[Deja View] – Alita: Battle Angel


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.



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.


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??????????????


“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.


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.





The Kids Are All Right: The Modern Family

Note: Hi! Do you enjoy badly-written, pretentious college-age analytical essays?!?!?! I KNOW I DO!  I wrote this piece a million years ago for my second-year film class when I was taking journalism at Humber. I have vague memories of publishing this essay soon after graduation, but lo and behold, there it was sitting neglected and dusty in the barrel-bottom of the drafts section. So, enjoy!

The Kids Are All Right (2010) is a drama/comedy directed by Lisa Cholodenko that comments on how contemporary Western society views the institution of same-sex marriage and child-rearing. Joni Allgood (Mia Wasikowska) is pressured by her half-brother, Laser (Josh Hutcherson) into helping him track down their sperm donor, Paul Hatfield (Mark Ruffalo), without the consent or knowledge of their married lesbian mothers, Nic and Jules (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore). When Nic and Jules discover that their children have gone behind their backs, they feel threatened that the inclusion of Paul may corrupt the balance of their family, especially when Joni confides that she would like to spend more time with him. The film comments on how marital circumstances have changed over the years, and as such, unconventional families (in this case, “the perfect lesbian family,” a quote from the film itself) sometimes feel challenged by a relatively traditional world to prove themselves, but the overall dynamic of family values (such as support, commitment, and honesty) still apply despite the change of gender roles/sexual orientation in contemporary marriage.

“Don’t mind Laser. He’s just jealous because I have a car and
he’s got daddy issues. And his name is stupid.”

A scene that reflects the idea of this comes early in the film when Jules and Nic decide to limit Paul’s involvement with the kids. Instead of flat out denying Joni’s desire to see Paul again, Nic and Jules invite Paul over for a family barbeque, with the intention of what Nic calls, “killing him with kindness”. In this scene, Lisa Cholodenko uses cinematography, proxemics, mise en scene, and light to illustrate what life for the Allgoods is like – but also to establish Nic and Jules’s secret ill feelings towards Paul, but still attempting to support Joni’s wish to see him again.

The scene is framed with contrasting medium-high-key light and medium shots, with Paul standing on the left side of the frame, and Nic and Jules standing close together, a few feet away, on the right side of the frame. This composition relates to social distance, which is typically “reserved for impersonal business and casual social gatherings” (Giannetti and Leach, “Understanding Movies”, p. 127), but Cholodenko uses these proxemic patterns to make Paul feel intimidated by the intimate space shared between Nic and Jules, suggesting “such behaviour might be interpreted as standoffish” (Giannetti and Leach, p. 127), which accurately reflects their disapproval and own intimidation of his presence.

“Who needs a man when you have wine?”

As the scene progresses, the get-together transitions to the backyard, around a picnic table where Paul and the Allgoods have a barbeque meal together. The use of high-key light and mise en scene is important in this transition, although Cholodenko uses them subtly by focusing on close-up angles of Paul and the Allgoods. Surrounding the group are various objects that suggest the ideals of a typical well-to-do family (such as an expensive barbeque, a well-maintained yard, etc) and therefore when there are quick glimpses of these objects, “the frame is likened to a window through which the audience may satisfy its impulse to pry into the intimate details of the characters’ lives” (Giannetti and Leach, p. 100). Coupled by Cholodenko’s focus on the group’s conversation about life and experience – as well as Joni’s rebelling at her moms’ embarrassing pride of her graduation speech – the scene is shot with a realist, documentary-like technique to “suggest the copiousness of life itself” (Giannetti and Leach, p. 2). The scene ends with a wide shot of the group eating and enjoying each others’ company, accompanied by a music sting. The use of high key light during the scene implies an overall sense of “security, virtue, truth, and joy” (Giannetti and Leach p.76) among the family. By using these techniques, Cholodenko creates a plausible world that exhibits the worries and triumphs of a working unconventional American family, and that the Allgoods are indeed able to survive as a family without the inclusion of a dominant male figure.

On a more personal note outside of this brief film analysis, I really enjoyed The Kids Are All Right. I’ve seen it far to many times in order to write this peice to want to subject myself to the film again any time soon, but I really do recommend it. I’m not going to spoil the movie for you, if you haven’t already seen it, but it’s genuinely well-written and really funny in a smart and sometimes dark way. The second act provides a huge twist (which I’m personally on the fence about), but that doesn’t stop The Kids Are All Right from being a quality film of 2010.

Hard Candy: A Digital Monologue

I love movies that provide a means to empower and inspire certain sects of audiences. These films come to us, shining in the darkness, when the endless tidal wave of cinematic schlock rains upon us, trying to convince the mass society that “thinking” and “being challenged” are bad things; that we should only concern ourselves with disengaging mental-melts like Meet The Spartans, The Final Destination (Really? Really? the FINAL destination? What were the first three? Pit stops?), as well as any Eddie Murphy entry over the last decade.

I like to think that everybody can stumble upon something in the entertainment industry and become latched to the thing — can bond with it oh so well — almost as if the creator produced that whatever-it-is (be it a movie, a book, a video game, a song, etc) with “you” specifically in mind.

For me, it was a movie called Hard Candy.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who sees that red hoodie as an
allusion to the story of Little Red Riding Hood.

I’ve been exposed to a great number of films over the past number of years, but out of all of them, I felt the need to talk about this one, the most. Hard Candy was released in 2005, starring a pre-Juno Ellen Page and a pre-Watchmen Patrick Wilson (with post-Double Happiness and during-Grey’s Anatomy Sandra Oh).

I can summarize the plot of Hard Candy in as such: Hayley, a 14-year-old honour student gets lured over the Internet and into the arms of Jeff, a 32-year-old “photographer” — but when the two head back to Jeff’s place, the oh-so-familiar and traumatizing story of the owl hunting the mouse pulls a complete and unexpected 180:

The mouse hunts the owl.

I’m not sure if the screenwriter of this movie was himself affected by online predators, or if he knew someone pretty close who was — but as a victim of long-term chat room pedophilia, myself, at the very age that Ellen Page portrays in Hard Candy … well, I don’t think it was a coincidence that of my close friends just so happened to show me the movie on a whim, at a time when I was secretly only starting to come to terms with my own past.

“Happy birthday, Mister f*cking President.”

Anyway, I’d like to talk about the movie itself. It’s almost two hours, and a good 95% pure dialogue — another 75% taking place inside Jeff’s studio condo. And yeah, okay, you can say “95% dialogue” about most movies, but Hard Candy comes off very much as though it could have been an adaption of a one-set stage play.

There are only six characters in the entire film: Haley, Jeff, Sandra Oh’s character who appears briefly in two scenes (which is hilarious in my opinion, because she gets third billing on the DVD case), a girl from Jeff’s past (who you barely see at all), a cashier, and an uncredited extra who comes out of a diner bathroom.

Okay, technically, three characters, but the fact remains that it’s a very manageable cast of characters conveying an intense, brain-wringing plot through a scant two locations (three, if you include the roof and yard of Jeff’s condo). Hard Candy wasn’t written for the stage, but it is just as compelling. Honestly, the first time I watched it, I was expecting the screen to go black and the words “INTERMISSION” to appear in big blocky white letters around the mid-point of the film.

Nite Owl: Mild-mannered child molester by day,
crime-fighting manic depressant by night.

The acting in Hard Candy is absolutely phenomenal. It’s no surprise that Page and Wilson have secured themselves in their acting careers now. It’s actually pretty scary how well Ellen Page comes across as a dependent, dopey fourteen-year-old in the first act of the movie, only to turn on one heel and show us how effing vengeful and bat-shit insane her character really is. It also helps that she looks like a perpetual eighth-grader, which makes the whole thing feel even more terrifyingly authentic. Patrick Wilson is set up to be this smooth-talking, persuasive sort of person, and my God, does he play it well. Even past the point when it’s very evident what he is and what his intentions are, it’s somewhat difficult at times to not be sympathetic towards his character.

At around the time I first watched Hard Candy, I’m not sure it had much of a following, but I’m glad to see that over the years it is finally starting to get the recognition it so deserves. However, one thing that does strike me odd about this movie is that it’s filed under the Horror genre. If you ask me, it’s anything but a horror movie — in fact, it should be listed high up there with those other inspirational films like Forrest Gump and Pursuit of Happyness.

I mean, technically, I guess — Hard Candy could be a horror movie — if you’re a pedophile.

As terribly awkward and painful that position must be,
Ellen Page sure looks like she’s sleeping well enough.

For me, Hard Candy is basically To Catch a Predator tripped up a notch by a healthy dose of steroids and acid. I honestly can’t recommend this movie enough. Go watch it. The message of this film is a brilliant one not only to child predators, but to any idiot who thinks they have the right to step over illegal/unmoral boundaries: Don’t chew the hard candy, because you just might break a tooth.