Movies

Movie review: 'Alita: Battle Angel'

CGI-heavy and manga-inspired action movie hits and misses

By Rick Romancito
tempo@taosnews.com
Posted 2/16/19

There’s a reason manga works best on the printed page. As a 2-D image brought to life by talented Asian illustrators who unleash a vivid combination of dynamic action ...

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Movies

Movie review: 'Alita: Battle Angel'

CGI-heavy and manga-inspired action movie hits and misses

Posted

There’s a reason manga works best on the printed page.

As a 2-D image brought to life by talented Asian illustrators who unleash a vivid combination of dynamic action, saturated color, and spectacular design while depicting characters in impossible physiques doing unimaginable things, they stand out as a visually arresting art form.

Even when translated to animé, they still push the envelope from ultra cute childish imagery to way past propriety in terms of design.

“Alita: Battle Angel” is a valiant effort to bring a manga universe to life amid a hard-edged futuristic cinematic environment using live action figures enhanced with digital animation — most evident in the lead character’s overlarge eyes. Sometimes it works, and other times the words “why bother” may flash through your over-stimulated brain.

It’s a movie designed for audiences that aren’t apt to question much of what they see, mostly because what whizzes past is so fast and amazing you simply don’t have a chance.

But, is it good?

Well, sorta.

The ideas at its core are ones that attracted me to manga in the first place: Worlds set far into a technologically advanced future with revolutions and apocalypses that have come and gone, people and creatures enhanced with cyber-tech, and stories that find a way to be grounded in humanity despite all that.

Director Robert Rodríguez, working out of his Troublemaker Studios lair in Texas, based this film on a series of manga books by Yukito Kishiro called “Gunnm.” Mentoring him of sorts as producer was James Cameron, who had wanted to do this movie but found himself too wrapped up in “Avatar” sequels.

The film’s story begins when a man named Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) discovers the remains of a battle robot in the slag heap of a utopian world hovering miles about his slum-city home, which might be somewhere in the long past Kansas plains. Using the robotic body of his late daughter, Dr. Ido constructs a young woman whom he calls Alita (Rosa Salazar).

Alita has no memory of her former life or why she ended up thrown out with the trash. But, once awakened, she is a blank slate: Everything is new and exciting, shiny and full of wonder. To everyone else, it’s depressing. The only thing they look forward to is an ultra-violent spectator sport called “Machine Ball,” which is played very much like “Rollerball” (1975), and in fact the only way any citizen can rise above their station in life, like in that film, is to become a champion.

The problem is that Alita has a history that transcends everything in her present world. It is also a history that is being monitored by unseen overlords from above, that is in the omnipresent floating city of Tiphares.

There is romance, lots of action, and an end-goal for the characters to work toward. A lot of stuff happens before the film leaves the hint of a sequel or two down the line.

So, is it good? Maybe — if you’re into the whole James Cameron-inspired larger-than-life action thing following a simplistic storyline — or maybe not, if the vast possibilities suggested by real manga is what floats your cyber-boat.

This film co-stars Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeff Fahey, and in a brief uncredited role, Edward Norton.

Tempo grade: B+

“Alita Battle Angel” is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language.

It is screening daily at Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres, 110 Old Talpa Cañón Road. For show times, tickets and additional information, call (575) 751-4245 or visit storyteller7.com.

Also showing in Taos

Isn’t It Romantic

MPAA rating: PG-13 for language, some sexual material, and a brief drug reference.

Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres

Natalie is a New York architect who works hard to get noticed at her job, but is more likely to deliver coffee and bagels than design the city's next skyscraper.

Things go from bad to weird when she gets knocked unconscious during a subway mugging and magically wakes up to find herself in an alternate universe. Always cynical about love, Natalie's worst nightmare soon comes true when she suddenly discovers that she's playing the leading lady in a real-life romantic comedy.

It is screening daily at Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres, 110 Old Talpa Cañón Road. For show times, tickets and additional information, call (575) 751-4245 or visit storyteller7.com.

Happy Death Day 2U

MPAA rating: PG-13 for violence, language, sexual material and thematic elements.

Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres

In this sequel to “Happy Death Day (2017), collegian Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) wakes up in horror to learn that she's stuck in a parallel universe. Her boyfriend Carter (Isreal Broussard) is now with someone else, and her friends and fellow students seem to be completely different versions of themselves.

When Tree discovers that Carter's roommate has been altering time, she finds herself once again the target of a masked killer. When the psychopath starts to go after her inner circle, Tree soon realizes that she must die over and over again to save everyone.

Writer-director Christopher Landon also did the first movie.

It is screening daily at Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres, 110 Old Talpa Cañón Road. For show times, tickets and additional information, call (575) 751-4245 or visit storyteller7.com.

Vice

MPAA rating: R for language and some violent images

Taos Community Auditorium

There is a very dark “what if” at the root of writer-director Adam McKay’s comedy-drama “Vice.” What it suggests we’ll address in a moment, but it is a nagging issue that will resonate long after seeing it.

The movie is a chronicle of former Vice President Dick Cheney’s rise to power beginning in the Nixon years to its peak during the George W. Bush administration. It is not, however, a traditional biopic that mechanically ticks off the highlights of a major American political figure. As written and directed by Adam McKay (“Anchorman,” “Talledega Nights” and “Stepbrothers”), it flows in quirky fits and starts that are at turns shocking, insightful and illuminating, but should not be taken as entirely accurate.

By way of a title card at the beginning, this is fully admitted because Cheney as we have come to know is one of the most secretive individuals in politics. This aspect is also what the movie uses as its primary theme.

“Beware the quiet man. For while others speak, he watches. And while others act, he plans. And when they finally rest … he strikes.” That quote, which appears as one of many peppered throughout the film, presciently wants us to view the proceedings through an admittedly liberal point of view, much like, unfortunately, the pseudo-documentaries by Michael Moore. Aside from that, “Vice” offers a lot of food for thought.

While the movie centers on Cheney, as played with understated brilliance by Christian Bale, it’s major secondary persona is his wife Lynne, played with sharp intelligence by Amy Adams. They are the epitome of what people used to call a “power couple.” Despite warnings to stay away, she manages to force her way into the White House situation room to be with her husband as the events of 9/11 are unfolding. She is also there for every important career decision her husband makes as he quietly watches, and listens.

Like the same period of time etched by Oliver Stone’s “W,” Cheney’s tenure during the G.W. Bush administration is when his long simmering wait is finally over. It is the time he strikes. How he does it is clever and more than a little scary considering the precedence it creates for any future POTUS. Obviously, there is a not so subtle finger pointed squarely at the present office-holder.

Now, about that “what if.”

The film begins with a segment that depicts Cheney as a young man with a serious drinking and bad behavior problem. After two DUIs and losing his job more than once, his wife finally sits him down and gives him an ultimatum: Straighten up or that’s it, she’s gone. So, he does. He gets a job, stops drinking and fighting and before long finds himself on his way to becoming a political shark in an ocean full of chum. One can’t help but wonder what might have happened if Lynne simply wrote him off and split? Would Cheney have dived head-first into the deep end and never come up? Would he have never become the de facto president during George W. Bush’s term? Would the world be a different place today?

Yup. We certainly do live in interesting times.

Tempo grade: A

“Vice” is rated R for language and some violent images.

This film will be screened at 2 p.m. Sunday (Feb. 17) and at 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday (Feb. 18-23). An additional matinee is planned Saturday (Feb. 23) at 2 p.m. at the Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. For tickets and additional information, call (575) 758-2052 or visit tcataos.org.

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