Alita: Battle Angel (2019) Review By Steven Wilkins

Alita Battle Angel

Director: Robert Rodriguez
Screenwriters: James Cameron, Laeta Kalogridis & Robert Rodriguez; based on the graphic novel by Yukito Kishiro
Stars: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly

Crested by Yukito Kishiro for Jump Magazine in the 90’s, Alita is a cyberpunk Manga series brought faithfully to life courtesy of director Robert Rodriguez with screenplay by himself, James Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis

With what seems to be a sprinkle of Ghost in the Shell and Astro Boy (2009), Alita ticks a lot of high marks. The story itself is engaging enough following Alita whom is found in a scrap yard by Dr. Ido. After repairs are made to her cybernetic body, she awakes with no memory of who she is or was.  

Upon meeting Hugo, a friend of sorts to Ido, she’s introduced to the surrounding world.  Though the film kicks off feeling like it’s going to be a slow origin story, the action is well placed and sets the film in motion throughout.

Visually, Alita is a jewel best viewed in 3D IMAX if you have the option available.  The only drawback to the use of heavy CG comes during the Motorball event in which many of the characters look a tad cartoonish in a way but it doesn’t by any means take away from the overall feel of the movie.  Coming in at two hrs the end actually feels like it came too early and will likely leave you wanting more. 

So, hopefully a sequel is in the future but for now, Alita is a very  enjoyable adaptation that anine fans should appreciate and casual movie goers could potentially love.

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Overlord (2018) Blu-Ray Review By D.M. Anderson

Overlord

Director: Julius Avery
Writers: Billy Ray (screenplay by), Mark L. Smith (screenplay by) 
Starring Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, Mathilde Ollivier, John Magaro, Pilou Asbaek, Gianny Taufer, Iain De Caestecker, Dominic Applewhite, Bokeem Woodbine.

You know what’s awesome about Denny’s? Their menus. Whether you’re still half asleep in the morning or trying to sober-up after the bars close, you can slide into a booth, grab an oversized laminated menu and find exactly what’ll hit the spot without reading a single word. Just point to the glossy colored photo of their Grand Slam Breakfast and grunt to the waitress, “I’ll want that.”

And no matter which Denny’s you stumble into, that Grand Slam Breakfast will look and taste exactly like the picture promises. Nothing on their menu will ever be mistaken for fine cuisine, but unless the kitchen overcooked your eggs over easy, chances are you’ve never walked out of a Denny’s disappointed.

Overlord is sort-of the action-horror equivalent of a Denny’s visit, brought to your table just as advertised and prepared by cooks who may not be Bobby Flay, but at-least their way around a griddle. The cooks in this case are director Julius Avery, producer J.J. Abrams and screenwriters Billy Ray & Mark L. Smith, who’ve put together a heaping, greasy plate o’ bloody horror, violent action and just enough character development so we care who lives or dies.

Taking place during World War II, the film has a squad of paratroopers charged with infiltrating a German-occupied village in France just prior to D-Day. However, in a riveting opening scene, their plane is attacked and only a few of them, led by Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell), manage to survive the jump. Their objective remains the same, though: Destroy a radio tower – located in the village church – before their allies hit the beach at Normandy. But after inadvertently infiltrating the church on his own, newbie Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo) discovers a lab where Nazis, under the command of lecherous SS officer Captain Wafner (Pilou Asbaek), have been experimenting on villagers to develop a serum that not-only resurrects the dead, it gives them unbelievable strength. Worse yet, they’re almost invulnerable.

We’ve seen Nazi-zombie mash-ups before, mostly low-budget horror fare. But the undead depicted here aren’t zombies in the purest sense and Overlord is just-as-much a war movie as it is a horror film. The plot is strictly meat & potatoes – or bacon & eggs, in this case – with an abundance of familiar tropes from both genres. Amusingly, most of the protagonists act like they’ve been hijacked from a 1940s war epic (right down to the wisecracking kid from Brooklyn), yet they’re engaging nonetheless. And though the film is mostly bereft of surprises or suspense, the mission itself is a fun, gleefully violent adventure that comes to a satisfying conclusion.

Sometimes that’s all you need from a meal. Like everything on the Denny’s menu, Overlord delivers as expected without frills or fuss. Well written, solidly directed and briskly-paced, it isn’t likely to become a classic (though cult classic isn’t out of the question). However, it’s equally unlikely that action-horror fans will walk away still hungry.

Alita: Battle Angel (2019) Review By Philip Henry

Alita Battle Angel

Director: Robert Rodriguez
Screenwriters: James Cameron, Laeta Kalogridis & Robert Rodriguez; based on the graphic novel by Yukito Kishiro
Stars: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly

If you’ve seen the trailer for this you probably thought the same thing as I did – it’s Ghost in the Shell under a different name. I know nothing about manga comics or cartoons, so I am talking about the underwhelming Scarlett Johansson film when I talk about Ghost in the Shell. It was such a boring movie I actually remember very little about it, apart from there being some kind robotically-enhanced super-girl in it who went around kicking butt in the robot nudy.

And that’s basically what we have here, too. Though in this case she goes around smashing up cyborgs that either fight with the speed and agility of Spider-man, or lumber around like those APUs that defended Zion in The Matrix movies. For me, this film has the same failing as Avatar – Cameron is more interested in showing us the technology behind the film than telling a decent story.

Another thing I saw in the trailer was the almost completely CG environment. I’m not a fan of this either (I had a really bad experience with a Phantom Menace once) because as good as the CG might be, and it definitely is in this film, it still looks fake to me, and little more than a semi-realistic cartoon. I just find it really hard to get emotionally invested in a CG characters walking around a CG environment, except in the case of the Toy Story movies, of course, but they work because the emphasis is on character and not showing off their latest CG advancements.

I don’t want to get too down on this film. It’s actually not half bad, and more than watchable, but considering the pedigree behind the camera it strikes me as disposable fare. There is a story in there that borrows from Logan’s Run and The Matrix to name just two, and I’m sure the actress in the lead role was fine, but how can we tell when her face has been altered to give her big manga eyes, so all the subtlety of her performance is lost?

There are some nice inventions in this PA world starting with the 26th Century Fox logo at the start – don’t you just love it when they mess with the logo. I especially liked the one-wheeled motorcycle and some street sets do seem to have been built and aged very well, before being enhanced with CG, of course. The futuristic sport of Motorball plays a big part in the film. It’s basically Death Race on motorized roller-blades on a Nascar track. There’s some big action set-pieces that look very nice, but since I never felt any of the CG cyborgs were in danger, it was hard to care when anyone crashed or burned. 

This film looks exceptionally good, but that’s not enough (for me at least). Movies aren’t just a visual medium, they should engage the emotions as well as the senses and that’s where Alita fails.

Maybe I’m alone in finding it hard to get invested in computer animated characters, but my heart never skipped a beat when Tom & Jerry got hurt either. I’m sure others will love this movie for its sheer scope and spectacle. There were kids at the screening I attended who seemed to love it. There is one F-bomb in the film, which struck me as odd. Maybe it was Cameron and Rodriguez trying to prove they were still edgy. They should’ve just dropped it, because I think kids are the main audience for this. The shadow of Rodriguez’s Spy Kids movies looms large and one F-bomb isn’t going to bring the rawness of El Mariachi or Desperado back.

It’s an enjoyable enough way to spend a couple of hours but it’s a long way away from earning a place on my Blu-ray shelf between The Terminator and From Dusk Til Dawn.

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) Blu-Ray Movie Review By D.M. Anderson

Bohemian Rhapsody

Director: Bryan Singer
Writers: Anthony McCarten (story by), Peter Morgan (story by)
Starring Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joe Mazzello, Aiden Gillen, Allen Leech, Tom Hollander, Mike Myers, Aaron McClusker. Directed by Bryan Singer (and Dexter Fletcher). (2018/135 min). 

As a die-hard Queen fan during the height of their popularity, I can confirm many of Bohemian Rhapsody’s historical inaccuracies regarding their career trajectory. The timeline of certain events has been changed, while others depicted in the film didn’t actually happen.

I can also attest that Freddie Mercury’s sexuality was never an issue with fans back then. We always suspected he was gay. We just never cared because his over-the-top flamboyancy perfectly enhanced the band’s bombastic, genre-bending approach to music. Even after media wagons began to circle around Mercury’s private life, none of their so-called revelations seemed particularly scandalous because most of us suspected as much all along. When Mercury publicly disclosed he had AIDS (the day before he died), we were extremely saddened, though not all that surprised.

So no, Queen was not an overnight success, not everything they touched turned to gold and Freddie was not diagnosed with AIDS prior to Live Aid. And if the film omits most of the more sordid details of Mercury’s life, so what? It is obvious from the first frame that Bohemian Rhapsody was put together by people who love the band – and its music – as much as everyone else. Accusations of the film glossing-over the truth are moot points. This is not-so-much a biography as it is a big, sparkling thank you letter to Queen and their legions of fans, both old and new.

As such, Bohemian Rhapsody is fabulous fun, much like Queen’s music. Their humble beginnings are superficially outlined – and greatly condensed – in order to present the Queen we know & love as much as possible. The concert sequences are depicted in all their glamorous glory, as are the band’s numerous numerous musical milestones. With a soundtrack that’s wall-to-wall with Queen’s best-known songs, the film plays very much like a greatest hits album. Historically, some of them appear out of order. “Fat Bottomed Girls,” for example, was not one of their early hits. Within the context of the narrative, however, the song’s timing is perfect. As it appears in the story, “Who Wants to Live Forever” achieves a level poignancy never reached in the movie it was originally written for (Highlander).

Much has already been said about Rami Malek’s amazing performance as Freddie Mercury. It is indeed phenomenal, but the actors playing the rest of the band are just as convincing (and criminally overlooked). While they may not be spitting images of their real-life counterparts (though Joe Mazzello as John Deacon comes damn close), they completely embody Queen’s on-stage moves and mannerisms.

Everything culminates with the band’s now-legendary performance at Live Aid. It wasn’t really a “reunion” as the film suggests (Queen never actually broke up), but by rearranging and altering certain events for dramatic impact, this scene is easily Bohemian Rhapsody’s emotional high point. Watching the band return to glory before a 100,000 fans (and a billion TV viewers) is enough to cause goosebumps. 

Ultimately, we don’t learn much more about Mercury than we did going in (though he appeared to have a lot of cats). The film is narratively disjointed and its historical accuracy is questionable. But as an affectionate tribute to a band we’ll still be listening to 100 years from now, Bohemian Rhapsody captures Queen the way we’d like to remember them: a great band with one helluva charismatic frontman. 

Blaze (2018) Movie Review By Gianni Damaia

BLAZE

Director: Ethan Hawke
Writers: Ethan Hawke, Sybil Rosen
Stars: Ben Dickey, Alia Shawkat, Charlie Sexton

The tragedy of the Bard is a tale as old as time. The lonesome wanderer that walks the world finding purpose in the bottom of a bottle, the eyes of a lover, and the tune of a guitar. While it may be familiar, we continually revisit this narrative because it feels romantically human, and in my mind ‘romantically human’ is the perfect way to sum up Blaze. The same tropes you may expect to find in films like ‪Crazy Heart‬ and ‪Inside Llewyn Davis‬ are alive and well inside Blaze, but the difference is in how director, Ethan Hawke, carefully edges his story into a visual poem that often allows its songs to speak with more specificity than its characters. That’s not to say that Blaze features incoherent characters, it’s merely a comment about how they each resign themselves to a rhythm in language that is not immediately obvious. These are Shakespearean figures who just so happen to be in a movie about nomadic hoodlums struggling to find purpose. In this regard, Blaze is far better than it has any right to be.

Blaze tells the true story of a musician, Blaze Foley, in the prime years of his life as he meets his love and struggles to maintain his identity within the confines of a pervasive industry he is increasingly encouraged to pursue. We see Blaze unfold in three acts spliced within one another intermittently and occasionally without rhyme or reason. There is the story of Blaze and his love, Sybil, as they live their life of solitude in a shack-like treehouse in the woods, the story of Blaze’s final live show in the Outhouse bar in Austin, and the story told to us about Blaze posthumously by his two best friends and collaborators. The assembly allows each of these stories to contribute to one another, but the threads are rarely directly linked in a specified timeline, allowing the film to float through narrators and perspectives as effortlessly as a note in Foley’s music. The compilation of each of the narratives make the film feel less like a structured piece, and more like the experience of remembering a loved one by trying to piece together fragmented moments in time and stumbling upon golden stories and songs left behind. In this way, Blaze feels wholesomely intimate in a way that many musical films have a hard time grasping.

The titular character is as much a mystery to the ones he loved as he is to the audience, yet somehow he feels understandably idyllic and human. Blaze Foley is magnetic from the opening beats of the film. Whether he’s waxing on philosophically behind the microphone, playing songs with the woman he loves, or piss drunk and falling flat on his face, Blaze is shockingly relatable. Blaze could so easily play as a pretentious caricature, but it doesn’t. Instead, Hawke is able to focus on exactly what made him so special despite having such glaring faults. At one point in the film, a character mentions the “two sides to Blaze”. The erratic drunkard juxtaposed with the sensitive artist. Blaze’s greatest strength is how easily these polar opposite sensibilities have been so acutely fleshed out.

What strikes me the most about Blaze is how deeply romantic it is, not just in the sense that the movie is partly a love story, but in the way it’s story seeps through the pores of love. The warm textures of the coloration allow Blaze to feel like a careful embrace from the titular character. The way Hawke drenches every song in a profoundly felt honesty makes certain that Blaze doesn’t just feel like an ode to a forgotten legend, it feels like an ode to the love of art. And it’s that same love that tragically brought Foley to his breaking point. In every scene, he fights to regain the same beautiful inspiration he often found in the woods with the love of his life, and as the movie wears on, he slowly loses his ability to find it. Blaze isn’t the usual story of a singer succumbing to his vices. It’s a story of a bard who was never meant for the life of an artist.

Let’s speak more specifically about what you can appreciate about Blaze without digging too deep into the symbolic filters that permeate through the film. Ben Dickey in the role of the titular character gives one of the most transfixing performances I have had the pleasure of seeing this past year. The cadence of Foley’s speech, the explosive energy flexing beneath the surface of his relatively delicate demeanor, and his understanding of Blaze’s casual prophetic phrasing all adds up to make Dickey’s performance nothing short of exceptional. It’s the kind of performance that tears your mind into two layers of thinking: I want to now see him in every movie, and I want to never see him in a film ever again. The former because Dickey clearly has an exceptional talent in regards to acting. The latter because Dickey’s work here is so exceptional that it feels like lightning in a bottle that deserves to be contained and never again reopened for fear of losing the magic. Dickey is also blessed with a talented supporting cast with Alia Shawkat, Charlie Sexton, and Josh Hamilton. Even cameos from Richard Linklater, Sam Rockwell, and Steve Zahn are fun (albeit odd – more on that later) compliments. But this is Blaze’s story through and through. And whenever Dickey leaves the screen, you can’t help but to miss him.

Hawke also (unsurprisingly) proves himself to be a beautifully poetic storyteller. The visual language of Blaze feels so enriched with serene mysticism. As I noted before, Blaze makes great use of its warm textures and colors, often giving the feeling that it exists in a back alley bar with a performer onstage that feels too good to be there. But take note of the poignant moments that Hawke decides to strip those textures away to knife his audience with a tragic reversal. Credit should also go to cinematographer Steve Cosens who contributes to the film’s treehouse essence with just the right amount of lens flares to make you feel like you are truly in the room witnessing a moment or the magic of a song.

As I have also stated before, Blaze’s storytelling techniques are abstract enough to make the film exceptionally compelling, but in some regards, it’s also the film’s greatest weakness. The flippant viewpoints of narrators intertwining with less and less rhyme and reason keeps the audience at a distance at times and betrays the general sense of being in the room remembering an old friend. Sometimes, the first-time audience will spend too much time watching Blaze trying to fit together pieces of a puzzle encompassing his life. It’s a rare occurrence, but Blaze’s structure very occasionally grates against itself in this way. Moments like a shot of a man smashing a guitar with intense backlight spliced within a scene give weight to the poetic mysticism of the titular character, but certain aforementioned cameos feel abstractly satirical in a way that almost feels like an out of place joke. Blaze is also disinterested in introductions. Most characters will simply come to exist in the narrative with an established relationship to Blaze that feels unearned. They quickly gain personalities of their own, but it feels worth noting that context is occasionally left by the wayside.

As with any good musical movie, Blaze’s songs enrich the experience of the film in ways that cannot be understated. For a casual audience member, the music will appeal to anyone who enjoys folk country or the brilliance of an artist like ‪Bob Dylan‬. For someone more interested in Foley’s artistry, I cannot recommend listening to this soundtrack enough. Each song bares such significance to the underlying themes within Blaze. The more I hear Dickey’s renditions of ‘Picture Cards’ or ‘Cold, Cold World’, the more I am reminded of my time spent with Foley and his ambitious pursuit of happiness in spite of sanity.

Its unfortunate that I stumbled across this film after creating my ‘Best of 2018’ list. Blaze struck a cord with me in a way that not many films do. While that may not be true for everyone that comes across it, I certainly hope this review emboldens you to view it for yourself. It’s difficult for me to talk about Blaze without rambling or philosophizing on its deeper contextual meanings. To its core, Blaze bares the identity of the drunkard in the bar. His story is palpable, but it falls upon deaf ears. In some bizarre way, the same could be said of the movie itself. Blaze is a story of a musician that you likely don’t yet know. Christian Bale isn’t attached as the star with Oscar worthy prosthetics. The story follows a non linear pattern, and has little resemblance to other plot structures you may be familiar with. And as a result, you may not have yet seen or heard of Blaze. But in this regard, I can think of no better biopic to capture the essence of its titular character. ‪9/10 ‬

The Movie Experience

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