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Non-Review Review: Alita – Battle Angel

Alita: Battle Angel is the result of a creative union between James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez.

This partnership makes a certain amount of sense. Both Cameron and Rodriguez are genre film-makers, and one suspects that the two men would have been fast friends had they emerged at around the same time; Cameron came of age making films like Piranha 2 or Terminator, and those are certainly of a piece with Rodriguez’s filmography from Desperado through to Planet Terror and even Sin City. Cameron has arguably elevated his work into the mainstream, in that it is impossible to imagine Rodriguez producing a mass-appeal cultural smash like Cameron did with Terminator 2: Judgment Day Titanic or Avatar.

Slice o’ life.

However, allowing for that core similarity, Cameron and Rodriguez are still fundamentally different film-makers. Their interests might align when it comes to genre work, but they construct their movies in a very different manner, with a different emphasis on different aspects of their technique. Cameron is much more interested in bringing polish to his genre work, in finding a way to transform otherwise niche high-concept tales into crowd-pleasing blockbusters with mass appeal. In contrast, Rodriguez revels in the grottier aspects of his genre work, believing that the lack of sheen is part of the appeal.

Alita: Battle Angel finds these two aesthetics at odds with one another. The story at the heart of Alita is pure Cameron, dedicated to world-building and social commentary while relying on exposition and centring on big set pieces. However, the delivery of Alita is very much in the style of Rodriguez, stressing cool beats and individual sequences rather than the singular cohesive whole. The result is jarring and deeply fascinating, but it doesn’t quite come together. Alita is an intriguing piece of cinema, but a less than satisfying would-be blockbuster. Like its central character, it seems constructed of parts that don’t quite fit.

Red is dead.

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Non-Review Review: Predator

Predator is an absolutely brilliant piece of work. It’s elegantly constructed, beautifully directed and cleverly written. Perhaps the smartest thing about Predator is the way that it so fantastically plays on audience expectations, offering the perfect bait-and-switch, teasing a jungle adventure in the style of Schwarzenegger’s Commando before morphing into something else entirely. It’s so well handled that the film’s reputation and prestige has done little to dampen its thrills.

A predator stalks...

A predator stalks…

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Watch! New Gravity Trailer!

Gravity is easily one of my most anticipated movies of this last third of 2013. The talent involved is enough to attract attention, from two wonderful lead actors through to a visionary director telling a story which seem intriguing and ingenious at the same time. Early word on the film has been pretty strong. I’m particularly reassured by the revelation that the explosions and such were only effects added for the trailer – so much so that the introductory text here seems to have been added to sway other skeptics. (That said, this trailer still features its fair share of noise in space.)

Warners have released another trailer for the film, and it looks – as one might expect from Alfonso Cuaron – absolutely stunning. Check it out below.

Non-Review Review: Life of Pi

Life of Pi is visually stunning. It is an amazing accomplishment. I’ll be the first to admit that I am skeptical of 3D, but in the hands of the right director – Martin Scorsese, James Cameron and, now, Ang Lee – it is a fascinating storytelling tool. The computer-generated imagery is magical, as are the compositions and scene transitions. There’s no doubt that Ang Lee is a superb craftsman. Indeed, the visual majesty of the film is enough to make you dismiss some of the lighter narrative elements, accepting some of the incongruities as expressions of “magical realism” or simply a function of allegorical storytelling. It’s not the densest, or the most insightful, story you will see, but it’s well-told.

Unfortunately, then you reach the end, and Life of Pi tries to get considerably smarter than it actually is. It pulls a clumsy narrative trick that leaves the audience feeling a bit disoriented and more than a little manipulated. Life of Pi finds itself torn between trying to be a beautiful allegorical story of survival and a deeper commentary on the stories that we tell. Forcing one undermines the other. While Life of Pi might convince you that a boy and a tiger can share a lifeboat, the two competing aspects of Life of Pi sink the story.

Not quite a glowing recommendation...

Not quite a glowing recommendation…

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Non-Review Review: Alien vs. Predator – Requiem

To celebrate the release of Prometheus in the United States this week, we’ll be taking a look at the other movies in the Alien franchise.

Alien vs. Predator: Requiem is pretty close to indefensible. I’m not the biggest fan of the original Alien vs. Predator, but I’ll concede the film throws a few interesting ideas into a disappointingly generic and less-than-enthusiastic monster mash run-around. While the first film wasn’t original, it at least looked to acknowledge its hokeyness in places. In contrast, the sequel is just soul-destroyingly mundane, taking anything that had been unique or compelling or interesting about these two iconic movie monsters and rendering it all completely pointless as it devolves them to the equivalent of generic teenager slasher villains.

Death of a franchise…

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On Second Thought: Aliens (Director’s Cut)

To celebrate the release of Prometheus in the United States this week, we’ll be taking a look at the other movies in the Alien franchise.

It seems that James Cameron’s Director’s Cut of Aliens is the only alternate cut of an Alien film preferred by any of the directors. Ridley Scott has gone on record stating that he considers Alien: The Director’s Cut to be an “alternative” cut of the film intended for long-time fans. David Fincher has explained that the only way he’d produce a version of Alien³ that he’d be happy with was if he were to shoot it from scratch. Jean-Pierre Jeunet believes that the theatrical cut of Alien: Resurrection is his preferred version of the film. So it seems that Cameron is the only director who has been able to successfully reintegrate material to produce what he feels to be a definitive version of the film.

And, to be honest, I’d agree. Aliens: The Director’s Cut is probably the best example of how to enhance an already superb film through the addition of previously excised material.

On LV-426, everyone can hear you scream…

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Non-Review Review: Alien vs. Predator

To celebrate the release of Prometheus in the United States this week, we’ll be taking a look at the other movies in the Alien franchise.

I like cheesy movies. I have a fondness for those old fashioned mix-and-match creature features from back in the day. I have a remarkable tolerance for some of those incredibly awkward B-movie adventures featuring relatively bland characters trapped in a strange and slightly illogical situations. As such, I’m probably a bit fonder of Paul W.S. Anderson’s creature-feature fight-night beat-’em-up schlock-fest Alien vs. Predator. I’m not so fond that I’d argue it’s a good movie – in fact, I’d readily concede that it’s a disappointing lifeless husk of a movie. However, I will concede that there are some interesting concepts and ideas buried quite deeply in the middle of that film.

Natural born predators…

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