Tag Archives: James Cameron

Spare Parts

Alita: Battle Angel

by Hope Madden

Cyberpunk comes to the big screen in the form of a post-apocalyptic roller derby. I would not have guessed that’s how it would go.

Alita: Battle Angel is, among other things, director Robert Rodriguez’s best film in years. That isn’t saying a lot, but the truth is that the filmmaker does more with dystopian YA heroine tropes than most recent directors have.

In a terrestrial wasteland in the shadow of a sky city eternally out of reach, one kindly scientist (Christoph Waltz) scrounges a scrap heap looking for cyborg parts. He rebuilds something he finds there—something that reminds him of his own lost daughter. Though Alita (Rosa Salazar plus motion capture magic) has no memory of who or what she was, her instincts oscillate between earnest adolescent and battle-honed killer.

Based on a Manga series about a bounty hunter, Alita concerns itself more with the themes of today’s young adult franchises: empowering young women to be true to themselves, stand up to authority, own their own destiny, and only crush on boys who love you for who you truly are.

All fine lessons. A stocked supporting cast including two more Oscar winners (besides Waltz)—Mahershala Ali and Jennifer Connelly—elevate the sometimes threadbare dialog with sheer will and undeniable talent.

The film also showcases the latest cinematic tech wizardry at the disposal of co-scriptor James Cameron, wielded by Sin City’s visionary helmsman.

And it looks great. Better than the trailer makes you think it looks. The ruined city, the cyborg monstrosities, the action—all of it commands attention and refuses to be dismissed.

If nothing else, Alita absolutely marks a departure from the filmmaker’s traditional style. Indeed, it looks more like something Cameron would make: glossy and epic versus edgy and idiosyncratic.

There is nothing especially groundbreaking or memorable, however, about the film. There is nothing inferior about it, either. It pushes some boundaries in terms of content as well as movie experience and it entertains from start to finish. It’s Hunger Games with a more likable protagonist, Ready Player One with a plot.

It’s forgettable, cool looking and fun.

Great Directors’ Horrifying Output

This week, the great writer/director/Ohioan Jim Jarmusch releases just another masterpiece, the vampire flick Only Lovers Left Alive. While Jarmusch is certainly not an easy artist to peg, a vampire film was not exactly a predictable choice.

Still, loads of the most prestigious filmmakers have made horror films. Back in 1960, Alfred Hitchcock made it acceptable for directors of immense talent to take on the genre. In 1991, we even had a horror film win best picture (and actor, actress, director, and screenplay).

Some filmmakers, like Sam Raimi or Brian DePalma, are as well known for horror as for their more mainstream titles. Stanley Kubrick and Roman Polanski were equally at home in horror as they were in any genre. Other giants in the industry, like David Cronenberg and David Lynch, cut their teeth in horror before moving on, while a few, like Jarmusch and Martin Scorsese, dabbled in the genre late into an established career.

Here is a peek at the horror output of some of the greats that you may have missed.

Ingmar Bergman: Hour of the Wolf (1968)

Like all Bergman films, this hypnotic, surreal effort straddles lines of reality and unreality and aches with existential dread. But Bergman and his star, Max von Sydow, cross over into territory of the hallucinatory and grotesque, calling to mind ideas of vampires, insanity and bloodlust as one man confronts repressed desires as he awaits the birth of his child.

Peter Jackson: Dead Alive (1982)

Long before Peter Jackson went legit with the exceptional Heavenly Creatures, or became infamous for his work with hobbits and apes and more hobbits, he made his name back in New Zealand with some of the all time goriest, bloodiest, nastiest horror comedies ever produced. The best of these is Dead Alive, a bright, silly, outrageous bloodbath. For lovers of the genre, the director, or the Sumatran rat monkey, it is essential viewing.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eigwPFVmMIU

Michael Haneke: Funny Games (1997, 2007)

The Oscar winning director behind Amore, The White Ribbon, and Cache, made a horrific experiment of etiquette in 1997, and then again in 2007, with Funny Games. Made first in his native German, and a decade later, with nearly shot for shot integrity, in English, Funny Games upends the comfort of societal expectations in a number of ingenious and terrifying ways.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Has9E7j9Lrg

Lars von Trier: Antichrist (2009)

Lars von Trier’s cinematic output had been punishing viewers for decades. In 2009, he finally embraced the genre that he’d been courting his whole career. Antichrist is a beautiful, poetic, painful, horrifying examination of guilt, laden with all the elements that mark a LVT effort. What’s unusual is that he takes, for the majority of the film, a traditional “cabin in the woods” approach, depositing his unique vision in well-worn horror territory. And once there, he embraces the genre with much zeal. And a few gardening tools.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eBdDcQONmkM

Francis Ford Coppola: Dementia 13 (1963)

Copolla began his career under the tutelage of B-movie god Roger Corman, and Dementia 13 was one of his first solo flights as director. It wasn’t his last attempt at horror – we all remember the abysmal Dracula remake – but Dementia 13 marks the early promise of a guy who understands the power of killing a loved one in a rowboat on a lake.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_tcI47OkNhg

James Cameron: Piranha Part Two:  The Spawning (1981)

Just three years before taking Hollywood by storm with The Terminator, James Cameron showed absolutely no sign of competence behind the camera when he helmed the sequel to Joe Dante’s B-movie Piranha. This time around, those deadly man-eaters manifest a new mutation. They can fly! Sure, it might look like someone standing just off screen is throwing them at naked women and minorities, but they can fly, I tell you! This one is an underseen gem of bad cinema, and it offers an early peek at Cameron’s fixation with water, strong female leads, and Lance Henriksen.

Weekend Countdown: It’s Raining Sharks!

 

Still high from Sharknado? Has it opened your eyes to the brilliance of terrible, terrible filmmaking? Are you jonesing for more ineptly crafted, heinously scripted, poorly acted waterborne malevolence? We thought so. Here are five of the best worst water terrors ever made. You’re welcome.

5. Jaws: The Revenge (1987)

Michael Caine has argued that this is not his very worst movie. He may be right, but this delusion of a great white shark who figures out the exact flight Ellen Brody is taking to the Bahamas and follows it so it can continue the Sharks’ gang war against the Brodys sure is bad.

4. Piranha (1978)

An absent minded investigator and the town drunk unintentionally unleash mutant piranha just upstream from a water park on the river. Given that it’s all their fault, they’re pretty self righteous about the whole thing. The fish themselves seem to be flat paper cutouts pasted to popsicle sticks, which is just as terrifying as it sounds.

3. Piranha 2: The Spawning (1981)

James Cameron, everybody! That’s right, his first deep sea adventure did not involve a capsized romance, but flying man eating piranha. That’s right – they fly. Sure, it might look like they’ve just been tossed by someone standing just off camera, but no. Cameron regular Lance Hendrickson should be glad he’s not a black man or a topless woman on this island, because those are these fishies’ favorite flavors.

2. Super Shark (2011)

Eventually, the best of the worst mutant animal films made the leap from the big screen to SciFi network, and few things leap as well as a Super Shark! John Schneider tarnishes his reputation (yep, it’s that bad)  that pits a flying, hopping shark against a tank with legs. It kicks the shark. That’s worth seeing.

1.  Sharktopus (2010)

This is the one film on the countdown most likely to quench the thirst left by Sharknado. Roger Corman – the producer responsible for most of the films on this list, most of the films on SciFi, and quite possibly most of the worst films ever made – gave us this epic tale of a killing machine that’s half great white, half giant octopus. It’s enormous, unrealistic, and it brings an unsatisfying hunger for bad actors.

 

Those should keep you busy while you wait for Sharknado 2!