You’d certainly be forgiven for thinking Alita: Battle Angel to be a new movie by James Cameron. It gives off his scent in more ways than one, but primarily in the union of completely gangbusters special effects and a completely lackluster script. Cameron’s credited as a producer, though, not that the title of “producer” can actually ever have one single definition. Based on the manga series Battle Angel Alita, the film adaptation is in actuality directed by Mexico Trilogy and Sin City helmer Robert Rodriguez, the guy who once claimed his approach as “Mariachi-style” — in which “creativity, not money, is used to solve problems.” There’s an immediate discordance between that approach and the mere notion of James “Titanic” Cameron, and Alita very clearly exhibits the latter’s big-budget sensibility at the expense of an underdog’s incumbent creativity.
Which is a shame, because that’s ostensibly what Alita is about. The title character (played by Rosa Salazar) is a spunky cyborg with a mysterious past, brought back to life by kindhearted scientist Ido (Christoph Waltz) in a war-torn world all but discarded by the elite who reside on a giant floating city in the sky. “Lower” and “upper” class are literalized, and promise of ascension to that higher world is enough leverage to get anyone to do anything. The setup is nearly verbatim to that of Elysium, with an impending reckoning between the rough-and-tumble Earth-dwellers and those nasty domineers above. But the reckoning never happens, despite a colossal amount of exposition pointing in that direction, and apart from a useless cameo (more on that in a second) we never even glimpse one of those nasty domineers.
Continue reading Alita: Battle Angel (2019)
The fourth episode of a given season of True Detective is apparently where the action comes in. After the first season kicked off with three episodes of deep philosophizing, “Who Goes There” gave us a heart-in-your-throat action chase in one of television’s most ambitious tracking shots. The fourth episode of the second season, “Down Will Come”, similarly launched us into a shitshow shootout that we’d eventually learn was the high point of the season.
The third season’s fourth entry brought us right up to that point, prepping us for a major action sequence…and then it cut to black right at the literal detonation. It’s somewhat rare to have a dearth of action sequences in our modern film and television entertainment, regardless of the genre. Outside of Mindhunter — which had not a single car chase, shootout, fistfight or explosion over the course of ten hourlong episodes — police procedurals are especially reliant on action. NCIS and the like have at least one set piece per episode.
Continue reading True Detective 3.4 – “The Hour and the Day”
When Darren Aronofsky’s Noah came out in 2014, the website I was writing for at the time sent me to screen it and review it. The film stars Russell Crowe as the biblical Noah and follows his ark-building journey after God warns him of a great world-cleansing flood. Animals arrive two-by-two for the cruise, forty days of rain ensues…you know the story. Amongst my original thoughts was the following:
“This is probably Aronofsky’s least personal work — the close-quarter character examinations of Pi and The Wrestler aren’t at play here, and while the character of Noah is drawn quite well, the confines of a big-budget blockbuster based on what may be the most widely-read story of all time just doesn’t allow for as much intimacy.”
I was wrong. Not about the impersonal nature of the film — that’s still the case — but about Noah being based on the Bible.
Continue reading Face Off: Noah’s Ark (1999) and Noah (2014)
As we discussed in our review of last week’s episode “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye,” the macro-level focus of True Detective has eschewed a mere whodunit? in favor of complex, haunted characters embroiled in ever-shifting family dynamics. When the two switch places — when plot overrides character, or when the plot twists at the expense of character development — it doesn’t necessarily make True Detective into a bad show so much as it makes it an atmospheric version of every other police procedural on TV. Working out a case is fun as a viewer, but it’s far more compelling to tag along as a well-crafted set of characters works it out (or doesn’t).
…that being said, the case unfolding in the third season of ‘Tec is a very, very compelling one. What started as a cut-and-dry kidnapping case was already more complicated by the end of the first episode, but “The Big Never” threw several big wrenches into the mix. In 1980, Wayne and Roland look into a possible connection with the local grocery plant and chase down an angle concerning the Purcells’ “best friend.” In 1990, Roland gives a deposition that paints both of those developments as important revelations. And in 2015, Wayne desperately clings to the facts of the case in an effort to finally solve it.
Continue reading True Detective 3.3 – “The Big Never”
HBO’s release strategies for their flagship series have always been carefully planned, and the one-two punch of the first two episodes of True Detective’s new season is no exception. The hooks were in after the first episode, “The Great War and Modern Memory,” but the character depth provided by “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” all but guarantees a return audience next week. The eight episode season will take us to the end of February, when the hype train for April’s Game of Thrones will be full steam ahead. And then, though there’s no official release date, look for HBO’s Watchmen to premiere right around the end of Thrones.
The premiere placement of “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” was smart on another level, though, because it got to the heart of what made ‘Tec great in the first place. Both episodes unfurled a twisty and time-jumpy mystery, but “Goodbye” had a particular focus on family that heightened investment in the whole affair. Complicated family dynamics are what the first season had and what the second season lacked, and the characters of this third season — Hays and the Purcell Family for sure, but even “minor” characters like Woodard — are better for having to balance a home life with their work.
Continue reading True Detective 3.2 – “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye”
To a child of the 21st century, the ancient era referred to as “the Eighties” must seem like a difficult place to live. No cell phones. No internet. None of that pervasive interconnectedness borne of technology where everyone knows everything the second it happens. If you hear that Steve McQueen just died, you hear about it through a friend who heard from somewhere else. And if your kids don’t come back home when they’re supposed to, you can’t just ping the Find My iPhone button in your pocket.
About one-third of the new season of True Detective is set in these quaint, social media-less Eighties — starting on November 7th, 1980, to be exact. A few things happened that day. Steve McQueen died. It was a full moon. And two kids went missing in Arkansas, Will and Julie Purcell, ages 10 and 12. That missing persons case extends far beyond 1980, though, having a profound effect on those involved for decades to come.
Continue reading True Detective 3.1 – “The Great War and Modern Memory”
On New Year’s Day it’s customary to make a ritual sacrifice to the all-powerful List Gods, the extradimensional appetites of which demand that all things — like, say, the best (and worst) movies of 2018 — be ordered and numbered before the new year can commence. For some reason, the List Gods also demand that “Top Ten” items be ranked in reverse sequential order so that everyone has to read the whole damn article to see what came in first.
Editor’s note: in cooperation with scary net neutrality stuff, Motion State’s Top Ten this year was subject to audit and review before publication to ensure that none of this news is deemed fake. As such, the views expressed in this commentary are actually 100% correct, factually speaking. These ones are just the best.
Continue reading Best of 2018
The superhero genre is not, in fact, a genre. Adapting comics to film has become a billion-dollar industry in the past decade, and the movies comprising that industry have certainly been typified by a familiar formula. Marvel movies are with few exceptions fun but mostly mindless. DC movies are with few exceptions Marvel movies with all the fun wrung out. Those exceptions usually end up being the best of the bunch, but the point is that the “superhero genre” — while technically an applicable term for things grouped by subject matter — is more a “superhero formula” applied across genres. There’s action-thriller, action-comedy, action-adventure, sci-fi action…heck, when’s someone gonna make a superhero rom-com or a superhero road trip flick? Or a super-workplace melodrama devoid of any action whatsoever?
That ain’t Aquaman, an action movie that feels like someone took three of the other action movies we just described and crammed them into one package. Starring Jason Momoa as himself, Aquaman is DC’s most eye-popping blockbuster in quite some time, more reliant on world-building and flashy set-pieces than Wonder Woman or the feeble Justice League, which is sort of saying something. By and large this world-building is thorough and these set-pieces are inventive. If you’re sensing a big huge HOWEVER looming on the horizon, then this review is evidently as predictable as Aquaman.
Continue reading Aquaman (2018)
Detail is king in Prospect, the debut feature from writing/directing duo Christopher Caldwell and Zeek Earl. There’s little to latch onto in the opening minutes that could be called “familiar” outside the general setup: two human characters, father and daughter, in a ship floating through space. But the young girl is writing in an alien language, her father is administering a strange drug, and the process they both engage with to launch their pod down to the surface of a nearby planet is about as complicated as the entire mission in First Man. There’s a device that the father holds in place and continuously winds like it’s a jack-in-the-box, though its purpose is never actually articulated.
World-building is the key to good science-fiction, whether that world is wholly foreign or just slightly askew from our own. The level of detail present in Prospect has garnered comparisons to Moon and even to Star Wars, both of which are high praise indeed. It’s evident from the very start of Prospect, though, that we’re diving even deeper into unfamiliar territory, making the film of stronger kin (visually, at least) with indie sci-fi like Automata, Young Ones, Monsters or District 9.
Continue reading Prospect (2018)
Art ages. The second a book hits the shelf, a movie hits the cinema, a painting hits the exhibit or a song hits the radio, that art is in some ways locked into that time period forever. Maybe as time passes that art ages poorly and is sentenced to oblivion — like, say, a racist Donald Duck cartoon or two — regardless of whether it was deemed appropriate or entertaining at the time of publication. Maybe as time passes that art does the opposite, somehow seems more fitting for the current time rather than the time in which it was published, which can often be a hallmark of good sci-fi art (like the original Westworld movie) or good political art (like the V for Vendetta comic) or both (like 1984). But sometimes it’s not so simple. Some art — like The Birdcage — remains both a product of its time and perfectly fit for the future.
This is not an automatic compliment, even in the case of a film as funny and as culturally significant as this one. It’s impossible to rewatch Birdcage — pitched as a somewhat innocent laugh-a-minute comedy and little else — and not think about how the same movie would be made today, what might be changed, what might be emphasized or removed entirely. Today, discussion of the movie must start and end with the way gay or bisexual characters are represented in the film.
Continue reading The Birdcage (1996)