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 »

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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.