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Archive for February, 2019

I loved last year’s Ready Player One.  It is a deeply flawed movie, but if you go with it, you simply don’t care about the flaws, because it’s a fun ride.  Alita: Battle Angel has that same quality.Alita Battle Angel Poster

In the year 2563, 300 years after “the fall”  earth has been devastated, the remains of the population live in a crumbling city all working for Zalem, the sky city floating above them.  Dr Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) finds the remains of cyborg (Rosa Salazar)with the brain of a teenage-girl.  He repairs her and names her after his late daughter Alita.  As she regains fragments of memory it becomes clear that there is a lot more to Alita.Alita Battle Angel 1

Based on a Japanese cyberpunk manga series  by Yukito Kishiro from the early 90’s.  James Cameron has owned the movie rights for the best part of twenty years.  He suggested it would be his next project after the Dark Angel TV series, then again after Avatar.  After deciding to concentrate of giant Smurfs sequels he hired Robert Rodriguez as director.Alita Battle Angel 2

The plot is thin, predictable and filled with every cliché you can imagine, and the exposition is clunky.  These things really don’t matter, how much plot do you need in an action film? For predicable and clichéd, you could read satisfying.  A certain amount of exposition is needed, and it is kept to a minimum here, in fact there are lots of things we are not told.  This I expect is a combination of things the filmmakers don’t deem important, and those they are saving for future instalments.  With roots in genre movies, Robert Rodriguez knows all about shorthand, he makes great use of hit here with costume.  You can track Alita’s accelerated character arc by her wardrobe.  The same can be said of the villains, without giving anything away, you instantly know who to trust and who not too.  This helps things zip along at a great pace.  It’s when the pace drops that the film loses its way, particular in the middle section, but don’t the action soon picks up again.Alita Battle Angel 3

The film looks spectacular as you would expect, but that isn’t enough on its own, the largely animated characters are believable and believable within the narrative.   Alita’s oversized manga eyes are far less problamatic than I expected, although I’m sure they have been toned down since the first teaser last year.  A perfect blend of childish innocence and near fetishized ability, Alita is endearing where she could have been problematic.  This is in no small part due to Rosa Salazar’s excellent motion capture performance.  The success of her performance is vital, if you don’t warm to the character you won’t like the film.Alita Battle Angel 4

The end of the film is something of a risk, leaving the narrative unfinished without an actual cliff-hanger.  If the film performs well enough to earn a sequel, or franchise this choice will look inspired.  If it is Alita’s only outing, it may feel a little unfinished. Alita Battle Angel 5

A perfect example of this type of film, if you go into it with the right mindset, you will love it.  If you use a critical eye and look for the problems, you will find them.  Just go with it!

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The Bat-Man, created by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger first appeared in Detective Comics #27, in 1939.  Described as the World’s Greatest Detective, and written in the style of the pulp crime novels and comic books of the day.  He soon became the Batman we know today.  But why am I writing about this now? You may have heard that Ben Affleck has hung up his cowl and cape for the final time, he will not appear in The Batman, a film originally announced in 2014 for release around, well, now!  The story appears to have gone through many changes, and is now slated for a summer 2021 release.  DC/Warner are describing the film as “character-driven” and “stylistically noir”, this gives an opportunity for a more interesting Batman, a period set movie.  There is no word on casting yet, but that isn’t a major concern as they have never really got the casting wrong; Michael Keaton, Christian Bale were in the best films.  Val Kilmer was a strange choice but OK in a poor film.  We will never know how good or bad George Clooney could have been, no one could have saved that film!  And Ben Affleck was actually good, all be it, in two terrible films.  It’s all about getting the story right. DC no 27 1939

There are multiple reasons for setting the film in the past, most notably, it will take it away from the Justice League.  Just as importantly, as the gaps between reboots gets ever smaller, it is a close as possible treat one of the most recognisable properties as a new character.  When it could be set is not limited by when it was created: Prohibition (1920-1933) was the golden age of gangsters; the war years could incorporate more of a spy story, as could the cold war years.  The other reason for the setting the movie in the past is simple, style.  Imagine a Batmobile based on a sleek 1940’s car!  Or even the gadgets! Give Batman things that exist today, with a throwaway line about how everyone will be using them in a few years.  This gets over the issue that Batman and so many other film and TV, Like Star Trek have; gadgets often look ridiculously unrealistic when we first see them, and horribly dated a generation later. Batmobile.jpg

Setting a comic book film in the past isn’t a big stretch, it isn’t as if it hasn’t been done before; The Shadow (1994) and The Phantom (1996), both set in the 1930’s are fun but flawed.  The Rocketeer (1991), aslo set in the late 30’s is a really fun film that stands up really well today.  More recently  Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), and Wonder Woman (2017), largely set during WWII and WWI respectively, are both brilliant.  We can also look at Tim Burton’s take on Batman (1989), it has a sort of timeless period look; Gotham City, benefiting from being a studio backlot set is a mix of German Expressionism and Art Deco design.  The cars are mostly from the 70’s.  The Gangsters dress like they are from the 30’s and carry Thompson submachine guns, the cops look like they are from the 40’s or 50’sgotham 1989

Finally we need a villain.  Every comic book movie succeeds or fails on how good the bad guy is. There have been four great Batman movies to date (in my opinion – other opinions are welcome, but wrong) Batman (1989) Batman Returns (1992), Batman Begins (2005), and The Dark Knight (2008).  They all had one common denominator, a great villain, or two.  If setting film in the past, you not only need to make the villain fit the hero, but also the era of the film.  This isn’t an issue for Batman as most of the best villains were created years ago.  The antagonist needs to a recognisable one, so not too much of a deep-dive that only fanboys will get. Any reboot, needs to avoid The Joker; we have had two great versions of him, and there is a new stand alone Joker on the way too.  Two-Face has been done twice now in recent years, let’s give him a rest.  The Penguin was done so well in Batman Returns, it would be a big ask to do him again.  The Riddler would be an excellent choice if someone could make him work the way Heath Ledger did with the Joker.  I would say it’s too soon to use Ra’s al Ghul, but he could work well in a period setting.  Finally three that haven’t been used in a live action movie: Mad Hatter, Black Mask, and Hugo Strange. Ra's al Ghul Mad Hatter Black Mask and Hugo Strange

We all know that DC and Warner will play it safe and give us the standard reboot, just as long as we don’t have another origin, I think we have all seen Martha and Thomas get killed too many times!

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The last of my series ranking the Oscar nominated films. – DIRECTING NOMINEES Nominees ranked in my order of preference:

  1. ROMA Alfonso Cuarón
  2. THE FAVOURITE  Yorgos Lanthimos
  3. COLD WAR Paweł Pawlikowski
  4. BLACKKKLANSMAN Spike Lee
  5. VICE Adam McKayRanking Oscar Nominations BEST DIRECTOR

And the omissions that I think deserved a nomination:

  1. LEAVE NO TRACE Debra Granik
  2. A QUIET PLACE John Krasinski
  3. WIDOWS Steve McQueenBEST DIRECTOR the omissions

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Cinematography  Nominees ranked in my order of preference

  1. ROMA Alfonso Cuarón
  2. COLD WAR Łukasz Żal
  3. THE FAVOURITE Robbie Ryan
  4. A STAR IS BORN Matthew Libatique
  5. not ranked NEVER LOOK AWAY Caleb Deschanel*Ranking Oscar Nominations CINEMATOGRAPHY
*Not ranked as not seen. No UK release date yet

The omissions that I think deserved a nomination 

  1. IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK James Laxton
  2. WILDLIFE Diego García
  3. WIDOWS Sean BobbittRanking Oscar Nominations CINEMATOGRAPHY Omissions

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Original Screenplay Nominees ranked in my order of preference:

  1. ROMA written by Alfonso Cuarón
  2. THE FAVOURITE written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara
  3. FIRST REFORMED written by Paul Schrader
  4. GREEN BOOK written by Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie, Peter Farrelly (yes, that Peter Farrelly!)
  5. VICE written by Adam McKayWRITING ADAPTED &ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Adapted Screenplay Nominees ranked in my order of preference:

  1. IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK written for the screen by Barry Jenkins
  2. BLACKKKLANSMAN written by Charlie Wachtel & David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee
  3. CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? screenplay by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty
  4. THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS written by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
  5. A STAR IS BORN screenplay by Eric Roth and Bradley Cooper & Will FettersWRITING ADAPTED and ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY omissions

The omissions that I think deserved a nomination (both original and adapted):

  1. THE DEATH OF STALIN written by Armando Iannucci, David Schneider, Ian Martin, and Peter Fellows
  2. SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE screenplay by Phil Lord, and Rodney Rothman
  3. LEAVE NO TRACE screenplay by Debra Granik, and Anne Rosellini
  4. WIDOWS screenplay by Gillian Flynn, and Steve McQueen

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Best Supporting Actress Nominees ranked in my order of preference:

  1. RACHEL WEISZ – The Favourite
  2. REGINA KING – If Beale Street Could Talk
  3. EMMA STONE – The Favourite
  4. AMY ADAMS – Vice
  5. MARINA DE TAVIRA – RomaACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

And the omissions that I think deserved a nomination:

  1. CLAIRE FOY – First Man
  2. TONI COLLETTE – Hereditary
  3. CYNTHIA ERIVO – BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALEACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE omissions

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And we are back! New year, first movie of the month of the year, twelve movies, seven based on true stories, it must be Oscar season! Seven of the movies have nominations in the upcoming Oscars, including eight acting nominations. Not to mention the 25th Anniversary reissue of a stone cold classic that won seven of the twelve Oscars it was nominated for.  But which is the movie of the month? Here are the contenders:

Colette – True story of the early life and career of French author Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette.  Compelling drama with a fantastic performance by Keira Knightley in the title role.colette

The Favourite – The court of Queen Anne gets the Yorgos Lanthimos treatment.  Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz are all outstanding as co-leads.  Bonkers, bizarre, and totally brilliant.The Favourite

The Front Runner – Former senator of Colorado, Gary Hart is the titular front-runner for the for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1987, until his personal life gets in the way.  Hugh Jackman and Vera Farmiga are both excellent, the direction is good, but the story is a little thin.  The Front Runner

Vice – Adam McKay sets his sights on former Vice President Dick Cheney.  Directed with the same style and edge as the directors previous movie, The Big Short but not as pointed or as funny.  The standout is Christian Bale’s stunning performance. Vice

Glass – M. Night Shyamalan returns with a sequel to both his best and second best movies.  James McAvoy is outstanding, and the rest of the cast are good.  The film is fun with some excellent scenes but on the whole it disappoints. Glass

Can You Ever Forgive Me? – True story of celebrity biographer Lee Israel based on her own memoir detailing her decent to rock bottom.  Melissa McCarthy’s gives her best performance to date,  she needs to avoid being overshadowed by Richard E. Grant on top form. CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME

Mary Queen of Scots – Revisionist retelling of the relationship between Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart.  No one seems to agree on the historical accuracy of the film, from a cinematic point of view, it looks spectacular, but its depiction of time and space are very weak.  Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie are both give brilliant performances.Mary Queen of Scots

Mary Poppins Returns – I am not the best person to comment, as I hate musicals and believe director Rob Marshall is responsible for, if not the worst best picture winner ever, certainly the worst I have seen.  I also don’t have the same affection for the original movie that everyone else seems to.  having said that it is OK disposable fun, Emily Blunt is as brilliant as ever.Mary Poppins Returns

Escape Room – Six strangers find themselves in the escape room to end all escape rooms.  A cast of vaguely recognisable (mainly TV) actors make a largely compelling ensemble.  The production design is good, and the film has some fun moments,  but the plot totally lacks originality or subtlety.Deborah Ann Woll

Schindler’s List – Anniversary screening of Steven Spielberg’s holocaust movie.  It hasn’t lost any of its power in the 25 years since its release.  The question remains, how did Ralph Fiennes not win an Oscar for this?Schindler’s List

If Beale Street Could Talk – Barry Jenkins adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel.  Brilliantly conveying a novels internal monologue in a way that last years On Chesil Beach failed to do. The acting is first rate throughout,  but the true triumph of the film comes in its direction and construction.  Surely the favourite for the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar. If Beale Street Could Talk

Destroyer – Nicole Kidman plays an LA cop whose undercover past comes back to haunt her.  A brilliantly constructed film, elevated by Kidman’s transcendent performance.  Held back a little by a script that can’t match Karyn Kusama’s direction and Kidman’s performance, it is still an outstanding movie. D_00046_R

After all that, what is the movie of the month?  As always, re-releases are not included, making it an easy choice, my favourite is The Favourite!The Favourite poster

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