Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Hellboy (2019)

Hellboy (2019)

Director: Neil Marshall 

Cast: Dave Harbour, Milla Jovovich, Ian McShane

I have never cared for Rotten Tomatoes, like at all. They’ve been doing this thing where they’ll post an article based on the Rotten Tomatoes score saying such and such a movie has such a low Rotten Tomatoes score.  You know what I say to that? Who cares? More than once they have done that sort of thing, then I see the movie they have trashed and I end up enjoying it. So it’s getting to the point where if Rotten Tomatoes says a movie is going to be bad or has a low score, I immediately feel like I will more than likely like it. And I’m not just talking out of my caboose, I just saw Hellboy (2019) a film that Rotten Tomatoes and apparently the rest of the internet decided they were going to hate and I ended up having a blast with it. So let’s get that out of the way, this remake was fun as hell. It ain’t perfect, but it sure as hell wasn’t “worst film of the year” or “cinematic pond scum” as they were calling it. 

Hellboy is all about this evil witch who was so evil they cut her up into a million pieces and scattered her pieces throughout the land so that no one could put her back together again. You see, she’s so evil they chopped of her head and it still lives! Kind of like Vigo The Carpathian in Ghostbusters II (1989)? Anyhow, you just know someone is going to find all the pieces and resurrect her. This evil Blood Queen has world destroying aspirations and at the same time she’s looking for her King and she’s got her eye on good old Hellboy. Meanwhile, Hellboy is having he’s usual existential dilemas. Is he good? Is he evil? Is he meant to destroy the world or save it?

 The problem with this movie is that everyone is coming ready to rip it a new one, they are not even considering giving it a chance. Why? Because it’s not Guillermo del Toro directing, because it’s not Ron Perlman playing Hellboy, because there’s no Abe Sapien. But you know what, I’m fine with someone else directing because even though I love Del Toro’s movies, and I love his appreciation for all things horror and Lovecraft, I’m not a huge fan of his schmaltzy, over sentimental side. You know how he always manages to turn any one of his movies, even if its horror into a big old romance thing? Crimson Peak (2015) and the Hellboy movies are a great example of this. And to be honest, the romance between Hellboy and Liz never felt real to me, it felt forced. The good thing about Neil Marshall’s take on Hellboy is that it has none of that. It’s more of a horror film.

And in that sense, it is more faithful to Mike Mignola’s comic books, which have always been completely immersed in horror. Actually, this movie gets bonus points in my book for going into Hellboy's true origins about his real mother and father! No one had done that before. The cool thing about this movie is that it kind of takes all the different monsters we’ve seen throughout Mignola’s comics and incorporates them into one bombastic love letter to horror! We get witches, zombies, warlocks, the end of the world, giants, pig monsters, Baba Yaga, cannibalism…you name it, it’s in there. So the film is never boring. You can’t blame Guillermo del Toro for making his films romantic, because it’s part of  what makes a Del Toro film a Del Toro film, just like you can’t blame Neil Marshall for incorporating elements of King Aurthur and the Knights of the Roundtable into his films. I remember seeing Neil Marshall’s post-apocalyptic film Doomsday (2008) (now there’s a bad film!) and thinking why would he squeeze knights and horses into this movie? They just felt so out of place in a post apocalyptic film. And now he has also done it in Hellboy and I realize its his thing. Just like all directors have “their thing”, which they do in all their movies. On Hellboy, Marshall somehow found a way to incorporate Excalibur and Merlin into the story. Like I said, everything but the kitchen sink here. Is that a good or a bad thing? Depends. Do you like your movies fast paced? I personally dug the whole Excalibur angle to the movie. 

 Then there’s the issue of David Harbour; sure he aint Ron Perlman, from day one Harbour had huge shoes to fill. Did he pull it off? Well, I have to tell you guys that he is pretty much the same character. He is playing Hellboy. I really didn’t feel that big difference from Perlman to Harbour. Except that in some scenes it looks like Hellboy’s gained a couple of pounds. So I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with Harbour’s take on the character, I think he did a fine job. What does take a bit of getting used to is Hellboy’s new look. He looks slightly different, but no big deal either. The icing on the cake is Milla Jovovich as the Blood Queen, a new addition to the Hellboy universe. She makes a decent villain, one that attempts to acquire Hellboy’s affections. 

 Finally another awesome thing about this remake is that it has substantial gore and special effects. There’s this awesome scene in which Hellboy fights these giants that looks amazing, a show stopper, very interesting camera work going on in those scenes. There’s lots of decapitations, lots of bodies being ripped apart, I mean this movie really does earn its hard ‘R’ rating. This movie is certainly NOT for kids, just saying. So bottom line, I don’t get the hatred. It’s almost like ‘they’ don’t want you to see this movie, which obviously means you should. Powers that be don’t like horror films, have you noticed how much they’ve changed through the years? Have you noticed what is allowed and marketed in Hollywood? It’s films that make you want to go to church! If it’s about a demon who gets beaten by reading from the bible or by waving a cross at it, then the film is green lit! The Nun and The Conjuring come to mind. Hellboy goes against all that. This film goes against the grain, so of course, its going to get the hatred. I mean here we have a film that’s getting a huge theatrical release, and it’s a film in which a demon from hell is the hero of the picture! My conspiracy theory with this one is that this is why it’s being lambasted by the “critics”. Worst part is that a lot of the bashing happened even before the film was released? I mean, people who are saying its garbage are just going with the media, which apparently doesn’t want you to lose your faith or take it lightly. So anyways, is there anything negative I can say about this movie? Um, let’s see…it was fast paced? Story was a little generic? That’s about it? Too bad people tend to go with whatever crappy article they see posted on the internet. Oh wait, this movie has a kick ass rock and roll soundtrack, no wait that's a good thing. For a fun night at the movies, you can do a lot, lot worse than this. I say go have a hell of a time!  

Rating 4 out of 5 

Saturday, April 13, 2019

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (2019)

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (2019)

Director: Terry Gilliam 

Cast: Adam Driver, Jonathan Pryce 

If you look at the repertoire of films in director Terry Gilliam’s career, you’ll see that a lot of his films have a Quixote quality to them. Many of his films deal with a man who escapes to fantasy worlds in order to avoid the harshness of the real one. For example, in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989), the aging Baron Munchausen calms a war torn town with his tall tales of fantasy and mayhem same as Quixote’s tall tales. Like Don Quixote, the Baron rides a horse wields a sword and fights fantastical creatures. Like Quixote, the Baron gets old when life grows stagnant and only adventure brings him to life! The Baron and Quixote are always avoiding death…from old age…or simply having death itself (read: the grim reaper) literally chasing you around. They are both in love with the “beautiful ladies”. And that’s not the only Quixote like example in Gilliam’s career, Jonathan Price’s character in Brazil (1985) is also a man who escapes into fantasy. In his fantasies he sees himself (much like Quixote) as an armor wearing sword wielding warrior, fighting giant buildings that emerge from the ground…similar to how Quixote has to fight windmills who are “giants”. 

 So yeah, Quixote has always been very close to Gilliam’s heart. And it makes all the sense in the world, because after all, isn’t Gilliam like Quixote himself? A man avoiding the horrors of boring old reality by escaping into his fantasy films? Fighting the giant windmills of Hollywood and life to make his films? I’ve always appreciated Gilliam’s defense of the great escape, the importance in our lives for storytelling, the beauty of theater, the comedic tragedy that is life. It’s one of the reasons I personally connect with director Terry Gilliam’s films and the overall message of his films. They are against reality and all for high adventure and bewilderment! His films are for the zany, crazy part of life as well, how we shouldn’t take things so damn seriously. His films have a feel of someone who wants to amaze and entertain you with the many possibilities of pure fantasy. Of escapism of the highest caliber. 

 Which is why I appreciate The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (2019) and how it got made. I mean, here’s a film that Gilliam at one point attempted to make but failed. It’s such a sad tale, yet such an amazing one at the same time. A documentary was shot of the whole thing called Lost in La Mancha (2002) and it’s just mind-blowing. Here’s my review for it, read it and find out why it’s such an amazing experience to see. But in a nutshell, everything went wrong that first time Gilliam attempted to make this film in Spain back in 2000. The actor who was going to play Don Quixote got a back pain and couldn’t ride his horse, a storm destroyed all the sets, millions were lost and all for nothing because quite literally, Gilliam pulled the plug on the film. He gave up on it. Or did he? Thanks to the folks at Amazon, he finally got the chance to make the film. It’s been 25 years in the making so this film is kind of a miracle! 

Here's a picture of Gilliam, on location with Jean Rochefort; Gilliam's choice for Quixote in the first attempt at making this film. Gilliam's face on this pic says a thing or two about what a grueling experience that first attempt was. 

 Was it worth all the pain? The answer is a resounding yes! It’s Gilliam going back to his roots, to that pure fantasy escape, but told in a closer way to Gilliam’s true inspiration in his career: Cervante’s Don Quixote. Of course, this isn’t the Gilliam of the 80’s who would get 60 million dollars to make The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989), this is Gilliam on a tight budget. I’m sure this film could have been made with more special effects…to bring that fantasy to life, but it’s not.  This is a slightly restrained Gilliam in terms of going nuts with special effects. We do get one fun moment in which ‘Quixote’ fights with three giants which is gloriously good, it reminded me of what Gilliam loved to do in the 80’s, it brought to mind that giant that comes out of the ocean with a pirate ship on his head from Time Bandits (1981). And there’s little things here and there throughout the whole film that will remind you of previous Gilliam films, loved that about it. 

 When directors hit their mature years, they tend to make films that are deeper and more profound and not so focused on pure spectacle, and this is that type of film. It’s not special effects left and right, it’s a more character driven tale about this self-centered film director that reconnects with an actor he made his first film with, the film he made is called The Man Who Killed Do Quixote. The actor believes he is Don Quixote and at times, you believe it. Maybe he is? Who knows. That’s for you to decide. But the film once again hits one Gilliam’s favorite themes, fantasy vs. reality. The fear of death and the wanting to live life with an adventurous spirit or die trying. It’s all told from a very meta perspective in the sense that it is a film about filmmaking, the frustrations and the pleasures of being a creative mind. How making a film is a true struggle. 

 I loved this movie for many things, among them that shift between fantasy, memory and dream world, then back to reality. That code switching between worlds is excellent and vintage Terry Gilliam territory. So this is basically like Gilliam’s life thesis, encapsulating everything his learned about life and filmmaking and giving it to us. It’s such a pity that the film is actually going through legal issues (the struggle continues!) and it could only be shown one day in a few theaters…I was lucky to see it on the 42ndStreet Regal Theater in New York. I was kind of hoping he was in the audience…because it’s a one-night event and it was New York. I could have sworn I heard his peculiar Terry Gilliam laugh at one point...I swear he was watching it with the audience. Or was it a fantasy in my mind? I’ll never really know. Final take on Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is that its Gilliam going back to his roots. It has a lot of what made Brazil and Adventures of Baron Munchausen great, but on a smaller budget and more focused on story and performances. Adam Driver and Jonathan Pryce deliver amazing performances and make the film that much more pleasurable. Glad to see Gilliam is still making great films. Through Gilliam, Cervante’s heart and spirit beat fierce and free still!  

Rating: 4 out of 5 

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Crimewave (1985)

Crimewave (1985)

Director: Sam Raimi

Writers: Joel & Ethan Coen, Sam Raimi

So you guys know how there are certain films that have nightmarish production stories, where everything goes wrong and they turn into total fiascos? Well, that’s what happened with Sam Raimi’s Crimewave. This was Sam Raimi’s film after he showed the world what he was capable of doing behind the camera with Evil Dead (1981). This was also the first time that Raimi worked with a real budget. Not money from his dentist or from his friends. Nah, this was a real true blue Hollywood production, with professional actors and producers. Would Raimi adapt to working in a studio production when he was so used to artistic freedom? Would the ensuing film be worth watching? 

This is like a long lost gem for me because I watched it a lot as a kid when it was first released. I discovered it because HBO played it a lot back in 1985. Sad part is that Crimewave is a film that everyone involved wanted to forget about. The studio didn’t like it, test audiences didn’t like, the studio decided that Bruce Campbell wasn’t big enough of a star to star in the film and to top things off, the film went over budget and had a couple of the actors  go on drug binges. Brion James and Louise Lasser would hault production because of their drug problems! So yeah, things didn’t go well for Raimi and Crimewave. Thing is, I think the way the film was treated was total boloney. This film is not without its merits!

The story is about this guy called Vic Ajax, a regular every day Joe. Sadly, this every day Joe gets blamed for a bunch of murders that these two crazy rat exterminators committed. Yes you read that sentence right. Anyhows, Vic is sitting in the electric chair about to get zapped away for crimes he did not commit. The film transpires as he tells us the story of how everything went down. Will he survive? Will his innocence shine through? Will someone save this poor dope?

What I absolutely love about this movie is the film noir feel it has all throughout. There isn’t a second of film on Crimewave where you don’t feel like you’re in this big, dark, lonely metropolis in which lots of evil things happen in every dark corner or alley. To make things even spookier, it’s always stormy and windy…a lightning storm is about to strike! The wind cries in the middle of the night and newspapers fly through the air, it is definitely not the kind of night anyone wants to be out and about. So there’s always that feeling of dread all throughout the movie. The city exudes this feeling of emptiness…as if everyone is hiding away, looking out through their windows, peeking at the evil things scourging in the night; kudos to Sam Raimi for successfully maintaining that feeling of dread all through the film.  

And yes, I said Sam Raimi, he of Evil Dead and Spider Man fame. You see, this here film was his sophomore effort and his first studio film, with a budget. The great thing about Crimewave is that it has all of that Sam Raimi style and flare. Lots of camera tricks, lots of movement and lots of composite shots…basically, this movie has a lot of what I love about Sam Raimi, a lot of what I miss about this filmmaker. You see, when he became an A list director, he sort of lost that zany style he was so known for in order to play the Hollywood game. I personally loved low budget Sam Raimi because he was free to do all these crazy things with the camera. Thankfully,  Crimewave was a small enough picture that it allowed Raimi to show off his comic/kinetic style in spades! In other words, this movie is extremely cartoonish and feels a lot like a Three Stooges sketch. The whole film is made up of camera tricks, unorthodox angles and cartoony situations. 

All the characters in Crimewave behave like cartoon characters. We got the snake, we got the nerdy guy, we got the damsel in distress and we got the two crazy villains! Now these two crazy villains are special, they are so over the top that they end up being the real stars of the show. There’s a reason why they are on the poster, it’s because they are the best thing in the movie! One is played by Paul L. Smith who some of you might remember as the guy who played Bluto in Robert Altman’s Popeye (1980) and the other is played by Brion James, better known for his role as Leon the Replicant in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982). He’s the guy who tells Harrison Ford “Wake Up! Time to Die!”  So anyway, these two guys are basically rat exterminators. And how do we know this? They drive a truck with a huge rat on top of it that’s how we know! They kill rats during the day but work nights as Hit Men. So they kill whoever they have to kill in the same way they kill rats! With a machine that generates bolts of electricity called ‘The Shocker’! Trust me; these two guys will have you cracking up.

Bruce Campbell has said that with Evil Dead they learned all about success and that with Crimewave they learned how to fail. Well, the film might have failed at the box office (hell it was only released in Kansas and Alaska) and the studio might have had no faith in it, but there’s a lot to like here. It was written by the freaking Coen Brothers and Sam Raimi! It has style and fun to spare! Its film noir! It’s cartoonish! It’s dark and gruesome fun; this is dark humor of the best kind. Of course a lot of people might be put off by seeing some of the unrealistic cartoonish action, but for lovers of that sort of unrealistic silly fun, well, you’re in for a treat! This movie was made for you! It’s a real shame that Crimewave has been treated like some sort of unwanted step child. I mean, yeah the studio messed around with it and cut it to pieces, still, a fun film shines through. A similar situation happened with David Lynch’s Dune (1984) and many adore that film, myself included; same thing with Crimewave. This is a very kinetic film, visually, you will never be bored. There’s always some gag going on. It might have been a nightmare to make, but it sure is a pleasure to watch. Enjoy this forgotten gem, you won’t regret it.

Rating: 4 out of 5  

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Captain Marvel (2019)

Captain Marvel (2019)

Directors: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck

Cast: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Jude Law, Annette Bening

Captain Marvel is an anticipated superhero film because it’s the film that connects to Avengers: Endgame (2019), the end all be all of superhero big budget films. People don’t really know who Captain Marvel is because it’s never been one of the most popular characters. No my friends,  audiences will flock to Captain Marvel because it is a Marvel film (and therefore big budget) and because of its Avengers: Endgame connections. This movies job should be to get everyone hyped for Captain Marvel and love the character by the end of the movie, so that you’ll end up wanting to go see Avengers: Endgame day one. Captain Marvel had to have a wow factor to it. Did it achieve it? Endgame will be the pinnacle of everything that Marvel Studios has been working on for the past couple of years. The ending of a series of interconnected films that always leave you on a cliffhanger wanting more! The cliffhanger comes from the comics these films are emulating. I know because I’ve always collected comics since I was a kid and still do. The comics I read back in the 80’s and 90’s, were always “to be continued next issue!” You could almost hear Stan Lee’s voice at the beginning or ending of the old marvel comics. It was always, “see you in two weeks true believers!” By the way, I loved the homages to Stan Lee. Get ready for Stan’s last cameo, it’s a brief but good one and another solid reference to the 90’s.

Thanks for everything Stan! 

So yeah, of course by now, Disney/Marvel could make a remake of Mac and Me (1988) and people would still flock to see it. You’ve been conditioned to like these movies, even obsess about them and it’s worked! Whatever film Marvel puts on the screen is going to be a Ka jillion-dollar multi-platinum, crackling-thunder, bonafide success at the box office. Captain Marvel is just the latest in a runaway train of success for Marvel. As I write this, I can hear the cashiers ringing at the box office. But of course, we all know it’s the curiosity of how Captain Marvel  connects to Avengers: Endgame (2019) that has gotten those butts in the theater seats. Did Captain Marvel receive that beeper message from across time? Will she be the one to kick Thano’s blue butt to kingdom come in End Game? Will the audience like Brie Larson in the role of Captain Marvel? I was hella curious to find out of Larson could pull it off and what kind of film this would be? I love sci-fi so I was curious. 

Captain Marvel is Marvel’s response to DC’s Wonder Woman (2017). Now its Marvel’s turn to show they can capitalize on feminism. Like I said in my review for Wonder Woman, I like what that film did for women in Hollywood and the real world, more than the film itself which felt kind of generic.  Same goes for Captain Marvel, kind of generic, but entertaining at the same time. The thing Captain Marvel doesn’t do is wear its feminism on its sleeves. It’s not about Women vs. Men or anything, it’s only concern is fun. It’s not preachy with its themes. For example, in Wonder Woman, men and women talked about their differences and why they need each other. That doesn’t happen here, in Captain Marvel the main character doesn’t concern itself with comments on gender or anything, she just kicks ass, she’s indestructible, super powerful. The movie seems to say that being a woman is not the issue here. Well, at least not with as loud a voice as Wonder Woman did.  

What I loved about the movie was that it took place during the 90’s. The music of that era is always referenced through-out the film as are distinctively 90’s things like a Blockbuster Video Stores, dialing up for internet or VHS tapes. The soundtrack is a 90’s smorgasbord that includes Hole, No Doubt, Nirvana, Beck and Bush among others. More filmmakers should dive into the 90’s nostalgia, its ripe for the taking. Which I think is cool, that’s a decade that should be explored more in films. It was the era of grunge. We heard alternative in the 90’s man. Don’t know what it is, look it up little kid. Captain Marvel has a cool 90’s vibe and attitude. It’s a fish out of water story, with the fish swimming in the 90’s. An indestructible fish, kind of like Superman. I got a very Tank Girl (1995) vibe from this movie at times, which is awesome in my book and puts a couple of extra points up on the ‘love for the 90’s board’. 

Captain Marvel had a story of self-discovery. Of true friendship and sacrifice. Of selflessness and what it means to be a hero. Brie Larson is likable and looks great on the suit, but I thought she needed a bit more soul, more personality. Vulnerability always makes a character more interesting. That’s why most of these all powerful characters always have some major flaw. They can’t be all perfect and powerful! The film does put Captain Marvel in perilous and entertaining situations, but it feels like nothing is ever going to hurt her. As a viewer it lowers your anxiety levels a bit. And it’s a CGI max out! So much of the film is computer animation that you wonder just how much of this was shot on camera? Still, the action scenes are quite cool, with emphasis on keeping it funny. The dialog ranges from sci-fi babbling about things we’ll never understand to “you’re my best friend and I love you” but with jokes in between, so don’t expect depth. Nothing is ever too serious here. It was a fun watch, not the greatest Captain Marvel story ever told, but certainly entertaining enough to be a good origin story. The film has two post credit sequences, so if it matters to you, stay and watch all the credits! Next stop is Avengers: Endgame (2019) see you real soon here in The Marvel Connoisseur. I mean, you know what I mean. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

Alita: Battle Angel (2019)
Director: Robert Rodriguez 
Cast: Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Conelly, Rosa Salazar, Mahershala Ali, Keean Johnson, Jackie Earle Haley, Michelle Rodriguez, Casper Van Diem, Jeff Fahey and Edward Norton
So after many years in development, Yukito Kishiro’s manga comes to life in an expensive, fx filled film produced and written by the one and only James Cameron and directed by none other than genre favorite Robert Rodriguez. I remember hearing about Cameron’s intent on making this film since his Titanic days. So here we are, Alita has finally seen the light of day. Did the films long gestating period affect it in a positive or negative way? 
Rosa Salazar plays Alita

Alita is your typical big brother is watching, rebels against the evil oppressive elitist government type of thing and that always gets the juices of my juices flowing because, it’s the kind of thing we all deal with on a day to day basis. And though this story might feel ‘old hat’ to some, you know what I always say; it’s how you tell your tale that matters. And in that area Alita Battle Angel exceeds because it takes place in a complex post-apocalyptic world where most of the people live in poverty and garbage while a select few live their lives in an exclusive 1%-only-live-there utopia above the clouds, in a floating city called ‘Zalem’. Alita is a cyborg, who is thrown away like garbage, only to be found by Dr. Dyson, who then decides to give her a new body and bring her back to life. Problem is she’s no ordinary cyborg, and so the film turns into the story of how Alita discovers who she is and what she’s truly capable of. Alita is a fine slice of Cyberpunk Cinema, meaning it's a story about humans, melding with technology...centered on misfits and outcasts who battle against the proverbial system. 

Months before its release, talk of how the film would do in theaters was mostly negative. This is something I have always been against. Saying that a film is projected to do bad even before its release is wrong in my book because you are already setting the film up for failure. You’re marking it for death even before it’s had a chance to show what it’s made of. So I absolutely detest it when websites start defusing articles saying that they “project an abysmal box office” for whatever the film. I say let the audience decide! I say give the film a chance to prove itself! That being said, I wasn’t too excited for Alita Battle Angel because to be honest, the teaser trailer didn’t really do much for me. I was going to see it anyway because as I said, I always like to give films a chance. I like to give them the quintessential benefit of the doubt. Still, Alita wasn’t a priority for me. That all changed as the films premiere date approached. I saw a final trailer…I saw the anime it was based on…I started to read these positive reviews about how mind blowing the film was and suddenly my interest in it sparked. Suddenly I was excited to see it. 
Yukito Kishiro’s Manga on which the film is based on

So why doom a film to failure before it’s released? These cinematic projections are based on a couple of things. For example, a films possible outcome can be determined by how popular the source material is before the film’s release. For example, Harry Potter was a literary phenomenon way before a film was even considered. So of course, the films based on the Harry Potter books were always projected to be a success. I’m willing to bet that in today’s technologically savvy world, clicks on facebook and the times a trailer has been seen and shared on You Tube can also give number crunchers an idea of how a film will do. Reactions to tests screenings also tell producers a lot. Apparently, Alita’s future in the box office wasn’t expected to be so great. In fact, it was expected to bomb big. I’m guessing these fortune tellers were also basing their stats on how other manga film adaptations have done, like for example how Ghost in the Shell (2017) bombed at the box office. Also, expensive films based on obscure books or comics that aren’t that well known have bombed in a big way, the most recent example being Mortal Engines (2019). A great film that bombed because the books weren’t blockbuster hits or whatever. 

Battle Angel Alita isn’t exactly a new property. It is based on a Manga (that’s a Japanese comic book for you non-savvy) which is still being printed today. It was adapted into an anime series...the problem is that Alita is obviously more popular and known in Japan. In the states it is known by lovers of anime, alone, though I’m sure that will change after this film. But, if a film is good, it’s good and good word of mouth should give it life at the box office. And so Alita Battle Angel has achieved what few films marked for death have done, it came out on top. That’s right my friends, inspite of all the negative predictions about it being a box office bomb before it was even seen, the people, the audiences have decided this one is going to be a winner. But why? Well, I attribute various reasons to this success. Number one, the knock out power house combo of James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez, both world renown directors. Also, it doesn’t hurt to put the words “from the producers of Avatar” on the promotional material because say what you may about Avatar, it was a groundbreaking film in its time. Also, it was a good move for the producers to promote the film as a “must watch special effects event” that must be seen on the biggest, loudest most 3-D screen you can find in the galaxy. So yeah, all these elements, plus good word of mouth its gotten from people who have actually seen the film, have led to Alita Battle Angel battling the odds so to speak and and winning at the box office. Mind you, as of my writing this the film hasn’t passed the 100 million mark yet, but this Film Connoisseur is willing to bet it will make its money back because of good word of mouth and because of what the film will make overseas, specifically China. 

The film has gotten amazing praise for its special effects and I agree, it is an amazing looking film. It has a great cast that counts with the participation of Christophe Waltz, Jennifer Connelly and Rosa Salazar in her break out role as Alita. It also has many fine actors in smaller parts, like for example Edward Norton and Jeff Fahey. But you know, the real stars here are the special effects which are flawless in my book. Having an awesome cast is the icing on the cake. A note on the effects work, James Cameron’s special effects team, who were hard at work on the effects for the new Avatar films, stopped working on those to work on Alita. And if you know anything about James Cameron it’s that the effects in the films he is involved in are flawless, and often times groundbreaking. A special effects heavy stand out scene in Alita involves a sport called ‘Motor Ball’ which is a lot like Roller Ball and Alita loves it so much she signs up for a trial run, to see if she’s got what it takes to be part of Motor Ball. The Motor Ball race sequence could give Episode I’s ‘Pod Racing’ sequence a run for its money. But aside from its effects work, I think ultimately what will win people over with Alita Battle Angel is its heart and characters. For a film dealing with cyborgs, this film has a lot of warmth and humanity to it. It’s a story about a girl who is coming of age, a girl falling in love for the first time. And a girl, standing up to evil! I love that line where Alita says “I will not standby in the presence of evil!” Awesome sauces. Anyhow’s, Alita is awesome, well worth the wait. Amazing effects, a heart of gold and a lovable, strong lead, what’s not to love?
Rating: 5 out of 5 

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Loving Vincent (2017)

Loving Vincent (2017)

Directors: Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman

Cast: Douglas Booth, Saoirse Ronan, Chris O’Dowd 

It has always baffled me how artists are unappreciated when they are alive. That whole thing that only after an artist has died do people truly care about their work. If you know anything about the story of Vincent Van Gough, well, then you’ll know he was one of these artists. He had many personal and internal struggles to deal with in life. Was he crazy? Why’d he chop off his ear? Why did he shoot himself? Van Gogh’s life and work has been the focus of many films throughout the years. For example, Paul Cox’s Vincent (1987), Robert Altman’s Vincent and Theo (1990), Vincent Minelli’s Lust for Life (1956) and most recently Julian Schnabel’s At Eternity’s Gate (2018) starring Willem Dafoe as Van Gogh. So, Van Gogh’s life was one filled with all the elements for a good film, tragedy, passion, art, love, poverty, money (or lack thereof), so it’s no surprise so many films have been made about him. 

Today I will be talking about Loving Vincent (2017) a film that tells the story of what happened to Van Gogh during his last days on earth, when he committed suicide by shooting himself in the gut. The story unfolds from the perspective of a character called Armand Roulin, the son of a postman who was good friends with Van Gogh. You see, this postman has the last letter that Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo Van Gogh and so he wants his son to deliver this letter to Van Gogh’s brother. The film unfolds as we meet all the different characters that Armand meets in order to deliver the letter. In the process, Armand gets to know who Van Gogh was and the consequences that led to his demise. 

I connected with this movie immediately because it’s about the story of an artist and I am an artist myself, so I am quite sensible to the turmoil’s and tribulations that come with being an artist as well as that special kind of sensibility that we live with, a sensibility that not all possess or understand. Seeing how Van Gogh was bullied and tormented for seeing the world differently, for not being able to fit into that mold that they all wanted him to fit into is heartbreaking. Van Gogh went through many psychological struggles because society didn’t accept him and because he lived mostly in poverty. All Van Gogh wanted was for people to understand how deeply he felt about things, to understand the passion and lust he had for life and beauty. So sad that people would only understand this many years after his death. So, if you are an artist (or an artist at heart) you’ll be able to connect with this film. 

But one of the most amazing things about this movie is how it was made. Each frame was hand painted by a group of more than 100 artists from over twenty different countries. The film took four years to complete! Now try and wrap your head around how difficult it is to oil paint every frame of an entire film, all while still trying to tell a compelling and intriguing story! A lot of films can become an exercise in execution and try and impress with how well they were made while losing that all important element, a good story. This does not happen with Loving Vincent, a film that delivers both a good story and an amazing execution. I wanted to know what truly happened with Van Gogh. Did he truly shoot himself or was he murdered? I loved how the film was told like a detective story, as the main character picks up pieces of the story as he tries to deliver the letter. 

The fact that every frame of the film was hand painted gives us a very unique looking film. Sometimes we as viewers take so many things for granted because at the end of the day, all we have to do is watch a film. Sometimes we are oblivious as to all the hard work that goes on behind the cameras in order for a film to get made. In the case of Loving Vincent, we shouldn’t take anything for granted because it achieved something that had not been done before to this extent. It’s a film miracle. A wonder to behold.  

I loved how the film incorporates so many of Van Gogh’s paintings into the film. Many of his portraits and characters jump to life and walk around many of the beautiful vistas that Van Gogh painted. The film is like seeing all of Van Gogh’s paintings coming to life and breathing, while never losing Van Gogh’s particular style and colors. It’s amazing. I felt like I got to know who Van Gogh was after watching this film and connected with the painter in a more profound way then before. You’ll get to know Van Gogh’s thoughts and feelings because one of the films director’s Dorota Kobiela, made this film after having studied Van Gogh’s painting techniques and analyzing the letters he wrote throughout his life. This is a unique and visually dazzling film, one that requires admiration for how it was made, this isn’t just any old film, it was painstakingly made to give us, the viewers something truly special.  

Rating: 5 out of 5

Friday, January 18, 2019

Glass (2019)

Glass (2019)

Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, James McAvay and Anya Taylor Joy

M Night Shyamalan’s a walking time bomb when it comes to quality. While one film might deliver, the next might disappoint. For example, the double knockout of Lady in the Water (2006) and The Happening (2008) were completely rejected by fans of the director and nearly destroyed Shyamalan’s career entirely. He’d lost the respect of many audience members out there. Had he lost it? Well, for a while there it seemed like so, like he’d lost that magic that makes directors produce a good film. Then he kicked back and made a horror film called The Visit (2015), about these pair of grandkids who go to visit grandma and grandpa in their house in the middle of nowhere. Apparently, working on a smaller budget did Shyamalan good because with The Visit, Shyamalan proved to us and himself that he could still make a good film. Shyamalan cemented his comeback with Split (2016) which presented us for the first time with the fascinating character called ‘The Beast’. An awesome performance is what carried that film and we got McAvoy to thank for that. His psychical and psychological transformations when he switches from personality to personality is one of the films biggest strengths. 

Split was also the film that united Split, Unbreakable and now Glass as films that coexist in the same universe, with characters from Unbreakable and Split crossing over onto this new film Glass. There was a lot of speculation in regards to the film. Would Shyamalan deliver one of his good ones? Does he still as they say “have it”? Was Split a fluke? Would this be a great sequel, or a forgettable one? 

I enjoyed Split a lot but I remember thinking it wasn’t original. We’d seen movies about psychos kidnapping people for vile purposes a million times before. But that performance and that tension Shyamalan directs so well got me reeled in. With Split I went back to that old saying “it’s not what you say but how you say it”, sure we’d seen this type of story before, but Shyamalan told it so very well! Now here comes Glass, the sequel in which we’d see all these fantastic characters clash. The Beast, The Overseer and Mr. Glass. So is it the big conclusion we all expect? Yes it is my dear readers. You feel that tension building all the way through, kind of how all those Rocky movies that all led up to the big fight in the end. Glass is a very fresh take on the whole superhero thing. It tones everything down, makes it more believable. This is not a big special effects spectacle, no, this movie is more about performances, tension and suspense. In that sense the film was a breath of fresh air. It was interesting to see a super hero film that wasn’t  90% computer generated. So yes, glad to inform that Glass focuses on gripping performance and a well written, tense script. 

When Unbreakable (2000) premiered I remember I didn’t know what to expect. The premise pulled everyone to see it. How and why had David Dunn survived that tragic train crash where everybody died, except him? A lot was expected of the second film from the  director of The Sixth Sense (1999), which had been a hit the previous year. When I went to theater to see Unbreakable the night of its premiere, did my comic book loving heart know that it would end up being a movie that explained the nature of comic books so well? Nope. And that blew me away! Here I was watching a film about something I loved so much. Back in 2000, super hero films were not as big as they are now, so seeing a film that talked about comic books, was something for me. The film used all we know and love about comics and analyzed it with style. To me Unbreakable was one of the films that helped kick off what would become a new era of comic book movies, and era that has been reigning supreme in Hollywood for almost two decades now.

Glass does the same thing yet again, it dives into comic book lore by analyzing the nature of the villain. Why are these villains so deranged? What makes them tick? What set them off? We get a good dose of that in Glass. It takes us deep into the psyche of the psychos Mr. Glass and The Beast. This movie belongs to McAvoy and Mr. Jackson on the performance side of things. Willis plays David, who’s job is to be stoic, strong and quiet, but McAvoy’s Beast loves to chat it up. Every single one of The Beasts 20 something personalities likes to say their piece! The real spectacle here is watching McAvoy do this masterful job of giving each one of the personalities a completely different performance. I’d dare say I’d consider this performance for an Oscar, or some sort of award. Fantastic performance, a memorable villain if there ever was one. 

So did Glass deliver? Hell yeah, it’s a good film. I don’t get these “bad reviews” that it got from critics? The general consensus out there is that critics hate it, but that fans love it. I don’t get why critics would hate it but I agree that a fan of Split and Unbreakable should be very pleased (and even surprised) by this movie. It takes the premise from Unbreakable and Split further. I congratulate Shyamalan for playing with heavy themes within the context of the comic book world. On Glass he played with that wonderful idea that we all have this potential to be amazing, that we are capable of more than we know, we just have to believe. So yeah, Glass delivers, another good one on Shyamalan’s cinematic crown. 

Rating: 4 out of 5 


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