Sugar and Spite (Alita Battle Angel, 2019)

Alita_Battle_Angel_PosterSet 300 years after all but one “sky city” fell to the earth, Dr. Dyson Ido finds the remains of a cyborg with a still functional human brain. In this future, cybernetic are a part of life, there are many that have cybernetic limbs.  Ido runs a clinic helping the people of the earthbound Iron City that is in the shadow of Zalem. He provides her with a body and when she awakens with no memories, he names her Alita.

Alita soon starts to make friends with locals and grow close to Ido as a parental figure. When she discovers she seems to have incredible combat skills and a bit of taste for action, Ido hopes to keep her from learning too much. Especially when she becomes interested in local boy Hugo. Alita is determined to learn who she is, but also finds that she is facing the threat of local crime lord Vector.

Visually, this is a pretty impressive film, which is not to unexpected from a Cameron connected film. Alita looks pretty lifelike, yet at the same time, her design includes eyes that are slightly too big.  This works for the character and sells that she has an artificial body, yet a very human brain beneath the shell.

On the other hand, there is one character design that just did not work for me, but the character is ion the scene for a very short time…so I cannot really be too bothered.

I really like the chemistry between Waltz and Salazar.  It is very sweet and feels much like a man who is finding a second chance at being a father for someone who may have lived a long time without the love of a parental figure.

The action is very easy to follow, even in high velocity sequences, I never found it confusing.  Again, I am not surprised as director Robert Rodriguez is a skilled director of action.

My biggest criticism is that it feels like that, since they knew they were trying to kick off a franchise, they spent most of the movie establishing there world, and the final half of the story was an afterthought.  It was as if they reached a point and realized they would have a six hour movie, but still needed a certain resolution for the first film. The final part of the film’s story just seems super rushed, including certain character’s arcs.

Alita Battle Angel is not a perfect film, but it is exciting and has some solid emotional beats (especially in the relationship of Ido and Alita).

The Trouble With Boys (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, 2018)

To-All-The-Boys-Ive-Loved-Before-PosterLara Jean lives with her two sisters and dad. Lara Jean lives a rich fantasy life dreaming of the perfect romance.  The love of her life is her close friend Josh…who is dating her older sister Margot. The night before going to college overseas, Margo breaks up with Josh. Now, Lara Jean has dealt with her biggest crushes by writing a love letter that she saved in a box. They are addressed, but never sent (of course). But then, one day, her crushes receive their letters…leaving Lara Jean in a freaked out state.

She wants to avoid Josh, and ends up in a situation where she and an older crush Peter, whom she is over and who recently was dumped by his girlfriend (and Lara’s Bully), create a fake public relationship.  At first they are at odds, doing this for selfish reasons. But as is so often the case, their defenses start to drop around each other the longer the longer relationship goes on. It complicates her relationship to Josh and her family, coming between her and her family’s close connection…especially with Margot.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before breaks no real ground in the romantic comedy genre…and why the end surprised me I am not sure. I mean, maybe the misdirect at the open of the film caused me to leap to the wrong conclusion and this may be a strength of the film.

But in spite of a cliched plot, this is a pretty charming teen film. Lana Condor is both sympathetic and likable as Lara Jean. And really, the whole cast is pretty charming, which allowed me to be less annoyed by the cliches. Lara Jean’s motive for being closed off to people outside her family is understandable, and the family dynamic is effectively sweet.  John Corbett plays her father, and there is a scene where he and Lara have a dinner in a cafe, and he apologizes for not talking about their mother more, that he has let them down with how he dealt with their loss when she died years earlier. And then he shares a story about a date in the same cafe, and telling Lara Jean that he see the same spirit in her.  It is a tender moment between father and daughter that also gives her permission to open up to the world.

This is a sweet film and I genuinely enjoyed it.

Temporary Apocalypse (X-Men: Apocalypse, 2016)

X-Men-Apocalypse-IMAX-posterThere is a scene in X-Men Apocalypse where, as a group of students are leaving Return of the Jedi, Jean Grey states “But we can all agree the third movie is always the worst.”  It is a pretty clear shot at X-Men: The Last Stand.  That was the movie Apocalypse Director Bryan Singer skipped and is pretty widely seen as a disappointment after X2.  Except, whether they realized it or not, the joke is kind of a jinx.

See, X-Men: First Class and X-Men:Days of Future Past?  They were quite good.  They are entertaining and filled with terrific performances and nice use of characters from the vast history of the X-Men Comics.  After the Last stand and the damage done by X-Men Origins: Wolverine the series went back to the beginning.  Introducing us to Young Charles Xavier and Magneto.  McAvoy and Fassbender brought characters we knew as aging leaders to young men trying to make the world a better play, but always coming to odds with how to do that.  Then, in Days of Futures Past, they brought the past and future together, to try and fix the timeline, fixing the flaws of Last Stand and Wolverine.

And this brings us to X-Men Apocalypse.  I was looking forward to it, as it was most of the team that brought us the last two installments.  Yet again, the central focus is the relationship between Xavier (McAvoy), Magneto (Fassbender) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence).  Beast (Nicholas Hoult) retuns, as does Moira Mactaggert (Rose Byrne).  We are also introduced to a younger Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), young Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), young Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), young Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Jubilee (Lana Condor).  Of course, smartly, the film brings back Evan Peters as Quicksilver…and he steals the show a lot…again.

First, the good.  Again, as I said, Quicksilver is just fantastic.  Yeah, he is not really like his counterpart from the comics.  In the comics, he is arrogant, impatient and snippy. This is explained in the comics by Quicksilver essentially seeing life as being a continuous wait at the DMV, at least when he has to move at the rest of the worlds pace.  Evans approach is more of a lighthearted goofball who enjoys and savors his speed.  And it really works.

The performers are good choices.  I like that they kept the faith element for Nightcrawler.  I know his creator never cared for that addition…but I always liked the combo of swashbuckler swordsman Christian who happens to look like a demon.  Setting young Storm in Cairo was a nice touch, acknowledging her history from the comics.  There are a lot of great visuals. And yet…

The story is just a mess.  There is so much going on, so many introductions, characters get lost.  Jubliee, who was a pretty big character in the comics for over a decade is barely a side character.  We never even see her mutant powers in action.   Angel is just a random passerby in the film, for all intents and purposes.  Both he and Psylock (Olivia Munn) get precious little to do and zero character development.  The film routinely feels like it is advertising “There will be a deleted scene on the blu-ray fans!” as it transitions from moment to moment.  Maybe those deleted scenes will make Apocalypse feel threatening.  When some of us expressed concern about the pictures of Apocalypse on Entertainment Weekly’s cover last year, we were told to not assume this was the final look, they will Fix It In Post, so to speak.They did not.  Or at least not enough.  In spite of hiring a terrific actor (Oscar Isaac), Apocalypse just never feels as frightening as the film keeps telling us he is.

And it is clear the film is going for epic.  But it just never feels that way…because the film takes forever to get through it’s big dramatic moments.  There is a sequence that is supposed to be the big Jean Grey moment.  She walks dramatically into battle towards Apocalypse.  There is a standoff going on the mental plane involving the psychic characters…and the film spends a ridiculous amount of time on dramatic shots of Jean Grey walking.  And walking.  And walking.  Instead of being thrilled by a big moment, I was just wanting them to get to the moment.

And there is a dramatic image from the trailers…that turns out to be the filmmakers taking a cue from Superman IV: the Quest for Peace.  The film just shambles along from scene to scene, never feeling coherent or particularly great.  And after the last two films?  A pretty big disappointment.  I mean, it is okay, but it was a real drop after the last two films.  And Deadpool.  It is okay for an X-Men movie means it might be slightly better than the Last Stand.

The Argh of Apocalypse

The X-Men films started off strongly (X-Men was decent, X2 was very strong) faltered in the middle (X3 and X-Men Origins Wolverine were big stumbles),  X-Men:First Class started the films back to a solid footing that X-Men: Days of Future Past continued with.  The Setting in the past helped give the films a sense of purpose.  And as they go into the 80’s with the X-Men: Apocalypse, introducing Apocalypse makes a lot of sense.

In the Marvel comics world, Apocalypse was the first mutant.  He is ancient.  And he looks like this:

x-men-apocalypse-coming-in-2016Entertainment Weekly recently revealed the look of Apocalypse for the film:

ew-x-men-leg-05ApocalypseHeaderAnd it just feels…off.  People slammed it quite harshly.  My own reaction was that it looks like a lame Doctor Who villain or a rejected idea from the Wishmaster franchise.  I mean, maybe there is going to be a barrage of digital yet.  But some folks quickly jumped up to point out that folks complained about Quicksilver and look how that turned out.

And, this is fairly true.  People howled loudly about how awful Quicksilver’s outfit looked.  And yet, Quicksilver was one of the most engaging characters in the film.  His sequence in Days of Future Past was a real standout.

And so, folks are understandably saying, the character could still be awesome.  And true, the performance may turn out to be awesome.  I am not expressing a dissatisfaction with the performer.  But I am rather unexcited about the characters look…and no performance is going to suddenly make it look cool.  I may like the performance and character, but unless there is a lot of post production touch up, I cannot see the character looking less comedic.

As an aside, the inclusion of Jubilee feels odd… Jubilee is really very much an element of the 90s X-Men comics. Yes, she technically first appeared in the 80s.  May of 1989.  The actress seems like a good choice and they do seem to have hit her style near perfectly.

Oh yeah, Moira McTaggert is in this one…if it’s not archival, there is a 20 year jump in time since we last saw her…are they aging Rose Byrne (the character would be pushing 50, if not older)?  And really Entertainment Weekly and Filmmakers…if Scott Summers is a “bad boy” in your film…crap, that is a big misunderstanding of the character.

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