Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali
According to Algis Budrys, in an article written many moons ago, all stories can be surmised to one of three basic plots: The man who learned better, the brave little tailor and Boy meets girl.
Is that true? cue the debate class for that one, but in the case of James Cameron, the famed storyteller behind some of contemporary cinema’s biggest hits (most of them either set in the future or some high-tech space landscape), his stories do seem to embody those effective but overtly familiar beats. Whether it’s the outsider that rebels against the system, the [usually tragic] boy-girl romance, or the human changed by a significant event, you can spot the tracing a mile off.
Will those traditional, familiar but effective beats that embody most of Cameron’s films – be it “Terminator”, “Aliens”, “Titanic” or “Avatar” – be what divides the lovers from the loathers when it comes to his latest film?
Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis‘s screenplay for “Alita : Battle Angel” is based on classic manga – so the title character, much of that world, and the arcs of the main characters were already written long before the Oscar winning filmmaker snapped up the rights to the source material all those years ago. But because of Cameron’s pre-existing association with androids, dystopian futuristic societies, Greek-tragedy romances, and kick-butt female characters, those reading the shooting script likely assumed Cameron’s cribbed from his earlier projects. Guess it doesn’t help, of course, that the way Cameron has condensed and structured the graphic novels’ extensive story is what one might imagine a crossover between ‘’Terminator’’, ‘’Aliens’’, ‘’Titanic’’ and ‘’Avatar’’ might look and play like too. Point is, there was no getting away from what’s come before for Cameron here, and on paper, I guess “Alita” may have read a rather predictable and eerily familiar film yarn.
Yet, this isn’t a screenplay – this is a movie! A big, bold, beautiful and undeniably entertaining genre offering that, even with its familiar plotting and overused devices, remains consistently captivating and astonishing. And that too is as much a Cameron-staple as his somewhat unsurprising scripting.
Set in the 26th century, 300 years after a major war caused a societal collapse (with the elite living in a floating city above the dumps below), a deactivated female cyborg (Alita) is revived, but cannot remember anything of her past life and goes on a quest to find out who she is. With the help of the doctor who gave her back her life, Ido (Christoph Walz) and street-smart new friend Hugo (Keean Johnson), Alita begins to piece together the puzzle of her past, while evading the deadly and corrupt forces that want her dead.
We go to the movies to be blown away visually, be swept up into an all-engrossing story and be dazzled by technology’s’ latest tricks – and Cameron knows that. He wants us to get our 20 bucks worth. What he, serving as both screenwriter and producer on a Robert Rodriguez directed picture, does with “Alita” is remind us why movie theaters need to exist longer after you and I are gone.
Quite simply, this is the kind of escapist box-office fare they just don’t make anymore – and there’s only a few filmmakers today who still know how to bring such a film to fruition.
In this case, Cameron was surrounded by equally-ambitious pioneers of the Nikon.
The “Avatar” helmer gets a mound of the credit, sure, after all he’s been molding this one into shape since the ‘90s. But Robert Rodriguez, another great visual storyteller and a filmmaker, and someone who, like Cameron, has been taking awesomely audacious risks on his projects since early on, also deserves a hard clap. By concentrating on the characters, and their rich relationships, as much as he does the impressive effects (WETA’s photo realistic effects work just keep getting better) and production design around them, the “Desperado” helmer is able to offer up a film that plays as impressive as it looks. They’re a top team, these two.
And as those who played witness to the likes of “Jupiter Ascending” and “Mortal Engines”, can attest, an oddball sci-fi piece without relatable, likeable characters and a strong story is mere punishment for filmgoers – no amount of impressive production design can hold off boredom. But thanks to a strong substance and style ratio, Cameron and Rodriguez’s film never outstays it’s welcome, let alone bores and knows it has to earn interest in its character and world before seducing us with its tricks.
“Alita”, with its wonderful title character (played marvelously by Rosa Salazar) and her compelling arc, strong base of supporting characters (Christoph Waltz proving his divine versatility with one of his most kindly characters to date), fun and feverishly frenetic action, adventure scenes, and real-world themes, is like a crosspatch of everything we love about the modern-day blockbuster. From the wild effects to the larger-than-life characters and all-feeling thrills you just can’t get from most modern-day studio output, “Alita” will make you feel like an engrossed 12-year-old again, enthusiastically dashing down the stairs after a screening of “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”.
A final note : Despite how it’s been handled in recent years, with studios merely laying it over 2D films, the 3D here is amazing – offering a great sense of depth and really amplifying those heights. It adds so much more to the experience here because it’s been done right. Pay the extra few bucks to get the glasses.
Aladdin review : a gorgeous family film
Check out what we thought of the live-action adaptation of the ’92 classic
In a world of remakes, reboots and live-action adaptations, it’s pretty difficult to get excited about Disney merely turning a cartoon into a big screen production – especially with Guy Ritchie at the helm. It’s no secret that there’s been a cloud of negativity circling “Aladdin”, but put those doubts aside, because unlike Ritchie’s “King Arthur”, “Aladdin” is impressive in so many ways.
I’m sure you’re all familiar with the story of Aladdin, the ‘street-rat’ living in Agrabah and stealing to survive life in the village with pet monkey Abu. The 1992 film was an instant classic and a timeless Disney tale with a particularly iconic performance from Robin Williams as Genie. It’s big shoes for Ritchie, who has adapted the animation into a musical fantasy film, with Will Smith as the wisecracking Genie, Mena Massoud as Aladdin and Naomi Scott as Princess Jasmine. Upon meeting Jasmine on the streets of Agrabah, Aladdin is instantly smitten and vows to win her heart, despite the castle’s highly secured walls in his way.
After Aladdin is caught by guards in the castle, Jafar, the Royal Vizier of Agrabah (Marwan Kenzari) promises to set Aladdin free if he retrieves a lamp from the Cave of Wonders. Of course the plan fails and Aladdin and Apu are trapped underground with the Magic Carpet, the lamp – and the Genie that emerges from the lamp, who then promises Aladdin 3 wishes.
The beauty in Ritchie’s “Aladdin” is firmly in the cinematography and big screen production, creating a gorgeous visual of Aladdin’s world and everyone within it. The songs hit all the high notes – excuse the pun – and Scott as Princess Jasmine is the particular standout. Her performance of “Speechless” is the next “Let it Go”, and will give you goosebumps in the beautifully choreographed scene. Massoud is a great choice to play Aladdin; the handsome young actor has a charming smile that reminds us all why Jasmine feels such a connection with the boy who on paper, is not the right choice for her.
Smith as Genie is a surprise knockout, bringing his own style of humour and entertainment to the role that Williams was so famous for. Smith never tries to emulate the ’92 animated genie, but rather introduces himself as his own genre of Genie – for which we should all appreciate. His chemistry with Massoud’s Aladdin is completely on point, and the duo bring some of the biggest laughs of the film. Aladdin’s monkey Apu is a character in himself, a cute little sidekick and says a lot without saying anything – thanks to fantastic CGI.
Jafar was always such a menacing and terrifying villain, and the hunger of his desire to be the most powerful in Agrabah is quite obvious throughout the film. He has the ability to be innocently charming, while plotting domination underneath – the mark of a true villain.
“Aladdin” truly kicks the goals of an incredible family film – it looks gorgeous, the performances are incredible and the narrative is truly heartwarming and enjoyable. Add in a healthy dose of humour and you’ve got yourself one of the most memorable films of the year.
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum review : one hell of a wild ride!
John Wick is back with a vengeance in Parabellum
If there’s one thing we know for sure, entering the third chapter of the “John Wick” franchise, it’s that Wick wants to live. We’ve had two films preceding “Parabellum”, both showing that Wick is a man that just never gives up on his quest for revenge, and no matter how good he looks in a suit – he’s not a man you can mess with.
“John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” picks up directly after “Chapter 2”, where Wick (Reeves), and his dog in tow, is running for his life with 1 hour until he’s declared excommunicado, following him breaking the rules and killing High Table member Santino D’Antonio on the grounds of the Continental Hotel. The Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon), a representative of the High Table, is on the quest to punish those who helped Wick, including Winston (Ian McShane), the manager of the Continental Hotel, and crime lord Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), who has quite an incredible army of pigeons.
With a $14 million bounty on his head, John Wick is out to survive, and take no mercy on those who dare to fight him. Despite watching their peers get brutally and savagely beaten and murdered around them, they keep going after Wick – presumably thinking that they can be the one to knock him off the perch and go home with a fatter wallet. Meanwhile, Wick seeks out allies from the past, despite their reluctance to help him, in an effort to survive – for reasons we soon find out – and remove the bounty from his head.
The action sequences, while impressive, tend to play out a little like a live-action Call of Duty battle scene after a while, probably lasting a little too long and implementing all those clichés the game-lovers will recognize: enemies descending on you from all angles, setting the dogs to rip-tear-bust, and throwing smoke grenades into empty rooms. It’s slightly reminiscent of “The Matrix” in that action scenes tend to drag and are a little bit of an overkill. That said, the action is addictive as hell and pretty bloody gruesome. Safe to say, “Parabellum” is not for the feint-hearted. If you’re squeamish about knives penetrating an entire human head, this may not be the film for you.
There’s something insanely awkward about the way Keanu Reeves walks – if a little pigeon toed – but still manages to effortlessly defend and attack in awesome style. He flicks his hair like he’s straight out of “Point Break” (or is it more “Bill and Ted”?), but John Wick has a style about him we all just want to imitate – perhaps it’s the way he fights round the world and never takes off his suit and tie. Respect for that kind of commitment, straight up.
As action films go, you’ll get more than your money’s worth with “Parabellum”. It’s a really well done action flick and incredibly directed by Chad Stahelski – his strengths clearly lie in the action choreograph arena. Mark Dacascos as Zero, the head assassin is a true stand out in “Parabellum”, providing some humour amongst the blood, guts and fighting. Fishburne also impresses as the underground crime lord, with his alliances more aligned with his pigeon friends than the people around him.
“Parabellum” is one hell of a wild ride – and one you won’t want to miss on the big screen for the visual (and audio) spectacle you’re about to experience. It’s a completely bonkers and good-time entertaining film, and without a doubt one of the standout feature films in 2019.
The Hustle review : uninspiring and unfunny
Bit of a waste of a remake, really
Every now and then, a remake gets made and it kicks all the goals, delivering a fresh take of humour and clever dialogue. This isn’t that movie. It’s hard to understand why Hollywood are mixing up old films, but I imagine the only answer comes in the form of a pay day.
When you’ve got a classic film like “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” with a top cast of Steve Martin and Michael Caine – it begs the question: why bother remaking it? The typical Hollywood twist comes in the gender switch, but apart from that this film is a straight-up copy-and-paste of the 1988 comedy. With a few millennial and female-centric jokes thrown in instead, of course.
Rebel Wilson and Anne Hathaway are the two main ladies in “The Hustle”, as they scam and thieve their way through the wallets of their chosen victims – and engage in a bit of a turf war when Lonnie (Wilson) encroaches upon France, which happens to be Josephine’s (Hathaway) home town (yes, French accent and all). The ladies set their sights on an American app-developer Thomas (Alex Sharp), and decide to attempt to rob him in their own unique way, making it a wager between the two.
Also confusing, and somewhat vexing, is the tagline used for this film. “Giving dirty rotten men a run for their money” – it’s interesting when literally none of the victims they target could be considered “dirty rotten”. They’re just people going about their lives. Lonnie’s whole game has to do with being rejected…. for catfishing….which she seems to find unfair and tell-all about men these days. I’m sorry, scriptwriters, but this makes no sense.
Wilson is really what “The Hustle” is using for the humourous quips, which unfortunately relies heavily (pun not intended) on fat jokes – I lost count after about 10 of them. If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen the funny bits – and even those are fairly stock-standard slapstick jokes, which worked better with Steve Martin.
On a whole, “The Hustle” is uninspiring, unfunny and just plain boring. The only thing going for it is a reasonable run time, giving you enough time to fit in a stiff drink following so you can forget it and get a good sleep. Having said that, “The Hustle” is completely forgettable, so don’t stress about lying awake thinking about it all night.
So what’s good about it? Look, you may get a few chuckles out of Wilson. Hathaway wears too much makeup and it’s a little bit distracting, and as a result isn’t as funny. But if you want a great heist film, with twists and turns and genuine humour – watch “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” instead.
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