REVIEW: ALITA-BATTLE ANGEL (2019)

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ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL (2019)

The summer movie season has started early and it has started with a bang! Alita: Battle Angel is a film adaptation of the Gunnm Manga series created by Yukito Kishiro. It’s produced by James Cameron and directed by Sin City’s Robert Rodriguez. The story has cyborg physician Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) finding the remains of a still active cyborg in a junk heap. Made to resemble a teenage girl, the doctor restores his discovery using a cybernetic body meant for his invalid daughter, who is now dead. He names her Alita after his little girl and soon the two bond as Alita (Rosa Salazar) tries to figure out who she is. Along the way Alita falls for street hustler Hugo (Keean Johnson) and becomes interested in the violent game of Motorball. Alita also finds she is no normal machine and there are sinister forces who want her technology for their own nefarious purposes…and they will hurt anyone to get it. A girl becomes a warrior, as Alita must now protect those she loves from harm.

The plot synopsis above is a simplification as Alita has a bit of a complex story, as many Manga do. It’s adapted to script by James Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis and exceptionally well directed by Rodriguez, in what may be his best film so far. Despite being plot heavy, Rodriguez takes his time with the story, first introducing us to Alita and letting us learn about who she is as she does. It allows us to become endeared to her, so when treachery sets in and the action really gets going, we are emotionally invested in the characters. And that’s one of the pleasant surprises about Alita: Battle Angel, it has a strong emotional center thanks especially to a very strong performance by lead Rosa Salazar as Alita. The actress really gets the emotions of the character through in the motion capture and vocal performance, so we really see the CGI character as a three dimensional one. We feel for her all the way and the film has a “human” center despite being filled with CGI characters and epic battles. On the popcorn level the film also delivers. The SPFX are spectacular, as is the design of the world of the 26th century, Alita herself and her cyborg costars. The action is fast and furious and while having a lot of elements, the plot is far from hard to follow. The flick is surprisingly violent for a movie that could be marketed strictly to teens, but it makes it adult enough for the older crowd to enjoy and adds intensity to the proceedings. Sure there is some corny dialogue and some cliché moments, but Rodriguez uses those elements to the film’s advantage, as it is an old-fashioned superhero story at heart…and heart is something this flick has a lot of.

The cast really play the material well. As said, Rosa Salazar is very good at embodying Alita with a strong character through body language and voice performance. She gives the cyborg teen a lot of charm, intensity, as well as, a sense of wonder and a touch of naivety. Salazar is a star in the making. Waltz is very endearing as the kindly Dr. Ido, who has some secrets of his own. He plays the father figure well, but with a quiet strength. Keean Johnson is also endearing as the rogue-ish Hugo, the boy Alita falls for. He also has some secrets, too, but he remains likable despite Hugo’s sometimes shady activities. The film also features Jennifer Connelly as Ido’s ex-wife, who works for the film’s primary villain, Motorball tycoon Vector (Mahershala Ali) and there is a surprise cameo, that won’t be spoiled here, as the man pulling Vector’s strings, Nova. There are also appearances by Ed Skrein, Jeff Fahey, Michelle Rodriguez and Jackie Earl Haley as various CGI cyborg characters. A very effective cast.

Overall, this flick was a blast and a really good time that gives a very early start to the summer movie season. It’s a fun popcorn flick, yet one with a more layered story to get us involved in and adds some dramatic weight and intensity to the FX and action. It has a star making performance from it’s leading lady, Rosa Salazar and has more heart than you’d expect from a cyborg. Highly recommended.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) Battle Angels.

 

 

 

 

 

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: THE FACULTY and DISTURBING BEHAVIOR

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THE FACULTY (1998)

The Faculty plays basically like a high school version of The Thing with elements of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers and Night Of The Creeps thrown in for good measure. But since it’s from pop-culture horror writer extraordinaire Kevin Williams (Scream) and director and film geek Robert Rodriguez (Sin City), we know this is intentional and they playfully acknowledge their homage with some high school versions of some of those movies’ most famous scenes and some outright character references to those original works.

This tale of an alien invasion that starts in a small town Ohio high school has a group of five students, including mean girl Delilah (Jordana Brewster), geek Casey (Elijah Wood), rebel Zeke (Josh Hartnett), goth Stokely (Clea DuVall) and new girl Marybeth (Laura Harris) facing the alien menace which starts by assimilating the school faculty. And what a faculty we have with Robert Patrick, Bebe Neuwirth, Famke Janssen, Salma Hayek and Piper Laurie, to name a few. Of course no one believes them that aliens are among us and up to no good and as the adults are assimilated by the alien’s slimy slug-like swarm, they are soon outnumbered and being hunted with no one to turn to but each other. Now the 5 must overcome their differences and mistrust, to find the alien queen, destroy it and save the school and the planet.

Rodriguez wisely plays it straight and lets the material provide the fun. He knows not to make a joke out of what basically is a silly sci-fi story, but he never takes things too seriously that we don’t have a good time watching our teens battling alien drones that once were their teachers and friends and trying to convince themselves that this is actually happening. Sure we’ve seen it all before, from the doubting adults to the paranoia over who is an alien and who is human, but that is part of the fun. Rodriguez knows we’re familiar with this type of story and uses our familiarity to sometimes pull the wool over our eyes and play with our expectations. And when he doesn’t do that, he simply delivers what we want expect, as with the final showdown between our heroes and the big bad alien bitch herself. It’s not perfect, sometimes the familiarity of the material works against it and a few of the classic film scenes recreated are a bit too obvious, but overall it’s an entertaining movie with some really good SPFX and a cast who knows exactly when to take things seriously and when to camp it up a bit and have a good time. And the large ensemble cast, also including Jon Stewart and Usher Raymond, are all up to the task with Patrick and Janssen especially chewing up the scenery when appropriate.

The 1998 film is a bit dated at this point, but if you enjoy the Scream era horror flicks then you won’t mind it. It’s not old enough for nostalgic charm just yet, but it will be soon enough. A fun movie from an era where pop-culture references and horror went hand in hand quite often.

3 high school hunting alien queens!

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DISTURBING BEHAVIOR (1998) 

This late 90s flick tells the story of high school student Steve Clark (James Marsden) and his sister Lindsay (a pre-Ginger Snaps Katherine Isabelle) who move with their parents from Chicago to the quaint remote community of Cradle Bay, Wa. A community that seems to be run by the elite high school varsity Blue Ribbons, a group of clean cut teens with valedictorian goals. But Steve bonds with outcasts Strick (Nick Stahl), Rachel (Katie Holmes) and U.V. (Chad E. Donella) who warn him that all is not right with the picture perfect Blue Ribbons. Soon he finds out his friends are not being paranoid, as the Blue Ribbons acquire some surprising new members, including Strick and these honor society students seem to easily and violently react whenever they face normal teenage emotional turmoil. Even more suspicious, is the Jim Jones-like Dr. Caldicott (Bruce Greenwood) the man behind the ‘seminars’ that recruit Blue Ribbons members. Is this some kind of cult or is Caldicott more Dr. Frankenstein then Dr. Phil?

Disturbing Behavior is an entertaining flick from X-Files episode director David Nutter and does play very much like an episode of that classic show. Which isn’t a bad thing. Nutter gets some good suspense and chills out of Scott Rosenberg’s script and gives this high school Stepford Wives some nice atmoshere. Not everything works. There are a few of the Blue Ribbon melt-down scenes that come across as silly rather then disturbing and the film’s climactic confrontation with Steve and Rachel being hunted down by the Blue Ribbons and their deranged creator at the edge of a dam ends in an equally silly denouement.

The cast perform well, for the most part, with Marsden making a fine hero, Holmes making a feisty rebel-chick and Greenwood an appropriately charismatic yet slimy villain. Sadly, the usually dependable William Sadler overacts as the school janitor Dorian and A.J. Buckley hams it up a bit too much as the short circuiting Blue Ribbon with a crush on Rachel and it stands out as the rest of the cast play it straight including bad guy Greenwood. Both these performances give their scenes an element of camp that is not present in the rest of the film, except for the unintentionally goofy climax.

Overall Disturbing Behavior is an entertaining enough thriller that is brought down a few notches by some campy performances and a few scenes that didn’t quite work, but David Nutter does provide enough suspense and chills to keep it afloat and it deserves credit for doing it’s own thing and avoiding the pop-culture heavy teen horror of this era. Flawed, but still an entertaining watch.

3 hot pre-Cruise Holmes!

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