Movie Review: Battle: Los Angeles (2011)

March 27, 2011 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

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!

Movie Review: Monsters (2010)

November 12, 2010 in Movie Reviews

Monsters commences across Australia on 25 November 2010

Tell me this is not an awesome premise for a film:

To find alien life in the universe, NASA sends a probe into space.  The probe crashes at the US-Mexico border upon its return.  Six years later, the US and Mexican military are still struggling to contain the “creatures” in a sealed off area dubbed the “Infected Zone”.  And now, an American photojournalist is entrusted with escorting his boss’s daughter through Mexico back to US soil as the mayhem continues around them…

If that synopsis got you a little interested, then you might understand why I was super excited to catch a screening of Monsters, the low budget British sci-fi written and directed by special effects master Gareth Edwards.

Unfortunately, Monsters doesn’t come close to living up to its promising premise.  There were some good moments, but the main problem is that Edwards decided to place the focus of the film on the relationship between the two central characters, Andrew (Scoot McNairy), the photojournalist, and Sam (Whitney Able), the boss’s daughter.  While the two actors have chemistry (they were dating at the time and are now married), neither character came across as particularly likable, making it a bit of a stale romance in my opinion.

Consequently, Monsters became a bizarre hybrid between an alien sci-fi and road romance movie — kind of like a mix between District 9 (or Cloverfield) and Before Sunrise — except neither aspect was done very well.  There were moments of genuine tension and excitement whenever the “creatures” were nearby, but they were too often overshadowed by the tedious glances and conversations between the leads as well as the long montages of them travelling through Mexico.  This doesn’t mean those things weren’t done well, but man, I just wish Edwards took a different path with this film.

Having said all of that, Monsters does have a lot of positives.  The visual effects were magnificent (as you would expect from a writer and director who specialises in it), despite the fact that the entire film was made on a budget that would ordinarily only be enough to cover the catering expenses of most Hollywood blockbusters.  The acting was solid, as was the cinematography.  Much of the dialogue was apparently improvised, and I think it shows (in a good way), coming across as natural and unforced, for the most part.

Clever idea, intriguing premise, good performances, wonderful special effects, and when it wanted to be, pretty exciting.  But at the end of the day, Monsters was not what I wanted it to be.  That’s really my problem, but it is what it is.

2.5 stars out fo 5