By Robin E. Simmons
ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL
Sometimes, FX heavy futuristic sci-fi action adventures are worth seeing just for the eye-popping CGI if not for the story itself. Moviegoers love being whisked away to another world so unlike the one with which we so blithely claim familiarity.
But as in real life, the bigger questions of who we are and why we’re here still intrigues.
Based on Yukito Kishiro’s multi-volume Japanese manga, director Robert Rodriguez and long-time friend producer/co-writer James Cameron have fashioned an epic adventure around notions of identity and memory.
It all begins when Alita (a terrific Rosa Salazar) awakens with no memory of who she is but finds herself in an unfamiliar future world in the year2563, 300 years after “The Fall.” It’s a world split between the earthly proletarian Iron City and the elite, upscale Zalem, where the privileged live.
Most of the often-violent action takes plays in the dilapidated, junkyard like Iron City patrolled by Centurion robots. It’s a place where the strong prey on the weak. It’s also a place where Alita finds herself drawn to the ultraviolent gladiatorial-like Motorball games where she gets to use and show off her killer instincts and heightened combat skills including the lethal “Panser Kunst fighting moves.
She is taken in by Doc Ido (Christoph Waltz), an empathetic doctor who realizes that somewhere in Alita’s orphaned cyborg’s shell is the heart and soul of a young human woman with an extraordinary past.
When Hugo (Keean Johnson), her street-smart new friend offers to help trigger her memories, she discovers the deadly and corrupt forces that run Iron City.
Alita not only uncovers clues to her past – she soon realizes that those in power will stop at nothing to control her unique and awesome fighting skills. If only she can stay out of their grasp, she might be able to save herself, her friends, family and the world she’s grown to love.
This film works best – if at all — if you study its backstory a little in advance.
Make no mistake, this goofy and ambitious misfire could and should have broken new ground with a story that matched the stunning images. It’s a mess, but a glorious one.
The great cast includes, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, Michelle Rodriguez, Eliza Gonzalez, Jeff Fahey and Casper Van Dien.
NEW BLU FOR THE HOME THEATER:
AT ETRNITY’S GATE
And who better than an artist to tell it? Director Julian Schnabel takes us on a deep dive into the mind of a genius obsessed with capturing and understanding the mysteries of life and existence itself.
Not only an accomplished and acclaimed filmmaker, Schnabel is an artist in his own right who for decades has claimed an affection and emotional connection with the Dutch artist. Luckily, his long friendship with actor Willem Dafoe further informs and empowers his magnificent and memorable film. Dafoe is spellbinding and utterly convincing as the complicated and driven artist.
We believe him when he says, “Existence can’t be without meaning.” And then “Without painting I can’t live.” Later: “When I look at nature I see more clearly that ties that unite us all. Vibrating energy speaking in God’s voice. Sometimes it’s so intense I lose consciousness.” Van Gogh’s letters and journals inspired Vincent’s memorable dialogue. But this is not in any way a forensic biopic, but rather a reflection of Van Gogh’s mindset as revealed in his art and life events.
In a moment of clarity and salf-awareness, Van Gogh says of his art, “I can make people feel what it’s like to be alive.” Has there ever been a better description or definition of this man’s extraordinary gift to the world?
Rupert Friend, Mads Mikkelsen and Oscar Isaac co-star in this wonderful recreation of a world long gone but still with us in beloved images.
HANNIE CAULDER (1971)
In Burt Kennedy’s robust British-financed western, Raquel Welch plays Hannie Caulder a frontier woman seeking revenge for rape and the murder of her husband. The movie also features one-time sexpot Diana Dors as a plump madam, Christopher Lee as a gunsmith and an un-credited Stephen Boyd as an ineffectual preacher.
The story starts with vicious, inept outlaws Emmett (Ernest Borgnine), Frank (Jack Elam) and Rufus Clemens (Strother Martin) going on a rampage with a bloody bank robbery. They escape and kill a stationmaster before gang raping his wife Hannie, leaving her for dead. She survives makes it to a well where she encounters Thomas Luther Price (Robert Culp), a friendly bounty hunter. She asks him to train her to exact revenge. At first, he refuses but eventually relents after Welch offers herself as payment for his services.
But first, Price tells her they have to see a man (Christopher Lee) about a gun in Mexico.
Welch is in top form here playing a character who just wants to survive a lawless and brutal west where the army sleeps on the job, the sheriff looks the other way and the only justice comes from the end of a bounty hunter’s gun?