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Update February 2019


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Film Review : ‘Alita: Battle Angel’ is big eyes and big effects

This image shows the character Alita, voiced by Rosa Salazar, in a scene from “Alita: Battle Angel.” (Twentieth Century Fox via AP)

Mark Kennedy

Los Angeles (AP) - Alita is just like a typical teenage girl. She loves chocolate, breaks curfew and crushes on a bad boy with floppy hair, a leather jacket and a motorcycle. But Alita isn’t typical in other ways. For one, she can slice apart a single falling tear with her ferocious battle sword.

Those are the two sides brought up by “Alita: Battle Angel ,” our film entry into the thrilling manga world of artist Yukito Kishiro and imagined for the screen by producer James Cameron and director Robert Rodriguez. The film crams in so many plot lines that it risks being overstuffed but somehow stays true to its mesmerizing vision and emerges as a sci-fi success, if not a triumph.

Alita is both machine and human and the big-budget screen adaptation is both live action and computer generated, each element present in Alita herself, played with equal parts tenderness and ferocity by Rosa Salazar. She’s been given huge CG eyes but they’re not as distracting as you may fear. Somehow, Salazar still conveys deep emotion without a crucial acting tool. The film also has appearances by Jennifer Connelly, who is chilly and mysterious, and Mahershala Ali, who is chilly and dangerous.

The film begins with Alita’s torso found in a junk heap by a compassionate cyber-physician played by Christoph Waltz. The year is 2563 and we are in the crowded, chaotic streets of Iron City, a melting pot of survivors from a post-apocalyptic war. Cyborgs are everywhere and getting fresh parts seems to fuel the economy. (Curiously, plastic umbrellas are still in use. Cities can float in the sky here, but the population still relies on cheap plastic umbrellas.)

Alita’s human core is given a body and she awakens but has no memory of what came before. She must find out who she is and what her destiny is. “Whose rules do I live by?” she asks. Meanwhile, she falls for a human cyborg jacker (bland but hunky Keean Johnson) who has some moral issues to work out since he’s romancing a cyborg by day and slicing them apart at night.

There are several subplots involving cyberpunk bounty hunters, a ruling elite that lives in the sky and the town’s favorite sport — Motorball, a combination meth-fueled roller derby and Death Race. The film is rated PG-13 but there’s quite a bit of cyber-gore here, including gouging out eyeballs (more than once) and slicing metal folk in half or amputating them. If these were human, we’d be moving toward an R for sure.

The filmmakers are not afraid of making our heroine absolutely lethal and yet swooningly immature (she actually digs into her chest and offers her own artificial beating heart to her boyfriend, later laughingly admitting that gesture was “intense.”) She can give a beat-down to a roomful of hardened killers but still curl up on the couch and put her head on her adoptive dad’s chest. She can do flips worthy of an Olympic gymnast but her dad still wants her to wear knee pads and a helmet while competing at Motorball — against lasers, huge spinning saws and knives.

Alita has a strong moral compass — “I do not stand by in the presence of evil,” she announces — and, thankfully, triggering her special brand of martial arts mayhem must be earned. When a cute dog is senselessly slaughtered (relax, off camera), she dabs its blood on her face out of respect and revenge, squints really hard and coils up like lethal spring. It’s very clear whoever did that will not survive the next 5 minutes.

“Alita: Battle Angel,” which, in the end, needs more humor and less violence, kind of staggers quietly to its end. A sequel isn’t just hinted at — it’s practically dangled in front of our eyes as Alita looks heavenward to the next battlefield in the sky city. Well, count us in. Like Hailee Steinfeld in “Bumblebee,” Salazar’s Alita is part of a welcome wave of films about complex young women who know how to handle even the worst machines. Girls rule.

“Alita: Battle Angel,” a Twentieth Century Fox release, is rated PG-13 for “sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language.” Running time: 122 minutes. Three stars out of four.


Peter Jackson making new documentary of Beatles’ ‘Let It Be’

 

This Feb. 28, 1968, file photo shows The Beatles, from left, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr and George Harrison. (AP Photo)

Hillel Italie

New York (AP) - The Beatles’ farewell documentary “Let It Be” is getting an encore, and a reinvention.

“Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson has announced he is making a new film out of some 55 hours of footage — shot in January 1969 — that has never been seen by the public. The original movie, directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, came out soon after the Beatles broke up in 1970 and has long been viewed as a chronicle of the band members growing apart. In a Rolling Stone interview given months after the film’s release, John Lennon recalled the making of “Let It Be” as a miserable experience, “set-up by Paul (McCartney) for Paul.

“That is one of the main reasons the Beatles ended. I can’t speak for George, but I pretty damn well know we got fed up of being side-men for Paul,” he said.

But Jackson says the additional footage tells a very different story.

“It’s simply an amazing historical treasure-trove,” he said. “Sure, there’s moments of drama — but none of the discord this project has long been associated with.”

For Jackson, the Beatles movie marks another turn to documentaries after his recent “They Shall Not Grow Old,” a film that brings World War I to life after the director restored heavily-damaged, grainy footage, transferred it into 3-D and even used expert lip readers to restore lost dialogue.

He is working on “Let It Be” with the cooperation of McCartney, Ringo Starr, and Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison, the widows of John Lennon and George Harrison. The new project was announced on the 50th anniversary of one of the highlights of “Let It Be,” the Beatles’ spirited performance on the roof of Apple Records in London.

No release date has been set. A remastered version of the original film, which won an Oscar for best original score, is also planned.

In 1969, the movie was meant to show the Beatles turning away from the psychedelic tricks of “Sgt. Pepper” as they jam on new songs such as “I’ve Got a Feeling” and “Get Back.” But the Beatles seem far older and wearier than the joyous moptops of a few years earlier. Harrison briefly walked out during filming and on camera argues with McCartney over a proposed guitar part. Harrison would later blame tension with McCartney and unhappiness with Lennon’s then-new relationship with Ono, who is often by Lennon’s side in the movie.

“Paul wanted nobody to play on his songs until he decided how it should go. For me it was like: ‘What am I doing here? This is painful!’” he said in an interview for a 1990s video anthology of the Beatles.

“Then superimposed on top of that was Yoko, and there were negative vibes at that time. John and Yoko were out on a limb. I don’t think he wanted much to be hanging out with us, and I think Yoko was pushing him out of the band, inasmuch as she didn’t want him hanging out with us.”

“Let It Be” didn’t come out until May 1970, and Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner would speak of Lennon “crying his eyes out” when the two saw it together. Meanwhile, the accompanying album led to a bitter dispute between McCartney and his bandmates. The group had pushed aside longtime producer George Martin and brought in Phil Spector, who infuriated McCartney by adding strings and a choir to the ballad “The Long and Winding Road.” In 2003, McCartney oversaw a new and sparer version of the album, “Let It Be ... Naked.”

Last fall, McCartney hinted at the upcoming revision of the film.

“I know people have been looking at the (unreleased) footage,” he said in an interview aired on Canada’s Radio X. “And someone was talking to me the other day and said: ‘The overall feeling is very joyous and very uplifting. It’s like a bunch of guys making music and enjoying it.’”


Rijksmuseum shows off its Rembrandts in blockbuster show

A visitor passes a billboard drawing attention to the exhibit of all the Rijksmuseum’s Rembrandts in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Wednesday, Feb. 13. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

Mike Corder

Amsterdam (AP) For the first time, and likely the last, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is showing off most of its works by Rembrandt van Rijn in a single exhibition.

From imposing portraits to intimate sketches and prints that usually lie cocooned in the darkness of climate-controlled storage, the Amsterdam museum is exhibiting 22 paintings, 60 drawings and some 300 of its best etchings in the blockbuster show that turns visitors into flies on the walls of the Dutch master’s life.

“I think the exhibition wonderfully explains who Rembrandt was as a person,” said Pieter Roelofs, the museum’s head of paintings and sculpture. “So we really are brought into his private world and on the other hand it gives a wonderful overview of Rembrandt as one of the most experimental and innovative artists in Western art history.”

Museum Director Taco Dibbits said such a show is unlikely to be repeated.

“This will never happen again because the works on paper are incredibly fragile,” he said.

The museum actually owns 1,300 prints, but is showing only the best in the exhibition, “All the Rembrandts,” that opened this month.

It is part of a raft of shows at museums across the Netherlands this year to mark the 350th anniversary of the artist’s death.

The former Dutch queen, Princess Beatrix, formally opened festivities last month at the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague, home to another important collection of works by Rembrandt, including “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp” and a poignant self-portrait from 1669, the year Rembrandt died.

The Rijksmuseum show gives an unprecedented overview of Rembrandt’s progression from precocious young artist to the master of the Golden Age, who was one of the first to depict his subjects warts and all.

“Rembrandt is the artist of human beings and he never idealizes so he really portrays people; how they are in their strengths and weaknesses,” said Roelofs.

The one painting not in the special exhibition wing is the iconic “Night Watch” which remains in pride of place in the museum’s Honor Gallery.

The exhibition includes dozens of self-portraits that show how Rembrandt used what are effectively 17th century selfies to practice portraying emotions that later reappear in his bigger works; there is an intimate sketch of his wife Saskia lying ill in bed shortly before she died at the age of just 29, and etchings and drawings he made while wandering the streets and lanes of Leiden and Amsterdam.

“I often say he’s the first Instagram and that’s not trying to be a popular,” Dibbits said. “But Rembrandt was decisive in the way that we look at today because he was the first artist who depicted the world around him. Otherwise we would still be making images of gods and goddesses. Rembrandt is the first to paint us as human beings as we are.”

The exhibition runs until June 10, 2019.


Open the vaults: Unpublished Salinger work to be released

This Thursday, Jan. 28, 2010, file photo shows copies of J.D. Salinger’s classic novel “The Catcher in the Rye” as well as his volume of short stories called “Nine Stories” at the Orange Public Library in Orange Village, Ohio. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)

Hillel Italie

New York (AP) — One of the book world’s greatest mysteries is finally ending: J.D. Salinger’s son says previously unpublished work by his late father will be coming out.

In comments that appeared recently in The Guardian newspaper, Matt Salinger confirmed longstanding reports that the author of “The Catcher in the Rye” had continued to write decades after he stopped publishing books. He said that he and Salinger’s widow, Colleen, are “going as fast as we can” to prepare the material for release.

“He wanted me to pull it together, and because of the scope of the job, he knew it would take a long time,” Salinger said of his father, who died in 2010 and had not published work since the mid-1960s.

“This was somebody who was writing for 50 years without publishing, so that’s a lot of material. So there’s not a reluctance or a protectiveness: When it’s ready, we’re going to share it,” he said.

Salinger, who helps oversee his father’s literary estate, says any new work might be years away and did not cite any specific titles or plots. He did indicate that the Glass family made famous in such fiction as “Franny and Zooey” would be seen again.

“I feel the pressure to get this done, more than he did,” he said, adding that the unseen work “will definitely disappoint people that he wouldn’t care about, but for real readers - I think it will be tremendously well received by those people and they will be affected in the way every reader hopes to be affected when they open a book. Not changed, necessarily, but something rubs off that can lead to change.”

J.D. Salinger published just four books in his lifetime: “Nine Stories,” ‘’The Catcher in the Rye,” ‘’Franny and Zooey” and a volume with the two novellas “Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction.” The last work to come out in his lifetime was the story “Hapworth 16, 1924,” which appeared in The New Yorker in 1965.

Salinger rarely spoke to the media and not only stopped releasing new work but rejected any reissues or e-book editions of his published material. This year marks the centennial of his birth and signs of a new openness emerged in 2018 when his estate permitted new covers and a boxed edition of his old fiction to come out for the 100th anniversary. A Salinger exhibit is planned later this year at the New York Public Library, and other promotional events are in the works.

Over the past half-century, rumors and speculation intensified over if any new books existed and if they were of publishable quality. A former lover, Joyce Maynard, and Salinger’s daughter, Margaret, have both contended that the author continued to write books, allegedly stored in a vault in the author’s home in Cornish, New Hampshire.

A 2013 documentary and book by Shane Salerno and David Shields cited two “independent and separate sources” in predicting five new works. One of the Salinger books would center on “Catcher” protagonist Holden Caulfield and his family. Others would draw on Salinger’s World War II years and his immersion in Eastern religion. Matt Salinger has dismissed the contents of the Salerno-Shields project, but never definitively said that no new work would appear.

Salerno wrote in an email to The Associated Press that “it was always his (J.D. Salinger’s) intention — and specific direction — to have his work published after his death.”

“I’m thrilled that Salinger fans around the world will finally get to see this important work from one of America’s finest writers,” Salerno added. “As the stories roll out over the years, I think you will find that all of our reporting was correct.”


Screen legend Albert Finney dies at 82

In this Jan. 15, 1970 file photo, British actor Albert Finney waves his cane while playing the title role in “Scrooge,” at Shepperton Studios. (AP Photo/R. Dear)

Gregory Katz

London (AP) — Albert Finney, one of the most respected and versatile actors of his generation and the star of films as diverse as “Tom Jones” and “Skyfall,” died last week. He was 82.

From his early days as a strikingly handsome and magnetic screen presence to his closing acts as a brilliant character actor, Finney was a British treasure known for charismatic work on both stage and screen.

Finney’s family said he “passed away peacefully after a short illness with those closest to him by his side.” He died Thursday, Feb. 7 from a chest infection at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London, a cancer treatment center.

Finney burst to international fame in 1963 in the title role of “Tom Jones,” playing a lusty, humorous rogue who captivated audiences with his charming, devil-may-care antics.

He excelled in many other roles, including “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning”, a 1960 drama that was part of the “angry young man” film trend.

Finney was a rare star who managed to avoid the Hollywood limelight despite more than five decades of worldwide fame. He was known for skipping awards ceremonies, even when he was nominated for an Oscar.

“Tom Jones” gained him the first of five Oscar nominations. Other nominations followed for “Murder on the Orient Express,” ‘’The Dresser,” ‘’Under the Volcano” and “Erin Brockovich.” Each time he fell short.

In later years he brought authority to bid-budget and high-grossing action movies, including the James Bond thriller “Skyfall” and two of the Bourne films. He also won hearts as Daddy Warbucks in “Annie.”

He played an array of roles, including Winston Churchill, Pope John Paul II, a southern American lawyer, and an Irish gangster. There was no “Albert Finney”-type character that he returned to again and again.

In one of his final roles, as the gruff Scotsman, Kincade, in “Skyfall,” he shared significant screen time with Daniel Craig as Bond and Judi Dench as M, turning the film’s final scenes into a master class of character acting.

“The world has lost a giant,” Craig said.

Although Finney rarely discussed his personal life, he said in 2012 that he had been treated for kidney cancer for five years.

He also explained why he had not attended the Academy Awards in Los Angeles even when he was nominated for the film world’s top prize.

“It seems silly to go over there and beg for an award,” he said.

The actor also maintained a healthy skepticism about the British establishment and turned down a knighthood when it was offered, declining to become Sir Albert.

“Maybe people in America think being a ‘Sir’ is a big deal,” he said. “But I think we should all be misters together. I think the ‘Sir’ thing slightly perpetuates one of our diseases in England, which is snobbery.”

Instead of cashing in by taking lucrative film roles after “Tom Jones,” Finney took a long sabbatical, traveling slowly through the United States, Mexico and the Pacific islands, then returned to the London stage to act in Shakespeare productions and other plays. He won wide acclaim before returning to film in 1967 to co-star with Audrey Hepburn in “Two for the Road.”

This was to be a familiar pattern, with Finney alternating between film work and stage productions in London and New York.

Finney tackled Charles Dickens in “Scrooge” in 1970, then played Agatha Christie’s sophisticated sleuth Hercule Poirot in “Murder on the Orient Express” — earning his second Best Actor nomination— and even played a werewolf hunter in the cult film “Wolfen” in 1981.

Even during his extraordinary run of great roles, Finney’s life was not chronicled in People or other magazines, although the British press was fascinated with his marriage to the sultry French film star Anouk Aimee.

He played in a series of smaller, independent films for a number of years before returning to prominence in 2000 as a southern lawyer in the film “Erin Brockovich,” which starred Julia Roberts. The film helped introduce Finney to a new generation of moviegoers, and the chemistry between the aging lawyer and his young, aggressive assistant earned him yet another Oscar nomination, this time for Best Supporting Actor.

His work also helped propel Roberts to her first Best Actress Oscar. Still, Finney declined to attend the Academy Awards ceremony — possibly damaging his chances at future wins by snubbing Hollywood’s elite.


Rap artists and women take center stage at Grammy Awards

Cardi B (left) accepts the award for best rap album for “Invasion of Privacy” as Offset looks on at the 61st annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 10, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)

David Bauder

Los Angeles (AP) — Rap artists and women have felt shunned by the Grammy Awards in recent years. But this year, they both took center stage.

Childish Gambino’s disturbing look at race relations, “This is America,” won record and song of the year on last Sunday’s telecast. It was the first time a rap-based song won both of those awards, considered — with album of the year — the recording industry’s most prestigious.

Kacey Musgraves won top album and matched Childish Gambino with four Grammys total. A year after many women felt left out of the Grammy telecast, they delivered the night’s most memorable performances. The best new artist winner, British singer Dua Lipa, also cast major shade on the outgoing recording academy president.

Lady Gaga and Brandi Carlile won three Grammys apiece, and former first lady Michelle Obama was a surprise guest at the top of the show on CBS.

Childish Gambino, the stage name of actor Donald Glover, and another prominent rap nominee, Kendrick Lamar, both declined invitations to perform or attend Sunday’s show. Some rap artists feel the Grammys have been slow to recognize how the genre now dominates popular music.

Ludwig Goransson, a songwriter and producer on “This is America,” said backstage that he was surprised the victories were so historic. Just listening to the radio, watching the culture and seeing how many rap songs are downloaded is evidence of rap’s impact.

“It’s about time something like this happened with the Grammys as well,” Goransson said.

Cardi B became the first solo woman to win best rap album, although Lauryn Hill was the lead singer of the Fugees, which won the same award at the 1997 Grammys.

Dolly Parton starred in the best of the night’s two tributes to veteran artists, performing a medley of her songs with Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry and Maren Morris. The highlight of Diana Ross’ night was the cute introduction by a grandson with a mountain of hair.

The Grammys took some online blowback by having Jennifer Lopez deliver a tribute to Motown, once the nation’s preeminent label for black artists. Despite her hustle, Lopez was outshone by show host Alicia Keys and Smokey Robinson delivering one verse of “Tracks of My Tears” a capella.

Obama appeared on the show’s opening with Keys, Gaga, Lopez and Jada Pinkett Smith to describe the role music had played in their lives — seemingly a pointed reference to last year’s controversy over women artists.

“Music has always helped me tell my story,” Obama said. “Whether we like country or rap or rock, music helps us share ourselves. It allows us to hear one another.”

Another ex-White House resident was awarded a Grammy on Sunday. Former President Jimmy Carter, who is 94, won an award for best spoken word recording.

It’s his second Grammy.


Film Review : Everything is pretty good in ‘The LEGO Movie 2’

This image shows a scene from “The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part.” (Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)

Lindsey Bahr

Los Angeles (AP) – “The LEGO Movie” is a hard act to follow. Its world was so fresh and vibrant and unexpected, it’s no wonder that it spawned a number of spinoffs of varying quality. But the big test was always going to be the sequel and whether or not it could recreate the magic of the first. And I’m pleased to report that “The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part “ is pretty darn good, but also you can’t help shake the feeling that it’s just never going to live up to the exciting newness of the first.

The script, written by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, is once again whip-smart. Jokes and clever pop culture references whizz by at lightning speed and you’ll be lucky to catch even half of them on the first watch. Even the songs (there are a few more this time) are packed with Lord and Miller wit. And you’ll definitely want to stay for the credits song which, oddly enough, is one of the best parts of the movie despite not really being part of the movie.

But there’s something that’s lost in this round. With a new director at the helm in Mike Mitchell (“Trolls,” ‘’Sky High”) you sense sometimes that the film is just going through the motions. Still, it has charm and winking fun to spare and kids will likely adore it just as much.

The movie starts by establishing the introduction of a little sister, and all the chaos and destruction and cuteness that implies. Her LEGOs are oversized and adorable, and really throw the more traditional LEGOs of the brother’s world for a loop, wrecking all the meticulous buildings of Bricksburg.

An abrupt cut to five years later finds Emmet (Chris Pratt), Wyldstyle/Lucy (Elizabeth Banks), Batman (Will Arnett), Unikitty (Alison Brie), Benny (Charlie Day), MetalBeard (Nick Offerman) and all the favorites of the first living in a “Mad Max” homage they call Apocalypseburg (which they say is “grittier and cooler” than Bricksburg). Emmet is still Emmet, though, bright, cheery and optimistic even while everyone else is brooding and scowling. He even builds a cookie cutter house for himself and Lucy with a picket fence, a front yard, and a toaster room, you know, so they can eat toaster waffles anytime.

Lucy tells Emmett she wishes he could grow up, like her, but before their fight is resolved, aliens from the Systar system attack and take Lucy, Batman, Benny and Unikitty hostage for a marriage ceremony on their planet. Left behind, Emmet goes off to rescue them and teams up with a new character, Rex Dangervest, who is also voiced by Pratt, in a very self-aware riff on his own movie stardom. He’s a “galaxy-defending archaeologist, cowboy and raptor trainer” who enjoys showing off his “chiseled features that used to be hidden under baby fat.”

Rex’s crew is made up entirely of velociraptors, who sound like the Jurassic Park/World velociraptors but here are given subtitles. It’s an inspired bit that made me laugh every time. He and the Systar System people like General Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz) and Queen Watevre Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish) are all delightful, and refreshingly new. But the film does start to drag on just a big, and even feel rather similar to “Toy Story 3” at times. It’s not entirely their fault, once the real world element was revealed in the first “LEGO Movie,” there are only so many directions you can go and the big stakes that all toys face being forgotten and the threat of being shoved away into storage.

I’m not sure just how much more the studio can mine out of this concept that was once so brilliant. But happily, “The LEGO Movie 2” doesn’t destroy everything the first worked so hard to build. It’s just trying very hard to be exactly the same.

“The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for “for some rude humor.” Running time: 106 minutes. Three stars out of four.


Could ‘Alita’ be Hollywood’s breakthrough manga movie?

 

In this photo taken on Jan. 9, 2019, from left, director Robert Rodriguez, producer Jon Landau, actors Rosa Salazar and Christoph Waltz pose for a photo near Wellington, New Zealand. (AP Photo/Nick Perry)

Nick Perry

Wellington, New Zealand (AP) — The manga movie “Alita: Battle Angel” has been 20 years in the making, and producer Jon Landau thinks it will finally represent the breakthrough success in Hollywood for a genre which has proved problematic.

“I think this is definitely the breakthrough one because of the story that Kishiro wrote,” said Landau, referring to Japanese author Yukito Kishiro, who wrote the graphic novels, or manga, upon which the movie is based.

“You know, other mangas that have not worked have been very Asian-centric in their world, and in their stories,” Landau said. “And Kishiro wrote a melting-pot world. He didn’t write a central character that was Asian. He wrote universal themes of discovery, of self-awareness, for these characters. And that’s what’s relatable to people across the globe.”

The film has an estimated budget of $200 million and when it opens in February, Twentieth Century Fox will be hoping for a much better reception than Paramount’s 2017 flop “Ghost in the Shell.”

That manga movie didn’t seem to connect with audiences, grossing just $41 million in the U.S. and $170 million worldwide, with some critics accusing it of “whitewashing” after Scarlett Johansson was cast in the lead role.

“Alita” tells the story of cyborg Alita (Rosa Salazar) who awakens without memory in a dystopic world where she’s taken in by a compassionate father figure Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz). As she learns to navigate her new world, she begins to discover her latent fighting powers and develops feelings for street-smart Hugo (Keean Johnson). 

Landau said director James Cameron first fell in love with the Alita novels in 1999, and spent five years working on a script that ballooned to nearly 200 pages with 600 pages of notes. He says Cameron got waylaid working on “Avatar” (2009) and its sequels before one day having a social lunch with director Robert Rodriguez.

“He said if you can crack this down to a shooting length, you can direct it,” Landau recalls. “And Robert did.”

During principal filming in Austin, Texas, Salazar wore a motion-capture suit so her character could later be animated to reflect its look in the novels. When the first trailers came out last year, some viewers said Alita’s eyes appeared huge to the point of being creepy.

Senior visual effects supervisor Joe Letteri, from the Weta Digital studio in New Zealand’s capital Wellington, said they discussed the eyes with Cameron, and he had the opposite reaction, telling them they had held back and should go bigger.

Salazar, who previously appeared in “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials” (2015), said she completed many months of martial arts training in disciplines like Muay Thai to prepare for the fight sequences. 

“It was a lot of working through soreness, working through pain, getting my endurance up,” she said.

She broke some ribs during her training, she said.

“I fell on my ribs doing a whip kick,” she said. “My other foot just kind of gave out, my other leg kind of swept from under me, and I fell directly on my ribs. I couldn’t breathe for a little while.”

She said she can empathize with the way Alita transforms from a girl to a woman in the movie, after shedding one body for another. “I could relate to that when I was 14 and I felt like a mutant,” she said.

Waltz, who played Col. Hans Landa in “Inglourious Basterds,” said he had no experience with graphic novels before reading up on Alita.

“The manga, comic, graphic novel thing is not my world at all,” he said. “I know nothing about it. And I realize that there is a vast field to be discovered.”

Other roles in the movie are played by Mahershala Ali (Vector), Eiza Gonzalez (Nyssiana) and Jennifer Connelly (Chiren).


Film Review :‘Escape Room’ is high-concept and not half bad

This image released by Sony Pictures shows Jay Ellis, Taylor Russell, Logan Miller and Tyler Labine in “Escape Room.” (David Bloom/Sony Pictures via AP)

Lindsey Bahr

Los Angeles (AP) - In retrospect, it’s actually kind of surprising that there hasn’t been an escape room-themed horror movie until now. The popular interactive mystery games are kind of mini films. There’s a built-in set, stakes, opportunities for conflict and teamwork and a logical start and finish. It’s certainly a more obvious fit for a movie than a board game or theme park ride.

So, from the imaginations of “Fast & Furious” producer Neal H. Moritz and “Insidious: The Last Key” director Adam Robitel comes “Escape Room ,” where the characters are as random as an audience-chosen improv group (Investment banker! Soldier! Miner! Smart teen! Grocer!), the rooms look like discarded Nine Inch Nails music video sets (not exactly a criticism), the stakes are $10,000 or death, which seem far too low and too high, and everyone agrees that Petula Clark’s “Downtown” is a bad song (which is both incorrect and a strange, rude hill to die on).

As if the film is concerned that the audience will lose interest immediately, “Escape Room” starts at the end, as a lone man, Ben (Logan Miller), desperately tries to figure out the clues in a room that is quickly closing in on itself, “Star Wars” trash-compactor-style. It’s certainly a jolt of energy up front, but right as things are looking really bleak for Ben, it cuts to “three days earlier.” It’s cheap and a little insulting to have to reassure the audience that there is some exciting and harrowing stuff to come as long as they get through all the boring introductory stuff.  At least it doesn’t resort to the old record-scratch, freeze-frame, “you’re probably wondering how I got here” standby.

The thing is, “Escape Room” isn’t actually all that bad, just kind of silly, but it takes a moment to readjust your expectations after that condescending beginning, and a very phoned-in introduction to the unlucky six Chicago strangers who all receive a mysterious box and decide, what the heck, let’s check out this escape room. There’s the skittish but brilliant college student Zoey (Taylor Russell), the ruthless finance guy Jason (Jay Ellis), the veteran who hates heat, Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll), the regular joe, Mike (Tyler Labine) and the escape room obsessive who honestly never does all that much to help, Danny (Nik Dodani).

Curiously no one seems all that concerned about the odd premise that this team activity could have a single winner at all, or perhaps they think they’ll all win $10,000. I guess it becomes clearer when people start dying in the rooms.

And, boy, are they put through the wringer. The have to brave extreme heat, extreme cold, poison, drugs, rising tensions and body counts while trying to figure out how to get out of each puzzle room, a few of which are pretty interesting. It’s like a “Final Destination” spinoff where each character’s past trauma haunts them. Mercifully, all the carnage is kept to tolerable PG-13 levels.

The filmmakers haven’t gone so far as to put you in the game, too. A lot of it is watching all the characters find keys and have their own revelations, so by the time you get to the fifth room, it’s understandable if interest is starting to wane a bit even with the addition of a link between the six people.

The third act really kind of blows it though and the movie essentially ends with a shrug and the possibility for a sequel. You could do worse in January. And anyone already interested in the idea of an escape room that tries to kill you probably isn’t expecting all that much out of this anyway.

“Escape Room,” a Sony Pictures release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “terror/perilous action, violence, some suggestive material and language.” Running time: 100 minutes. Two stars out of four.


Margot Robbie to play Barbie in live-action film

Actress Margot Robbie is shown in this Monday, Dec. 10, 2018, file photo. (Photo by Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP)

Los Angeles (AP) —; Margot Robbie will bring Barbie to life in a live-action film.

Mattel and Warner Bros. Pictures announced that Robbie will star as the iconic doll in the franchise’s first-ever live-action film. The 28-year-old “I, Tonya” actress will also co-produce the film under her LuckyChap Entertainment banner.

The Barbie film is the first announced deal to come out of toymaker’s newly-established Mattel Films. The Barbie doll debuted at a New York toy fair in 1959..

Robbie said in a statement that she believes the film will have a “tremendously positive impact on children and audiences worldwide.” The Oscar-nominated actress has also starred in “Mary Queen of Scots,” and “Suicide Squad.”

The film’s title and release date have not been revealed.


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Margot Robbie to play Barbie in live-action film