Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Another INTENSE Hollywood Live-Action ANIME Adaptation in “ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL”

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When a filmmaker has a movie project he wants to realize, but a variety of issues keep putting actual production of it on hold for upwards of a decade, nobody would probably blame them if they gave up on it. Not James Cameron, though. Ever since he was introduced to a Japanese manga by fellow director Guillermo Del Toro, he has been fascinated with the story to attempt adapting it to live-action. However, technical limitations of the time plus his work on “Avatar” in the 2000s put these plans in the back burner. Only this 2019 did the global movie-going audience finally get to see the long-awaited “Alita: Battle Angel.”
This new 20th Century Fox big-budget movie, a cyberpunk action extravaganza, is based on the manga “Gunm” by Yukito Kishiro, which came out in 1990 and localized as “Battle Angel Alita.” The adventures of an amnesiac cyborg girl that knows anti-robot martial arts in a post-apocalyptic cyberpunk settlement under a tyrannical floating city, so enamored James Cameron that he took elements of that story to create his 2000 TV series “Dark Angel” with Jessica Alba. But he never let his highest ambition for the property – a live-action film – slip away.
When work on “Alita: Battle Angel” finally started in earnest, Cameron found himself too busy with the “Avatar” sequel to sit in the director’s chair. So while relegating himself as co-producer with Jon Landau, the job of making the movie happen fell to Robert Rodriguez, no slouch in intense action pieces himself. The result is a futuristic yet “Mad Max”-like narrative that readers of the original manga claim is a workable condensation of several important storylines into an under-2-hour feature. In a nutshell, “Battle Angel” follows Alita, a female cyborg found dismantled in a scrapyard by a surgeon for cyborgs who repairs and names her, and her adventures in Iron City, a junkyard metropolis serving as factory/farm for the sky-city of Zalem floating above them.
One significant feature of “Alita: Battle Angel” is the choice of the producers in how to render the title heroine. While CGI and props for half-man, half-machine cyborgs in the film’s setting was a given, the decision to render the main character, played by Rosa Salazar, in CGI that is both photo-realistic and not results in a strangely appealing aesthetic. Alita looks fairly “normal” for having robotic limbs and having eyes somewhat large for her face, like a manga/anime girl.
While the CGI work, courtesy of “Lord of the Rings” veteran effects company Weta Digital from New Zealand, does some fine work in creating the appearance of Alita, that would likely fall apart if the actress in the role could not quite live up to the complexity. Thankfully Rosa Salazar delivers a curious performance that melds with the pseudo-realism of her character, at times sounding of childlike innocence one moment, then mature professionalism the next, and somewhere in between too.
With regards to the rest of the cast, Christoph Waltz as Alita’s guardian and parental figure Dr. Dyson Ido is an interesting take considering his original manga version was younger and Japanese (Daisuke Ido). Accusations of whitewashing similar to what happened to Paramount’s “Ghost in the Shell” is somewhat alleviated by the reworking of his backstory and relation to the cyborg girl he found in a dump, and he comes across as a great supporting character for Alita for it.
While Dr. Ido tries to keep Alita sheltered from the dangers of post-apocalyptic Iron City, she is inspired to explore her surroundings further by an outside acquaintance, handyman Hugo (Keean Johnson). He introduces her to a popular sport, and shares his dream of moving to Zalem. But trouble breaks out when Alita learns of Ido’s double life as a bounty hunter for cyborg criminals. In the meantime she catches the interest of corrupt business mogul Vector (Mahershala Ali), who through his tech aide Chiren (Jennifer Connely) tries to figure out what secrets lies underneath Alita’s circuitry and instinctual combat mastery.
In between quiet scenes of introspection and discovery, Cameron and Rodriguez put intense action and battle sequences that harken both to “Avatar” and other live-action anime adaptations on both sides of the Pacific. That much is expected given the source material, and only those disinclined towards the action genre will not be entertained by it.
If there is any prominent flaw in the whole package of “Alita: Battle Angel,” it is that it was never going to tell the whole story of the manga, and therefore ends with unfinished plotlines and a blatantly telegraphed sequel hook. Granted, the producers have pretty much expressed their intentions to make more movies with “Alita,” as if to make up for the long time it took to actually make this first one.
More critical viewers may say that Alita’s incredible SFX only compensate for a convoluted plot, but there is enough meat in the story to invest cyberpunk fans now, and condition them for follow-up films in the future. And for what it is worth, the original manga author Yukito Kishiro loves the finished product enough to make some sweet promotional artwork for it.
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Images: NBC News and Crunchyroll

New MARVEL COMICS Storyline to Introduce NEW FEMALE FILIPINO SUPERHERO

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While general fans of the superhero genre, particularly of Marvel characters, are more aware of the movie versions seen in Marvel Studios’ MCU franchise, more dedicated followers would have gone and actually bought, in print or digital format, the medium that tells the original take on Earth’s mightiest heroes: Marvel Comics. Even as the Cinematic Universe goes and adapts storylines from the original comic books that have long since been printed, all-new plot arcs and adventures continue to be told in pages that are published regularly at varying points of a month throughout the year.
And as The Manila Bulletin puts it, Filipino fans of the Marvel brand may have something to look forward to in the most current storylines being told on the comic books that started them all. A Marvel event arc called “War of the Realms” running a mini series of six issues plus assorted tie-is to ongoing Marvel titles, will soon introduce a new superhero character named Wave, who according to the official Marvel website, is a Filipina. This is the first significant character from the Philippines that will be introduced as a costumed hero in Marvel Comics, though Filipino artists have worked for Marvel in the past and helped create several characters during their tenure.
Not much is known about Wave other than her gender and ethnicity. It is not yet known what her powers are, how she got them, and what her character background is. All that has been revealed by Marvel editor is that Wave and fellow new Marvel heroes Sword Master and Aero are the latest members of the comic-book super team the Agents of Atlas, and that they will appear in the initial issue of the “War of the Realms” series.
Marvel War of the Realms
The saga sees Earth being threatened by a new menace from the Asgardian realms from which Thor hails from: the Queen of Cinders. She starts her conquest in Asia, which explains why Asian and Asian-American Marvel heroes like Amadeus Cho, Jimmy Woo, Shang-Chi, and Silk team up with the regions local super-people: China’s Aero and Sword Master, and the Philippines’ Wave, plus other personages like Io, Crescent and Luna Snow.
And they will not be the only ones involved according to Will Moss, who adds, “War of the Realms is this big, big Marvel universe story involving all the heroes from the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, Wolverine, the whole line.” Titles tying in to the miniseries include “Avengers”, “Tony Stark: Iron Man”, “Thor”, “Venom”, “Punisher”, “X-Men” and so much more. Marvel’s “The War of the Realms” will be released in comic stores and online this month, while the MCU films start with “Captain Marvel” March.
Images: CNN Philippines and Marvel.com

BAGUIO CITY, PINE Trees May Be Next DENR REHABILITATION Target

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“Rehabilitation” has been a significant ecological watchword in the Philippines these days, as the government flexed its political muscles in spurring communities, with the help of volunteer organizations, to begin cleanup efforts of the country’s environment, particularly in tourist destinations and major cities. Nobody can forget the titanic rehab operation for Boracay last year that lasted several months and shut down business there for the duration. The recent undertaking for Manila Bay is just as impressive in itself. Now, officials of the pertinent government agencies have decided on their next major location to clean up: the country’s mountaintop summer capital.
CNN Philippines reports that the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources is taking steps to begin a large-scale rehabilitation measure for Baguio City. This Sunday, February 17, DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu announced that he has deployed a team of environmentalists to commence a study of Baguio’s natural ecosystem, in particular its famous surrounding forest of pine trees. Cimatu expressed concern over a trend that the city’s pine tree population has steadily begun to decline in recent times. “Because Baguio is pine trees and pine trees are Baguio,” he explained. “Before, people have said when you climb Baguio it smells of pine trees, now that is no longer the case because they have fewer leaves.”
Undersecretary Benny Antiporda adds that the DENR fact-finding team will perform a count of pine trees in the vicinity of Baguio to ascertain any rate of decrease in their density, and to determine the necessity and degree of replanting needed. “That is the main objective,” he said. “We will also look into the possibility of a natural cause to why the pine trees are dying. We will study that too.” This was in response to the alarm raised by agriculturists in the Baguio area who have noticed a dying-off of pine trees two years ago.
While the ongoing Manila Bay rehabilitation may not have implemented any serious restrictions beyond trying to keep people from swimming in the waters, many Filipinos still remember the near-complete shutdown performed on Boracay island for six months in 2017, and are concerned if the famously cool summer destination would be closed as well, U-Sec Antiporda made assurances that it may not be necessary in Baguio.
Secretary Cimatu made proposals in the vein of increased restriction on building construction around Baguio’s sloping ground, where the pine tree growths are normally concentrated, as well as suspending some ongoing building permits. Such measures have been met with approval by the Baguio City government.
Image courtesy of Manila Bulletin