Mortal Engines

Mortal-Engines-2018-movie-posterVisionary filmmaker Peter Jackson presents a startling new adventure unlike any you’ve seen before. Hundreds of years after our civilisation was destroyed, a new world has emerged. A mysterious young woman named Hester Shaw leads a band of outcasts in the fight to stop London — now a giant predator city on wheels — from devouring everything in its path.

[Promo text from the dvd sleeve]

>> Please, read the warning for possible spoilers <<

In an improbable but quite beautiful steampunk future, cities made themselves mobile in order to gather more ressources and survive the man-made apocalypse. Not much of the technology displayed seems realistic. I doubt that putting the city of London on wheels would be physically possible as the mechanical parts of the engine would crumble under its own weight… Despite the very simple and unoriginal story (young rebels, full of love and thirsty for vengeance, trying to defeat evil and power hungry madmen) the superb background settings and great special effects make this movie very entertaining. Unfortunately, it seems that it was not enough for the audience as it failed at the box office and received low ratings from the critics (6.1 on IMDb, 27% / 49% on Rotten Tomatoes). Interesting facts, the movie is directed by Christian Rivers but has the marks of Peter Jackson all over it (as one of the script writers and producers, sfx by Weta). It is also based on a series of YA novels written by Philip Reeve.

Some critic called it a “steampunk Star Wars”. I see it more as an allegory alluding to western societies which consume (in both meaning of eating and destroying) everything in their path, as opposed to more peaceful and nature-friendly eastern societies. Mortal engines is an intriguing movie that will feed your imagination and provide great entertainment. It’s certainly worth seeing. stars-3-5

To learn more about this title you can consult the following web sites:

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Shaft

Shaft-2019-movie-posterJJ, aka John Shaft Jr (Usher), may be a cyber security expert with a degree from MIT, but to uncover the truth behind his best friend’s untimely death, he needs an education only his dad can provide. Absent throughout JJ’s youth, the legendary lock-and-loaded John Shaft (Jackson) agrees to help his progeny navigate Harlem’s heroin-infested underbelly. And while JJ’s own FBI analyst’s badge may clash with his dad’s trademark leather coat, there’s no denying family. Besides, Shaft’s got an agenda of his own, and a score to settle that’s professional and personal.

[Promotional text from the Dvd sleeve]

>> Please, read the warning for possible spoilers <<

JJ Shaft (Jessie T. Usher) is an FBI analyst. When his childhood friend Karim dies in strange circumstances, he decides to investigate despite his boss opposition. He has no choice but to ask the help of his estranged father, former NYPD detective and private investigator John Shaft (Samuel L. Jackson) — which greatly displeased his mother (Regina Hall). With the extra help of his girlfriend (Alexandra Shipp) and his grand-pa, John Shaft, Sr. (Richard Roundtree), they will attempt to solve the murder and avenge Karim’s death…

This is a funny movie with a high (very high) count of bullets and profanities. It offers a thin and rather unoriginal story wrapped in a series of very entertaining and quite violent action sequences. It is a sort of hommage to a classic blaxploitation legend (four previous movies — three in the 70s with Richard Roundtree [1971, 1972 and 1973] and a 2000 remake with Samuel L. Jackson — and a TV series). That’s it. The movie was not profitable and was scorched by the critics (32% on Rotten Tomatoes) but the viewers seem to have liked it (rated 6.4 on IMDb and audience score of 94% on Rotten Tomatoes). Brainless comedy or outdated reboot, I found it entertaining. Check it out and be the judge — but watch it at your own risk, motherf**ker. stars-3-0

To learn more about this title you can consult the following web sites:

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Ad Astra (DVD)

Ad_Astra-dvdBrad Pitt gives a powerful performance in the “absolutely enthralling” (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone) sci-fi thriller set in space. When a mysterious life-threatening event strikes Earth, astronaut Roy McBride (Pitt) goes on a dangerous mission across an unforgiving solar system to uncover the truth about his missing father (Tommy Lee Jones) and his doomed expedition that now, 30 years later, threatens the universe.

[Promotional text from the Dvd sleeve]

>> Please, read the warning for possible spoilers <<

In a “near future”, astronaut Roy McBride is told that his father — Clifford McBride, lost in a failed intelligent life-seeking mission around Neptune and presumed death — could still be alive. Powerful particules’ flares are hitting Earth and causing dangerous power surges and the authorities think that his father could be creating the flares with the “Lima Project” ship propulsion system which is using dark matter (!). He is sent to Mars, via the Moon, to record a secret message for his father but discovers that the authorities intentions are far more nefarious than he was told. Despite the lack of trust on both side, he manages to board the Cepheus on its way to Neptune in order to find his father and resolve the situation…

The movie is very slow and has little action (mostly when he falls from the “tower” (space elevator?), when he is attacked by pirates on the Moon, when he boards the distressed Norwegian biomedical research space station and when he tries to escape the “Lima Project” ship). It is also filmed in a very theatrical way, with little dialogues as most of the movie is narrated in voice-over by the main character. Therefore it feels a lot like 2001: A Space Odyssey with some influences from Philip K. Dick (the use of mood altering drugs and the constant psych eval — like seen in Blade Runner 2049).

The director, James Gray, said that he wanted a movie with a “realistic depiction of space travel” but I think he was not very successful. The movements of the characters seemed sometime a little odd and often the laws of physics were broken: a twenty-day trip to Mars? Eighty days to Neptune? You can sure have ships with bigger acceleration but I doubt that human would be able to survive them (and they didn’t look like accelerating a lot in the movie). Also, no matter what kind of radio communication you are using (even with a laser beam) you are limited to the speed of light and transmitting a message to Neptune would take some time (certainly over three hours in each direction), therefore you cannot get an immediate response !

It is said that the movie is set in the “near future” and that also is doubtful. Space elevator, significant bases on the Moon, a base on Mars, all this cannot happen in a few decades. Maybe in a couple of centuries, considering how slow humanity has been doing space exploration lately. Also, the world in which the movie is set seems quite interesting — even if it is barely glimpsed at. Everything looks computer controlled, people are kept on a tight leash with constant psych eval and mood altering drugs to keep them “happy” and well behaved. It is maybe a 1984-style dictature? Everyone seems to have strong religious belief, so maybe a very conservative and fundamentalist world? The movie doesn’t offer enough clues to say so with certainty. Or maybe the Millenials / strawberry generation needed this level of protection and control to survived and feel safe in a “difficult” future?

However, despite its slow pace, technical flaws and lack of action, Ad Astra remains a beautiful movie, with great photography, excellent special effects, good actors and acting (Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Liv Tyler, and Donald Sutherland) and a very interesting subject (solitude, family bonds and commitment). The movie made a slim profit at the box office and was well-received by the critics (with a rating of 6.6 on IMDb and 84% on Rotten Tomatoes) but was not as well appreciated by the public (audience score of 40% on Rotten Tomatoes). People probably found it not as exciting as they were expecting because it feels more like a psychological drama than a sci-fi action movie. It is stimulating to the mind, but only mildly entertaining…

All in all, I found Ad Astra disappointing but still worth watching. Anyway, catch it on TV or on DVD (maybe from the library) and be the judge yourself. stars-2-5

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Battle Angel (OVA)

BattleAngelOVABattle Angel (銃夢 / Ganmu [Gunnm] / lit. “Weapon dream”) compiles two OVAs released in Japan in June and August 1993. An English subtitled version was released by A.D. Vision on VHS in September 1993 and on DVD (with both dubbed and subtitled versions) in December 1999. The first OVA, “Rusty Angel”, introduces us to Gally and Scrapcity, and tells of the combat against Grewcica. The second OVA, “Tears Sign”, focuses on her friendship with Yugo and his dream to get to Zalem. [It was reviewed in PA #27: 37]

For the early 90s the quality of the animation was excellent, but unfortunately it looks disappointing by today’s standards. It still looks good though and offers excellent production value (nice storytelling and music soundtrack). However, one point that really bothers me is the editing which annoyingly and constantly cut the action to switch to scenes with other characters and then to cut back into the action.

The storytelling succeeds to condense the first part of the manga into two 25-minute OVAs and still manage to smooth the story so it is easier to understand. The manga had the advantage to have several graphic novels to tell the story (the first OVA covers the first volume and half, while the second tell the story up to the end of the third volume). The numerous battles  — which felt a little sketchy and tedious on paper — look much more realistic and entertaining in the animation (although the Alita live-action movies does an even better job at rendering the battle sequences). Lastly, the anime has a better success in giving life and expressing the emotions of the characters. It makes the drama much more tangible.

It is a nice anime that deserves to be seen. Unfortunately, it seems to be difficult to find now-a-day. Hopefully, with the success of the movie, it will be released again on DVD.

Battle Angel : Japan, 1993, 2 x 25 mins.; Dir.: Hiroshi Fukutomi; Scr.: Akinori Endō (based on Yukito Kishiro’s manga); Art Dir.: Hidematsu Kaneko; Char. Des.: Nobuteru Yuki; Anim. Dir.: Nobuteru Yuki & Futoshi Fujikawa; Phot.: Hitoshi Yamaguchi; Ed.: Yukiko Ito & Satoshi Terauchi; Music: Kaoru Wada; Studio: Madhouse; Jap. Cast: Kappei Yamaguchi (Yugo), Miki Itō (Gally), Shunsuke Kariya (Dr. Daisuke Ido). stars-3-0

To learn more about this title you can consult the following web sites:

[ ANNAmazonGoogleIMDbWikipedia ]

I have recently also commented on the Gunnm / Alita manga and the live-action movie.

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Alita : Battle Angel

AlitaBattleAngel-dvdWhen Alita (Rosa Salazar) awakens with no memory of who she is in a future world she does not recognize, she is taken in by Ido (Christoph Waltz), a compassionate doctor who realizes that somewhere in this abandoned cyborg shell is the heart and soul of a young woman with an extraordinary past. As Alita learns to navigate her new life and the treacherous streets of Iron City, Ido tries to shield her from her mysterious history while her street-smart new friend Hugo (Keean Johnson) offers instead to help trigger her memories. But it is only when the deadly and corrupt forces that run the city come after Alita that she discovers a clue to her past – she has unique fighting abilities that those in power will stop at nothing to control. If she can stay out of their grasp, she could be the key to saving her friends, her family and the world she’s grown to love. — (Promotional text)

This movie is based on the manga series Battle Angel Alita by Yukito Kishiro (which I recently commented). James Cameron had been interested in the story for a long time (he optioned the titled in 2000 and used it as inspiration for his TV series Dark Angel) but, being too busy with Avatar and its sequels, he passed the directorial torch to Robert Rodriguez. It is a good thing that Cameron and Jon Landau waited to produced Alita because it gave them the time to perfect the motion-capture CGI technology with Avatar. The type of fast action combat scenes needed to adapt the manga would not have been possible otherwise. It also gave them time to work on the script to make it shorter.

It’s an excellent movie, with superb special effects and great storytelling. It is both entertaining and compelling. They succeeded to tell the story within two hours while keeping enough elements of the manga to be faithful. I was afraid at first that they would not be able to adapt the story properly, but all the essential themes are there: the identity quest, the love story, the desire to protect the weak against evil, the dark post-cataclysmic world, the hopeful cyberpunk technology, the fabulous combat scenes, even the social comment about the stupidity of war and social inequity. 

The only major changes are that they explain early in the story the cause of the Earth’s destruction (the war between Earth and Mars — in the manga they just mentioned that Earth was hit by a meteorite without saying, at first, that it was intentional) and the nature of Alita (a martian soldier/berserker). Hugo (Yugo in the manga) also appears in the beginning of the movie (while he only appears in chapter eight in the manga). Most of the changes are minor and without consequence: Ido names Alita (Gally) from his dead daughter (instead of from his dead cat), his ex-wife Chiren doesn’t appears in the manga (that character was created for the anime), his assistant is different (she looks more like Myra, the doctor who replaces Yugo’s hand in chap. 10 of the manga), the Berserker replacement body is not found by Alita but by Ido, the speech in the “Kansas” bar to try to get the Hunter-Warriors’ help against Grewishka (Makaku) is made not by Alita but by Ido (who still has his Zalem symbol on the forehead in the manga), etc. The movie also adds the fact that Nova can see and speak through Vector. Despite those few differences, the movie seems quite similar (even more if we compare to the anime version, Battle Angel).

Annoyingly, the movie ends on a sort of cliff-hanger: will Alita succeed to reach Zalem and get her revenge from Nova? That’s what we will know in the sequels — if they are ever produced. It all depends on the success of the first movie. Despite mixed reviews, it seems that it was well received (the sales more than doubled the budget and ratings were good enough on IMDb [7.4] and Rotten Tomatoes [60% for the critics but 93% for the audience]). For my part (but I was already an Alita fan), I think it was an excellent adaptation and I enjoyed it greatly. I warmly recommend it. stars-4-0

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Arzak Rhapsody

ArzakRhapsody-DVDPerché sur son fidèle Ptéroïde anti-gravité (où rien de grave ne peut l’atteindre), Arzak explore le Désert ‘B’, un monde parallèle peuplé de créatures étranges, situé aux frontières du rêve et d’une réalité au-delà du réel. Mais Arzak ne rêve-t-il pas d’un univers qui est en lui…ou en chacun de nous ?

(Texte promotionnel — voir aussi la couverture arrière de la jaquette)

Ce dessin animé est une série de quatorze capsules de 3:30 min. chacunes qui offrent un dessin minimaliste qui est terriblement animé. On y retrouve différentes aventures (et mésaventures) du célèbre guerrier solitaire et (généralement) silencieux alors qu’il parcours le désert B, affrontant l’herbe-serpent ou diverses autres créatures. C’est un peu sans queue ni tête mais les récits sont étoffés par une narration et Moebius donne, pour la première fois, la parole à Arzak. Tout comme les planches de Moebius, ces capsules sont un peu inégales en qualité (et en intérêt). L’univers d’Arzak est un peu tourné en ridicule avec des personnages clownesques (où l’on pourrait peut-être discerner une influence de Winsor McCay?). 

C’est mauvais mais tout de même amusant et intriguant. À la défense de cette curiosité décevante, il faut admettre qu’elle est définitivement produite pour un public jeune alors que la série originale s’adressait aux adultes. On s’attendrait néanmoins à mieux de la part d’un créateur comme Moebius. C’est trop court et plein de potentiel inexploité (quoique le graphisme s’améliore avec les derniers épisodes). Cela aurait pu être tellement mieux…

Il est intéressant de constater que l’on voit déjà le début de la convergence des différents univers (et styles) de Giraud / Moebius avec des éléments qui rappellent Le Garage Hermétique, d’autres qui font définitivement partie du monde SF déjanté et imaginatif de Moebius — parfois hilarant et absurde, parfois mystique et obscure (avec des allusions au Arzach original ou à Edena) — et même des relents d’atmosphère western à la Blueberry. Cette série d’histoires nous laisse donc présager la suite — L’Arpenteur

À voir par amusement ou par curiosité.

Arzak Rhapsody: France, 2002, 51 min., série télévisée d’animation (14 episodes); Dir., Scr., Des.: Moebius; Dir. Art.: Alexandre Brillant; Ass. Réal.: Francois Narboux; Mus.: Zanpano; Studio: Millimages Online; Prod.: Wolfland Pictures, Carrere Group, France 2. stars-2-5

Pour en savoir plus vous pouvez consulter les sites suivants:

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The Predator

Predator-dvdIs this a comedy or an action flick? A little of both, I guess… It has great action scenes, although not always believable. In a nutshell, it tells the story of a group of misfit soldiers fighting against an alien monster in pursuit of another alien monster. They get help from an unsuspected genius and one of the bad guys is not what it seems. The story is not really original but it is entertaining enough. In fact, the whole movie is just setting up the ground for the next one (or two — but no release date has been announced yet). It might push the Predator franchise into superheroes territory ! Powersuit, yeah! I can’t wait to see that! 

The movie did relatively well at the box office (returning nearly twice its investment) but disappointed the fans of the franchise and the critics (getting only a 5.4 on IMDb and a 32% / 35% on Rotten Tomatoes ). It’s an average sci-fi action movie which remains nevertheless fun to watch. stars-2-5

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