ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL. Well, shit. As I sit quietly with the fortunately fading memory of this movie, I am faced with dilemma: Did I even try to want to like it? Did I sacrifice that crucial tenet to preconceived notions, early onset joylessness and dismay at copycat world-building? As one might already have gleaned, I did not like Alita: Battle Angel (even the title seems clumsy and vaguely offensive from where I sit). But did I even give it a chance? Should I have bothered? Well, yes and no, as so often is the case.
Just because a movie is adapted from a given media (manga, let's say) said movie does not necessarily have to adhere to the aesthetic tenets of the source. Nobody seems to have gotten that memo, however, and so manga adaptations generally attempt to play like a comic reads on the page. Cinema — like comics, literature, music, painting and sculpture — is its own medium and need not ape the original art's medium — that art already exists. The movie version should transcend and transmute the source material into something that could not exist on the page. (It's a masking-tape-on-the-glasses distinction, I know.)
Perhaps I should have found hope in the hands of the adaptors of Alita. In my youth, I was a fairly devout Robert Rodriguez acolyte — more Desperado (1995) than El Mariachi (1992), as I'm a sucker for production value — reading and re-reading his book Rebel Without a Crew, espousing his frugal, anti-establishment doctrine, playing his soundtracks on loop and biting them for my own little (highly derivative) movie projects. And when he adapted Frank Miller with Sin City (2005), I thought he pulled off the trick of a reverential adaptation that brought new life to the material with some aplomb. (How well that adaptation, let alone its flat-footed sequel, will continue to age remains to be seen.) But it the last of his projects I liked; even Machete (2010) drew off most of the fun from a brilliant concept. And I didn't even realize James Cameron was involved until after the fact, which is probably for the best: That megalomaniac has been on my list for over 20 years now.
So yes, I had semi-subconsciously stacked the deck against Alita and the trailer was no help. But as I sit with my feelings about it, I think I gave it a fair chance. Maybe I'm looking for forgiveness from myself but that would be a first.
From the first frame, the formidable cast (Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Christoph Waltz, Jeff Fahey, an unrecognizable Jackie Earle Haley and Rosa Salazar in the lead) could do nothing to win me back, nor did the immersive depth of field of the effects, because it was in service of a pallid, hackneyed vision of a dystopian future that started off copping elements from landmarks of science fiction (and from less significant works of cinema at large) and never seemed to let up.
Alita is a robot, or parts thereof, found on a scrap-heap in a squalid future city by a gifted cyborg surgeon (Waltz). He brings her back to life, partially in an effort to reanimate some semblance of his dead daughter. Turns out he's also a bounty hunter with an ambitious ex-wife with questionable motives (Connelly). She works for the chairman of the mega-sport Motorball (Ali), at which Alita is preternaturally adept because, natch, she was some sort of super soldier in her previous life. It just goes on and on and on, with a teen love story thrown in, leading to a non-climax in attempts to reach a city in the sky, followed by a blatant sequel set-up for a second installment we can only hope does not make it to production. PG13. 122M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
ISN'T IT ROMANTIC. I harbor no particular disdain for romantic comedies: Their forebears, the screwball comedies of the 1930s and 1940s, boast some of the sharpest, funniest writing in American movie history. But they've become lazy, simple to dull, easy-money generators for incurious date-nighters happy to forget about a movie as soon as it ends. Isn't It Romantic may not buck that trend entirely but it manages to skewer some of the weaker elements of contemporary romantic comedy, while also celebrating some of the genre's classic, late-20th century moves.
Natalie (Rebel Wilson), a talented architect with little self-respect and less patience for notions of romance, is a bit of a doormat in her own life. That is, until she smashes her head on an I-beam in the subway and wakes up in a world defined by rom-com tropes. The dashing billionaire (Liam Hemsworth) becomes immediately smitten with her; her weirdo shut-in neighbor is now her offensively flamboyant Gay Best Friend (Brandon Scott Jones); the ignored co-worker who loves her (Adam Devine) has a swimsuit model (Priyanka Chopra) desperate to marry him; there are flower shops and cupcakeries on every corner; and musical numbers pop off spontaneously. Clearly this is not a world built to last and so Natalie sets out to learn the Important Lesson that will send her home again.
Light and ultimately inconsequential, Isn't It Romantic remains noteworthy for its semi-wicked sense of humor, its balanced attitude toward beauty myths and cultural "norms" and the obvious love its makers have for the love stories of their collective youth. PG13. 88M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
— John J. Bennett
*Due to the holiday, listings for Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna were not available at press time. See showtimes at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards› Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
COLD WAR. A tragic 1950s romance between Polish musicians (Tomasz Kot, Joanna Kulig), filmed in black and white. R. 89M. MINOR.
DO THE RIGHT THING (1989). Bed-Stuy boils over in the Spike Lee classic. MINOR.
FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY. A young woman (Florence Pugh) from a family of traveling wrestlers takes her shot at the WWE. With Dwayne Johnson and Nick Frost. PG13. 108M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
FORREST GUMP (1994). Run, Forrest. PG13. 142M. BROADWAY.
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD. This installment finds Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) looking for more creatures like his dragon buddy. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK MINOR.
AQUAMAN. James Wan directs the butched-up ocean superhero's (Jason Momoa) solo feature with Amber Heard and an army of CG sea creatures. PG13. 143M. BROADWAY.
COLD PURSUIT. Hans Petter Moland's "reimagining" of his own revenge drama Kraftidioten is a cold mess of improbable plot and character quirks without the storytelling foundation to support it. Starring Liam Neeson, best left in the snow. R. 118M. BROADWAY.
A DOG'S WAY HOME. Live action drama in which a lost dog (voiced by Bryce Dallas Howard) searches for her owner cross country. Starring Ashley Judd. PG. 96M. FORTUNA.
GLASS. Director M. Night Shyamalan brings characters from Split (James McAvoy) and Unbreakable (Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis) together to complete the dark superhero set. PG13. 129M. BROADWAY.
GREEN BOOK. The cringe-worthy story of a racist white man driving a black concert pianist around the South in the '60s buoyed by Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali's immersive performances. PG13. 130M. MILL CREEK.
HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U. For the sequel, Tree (Jessica Rothe) dies over and over again at the hands of a baby-masked killer, this time with her friends in tow. PG13. 100M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
THE LEGO MOVIE: THE SECOND ONE. More blocky animated action starring the voices of Chris Pratt and Elizabeth Banks. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
THE PRODIGY. Parents of a gifted boy grow frightened of his behavior. (Spoiler: Totally evil.) R. 92M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE. Inter-dimensional spider heroes team up in an animated adventure. Starring Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson and Hailee Steinfeld. PG. 117M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD. Director Peter Jackson's World War I documentary. R. 99M. BROADWAY.
THE UPSIDE. An inexperienced parolee (Kevin Hart) becomes an assistant to a wealthy man with quadriplegia (Bryan Cranston). With Nicole Kidman. PG13. 125M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
WHAT MEN WANT. If this mind-reading comedy reboot makes a single penny, Taraji P. Henson should go back and remake every Mel Gibson movie ever. R. 117M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
THE WORLDS OF URSULA K. LEGUIN. Documentary about the iconic fantasy writer. NR. 68M. MINIPLEX.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill