that there is a generation of American independent filmmakers who seek to ape his lyrical, gorgeously shot style to such a degree that it has almost fully supplanted the rough-and-tumble, dialogue-heavy post-Tarantino style of the 90s.  American indies are nothing if not given to trends.  David Gordon Green arguably got the ball rolling with his (still) stunning George Washington, followed by a handful of varyingly successful continuations on theme until he found his current niche in stoner comedy.  Others have come since, and one of the standouts both for good and bad reasons was David Lowery’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, it’s haughty title belying both its lyrical imagery and ponderous tone.  It wasn’t much more than something to look at – a tale of subdued outlaws in early 20th Century Middle America – and listen to, thanks to Daniel Hart’s memorable score.  I missed Lowery’s well-liked foray into big budget filmmaking, Pete’s Dragon, but here he is with the typically smaller follow-up, A Ghost Story, featuring Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck in a white sheet with black eye holes.  A person’s reception that kind of affectation will likely color the viewing experience as a whole – Lowery does little to undercut it, and that would likely be the least of concerns for those who can’t, for lack of a better phrase, get with its vibe. Read the rest of this entry »

Queen of Katwe

October 5, 2016

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Coming into existence under the Disney banner, it’s easy to dismiss Mira Nair’s Queen of Katwe at first glance as your typical, live-action inspirational sports film. Easy going, the expected story beats and climax, and the fuzzy feeling at the end with just a bit of guidance and some determination anyone can achieve their dreams. There’s a fair amount of that, though only occasionally does its sentimentality get the better of it, but what’s surprising is just how much it, if not subverts the formula, it takes a sideways glance at it. Indeed, the film’s most significant problem is the way it tends to rush through the expected plot points and scenes just to get them overwith. In a lot of ways, Queen of Katwe is the kind of coming-of-age drama we’ve come to expect from the art house circuit rather than the Disney feel-good production line. Read the rest of this entry »

Everybody Wants Some!!

July 21, 2016

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Lightness is an undervalued quality in the modern film environment.  That shouldn’t be confused with “insubstantial”, because that, as ever, abounds.  But lightness is rare virtue, probably because of long-held beliefs in storytelling and “conflict” being, fairly, more dramatically interesting than not.  A few years ago, Jon Favreau cashed in some Iron Man cache and made Chef, a wispy nothing of a film that, meta-textually, hilariously staked a claim for giving up on the corporate demands and getting back to something “true”.  Not only was that notion ridiculous, but the film itself had no conflict whilst also having no characters worth investing in (despite a solidly charming turn by John Leguizamo).  I thought of Chef a few times during Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!!, a film that tries a little too hard in its early stages to establish it’s quirky bro ball players before hitting a kind of casual stride that, despite having no real conflict and not much of what can be considered a climax, still leaves you wanting more.  

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