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Alita: Battle Angel Trailer – James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez Made A Sci-Fi Blockbuster Together, And It Looks Weird As Fuuuuuck

The first trailer for this manga adaptation is…something, all right.

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For as long as I’ve been reading about movies on the internet, I’ve been reading about Alita: Battle Angel. The live-action adaptation of the Japanese manga is the definition of “long-gestating” — in fact, James Cameron first announced his intentions to make the film as a follow-up to Titanic in freaking 2000! Yes, the year 2000, with no numbers or anything! That puts its rough time in development at 17 years, which is insane really. Cameron always said it was a project he would get to at some point, but then a pesky little thing called Avatar got in the way, and the project got put on the backburner. Again, and again, and again. Seriously, just take a look at the film’s Wikipedia page — the “Development” tab is one hell of a roller coaster.

But now, nearly two decades after Cameron first expressed interest in making it, Alita: Battle Angel is a real thing…although its form is not quite what we were promised initially. Since Cameron made the decision to devote the rest of his life to making 6000 Avatar sequels, the writer/director finally made the executive decision to give the project to someone else. That someone else ended up being Robert Rodriguez, who finally got the film into production last year. And now the first fruits of that labor have arisen in the form of the Alita: Battle Angel trailer…and it creates one hell of a first impression, I’ll give it that.

Is it a good first impression though? Honestly…no. While I love the concept behind this, and appreciate the ambition of what Cameron and Rodriguez are trying to do — oh boy, there’s something spectacularly off about everything in this film.

Most of that weirdness can be directly attributed to the Alita character, who is one distinct looking main character. Appearing like an anime character come to life, Alita has the classic huge anime eyes, and overall looks absolutely bizarre. And, sure, that’s reasonably part of her character — she isn’t human, so should look a little bit off. But the problem isn’t that she doesn’t look like a normal human: it’s that she looks like a cheap CGI construct of a creature, moving around freely in a cartoon world with reckless abandon.

I tend to not like to using this comparison as it feels awfully insulting to video game, but there are complete shots of this trailer that do indeed look like a CGI cutscene — or even worse, Final Fantasy: The Spirit Within. From the beginning, Cameron pitched this film as being very CGI heavy. Hell, he even conceptualized the Alita character as a completely CGI created character back in the mid-2000’s which, at the time, was a pretty nuts thing to even imagine. But now we live in a time where fully CGI characters are commonplace, and quite a lot of them end up looking pretty great when in action.

But Alita does NOT look great, at least in these trailers, and it’s not just the huge ass eyes either. Just the way she moves is off-putting, and the way Alita’s entire face looks grafted on to her body makes her a distracting presence every moment she pops up. And, honestly, I’m going to put most of the blame on this lack of graphic fidelity directly on the hands of Robert Rodriguez. The dude is at his worst when using an abundance of computer-generated imagery, mostly because he doesn’t seem to care whether or not any of it looks “realistic” — I honestly think he likes things to look ridiculously cartoony. I mean, have you SEEN images from The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl? 

*Shudder*

And, yet, he doesn’t seem to care. Ever since he started Troublemaker Studios, his go-to has been shooting everything he does in his garage, set against a green screen, style be damned. And well that’s “fine”on a Spy Kids movie (or even something like Sin City, which is so heavily stylized it can paint its rough edges in a pretty noir coat), it absolutely does not work on a $200 million dollar, would-be sci-fi epic. Say what you will about Avatar or James Cameron, but even with his love of computer-generated imagery, he remains a perfectionist to his core. Avatar NEVER looked cheap or even overtly cartoonish, at least not in the same way Alita: Battle Angel so far looks.

Then again, Cameron’s perfectionism is probably what kept us waiting nearly 20 years for this movie in the first place. Maybe what it needed was a Robert Rodriguez, who will bang out a film in a year and consider it a win if things look “good enough.” But, once again, Alita: Battle Angel is Rodriguez working on a scale he never has before. And from what I see so far, I’m not so sure it’s him playing to his strong suits.

I’m still interested in the movie simply due to Cameron’s involvement (and his script, which he co-wrote with Laeta Kalogridis), but I feel like this is a project that’s already doomed from the get-go. It’s a super niche adaptation, and a costly one at that. And though I will never claim to speak to the masses, I can’t help but feel that if I’M creeped out by what I see, the mainstream will be even more turned off. It also doesn’t help that the film has very little star power to speak of: I love Christoph Waltz as much as the next guy, but he isn’t going to put asses in seats here. Jennifer Connoly has also been off the A-list for a very long time, and Mahershala Ali, well great, is still very much an up-and-comer. It’s a decent cast for a film fan, but it doesn’t seem like a particularly bankable one.

But, ultimately, it’s all about the feel of the movie here, and this trailer does a rough job presenting anything but a feeling of “WTF did I just watch?” There might yet be a fun and exciting sci-fi adventure in Alita: Battle Angel, even when watching through that mode. But if the old saying about the eyes being the window to the soul is accurate, then this movie has one FUGLY soul at its core.

Alita: Battle Angel will hit theaters right in the middle of next year’s summer fray: July 20, 2018. Good luck to it there, I guess — my gut can’t help but feel like this one is going to be another Ghost in the Shell level disaster for Fox, but maybe some cautious optimism could do me some good here. After all, I should know better than to doubt the power of James Cameron at this point. And who knows: maybe audiences will be hypnotized into buying a ticket by the horrifying uncanny valley that is Alita’s soul-sucking bug eyes? I’m sure that’s what Fox is hoping for, at least.


Also published on Medium.

Matthew Legarreta is the Editor and Owner of Freshly Popped Culture. A big ol' ball of movie, TV, and video game loving flesh, Matthew has been writing about pop culture for nearly a decade. Matthew also loves writing about himself in the third person, because it makes him feel important (or something.)

Movies

Feel Free To Take The Rest of The Day Off, The John Wick: Chapter 3 Trailer Is Here

The national holiday known as John Wick Trailer Day begins…now.

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I love movie trailers. I know for some they find the mere act of watching a movie trailer a “spoiler” for what is to come in the final film, and look, I get it. Sometimes, there are moments and things I see in a trailer that, when I watch the full movie, I wish I could have taken back seeing. But, for me, there’s something so magical about the trailer watching experience that I can’t throw away the art form entirely. And though you might bristle at my definition of trailer making as an “art form”…eh, you’re wrong. There is a beauty to a well produced, well edited trailer, and the best ones are examples of the power that come with the form. Yes, they’re marketing, and yes, they’re sometimes scattershot, thrown together bores. But the good ones? Watching those come hand in hand with watching movies, at least from my perspective.

All of which is a long preamble to me saying that, on Youtube, I have a private little playlist of trailers for movies, TV, and video games that I absolutely LOVE. Trailers that I return to again and again and again, just because the craft that went into them is so staggering. One of those trailers is this first one for John Wick: Chapter 2, which was my first indication that “Woah, this one is going to be something special.” And it very much was! But even outside the general kickassery of that sequel, the trailer was and is absolutely delightful. So coming into today’s big release of the John Wick: Chapter 3 trailer, I had some very high hopes. Would — and could — this trailer manage to match the quantified hype levels that the Chapter 2 teaser put out?

Honestly, no, not quite. But the first trailer for Chapter 2 didn’t show us a FREAKING KATANA MOTORCYCLE CHASE/FIGHT, so it rather evens out, don’t you think?

And not being as masterful as the first Chapter 2 trailer ≠ being bad. In fact, from a purely technical and academic level, this trailer would probably best be described as something that, fundamentally, “fucks to the max.” You got the aforementioned motorcycle chase, which indeed fucks hard. You got the much teased “Keanu on a horse” action, which indubitably fucks. You got John Wick murdering people with a book, which of course fucks, how could you even question such at thing. And you got Halle Berry and her attack dogs joining in on all the fun, which in this franchise of course, is murdering people. Sounds like Trailer Fucks Bingo, if you ask me.

And what the trailer does so well (and what I hope the film will do well too) is amp up the tension, to an insane degree. Ending the second film on that huge cliffhanger was a brilliant move, as seeing Wick prepare in the “one hour head start” he has to get the hell out of New York before literally every hitman around comes to assassinate him makes for a heck of a sequel pitch. And the trailer plays around with that deliciously, racketing up the tension in the first half to deliver the true fireworks in the second. Set to a remixed version of the crooner tune “The Impossible Dream” by Andy Williams, it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the operatic, pulse pounding remix of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” used in the Chapter 2 trailer, but it still makes for an interesting, exciting contrast.

John Wick: Chapter 3 Trailer

And everything else about this trailer is classic John Wick greatness, from the many, MANY creative kills (seriously, that book thing) to the surprisingly crisp, exciting photography brought to life by cinematographer Dan Laustsen. Lausten took an already pretty presentation from the original John Wick and made it flat our gorgeous, and that sense of visual beauty is all over this trailer. I love action movies that take the time to actually look good, and John Wick is one of the few franchises committed to having that kind of aesthetic. In addition to the mayhem, carnage, and wacky-ass world building, of course.

Anywho, this is a great trailer, but it does little to change my overall excitement for the film — after all, it’s hard to go much farther than “PUMP THIS SHIT IN MY VEINS NOW,” right?

John Wick: Chapter 3Parabellum (yes, this one has a subtitle, to the annoyance of SEO managers everywhere) hits theaters on May 19. And even if the first trailer is a smidge below the one for John Wick: Chapter 2, the astounding first two posters released for the film more than make up for it. BRB, clearing wall space.

“John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is on the run for two reasons… he’s being hunted for a global $14 million dollar open contract on his life, and for breaking a central rule: taking a life on Continental Hotel grounds. The victim was a member of the High Table who ordered the open contract. John should have already been executed, except the Continental’s manager, Winston, has given him a one-hour grace period before he’s “Excommunicado” – membership revoked, banned from all services and cut off from other members. John uses the service industry to stay alive as he fights and kills his way out of New York City.”


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God Damn It, Sony is Back On That Ghostbusters 3 Shit Again

“I am so freaking tired writing about Ghostbusters sequels.” – Me, in the year like Two-Thousand-God-Damn-Twelve

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I thought we were passed this, you guys. I really, truly did.

After nearly a decade of writing stuff about Ghostbusters 3, I thought the release of Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters reboot (maybe subtitled Answer the Call? I don’t fucking know) signified the end of an era. All the in-fighting, fanboy hyperbole, acute sexism, accusations of sexism, controversies, cameo wrangling, and nostalgia baiting all led up to 2016’s Ghostbusters — and it all fizzled like a recently used Muon Trap. The reboot got mixed-positive reception from critics, but absolutely bombed at the box office, grossing a paltry $229 million worldwide off a budget of $144 million. After literally decades of build-up, I thought this was how the saga ended: a middling-to-bad reboot that would end up being forgotten to time, in a franchise that likely wouldn’t see the light of day for decades to come.

Oh, but don’t underestimate the folks at Sony Pictures! Apparently it only took them two years to turnaround from the failure of 2016’s Ghostbusters, wipe their hands on their jeans, and get back to work on revitalizing the series. So in a move that I can’t imagine anyone in the year of our lord 2019 asked for, we’re getting another Ghostbusters movie, completely divorced from everything set up from the last one. So another reboot, essentially!

But, no, that would be inaccurate. Because this project will be a sequel of sorts…a sequel to the original two Ghostbusters, that is. In what should have been clear from the start, but inexplicably wasn’t for the team behind 2016’s reboot, these “thirty years later” revitalizations are incredibly popular nowadays. From The Force Awakens to Creed, every series that was once popular decades ago is now being revitalized, with a younger cast indeed “rebooting” the series, but the old guard sticking around to serve as a continuation, rather than a rehash, of what came before. It’s like having your cake and eating it too: the studio gets their “new” franchise off the back of an old one, but you respect and excite fans by showing more of what they loved the first time. It’s a win-win and, quite honestly, I think the quality of these legacyquels (as Matt Singer so brilliantly coined) has been better than the standard reboot/remakes we were getting for a while there.

By going this route, franchise films can at least make a statement about their own impact, or their place in the pop culture cannon, which is a lot more than standards reboots usually do. Those end up just saying the same exact story over again, trying to tap into the magic of seeing it for the first time, but absolutely failing to do so. You know, like how the 2016 Ghostbusters did. As much as one group might like to bitch and moan about how casting women ruined everything, it wasn’t the genitals of the cast that took down Ghostbusters, and it’s absolutely insane I have to write something like that in the first place. It was the uninspired, meandering, and ultimately forgettable way Ghostbusters tried to cash in on its predecessor’s clout that ultimately did it in.

But let’s make like Sony, and forget that whole movie ever even happened: a new Ghostbusters is coming, whether you like it or not. And if you think this is just in the planning stages, or something Sony rattled off as a potential project during an investor’s meeting, think again. Because, slightly burying the lede here (that you probably read everywhere else, so forgive me for assuming you already know) is the fact this project is coming from none other than Jason Reitman, the filmmaker behind Tully, Juno, and the like. He’s also the son of franchise director Ivan Reitman which, y’know, I’m sure is totally unrelated.

Anywho, he has been working on it in secret for a while now alongside Monster House writer Gil Kenan, and the project is already set to begin shooting by the end of the year for a Summer 2020 release. Still don’t believe me? Just take a look at the already released teaser for the film, reportedly done by Reitman himself, and brandishing the “Summer 2020” release in plain sight. This one’s coming folks, and coming fast.

Now just in case you needed reminding, this one DEFINITELY takes place in the original continuity — you hear that Elmer Bernstein score? Oh yeah, buddy, that’s OG shit right there. And on the surface, yeah, it’s pretty cool to ape that aesthetic. And Jason Reitman is a strong director, even if this one seems like a very strange fit for him (his films are funny, sure, but not out-and-out comedies: his sensibilities are more Sofia Coppola than Judd Apatow). But I just can’t get excited about this thing, not in a way I might have back in 2012 or whatever. After years and years of talk about further Ghostbuster films, only to get the subpar 2016 reboot, I’ve rather soured on this franchise. Unless the pitch is really strong, and the actors involved (all teenagers, from what’s been reported) are interesting, I just can’t get enthused about the prospects of Ghostbusters 3: Here We Fuckin’ Go Again.

Even worse will be the discourse around it, and the shit that stained the last one floating back up to the surface. Another round of talking about whether or not the original movie is good (it is.) Another round talking about whether Ghostbusters 2 is bad (it is, very.) Another round of needless appreciation for Paul Feig’s tepid reboot. Another round of MRA asshats whipping their dicks out and complaining about how only men can shoot imaginary beams out of imaginary packs while capturing imaginary beings in an imaginary story. Another round of well-meaning but overbearing people, in kind, giving more credit than necessary to a movie that frankly doesn’t deserve it. And another round of me whining about the discourse, whilst doing absolutely nothing to divorce myself from it.

It’s all just…so…tiring.

Ghostbusters 3

Like Bill Murray in another, non-Ghostbusters movie (that actually is a lot better than Ghostbusters if you think about it), I can’t help but feel I am stuck in an endless loop writing about this thing. Ten years from now? I’ll be writing about Ghostbusters 3. Twenty years from now? Ghostbusters 3. Thirty years from now? I won’t be writing about anything, what with the collapse of all life on the planet and what not. But the last thing I write before I fight in the water wars, or engage in vehicular combat for gasoline, or — most likely — drown in the rising sea levels?

Fucking Ghostbusters 3, man.


Also published on Medium.

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The Crushing, Existential Sadness of The Disappointing Glass Reviews

R.I.P. Shyamalanassaince: September 2015 – January 2019.

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I am eternally fascinated by the career of M. Night Shyamalan. After bursting on the scene with The Sixth Sense nearly 20 years ago, the man went on to gain an incredibly rare status amongst his directing brethren: actual name recognition! He’s one of the few directors who many people outside Film Twitter can name — up there with Spielberg, Scorsese, and Tarantino. But unlike those other directors, Shyamalan’s brand can probably be described more as “infamous” than famous, especially in recent years. The man went from the New Spielberg to a laughing stock…literally.

And well his fall from grace is, in some accord, deserved (his movies post Signs are all dire to varying degrees), I still can’t help but feel pretty bad for the guy. He went from being a huge up-and-coming talent, the next big thing in the world of Hollywood, to an absolute joke amongst critics, audiences, and his peers. It’s the classic Hollywood rise-and-fall, played out in slow motion over a twenty year period. But right when all things seemed over for Shyamalan, and he delivered for the first time something Hollywood would not allow (a legitimate box office bomb in the form of After Earth), Shyamalan attempted what few failed artists can surmount: an honest-to-goodness comeback.

And it wasn’t a sudden comeback either: Shyamalan spent years revitalizing his public image, first doing so with the surprisingly solid The Visit back in 2015. It was a return to low-budget roots for the director, and its nature as a sort of pallet cleanser for the director was very much apparent. It was a movie he seemed obliged to make to get even an ounce of his creative juices flowing again, and it turned out to be a pretty fun little comedy/horror movie to boot.

After some decent television work developing and directing Wayward Pines, Shyamalan came roaring back to life with another low budget delight, 2017’s Split. It was a film that was thrilling, funny, well crafted, and genuinely exciting. Basically, it was something we hadn’t seen from the man in damn near 15 years, and audiences took notice. On the backing of a bravado post credit scene, linking the film to his previous cult classic Unbreakable, response to the movie was incredibly promising. And remember that whole thing about Shyamalan’s Hollywood clout running out because he made a bomb? Well, Split, off a $9 million budget, made $238 million — making it a massive, massive hit. A good movie AND a hugely successful one? Yup, Shyamalan was back, and as a huge fan of his first three features, I couldn’t have been happier for him.

Now we stand a mere five days away from the release of Glass, Shyamalan’s newest feature. As a sequel to his current hit Split, and one of his past hits, Unbreakable, it serves as pretty much a crescendo for the entire man’s career. One of those “everything has been leading up to this” moments those voiceover guys are always talking about in the commercial. Glass was — had to be — the thing that solidified the Shyamalanassaince.

…And he whiffed it. Goddamn it, he fucking whiffed it.

Glass Reviews

That’s at least according to the first reviews for the film, which were released Wednesday following the lift of the film’s press embargo. To say they were incredibly mixed is an understatement. Here’s just a sampling of some of the notable ones:

‘Glass’ Review: M. Night Shyamalan’s Grounded Superhero Movie Is the Biggest Disappointment of His Career

Glass’ tries and fails to shatter the comic book movie formula

M. Night Shyamalan’s Glass is half-empty and deeply unsatisfying

M. Night Shyamalan’s Long-Awaited ‘Glass’ Is A Bewildering Misfire

‘GLASS’ REVIEW: M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN BREAKS HIS CLEVEREST FRANCHISE

I don’t say this often because I’m not a character in an early 90’s sitcom, but…ouch-a-rooney. Those are not pretty reviews, and are a direct return back to the critical dragging that was unleashed upon films like Lady in the Water, The Happening, and The Last Airbender. And though it would be easy to cry “Well, the critics are wrong!” here (as people on the internet often do, bafflingly)…they weren’t wrong with those last three. They were all terrible. And with Shyamalan’s track record, I’m unfortunately going to have to take the critic’s side here: by all accounts, Glass is an excruciating disappointment. And, man…what a fucking bummer.

Of course, I have yet to see film myself (I’m not special like all those other film journalists), and I remain somewhat hopeful I’ll come out on the positive side of things. But, at this point, it’s undeniable that this whole thing has put a massive dent in the pent up anticipation for the film. Since Split, it’s been a solid two years of anticipation from Shyamalan apologists like myself: we finally got the sequel we spent a decade asking for and, even better, it came in a way that seemed unique, fresh, and necessary. It wasn’t just a last ditch effort for Shyamalan to gain some clout back from his former fans. He did the work, guys! But like a drug addict who was on the op-and-up, only to suffer an insurmountable relapse, Shyamalan has fallen once more. He was supposed to be our Timothee Chalamat — our Beautiful Boy. And now we’re all very, very sad Steve Carrell.

Because, on a personal note? This has massively curbed my enthusiasm for Glass which, up until this point, was pretty sky high. I really had faith in the movie — naively, I admit — and my hype was frankly off the charts for it. I’m currently in the process of writing up my list of most anticipated films of 2019 (yeah, yeah, I’m late, whatever), and let’s just say Glass had a very high ranking amongst that list. Emphasis on the had — as much as I want to see the film still, I just can’t get excited for it like I was before the negative reviews. And I doubt I’m the only one either; this really puts a damper on the pre-release hype, as you would expect.

On my planned path to MAXIMUM HYPE, I just got done re-watching Unbreakable in the lead up of Glass‘s release. And guess what? That movie still fucking rocks. It’s slow and contemplative and weird, but it manages to engross me with every single frame. And just seeing it again made me slightly more optimistic for Glass, if anything to see these characters again. But in the back of my mind, that voice was still being cautious: “it’s going to be a disappointment. It’s very bad, apparently. DON’T. GET. EXCITED.” That voice is probably right…but also a fucking buzzkill.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Glass-Bruce-Willis.jpg

And the saddest thing of all, to me, is that it seemed no one really saw it coming. Usually when a film is going to be poorly received by critics, press releases are held very close to the film’s opening weekend. You don’t want bad word-of-mouth to sour the launch, so you cut off as many people from seeing it as you possibly can. And yet, Glass screened almost two weeks earlier for critics: usually, a sign that the people involved imagined that it would be, at the very least, tolerated. Hell, when I first saw Film Twitter commenting about the press screenings, I got exciting, thinking that Universal and Shyamalan probably imagined the film was going to get great reception, and wanted to ride that buzz into the film’s launch. I mean, you wouldn’t set up a series marathon across the country a week before the film’s domestic release if you didn’t have faith people would respond well to it…right?

That’s my thinking at least, which leads to a pretty depressing conclusion: the poor response is blindsiding everyone involved. They screened the movie early because, generally, they thought that people were going to end up liking it. The fact that a majority didn’t (and, even worse, some outright despised it) probably came as something of a sneak attack. And for a director whose probably experienced that experience MANY times in his career (for better or worse, Shyamalan seemed to buy into his own hype there pretty bad for a while), for it to happen to him again right on the cusp of his grand return is probably the harshest sting of all. Or in Simpson meme:

There’s a reason why so many movies are about underdogs: everybody loves them. To see a character rise up from the bottom and make it to the top is one of the most common — yet satisfying — forms of storytelling. Even more satisfying is the “comeback kid,” someone who manages to rise from the bottom, fall from the top, and rise up yet again. It’s inspiring to know that, despite our failures, we can still succeed — and we love to see that narrative play out. But this is no movie: this is real life, and things don’t always turn out as we want them to in real life. Rocky gets knocked out in the first round. The Slumdog Millionaire beefs it on Question #1. Daniel-San gets his ass handed to him instantly. And M. Night Shyamalan makes yet another bad movie. For as much as the characters in his movies might be Unbreakable, M. Night Shyamalan sure as hell isn’t.


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