Battle Angel Alita (1993): Identity, Desperation and a World in Which I Wanted to Know More

    It has been a while since I’ve reviewed an anime, but I figured with “Battle Angel Alita” out I should better educate myself on the world before going in, which lead me to the OVA/Film that was made in 1993. It has been some time since I’ve reviewed an anime and I’m glad I went back to the 90s. The animation is simply stunning and the story is a brutal cyberpunk world with stakes. This story reminded me why I enjoy anime as an art and storytelling form in the first place, and just how much I miss hand drawn animation. I want this art form to come back. Hand drawn work is so underrated. The “Battle Angel Alita” anime is based on the manga by Yukito Kishiro and after watching this film I may have to check it out.

The film was directed by Hiroshi Fukutomi and supervised by Rintaro with the story written by Akinori Endo.

The film follows a Hunter Killer named Ido who finds an android in a Zalem (the floating city above) scrap heep and rebuilds her to be his daughter. He names her Gally and the story follows her relationship with the scavenger Yugo as well as clashing with her father as she wants to become a Hunter Killer and wrestles with her unknown past as she faces off against threats from Ido’s past and Yugo’s present.

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – Kauro Wada was the perfect artist for creating a soundtrack for this anime. He is able to create electronic reflection and also tension before and during fights. It reminds of me Vangelis’s “Blade Runner.” Both of these artists tap into the desperation of our characters but also their own disconnect as they face impossible situations. Cyberpunk naturally goes with electronic I think. I have yet to see a film that wasn’t at least competent. I also haven’t sought out awful cyberpunk films. I am also certain they exist.

The Animation – The animation is brutal. There is quite a bit of blood from whenever a character kills another. This works. I wouldn’t say it gratuitous because it fits the brutal cyberpunk dystopian world it takes place in. I also love the 90’s animation. You can see all the emotions in a character’s face, which in my experience you don’t always get with the going for stoic minimalist anime. This is a beautiful designed anime, even though it is unfinished in the story.

The Action – The action is brutal. Everything that happens has consequences. We see multiple heroes, villains and random people experience brutal deaths. This is the definition of dystopia and we aren’t hidden from that. The action lingers on kills as whichever character who is witnessing it has it sink in. The film is under an hour but every action that happens gives you time to take in what happens and what loss the character is facing. It is part of what makes this anime good.

Gally – In the just English dub this Alita. The dub I listened to kept her name as Gally so I’ll be using that in this review. She is one of the strongest parts of the story. She is seeking meaning in not knowing her past but also finding reasons to fight and to live. She goes against her “father” Ido to become a Hunter Killer, she loves and loses and she never stops fighting and growing. There is a reason the anime takes her name because drives the story. I wish it could have gotten more, as after the live-action her backstory is fascinating but the anime gives none of that rich lore.

Ido – Ido is her mentor, father and a Hunter Killer. He is the distant father dealing with baggage through most of the film but we see him open up at the end. This was a man cast from paradise/Zalem and the character we meet hasn’t accepted that fully. This is all me reading into his actions, but I don’t think he would have backed up Gally in the end if some part of him didn’t want to return home, especailly after the loss of his love when she was seeking the same thing. We don’t see him express it but the implantation is there is him wanting to return back, at least for revenge for what they did to the person he cared about most besides Gally.

Okay:

Yugo – Yugo is our love interest and I like how his naivety works. He thinks that his stealing cyborg parts will get him to Zalem, when a theme is no one can really get there. He loses his body and hte person he loves because of his obsession with this dream. I’m putting him as okay as the love story was a little fast and I didn’t see the dilemma of him being split between Gally and Zalem. That choice of choosing Gally before he dies should have meant so much more. The dub was good though. I believed he was the idealistic kid in love wanting a better life.

Vector – Vector is the main baddy and he is brutal but we never get who he is working for. Who is paying him? Is he just conning people and that is it? None of these questions are truly answered because the story is less than an hour long. He truly deserved more development. Not a con because at least he was developed enough that I got why people trusted his charm.

The Cons:

Unexplained Zalem – Zalem is never explained. It is implied a civilization might be up there, but in the dub I watched it was vague enough that the defenses could be automated. This was bad storytelling. A clear answer would have given so much more development to Yugo and Vector at the very least. The city is always present in scenes of the cityscape and is the climax of the film but in the end it doesn’t mean anything. This really hurt the overall story.

Gally’s Unknown Past – We never learn who Gally is, not a hint or anything. There was no point to this as even some detail would have given her complexity in the choices she makes beyond being a good person. Ido hints at knowing more but we never learn who she was before she was found in the trash heap. I say this as someone who thought she was one the strongest parts of this hour long long story. The main character needs some deeper development at least. Jason Bourne got more of that in his first film.

For fans of 90’s anime you should check this film out. For how much it is underdeveloped in regards to Gally’s past it gives Ido and the character dreams and conflict in the present a good exploration. This film made me see the live-action adaption, which will be a future review. Besides the animation and action, it worth seeing it for the world the characters inhabit and how they interact with it. This cyberpunk dystopian is brutal and the fact that our characters can choose to be good or are good means something. In this world choices have consequences that give weight to the characters.

Final Score: 8 / 10 Solidly good anime, worth your time.

 

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The “Mad Max” Films – Worst to Best

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        It’s been a while since “Fury Road” appeared in theaters but I’ve been meaning to do my rating of the “Mad Max” Franchise from best to worst, so no time like the present to do so. Even at it’s lowest, this is a franchise that is fun. It brings madness to the apocalypse and the stories that Max witnesses are interesting, even if I don’t always like them. I’m grateful that George Miller brought this franchise back and I can’t wait to see what other films he makes in this insane universe. So without further ado, here are my ratings of the “Mad Max” films from worst to best, with summaries and a link to my full reviews.

Mad Max Poster

4th) Mad Max

   The first “Mad Max” film is excessive and feels incomplete. It starts out with a car chase that goes on way too long and the main villain Toecutter was never all that scary. I get that this started the Franchise but I truly hate this film. It feels like a concept idea that was done lazily, and as we witness later, George Miller was and is capable of so much better. There is no reason to watch this film in my opinion, unless you want a lesson on how not to make a film. Practical stunts aren’t enough to carry a film, be it action or otherwise. The action is stupid and our characters do nothing of consequence except dying in some cases, but we are given no reason to be invested in them, leading this to be one of the worst films I’ve watched.

Final Score: 3 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2014/11/11/mad-max-1979-stupid-action-with-no-interesting-characters/

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

3rd) Max Mad 3: Beyond Thunderdome

  “Beyond Thunderdome” is a film that has a lot of good ideas but due to the tone being all over the place isn’t one I can entirely recommend. My thoughts have changed in regards to Tina Turner’s Lady Entity and I like the idea of her character not wanting to kill Max, I just wish we had seen that more. This is a film that wants to be Stephen Spielberg (Wild Kids that Max needs to rescue, adventure music, etc.) but doesn’t really work due to the nature of how dark this universe is. The tone was what got me the most about this and I wish it had chosen to be consistently fun or consistently dark with double dealings and betrayal. Throwing both in made it a confused mess, even though it does still manage to be fun.

Final Score: 7 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/05/17/mad-max-beyond-thunderdome-1985-power-plays-and-safeguarding-the-future/

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2nd) Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

    “The Road Warrior” is a great film. It has a fantastic villain in Lord Humungus who is the Ayotallah of Rock and Rolla and it really sets the tone for this post-apocalyptic world as a village with gas is being harrassed by Lord Humungus and Max is pulled into helping them, even though he doesn’t want too. It has some of the best action, a great villain and in the end captures the idea of Max being a symbol of stories from the Wasteland as the film is recounted by the Feral Child who later becomes the leader of the survivors and recounts how they betray Max after he helps them escape.

Final Score: 9 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/05/17/mad-max-2-the-road-warrior-1981-discovering-the-reason-to-fight-for-humanity/

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1st) Mad Max: Fury Road

  “Fury Road” might be my favorite film of 2015 and is easily one of my all time favorite films. This is a film that has a great villain in Immortan Joe and his cult of death, Max and the characters around him are seeking freedom and redemption as Theron’s Furiousa frees Joe’s birthing wives and attempts to get them to her home of old that is ruled by old Matriarchs. The cinematography and action are beautiful and it has a message that is powerful showing how rigid systems of patriarchy can be stopped and changed by those who are a part of it (Furiousa, the wives, Nux) challenging it. We also see a soldier get past his conditioning (Nux) and find meaning in life beyond violence and death as his arc really illustrates the power of this story. I can’t recommend this film enough.

Final Score: 10 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/05/22/mad-max-fury-road-2015-healing-redemption-and-actions-that-matter-in-a-world-gone-insane/

    This is a universe that is so much fun and within it you can find deep stories filled with action in stories like “Fury Road,” fun adventures in films like “Beyond Thunderdome” and great nihilistic action  and betrayal in films like “Road Warrior.” Within the wasteland there are countless stories to be told and still to be told and through the eyes Max we will no doubt see more come to the screen. I will be surprised if any future installments surpass “Fury Road” but they don’t have to. This is a Universe that George Miller loves, and as long as I keep seeing that love in his films, I will be there to witness those stories.

Terminator Franchise Retrospect Reviews

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    This is the summer of franchises and this being a movie blog is giving me a chance to explore some of the biggest science fiction franchises, as science fiction is one of my passions. I’m not going to lie that the whole idea of franchises is a bit troublesome. If a story never dies it will eventually run it’s course and run out of ideas. This is one of that the MCU has to worry about especially now too, as it doesn’t matter how many new characters you introduce if the same plots keep getting recycled. But I am not here to rail on franchises as I am at least interested enough to explore “The Terminator Franchise” and later on the “Jurassic Park Franchise” before I see “Terminator Genisys” and “Jurassic World.”

    This Post-Apocalyptic world is a fascinating one, even if the A.I.’s destroying humanity is a tad of an overused trope. In regards to popular culture this franchise started the trope in the public mind and film, which other films would use later. It is also noteworthy for having one of the greatest female action heroes in Sarah Connor.

       This week is going to be focused on the “Terminator Franchise” that James Cameron spawned in the 1980s. In the past I have seen “The Terminator” and a while back “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” was a  favorite film, I am curious if it will still hold up. I have not seen “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” or “Terminator Salvation” yet, but because I am doing this blog will give them a fair hearing to see if they are as terrible as the critics were saying or simply enjoyable as some of my friends said when the films first came out.

       This will be a chance to explore some of the tropes of the series and the characters of Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor, especially since “Genisys” is giving us a whole new approach. I will not be reviewing “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” as I just want to stick to the films for this week. I do plan on coming back to the show at some point and giving it episodic review or a review of the series as a whole, or both…depending on how it catches my interest and what people want to see.

     Until that time, I’ll be back with reviews of the films in “The Terminator Franchise” before I end on “Genisys” and rate them from worst to best.

Delicatessen (1991): A Surreal Exploration of the Desperate and the Strange

JDelicatessen poster

     “Delicatessen” is a great surrealist French film. The film by the directors’ own omissions said it was inspired by Terry Gilliam, and you definitely get that feel as Gilliam’s work is extremely surreal.  But, because it’s surreal it does make it a little harder to review, especially as the story functions as an ensemble story, so a few arcs get lots in the process of the exploration of different characters. This is the only thing that keeps the film from being great since the rest is very solid.

    “Delicatessen” was directed by Marco Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet who also wrote the screenplay along with Gilles Adrian and produced by Claudie Ossard.

     The story takes place in post-apocalyptic France in a rundown apartment where the Butcher (Jean-Claude Dreyfus) sends a call out for help and kills whomever arrives in order to feed the tenants and keep the peace. Things change though when the former clown Louison (Dominique Pinon) arrives and the Butcher Clapet, his daughter Julie (Marie-Laure Dougnac) and tenants become charged by Louison, causing tension to rise as each knows that they all still need to eat and worry that the Butcher will choose them instead.

The Pros: The World – The apartment that the story takes place in has a wonderful dark humor to it. Everyone there has been driven mad by the world ending and it comes out in different ways…From a man harassing a woman to make her think she hears voices, to a deaf woman walking around with cans tied to her so she can be found, to the newest tenant who is a clown and the fact that most of them are cannibals. There are also the Troglodistes who are vegetarians living underground who take on missions for people who may them in corn.

The Humor – There are some great comedic moments in this film. From the butcher having sex and the springs springing in time to Louison painting and other people working around the apartment building. There is also a moment where it looks like Louison has been be-headed but you soon learn he was just preparing for a performance he was going to put on (made all the more ironic in how most people there want to eat him).

Cinematography – This film is beautiful in how it was filmed. The scenes are desolate and dark while at the same time keeping true to the name. Red is a common color showing that the Butcher is the one who keeps the peace and does it by murder and the tenants eating his kills. Even in desolation there is hope though as seen by how the Louison and Julie relationship is portrayed, showing romance in the dark. Darius Khondji did a great job.

The Butcher – Jean-Claude Dreyfus plays a wonderful mad man who reminded me so much of Sweeney Todd. He is a man who has embraced his madness but still has some good in him deeply buried. Sadly we only see that good in relation to his daughter but all that changes when he gives into social pressure to kill Louison, which in the end leads to him killing himself accidentally in his attempt to kill Louison. This was a tough role to do as he has to be terrifying and sympathetic, just like Sweeney Todd.

Louison – This actor was also in “Amelie” and Dominique Pinon was perfect in this role. He isn’t attractive but he is adorable and his face is the perfect face for a clown, as he has a wide mouth and his head is a little big. This in turn fits with the surrealist feel of the apartment and time and time again he shows the world around him kindness even when he rarely receives any. He is kind, though doesn’t think things through. We see his kindness in creating soap bubbles for the kids in the apartment and how he’ll listen to anyone but how he isn’t all that aware that everyone is a cannibal for the most part and when the mistress asks him to dance he does it without thinking about Julie which leads to Julie walking in on them. Regardless, he is a complex character and a fun character to watch.

Julie – Julie is shy but can be hard and driven when she needs to be. She is the only one who stands up to her father and is the one who tries to save Louison. She is haunted by what her father does and wants to live in a different world. Her greatest escape is through music and she is talented in it as well as being a much more active agent than Louison who is passive. Marie-Laure Dougnac is fantastic!

The Romance – Jean Pierre-Jeunet is one of my favorite directors and one of the few who can pull of romances well. He did it in “Amelie” and he does it here with Julie and Louison. They are both innocent in their own way and figuring things out as romance is so new to both of them. They act (Julie on her Cello, Louison as the clown) as a way to connect to themselves and others and from this their romance blossoms as they have respect for one another too. This is powerful and ends with Julie seeking to Troglodistes to save Louison from her father.

The Troglodistes – The Trogs are great. They are also insane, but good and run like a military operation who great fear the landdwellers as they live in the sewers. They have some great scenes with Julie and we see how desperate they are for supplies when she convinces them by telling them her father has corn in his room. This is enough to convince them to save Louison. They are the only good humans in this world besides Julie and Louison too.

The Flood and Final Scene – When the Butcher and tenants are trying to kill Louison he ends up flooding the bathroom and when the door is open all the water washes away the people trying to get to himself and Julie. It’s a great scene that symbolizes the washing away of the old mentality…and in the end there is a new beginning after the Butcher is gone as Julie and Louison play music on top of the apartment building.

Okay: The Other Tenants – Most of the other tenants don’t feel fleshed out. There is the working class guy whose grandmother gets eaten, the man who makes devices that create animal sounds (he is the one harassing the mad woman) and his son and also the mistress of the Butcher. None of them really change though, which is why I can’t put them as a pro. They are unique characters, but in an ensemble show characters must change to keep it interesting. Even surrealist stories still need an arc for their characters of some kind.

The Cons: Plot Holes – At one point the Butcher is thinking about redemption and how circumstances made him what he is based of what he heard Louison telling Julie. This is never picked up again and the next time he’s trying to kill Louison. The other major plot hole is Julie sees Louison dancing with the Mistress, but they never address it. Both these issues are never touched on again which makes the ending and final fight come on suddenly. This was a major con as they could have gone somewhere, the movie wasn’t long so this wasn’t left out due to lack of time.

     This was a really good film that I definitely recommend. It does have issues, like the plot holes but it is still a very fun ride and the cinematography and strangeness of the tenants make for some wonderful experiences. Jean-Pierre Juenet has done it again and after seeing this I want to see more of his films and more of the surrealist films from France and elsewhere in the world. This film was beautiful, even with the plot hole issues and it is worth checking out.

Final Score: 9 / 10. Solidly great in the end.