FlixChatter Review – ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL (2019)

So apparently James Cameron has dreamed of making this movie, an adaptation of Yukito Kishiro‘s “Battle Angel Alita” manga, for over 20 years! It was before he made Titanic in 1997 and Avatar in 2009, and it’s his commitments to the latter that made him relinquish his directing duties to Robert Rodriguez. I have to admit though that my initial reaction to the first trailer was that the huge, Manga-inspired eyes are creepy looking. I read some Manga as a kid (specifically Candy Candy) but in the printed comics, of course they never bothered me, that’s how all Mangas are drawn. But cinematically, they can be quite eerie.

Now, I decided to see the movie anyway, two weeks before it’s open to the public in Feb 14. As it turns out, the eyes didn’t really bother me once the movie starts. It actually didn’t have the ‘cold, dead eyes’ effect like in Polar Express. Of course they can still be a bit disturbing at times, but for a character made up of cyborg parts, she’s pretty lifelike.

There are plenty to like about Alita. In fact, I immediately sympathize with this cyborg creature trying to discover her identity. It’s an action-packed coming-of-age story of a young girl who’s trying to piece together the mystery of who she is. Set in the 26th century, 300 years after ‘the fall’ where ‘the haves’ live in a floating city called Tiphares and the rest down below in Iron City. The story starts when a man found a still ‘living’ severed head in a junkyard, where the Tiphares dumps its trash. I thought Christoph Waltz as her father figure Dr. Dyson Ido is inspired choice, and at first you don’t know if he’s good or bad, which the Austrian actor portrayed really well.

The father/daughter relationship between him and Alita is actually one of my fave parts of the film, and the way Dr. Ido tried to protect her from the new world she’s thrusted into is endearing. It’s once Alita (Rosa Salazar, terrific in her first performance-capture role) discovered rollerball-style game (and also ‘puberty’ it seems) thanks to a boy named Hugo (Keean Johnson) that the action switches into high gear.

Before long, we, along with Dr. Ido and Alita herself, discovers who she really is. It’s not a spoiler as it says right there on the title, she’s a formidable killing machine, basically an ‘angel of death’ despite her seemingly innocent appearance. She’s able to fight a bunch of vicious Hunter-Warriors, sometimes all at once, even a huge one that looks like what Fantastic Four’s The Thing mixed with a Transformer. Knowing that she’s virtually indestructible kind of lessen any sense of suspense, and the more bombastic the fighting scene the less impactful it becomes. The first time we see the gladiatorial game of Motorball in this huge arena filled with cheering crowd was cool, but the second one just feels indulgent in the parts of the filmmakers. Yes, the action and special effects are cool, but it gets tiresome real fast too. In fact, at times it reminds me of all the loud metal clanging of Transformers, which is NEVER a good thing.

I’m not that familiar with Robert Rodriguez’s work, having only seen Desperado and Sin City. I think this movie is as much a James Cameron movie as a Robert Rodriguez one. We’re treated to a video interview with the filmmakers and some of the cast after the movie and it’s clear that Cameron was Rodriguez’s mentor throughout and Rodriguez helped fulfill Cameron’s vision. As we all know, Cameron is a perfectionist, so I doubt there’s really much ‘creative liberties’ the ‘chosen director’ would have if it clashes with Cameron’s vision.

What? You’re not impressed by my Damascus blade? How about my chiseled face?

In any case, it’s no surprise that Cameron, who co-wrote the script with Laeta Kalogridis (Altered Carbon), loves cross-species, star-crossed romances. I kind of roll my eyes every time I see Alita gets all giddy over Hugo, even going so far as giving him his heart, literally! Most of the supposedly-romantic scenes end up being unintentionally hilarious. There are moments that remind me of Titanic, perhaps intentionally so? What’s genuinely funny are the scenes involving Hunter Warrior Zapan (Ed Skrein), a cyborg obsessed with his pretty face, the only ‘fleshed out’ part of his cybernetic being. The tall, lanky British actor relish on his character’s narcissistic vanity. It made me think that he might have imbued a much-needed dose of humor had he been cast in Altered Carbon instead of Joel Kinnaman!

The actual villain of the movie is never actually seen (played by a famous actor we haven’t seen in a while). We only know it lives in Tiphares and could actually ‘possesses’ other beings to communicate with people down below. I feel like Mahershala Ali and Jennifer Connelly are pretty wasted here as their characters are pretty thinly-written. As the protagonist, Alita’s backstory itself isn’t as deeply compelling it could’ve been. It’s a missed opportunity really, as her relationship with Dr. Ido and Connelly’s character Chiren could’ve been explored more. It’s clear the filmmakers focused heavily in the spectacle of it all. After all these years, the technology (thanks to Weta Digital) finally caught up with Cameron’s vision of Alita, at least the way he envisioned to do Kishiro’s world justice. Yet all that money spent (about $200 mil) is kind of hollow when it’s just another ‘style over substance.’ I think science-fiction is the perfect genre for a ‘what does it mean to be human’ commentary, when humans would co-exist together with robots in the future. But unlike sci-fi classics like Blade Runner or Terminator, Alita doesn’t really add anything new to that concept.

Alita going googley-eyed over pretty boy Hugo

Visually speaking, it also didn’t really inspire that sense of wonder the way I did with Cameron’s previous creation Avatar. I recently rewatched that movie and I still had that ‘awe-struck’ reaction when we first saw Pandora in 2009. The floating mountains and that mountain banshee flight sequence still made me go ‘whoa,’ which I never felt while watching Alita. I’m not sure of its replay-ability value as right now, I don’t know if I’m eager to see this movie again nor do I care to see more of Alita’s adventures.

As I never read the Manga books, I’m curious to see the reception from their fans, especially in its native Japan. As a Southeast-Asian blogger, I’m not bothered that they hired a Latina actress to portray Alita as Kishiro supposedly didn’t even set the world of Iron City in Asia, it’s just supposed to be a melting pot type of futuristic dystopian city. I think the cast is quite diverse and the actors get to speak with whatever they’re most comfortable with (Waltz with his Austrian accent, Skrein with his Northern London brogue, etc.) I do think it’s funny that Alita made a comment about the many languages spoken in the city when I never heard of any other language being English being spoken in the movie [shrug].

Should you go see it? Well, if you like a sci-fi action adventure, I’d say it’s well worth seeing on the big screen. I don’t normally like watching 3D movies with those pesky glasses, but the effects and visuals look cool in IMAX 3D as the movie was optimized for such technology. I skipped Ghost in The Shell (just didn’t appeal to me at all) and I think Jupiter Ascending is absolutely rubbish, but this one has enough going for it for me to recommend. Just don’t expect a sci-fi classic or even something emotionally gratifying, just enjoy the ride for the high-octane action adventure that it is.


What do you think of ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL? Are you excited to see it?

FlixChatter Review: Only The Brave (2017)

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Review by: Vitali Gueron

Only the Brave, based on the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, is directed by Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy, Oblivion) and is loosely based on an article in GQ, ‘No Exit’, written by Sean Flynn. The film stars Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Taylor Kitsch, James Badge Dale and features Jeff Bridges and Jennifer Connelly.

What most people know about the Granite Mountain Hotshots is that they are a young crew of specialist wildfire fighters, tasked with job of fighting wildfires head on.

According to GQ:

Hotshots are invariably referred to as elite firefighters, which suggests years of training, high-end equipment, and a mastery of the mechanics of wildfires. But none of that is required. The entry-level qualifications are a few dozen hours of classroom instruction and a decent level of fitness, and the primary tools are chain saws and Pulaskis, a specialty tool combining an ax and an adze. Hotshots also tend to be young…and few of them make a long career out of it.

During a routine assignment of fighting a wildfire in Yarnell, Arizona in June 2013, a total of 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots were lost to the wildfire and it resulted in the greatest loss of firefighters since 9/11. This was known as the Yarnell Hill Fire. The lone survivor from the 20-man crew was 21-year-old Brendan McDonough (Teller). The pace of the movie starts out really slow, as tells the real life story of Eric and Amanda Marsh (Brolin and Connelly), a married couple who struggle through normal relationship ups and downs, living on a ranch outside Prescott, Arizona. Eric “Supe” Marsh is the superintendent of a hotshot crew of firefighters who are training to be certified to fight wildfires for the Prescott Fire Department. His second-in-command is Jesse Steed (Badge Dale) and the young hotshot crew trusts the both of them with their lives.

Josh Brolin and Jennifer Connelly

After sever weeks of intense training, in walks Brendan “Donut” McDonough (Donut is the nickname given to him by the more experienced hotshots, the same way a pledge gets one from his fraternity brothers during pledging). Donut went to the firefighters post in Prescott, where the hotshots were headquartered, with a mission. He knew a couple of guys from an EMT class he’d taken at a community college and he’d overheard them mention that Granite Mountain was hiring. But he was a stoned kid, straight out of serving a three-day sentence for theft and those guys knew him, too. No jobs, they told him. The veteran yet overly cocky hotshot Chris MacKenzie (Kitsch) told him straight up, all the positions had been filed. But Eric Marsh overhead McDonough asking and offered to interview him on the spot.

You see, Marsh saw something in McDonough, something he saw when he looked at himself in the mirror — a former addict who was looking for a second chance. McDonough recently had become a father and had to clean up and take more responsibility. And with that responsibility came sacrifice. Yet little did McDonough know just how much sacrifice being a hotshot was really asking of him.

Miles Teller and Taylor Kitsch

As we get ever closer to the inevitable, harrowing ending in Yarnell, we get to see the hotshots for what they were – husbands, fathers, boyfriends and members of Prescott Arizona where Duane Steinbrink (played by Jeff Bridges) is not only the wildland division chief for the city of Prescott by day, but also a mighty fine singer at night with his country band called the Rusty Pistols (yes, Jeff Bridges sings for a bit in the movie). The entire hotshot crew celebrates that night as they bask in the glory of saving the ancient juniper tree during the Doce Fire.

The standouts of the movie are Josh Brolin and Miles Teller. Both actors show a broad depth of acting superiority and might. Brolin is fierce as Marsh, the hotshot superior — tough and calculated, yet humanly fragile, especially when confronting his wife Amanda (Jennifer Connelly at her best) with issues related to spending a long time apart. Teller is the rookie hotshot, out to prove himself after being known as junkie for all of his life. He brings a tender, yet sincere face to the hotshots and makes the audience feel like they can relate to him. As Donut is tasked with being the lookout for the hotshots in Yarnell, thus separating him from the other and ultimately sparing his life, Teller draws you in and makes you feel what he is feeling, deep down in your gut.

Miles Teller & Josh Brolin

Overall, Only The Brave is a must see movie, whether you want to honor those who gave up their lives to save others from wildfires, or whether you want to see some of the finest storytelling and acting out this year. I would be surprised if you walk out of that theater and don’t feel like you’ve been sucker punched in the gut from that real life human emotion, precisely the kind the producers and director want you to feel when it’s all said and done.


Have you seen ‘Only The Brave’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: Winter’s Tale

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Let me preface this review by saying that Akiva Goldsman should stick to writing screenplays or producing films instead of working behind the camera. In his debut feature, Goldsman’s wearing multiple hat as producer, writer AND director. The film takes place at the turn of the century New York City, where the protagonist, Peter Lake, has a Moses-like beginning. His immigrant parents [Russian?] were denied admission at Ellis Island and his dad set baby Peter adrift in NY harbor in a miniature model ship called City of Justice. Fast forward to about 30-some years and we find Peter (Colin Farrell, sporting an odd looking haircut) being on the run by some Irish gangster led by Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe, trying his best to mimic Farrell’s Irish accent). Miraculously he’s saved by a winged white horse who later doubles as his guardian angel plus transportation. All of this sounds quite enchanting on paper but the plodding pace of this film didn’t exactly stimulate me, but I was hoping the story would pick up soon enough.

The horse then somehow leads Peter to a house where he’d inevitably meets the love of his life. As Peter is a burglar, he’s about about to rob her mansion when the chance encounter happens. It turns out that the beautiful but frail Beverly is dying, but that of course doesn’t get in the way of the two falling in love. Now I don’t know if her disease causes her to speak in some kind of poetic language because that is how she talks in this movie. I quite like Jessica Brown Findlay (Lady Sibyl from Downton Abbey) but the script made it tough to relate to her character and the schmaltzy-ness of it all is starting to get on my nerves. To top it off, I still have no clue what’s the deal with Pearly’s vengeance against Peter, and suddenly he now wants Beverly dead. It’s never fully explained why, but it’s quite obvious that this mission is a personal one for Pearly. He’s even more upset as Peter then snatches Beverly away from his grasp, thanks once again to the winged horse.

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The supernatural elements of the story just gets weirder, not to mention incomprehensible, as we meet Pearly’s boss named Lucifer. Yep, you read that right, the fallen archangel/devil himself, played by Will Smith. It’s quite an odd casting choice but really that’s the least of this film’s problem. So the the lord of ALL evil beings in the universe lives in a dingy tower with only a twin bed and lit by a single lightbulb?? [shrugs] Neither Pearly nor Lucifer are the least bit menacing nor sinister enough to make any real impact, and the whole conversation is so cringe-worthy that my mind kept wandering just how much Crowe and Smith got paid to star in this stinker. Both actors (as well as Jennifer Connelly) have worked with Goldsman before so I wonder if this is some kind of favor they’re doing for him or something. I read somewhere that Goldsman wrote the role of Pearly with Crowe in mind, hmmm not sure that’s a compliment for the Aussie thespian after seeing the film.

Farrell and Findlay did their best to sell their romance and I have to admit there are some touching moments but overall it just wasn’t as gripping than it could’ve been. By the time the film takes place in present day, I’m still barely invested in any of the characters and the story remains a huge mystery to me, and not in a good way. Apparently Peter is immortal as he doesn’t age a day in his life and here he meets a couple of new people, as well as someone from the past, played by Jennifer Connelly and Eva Marie Saint. Despite the A-list ensemble’s (especially Farrell at his most earnest) best efforts to win us over, they’re all wasted here by the cloying and over-sentimental script that drags early and repetitively. The behind-the-scene talents are equally first rate but none of them can really save this film. Hans Zimmer‘s score is pleasant to the ear but it also heighten the lovey-dovey mood of the whole thing. Caleb Deschanel‘s gorgeous cinematography of New York City is quite a feast for the eyes, but it makes my brain desperately ache for something meaty to feast on as well.

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The agony is complete with an ending that is utterly predictable and so gratingly mawkish that would make any of Nicholas Sparks’ adaptation seems gritty. There are themes of good versus evil, love, life, loss and redemption here, but the narrative is neither cohesive or compelling. Plus it’s chock full of trite dialog with dreary lines about *destiny* and *everything is connected* mumbo jumbo. It leaves me scratching my head as this comes from the writer of A Beautiful Mind and Cinderella Man, but this mishmash script is perhaps more akin to Batman & Robin which Goldsman also wrote. 

Final Thoughts: All the talks about miracles, stars and magical moments amounts to a film that is totally devoid of magic. It’s really a shame as reading the premise of the novel later on (which was altered quite a bit for the film) makes me think that Mark Helprin‘s mythical story deserves so much better. We don’t get enough romance fantasy so I was really hoping this would be a decent enough movie even if it’d probably fall short of Goldsman’s grandiose ambition. Well, I really wasn’t expecting to see one of the worst films I’ve seen in a long time.

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What did you think of Winter’s Tale? 

Retro Friday – Why I LOVE The Rocketeer

A few days ago, the Blu-ray version of The Rocketeer arrived in the mail. I’ve been waiting for this movie for so long and finally Disney released the BD on it’s 20th Anniversary. I’m dismayed that there are NO special features whatsoever which is just so lame, I mean to call it a ’20th Anniversary Special Edition’ with nothing but the trailer is just cruel!

But I suppose for die hard fans like me and Marc who are super excited for this release, I guess this will have to do. I can’t wait to re-watch it this weekend and re-live the excitement I had the first time I saw it on the big screen with my big brother. We both were fans of adventure movies like Indiana Jones and this was so much in the same vein. It’s mind-boggling to me why this movie failed to ignite at the box office, grossing only $46 million domestically. I blame that on marketing campaign as the reviews were generally favorable, even Peter Travers @ Rolling Stone Magazine called it “The Rocketeer is more than one of the best films of the summer; it’s the kind of movie magic that we don’t see much anymore,” he continued, “the kind that charms us, rather than bullying us, into suspending disbelief. (per Wiki)

In any case, now that it’s available on Blu-ray, I hope more people would see it. Here are some of the reasons why I LOVE this wildly underrated movie:

The storyline

Based on a comic book by Dave Stevens in the early 80s, the story is set in late 1930s L.A. Our hero The Rocketeer is Cliff Secord, a young stunt pilot who stumbles upon a top secret prototype jetpack that allows him to fly. It’s a classic ‘regular-guy-turned-unlikely-hero’ story we all know and love.

Billy Campbell with Alan Arkin

The awesome cast

Timothy Dalton as Neville Sinclair… Dalton steals every scene he’s in and as he’s one of the major reasons I LOVE this movie. I’ve dedicated a whole post just on his character last year in his honor. When I saw this film in high school, I didn’t come out of the theater having a crush on the hero, but it’s Dalton’s Errol Flynn-personified Sinclair that left an indelible mark in me.

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Dalton with mob boss Paul Sorvino

Now, Billy Campbell has the tall, dashing looks and certain likable quality to pull off the heroic protagonist, and he has a nice, sincere chemistry with Connelly. Yet he just lacks the palpable charisma against someone like Dalton so he ends up being upstaged by him and the other supporting cast here. Perhaps that could be the reason his career did not um skyrocket, pardon the pun, after this movie’s release.

Terry O’Quinn as Howard Hughes … Forget Leo DiCaprio in the Scorsese’s movie, I think O’Quinn makes for a much more believable and compelling aviation mogul. In fact when I watched The Aviator, I often thought how good O’Quinn was in the role. Just like Sorvino as the mob boss, O’Quinn looked like he literally stepped out of that era.

Jennifer Connelly as the Betty Page-ish love interest … again perfect casting here as Connelly could easily belong in this era with her raven hair and voluptuous figure. She is so skinny now because that is what Hollywood is into these days but her fuller look combined with her breathy voice is far sexier and I think most guys would agree. It’s not exactly an ‘acting’ role as she’s not required much but to look gorgeous, but I think she’s done more to the part than a lesser talent would’ve done otherwise. I love the line she delivered after smashing Neville in the head with a flower pot… “I’ve finally played a scene with Neville Sinclaire.” She nailed that line beautifully.

JenniferConnelly_Rocketeer

Alan Arkin as Peevey, Cliff’s technician BFF and Paul Sorvino as a posh mobster Eddie Valentine are both perfect in the roles. Arkin’s got this snarky yet lovable personality… I love it when he told Cliff that he looked like a hood ornament when he don the Rocketeer helmet!

The dynamic script and one liners

I think every single line out of Dalton’s mouth is a hoot, he practically got all the great one liners in this movie, and like Hans Gruber in Die Hard, he practically upstaged the hero in this one.  The script pokes fun at the cockiness of Hollywood matinee idols

Neville: If I go to the Feds, I’m taking you down with me. Who are they going to believe? A petty crook, or the No 3 box-office star in America?

Cliff Secord: [Cliff knocks Neville Sinclair down] Where’s your stuntman now, Sinclair?

Neville: [Neville Sinclair knocks Cliff down] I do my own stunts!

The fantastic retro look & feel

There’s something so charming about superhero movies in period setting. In fact, my hubby and I would love to see a Superman movie set in the 30s or Batman done an actual 30s pulp noir (like this Den of Geek article suggests) That’s part of what I love about X-Men: First Class and this one. Disney got the perfect guy, Joe Johnston, to direct this film. As those of you who’ve seen Captain America would agree, Johnston had a penchant for creating the perfect period set pieces that evoke a sense of nostalgia. Everything from the costume, cars (including that awesome yellow Rolls Royce!), planes, the whole ambiance of this movie is so meticulously crafted that really takes you back to the bygone era.

I love the throwback to the Hollywood Golden era, mixing real life characters like Clark Gable and Howard Hughes in fictitious scenarios. Per Wikipedia, the characterization of Neville Sinclair was inspired by movie star Errol Flynn, or rather by the image of Flynn that had been popularized by Charles Higham’s unauthorized and fabricated biography of the actor, in which he asserted that Flynn was, among other things, a Nazi spy.

That set pieces of the dinner scene of Connelly and Dalton was constructed with painstaking detail as to evokes the movie stars’ glitz and glamor. Even the finale refers to the Hollywood sign in regards to how it lost the last four letters of its original name.

The rousing soundtrack by James Horner

This could be one of my all time favorite scores from award-winning composer! It just elevates the adventurous spirit of this movie and makes it soar. Every time I hear it I just want to stand up and cheer. It has the right amount of nostalgia, heroism and exhilarating fun!

Final Thoughts:

The Rocketeer is what you’d call a rip-roaring adventure movie with a terrific mix of action, romance, drama and intrigue, it’s the ultimate escapist entertainment that you can enjoy time and time again. Check out this trailer and tell me you don’t agree 🙂



So have you seen this movie? I’d love to hear your thoughts about it. And if you haven’t, well what are you waiting for? 😀

Flix Character Spotlight: Neville Sinclair – The Rocketeer

A couple of days ago, I saw Jennifer Connelly in the red carpet of The Tourist premiere with her husband Paul Bettany. As you can see in the poster, Connelly and Timothy Dalton co-starred in The Rocketeer back in 1991, and now her husband is co-starring with Dalton in The Tourist.

It turns out this post has been in my draft folder since August, around the time when I read this Hero Complex blog post back in August titled The Rocketeer’ — a retro adventure that was ahead of its time. Apparently a theater in L.A. was hosting a special month-long Disney screening series at the time. Oh, how I wish I could’ve seen this one on the big screen.

I remember seeing The Rocketeer with my older brother when I was in high school. It had everything you could possibly want in a movie: comic-book style action adventure, espionage, romance and cool visuals. Based on a graphic novel, the story takes place in a few years prior to WWII in 1938 and focuses on a young stunt pilot Cliff, who stumbles onto a prototype jet-pack that allows him to become a high flying masked hero dubbed The Rocketeer. Of course things starts to go awry when the Nazis want the device for their evil plans.

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Well, one of the best things about the movie is undoubtedly the deliciously charming baddie, Neville Sinclair. He is Howard Hughes meets Errol Flyn meets James Bond… played to perfection by Dalton. It’s hard not to swoon for his suave and sexy portrayal, in fact, he’s the one I couldn’t take my eyes off. This is a text-book example of a supporting character completely overshadowing the protagonist, played by boyish Billy Campbell. The Hero Complex article aptly described him as ‘sly and rakish’… and Shakespearean actor used that debonair sensibilities to the max in trying to seduce Cliff’s girlfriend, the aspiring actress Jenny (Connelly).

Director Joe Johnston (who’s currently working on Captain America) made a perfect casting choice in Dalton. I can’t imagine anyone else playing the role of a Nazi spy disguised as a swashbuckling movie star, inspired by the real actor Errol Flynn (apparently, an authorized biography of the classic actor painted him as a Nazi sympathizer – per Wikipedia). Sinclair is right up there with Alan Rickman‘s Hans Gruber as my favorite villains of all time.

Take a look below of a couple of clips from the movie. If you haven’t seen this one, it’s definitely worth a rental! Need more proof? Read Marc’s full review at GoSeeTalk.com.