Category Archives: Film Reviews
The texture of a trilogy is always based in a texture of resolution and giving perspective on how the characters have grown. “How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” starts off a bit as what we have seen before which is the structure of saving the dragons with Toothless, a Night Fury being able to control his fellow reptiles. The transgression of the movie, without giving too much away, involves the essence of change and what method of acceptance allows all the characters to move forward. Hiccup, as the unlikely hero of his community of Vikings, suffers from the aspect that his identity is defined by Toothless and not what he possibly can become. Even though Astrid is by his side he doesn’t trust his instincts and unfortunately, at times, his would-be princess is used in a more conventional way to push forward the story. Like Hiccup, Toothless suffers in a similar way when a Light Fury under the guise of another agenda (not of her own doing) lures Toothless away. All this is done without malice which is a nice structure but leads back to the themes of identity and loyalty eventually as Hiccup and Astrid make their to the Hidden World. Without revealing the spoilers, the films relates this essence of existing and growing up in a sensible, emotional and literal way without creating too much of an overwrought scenario making it both palpable for the younger viewers (through the pratfalls and comedic awkwardness of both Hiccup and Toothless) while still maintaining a mythic story structure and progression to satisfy many adult expectations.
By Tim Wassberg
The mixture of James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez definitely has a great angle to it. “Alita: Battle Angel” was a title heard years ago and moved around as myth actually for a time. Harrison Ford was attached per se at one point. This story of stories that Cameron had developed for years actually was something Rodriguez told Inside Reel in a Fest Track interview at SxSW in March 2018. Reading the first 3 volumes before talking with producer Jon Landau as well as leads Rosa Salazar & Keaan Johnson in Austin (see their Fest Track interview here), gave a good perception of the structure but what is one to say between an anime/graphic novel that was written many years ago versus the ideals of the actual script (which having been co-written by James Cameron definitely should retain his story sense). What “Alita: Battle Angel” does very well is keep itself focused. The one true balance that stays pretty crisp and clear throughout the film is Rosa Salazar as Alita. Many may think that it is simply a computer performance but that could not put the sense of innocence, anger and breathe in what is seen here. Granted it is not Andy Serkis but who can compete on that level. What Rosa brings is a soul to this girl who was originally built as a killing machine. Salazar has been missing in part from many of the media rounds per se (in large part) but that might be better so the character simply exists on her own. Rodriguez’s touch is here for sure but it is sometimes lost in the bigger sequences. Oddly enough, this reviewer kept seeing “Speed Racer” in the race sequences per se. They are good but at a certain point are more video game oriented.
The character build even though it takes a while in the beginning does the film correctly but there is no “a-ha” moment. The scene though where Alita first tries her new body with fighting moves shows a path to identity and the sequence inside a bar (a very visceral scene in the graphic novel) definitely comes to life. The reason why is that all the characters in there are so unique. It makes one think of “From Dusk Till Dawn”. What seems to be missing is some of Robert’s camera tricks and stylistic touches although to be fair Rodriguez did mention in that same interview that this was not him doing a Robert Rodriguez film but instead doing a Jim Cameron film. So in that respect it does work, the script is tight, the visuals are fluid and it does its job. It is fun to watch but it is not spectacular. There is never quite a moment where Alita becomes the chosen one or that her love against her own life will ring out. One scene inside the apartment of Hugo (played by Johnson) comes close and really makes the CG of Rosa as a cyborg really key into the story. The climax, like most, has to serve a story point and that is understandable. Christoph Waltz does an admirable job as the Doc and Jennifer Connelly & Mahershala Ali do their part within the structure but Ed Skrein as a competitor is the only one who brings an edge to the proceedings. Here is hoping “Alita” connects to the audience because unlike many recent popcorn films, it understands the concept of a beginning, middle and end within a true story arc. But it is in the silent moments, when you can hear the acting, that make the most impact. One simple act of Alita laying her head on her father’s shoulder has almost more power than a large action sequence. But that said, one does not exist in the large scale, big budget film without the other.
By Tim Wassberg
As franchises evolve, so do their storylines. Simple is better but when dealing with mythology (and, even more daringly, pop culture), time is very finite but it is also finding the balance of two worlds, between demographics, between ages, sometimes even between genders. “Lego Movie 2: The Second Part” uses the essence of playtime as a perception for the travels of Emmett through the essence of his human counterpart. While it is an interesting construct, sometimes the interplay can be a little haphazard. The key might have been never showing the live action faces. That jarring perception between reality and animation can be tricky. Here, the essence of the plot, unlike the first one is not just welcoming a new person into the world but also growing up and learning to share. That definitely supplants an interesting tone since one side of the coin is male (think apocalypse) and the other side is female (outer space, filled with the notion of love with a bit of darkness). This texture again can work well but there is never a brilliant moment despite the overarching structure.
Chris Pratt, as always, brings his game, but what is real great as the secondary character Rex Dangervest is that Pratt infers a pretty dead on impression of Kurt Russell/Jack Burton into the mix. Granted the lines aren’t anywhere near as sarcastic or funny as “Big Trouble In Little China” but there is that sense of connection (to “Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2” anyway). This part of the story is the most engaging because it is the story of the Id and unfurls a slightly darker tone. On the reverse, Tiffany Haddish as the alien queen brings a sort of sass, though the musical sequences can be a bit schmaltzy even in their attempt at being sardonic. With a darker texture, there were little glimpses of “Audrey II” in “Little Shop Of Horrors”. Will Arnett continues his disassemblage of Batman, whose lines land the most laughs, likely because of improv at times. Alison Brie as Unkitty is fun but limited in her scope. Nick Offerman as Metalbeard fares a little better but because the film needs to move at a brisk pace sometimes character development gets less priority than the next sequence. The eventual resolution plays at nostalgia but the build at the pinnacle of the second act is a tricky essence to write out of. It uses 80s strategy in terms of balance despite plot holes. Ultimately “Lego Movie 2: The Second Part” is fun but not very transformative.
By Tim Wassberg