Saturday, 16 February 2019

Alita: Battle Angel (Movie Review)


As readers of this blog might have already gleaned, I have a really strong affinity for works of science fiction, being a writer of such works myself. And Battle Angel Alita, or Gunnm as it is known in Japan, was a cyberpunk manga series that came to my attention when a review of one of my books had pointed out similarities between the two. I was immediately intrigued by its existence, but never managed to get my hands on it to see for myself, until now. Directed by Robert Rodriguez, Alita: Battle Angel is a film adaptation of the comic book series.

Set in a far future following an interplanetary war known as The Fall, it tells the story of a cyborg (Rosa Salazar) whose working remains are found in a scrapyard by a scientist named Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz). She is rebuilt and wakes up with no memory of her past life, not even a name. Dubbed Alita by Dr. Ido, she approaches everything in her new home of Iron City with a childlike wonder. But traces of her mysterious past start to show when she and the doctor are attacked one night, discovering she is trained in an ancient form of martial arts called Panzer Kunst.

Deducing that such encounters might help trigger memories of her past, Alita seeks to become a Hunter-Warrior, a registered bounty hunter that hunts down wanted cyborgs for the government. She also takes an interest in the gladiatorial Motorball, against Dr. Ido's wishes, after she is introduced to the sport by Hugo (Keenan Johnson), a boy she befriends and draws close to. But it doesn't take long before her activities are brought to the attention of Vector (Mahershala Ali), a shady businessman who trades in cyborg parts, and his mysterious benefactor, a scientist named Nova (Edward Norton).

The first aspect of Alita: Battle Angel that strikes you is how gorgeous the visuals look. For a movie that seemed to be stuck in development hell for close to two decades, the finished product is remarkable indeed. The film was written and produced by James Cameron, who was originally slated to direct but had to pass directing duties over to Robert Rodriguez due to his work on Avatar and its long-awaited sequels. Neither man is a stranger when it comes to making visually-striking movies, so its beautiful blend of live-action and CGI should come as no surprise.

Much like last year's Ready Player One, the movie also boasts of some excellent world-building, although I guess we have the source material to thank for that. I haven't read any of the comics, or seen its anime adaptations, so I can't comment on how well it has been translated to the big screen. But what has made it over into the movie is very much intriguing stuff, even though it sometimes felt like the movie was barely scratching the surface of all its source material has to offer.

Thankfully, the movie also serves as setup for potential sequels (for better or worse) should it prove successful enough to warrant making one. So here's hoping that it doesn't go the way of Mortal Engines and that it finds a large enough audience.

Saturday, 9 February 2019

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (Movie Review)


In 2014, The Lego Movie introduced moviegoers to the Master Builders of Bricksburg (not to mention the insanely catchy theme song, Everything is Awesome). Since then, we've had two other movies in the Lego Movie franchise, The Lego Batman Movie and The Lego Ninjago Movie, both of which were released to varying degrees of success, but neither one quite reaching the high bar set by the first one. The Lego Movie 2 therefore marks an attempt by the filmmakers to serve up more of the eye-catching visuals and side-splitting comedy that made the first movie so great in the first place.

It's been 5 years since Bricksburg was invaded by aliens from the Systar System, turning the once beautiful metropolis into a post-apocalyptic shell of its former self. It's citizen have since adjusted to life in Apocalypseburg as it is now known, except Emmet (Chris Pratt) of course, who is still holding on to the steadfast belief that "everything is awesome." He is forced to come to terms with the harsh times though when his friends and girlfriend, Lucy/Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), are kidnapped and taken to the Systar System by General Sweet Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz).

Using his Master Builder skills, Emmet builds a spaceship and embarks on a rescue mission. Except he doesn't get too far into his journey before he requires some rescuing of his own, which comes by the hands of Rex Dangervest (also voiced by Chris Pratt), a "galaxy-defending archaeologist, cowboy and raptor trainer." Meanwhile, Lucy and the other Master Builders are brought before the shape-shifting ruler of the Systar System, Queen Watevra Wa'nabi (Tiffany Haddish), who reveals her plans to unite their two kingdoms, which includes brainwashing them with the aptly-named Catchy Song.

The Lego Movie 2 is everything you'd expect in a sequel to a beloved animated film. It doubles down on the humor and overall silliness of the first film, while also introducing more characters and musical numbers. The animation is also as vibrant and eye-catching as it has ever been, successfully creating the illusion that it was achieved using stop-motion techniques. That said, it was always going to be tough to recapture the same level of fun and childish wonder that made the first film so great, since its sense of novelty is already lost at this point.

Much like the original, events in the sequel are driven by an overarching narrative, which results in even more live-action scenes sprinkled throughout the movie (a decision that had resulted in the first film failing to be considered for an Academy Award in the Best Animated Feature category). Except here the overarching narrative is not as deep or touching as the one featured in the first film. We do get to see fellow SNL alum Maya Rudolph though, who plays the wife to Will Ferrel's The Man Upstairs.

To summarize, if you happened to love and embrace the wackiness of the first Lego Movie, chances are you'd like this one as well. But if you didn't enjoy the first one or you've locked up your inner child and threw away the key ages ago, then there is nothing new here that would win you over.

Saturday, 2 February 2019

How to Train your Dragon: The Hidden World (Movie Review)


The dragon riders of Berk are back in the third and final installment of the How to Train your Dragon film series, The Hidden World. It's been 9 years since the first movie first graced the big screen in 2010, and as expected, the quality of the visuals have received a massive overhaul since then, breathing new life into the characters and the world they inhabit. But perhaps even more impressive is just how much those characters have grown and evolved over the course of the narrative.

After becoming chief of Berk at the end of the previous movie, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) continues to fight for his vision of a world where humans and dragons can live in harmony. He does this with the aid of his friends by freeing those dragons being held prisoner by trappers, and bringing them back to his village. Except this results in their village becoming overrun by dragons. It also causes the aggrieved trappers to hire the infamous dragon hunter, Grimmel the Grisly (F. Murray Abraham).

As if the pressures of keeping his overcrowded village in order were not enough, Hiccup must also deal with the expectation that he take his girlfriend, Astrid (America Ferara), as his bride. And he is not the only one being troubled by matters of the heart, as his dragon, Toothless, takes a liking to a female Night Fury. Now it is up to Hiccup to show him how to win her heart, even as he struggles to keep his people safe by seeking out a new home for them in The Hidden World, a dragon utopia his father (Gerald Bulter) had been obsessed with finding.

How to Train your Dragon: The Hidden World is an emotional rollercoaster of a movie, even though it never quite reaches the emotional highs of the previous one. I tried not to get teary eyed at the ending, but dear Lord, did I fail. There were so many callbacks to the previous films, which makes you realize just how much these characters have come into their own. This is ultimately a movie about letting go of the things we love, as hard as that might seem, and embracing the uncertainty that such a future might bring.

Now this is how you end a film trilogy, unlike that recent movie whose name I would not be mentioning here. To do that would be an insult to the quality of this one. As such, How to Train your Dragon: The Hidden World joins the ranks of Toy Story 3 and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King as one of the most emotionally satisfying conclusions to a trilogy in recent memory.