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Review – Movie – Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

When this film was first announced, I have to say I was both kind of excited and a little worried. Excited because it looked pretty awesome, worried because, manga to live action adaptations tend to be kind of hit or miss. I also felt like even if it was good, it wouldn’t really have enough mainstream appeal to actually be successful.

While I really liked this movie, its not perfect. It has a lot of weird pacing issues and the ending left a bad taste but the visuals are amazing and the action sequences were all well done. The story is alright as well, though if anything it’s a little overly complex for the duration of the film. In preparation for the film I read through a lot of the original manga. The manga, is sort of a series of separate stories involving Alita, one event happens, then another happens, then another, and so on. The movie is sort of a remix of these stories where they are a bit more intertwined together. This Blending helps make things feel a little more like one big story, but it can make things a little harder to keep track of which characters are important to which storyline.

There are a lot of parts that are pretty faithful to the manga, and others that are toned down and others that seem to be new. For example, the first real story in the manga involves Alita and Ido tracking down a killer who is obsessed with eating people’s brains. The same killer shows up in the movies, but the brains part is removed and his role is expanded a bit so he shows up several times throughout the movie. There is a big set piece of Motorball, which is all in later story elements of the Manga, but in the movie, it’s introduced as a plot device earlier on, and we see less of Alita rising through the ranks of the sport, probably to save time. There are however plenty of other sequences that are lifted directly from the pages of the Manga.

As much as I like that they tried to make things more cohesive, it also kind of hurts the story a lot. Alita’s evolution from innocent little girl amnesiac to bad ass warrior is basically explained away by “mysterious past”. It feels a little unnatural. In the manga, she joins Motorball because she is mad at Ido and upset over a recent personal loss and essentially wants to forget her new past life. In the movie, she joins more “because it’s cool” and vaguely because the winner gets to go to Zalem. That personal loss moment doesn’t occur until the end of the film and she never really turns away from Ido. I found this a little disappointing since Ido and Alita competing against each other’s Motorball teams while pretending to be strangers was kind of a fun bit in the manga.

The next paragraph involves some spoilers for the film. There is also a lot of subplot involving Demi Moore’s character Rose, and the mysterious Nova. I really feel like the parts about Nova should have been seriously toned down or trimmed out, with more emphasis on Vector being the main villain of the film. The plot points for Nova literally go nowhere except to set up a sequel and the plot would have felt more contained without it. Demi Moore also has this weird tendency to just sort of show up a few times, to either be a snide bitch or to help out randomly. She exists to sort of give more backstory for Ido’s connection to Alita, but overall she just sort of feels uselessly tacked into everything.

This leads to my main disappointment with this film, which frankly, is only a disappointment if there is never a sequel. The movie just sort of… ends, with no real resolution. Things are set up for a sequel, but I worry it may not do well enough to get one, leaving the movie with a very meh ending. My one optimistic hope is that that the producer, James Cameron, best known for Avatar and Titanic, two of the largest films ever made, has such a huge hard on for the material that he’s been trying to make this movie for like 20 years. I feel like he may push a sequel out even if this first film is a flop.

One other thing I definitely want to address is the eyes. When the trailers first dropped for this, the one main topic of discussion were Alita’s large eyes. In the actual film, it’s really not an issue, at all for a few reasons. First, a lot of the cast has some sort of cyborg augmentation. Hell off the top of my head, I think there were only a few notable characters who didn’t have some level of cyborg going on. There are character with robot arms, characters with robot skulls, characters with robot legs, there are robot parts, everywhere. That’s part of the world of Iron City, where the film takes place. Also, during some flashbacks of Alita’s past, other characters with these same eyes are shown, which implies that it’s part of where she came from, and not just a gimmick to make her character look more “anime”.

Speaking if Iron City, it’s a really interesting setting for the story. I really like these sort of dystopian future cyberpunk settings, and Alita has a lot of great atmosphere to it. The story takes place in Iron City, which is basically a huge slummy junkyard that sits under the flying sky city of Zalem. Nothing is really shown of Zalem aside from it’s underside. Many of the characters have dreams of reaching this city, which is believed to be some sort of utopian paradise, and it’s a central plot element motivating several of the characters. The lower city is cluttered and crowded and full of cobbled together buildings, constructed from scraps dropped by the city of Zalem.

I also wanted to touch a bit on the violence as well, more for informational purposes than that I really have a problem with it. The movie itself is rated PG-13. There isn’t any sex or nudity, there isn’t a lot of swearing, but it’s fairly violent. The manga is extremely violent. It’s full of pretty detailed art of people getting their heads crushed or brains ripped out and eaten. The movie tones this down quite a bit, but there is still a ton of dismemberment. On one hand, it’s all cyborgs, so, they are “like robots”. Except as “cyborgs”, they ARE people, with robot bits. If a human has his head removed and put on a human body, just because it doesn’t have a bunch of blood, doesn’t mean it’s not a little graphic in nature.

Wrapping up, it’s a good cyberpunk film and manga adaptation. It’s more faithful of an adaptation than some other recent manga adaptations for sure (Ghost in the Shell). That said, it’s based on an old Manga, which means it’s not really going to be everyone’s cup of tea due to some of the cultural oddities that come along with that. It’s visually nice but it’s not nearly as accessible plotwise as say, a Marvel movie. Fans of Sci-Fi and cyberpunk should definitely enjoy it.

Review – Movie – Speed Racer (2008)

The original Speed Racer anime series from the late 60s is one of the earliest Anime shows to be brought to the US.  Originally titles Mach GoGoGo in Japan, Speed Racer follows the exploits of Speed Racer (literally first name/last name) and his friends as they participate in races and adventures using the Mach 5 Super car.  Stylistically, especially at the time, it was quite unique, with it’s unique Japanese animation style and look.  Though live action adaptations of animated features don’t always work well, Speed Racer does it’s best to replicate the intense colorful style of the anime, and anime in general.

Fortunately for the movie, it’s the one thing that it succeeds at, and succeeds at very well.  The visuals of this entire film, from start to finish, are pretty incredible.  A lot of what makes it work where a lot of cartoon to live action fails is that it completely embraces it’s origin and never looks back.  There’s no out of place realism to the way the cars move and literally glide around the track, there’s no punches pulled on the stunts or action.  Even during the downtime off the track the sets are colorful and full of detail that’s both dense and simple at the same time, keeping with the base styling you’d likely see in an anime series.

Everything just meshes together to keep everything believable within he context of the fantastical race obsessed world presented to the viewer.  There are also a lot of interesting Transitions used almost constantly throughout the film that help push this effect even farther.  Overlays of announcers, and crowd watchers and other drivers sweep across the screen giving everything loads of atmosphere.

Visuals don’t really make a movie though, even a really pretty movie isn’t worth watching without some sort of plot.  The general plot is essentially Speed Racer and his crew working their way up through the racer ranks to become the best racer in the world.  Along the way there’s a few subplots involving Speed Racer’s brother who died in a race in the past, the mysterious Racer X and an evil corporation trying to use the race for nefarious purposes.  There isn’t a lot of depth to anything going on here, but it gets a little complicated and the film itself is pretty non stop in it’s pace which makes things feel a little messy at times.  It also makes the film feel a little long, but more because it’s kind of exhausting keeping up with the constant barrage of crazy visuals.

The cast also does a great job of selling the whole experience.  In the same vein as the visuals, the cast does a pretty good job of selling the idea of being cartoonish in nature.  John Goodman and Christina Ricci are both pretty good as Pops and Trixie as do the rest of the supporting cast.  Emile Hirsch as Speed does a nice job of selling the Speed’s obsessive racing desire and need to be good as well.  What really helps to is they all look the part.

Often with adaptations such as this there are “changes” done to modernize things or make them more hip.  Or worse, the actors chosen look nothing like their original counter parts.  A lot of what makes Speed Racer’s style work is that it sticks close to it’s roots.  Sure, there’s a “new” Mach 6 race car, but the traditional Mach 5 is plenty present in this film and the new car does a good job of keeping the spirit of the Mach 5 without going overboard in it’s redesign.

Speed Racer isn’t a movie that’s going to win any awards for depth, though it’s definitely a technically impressive film.  It’s almost too visually busy at times honestly.  It’s still worth checking out if you can handle the predictably simple plot that holds it all together.

Review – Anime – Kiki’s Delivery Service

NOTE: This Review was originally posted to Anime Boredom

While not the second Miyazaki film I’ve watched, it’s the second I paid enough attention to that I could make some sort of judgment on it. While taking Japanese in High School we watched Totoro in pure Japanese (without Subtitles). I’ve vaguely paid attention to Princess Mononoki when it came on Cartoon Network a few months ago. I greatly enjoyed Spirited Away when I found it at a garage sale for 3 dollars. Recently at work we aired Kiki’s Delivery Service. I was kind of stuck monitoring some equipment repairs when we aired it so I made a point to watch it. I’d been meaning to see more of Miyazaki’s films after Spirited Away.

I can’t say I’m really much of an anime fan. Most of the series and movies I actually do enjoy are severely outdated. What I do enjoy though is a good story that’s not full out lame pseudo jokes or pointless love triangles that go nowhere for 500 episodes. That is what I see in these films. It would seem someone else sees this too since Disney has opted to dub) several Miyazaki films into English. Did I mention I hate subtitles?

Enough rambling intro then, let’s cut to the meat of this review. Kiki’s delivery service is a fairly simple film about a young beginner witch trying to make her way in the world. The time period for this film is roughly mid 1900s judging by the setting. It takes place mostly in a relatively nondescript European town. The first thing that comes off as a bit off is Kiki’s young age of thirteen to be setting out to live on her own. Honestly this and the fact that Osono (the baker woman) so quickly and readily trusts this young stranger almost immediately are my only two real complaints with the plot.

Anyway, Kiki takes up residence with Osono after helping the baker out and she starts up Kiki’s Flying Delivery Service. Despite that Kiki is a witch, her only real witch-like power seems to be the ability ot fly a broom. Well, she can also talk to her cat Jiji. She is not the type of witch to eat young children or throw fireballs at small dogs and scarecrows it seems. She doesn’t use any sort of magic to produce food or do chores either.

Which brings us to the general theme of the movie. It takes hard work to succeed and one shouldn’t give up even when you’re down. The themes in this film are actually very similar to those of Spirited Away (the other Miyazaki film I’ve reviewed). The primary difference is that this movie has less random confusing points than Spirited Away. I’d be inclined to say this film is superior to the other except it’s less visually impressive over all. The wonder and randomness in Spirited Away certainly helped add to the “epic” appeal. Some of that feel is lost in this almost down to earth film. Other than her ability to Fly, Kiki’s pretty much just an ordinary delivery girl.

Fortunately, there’s Jiji to help spice things up. Jiji has two important entertainment functions in the movie. First he gets to serve as a decoy stuffed cat at the hands of a rather bratty child and his dog. Second he gains a love interest in the form of a snooty cat.

The snooty cat actually serves a significant plot use at one point involving Jiji and Kiki’s relationship that isn’t real clear at first. I’ll have to pass on giving away too much more detail though as I’d rather not give an exposition of the entire plot. The film does build up to a fitting climax however.

And then it ends. It ends very abruptly and unexpectedly. Almost too abruptly. As soon as the climax is resolved it just sort of cuts away to a random series of Kiki doing things, presumably to demonstrate her happy life afterwards. A bit more would have been really REALLY nice.

To wrap things up then. The film is all around really good. I’d recommend watching it to anyone, especially anyone wanting to know what good anime really is. Other then the chopped off end there’s nothing to truly complain about. I don’t really use any sort of rating’s system but if they’d have given us even 5 minutes more final exposition to properly wrap this film up I’d be inclined to give it a perfect score.

Review – Anime – Spirited Away

Spirited Away Site Banner

The first time I watched Spirited Away, I came away with a so-so opinion of the film. On one hand, the animation was rather amazing and stylized, the story seemed to have some good moral messages going, it was generally entertaining; on the other hand, it was just plain weird.

It probably didn’t help that I was distracted and only half paying attention to the film. It’s still quite a surreal experience, but things tend to mesh a bit better on the second or third viewing.

The core plot follows Chihiro/Sen, a young girl, as she works her way through the bathhouse of the spirit world to save her parents. Along the way Sen learns how to live up to her fears, shows us how to appreciate others for who they are, not what they have, and generally how to keep focused on what’s right. Ok, yeah, that description comes off a little cheesy. I like to think of it as a very Japanese Alice and Wonderland. Like Alice, Sen enters her wonderland through a very large “rabbit hole” and things get really rolling along after characters eat some food that’s not quite what it’s thought to be.

One problem I have with this film is the ending. The whole story doesn’t really build up to any sort of definite ending. The events are mostly related and do lead to the expected conclusion, but something just doesn’t quite mesh. The finale comes almost out of nowhere and is fairly anti-climactic.

I suppose the cause of this effect is the large number of dominant subplots. One might really consider this to simply be a collection of smaller plots, all tied together by the bathhouse environment. On one level we have Sen trying to save her parents. Then there is No-Face, who just wants some companionship, but tries all the wrong methods to obtain it. Mixed in we have Haku and his somewhat bizarre plot to discover his true name (what was the point of this anyway). There are a few others but those three are the primary plot lines.

Another aspect of this movie: kids. I watched this movie in the company off a friend’s children the second and third time though (age 5,6, and 8). They enjoyed it a lot. There isn’t any swearing and there is relatively little violence (the attack on Haku is a bit gruesome, but nothing too horrid), it’s clean enough for kids to watch and they seem to really enjoy the elaborate world displayed before them. They didn’t get all of the parts but they seem to catch on to most aspects, probably better than I did the first time I watched it. It did leave them a bit scared at some points however, this is a somewhat frightening movie at times. The suspense in many parts is well laid out.

All in all, I’d say my opinion of this movie has only gotten better with repeated viewings. It’s not perfect mind you, but it’s quite good for what it does have.

The preceding review is based on the English Dubbed DVD version of Spirited Away.

Review – Anime – Gunsmith Cats and Riding Bean

Riding Bean and Gunsmith Cats Double Feature Site Banner

These two are actually more or less the same series. Rally Vincent appears in both as more or less the same character (they look different), and Bean Bandit appears in the Gunsmith Cats comic. Also they are done by the same creator (Kenishi Sonoda). The point is they really fit together. Like Apples and… slightly… differet…Apples.

So the plot goes like this, there are bad guys, usually criminals of some sort with drugs or some shit, and the bad guys are chased down by vigilantes. Lots of Car chasing and shooting later, the bad guys die. Hard. With a VENGANCE. The heroes of Riding bean are Rally Vincent and Bean Bandit, while the heroes of Gunsmith Cats are Rally Vincent and Minnie May Hopkins. I guess somewhere along the way someone decided that a huge bad ass in a bullet proof leather jacket and headband was a little too fluffy kiddie or some shit so when they moved to GSC they changed him into a chick who looks 10 and throws grenades. You know, because taking a bullet to the head then continuing to beat the shit out of people isn’t “tough enough”.

Which of these two series is better is hard to judge really. While Gunsmith cats is much higher quality with a better plot, Bean has a lot more straight out action in it. Also Gunsmith Cats has an excellent comic available to continue the story (put out by Dark Horse), while I’m not sure if Bean has a comic or if he does, if it’s even available anywhere. I personally prefer the darker Indian descent GSC Rally to the White Blonde Rally in Riding Bean. She just seems a bit cooler all around.

Gunsmith Cats follows Rally and May as they hunt down an arms dealer then stumble on a plot masterminded by a government official. Also they have a few run-ins with a lethal Russian Assassin. That’s the Movie version. The Comic is much more drawn out and in fact doesn’t feature that storyline at all, though there are a few references thrown into the movie if you know what to look for (here is a hint, the weapons Washington tries to sell Rally were used by two of the main villains in the Comic Bonnie (the leg), and Gray (the arm)).

Riding Bean follows Bean and Rally as they are hired to hint down and rescue the daughter of the Mayor (or some important rich guy, it’s been a while). Anyway eventually after a lengthy car chase and a frame up Bean ends up beating the shit out of the main villain in a parking garage. did I mention Bean is one tough bad ass guy? This is a guy who wears a bullet proof BANDANA after all. I mean anyone can do the jacket or vest.

Something else worth mentioning is Rally’s car in Gunsmith Cats. It also appears in Riding Bean driven by the lead cop. Before Nick Cage made the ’67 GT-500 popular by trashing Miami, Rally was doing almost the same thing to Chicago with a REAL ’67 GT-500 (the Gi60s one is closer to a ’68 in design and look not to mention it wasn’t even a GT-500 at all in the original Gi60s). Anyway, it’s one fine car, but almost pales in comparison to Bean’s vehicle. In the movie (and later GSC comics), Bean drives the Roadbuster. I don’t think it’s a real car but I’d say it’s loosely based on a Viper. IT’s got enough gadgets and tricks built in to make James Bond jizz his pants. Cars in general are a large part of the series. That and guns, and accuracy on both counts. In the Gunsmith Cats comic you’ll occasionally just get a page or two discussing the finer points of whatever fire arm or vehicle is being shown off at the time.

Anyway, go check these out! I command it! Or NOT, it’s up to you.