Sunset (2018)


Patricia (Barbara Bleier) peers out at a bleak future.

(2018) Drama (Random Media) Barbara Bleier, Austin Pendleton, Liam Mitchell, David Johnson, Juri Henley-Cohn, Suzette Gunn, Erin Bruch, Tom Coughlin, Amanda Rae Dodson, Cameron Berner, Faith Bruch, Anthony LoCascio, Michael Pacyna, Erika Rademaker, Susan Feinman. Directed by Jamison M. LoCascio

 

For a very long time the human race has lived with the idea of its own extinction. Whether brought down by the wrath of God or by the hubris of science, there has been a constant Damoclean sword hanging over our heads. For the most part, we try not to think about it, going about our daily lives. How would things change if we knew that end was imminent?

Patricia (Bleier) is given a surprise birthday party by her longtime husband Henry (Mitchell). All of their friends are there, from Henry’s former partner Ayden (Henley-Cohn) who has a successful financial business of his own and Ayden’s girlfriend Breyanna (Gunn). Also in attendance is Henry’s current employee Chris (Johnson), a mentally challenged young man that Patricia and Henry have more or less adopted (he lives in their home), and Patricia’s former colleague Julian (Pendleton). It should be an occasion of joy but hanging over their head was the recent nuclear attack on Los Angeles. They live in New York so they are well aware there’s a huge target painted on their home.

The pall on the occasion is further lengthened by an argument between Henry and Julian regarding the government’s handling of the L.A. situation; Henry believes that retaliation should be part of policy while Julian believes that the government’s conventional weapon attacks have only made matters worse. Patricia, who has mobility issues after an accident permanently damaged her spine and ended her dancing – and dance teaching – careers, decides to call an early night. There is tension between Henry and Julian beyond the argument; it seems that Julian has some strong feelings for Patricia, feelings that Henry is well-aware of.

The next day, the news comes that an attack on New York City is expected and that the city is to be evacuated. That leads to mass panic; looting and worse are the orders of the day. The news provokes different reactions in all of them; some of fear, some of anger, some of confusion but all have decisions to make: where do you go when the world has gone mad?

This is the second feature from LoCascio and there are a lot of good things here. This isn’t a movie that dwells on the geopolitical implications of a nuclear conflict, nor does it get wrapped up in special effects or barrel-chested heroes saving the world from annihilation at the very last possible moment. This is a movie about people, people who are facing the unthinkable and trying to cope. In many ways this is the most real movie about nuclear holocaust that’s ever been made.

But there are flaws here. At times the acting feels stiff; Johnson in particular tries a little too hard and it shows. While Bleier and Mitchell make a believable couple, Bleier doesn’t quite carry off the role the way perhaps it should have been. She needed to be a little more fragile, especially in light of what happens in the last third of the film. Henley-Cohn acquits himself the best here; he has some screen presence and a kind of Mark Harmon-like rugged boyishness that is appealing.

The movie’s main strength – its intelligence – does also lead into something that may prevent audiences from connecting; it’s very talky. Most of the movie is made up of conversations between various characters as they discuss the impending attack and what their plans are. There’s not a lot of action here and I don’t mean in the Arnold Schwarzenegger sense; I mean that the characters are curiously inert. They’re waiting for something to happen rather than making things happen. American audiences tend not to respond to that very well.

The ending though is a hum-dinger. I won’t go much further than that other than to say that you may not find a better one in a movie this year. LoCascio gets points for sticking the landing; that’s not an easy task and a lot of filmmakers these days fail to do so which can take a great movie and turn it into a mediocre one. On the contrary, the last few minutes of the movie are truly magic.

Right now the movie is preparing for a July 3rd release date on most of the major VOD and streaming platforms. Given the interesting premise I imagine that a lot of people looking for something new to watch may end up clicking on it. While I can only muster up a qualified recommendation, the movie does at least not spoil a great premise. If the performances were a little bit better, this might have been one of those sleeper movies that comes up and takes you by surprise, pleasantly so. Still, I can’t honestly say “skip it” either.

REASONS TO GO: Henley-Cohn has a Mark Harmon-like quality. The ending is really terrific.
REASONS TO STAY: Some of the performances are stiff or way over-the-top. Some may find it a little too talky.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity and a brief scene of sexual content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Veteran film lovers will recognize Pendleton as Dr. Larrabee from What’s Up Doc.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/4/18: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Miracle Mile
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
The Cakemaker

Dunkirk (2017)


Waiting to evacuate, a British soldier nervously scans the sky for Nazi planes in Dunkirk.

(2017) War (Warner Brothers) Fionn Whitehead, Barry Keoghan, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy, Tom Glynn-Carney, James D’Arcy, Harry Styles, Will Attenborough, Aneurin Barnard, Jack Lowden, Billy Howle, Matthew Marsh, Richard Sanderson, Bobby Lockwood, Mikey Collins, Dean Ridge, Adam Long, Bradley Hall, Miranda Nolan. Directed by Christopher Nolan

 

Dunkirk remains one of the seminal moments in the Second World War. Churchill’s stirring speech “We shall never surrender!” was written about the event. For those whose history is rusty, when the Nazis overran France some 400,000 soldiers were stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk. With Hitler’s troops drawing the noose tight, the English were staring at the obliteration of most of their army and essentially the complete loss of Western Europe.

Nolan aims to capture the desperation and chaos of those few days using three time-dilated stories each centered around a single element; a week following soldiers waiting to die or be rescued on the jetty and on the beach, a day aboard one of the civilian rescue vessels desperately trying to ferry as many soldiers back to safety as possible, this one captained by the noble Mr. Dawson (Rylance) and an hour in the air with a pair of daring RAF pilots (Hardy, Lowden) trying to take out the Luftwaffe planes trying to bomb and strafe the beaches and the British naval vessels trying to evacuate the troops.

Like Memento, Nolan uses time differently than most linear storytelling techniques in order to….well, I’m not quite sure. It is confusing at times to follow the goings on when you are jumping ahead and back in time depending on whether you’re in a boat, plane or beach. It also leads to a curious difficulty in telling the different characters apart for the most part; the soldiers and sailors are all fresh faced and largely unknown with a few exceptions and those exceptions tend to stand out, particularly Rylance and to a lesser extent, Branagh as a stolid Naval commander and Murphy as a shell-shocked soldier pulled out of the ocean by Rylance.

The technical achievement here is impressive, maybe even mind-blowing. I’m not just talking about the special effects but on all the elements of the film, from the lighting (often utilizing a washed out pastel color palate that gives a visual accounting of the hopelessness of the waiting soldiers) to the way the shots are lined up to the sound design to the way there’s virtually no let-up in the tension from the opening shot to the closing credits.

Some of the few remaining Dunkirk survivors who viewed the film at its London premiere observed that the sound wasn’t quite as loud during the real bombing and strafing which apparently Nolan found amusing and when you think about it, has a ring of the “Turn down that music ya whippersnappers” to it. Not that I’m an expert but this may be the most authentic war movie since the D-day scene in Saving Private Ryan raised the bar on war movies in general.

There was talk this was going to be an Oscar contender way back in July when this was released and to that end Warner Brothers is planning a re-release to remind Academy voters not to forget about this film among all the year-end prestige releases. And, for those wondering, that is also why it hasn’t been released to home video just yet. If you haven’t seen it in a theater, by all means make a point to do so when the re-release occurs. You won’t be sorry.

REASONS TO GO: This may be the most realistic depiction of war since Saving Private Ryan. The tension generated here is absolutely relentless. Rylance has become one of the most reliable actors working today.
REASONS TO STAY: Those sensitive to loud noises may have issues with this.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some very intense war violence as well as occasional profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first movie directed by Nolan to portray real events.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/26/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 92% positive reviews. Metacritic: 94/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Longest Day
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
Diana: Our Mother, Her Life and Her Legacy

Deepwater Horizon


The moment when you realize that your crazy uncle is coming to Thanksgiving dinner.

The moment when you realize that your crazy uncle is coming to Thanksgiving dinner.

(2016) True Life Drama (Summit) Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, Gina Rodriguez, John Malkovich, Kate Hudson, Ethan Suplee, Dylan O’Brien, Joe Chrest, James Dumont, J.D. Evermore, Douglas M. Griffin, Brad Leland, Jason Pine, Jason Kirkpatrick, Dave Maldonado, Robert Walker Branchaud, Jonathan Angel, Jeremy Sande, Juston Street, Stella Allen. Directed by Peter Berg

 

On April 20, 2010 the Deepwater Horizon semi-submersible mobile offshore drilling unit exploded, paving the way for one of the worst ecological disasters in history. Most of us know about the aftermath and the damage to the Gulf Coast, to the fishing industry and to wildlife. But what of those who were on the rig at the time?

Mike Williams (Wahlberg), an oil rig electronics technician, is getting ready to leave his wife (Hudson) and daughter (Allen) to go and spend 21 days on the oil rig Deepwater Horizon. He reports to Jimmy “Mr. Jimmy” Harrell (Russell), a grizzled non-nonsense kind of guy who depends on his electronics technician to keep the various systems running on the rig, which is no easy task; many of the systems are outdated and are badly in need of overhauling, systems including waste disposal (i.e. the toilets) all the way up to telecommunications and even the computers. Although Williams grouses, he keeps the rig going and running as efficiently as possible.

But British Petroleum, who is leasing the oil rig, wants their exploratory well finished and the Deepwater Horizon is already five weeks behind schedule. BP representative Vidrine (Malkovich) is putting pressure on Harrell and Jason Anderson (Suplee), the control room supervisor, to finish running the various safety checks – Harrell is a stickler for safety – that he feels are redundant and slowing down the operations that he is tasked to complete.

Both Harrell and Williams are concerned that a concrete plug hasn’t been installed and those who were supposed to install it have left the rig at Vidrine’s insistence. That Vidrine seems more concerned with profit rather than safety gets under Harrell’s skin, but Vidrine seems perfectly content to let Harrell run the tests he wants to run to make sure that the drill is secure. Harrell goes to take a shower and all hell breaks loose.

Massive blow-back in the line leads to a series of explosions on the rig, crippling it. Fire rages everywhere and an abandon ship order is issued. Navigator Andrea Fleytas (Rodriguez) desperately tries to keep the floating rig in place so as not to rupture the pipe and release the petroleum into the Gulf but with the power failing and her boss, anxious to protect his ass, waiting for orders rather than disconnecting the pipe from the crippled rig, the stage is set for a disaster that will continue to have repercussions on the Gulf Coast for decades to come.

Eleven people died aboard the Deepwater Horizon and there are some concerns that a movie like this will exploit their memories. There are also those who think that Leftie Hollywood will use the movie as a springboard to jump on the offshore oil drilling business in general, but I think both concerns should be allayed. The movie is not about the oil spill (it is barely mentioned in the film) but about the heroism of those aboard who took care of each other and performed extraordinary deeds of courage in the face of terrifying events. People running into infernos to rescue injured comrades, climbing aboard cranes swinging like pendulums to save those awaiting rescue – it is hard not to take great faith in human nature because the movie illustrates the higher aspect of people rather than their baser natures.

Sure, Vidrine is something of a villain here but not out of malice; he’s just trying to do his job and while he isn’t well-liked by the crew of the Deepwater Horizon, he also agrees to safety checks and acts on the information that those tests give him. While the Justice Department would later rule that BP acted recklessly, the movie doesn’t show a lot of that.

Russell and Wahlberg make an effective team. It doesn’t seem that long ago to me that the Mike Williams role would have gone to Russell – has it really been 35 years since Escape from New York? Russell’s performance recalls his work in Tombstone as Wyatt Earp; same kind of gravelly intensity here. As for Wahlberg, roles like Mike Williams are tailor-made for him. He has settled into a niche which suits him perfectly; if you look at most of his roles over the last five years they are very similar in that we’re talking about ordinary family men placed in extraordinary situations that give them an opportunity to do heroic deeds. This won’t be remembered as Wahlberg’s finest hour, but it is certainly right in his wheelhouse.

The Deepwater Horizon set is absolutely amazing. The production designers recreated it at 85% of scale and it may be the largest set ever built for a single film (although the Egyptian set for Intolerance may have given this a run for its money but the special effects crew does some amazing work here. It’s hard to believe the actors didn’t get burned on a regular basis.

The ending features a tribute to the survivors as well as those who didn’t and while I think that one is necessary, there’s a bit of mawkishness to those final scenes that precede it that was a bit off-putting to me. Still, it is clear that the movie was made respectfully and as far as entertainment value goes it is a solid work in that sense. However, I’m not sure how to feel about being entertained by a film depicting real events in which eleven people lost their lives. I suppose it’s no worse than being entertained by a film about a war in which millions lost their lives, or by Titanic in which a thousand people lost their lives – but it may be that the events of April 20, 2010 may be too fresh in the minds of the friends and families of the victims for this to be the right time to release this movie.

REASONS TO GO: The set is absolutely amazing. The film concentrates on the heroes aboard the doomed rig rather than at pointing fingers at those that doomed it.
REASONS TO STAY: The filmmakers don’t really look at the repercussions of the disaster with any depth. It’s a little too manipulative at the end.
FAMILY VALUES:  There is disturbing disaster imagery and sequences of violence, as well as some brief profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  This is the first time Kate Hudson has appeared in a film with her stepfather Kurt Russell; they only share one scene together however.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/5/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 83% positive reviews. Metacritic: 68/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Perfect Storm
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Birth of a Nation (2016)

Man of Steel


I believe I can flyyyyyy...

I believe I can flyyyyyy…

(2013) Superhero (Warner Brothers) Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Russell Crowe, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Antje Traue, Harry Lennix, Richard Schiff, Christopher Meloni, Ayelet Zurer, Dylan Sprayberry, Cooper Timberline, Richard Zetrone, Mackenzie Gray, Samantha Jo, Christina Wren. Directed by Zack Snyder 

 

Look! It’s a bird! No, it’s a plane! It’s a flying guy in blue tights! Superman is an iconic figure not only in pop culture but it can be argued in American literature as well. He represents the American ideal – powerful, invulnerable and unstoppable but just and fair as well. He was our self-image, America in the post-war years. One strong man against the world.

But times have changed and Supes has fallen out of style in favor of  the darker superheroes, particularly Batman. The optimism and idealism of Superman seemed to be something of an anachronism when the successful superheroes were brooding damaged men who faced demons who ravaged their souls. They may have superpowers but they have crappy lives just like us.

Resurrecting Superman in a film form was a daunting task. Superman Returns back in 2006 was considered a failure, unable to make back its pretty steep production and marketing costs at the box office. The studio assigned Zack Snyder, maker of 300 and Watchmen to take the reins of the property and hired Christopher Nolan who made the Batman franchise one of the most profitable for Warner Brothers as an executive producer (and co-writer of the script along with David Goyer). The execs at DC Comics and Warner Brothers were fully aware that while they’d had success with Batman, none of their other comic book properties had taken off yet and with Marvel essentially printing money with every film release, DC knew that they need to get in on that action and have a superhero hit that doesn’t have Batman in it.

Krypton is dying. Jor-El (Crowe) knows it as does his friend Zod (Shannon), general of Krypton’s military. The dithering High Council of Krypton doesn’t seem to understand the gravity of their situation so Zod acts by attempting a coup. In the chaos, Jor-El steals the Codex, a genetic directory of Krypton and downloads it, sending his infant son – the first naturally born Kryptonian in centuries – in a rocket headed for an obscure system orbiting an unimportant star. Zod is sent to the Phantom Zone along with his followers, chief of whom is Faora (Traue), after the coup fails leaving Jor-El murdered by Zod. Lara (Zurer), Jor-El’s wife and mother of the infant Kal-El (now rocketing to Earth) can only wait helplessly for her world to end, which it does in spectacular fashion.

The infant lands in Kansas and is raised by farmers Jonathan (Costner) and Martha (Lane) Kent. Realizing quickly that this boy is not only from somewhere else, he is possessed of great powers – x-ray vision, super hearing, heat vision, super strength and the ability to fly. Pa counsels young Clark (which is what they renamed Kal-El) to hide his powers from a world that was clearly not ready for them and although it involves a lot of soul-searching, loneliness and turning the other cheek, Clark complies.

Now grown to manhood Clark (Cavill) wanders around, doing odd jobs and flying below the radar. His father, who passed away some years before, would definitely approve but Clark is haunted by questions of who he really is and where he comes from. The only clue he has is a black object, with a stylized “S” on it.

Clark’s wanderings take him to the arctic where the government has found an ancient craft buried under the ice that has been there about 20,000 years. Reporter Lois Lane (Adams) has successfully sued for access, much to the chagrin of Colonel Hardy (Meloni) who is the military commander on the project, and Dr. Hamilton (Schiff), the scientific chief. Lois spies Clark walking in the Arctic ice apparently in jeans and a t-shirt in the frigid weather. Intrigued, she follows him and finds a recently melted hole (heat vision comes in handy). A protective robot attacks Lois but Clark saves her and delivers her to a place near the base where she can be attended to. In the meantime Clark discovers a keyhole which his object fits into. This brings out a holographic projection of his father who tries to explain to him who he is and what his hopes are for him.

It also sets off a beacon which brings back Zod looking for the codex and revenge. Having escaped the Phantom Zone during the destruction of Krypton, they make a beeline for some of Krypton’s abandoned deep space military outposts and are well-armed with advanced weapons and ships, and have all the powers that Kal-El possesses. Can Superman save the day?

The movie has been (depending on the source) decried or embraced as dark, and that’s absolutely true. How you’re going to react to it depends entirely how tied in you are to the Superman mythology; this is certainly no cream puff Clark. He kicks ass (more on that later) but this isn’t your father’s Superman, or your grandfather’s. This is a reinvention of the character for modern sensibilities, for better or for worse. I suspect older audiences are going to have a harder time reconciling this Superman with the one they grew up with than younger audiences are.

Cavill is given the ball in this movie and he runs with it. Superman is by nature a polite, gentle soul who happens to have the ability to throw a tanker truck like you and I would toss a Frisbee. Cavill captures that side of him. Peter Parker in another film was told with great power comes great responsibility but what if you have the powers of a God? How much more responsible do you have to be? The answer is exponentially more. It is a difficult thing to determine what is just and what is not when you literally have unlimited powers and that’s really the crux of Man of Steel.

Of course, there’s a whole lot of stuff getting blowed up real good.  The last 45 minutes of this more than 2 1/2 hour film are of big battles in Smallville and Metropolis to the point that I wondered “Who’s going to clean this mess up?” as the skyline of the latter undergoes a radical transformation. While the battles are pretty thrilling, there isn’t a whole lot of variety to them and they get old fast. These are definitely scenes that could have been trimmed.

It’s very easy to get caught in the trap of comparing Man of Steel to those that preceded it. I was going to write that the chemistry between this Lois and Clark isn’t as profound as that between Margo Kidder and the late Christopher Reeve (which is true) until I realized that I’m not here to review Superman: The Movie; that’s a whole different film experience than this. It isn’t fair to either film to compare them, even though the story is pretty similar (more so to Superman 2). In any case, if you go to the multiplex expecting something like the 1978 classic, you’re going to leave the theater disappointed.

The filmmakers have gone on record that they hope to use this as a jumping off point to create a shared DC Universe in much the way Marvel has created a shared film universe. Already there is a sequel to Man of Steel on the way and talk is it will be followed soon after by a Justice League film. I hope so. The DC Comics tradition is rich and has some amazing stories to draw on. Man of Steel isn’t a groundbreaking film by any means but it is an entertaining one and the box office numbers indicate that there are a lot of other people who think so as well. I look forward to see what comes of it.

REASONS TO GO: Good performances top to bottom. Epic scope befitting an icon.

REASONS TO STAY: Way too long. Fight sequences repetitive.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is violence, destruction and mayhem on a mass scale as well as some brief language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Cavill had become notorious for having other actors selected ahead of him for franchise roles, including Daniel Craig for Bond, Christian Bale for Batman, Robert Pattinson for Edward Cullen and Brandon Routh for Superman Returns before finally breaking through.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/17/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 56% positive reviews. Metacritic: 55/100; critics are very divided over this one.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Immortals

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Beneath the Darkness

I Am Legend


I Am Legend

Will Smith is tired of taking career advice from zombies.

(2007) Science Fiction (Warner Brothers) Will Smith, Alice Braga, Salli Richardson, Willow Smith, Charlie Tahan, Darrell Foster, April Grace, Dash Mihok, Joanna Numata, Samuel Glen, James McCauley, Marin Ireland, Pedro Mojica, Caitlin McHugh. Directed by Francis Lawrence

 

How does the world end? With a mighty cataclysmic event, a catastrophe natural or man-made such as an asteroid, a nuclear holocaust? Or will it be with the sounds of illness, a disease that wipes us out and leaves the planet to reclaim its cities until every trace we ever existed is gone?

Robert Neville (Smith) lives in Manhattan. He’s a scientist – or was. You see, Manhattan isn’t exactly the center of the world anymore. It’s deserted, inhabited by beasts escaped from the Central Park Zoo, Neville and his German Shepherd Sam.

The population of the world has been wiped out. They were trying to cure cancer and instead unleashed a virus that turned most of the population into mindless, hairless albinos with fangs and an insatiable hunger for human flesh. His home is like a fortress with a portable generator, steel doors on the windows and bright lamps that keep the zombies away (like vampires, they are allergic to sunlight that burns them into ashes when exposed).

He also has a lab in his basement complete with captured zombies to experiment on, trying to create an anti-virus that might cure the virus that came from the cure to…oh it makes my head spin. However one wonders if he’s the last man on earth and he’s already immune what he needs a cure for.

Into his life comes Anna (Braga) and young Ethan (Tahan), two survivors drawn to him by his regular radio broadcasts. At first he is happy to see any human beings at all but soon his situation is complicated, particularly since he’s getting close to a cure – but so too are the zombies getting close to finding a way into his fortress.

This is based on the classic Richard Matheson novel of the same name which has also spawned two other movie versions – The Last Man on Earth with Vincent Price in the 50s and The Omega Man with Charlton Heston in the 70s. In both cases the plague victims turned into vampire-like creatures which is what the book had originally (in the book Neville armed himself with garlic cloves and Holy Water and did battle with crosses and stakes), but I think the fast-moving hairless zombies are a bit of an improvement.

Some critics have given the movie lumps for the zombies which are a mixture of CGI and make-up effects. In all honesty I have to disagree; the monsters are scary enough to give me the shudders even though I’ve seen the movie several times.

If you ever doubted that Will Smith is one of the most charismatic movie stars of our generation, look no further than here. Even in a dark, serious role he is still immensely likable and commands your attention. The flashback scenes with his wife (Richardson) and daughter (Willow Smith, his real life daughter) are extremely affecting. This is really his show; it’s just him and the dog for a large amount of the film and so a bankable star is absolutely crucial to making this movie work. That it does is all about The Fresh Prince.

It’s not just him of course; the special effects are pretty cool and the scenes in which Manhattan is evacuated is about as spectacular as it gets. Those scenes work so much better on the big theater screen but hopefully you can see it on something a bit larger than your iPhone.

There are some pretty serious lapses in logic here. For example, they clearly show the bridges and entrances to Manhattan being blown up but yet Anna and Ethan somehow make their way there. A single line of dialogue – “one of the tunnels was still open” could have resolved it, or “We found a boat that was still floating” but just having them appear is an insult to the intelligence of the audience.

I wasn’t overly fond of the ending which was somewhat more hopeful than the book was but making a great ending for a movie seems to be a lost art these days. Truly I dislike happy endings for their own sake; some movies really demand something bleaker and this one is one of those. On the extended cuts of the film, there is an alternate ending that is I think better than the one they used but it still could have used some work.

The movie is pretty solid and doesn’t really pull off the novel as well as it could have. Those who don’t find Will Smith their cup of tea should be advised that you are going to get an excess of him onscreen, although not in his wisecracking Fresh Prince persona which he’s used in a lot of movies over the years. For those who are his fans, this is a must-see. For those who like sci-fi spectaculars, this is also something that should be on your radar. For those who loved the Matheson book…well, it’s closer than the other two movies but still not nearly as effective. Everyone else, check it out if you think it might appeal to you but it’s probably not worth going out of your way to find.

WHY RENT THIS: Much more intense than the previous versions of the film. Stark and well-made, the sight of New York being reclaimed by nature is pretty sweet. Smith is as always an engaging hero.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The ending is unsatisfying, there are some incredible gaps in logic and the first part of the movie drags.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is violence and the action can be intense; the plague victims are pretty scary.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In various parts of the film, billboards and DVD packages for proposed Warner Brothers/DC Comics films can be seen, most of which never got made (at least to date).

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: The 2-Disc DVD Special Edition includes an extended version of the film (along with the theatrical release version), four animated comics and DVD-ROM material including a 21-minute long featurette on real-life deadly diseases. There is a 3-Disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition which takes the DVD-ROM material and makes it accessible. There are also deleted scenes and an audio commentary available on the 3-Disc edition that isn’t on the 2-Disc version. For those who just want the original movie, you can probably find the single disc release out there dirt cheap.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $585.4M on a $150M production budget; this was a definite hit.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: On the Beach

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Flight

Battle: Los Angeles


Battle: Los Angeles

The smog is particularly bad in L.A. today.

(2011) Sci-Fi Action (Columbia) Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez, Ramon Rodriguez, Cory Hardrict, Ne-Yo, Bridget Moynahan, Michael Pena, Noel Fisher, Bryce Cass, Adetokumboh M’Cormack, Joey King, Neil Brown Jr., Roger Mitchell, Gino Anthony Pesi. Directed by Jonathan Liebesman

In any military action, it is the grunts on the ground that do most of the fighting. While most of our alien invasion movies look at the high flying pilots and the decision makers of government and the military, we rarely get to see much of the guys in the trenches trying to survive the much more advanced weaponry of a space-capable race.

It started out as a meteor shower that came out of nowhere but the attitude generally changed when the meteors began to slow down as if they were under power; infrared pictures taken from the Hubble Space Telescope indicate the presence of mechanical devices in the center of the meteors, and the fact that they were only landing outside the waters of major coastal cities…well, it’s a little bit suspicious. And what do Americans do when they’re suspicious? They send in the Marines.

Among the Marines is decorated veteran SSgt. Mike Nantz (Eckhart) who has seen combat action, but is nursing wounds that can’t be seen after a mission in the Gulf leaves him minus several members of his squad who didn’t make it home, including the brother of Cpl. Jason Lockett (Hardrict), who happens to be in Nantz’s squad.

Except it really isn’t Nantz’s squad; Nantz had recently submitted his retirement papers and was only in this squad because Lt. Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez), a bit wet behind the ears and fresh from OCS,  was down a Staff Sergeant because his was on leave. When the meteors turn out to be an invasion force of squid-like aliens who start shooting first and asking questions…ummm, not at all, they are sent on a rescue mission to Santa Monica to pick up some civilians from a police station because in a few hours, the Air Force is going to carpet bomb that part of town to keep the aliens out of the rest of it.

They manage to get to the Police Station but not unscathed; there they find a veterinarian (Moynihan), a man (Pena) and his son (Cass), and pick up an Air Force tech sergeant (Michelle Rodriguez) whose mission went horribly wrong. They are hemmed in by alien ground troops and too late discover that the supposed rule of the airspace that the humans had was a complete illusion.

It becomes obvious that they’re going to have to fight their way through superior forces to get back behind their own lines, and those lines are rapidly moving in the other direction. The Battle of Los Angeles is in danger of being lost, and it will become the crux on which the survival of the human species will balance.

After seeing last year’s Skyline I had low expectations for the genre. The trailers for B:LA made it look far more interesting and a better quality and I suppose in that sense, the trailers don’t lie. However, the movie is just as disappointing as Skyline but for different reasons.

Eckhart is a decent enough lead and makes the rough and scarred Nantz also conscientious and brave. Most of the other roles are more or less disposable and seem to have sprung from a Screen Writing 101 cliché course. The characters are rarely fleshed out and most of the dialogue consists of gung-ho lines like “Marines never quit!” and “I’m not going to leave you behind!” and “Retreat? HELL!!!”

The special effects are only okay and the aliens, when you see them, are sort of squid-like and don’t look very realistic or even threatening which would be okay except that they mostly are seen firing weapons which get more elaborate as the movie goes on. It isn’t the aliens that hold our attention but their guns and when that happens, the movie loses interest. We’re told they’re after our water and that their technology and the aliens themselves use water as a conductive device; that’s really all we ever hear about the aliens and their culture. Someday, I’d love to see an alien invasion movie that lets us actually meet the aliens. Beyond that, the action sequences can be rather nifty, and there are some very cool shots of L.A. under siege.

In fact, think of this very much as a Marine Recruiting Video mash-up with a war-based videogame and throw in some Independence Day besides. There are a lot of elements here that would normally add up to a good movie, but too many Lt. Deadmeats and way too many testosterone-fueled cliché moments make this seem like something you’ve seen before and can go a long time without seeing again, which bodes ill because there are a plethora of alien invasion movies in the pipeline. Perhaps Mars Needs Screenwriters more urgently than it needs moms.

REASONS TO GO: Eckhart is an appealing lead. Some nice video game-like action sequences.

REASONS TO STAY: Some of the worst-looking aliens in any film ever. Cliché-ridden script with testosterone fueled moments don’t a great movie make.

FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of foul language and a good deal of battlefield violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although set in Los Angeles, much of the film was shot in Louisiana with sets built to stand in for L.A. streets.

HOME OR THEATER: Definitely big screen fare.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: I Saw the Devil