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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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Watch! Sin City: A Dame to Kill For Trailer!

Well, it looks like the Sin City sequel that was oft-discussed but perpetually-delayed is actually happening. There’s footage to prove it and everything. Directors Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller have released a trailer for Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, and it looks absolutely fascinating. The first movie looked absolutely stunning, and it’ll be interesting to see if the sequel can measure up.

Non-Review Review: Machete

I really liked Machete. It sounds strange from somebody who was relatively unimpressed with Robert Rodriguez’s contribution to Grindhouse, the lackluster b-movie throwback Planet Terror. I think that Machete works because it’s considerably more obvious in its humour, while still walking through a fairly conventional “exploitation” plot. Although the storyline and characters could easily have come from some dingy shot-on-video-camera b-movie, Rodriguez seems somewhat clearer in his parody here, as if he’s making an intentionally hilarious film, rather than merely trying to create the sense of an unintentionally hilarious film. I think it really works, because it’s everything a film like this should be: it’s gleefully silly, ridiculously violent, hilariously “relevent”, and presented in an insanely over-the-top manner.

Machete don't fold...

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Non-Review Review: Sin City

We’re currently blogging as part of the “For the Love of Film Noir” blogathon (hosted by Ferdy on Films and The Self-Styled Siren) to raise money to help restore the 1950’s film noir The Sound of Fury (aka Try and Get Me). It’s a good cause which’ll help preserve our rich cinematic heritage for the ages, and you can donate by clicking here. Over the course of the event, running from 14th through 21st February, I’m taking a look at the more modern films that have been inspired or shaped by noir. Today’s theme is “comics noir” – noir filtered through comic book panels.

Sin City is, I suppose, one of those films that lives or dies based solely on its visual style. Although the heavy hardboiled atmosphere compliments the stark black and white contrast, it’s those beautifully and meticulously staged images which come into the mind when one thinks of the Frank Miller adaptation. Based on the writer and artist’s collection of noir-themed comic books set in (Ba)Sin City, Robert Rodriguez’s adaptation manages to faithfully capture the tone and style of its source material. Being honest, it’s one of those movies which can’t help but catch your eye – it’ll just follow up with a punch to the gut.

That little red dress...

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Non-Review Review: El Mariachi

El Mariachi is the first film from director Robert Rodriguez. Although his first major success, Desperado, borrows heavily from the Mexican Western, there’s a certain playful exuberance which underpins his debut. It’s a very rough film – one which doesn’t quite have the shine of a finished major motion picture release – but there’s enough charm and wit bubbling away to carry the film over the line. It’s quirky and perhaps a little cheeky, but it’s also surprisingly respectful of the genre and of the films around it. It almost lacks the ridiculously gratuitous nature of his later efforts, though perhaps here he was restrained by a tiny budget.

An unconventional choice of instrument...

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Non-Review Review: Predators

It must be genuinely one of the toughest and most unforgiving tasks in moviedom to produce a belated sequel to a beloved franchise. Even Spielberg and Lucas messed up in producing the long-delayed Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull or Lucas’ prequels to Star Wars. The original film has just been lying there so long that it has built up its own legacy and reputation – to the point where it’s arguably not so much a film as a legend. Okay, maybe the original Predator and the modern Predators shouldn’t really be classified as legends in the same way as the earlier examples (or, say Chinatown and its disappointing follow-up The Two Jakes), but this is undeniably a cult franchise. The good news is that – while far from perfect – Predators actually lives up to its legacy quite well.

Preying for a way out...

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Does Machete Matter?

I imagine that Robert Rodriguez was bracing himself for controversy over his new film Machete. Given the uproar that the use of foul language in Kick-Ass caused, I think it’s safe to say that Rodriguez’s retro “mexploitation” film was just asking for trouble when it came out. I anticipated a lot of politically correct discussions about the film’s premise, and potentially some discussions of negative stereotypes it might evoke. However, I certainly could not have suspected that it would provoke some sort of “race war”.

Knife to see you...

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