Movie Review: Battle: Los Angeles (2011)

March 27, 2011 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

After Skyline last year (and to a lesser extent, the overrated Monsters), the alien invasion movie was not high on my list.  On Friday night, I had a choice of either Battle: Los Angeles, The Adjustment Bureau and Red Riding Hood.  Some would probably advise to stay home and not waste my money, but these were all films that I was curious about.

Following a consultation with some friends, I decided to go with Battle: Los Angeles. The consensus was that The Adjustment Bureau was painfully average and Red Riding Hood was most likely trash (which would reflect the review I quickly glanced at from that morning’s paper).  Battle: Los Angeles had Aaron Eckhart and Michelle Rodriguez, and it received some decent buzz in movie mags in the lead up to the premiere.  Besides, if all else fails, at least I get to see LA being blown up.

While Battle: Los Angeles was not fantastic, I probably made the right decision.  It was entirely predictable, with an archetypal progression for alien invasion movies and your usual host of characters.  The surprise of the attack, the carnage, the despair, the retaliation, the jubilation — it could not have been more ‘cookie cutter’.

However, I must admit I found it rather enjoyable.  Thank goodness for Aaron Eckhart, who delivered a bunch of cheesy, melodramatic lines so well that I wanted to believe him.  Kudos to the special effects team, who made the action look absolutely seamless.  And the action was relentless, loud and explosive.  It reminded me of a gritty war movie (say Saving Private Ryan or Black Hawk Down or Letters from Iwo Jima), except with aliens.

Unfortunately, I would have enjoyed it even more had it not been for two problems.  The first is that the film was waaaay too long.  It was 116 minutes but dragged on in parts and could have easily been a more compact and manageable 90 minutes.  The second, which almost killed the film for me, was the handheld camera crap.

Man, it frustrated me to no end.  I understand the idea of the handy cam — it makes you feel closer to the action — but there needs to be a balance.  This was not Cloverfield, where the entire film is supposedly shot by amateur cam.  There is no point in having a shaky camera for a two-man conversation.  No matter how close it makes you feel to the action, no film is worth vomiting over.

On the whole, Battle: Los Angeles still exceeded my relatively low expectations.  In some ways it could have been better, but in other ways it could have been a lot worse.

3.25 stars out of 5!

Observations on ‘New China’: Part II – Smells

March 27, 2011 in China, Social/Political Commentary, Travel by pacejmiller

A typical old Shanghai street. This one didn't smell at all. Surprisingly.

One thing that immediately struck me about China as soon as I stepped onto the street is that smells can hit you out of nowhere. And I’m not talking about the smell of cigarettes or garbage, which many countries around the world cannot hide from.

You can be minding your own business…and then bam!  An overwhelming urine or fecal odour can smash you right up the nostrils.  It’s the sewerage system, which for some reason is still rather problematic in China.  Despite all the advancements over the last decade or so, the old pipes and drains still can’t seem to keep out the smells.

I’m not talking about those legendary public toilets in the countryside where it’s just you and a hole — often the smell can hit you in the strangest of places, including high class hotels, popular tourist attractions, department stores and even restaurants.  In fact, most of the toilets themselves in these places are extremely clean and don’t smell at all — but the corridor or alleyway adjacent to it can stink to high heaven.

Of course, China is not the only country with a smell problem.  I have experienced similar odour issues in Taipei, Hong Kong, Delhi, Bangkok, London and Florence (just to name a few), and even in good old Chinatown in Sydney.  But China is the only place where the problem seems to be everywhere.  And it’s so prevalent that locals don’t appear to notice it.  They certainly don’t even flinch.  I was very impressed.