Sunday, February 17, 2019

Film Review - Alita: Battle Angel

Part Matrix, a dose of Elysium, a sprinkle of Pinocchio, a dash of Running Man and a whole lot of Rollerball are the key borrows that come together to form a true James Cameron project in Alita: Battle Angel. The events take place in 2563 or 300 years after THE FALL where invaders from Mars attacked leaving the earth in the state of a Dystopian wasteland except for the Beautiful floating city of Zalem with the working class plugs and hustlers inhabiting the wild west like Iron City below. Dr. Dyson Ito (Christoph Waltz) is rummaging through the scrapyard for parts for patients that require cybernetic replacement body parts when he finds the head and core of a still alive teenage cyborg girl. He brings her home attaches a body that he had made for other purposes bringing Alita (Rosa Salazar) back to full being status with a clean slate in a position to start a new path.

However, Alita is drawn to violence an imprint from her past then when she follows her adoptive dad out one evening more of her abilities along with some flashes from her past are revealed making her determined to find out who she is. Her search intensifies when she encounters an abandoned 300- year- old ship warship to which she has an obvious connection.

Director Robert Rodriguez under the watchful eye of co-writer and producer James Cameron brings the 90's era Yukito Kishiro Japanese Magna to life. Alita is the best to date application of uncanny valley human simulation. She's a robot featuring those telltale large CG eyes but the movement and micro differences not as unnerving as in the past. Alita blends seamlessly into scenes with her fully human cast members Dr. Ito and her love interest Hugo (Keean Johnson) who brings parts and supplies to the doctor while on the side works for Vector (Mahershala Ali) providing parts for competitors in the cities main sport Motorball sometimes taking them from unfortunate targets that are still using them.

Alita:Battle Angel is an action filled Sci-fi tale of a teenage girl with human frailties trying to find out who she is. It's another in a strong series of young women empowerment films that will show girls a strong positive image of themselves that will culminate with Brie Larson in March's Captain Marvel. The  story is a classic one of rising up that is heavily influenced but that does not take away from the fact that the film is a big production that works despite some early well-documented set backs making it one that I can definitely recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Alita: Battle Angel | Robert Rodriguez | U.S.A | 2019 | 122 Minutes.

Tags: Sci-Fi, 26th Century, Dystopia, Cybernetics, Japanese Magna, Teenage Gir, Warrior, Death Sport, Bounty Hunter, Floating City, Class System.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Film Review - The Lego Movie 2 : The Second Part

Being forced to play with your younger sister can be a terrifying thought to a teenage boy. That is the scenario brought up at the end of 2014's The LEGO Movie. For the sequel, it's five years later. Duplo invaders have come to Bricksburg smashing everything that they find shiny. To survive the city has been abandoned for a desert wasteland known as Apocalypseburg not to attract any attention. All of the main cast is back from the first installment. Lucy/Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) Unikitty (Alison Bree) Will Arnett's superb portrayal of Batman, pirate Metalbeard (Nick Offerman) Benny the Astronaut (Charlie Day) and Chris Pratt as the happy go lucky Emmet the only one keep his sunny disposition from the past. The big simple Duplo invaders return taking a group of the main players back to their planet for a wedding that Emmet as foreseen as an event that will lead to the end for his friends and himself. Emmet sets out to save his friends running into Rex Dangervest who seems to be his doppleganger only with confidence and stubble. Dangervest is a mix of Pratt's biggest screen roles including Star-Lord from Guardians of the Galaxy and Owen Grady from Jurassic World as evidenced by Rex's spaceship and its crew of wisecracking velociraptors.

Women play a big role in the film with Finn's sister Bianca (Florida Projects Brooklynn Prince) leading the way, a strong, fierce and independent Wyldstyle and new character Duplo Queen Waterva Wa'Nabi (Voice Tiffany Haddish). In the real world, Finn and Bianca's Mom (Vera Rudolph) threatens to shut down Lego all together if the siblings are not able to get along. The visuals continue to pop but the material seems not as fresh with some of the repeated cuts to live action becoming tiresome.

Music again is centre stage with the centrepiece song titled Catchy Song used as a brainwashing device that will definitely get stuck in your head. There's also a Will Arnett voiced piece that touches on every incarnation of the caped crusader from Adam West to Ben Affleck. Be sure to stay for the end credits song Super Cool with The Lonely Island Guys, Beck, and Robyn that hits all of the production departments then shifts to the cast the stars that rotate into centre frame Avengers style.

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part is an entertaining feature that had a hard act to follow in the first installment. There are some valuable lessons her for kids in teamwork, being true to yourself and the dangers of trying to change others. The narrative is an empowering message to girls but the narrative and some gags do get too repetitive making it a build that feels like it's missing a key piece.

** 1/2 Out of 4.

 The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part | Mike Mitchell | Denmark / Norway/ Australia / USA | 2019 | 106 Minutes.

Tags: LEGO, Toys, Sibling Rivalry, Dystopian, Time Travel, Glitter, Wedding, Washing Machine, Dryer, Storage.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Renaissance Media Film Review - The Prodigy

Where do our souls go after we die? Is there empty nothingness? Do they go up to heaven, or could they return to earth inhabiting another being? The possibility of reincarnation is the version that is explored in The Prodigy. Serial killer Edward Scarka (Paul Fauteux) is tracked down, surrounded and killed in the middle of the night in Ohio. Just after his death in Pennsylvania Sarah (Orange is the new black's Taylor Schilling) and her husband John (Peter Mooney) welcome Miles into the world their newborn son who has red droplets of blood in the same locations as where the bullets pierced Scarka's body.

Miles development is advanced landing in a gifted school where violent behaviour begins. The family reaches out to reincarnation specialist Dr. Arthur Jacobson (Colm Feore) who fills in a lot of the plot points on the subject concluding that Miles and the serial killers' soul are battling and now that he is eight Scarka could gain total control.

Director Nicholas McCarthy alongside writer Jeff Buhler bring a fresh spin on the demonic child to the screen. There is no ancient spirit throwing slime at a priest who battles back with holy water. Instead, a sadistic ritualistic killer is battling for Miles body refusing to leave the earth until he can complete one piece of unfinished business. Joseph Bishara's score also helps to build the tension and the adults are smartly written avoiding seeming to do what a reasonable person would at each step of the progression.

Taylor Schilling leads the cast at Sarah. At first, she will not believe that there is anything wrong with her gifted child but as the evidence mounts, she takes actions drifting towards the extreme in order to save her son. Peter Blume is the level headed dad John. He is first to realize that they can't handle Miles on their own at home taking steps to get him professional help. Jackson Robert Scott is effective as Miles. Working well with Paul Fautex mimicking Scarka's mannerism and playing his part in the smooth transitions in control between the two especially in one hallway scene that is the early leader for the most frightening scene of the year.

The Prodigy is an original entry into the possessed child horror genre.  Reincarnation is the vehicle here following a serial killer's soul jump to a newborn biding its time as the child develops to the point that he can use this new body to complete one final task. The team of actors does not make a wrong step with the project. While the film does suffer from some issues with pacing there is enough meat here to keep the audience engaged for its full 92 minutes.

*** Out of 4.

The Prodigy | Nicholas McCarthy | Hong Kong / USA | 2019 | 92 Minutes.

Tags: Reincarnation, Serial Killer, Ritual, Calling Card, Survivor, Pregnancy, Child Birth, Manipulation, Hypnosis, Babysitter, Pipe Wrench, Garden Shears

Monday, January 21, 2019

Netflix Film Review - Bird Box

Malorie (Sandra Bullock) is expecting a child and unsure if she will have a connection to the pending arrival. She is a painter that spends all of her time in her studio not even going out to get groceries as her sister Jessica (Sara Paulson) will do it for her. Her art explores the main subject on her mind connecting with others, which did not happen with the baby's father who was a glorified roommate who is no longer in the picture. Jessica takes her sister to her latest OBNY appointment at the local hospital where upon leaving they encounter a woman banging her head repeatedly against a glass door for no reason. Malorie realizes the disturbance that has been driving tens of thousands to suicide on the other side of the world has come here to her town.

Based on a novel by Josh Malerman Academy Award winning director Susanne Bier helms for Netflix a psychological thriller with a threat that is largely unseen throughout the entire production. The film will undoubtedly draw comparisons to A Quiet Place another psychological thriller about a post- apocalyptic event focused on a group of people surviving in a single location. In A Quiet Place the threat was auditory-based here it is visual.

The narrative jumps back and forth between two time periods. The present where Mallorie and her two children Boy (Julian Edwards) and Girl (Vivien Lyra Blair) embark on a dangerous trip down a river to a safe location where there is a thriving community and five years earlier when the chaos first hit after Malorie's hospital visit. In the earlier sequences a group of strangers that alongside Malorie include, Travene Rhodes (Tom), Jackie Weaver (Cheryl), last years breakout performer from Patti Cake$ (Danielle MacDonald) as Olympia plus a wonderful turn as a delicious cross between asshole and prick by John Malkovich as Douglas. The group struggle in a Lord of the Flies style paranoia fuelled battle for leadership as alliances form with Malorie and Tom aligned, Douglas an island onto himself and police academy trainee Lucy (Rosa Salazar) and impending doom predictor Felix (Machine Gun Kelly) thrown together after a catastrophic event in the home.

Sandra Bullock is in about every frame of the film as Malorie, She is quick to recognize the danger, has to fight her way out of the chaos of the initial arrival of the presence to her town which is the best sequence of the film. She delivers her child without proper medical attention then immediately faces a threat to the newborn and herself. Later she forcefully instructs, trains, toughens and leads the kids on a dangerous journey down a rapid filled river in a new normal where you have to be blindfolded anytime you are outside to avoid the unseen entity. The up and coming Travene Rhodes fresh off of successful roles in Moonlight and The Predator is a solid foil to Malorie as Tom. He is thoughtful, caring, less guarded and willing to pause to imagine and dream despite the current situation.

Bird Box is a psychological thriller that does a credible job of getting the audience to care about these characters through Eric Heisserer's screenplay and two opening scenes of terror expressed in completely different manners. The viewer is with the survivors in the home, weary of every new encounter as some who see the entity do not immediately commit suicide but make it their mission for others shielding their eyes to remove the blindfold and see. It's an entertaining tale that leads to a logical conclusion from a fledgling studio that has promised to invest in and deliver even more features in 2019.

*** Out of 4.

Bird Box | Suzanne Bier | U.S.A. | 2018 | 124 Minutes.

Tags: Netflix, Pregnancy, Safe House, Birth, Mother, Survival, Blindfold, Suicide, River, Rapids, Birds, Strangers, Warning.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Film Review - Glass

After a string of misfires spanning through 2015's The Visit. Director M. Night Shyamalan's films had long lost must see status. Viewers and critics alike pointed back to 2000's Unbreakable the directors follow up to the phenomenon of The Sixth's Sense the originator of the M.Night twist as the last superior film he produced. However, in 2016 Split was released starring James McAvoy as Kevin Wendell Crumb abused as a child by his mother developing 20 different personalities to hide from the light taking to abducting young girls to sacrifice to his main protector personality The Beast. The film through a slowly built word of mouth campaign brought audiences back to Shyamalan with a twist at the end that whispered middle film of trilogy.

Glass opens with Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy) referring to his multiple personalities as The Horde in the midst of another abduction. This time it's four chained up cheerleaders at risk with lead personalities Patricia, Hedwig, and Dennis watching over them waiting on the arrival of The Beast. David Dunn 19 years after learning of his special abilities now runs a home security store with his son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark) reprising his role from Unbreakable by his side and in his ear when Dunn aka The Overseer dons his dark rain slicker to go out on patrol or walks. Dunn hears about the abduction heading out to the suspected location factory area brushing into Hedwig getting a vision of the girls' predicament. The resulting fallout of his intervention lands him in Raven Hill Memorial Psychiatric Hospital alongside Crumb and his old nemesis Elijah Price / Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson). Dr. Ellie Staple (Sara Paulson) treats the trio putting barriers in place to dull their heightened abilities as she tries to rid them of their delusions of grander her research indicates is buried in Freudian psychology's Holy Trinity of  Ego (Price), Id (Crumb) and Super-Ego (Dunn).

Shyamalan goes low tech with his comic book tale with all of the elements present. A hero, a villain and the mastermind pulling the strings. The film also features a team up which is common in the comic book world among heroes and villains alike to take on a common foe. There is no great CGI sequences or out of this world abilities. Instead, DID suffering Crumb/ The Horde and Dunn / The Overseer have more than normal strength, Dunn's intuitive feelings sparked by touch and Mr. Glass a brittle body housing a superior mind.

James McAvoy gets top billing as the multi-personality Crumb. When the credits roll it feels like his different personas make up about half the cast. McAvoy moves seamlessly between characters revelling in the roles of 9-year-old rapper Hedwig and Patricia the most. Each role has very distinct mannerisms. Hand gestures and speech patterns for Hedwig, arches longing for high heals with Patricia and shoulders, chest and neck for wall climbing The Beast. Bruce Willis is understated as David Dunn which strikes the right balance to the mania of The Horde. Samuel L. Jackson does not speak for about half of his onscreen time as Elijah Price. Heavily sedated to dull his mental capabilities he twitches and tremors while slouched in his wheelchair. Look for Anya Taylor-Joy reprising her role as Casey Cooke the girl who survived from Split. Taylor- Joy alongside Charlayne Woodward as Mrs. Price and the aforementioned Spencer Treat Clark play the three main characters respective support person all having a greater impact on the tale than one might expect.

Glass is the conclusion of a trilogy that most would not have known they were in the midst of until the final frames of Split. Shyamalan's comic book rule based franchise is the anthesis to both the Marvel and D.C. Universes. Here the heroes and villains are only a step outside of normal human abilities. Being an M. Night film an ending twist is inevitable but this one ties up the origins of the three in such a complete way that makes the audience wonder if the director had this all in mind since penning Unbreakable; if you can recall a certain throwaway sequence in that film you will have your answer.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Glass | M. Night Shyamalan | U.S.A. | 2019 | 129 Minutes.

Tags: Eastrail 177, Multiple Personality, DID, EGO, ID, Super-Ego, Comic Book Rules, Strength, Brittleness, Psychiatric Hospital, Medication, Cameras, Secret Society, Philadelphia, Water, Strobes, Abduction.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Film Review - Destroyer

Director Karyn Kusama goes deeper than ever into her strong suit of directing nastier than the next female leads with Destroyer. Her feature debut Girlfight introduced us to Michelle Rodrigues playing tougher than nails boxer Diana Guzman. Kusama's follow up Sci-Fi multimedia experience Aeon Flux starred Charlize Theron as the cold precise assassin.  Now we have detective Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) channeling  Bruce Weitz's Mick Belker from T.V.'s Hill Street Blues as the grubbiest, worst attitude, least hygienic, rule-breaking cop on the L.A.P.D.  Through flashbacks, the audience learns of a deep cover operation where a fresh-faced Bell and her partner Chris (Sebastian Stan) got in too deep with an ultra-dangerous group of drug smuggling, Manson Familyesque, bank robbers in an operation that went bad. She was hollowed out by the experience now getting blind drunk most nights, caring little about her appearance, or what may become of her. She does, however, care about the fate of her 16 -year- old daughter Shelby (Jade Pettyjohn) spending a significant amount of time trying to do right by her but even in this instance, Bell resorts to her twisted methods.

The story centers around the reappearance of Silas (Toby Kebbell) the head of the criminal organization she infiltrated 17 years ago. A body turns up on the side of the road having been dispatched from this world in the trademark manner used by Silas and his crew. Erin rattles the cages of her contacts from the past off book and on her own in order to find Silas and bring him down hoping to find closure.

Writers Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi's script tries to pull off a narrative in the tradition of Dirty Harry or Death Wish but doesn't get there. The makeup department Lola Visual effects and Bill Corso on prosthetics deserve a salute for their work on Kidman plus the Silas gang members on the drastic change between how they look flashbacks and how they appear present day as Erin tracks each of them down. The buzz from the film is the bordering on homeless look of Kidman  The viewers first thoughts will turn to Charlize Theron in Monster but Kidman incorporates gestures, looks, gait and a scratchy barely there whisper of a voice to truly envelop Erin in a cloak of darkness and filth.

In the end, the film is muddled waiting until far too late in the day to get to the crux of what lead to Erin's meltdown. The flashbacks which at first offer insight into Bell's current state are also used as a device to bend time in the present that does not ring true. As the credit roll, the audience will reflect on the last sequences of the film that serves to forfeit much of what has gone before. It's a worthy attempt to show how trauma, P.T.S.D and unresolved guilt can eat away at a person over time leaving a shell in its place. However, this story has been told better before leaving Destroyer outside the category of films I can recommend.

** Out of 4.

Destroyer | Karyn Kusama |  U.S.A. | 2018 | 121 Minutes.

Tags: Deep Cover, Nonlinear narrative,Flashbacks, Bank Robbery, Gang, Los Angeles, L.A.P.D., Detective, Rogue Cop, Alcoholism, Revenge, Money Laundering, Dye Packs.