Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

Image is property of 20th Century Fox

Alita: Battle Angel – Film Review

Cast: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Keean Johnson

Director: Robert Rodriguez

Synopsis: Set in the 26th century,  a compassionate doctor finds an abandoned cyborg whom he names Alita (Salazar). Upon reawakening, Alita with no recollection or memories of her previous life, goes in search of answers…

Review: If you’re looking for a big name film-maker to get an ambitious project off the ground, James Cameron is not a bad choice to turn to. For here is a director who for a time, boasted the two highest grossing films of all time in his repertoire, as well as being the one of the two brains behind the Terminator franchise. But even with the involvement of such a talent as Cameron, and director Robert Rodriguez, sometimes, it just not enough to save the project.

After humanity has been seriously affected by a deadly war, Dr Dyson Ido (Waltz) finds the remains of a female cyborg in a scrapyard, brings her body back to his lab and restores her to life. However, Alita with no memory of who she was in her previous life, is determined to get some answers. Right away the film throws the audience head first into the thick of what is evidently a planet that has clearly been effected heavily by war. Yet the screenplay, penned by Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis, doesn’t really provide any context for the preceding war that has seemingly crippled this society. Furthermore, an overwhelming majority of the dialogue feels very stilted.

As the main character, Alita is certainly a likeable protagonist that you want to root for, even if the CGI on her is a little jarring to begin with. You want her to find out the answers that she’s seeking and it is extremely entertaining to watch her throw down against some of the slimy, nefarious people that inhabit this world. But of course, they had to add a romance into the mixture with Alita falling for Hugo (Keean Johnson). It’s functional to the plot as he helps Alita acclimatise to the new world she is discovering but, there’s not a great deal of chemistry between the two of them, and while not as laughable as some of the romantic dialogue that the Star Wars prequels served up, it’s still pretty cringey.

The rest of the cast are also functional at best, which is extremely frustrating when you have Oscar winning talents like Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly and Mahershala Ali. It just feels like their considerable talents are wasted on what could have been a much better script. What’s more, the motivations/purposes of some characters for doing what they’re doing are extremely vague, with scope clearly being left for future instalments. The CGI on the whole is very hit or miss, sometimes it looks really impressive, and there are other instances where it looks extremely cheap. This is problematic for a big budget blockbuster, especially since Cameron’s Avatar, a film that came out a decade ago, showed the world what CGI could accomplish.

For what is clearly striving to be a film that is trying to be its own franchise, it tries so hard to set up a sequel that it negates telling a worthwhile story to begin with. There are some entertaining scenes but again, there’s nothing here that really stands out to differentiate it from the plethora of films in this genre, that have been far more memorable. For any film that spends a long time stuck in development hell, it always feels like the odds are against it. Despite the best efforts of all concerned to bring this property to the big screen, and even with such star power, both in front of and behind the camera, this is a classic case of style over substance.

One cannot fault the ambition, but even with a solid lead performance from Salazar, the extremely corny dialogue and a rather messy plot just cannot save this film from its place on the scrapheap.

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Posted in 1990-1999, Film Review

Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)

Image is property of TriStar Pictures

Terminator 2: Judgement Day  – Film Review

Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, Robert Patrick, Joe Morton

Director: James Cameron

Synopsis: Having failed with their mission to assassinate Sarah Connor, the machines send a new and much more advanced lethal to go after John Connor as a child. However, the adult John Connor counteracts this by sending the same cyborg that tried to kill his mother, to protect him.

Review: “I’ll be back,” said the T-800 before he rammed his car through a police station during a climatic event of the first Terminator movie as he ruthlessly hunted down his prey, Sarah Connor, in a bid to kill her to prevent a deadly war between man and the machines from ever taking place. It’s a line that has become one of the most quoted lines of dialogue in cinematic history. Though he did not succeed in said mission, he was true to his word, and came back with an almighty bang to help create what many feel is one of the greatest sequels ever made in the history of film.

The first Terminator film was revolutionary and it managed this feat on quite the remarkably small budget. Hence for the sequel, as sequels should do it upped the ante and in considerable style too, including quite the higher budget. With the war against the Machines still raging, and having failed to eliminate Sarah, Skynet sends an advanced Terminator, the T-1000 back in time to eliminate John Connor as a child to prevent him from leading humanity to victory against the machines. Yet to counteract this, the adult John sends back a reprogrammed T-800 that was originally sent to kill his mother, back to protect him at all costs.

Having shown himself to be a ruthless badass killing machine in the first film, to see Arnie flip that on its head, and be a little bit more compassionate this time around was a masterstroke in terms of storytelling. Yet at the same time, he still remains an absolute badass that you wouldn’t want to find yourself up against. And once again, he has some terrific one liners that he delivers with such charisma. The role of the Terminator is what perhaps Arnie has become best known for, and he absolutely bosses every minute of screen time that he has.

With Sarah Connor as well you also have a character who has gone through some shit, and it’s made her a much tougher individual in this film than compared to the rather timid waitress she was in the first film. Taking the characters from the first film and developing them is what sequels should do, and this film does it perfectly, as Sarah is a transformed woman in this film. On the other hand the T-1000, played by Robert Patrick, is one of the most persistent relentless antagonists ever put to film. To watch him scrap with Arnie, two very well matched forces, it makes for some pulsating action. By doing this it makes it that so much more compelling, given that in the first film it was Arnie VS Sarah and Kyle, not exactly the most even of match ups.

With the budget now considerably enhanced, much like The Terminator himself, Cameron manages to create just as compelling, if not more compelling action sequences. he manages to top those action sequences here. The film is paced perfectly with plenty of tremendous action scenes to keep the energy going, including perhaps the best chase scene that has ever been put to film. However, though there are a lot of these chase sequences, it crucially allows those personal moments between the characters particularly between John and Sarah, and indeed the whole plot surrounding the war between man and machines and the dreaded Judgement Day.

It’s the perfect blend of upping the ante in terms of action and the drama, whilst crucially giving moments for the central characters to develop.  It’s one of the finest examples of a sequel that some might argue is better than the original. It is a film that has helped shape science fiction and indeed action films in the years that followed, and will in all likelihood, continue to be a staple of both genres for many more years to come.

He said he’d be back, and he certainly was a man (?) of his word. With much more developed characters and some breathtaking action set pieces, this is the perfect example of a sequel done perfectly. Hasta la Vista Baby indeed!

 

Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

Avatar (2009)

Image is property of 20th Century Fox, Lightstorm Entertainment, Dune Entertainment and Ingenious Film Partners

Avatar Film Review

Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez, Stephen Lang, Giovanni Ribsi, Joel David Moore, C. C. H. Pounder, Laz Alonso

Director: James Cameron

Synopsis: A paraplegic former marine is recruited as part of a mission on the alien world of Pandora, to drive a hybrid body known as an Avatar, and soon finds himself with conflicting thoughts as to where his loyalty truly lies.

Review: If ever you were to talk about certain directors and their passion projects, then for the mastermind behind Aliens and the first two exceptional Terminator films, James Cameron, Avatar is most certainly his passion project. Back in 1994, the director wrote an 80 page vision for the film, yet his vision could not be realised due to the limited technology that was available to him at the time. As such, the project was put on the back burner, but years later after going through much effort to create a rich and immersive world, and finally that vision was truly realised, and it certainly was worth it.

The world of Pandora is immediately visually absolutely stunning and breath taking to look at, it looks and feels as though Pandora could be a place somewhere out there in the universe. The terrain and the wildlife are all so rich in detail, it is incredible to watch, and the indigenous people of Pandora, the Na’vi are also equally beautifully realised, again they feel as though they could be a species that actually inhabits a planet somewhere out there in the reaches of the universe. Cameron went to great effort to create their language and his endeavour absolutely pays off. It is so authentic and so beautiful, if it was a real place, admit it, you would want to go there. The visual effects are truly magnificent and the film absolutely deservedly bagged an Oscar for its astounding visual effects, it was a game changer when released back in 2009 and remains the absolute pinnacle of what a film can achieve in terms of visual effects.

Of course, a film with pretty visuals looks great but, being all style and no substance wouldn’t be any good to anybody. Fortunately, that isn’t the case as the screenplay, penned by Cameron does have substance to it. At the heart of the story is Jake Sully (Worthington) who after a death in the family is recruited to the Avatar programme, an arm of the human operation on Pandora which is seeking possession of an extremely rare mineral. With use of said avatars, Jake becomes a part of the Na’vi clan and soon falls head over heels for the fierce and strong willed Neytiri (Saldana). Yet the love story is only one facet of the story, with many themes running through it, some of them could be perceived as being very political, but it drives home the message in an emphatic manner, carrying plenty of emotion and suspense with it, and James Horner’s score, is equally brilliant.

As a leading man, Worthington is functional, but he could have been a lot more compelling and less monotone would have been helpful. Saldana though shines as Neytiri, she’s very well developed and a very capable warrior who certainly can hold her own against anyone. The chemistry between the two leads is for the most part, solid, but it is a bit iffy in other parts. Signourney Weaver is also excellent as Grace Augstine, the head honcho of the Avatar programme. The humans here though are the main baddies with Parker Selfridge (Ribsi) and Miles Quaritch (Lang) the principal antagonists, with Lang being the standout as a gruff colonel who won’t take any bullshit from anybody. Cameron is one masterful director and here he helms the action to an impeccable quality. It is a rare feat to make the audience want to see members of its own species fail, but everyone watching should definitely be on Team Na’vi when the shit starts to go down.

Avatar certainly was responsible for the resurgence in 3D, and that certainly helped boost its numbers at the box office, as it smashed records here, there and everywhere taking just seventeen days to make one billion dollars, before eventually ending up with a total of nearly THREE billion, or 2.788 billion to be exact, to earn the title of the highest grossing film of all time, a title it has retained to this day, and it will take an almighty force (Star Wars?) to take that title away. Or maybe given Cameron is planning on return to Pandora at some point down the line, that title will remain with this franchise, whenever that sequel will eventually arrive in cinemas.  One thing is for sure though, is when that sequel does arrive, there will be no shortage of people out there, keen to make a return to the vast and incredible world of Pandora.

An absolute visual masterpiece, rich with gorgeous and vivid detail, with some great characters and a for the most part compelling story with some powerful themes, Avatar remains a wonderful, breath-taking cinematic achievement.

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Posted in 1980s, Film Review

The Terminator (1984)

The-Terminator-Poster
Image is property of Hemdale, Pacific Western Productions and Orion Pictures

The Terminator – Film Review

Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Michael Biehn, Paul Winfield

Director: James Cameron

Synopsis: A human looking cyborg is sent back to 1984 to assassinate a woman whose unborn son is set to lead humanity into a victorious war against the machines.  Yet, another soldier from the same war is also sent back to protect her at all costs, with the fate of the human race hanging in the balance…

Review: James Cameron, a man whose name is synonymous in Hollywood with big budgets, amazing CGI, and tremendous box office performances, and Oscars aplenty (three to be exact.) But way back when, when he was still trying to make a name for himself, he put out a film that was, simply put, a complete game changer for movie makers everywhere. It would launch a hugely popular franchise, and as crazy as that may seem, it would make a star out of an Austrian bodybuilder.  This film is of course, 1984’s The Terminator. 

The film is primarily set in 1984 and two people have been sent back to this era from 2029 for two very different reasons. One one hand we have our titular character, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is seeking out a woman named Sarah Connor who, unbeknownst to her, will have a future son who is set to lead humanity into a war against the machines. On the other hand, enter Kyle Reese who is out to protect Sarah at any cost. Thus we have ourselves a movie of cat and mouse that is pretty darn thrilling and awesome. The action scenes are brilliantly well handled and expertly shot. Like all great action films, the momentum is there, and the audience barely has any time to breathe as the villainous Terminator hunts its prey down with no remorse or emotion whatsoever, killing people mercilessly along the way.

With an iconic movie, comes an iconic performance, and that certainly belongs to Schwarzenegger. He is a man of action, and few words, although a number of those words have since become well quoted and much loved movie quotes. He is ruthless and efficient as he hunts down his target, and will kill anyone and everyone who stands in his way. It was a role that was perfect for the Austrian and he absolutely owned it. Also great are the performances of both Michael Biehn as Kyle Reese and Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor. Hamilton as Connor is this shy, timid waitress who does very little to fend for herself, but then again when you’re faced with a T-800 cyborg ruthless killing machine, there is not a lot you can do except run for your life! Michael Biehn as Kyle Reese is also excellent, he is a man who like the Terminator will stop at nothing, to protect Sarah from coming to harm. It’s with these two performances that, for all of the intense action, and shooting etc, comes the movie’s heart and character. They have great chemistry together and as the two bond as they seek to evade the Terminator’s clutches, and as their relationship develops, it packs real emotion into this thrilling, action packed ride.

This was only Cameron’s second feature film, his first being 1981’s Piranha Part Two: The Spawning, but with this creation, it put him on the map and launched a franchise, a very popular one at that that has had some mixed fortunes along the way (we will get to that later!) With some incredible special effects for the time, that were very revolutionary. Particularly in today’s world, where some movie and movie franchises tend to over rely on special effects to get the thrills the audience desire. The Terminator showed that you can have some great effects, but with a little bit of heart and emotion thrown into the mix as well, it can go a long way to making your movie stand out among the rather large crowd of action movies.  It was a landmark piece of movie making and as the Terminator himself said, in what has now become an immortal line of dialogue; “I’ll be back,” and come back he did, sometimes triumphantly, sometimes not. Yet, the impact of this film remains strong to this day, over three decades since its release, and for that, movie goers everywhere sing James Cameron’s praises.

With some riveting action, ground breaking special effects for the time, a memorable performance from Arnie, and a heartfelt and emotional story to boot,  The Terminator provided a blueprint for how to make a top action movie, and holds up some 30 years after its original release.

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