[Deja View] – Alita: Battle Angel

Fuck.

Okay. SO .

The new Alita movie came out like a million weeks ago (in Internet and ADHD time). I saw it opening wee…k (?) and — as a casual Alita fan — I meant to have a review out pretty much right away. But, haha, it’s like six months later, and it’s taken me four months on-again-off-again to write this op-ed, so here we are.

In a momentary attempt to rectify my prefrontal cortex’s lack of executive function, consider this the first in a potential series called “Deja View” — blog posts where I look back on  movies I either meant to write about upon initial release, or in general. Films I deem cinematic perfection (Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2), and films I love to analyze and pick apart (Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World).

This isn’t a review with an aim to influence what you think, whether or not you should go out and see Alita in theatres. Jeremey Jahns and Chris Stuckmann (As awful and obnoxious they both are) have already  gone out of their way to make mad Youtube bucks in doing so.

Alita: Battle Angel has been well out of theatres for months now with an ever-growing cult following and an estimated total revenue of $404.9 mil. If you’re gonna see the movie, you’ve probably already nipped that in the bud by now. I’m just here to get my thoughts out and maybe insite a conversation. That’s what Deja View is, to me.

Needless to say, spoilers ahead.

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Deja ReVeiw – Alita: Battle Angel

I am still baffled as to why the distributer thought Valentine’s Day (A Thursday) was the most advantageous date to drop a high-budget niche sci-fi action flick about a cyborg girl who literally tears people apart whilst on a quest to figure out just who the hell she is.

I mean, I get couples going out to dinner and a movie to celebrate what societal expectation means for cis-hetero normative love connections — but … was Alita supposed to be that movie?

There’s probably a good explaination and solid market research and math and smart-people stuff that I’m too lazy to actually look into, but Alita was made on a whopping $170 mil budget; I was worried that dropping the movie on a Thursday, instead of a Friday, would somehow harm the opening day box office numbers (which are pretty important, last I checked?)

As of today (*scrambles to find a calander*) uhhhh — July … 4th? 2019?? At, 11:11 (whoa) in the morning, Alita: Battle Angel has grossed $86 million in the United States and Canada (which, I don’t know, feels a little scary?), but has totally cleared the bank statements internationally, making $317 million.

Needless to say, a movie that totally sequel-baits itself after the first twenty-minutes onward, is probably going to be getting a sequel. Even if that means Mister Producer James Cameron shells the money out of his own pockets. Given that Alita has been his passion project for the last hundred years, that’s probably what’s going to happen.

A lot of negative reviews came out upon the film’s initial release, toting that while the film has tons and tons of visual flair (no surprise, considering Alita is by-and-large a James Cameron film, no matter who directed it — see: Stephen Spielberg’s Poltergiest), there wasn’t a lot of substance, story-wise. I felt like the film’s flow was disjointed, and tried to cram too much (exactly two-and-a-half arcs from the source material) into a teeny, tiny, two-hour blockbuster.

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I can see why the casual, “no fun allowed”, pleb of a Rotten Tomatoes aggregate film critic would poo-poo yet another Americanized Hollywood remake of a foreign property. But what’s interesting to me about this is the dichotomy beween these critics, and actual film-goers.

People freaking LOVE Alita: Battle Angel. It’s being praised as the first Hollywood anime adaption to actually adapt anime correctly. Alita has apparently set the bar for how to properly adapt these kinds of IPs — very much like how Watchmen (not Ironman, like everyone thinks) set the course of how comicbook films should be adapted. I was genuinely surprised by this, having felt similarly to much of the negative press.

I have complicated feelings about Alita: Battle Angel. The source material really inspired me as a kid to get into comics-making. The art is so gorgeous and hyperdetailed. The characterizations are so fully realized, and Alita was one of the first stories I read where the GIRL was the hero, and kicked ass because she WANTED TO.

I was so amped for this movie upon its reveal. While everyone was whining about the size of Rosa Salazar’s eyes, I was all aboard the hype train, re-reading the comic in Kodansha’s glorious deluxe hard-back editions, prepping myself for what genius James Cameron had in store for us viewers.

But, it’s not perfect. And it’s not exactly genius. In fact, this movie goes against the exact mantra I described for Deja View in this article’s initial paragraphs. Alita: Battle Angel is clunky and hamfisted, but … it IS a lot of fun to watch. And the amount of heart and desire poured into this film gives the film’s imperfections a pass in my book. I am a content creator. A film is not a failure if the filmaker did his very best. I feel this way about The Room. I feel this way about Manos: The Hand of Fate.

Alita: Battle Angel — though leagues above the production quality and talent of those two films, is really no different in my eyes.

The fight scenes are perfectly choreographed and executed, Rosa Salazar brings a lot of childlike humanity to Alita’s character, and the film is a visual metaphor for a succulant Thanksgiving feast (it’s fucking delicious, and stuffed to the brim with appetizers, if that wasn’t a clear enough).

But as a writer, I can’t help but be in constant editior mode when it comes to consuming media, which can be a problem. Bad dialogue, gaping plotholes, and lazy writing stand out to me like a five-mile sink hole. It’s difficult for me to shut my brain off and simply enjoy something for the sake of enjoying it, no matter how big, dumb, and safe it is — which is why Marvel Studios rarely sees an inch inside my wallet.

As for Alita, I want to like this movie, and it took a couple viewings to fully appreciate this movie, but it does have a lot of problems.

The biggest issue people seem to have with this film is the romantic arc between Alita and Yugo. True, the pair do come across a little forced, and I’m unsure just how much chemistry sparks between Rosa Salazar and Keenan Johnson — but ultimately this works for the movie, considering the source material’s context, where Alita’s affections for Yugo are unreciprocated for his greater passionate goal for reaching Zalem. For what the movie is, I’m okay with the portrayl of their relationship.

The issue I have with the film is its pacing and writing. Specifically, everything that involves Desty Nova’s (IIRC, none of which is source canon, by the way. Please correct me if I’m wrong, as I am going off my own experience reading the original BA comics, and nothing outside of the original run) James Cameron wrote such an elaborate screenplay (600 pages!!!!!) that needed to be whittled down, but in doing so, the film crams so much unneccesary information and plot into a two-and-a-half hour film that the complex world of Scrap Iron City, Zalemites, Hunter-Killers, and Alita’s personal journey for identity have difficulty breathing.

Also, there’s the BIGGEST plothole in cinematic history, when we see a shot during the bar fight scene where Yugo clearly recognizes the razor claw he stole, with Vector’s help, attached to a new dude who’s bent on trying to kill his cyborg girlfriend — there’s clear confusion mixed with realized horror on Yugo’s face — AND YET HE DOESN’T BRING THIS UP TO VECTOR IN THE FOLLOWING SCENE WHERE THEY GET DRUNK TOGETHER?? HE DOESN’T FEEL BETRAYED THAT HIS BOSS IS OUTWARDLY TRYING TO *KILL* HIS *CYBORG GIRLFRIEND*?

?????

UMMMM, MOVIE????? HELLO??????????????

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“We … uh … we can fix that for the EXTENDED DIRECTOR’S CUT which is MOST DEFINITLY coming out, right? Guys? … Rosa? … Rob?”

 

Bad writing aside, my most contentious gripe is with the editing and pacing. Alita: Battle Angel knows there’s more story to tell, but it is far too focused on preparing the audience for the bigger picture (aka, producing an unguaranteed franchise through Desty Nova’s looming puppetry over the city, rushing to uncover Alita’s past, and ushering Alita into the world of Motorball as an active participant), that it completely forgets to tell the singular story that will act as a natural gateway to those further stories — if such stories are greenlit. The flowchart of this movie should have been focused around only three main factors: Alita becoming a Hunter-Killer, her one-sided infatuation with Hugo which eventually leads to tragedy and leads her to exact revenge on Vector, both before the backdrop of Ido’s desperation to maintain Alita’s purity as a living porclean doll.

Sure, the aforementioned plot beats are obviously in the film, but, again, they should have been the central focus of the film — and Vector should have been the central antagonist, not Nova. He sure as hell is the big bad in the manga’s first arc, anyway. Desty Nova doesn’t even appear until two thirds of Battle Angel Alita’s original run — and has less of an overarching impact than the film seemingly wants him to have. In the manga, he’s literally introduced through a mere throwaway line. Desty Nova was just another bounty to collect. He eventually becomes to Alita what the Joker is to Batman. He is a mad scientist in exile who desires to fuck around with Zalem’s political climate — nothing more, nothing less.

Granted, I haven’t read BAA’s sequel series, Last Order — so perhaps the devil is in the details there, and I’m making a complete fool of myself here. But regardless, I stand firm in these observations of Nova’s character and motivation in the manga, compared to his goofy Saturday Morning Villain(tm) theatrical portrayal. Nova nowhere to be found in the 1993  “Battle Angel” OVA which James Cameron used as his main inspiration and launching point for his Hollywood adaption.

Know who is, though? Vector.

 

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Interesting that while the movie explores Alita’s expression of humanity, this final scene shows how wooden, robotic, trauma can make us feel — seen in Alita’s posture and movement, here.

 

I feel like I’m complaining far too much about a movie I ultimately feel pretty positive about. Yes, obviously, this movie has its problems, and it produced a lot of cringing from me.

So, what did I like about Alita: Battle Angel?

It was pretty to look at, for one. The fight coreography was spot-fuckin’-on. Rosa Salazar owned the role of Alita, and I am so, so, so, SO, pleased she is getting her due recognition for the role.

Most importantly, what I love about Alita: Battle Angel is that it is a new bar for Hollywood adaptations of foriegn properties, and launched a long-forgotten manga back into North American circulation for old fans and new fans, like — much like Netflix did for Evangelion (More on that at a later date).

For everything “Alita” did wrong in its editing and writing department, it got so much right — because James Cameron and Robert Rodrieguez know film, and they know how to make a good film — and most importantly: James and Robert make films they would love to watch as filmgoers and voracious consumers of alternative/underground pop culture. Heart and desire were poured into the production of Alita: Battle Angel, and it shows — despite the amount of flaws flare out at the edges.

Also — for the record, Alita’s eyes are fucking fine. She’s a robot with big eyes.

Get over it.

 

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Choosing a New Project — and the Emotional Taxation that Comes With it

I have the itch to write after having taken about a fortnight’s break since completing the fourth (and hopefully final) draft for The Book of Wind.

What do I choose to work on now, when there are so many unfinished projects looming overhead? This is what it feels like to be an author with ADHD, overwhelmed by indecision and fleeting time:

I’d love to continue working on a previously shelved project. I can always jump into revising The Book of Earth — that’s probably the most logical course of action, while I figure out (but actually procrastinate) how to properly query its predecesor.

But then that’s revising, not actual free form writing, and I have too many unfinished projects that I’d love to complete before I reach 80 years old — but thinking back when I wrote Earth’s first draft, it feels like yesterday, when really it was six years ago. Realizing that bring a swelling pain in my heart with a hopelessness that this series is still stewing and bubbling within the confines of my ancient laptop.

Then, there’s the Eri sequel, “Revenge of the Master”, and its eventual conclusion with a third book. Both are planned. I think about them every day — I’m not exagerrating. A really boring draft of RotM has been written. But Master of Monsters was such an emotional burden to write — it’s a LONG book, a dense one, at that. Not to mention, I was in my 20s when I wrote it, and I’m unsure that I have the unwavering emotional energy to delve into something that burdening any more.

 

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Early promotional art when the series was still called “Heiress”.

 

Eri, The Monster Sealer is a really important series to me, and I ache to revisit it. So much good happens — Eri grows so much and discovers so much about herself that I’m sure young queer readers trying to figure themselves out can relate to. But I’m unsure if I can revisit the series, and that’s something that rakes coals over my soul.

Then there are the smaller projects — Heart of the Beast, and Helm’s Edge. Not to mention the Alita: Battle Angel review that I’ve been attempting to finish. I suppose it makes sense to tackle those.

I haven’t touched the unfinished structural rewrite of Helm’s Edge since 2014. While a third draft is complete, it and the reworked unfinished version are so completely different in style and tone, that I’ve considered releasing the third draft for free online. But the third draft was written by a less experienced E.E. Blackwood. And though I’m still proud of it, I’m unsure whether it is something that represents “good” quality, overall.

And producing quality work has always been important to  me — which is why it takes like a full decade to complete a single book, first draft to final. Not to mention the numerous projects I’ve left abandoned, but think about most every single day.

It takes a whole decade to complete a single book.

A whole decade.

And those decades fly by, like windy motes.

God, being an author is difficult. I wrote ages ago (at least, I think I did — can’t find the post, now unfortunately) how it’s all right to have those unfinished projects hanging around — speaking specifically about the mangakas at CLAMP, and how they have a notoriously prolific path of unfinished projects trailing behind the likes of Cardcaptor Sakura.

 

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Same, bro.

 

Readers are so patient, bless them. There are authors who take whole decades between books in a given series, and readers will hang on, knowing that the time dedicated to writing slow-burning draft after slow-burning draft, though frustrating (especially when said authors decide to take a break and work on a different project), will hopefully be worth it in the end — and in most cases, that is so.

I feel like that is the perspective that I need to adopt: that it’s okay to take so long to write a book, because I’m putting all that I can into it, for the book to be the best that it can be. And, to an extent, I do hold true to that.

The problem, however, is that having so many unfinished projects gets to be overwhelming. I’m sure ADHD plays a part in this somewhere, and the fleeting of time is so everpresent, that sometimes it just feels easier to give up and focus on enjoying life for what little time left there is to enjoy it.

How many of you readers are artists, or writers? Do you ever feel stuck in this sort of cycle of self defeat and uncertainty when it comes to choosing which project to work on next? How do you cope? Do you talk it out with other artists? Do you try to figure it out on your own? Do you dive head-first and just swim the best you can?

I haven’t come to a real conclusion of what direction should be taken. Maybe that’s okay. Maybe this is just who I am as an author — and I just need to be more patient and forgiving with myself.

Maybe that’s it. Maybe when I go ahead and do just that — maybe the answer will come to me, all on its own.

 

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5 Tips for Unfocused Artists

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It’s ten minutes to 1pm on a Sunday afternoon, and the last thing I want to do is sit here at this computer and form words together on a word processor.

At least, that’s what my body is telling me:

There’re dishes to do.

Laundry to put away.

Brunch to cook and eat.

A shower to have.

Groceries and hormone medication to purchase.

And a mother to go and visit – long, long, overdue.

And yet, I have been aching — physically crying out — to sit down and write, all weekend. I want to be here. I want to sit down at this desk (technically breakfast bar?) and reconfigure the last problem area in Book of Wind, so that I can finally move on to something else (Hopefully, Eri book 2).

I’ve been sitting here since 9 o’clock this morning, listening to the Happy Console Gamer and the Diablo 1 OST with pieces of a new chapter spread across three different open documents, Wikipedia tabs open pertaining to the geographies of Scotland and Ireland, a dictionary.com definition of ocean firths, a Google images search for “firth” (resulting in an endless wall of Colin Firths), not to mention bringing up inside jokes with my live-in partner about Shinji Ikari’s cousin from the southern states, Corncob Ikari, to which I am being verbally assaulted for merely mentioning here and now in writing (“How dare you reveal our secrets? I’m mad right now.”), and nothing to show for this newly-revised chapter other than mental exhaustion and a bladder full of coffee and Jade Citrus Mint tea.

I know what this chapter looks like. I know what needs to happen and where it needs to go. Its contents are easily-visualized in my imagination. It’s just a matter of sitting down and doing it. Putting the time in, powering through, distraction-free.

 

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And you bet your buns I took necessary time away from writing so that I could make this picture of Shinji’s American cousin, Corncob Ikari. He’s a farmer from Nebraska.

Except, of course, it’s not that easy.

In my last blog post (I’m going to pretend it was last week, because this is supposed to be a weekly blog, right?), I mentioned the struggle of diverging focus on building a social media audience, when all of my energy wants to go to writing. Ultimately, this leads to mental exhaustion.

I want to write, I physically need to write. So I sit down, put on some music, and stare at a blank screen for as long as my body will allow until the sudden urge to get up and make a tea, or go to the bathroom, or snuggle with my cat, or joke with my partner, or all of the above, takes over.

Most every artist who dabbles in throwing words at a page struggles with procrastination and focus. My background is in journalism, and this problem was prevalent with myself, my peers, backed by evidence supported by our collective professors and mentors in the field. It’s no wonder why so many writers struggle with substance abuse: drugs and alchohol sometimes help bring down the internal walls guarded by Inner Critics and Overanalyzers.

And as someone who has recently discovered that she’s more than likely been living with undiagnosed Inattentive-Presenting ADHD for all of her life, the temptation to drown my unhinged thoughts and lack of focus with a brim-tall glass of wine and a few puffs of the ganja are pretty strong right now. Because, haha, Heaven knows downing twelve cups of tea and coffee in a row does the complete opposite of what I need my body to do, and I start to feel sleepy.

I’m sure some of you can relate to this sense of artistic frustration in one way or another. And it’s easy to be frustrated with one’s self-imposed expectations for “productivity”.

But I think the imporant thing to recognize here is that it’s happening, and to forgive yourself in the moment, and most important: try to maintain good humour about these frustrations.

When you’re able to recognize your “faults”, and laugh at yourself, the dehibilitating power of these issues we face when it comes to starting, and finishing, our art projects ultimately become lessened. At least, I like to think so. Sure, we’re still going to procrastonate, and become frustrated, and absentmindedly leave a wall of Colin Firths open in our Internet Browser (because fuck that’s funny to click on when we least expect it). But recognizing these patterns and why they are happening (be it internal or external forces vying for your attention) allows us some grace as artists to step back, have a chuckle, and utilize our imaginations as a problem-solving mechanism.

I mean, part of our job as artists is to problem solve, right? Whether you’re a painter, an author, a sculptor, what have you, we are all ultimately sitting down with a dozen or so intellectual pieces of a potential puzzle we’d like to solve (the puzzle being whatever project we’re working on, and the pieces being the literal vague or planned ideas we would like to incorporate into these projects). The only difference is that we are trying to solve a much bigger project: our ability to create in an efficient way.

So, for the sake of keeping myself on task, and hopefully try and help some of you who also struggle with these issues, I’ve come up with five ways to help refocus attention on the creative process. Here are some strategies I use:

Meditation: I’ve been meditating on and off since about 2014. My then-business coach  introduced me to mindfulness meditation and Buddhism at a time when I knew things in my life needed to change.

I love meditation because the practice isn’t so much about emptying my mind (like the media often portrays), as it is recognizing my thoughts and separating myself from them; recognizing thoughts as things that are independent from me as a person, and allowing these thoughts to simply pass by as I focus on the relaxing effects of deep breathing.

I typically can’t bring myself to meditate for more than twenty minutes at a time, and it needs to happen in a dark and quiet place where I can close my eyes, seperate from the rest of the world. Even a quick five minute session helps to ground me in a way where all stress and tension seem to just evaporate.

 

Listening to/humming instrumental music: I’ve always used music to write with. Even as a kid, writing stories on my brother’s pentium work laptop (he was a door-to-door salesman for Kirby Vaccum Cleaners), listening to shitty MIDI-quality songs from favourite video games and cartoons was an integral aspect of my creative process.

I say instrumental music works best, because of how distracted I can get listening to anything with lyrics attached to them. There are plenty of artists who can throw on AC/DC or Drake, or Glee: The Music, The Christmas Album, and create to their heart’s content with relative ease (Stephen King is my favourite example of this; the guy rocks out like nobody’s business when he’s creating.) I can’t do it, though. My ears focus on the lyrics instead of the words trying to form in my brain, and it’s just a disaster from there on out.

Instrumental music sets tone and mood of the scenes just as well, in my opinion, and because there are few to no words attached to said songs, the music itself helps focus my thoughts in a creative direction, driving out any other sort of mental intrusion.

At the time of this writing, I’m a Starbucks barista in my spare time, and the same tactic applies: because there can be so much to do and keep on top of (you’d be surprised how much there is to keep on top of, for a job that revolves around the serving of coffee), that I often find myself humming high-octane themes from some of my favourite video games (Final Fantasy II, Phantasy Star, DOOM) to help focus my attention and keep pace with my coworkers.

 

Smoking the ganja: I have a complicated relationship with cannibis. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it makes things worse. Cannibis has wonderful healing and coping properties, but I will be the first to warn anyone that its effects (both for better or for worse) differ from person to person. Sometimes I hyperfocus on otherwise neglected tasks (doing dishes, getting back to people’s texts…). Sometimes I’ll overthink every self-percieved flaw and have an emotional breakdown because I’m a horrible human being who should have recognized the signs that my ill cat had contracted something months ago, and should have taken her to the vet ASAP (Don’t worry – I did, and she’s doing just fine).

When I use cannibis, typically it’s for making art and writing. Because of the way my brain is wired, cannibis helps focus me in a way that nothing else can. It breaks down self-imposed limiting barriers, which for an artist, can be a supreme obstacle to overcome. There are no inner critics, there are no imposing thoughts of, “I have to do laundry, I have to make lunches, I have to pay the bills” — there’s just the hyperfocused ability to enter into your art in its rawest form, and simply create, or see problem scenes/characters from a different perspective.

The Master of Monsters was a project I struggled with for over a decade, until I discovered cannibis, and it’s no wonder why so many creative people use it. The stuff helped me realize a lot of problems in MoM’s narrative, and aided in the creation some of the best and most memorable chapters and plot developments not present in previous drafts. It’s still not a perfect book by any means, but it is a book that I can now proudly stand by as an artist who has matured and honed her craft.

In that regard, cannibis is an amazing tool for the creative process. It’s just important to try to not rely on it as a tool. Good writing comes from practice, and great writing comes from opening your work up to external constructive criticism and subsequent revising. Cannibis might help lower self-imposed walls, but it doesn’t make you a better artist; being in-tune with yourself and your projects makes you a better artist.

 

Working in a closed-off and/or uncluttered area with a lot of space around me: This one’s really important, and to some of you readers, is likely a no-brainer. Personally speaking, I need a lot of space to create. The table or desk needs to be at the perfect height in ratio with the seat of my chair, there needs to be a ton of natural light coming in from somewhere, and a tea kettle needs to be near-boiling close by. Working in a wide-open, distraction-free, area helps alleviate any chance of me feeling suffocated and needing to constantly get up and move.

Perhaps this point is more about harnessing healthy rituals than it is finding the perfect place to sit and work on whatever project is at the top of the list. Creating routine in your life as an artist is just as important as creating art. 

Whether it’s simply about getting dressed in the morning and having a cup of coffee before you create, or limiting access to all WiFi-enabled devices, or going for a brisk walk, or throwing on some amazing hip-hop beats, it’s important that you find what works for you and your muse, in order to be at the top of your potential that day.

 

Practice patience and self-forgiveness for the days that just don’t work out: This is a tough one. And is quite honestly, the most important point on this list. Some days you’re going to sit down at your desk with good intentions, only to stare at a blank screen for hours at a time. Sometimes external factors will demand your focus and attention on days you’re feeling most creative. Somtimes your body, or your mind, or both, will work against you in ways that will make you feel defeated and filled with resentment.

It’s easy to get frustrated with the lack of productivity. Being a creative person comes with a term I learned in journalism school, called “hurry up and wait”. Waiting for the ideas to come, waiting for inspriation to knock on your door, waiting for the caffiene to kick in, waiting for the end of this long and grueling process to be over, so you can move on to the next fresh and exciting idea that keeps knocking on your door.

Sometimes you have to buckle in and drive through these moments of inactivity. Sometimes you have to sit back and say to yourself, “Listen, today didn’t happen. I’m not okay with that, and this is why, but I realize tomorrow is a new day. I’ll try again then.”

Being real with yourself is the key point here. And for most of us, tomorrow will come, and tomorrow will offer new opporotunities to try again. And if it doesn’t, then it’s important to try not to be so hard on yourself.

When I’m feeling this way, I always know my partner and my close friends will be there to support me, and talk sense into me. Shit happens, right? Life will go on, and your project will get finished, so long as you keep plugging away and don’t give up on it.

Accept the day for what it was, recognize where you can improve, but most of all, be patient and forgive yourself when you think you’ve failed. In the grand scheme of things, you are likely more productive than you actually believe you are.

 

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