(Review) Alita: Battle Angel

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Alita: Battle Angel.

It’s been a rocky road for Alita. It’s got a major following because it’s based on a manga series but its initial trailers looked bad, at least bad enough to divide fans on what to expect. If the visuals here didn’t pan out, this whole movie would flounder. So was the final product polished enough to please audiences?

The gist.

We’re in the far future, where the cities on the ground have become dumping grounds for major cities that float in the sky. Dr. Ido (Christoph Waltz) finds a cyborg in the dump pile and puts her back together, naming her Alita (Rosa Salazar). Alita doesn’t remember anything, so she slowly tries to remember who and what she is. She does this with the help of a young guy named Hugo (Keean Johnson). Ido’s ex-wife Chiren (Jennifer Connelly) finds out about Alita and reports back to a man named Vector (Mahershala Ali), who has some nefarious motives.

Alita runs into some dangerous enhanced killers along the journey, played by Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley,  and Eiza Gonzalez. We also get some weird cameos from Jai Courtney, Edward Norton, and a few scenes with Lana Condor (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before).

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What works?

Let me start by saying that it might be to this movie’s advantage that folks were hesitant. It set the bar low, making it easy to impress. And impress me, it did.

The worldbuilding on display here is perfect, showing us so much quickly with only a few nuggets of exposition. One of the first drafts of the screenplay was written by James Cameron, who has had to create many worlds before, so I expect he had a strong hand in that. Now, the visuals don’t always look great, but they look great in this world. Even when the villains look like video game characters, it still fits into this reality that they’ve created for us, so it manages to work.

It’s really Alita herself who steals the show though, played by Rosa Salazar (Maze Runners, CHIPS, Bird Box). Salazar performed while wearing motion-capture technology, so Alita is entirely CGI but it’s good enough that I had to look that up. Her trademark eyes are huge but the rest of her face and body had me questioning what was real. Not only does she look great but Alita is an insanely interesting character and is very likable, in addition to being a complete badass.

The fight sequences here are amazing, though way over the top. Sit back and enjoy, because it gets wild, especially a major battle towards the climax with like eight killers competing to kill Alita first. These sequences are great, well worth paying for a premium showing.

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What doesn’t work?

There are a few too many characters here, meaning some get very little to do. And unfortunately the biggest victim in that regard is Mahershala Ali, who only gets a few scenes but is somehow labeled as the big bad of the movie (and really, it’s more complicated than that, without spoiling it). He doesn’t get much to do or much range to showcase, compared to the Oscar-caliber performances we’ve seen from him.

And above I talked about the visual effects working for me, but I know some of you might balk at the visuals and immediately become disengaged. I’d challenge you to watch the actual film before judging because it felt to me like there were some additional layers of polish added in to make everything look a ton better than the trailers would lead you to believe.

Overall…

I had a great time with Alita: Battle Angel, probably because my expectations were low. The world is interesting, the fight sequences enthralling, and Alita herself is a really intriguing character and one I hope we see more from. The biggest disappointment is how little Mahershala Ali gets to do, a waste of his talent. If you want an adrenaline-fueled sci-fi adventure, this should do the trick for you.

4

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Review: Isn’t It Romantic

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Isn’t It Romantic.

We’ve had a lot of “women gets hit on the head” movies recently, including What Men Want and I Feel Pretty. We got another entry here with Isn’t It Romantic but the story beats might be getting a bit predictable, so let’s see if this movie can stand out from the crowd.

The gist.

Meet Natalie (Rebel Wilson), a cynic who was raised believing that love isn’t for everyone and that girls like her don’t get happy endings. She’s an architect and has a coworker (Adam Devine) who has a crush on her, though she’s oblivious, and an assistant (Betty Gilpin) who slacks off constantly. Things aren’t working out for Natalie, until she hits her head and wakes up to discover that her reality is now stolen from a romantic comedy movie, including the Australian heartthrob (Liam Hemsworth) and gay best friend (Brandon Scott Jones). Her friend Josh (Devine) meets and falls in love with a model (Priyanka Chopra). Can Natalie figure out what the lesson to learn is here? And how does she return reality to normal?

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What works?

As a comedy, this movie works. It’s clever and hilarious to both fans of romantic comedies and people that abhor them. You’ll laugh as the movie makes these choices but then acknowledges these choices, so it’s incredibly self-aware. Rebel Wilson carries the movie, but a special shoutout goes to Adam Devine, who has an incredible chemistry with her and also manages to provide both comedy and sentimentality.

In terms of how the movie is made, I appreciated the stark contrast between the two realities. It’s not just the world that’s different, but the movie is shot differently. It feels like two separate directors at work. The style totally works.

I also appreciated the soundtrack to the film, not usually something I bring up. Here, though, it deserves a mention for bringing in the best themes for romantic comedies of all time, using each one to perfect dramatic effect. It’s a playlist you’ll likely want to look up for the drive home following the movie.

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What doesn’t work?

While this movie turns the romantic comedy cliche on its head, it also ends up being just as predictable as the movies it’s making fun of, so don’t expect anything too crazy or unconventional here, it’s all pretty standard.

I wasn’t impressed with either Liam Hemsworth or Priyanka Chopra here. Maybe it’s because they were written as incredibly flat and uninteresting characters, but the actors didn’t feel as authentic in their roles and had a few cringeworthy moments.

Overall…

It’s kind of weird that Isn’t It Romantic satirizes the genre of romantic comedy but is still a fairly average example of one. It’s clever and funny, for sure, so if you’re looking for a good time at the movies, this will do it, but I don’t know if you’ll remember this movie in a few weeks time. An average score is still good, but I don’t know if this movie will end up being one of the better romantic comedies in the genre’s catalogue.

3

 

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Review: What Men Want

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What Men Want.

In the era of reboots and remakes, every once in a while they can nail it. Something that can be remade and still be unique and worthwhile. I was really hoping that What Men Want can do just that.

The gist.

In this remake of the 2000 comedy What Women Want, we get Taraji P. Henson as a sports agent who, through a series of unfortunate events, gets the ability to hear men’s thoughts. She is passed up for promotions at work so she’s determined to sign the newest basketball prodigy Jamal (Shane Paul McGhie), though his eccentric father (Tracy Morgan) stands in the way. With her new powers, maybe she can win over the father and sign the son, proving that she’s an asset to the company.

We also have her assistant Brandon (Josh Brener) who aspires to be an agent as well and a bartender that she has a one-night stand with (Aldis Hodge). Her coworkers include Max Greenfield, Pete Davidson, and Brian Bosworth, while her circle of friends include Phoebe Robinson, Tamala Jones, and Wendi McLendon-Covey.

WHAT MEN WANT

What works?

Taraji carries this film, though she’s the “straight person” throughout, meaning that the ensemble cast around her provides the comedy. It’s Josh Brener (The Internship) who really steals the show throughout most of this, as her assistant and one of the few people who knows her abilities. The comedy hits from all angles though, relying on heavyweights like Wendi McLendon-Covey (Reno 911) and Tracy Morgan, while also allowing smaller name supporting characters to get in some jokes as well.

As a comedy, this worked wholeheartedly and is a definite recommendation. It had a few inspiring and sentimental moments but it’s really the comedy that you’re going to see this movie for.

I appreciate that this movie not only gender-swapped the lead but also made her a black woman, as that allowed this movie to have some depth that I wasn’t expecting. It attempts to tackle some deeper issues, though I question if it did so effectively. One character especially has some real nasty and hurtful moments, but suffers no consequences by the end of the movie.

WHAT MEN WANT

What doesn’t work?

In a comedy, not every joke lands for every person, and this is very much that way. There were many “low-hanging fruit” jokes that were included that I found to be a bit crass and unnecessary, though the audience laughed often, so those jokes were for someone.

I also wasn’t much interested in a romantic side story that came up, revolving around Will (Aldis Hodge) and his son. This should have been an important relationship but it felt hollow, partially due to Hodge’s performance. Not terrible, just forgettable.

Overall…

As a comedy, this movie packs quite a punch. Even though not every joke landed for me, they came in such speed that I could miss a few and still feel like I was laughing nonstop. Taraji P. Henson carried this film successfully, though the ensemble around her had plenty of moments to shine, resulting in nonstop laughter and some really clever moments.

4

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Review: The Lego Movie 2

lego movie 2 headeradam reviewThe Lego Movie 2: The Second Part.

When the first film came out, I was impressed with how they managed to make a film about arbitrary building blocks that could be anything. And it was not only a film that made sense, but one with surprising lessons built in and some spectacular visual effects. Now, this sort of magic happens every once in a while in animated movies and the sequels tend to not live up the greatness of the original (see: Wreck-It Ralph).

So was this sequel able to be truly special?

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The gist.

We once again follow Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt), as their once Metropolitan city now looks like a Mad Max film, in the wake of alien attacks. When a new threat arrives (General Mayhem, voiced by Brooklyn 99‘s Stephanie Beatriz), most of our heroes are swept on a journey to meet Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish) but Emmet must find his own way, allying himself with the adventurous Rex Dangervest (also voiced by Pratt). Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Alison Brie, Nick Offerman, and Charlie Day all reprise their original voices.

We also get much more ‘real life’ sequences featuring the brother / sister pairing of Jadon Sand and Brooklyn Prince, who’ve taken over their father’s (Will Ferrell) Lego sets.

What works?

Like the original, this is a witty film and has many excellent moments. You’ll laugh (hopefully) a lot. Chris Pratt and the back-and-forths between his own voices is pretty incredible, while everyone else shares their fair weight of comedy. Will Arnett’s Batman also steals the show, just as in the original, and builds on the momentum from his standalone Lego Batman film.

Visually, this movie also looks incredible, though it surprisingly doesn’t have the same sort of action setpieces that the original had. We get some stunning shots and some chase sequences, but nothing remotely like what the original film gave us, which were truly amazing sequences for any action movie, nonetheless an animated one.

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What doesn’t work?

While this movie is good, it doesn’t succeed at all to the heights of the original. The focus on the real-life story here felt a bit obtrusive, taking away from the story we’re meant to be engaged with. And then there’s a twist towards the end that really can’t exist, if we’re assuming that these are all really the playsets of two children. So, I was confused and frustrated by the twist rather than intrigued.

I’m also on the fence about the addition of Tiffany Haddish. She wasn’t bad but they gave her character a handful of songs to sing, all which pale in comparison to the original Everything is Awesome, and you can tell they’re absolutely trying to recapture that magic.

The music isn’t as good, the movie wasn’t as funny, the action wasn’t as impressive, and the sentimental heart of the movie didn’t punch as hard as the reveal in the original film.

Overall…

This is not a bad movie. When I give average reviews, it means average. Not bad. This movie has to live in the shadow of its incredible predecessor, and when most factors are not nearly as good, that means the score is going to suffer. You’ll still enjoy yourself here, no doubt, but I don’t think this sequel will the sort of long-lasting impact of the original.

3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Review: Serenity (2019)

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Serenity.

Now, this is going to be an incredibly difficult film to review, so unfortunately it might appear really vague because this whole movie’s premise is something that the marketing and trailers hide from you, so I need to move forward with caution.

The gist.

Here’s what the trailers show us. A woman named Karen (Anne Hathaway) wants her husband (Jason Clarke) dead, so she tries to pay a down-on-his-luck fisherman named Baker (Matthew McConaughey) to take him out fishing and kill him at sea. So the trailer wants you to believe that this is a suspense thriller, full of deceit and betrayal. What we get is something quite different. Without spoiling the twist, you find out very early on that this movie is something else, that this is a high-concept science-fiction movie and that nothing is as it seems.

We also get Djimon Hounsou as Baker’s first mate, Jeremy Strong as a mysterious salesman trying to find Baker, and Diane Lane as a woman who helps pay for Baker’s fishing expeditions in exchange for sex.

What works?

Even though this is a bonkers story, Matthew McConaughey still delivers an incredible, although unhinged, performance. If this were a realistic tale of a man and this impossible choice to kill or not, he’d likely be up for awards right now. But the film around him goes off the rails quickly and even his performance can’t salvage it.

Likewise, Jason Clarke delivers an exceptionally evil performance as well, convincing the audience that maybe the world would be a better place without him, making us question which choice is the right one.

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What doesn’t work?

This movie reminded me of how I felt while watching Interstellar (though I think more people will like that film). We don’t get a big twist moment, instead we get an entire movie that slowly unravels what’s happening. From the first few minutes, we get clues that this movie is a science-fiction film. And I think that was a poor decision. If this film had been a legit thriller and then gave us a twist in the final moments, maybe I would’ve been on-board. Instead, we get reminders every few minutes that something is wrong, and so you start to analyze and pick it apart and I think it’s harder to appreciate some of these great performances when the plot is making you frustrated.

And once we get the answers we want, there’s still a lot of film left. It raises more questions, questions that aren’t ever answered. It’s a frustrating film to watch, because you’re confused for most of it and then disappointed once you DO get the answers you’ve been waiting for. I don’t think the twist is inherently bad, but it’s definitely poorly executed.

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Overall…

This is such a weird film but I don’t think it’ll be remembered fondly or even be divisive (like Interstellar was). I think this movie tried to market itself as a grounded suspense thriller and then trick the audiences once the movie started, but most folks will be disappointed with how the big trick plays out. There’s a few solid performances but the movie itself falls apart.

2

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Review: Glass

Glass.

The film Unbreakable 19 years ago helped to launch M. Night Shyamalan’s career, giving us a superhero story unlike any other. We were then surprised by the film Split, which turned out in its final moments to be a sequel to Unbreakable. And now, these films come together. Can the divisive M. Night deliver something that resembles his early classics?

The gist.

As the film opens, David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is wandering the streets, hoping to catch a clue to find the serial killer known as “The Horde,” a man with Dissociative Identity Disorder, all of whom worship their most powerful personality called The Beast (all played by James McAvoy). With the help of his son (Spencer Treat Clark), Dunn and the Beast collide and things spiral out of control, with all of them ending up in a psychiatric hospital. The doctor there (Sarah Paulson) already has one patient there, the infamous Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson) who is heavily sedated, so that he can’t out-think the staff of the hospital and escape. Obviously things don’t go well, as Mr. Glass and The Beast find themselves a mutual enemy in David Dunn.

What works?

It’s great to be back in this world again, so fans should have a fun time revisiting these characters. While we just saw McAvoy in Split a few years ago, it’s nice to catch up with Willis and Jackson whose characters we have 19 years of catch-up to do. They also cleverly use clips from Unbreakable (and even a deleted scene), which was a cool way to connect these movies.

The actors all do an incredible job too. McAvoy obviously nails it, delivering another stellar performance. Samuel L. Jackson also does a great job, though unfortunately Bruce Willis gets much less to do. Newcomer Sarah Paulson is great at what she does, though I had some problems with the story revolving around her character.

What doesn’t work?

There’s a few big problems here. Not to spoil anything, but the story goes in a direction that leaves you shaking your head as the final scenes play out. This is not a triumphant climax to the story, this story ends up relegating our main characters to become pawns in what seems to be a launching point for a new series of films (or at least M. Night likely hopes so). As the third act plays out, you’re teased with incredibly cool things that might happen and instead we get a traditional curveball that undercuts the film and will leave most fans underwhelmed and disappointed.

I also mentioned that Bruce Willis here is vastly underused. This movie really belongs to James McAvoy, with Samuel L. Jackson taking the reins in the third act. Willis’ David Dunn character has no arc, nothing changes. He’s just a plot mechanism, not the character that we loved from Unbreakable.

There’s also some major problems with the camera work here. Mostly in the action sequences, we get these reverse camera shots, where it looks like the camera is mounted to the actor and facing back at them. It’s jarring and weird and happens over and over, in a few big fights usually revolving around Dunn and the Beast. There are also other moments where a “unique” camera shot takes you out of the movie completely, such as a shot where the camera follows an actor passing up and the frame turns upside down. It’s not cool or interesting, it’s incredibly distracting.

Also, M. Night Shyamalan delivers his worst cameo ever and proves without a doubt that he should not be in front of a camera.

Overall…

Glass is a disappointment, which is unfortunate. The story goes off the rails, our lead characters become pawns in their own stories, and the technical shooting of this film felt incredibly amateur at points. As the movie closed, it was not the movie I wanted or the movie we deserved after waiting 19 years for a sequel. There are cool moments, the characters are inherently interesting, and Sarah Paulson does her best to weave these worlds together, but it just doesn’t quite work.

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Review: On the Basis of Sex

On the Basis of Sex.

This feels like a no-brainer for award season, so something felt off when there was no rumbling for On the Basis of Sex in the run up to the Golden Globes and early Oscar talk. This wasn’t a great sign, so when the movie finally went wide-release, I had to see for myself why this movie wasn’t making waves.

The gist.

Ruth Bader Ginsberg (Felicity Jones) finds herself in the Harvard Law program, surrounded by men. She must fight to make herself seen, while her husband (Armie Hammer) gets through the program much easier. This movie follows Ruth’s journey through her first landmark case of sex discrimination, as she teams up with the ACLU (spearheaded by Justin Theroux) and must fight against former professors including Sam Waterston and Stephen Root. Her daughter (Cailee Spaeny) protests in the streets, while Ruth tries to make a difference in the courtroom.

What works?

The story of Ruth Bader Ginsberg is an interesting one and undoubtedly would make for a great movie, though it’s questionable if this is that movie. Felicity Jones does her best here, though it quickly becomes apparent why she wasn’t up for award consideration. She’s great but she’s not doing anything special here, she’s just playing a woman. It’s hard to compete against other actresses who are playing a character so different from themselves. Jones feels like herself, with a slight American accent.

She has a great chemistry, and kind of rivalry, with her on-screen husband Armie Hammer. Together they are fighting inequality but there’s some nuance to the fact that her fight is much tougher than his, as he’s able to make headway much quicker in some of these instances. Hammer does a great job, though again… seems just like himself.

The best part of the final is the climax, the most interesting and most engaging 15 minutes of the film. We also get one of the most impactful final shots of a biography that I have seen ever, something that I don’t think has ever been done. You’ll have to see it to understand.

What doesn’t work?

Like I said above, while Jones and Hammer do a serviceable job, they ultimately don’t get much to do. Playing Ruth Bader Ginsberg doesn’t stretch any new muscles for Felicity Jones, it’s just a slight accent.

The other big problem lies with the script. Our entire story here revolves around one of the first cases to eliminate gender discrimination in a very specific way. And that’s it. We get a few lines of text that explain how Ruth Bader Ginsberg then went on to make a huge difference and get elected to the Supreme Court. We don’t see it, it’s an afterthought. Looking back, while this first case was pivotal, it might’ve been more effective to showcase a variety of cases throughout her career, culminating in something major. It feels rather uneventful, since it’s a relatively small case, even though it had massive repercussions.

Since the movie’s main court case is rather small, it feels a little slow throughout. We focus on minuscule parts of the proceedings that don’t really engage the viewer, leaving you a bit bored throughout. This is why I wish the movie zoomed out and covered a variety of cases throughout her life, that might have been a more interesting route.

Overall…

On the Basis of Sex is a fine film but suffers from zooming in and focusing on a part of Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s life that unfortunately wasn’t too exciting to watch unfold. Both Felicity Jones and Armie Hammer do their best with the script but it’s ultimately a slow and boring journey. A true story of her life might’ve had the benefit of a faster pace and some more heightened moments to focus on. As it stands, this is a fairly unengaging biography.

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