The Challenge of Alita: Battle Angel

As people flock to theaters to see Captain Marvel and rave or criticize the film, there is another woman-centric sci-fi film that has caught the admiration of many others. But that film is not pulling in the box office dollars of the MCU film. That is not an indication of its quality, however. In fact, many who have seen Alita: Battle Angel have come away convinced it is the better film that deserved a better fate.

Right now, even though the Robert Rodriguez film has been out for over a month, it is too soon to declare Alita: Battle Angel a box office disappointment. To date it has grossed nearly $400 million dollars. Sure that is peanuts to what other films have pulled in, but it is not that bad. The film’s supposed budget was $170 million, so technically it made its money back and has a tiny profit. So, is that enough to get a sequel?

Fans of the cult film (and that is what Alita: Battle Angel is at this point, though it is worthy of that honor) are clamoring for a sequel, especially given how the film sets up future films. The problem is that the amount of money it has earned probably won’t be enough for a sequel to be greenlit. There is also the fact, that as of two days from now, 20th Century Fox, the film studio that released Alita: Battle Angel, will belong to Disney. Who knows if the House of the Mouse will be interested in pursuing a followup film. They have other properties that will generate more money for them.

Then again, we have seen cult favorites build enough of a following to convince studios to take another crack at the property. One recent example is Pacific Rim. That film was released in 2013 and was not a hit film, but it quickly developed a fan base, not unlike Alita. As the film did well in home media, it picked up more fans and demands for a sequel increased. Last year, a sequel was finally released, Pacific Rim: Uprising. Although the film was way inferior to the first Pacific Rim, it did demonstrate that we can always hold out hope for followups to non-hit films. This has happened with John Wick, The Boondock Saints, and others.

Bear in mind that this is not a guarantee. Films like Serenity and Dredd had devoted fans that tried to push awareness of the films so that sequels could be made, but they never came to be. Plus, while it is important to see the James Cameron-produced film in theaters now, it is equally, if not more important to buy the film when it is available in home media. That would demonstrate the lasting appeal of the cyberpunk action film, which is surprisingly faithful in spirit to the manga that inspired it. That would be a critical challenge for Alita: Battle Angel. The fan base has to be persistent and vocal. Then there is the matter of getting James Cameron, Robert Rodriguez, Rosa Salazar, and others to return to the stunning futuristic world that they created. Another issue is that if a sequel is commissioned will it get the same care and budget of the original? An easier way to convince execs to finance a sequel is if its budget can be controlled. That might mean that Alita’s next adventure might have to take place in the floating city of Zalem, which would look eerily like modern-day society. It might work given the decrepit state of the world below shown in Alita. In that case can it be as faithful to the manga as the original?

This is all speculation at this point. Go see the film if it is still playing. Despite its narrative flaws Alita: Battle Angel is a stunning cinematic experience that better captures a hero’s journey much better than the other superhero film out now in theaters.

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Pacific Rim Rocks!

pc rim posterDirector Guilermo Del Toro hits it out of the park again with his latest, monumental film Pacific Rim. Many will probably say that this giant monster or Kaiju extravaganza isn’t anything more than a Godzilla/Transformers mash up. Pacific Rim is more than that, which is why it’s so spectacular.

Pacific Rim takes place in the near future after an interdimensional breach on the Pacific Ocean floor unleashes gigantic creatures that destroy coastal regions. Humanity fights back by building gargantuan robots called Jaegers that are operated by two pilots. After a string of victories against the Kaijus, however, the colossal creatures adapt and begin defeating the Jaegers. This was vividly shown during an early battle where a Kaiju is killed at great cost to a Jaeger’s pilots.

PACIFIC RIMWhen the film opens, humanity is on the verge of shutting down the Jaeger program, because they’re seen as unsuccessful. One former pilot, Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnman) is approached by his old boss Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) to come back to the program. There are only four remaining Jaegers left, and Pentecost has a plan to use them to deliver a nuke into the interdimensional breach and sealing it.

Becket is assigned to pilot the Gipsy Danger, his old Jaeger that was badly damaged in a battle years ago that took the life of his brother and co-pilot. Pentecost’s assistant Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) wants to be Becket’s co-pilot but utilizing a Jaeger isn’t easy. The mammoth robots are so complex that two pilots need to operate them using a neural link that ensures a synchronized operation.  In other words, the pilots have to be compatible. Typically, Becket and Mako butt heads as both are recovering from painful memories. Meanwhile, Pentecost’s team learns that not only are the Kaiju attacks increasing, but there’s a reason behind their appearances, making it imperative that they seal the breach.

PACIFIC RIM

For anyone who loves or used to love those old Japanese Kaiju films that featured Godzilla, Pacific Rim is an ode to those classics. Even if you no longer watch those films, this one will reignite the passion one felt as a kid at seeing giant, misshapen monsters devastating a city. Only this time, big-budget special effects and top-notch direction enhance the experience. Guilermo Del Toro knows what works with the Kaiju films and what doesn’t. Using that knowledge he skillfully crafted this epic monster movie.

???????????It may be difficult, however, for non-Kaiju fans to appreciate the effort. At first glance, Pacific Rim may seem like a giant monster movie with robots that is made for kids. But it’s deeper than that, unlike those old films, you care about the characters. You’re entertained by them when the monsters aren’t on screen. There are also many quirky supporting characters that sometimes provide comic relief or add something important to the plot. The most memorable of them include Ron Perlman as a slick black market dealer and two nerdy and eccentric scientists played by Charlie Day and Burn Gorman.

Another notable factor with Pacific Rim, is that we get to see what a world with giant monsters might be like. We are flooded with imagery and background details showing how things will be different. We see the use of thick emergency shelters, the presence of a black market for monster parts, and hints at how the economy has changed for the worse. These elements aren’t dwelled upon, but they are there for repeat viewing.

The highlight, of course, are the amazing battles between monsters and machines. One important difference between this film and the old Kaiju films is the special effects. PACIFIC RIMThey’re practically flawless and the action scenes are well-executed and clear. Pacific Rim doesn’t have the shaking camera movements seen in those dumb Transformers movies that don’t let you know what is going on. Del Toro proves that he is a master of the camera in the way he stages these shots. The result is a thrilling viewing experience.

We’ve been teased by Hollywood of the capability of putting out a big-scale, giant monster movie. That was seen with Cloverfield and to a lesser extent 1998’s Godzilla. Pacific Rim is what the latter film should’ve been and so much more.

José Soto

Ten Films To Look For In 2013

pacific rim

Last year saw a batch of some truly great films and…some major disappointments. But we fans always look ahead to what’s coming out next year. This year isn’t an exception, however, there will be less genre offerings especially when compared to some stellar and exciting films due in 2014 and 2015. This means there are few guaranteed, must-see event films like The Avengers for this year. Still there are some potential nuggets that look or sound promising and who knows? One of them or something else may pleasantly surprise us.

10. Evil Dead

We’ve been burned by some recent, unnecessary remakes but this one is produced by Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, the director and the star respectively of the original films. The recent trailer promises the same outrageous thrills, scares and gore that made the originals (in)famous. Only this time the production look more professional and therefore more cringe inducing. (Release Date: April 12)

9. Warm Bodies

This zombie movie seems to be in the same humorous vein as Shaun Of The Dead and Zombieland. Warm Bodies is told from the POV of young male zombie who slowly starts to become human again after meeting a potential meal and falling in love with her (!). Warm Bodies looks very promising and unique, which should help it stand out from the crowded field of zombie movies. (Release Date: February 1)

8. Oz, The Great And Powerful

ozDirector Sam Raimi attempts to put behind his Spider-Man films with this prequel of sorts to The Wizard Of Oz. The film focuses on the man who became the sought after wizard of that mythical land. The casting of James Franco as the future Wizard seems like a good choice and the magical landscape and characters shown in the trailers are very stunning and colorful. Can’t wait for the revelation of the Wicked Witch of the East! (Release Date: March 8)

7. Pacific Rim

Fan favorite Guillermo Del Toro returns to the directing chair (his last film was in 2008) in this ode to kaiju (giant monsters) films. Pacific Rim concerns itself with a world being decimated by giant monsters and humanity fighting back by constructing giant robots that are operated by humans inside. Truthfully, Pacific Rim seems like a mix of Transformers and Cloverfield but in a good way. (Release Date: July 12)

6. Oblivion

This Tom Cruise vehicle is directed by Joseph Kosinsky, whose last work was the unexpectedly good Tron: Legacy. Cruise plays a lone repairman working in the ruins of an abandoned Earth, and is fixated on the oblivion 2planet and its lost wonders. One day he stumbles upon a mystery when he encounters a beautiful stranger. Sure, based on that premise and what’s shown on the trailer it may seem a lot like WALL-E except it’s with a human instead of a robot, but Oblivion also hints at deeper mysteries such as is Earth really abandoned by humanity? (Release Date: April 12)

5. Thor: The Dark World

Thor surprised many viewers with its refreshing take on superheroes being that it combined superheroics with ancient gods/alien Shakespearean drama and a decent fish-out-of-water element. Even though this sequel isn’t directed by Kenneth Branagh, who did such a great job with the first Thor, what has been revealed, namely Chris Hemsworth reprising his role as the God of Thunder and dark elves as the villains (the head villain is played by former Doctor Who Christopher Eccleston), promises to be a worthy followup. (Release Date: November 8)

4. The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug

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The middle part of The Hobbit trilogy comes out at the end of the year and should amp up the adventure quota now that the dwarves’ introduction and exposition about reclaiming their lost kingdom from the dragon Smaug was covered in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. However, that film turned off some fans due to its slow pace and 48 fps ratio that was unsettling for some viewers. Yet it pleased many and is a big hit worldwide. Director Peter Jackson should hope that this middle film in The Hobbit trilogy will be better received than his last middle film in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy. (Release Date: December 13)

3. Gravity

This film about astronauts (Sandra Bullock and George Clooney) stranded on a decaying space station was held over from last year. Officially the reason had to do with upgrading the special effects and a 3D post-conversion. Rumor had it that the preview results were sharply mixed but after some more tweaking, the latest word of mouth is it that Gravity is a stunning piece of filmmaking. Alonso Cuarón, who directed the best sci-fi movie of the last decade (Children Of Men) and one of the better Harry Potter films (Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban) directs this suspenseful thriller. (Release Date: October 18)

2. Elysium

Neill Blomkamp, who directed one of the past decades very best science fiction films (District 9), returns to the big screen with damonhis next sci-fi epic. This one stars Matt Damon, Jodie Foster and District 9 vet Sharlto Copley and takes place in 2159. By this time, Earth is overpopulated and dying. While most of the population eke out a miserable existence on the planet, the elite live in a luxurious space station who will stop at nothing to keep the riff raff out of their artificial paradise. Damon plays an ex-con whose mission might upset the unequal balance in society. Based on Blomkamp’s last film and its high caliber of quality, Elysium would’ve rated higher on this list but to date no real details have been released, not even a teaser trailer, so it’s difficult to ascertain how promising Elysium looks. In this film’s defense, at least a couple of photos have been released, which isn’t the case with Gravity. (Release Date: August 9)

1. Star Trek Into Darkness

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J.J. Abrams directs his second Star Trek film, as fans know his first Trek film rebooted the long-running franchise. Many have mixed feelings about Abrams’ efforts, the man has admitted he isn’t a Star Trek fan and there are complaints that his previous Trek film seemed more like a Star Wars film. That is because it emphasized action and explosions over ideas and exploration. But Star Trek was an entertaining and rousing success. With Star Trek Into Darkness very little has been revealed about its mysterious plot and villain. What has been revealed is that Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) gets taken down a few pegs and loses command of the Enterprise. But the biggest buzz online has to do with the villain (played by Benedict Cumberbatch), an alleged former Starfleet officer turned terrorist. There are the speculations that he may be a genetic superman like Khan. So far, the lack of information from Abrams and company is helping to fuel interest for Star Trek Into Darkness. (Release Date: May 17)

Keep in mind, these release dates will change and may even be pushed back a year. Other films to keep an eye out for include World War Z (some may have noticed that this film was listed in the top 12 in last year’s list of anticipated films, but news of the troubled production kept it out of the list this time, though the trailer looks interesting), Iron Man 3 (will the franchise revive itself after the listless Iron Man 2? The back to basics approach shown in the trailer seems like a step in the right direction), The Hunger Games: Catching Fire wolverine(the first sequel to Suzanne Collins’ popular book series and movie about a tough girl surviving a futuristic blood sport), The Wolverine (Marvel’s most popular mutant has an adventure in Japan in his second solo film), Monsters University (Pixar’s newest animated release is a prequel to the hit Monsters, Inc.), After Earth (director M. Night Shyamalan attempts another comeback with this futuristic tale about a father and son stranded on an abandoned, hostile Earth), Area 51 (Paranormal Activity director Oren Peli’s delayed found-footage movie about aliens), I, Frankenstein (Aaron Eckhart plays the title character in modern times who fights to save humanity from immortal forces), The Colony (Bill Paxton and Laurence Fishburne are among dwindling human survivors in a futuristic ice age who must contend with a terrifying threat), Kick-Ass 2 (hopefully it won’t be as graphically gruesome as the comic book mini-series it’s based on), Ender’s Game (an adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s book about a gifted child trained to fight aliens in the future), and Last Days Of Mars (a group of imperiled astronauts on the red planet ).

José Soto

Reactions To Some Comic-Con News

None of us here went to the San Diego Comic-Con, but we learned about the announcements made there and even saw some bootleg footage from the presentations (we won’t bother to post the links to them, they’ll probably be disabled before long). This piece is basically our reactions to what was revealed about certain films and shows for the coming months and 2013.

Elysium

Director Neill Blomkamp previewed footage from his next sci-fi epic which stars Matt Damon. It showed Earth as a futuristic, debris-filled wasteland and what was surprising was that Blomkamp didn’t need to do any special effects since he filmed these scenes in the slums of Mexico City. To some of us it felt like Blomkamp’s previous District 9 (but with a more naturalistic feel since there weren’t any shaky cam shots) and that’s a good thing. The viral campaigns touting the futuristic utopian city of Elysium were well done and whetted our appetites.

Fringe, The Final Season

The Fringe team appeared for the final time at Comic-Con and actor John Noble teased about the possibility of a Fringe movie. While enticing and unlikely if it happens let’s hope it doesn’t wind up like The X-Files films. They premiered a special trailer for the final season of Fringe which takes place primarily in the future. In that time period our heroes are trying to overthrow the enigmatic Observers who’ve taken over the world. Plus, it seems as if William Bell (Leonard Nimoy) will appear again. Sweet!

Iron Man 3

A mixed bag here, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that the Mandarin (played by Ben Kingsley) will be the villain in Iron Man 3 instead of another armored villain. However, we were less than enthused with the look of Iron Man’s new armor which is mostly gold with red highlights. It’s not known if this is to be his main armor but why not just stick with the suit he wore in The Avengers?

The Man Of Steel

Sadly what was learned about Zack Snyder’s reboot of Superman wasn’t very inspiring. The footage shown had Snyder’s typical empty but flashy filmmaking style. If you’ve seen Watchmen and Sucker Punch then you can imagine how The Man Of Steel footage appeared. At the same time the scenes from The Man Of Steel looked like they were desperately trying to emulate Christopher Nolan’s look for the Batman films. It just didn’t look right and in light of the recent X-Men and Spider-Man reimaginings it screamed “Me too!” The worst news came when Snyder revealed that John Williams’ iconic Superman score will not be used. That is a huge mistake since that score has become so ingrained with Superman it’s almost as bad as radically changing his costume. We feel that if they could get away with getting rid of the cape and S shield Snyder and Nolan would’ve done so just to be different. Let’s hope DC has better luck with their Lobo movie.

Miscellaneous Marvel Movies

The official titles for Marvel Studios’ next sequels were revealed. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, who has one of our staff members very excited since it seems to indicate the movie will cover one of his favorite Captain America storylines. The other title is Thor: The Dark World, and little else was revealed about the thunder god’s further escapades. But the most interesting announcement was that a film based on the Guardians Of The Galaxy is coming in 2014. Based on the artwork released, this team will not be the classic version featuring Vance Astro but rather one that has Starlord, Gamora and Rocket Raccoon (!). It’s a big risk since the team isn’t as well known or popular as the Avengers and the movie will probably be a big budget epic. The last space-based superhero film Green Lantern proved to be a dud (many blamed the aliens-filled space scenes which lacked a human touch, frankly those were the highlights for the dull, Earth-bound film), let’s hope Guardians Of The Galaxy doesn’t suffer the same fate.

Oz, The Great And Powerful

It seems as if Sam Raimi has moved beyond the Spider-Man movies with this astonishing prequel to the classic Wizard Of Oz. The transition from a small black and white screen to a gorgeous, colorful, widescreen Oz is stunning and rivals Tim Burton’s work. In addition to Oz (portrayed by James Franco who is a great casting choice), other characters appear like Glinda, and the flying monkeys. Oz, The Great And Powerful could be a new fantasy classic.

Pacific Rim

Guillermo Del Toro supposedly blew the audience away with footage from next year’s Pacific Rim. Actually it’s the only film that can compete with Godzilla due to its epic scope and level of destruction. In the film, giant monsters have overrun the Earth and humanity’s last hope lies with human operators of gigantic robots that can go head to head with the monsters. Bottom line: Pacific Rim sounds terrific just based on the talent behind it and can be described as a love letter to kaiju movies and fans of that Japanese genre.

The Walking Dead Season Three

Our resident fan of The Walking Dead is very psyched up for the upcoming third season of the show. We saw the prison our heroes occupy, the evil Governor and badass zombie killer MIchonne, who looks like her comic book counterpart. What was shown looks exciting, suspenseful and harrowing (especially with the scenes featuring the sadistic Governor). Honestly, October can’t come here soon enough.

Star Trek Sequel and Proof Of Concept

There isn’t anything to report about the still untitled Star Trek sequel by J.J. Abrams because the filmmakers decided not to present anything at the Comic-Con. This is just baffling.  Maybe they’re saving the big guns for a Trek convention. Regardless, in a crowded marketplace where films are vying for business and word-of-mouth the people behind Star Trek should’ve had at least a bone to throw to the fans. The film comes out next May and attendees got more info about films set to debut further ahead in time. We hope this isn’t a bad harbinger for the movie. Being that the last film left Star Trek fans divided over its quality, Abrams and company need to hit this one out of the ballpark and they can start by wowing fans now.

There were proof-of-concept footage shown of Ant-Man, Godzilla and Thomas Jane returning as The Punisher at the convention. While they’re cool (esp. seeing Punisher in R-rated action), until there is an actual project being produced they won’t amount to much unless something concrete comes out of showing the footage. However they seem more promising than some of the actual films being promoted.