Alita: Battle Angel (2019) – True to the Anime in a Rich World

In my experience, it is bad to adapt anime into live-action films. You either end up with dumpster fires like “Dragonball Z,” or they are passable as with the first “Deathnote” movie. Live-action isn’t friendly to animation, and that runs true in the United States, too. I didn’t think “Beauty and Beast” was good, and I’ve not been a fan of Disney adapting more animation in the same way. Animation has a freedom of form that you don’t get in CGI, or human actors, and that is true here. So the question I ask is, “why did this work for me?” It works because they delved into the lore where the initial anime didn’t. I can see why this was in development hell for a long time, and this time it was worth it.

“Alita: Battle Angel” is a cyberpunk dystopian action film that was adapted from the manga by Yukito Kishiro.The film was directed by Robert Rodriguez (an action director I’m a fan of), and written by James Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis. James Cameron was also a producer, and you can see his care with CGI in this.

Alita is a cyborg seeking to discover her. Her adopted father, Ido, brings her back to “life” upon finding her in the wastes below the last sky city of Zalem years after The Fall, a war that devastated Earth 300 years prior. From here she must face multiple threats as she protects the people she loves.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – Tom Holkenborg does a wonderful job honoring the original anime’s soundtrack. You can hear the “Blade Runner” inspiration, while it also manages to develop a voice and feel of its own. The music captures the sci. fi. epic past, as well as the present desperation of the characters.

The World – The anime touches on a rich world that the live-action film explores more extensively. There are hundreds of years of history. We learn about the war with the Sky Cities, and how Zalem became the last one. We learn about a cyborg military force from Mars, and how they nearly succeed before being defeated. We see the wastes where there is a gladiatorial competition of motorball where the winner of the tournament is rewarded by going to Zalem. I loved this world. It made me want to read the manga, and learn more. I hope this film gets sequels, so they can further explore it.

The Action – The action is amazing. This is a film where you feel every punch. For example, there is a villain who Alita easily beats while defending Ido. He returns later, and it takes all she has to beat him. She loses so much of her cyborg body but fights on. I was never bored during this film. I even thought motorball was handled well, given how they presented the action with so much color, movement and increasing stakes as players tried to kill her. The action is truly one of the most memorable parts of the film.

Ido – Christoph Waltz is wonderful as Ido. He is a scientist, and Hunter-Warrior, exiled from Zalem with his wife, whom his relationship with ended after their daughter was killed. We see him wanting that second chance in Alita as he gives her his daughter’s name. Their arc is him treating her as her own person, and respecting just how powerful she is. She is the protector and he is the “father.” He reactivated her and gave her the cyborg body he was going to give his real daughter. Through a set of Berserker Armor he Ido gives Alita, she discovers her past as a soldier for the United Republics of Mars (URM). Waltz is an award winning actor for a reason and this film is a great example of why.

Alita – Rosa Salazar does a fantastic job as Alita. She is a woman seeking out her past, and also discovering her own humanity as a sentient android. We see her fall in love with and save Hugo, only to later lose him. We see her relationship with her “father” Ido become one of partnership, and family, rather than her being treated like a child. We see her discover what it means to fight the greater fight, as losing Hugo reminds her of the larger fight against Zalem and the man behind the scenes Nova. Nova has been the one manipulating Vector, Ido’s ex-wife Dr. Chiren, and taking all the remains of humans he finds worthy below. You can see why Alita wants to end him, and when she discovers where her fight truly is, it is empowering and also sets up possible sequels.

Implications of the War – From what we can tell the URM lost the war and Earth stayed oppressed by Nova and Zalem. The world of “Alita: Battle Angel” is broken, and the desperation of people makes it so sociopaths like Nova can easily manipulate them into tools he can use to strengthen his city. The war ended but the fact that Alita survives implies that the old way may return, especially if she becomes a uniter of the people below Zalem.

Okay:

Minor Characters – Hugo, Vector, Dr. Chiren and a few others are fine. In the case of Vector, they end up often being possessed by Nova, so we never really learn who Vector is. Dr. Chiren has some good moments with Ido, and her choice to save Hugo is powerful. Ultimately her character underdeveloped. Hugo is okay, I liked him more in the anime because he was a bit more naive. In this film he is more grown up, which makes what he does as a mercenary all the more revolting. He does leave, and it costs him his life, but I felt he needed more development. I didn’t care about him nearly as much as I did Dr. Chiren.

The Promise of Nova – Nova is a powerful force and we know how oppressive Zalem is but we never learn who Nova is. I put him as okay because the mystery gives potential for a compelling backstory, and he could become much more of a threat than he is in this. Edward Norton is extremely talented and plays Nova. There was some missed opportunity in his role. He is a good enough constant threat in the film, and I like that he’s been around since the war with URM. Hopefully his story pays off in sequels.

For any fans of anime or post-apocalyptic cyberpunk sci. fi., this is a film worth checking out. I’ve been wanting to see a solidly good anime adapted to film for some time, and it looks like this time they managed to do it. The acting is solid, the action is great, the story is compelling and it is true to the anime while expanding on it and enriching the world. This film is a great example of adaptation done right.

Final Score: 8.4 / 10

What Happened to Monday (2017): An Amazing Sci. Fi. Thriller That Explores Identity and Human Value

  “What Happened to Monday” is the type of dystopian Science Fiction that I love. It feels like a Philip K. Dick novel, which has lead to some of my favorite films adapted from his work…from “Blade Runner,” “Minority Report” and the original “Total Recall.” The films give us future tech. but also a world that is fascist and dehumanizes it’s population in some way, this film is cut from that same cloth and is executed so well it has become one of my favorites.

The film was directed by Tommy Wirkola, written by Max Botkin and Kerry Williamson and produced by Raffaella De Laurentiis, Fabrice Gianfermi and Philippe Rousselot.

The story takes place in a overcrowded, polluted dystopian future where families can only have one child. When Karen Settman (Noomi Rapace who also plays her daughters) has 7 identical twins her Grandfather Terrance (Willem Dafoe) hides their existence by having them adopt their mother’s identity and pretending to be one person. When Monday goes missing years later it is up to her sister’s to solve the mystery and keep their secret safe.

The Pros: Self and Identity – One of the major themes that the film explores is the issue of identity, given that the 7 sisters have each adopted the identity of Karen Settman and can only be themselves when they are trapped in the house. This leads to some of them to fully embrace the idea of the character and believe they are them, forgetting the day of the week they are as each of them deals with it in different ways by either escaping (Tuesday is a druggy) or embracing their roles outside of the identity of Karen as we have the one always in training to protect and the tech. who is tracking all the events that happen in the search for Monday. Each of them express who they are in different ways and in the end we see how that connection to identity shapes the survivors as there are a few name changes at the end tied to the history of the characters.

Individualism, Collectivism and Human Value – The film starts out showing how global warming has been leading to mass destruction and starvation and the steps the government takes to make sure the overall human population can survive. This is most scene in the one child policy and how C.A.B. takes the siblings when that happens so that they are out of the competition for food. At one point Glenn Close’s character debates with one of the sisters on that very question and points out how if more people had been like their mother the world would be dead given the lack of food. This question is never fully answered and the fallout of the finale leaves things open as far as what will happen to humanity. Glenn Close’s character was a villain whose intentions were good but we see how in going collectivist it misses the point of the value of the individual contrasted with the beginning that showed how individualism taken to the extreme with no thought of the world and future lead to the dystopia in the first place. The film comes out on the side of individualism but given the opening, I believe it leaves things open enough as to what the future of this world and ours hold.

Okay: The 7 Sisters and the Danger of Stock Characters – Noomi Rapace is an amazing actress. We see her play 8 characters, each with different levels of depth. Honestly this film would have worked better as a show as a few of the sisters I couldn’t even place in regards to their motivation, they only existed as a stereotype (the tough woman, etc.) She did give a lot of depth to certain characters though, the greatest being Saturday, Friday. Monday and Tuesday. We can see where their conflict comes from too as Dafoe’s performance as their grandfather is amazing given he is willing to go any length to protect them (if one loses a finger, they all have to if they are continue playing the role of Karen Settman so suspicion will not occur) to keep the lie going, even though that leads to harm to them all and shows just how broken this world and he himself is. Each of the sisters carry that damage with them as well as carrying the lie of Karen Settman, the role each must play during their day of the week. The stock types make the reveal a little predictable at the end but it still managed to surprise me in other ways in regards to who lives and dies when the government is hunting them and in regards to what happened to Monday after she goes missing.

This is a film I highly recommend. I’m staying away from spoilers because it is an easy film to catch, as it is on Netflix currently. I was never bored during this film and the action and ideas kept me waiting to see what would happen next. I don’t know whether it will make my Top 5 at the end of the year, but it is certainly one of my favorite films. Dafoe and Rapace owned the roles they played and the ideas of identity and human value are explored so beautifully through the world and the sisters that I can’t help but recommend this film. This is an original and isn’t based off any prior property. I really want to see more sci. fi.’s of this level of quality in the future, that pull from themes and show the different costs of existence, society and identity.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

 

The Lobster (2016): A Great Concept Film on Relationships That Never Delivers

The Lobster

       “The Lobster” is a film that could have been a favorite film had it been more succinct, knew more clearly what it was trying to say and had cut some of it’s scenes down. It isn’t a bad film but the longer the film went on the less I liked it. It started out great and by the end was merely good. The whole idea of critiquing courtship, love and relationships is really cool, and there was so many ways this film could have worked. Non-spoiler thoughts, it is worth checking out, it just isn’t great, it is only good.

    The film was directed by Yorgos Lanthimos who also was one of the writers and producers. The other co-writer was Ethymis Filippou and the other producers were Ed Guiney, Ceci Dempsey and Lee Magiday.

       The film takes places in a dystopian future in which all people must be in a marriage or else they are transformed into animals. They also hunt the loners a rebel group who lives outside the hotel. The story follows David (Colin Farrell) who finds himself single when his wife leaves him for another man forcing him to find a partner in 45 days or else he’ll be transformed into the animal he chose, a lobster.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is cool and left me with questions…what lead the world to become only run so that marriage is what matters over all else? The idea that people could be transformed into animals is really cool as well and the film does a good job showing that presentation (and leaving the question open if the transformations ever really happened). So there is a lot to like about the world.

The Premise – A person having 45 days to find a partner is a fascist dsystopian world is an interesting one. There is so much you can do with it.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is a beautiful and does a great job giving the film a modern feel but also an older feel too, which is the nature of dystopia. This is the future but has reverted to a twisted version of the past.

The Characters – The characters are interesting and most of them manage to be 3 Dimensional even though their names present them as concepts.

Lisping Man – John C. Reilly is good at non-comedic roles! In this he plays the Lisping Man who is insecure because of his lisp and wants to fit in to the group. He is punished for masturbating at one point and has to put his hand in the toaster when it is turned on. It is implied he is changed into an animal as he would have been punished after David steals his stuff when he hunting David after David has become a loner.

Hotel Manager – Olivia Coleman makes a wonderful villain. She is empathetic and harsh and in the end meets her own tragic end when her husband claims to love her but shows he will shoot her if it means his survival, destroying their relationship which was the plot of the Loner’s Leader.

Heartless Woman – The Heartless Woman is a great antagonist as she kills David’s dog that belonged his brother and we see her cruel to all those around her. She is transformed at the end so is given a just end.

Loner Leader – The Loner Leader is driven to destroy all relationships (except her parents). I never got her motivation as it seems her and the Maid are together at one point, but then she kills her to keep control over the Short Sighted Woman…I liked her as a character but her lack of motivation was a con.

the Maid – I liked the Maid. She saves David from the Hotel and works with the Loners, even though their leader has the Short Sighted Woman kill her to keep control over the Short Sighted Woman. I got her motivation though, she was in an abusive relationship that society kept her in, the Loners were her out.

Short Sighted Woman – Rachel Weisz is a good actress and is pretty intense in this where she communicates in commands at first but grows to have communication through eyes and hand signals with David when they are getting around the Loner rules about no relationships. She is blinded by the Loner Leader at one point which leads David to rescuing. I hated that she had her agency taken away and never had a name as she was the one telling the story and is set up to be David’s equal.

David – Colin Farrell is a pretty fantastic actor. In this he is a bigger awkward guy who doesn’t get people but shows he will do anything to have connection and to survive…to a point. At the end we never know if he stabs his eyes with the butcher’s knife to stab his own eyes out so he and the Short Sighted Woman can be blind together.

When Commonality Leaves in Relationship – All the relationships are based on past commonality or false commonality (one person creates bloody noses on himself so he can be with a girl who actually has that problem). I think that is the need for connection and how commonality is that first step. This plays it to it’s absurdest conclusion.

The Awkwardness of Courtship – The awkward courtships show how people will work in any social environment no matter how unhealthy (the loners and the hotel) to find and be with someone and how it is awkward within the confines of communication allowed and on the dependence of commonality in order to communicate.

The Cons: The Pacing – The pacing was all over the place. Some scenes lingered way too long, at one point after the Hotel it feels like it should be over and other scenes are short like when the Short Sighted Woman and David get together. This film needed a better editor.

The Ending – Does he cut out his eyes or not? If they want to leave it ambiguous, why not when he escapes the Hotel since the Short Sighted Woman serves no purpose within her own agency.

The Narrator – The narrator interjections from the Short Sighted Woman were annoying at times. I kept looking for the character but she doesn’t actually appear for a long time.

The Short Sighted Woman’s Story  and Dis-empowerment of a Lead – This character is made blind and everything she does is for David. At times it looks like she wants to escape because she has a desire to do so but that stops after she is blinded. She is someone who has been out in the wilderness a lot longer, she deserved to have more of an identity that didn’t revolve around David.

   This was a good film but the cons eventually overwhelmed everything else. A more powerful concept film could have achieved the same purpose in a lot less time. A perfect ending would have been him escaping the hotel and leaving the rest up to mystery as even the Short Sighted Woman is never given name, even though she is the narrator and seems to be set up as a main character when we see that she is a loner and can give that perspective…that never happens though because she is more concerned telling David’s story, and as great of job as Colin Farrell does, detached characters can only give so much before they become boring. His character eventually suffers from this due to pacing. I would still recommend this film though, for what it is, it is worth checking out.

Final Score: 8.3 / 10