Independence Day: Resurgence

June 29, 2016 by  
Filed under Movies

Back in the spring of 1996, I was a junior in high school, and I was intrigued by a very short but extremely effective movie trailer: July 2nd, they arrive. July 3rd, they attack. July 4th is…Independence Day. And a lot of things blowing up. It was as simple a concept as you could have, and yet it was all I needed to be absolutely stoked to see what “Independence Day” had to offer.

Back then, there was really no internet (although I was a frequent patron of America On-Line and its chat rooms), and even though you could watch entertainment access shows to get a glimpse into a movie you were into seeing, you mostly had to wait until it came out and see it for yourself before you really knew all about it. When I went with a group of friends on opening night, I didn’t even know who was in it.

That film experience to this day ranks as one of the best I had ever had. I wasn’t born yet for the first “Star Wars”, and I was very little for “Return of the Jedi” (which I still loved dearly, even at my young age). Throughout my childhood, I certainly had great movie experiences. But for some reason, “Independence Day” stuck with me. 1996 was a great year for geeks, during a period of time when geekdom wasn’t a thing. No one catered to us. We didn’t have numerous conventions that we could attend and make like-minded friends or have “nerdgasms”. But we did have “The X-Files”, which had just switched to mainstream Sunday nights and became popular, a “Dr. Who” TV movie (no matter how hard I try, Eric Roberts cannot be wiped from memory as the Master), and “Mystery Science Theater 3000” released a full length feature film in theaters.

So in the middle of the summer comes “Independence Day”, surely a retread of sci-fi yarns we’ve seen before. But the audience I saw it with lapped it up like popcorn butter, and all of us were cheering like crazy by the end. It was patriotic, bombastic, and a feel good action film. What more could you want? Well, it was fleeced by critics, and maybe your parents too–but it made a killing at the box office, and everyone I knew loved it. Myself, I saw it 3 times in the theater and even bought a tee shirt of it.

20 years later, we have a sequel. A long time coming, or far too late? Well, I never really thought the first one needed a sequel. It wrapped everything up and let us celebrate the victory against the aliens. It was satisfying. But after 20 years, you get nostalgic. And that’s what I wanted from the sequel. Just nostalgia. Doesn’t need to be great, doesn’t need to be better than the original or blow my mind. After all, the first movie was released during one of my most cynical periods of life–and yet I still loved it. So I couldn’t be that let down by this, right?

Well, let’s get into the plot first: 20 years after ID4, the earth, and America, is thriving again. It looks like we’re using the alien technology for vehicles and space related engineering, and we’ve picked up the pieces and are right back on track–and maybe in an even better position than we were. There are a few casualties: former president Whitmore (a disheveled Bill Pullman) looks to be suffering from an early onset of dementia. Captain Hiller (Will Smith) is dead, killed in a test exercise. And Dr. Okun (Brent Spiner) is in a coma–wait, wasn’t he dead? Yes, he was clearly killed by the alien who took over his brain back in the original film.

OK, so now he’s in a coma and actually survived. Then, he wakes up, and starts having visions again. Whitmore experiences the same thing, along with an African warlord (Deobia Oparei) who had close encounters of his own when the first alien attack happened.

Apparently, these aliens are coming back with a vengeance. But it looks at first as if they send a homing device to a space station. Two pilots, Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth) and Dylan Dubrow-Hiller (Jessie Usher) are stationed there and when the device is seemingly destroyed, it sets off the aliens to come back to earth. Unsure of what the significance of the device, Madam President Lanford (Sela Ward), asks David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) who is now in charge of Area 51 to come back and help stop the incoming invasion. But Levinson wants to check out this device, which could be a key into why the aliens are attacking us again.

Meanwhile, the aliens do attack–sending a giant mothership crash landing into our planet along with a queen and many, many soldiers.

From there, the film is a real spectacle, with whizzing lasers and explosions. The plot itself gets a bit muddled, and there are so many characters to keep track of, we get lost in the shuffle, trying to remember whether we should care or not what happens to them.

David’s father Julius (Judd Hirsch) makes a triumphant return, now an “author” of a book called “How I Saved the World”. Judging by his book tour headlining at a nursing home, it doesn’t look to be that much of a best seller (so who published it?). His plot includes saving a group of kids and ending up on a school bus getting chased by the space invaders. I think this may be the first time I’ve seen Judd Hirsch in a car chase. Even though it’s a bus.

There are things to like in the film: the chemistry between Hemsworth and his buddy Charlie (Travis Tope, who grows on you) is cute, and better than the chemistry between Hemsworth and Usher, who should have been reminiscent of David/Steven from the first film. Unfortunately they don’t share enough screen time without those pesky aliens interrupting everything to enjoy each other’s company. That and there’s a dubious subplot involving Hemsworth’s character Jake accidentally almost killing the young Hiller–which could’ve been scrapped and probably made for a smoother transition into these characters liking each other. That would’ve helped the narrative a little. I did like seeing Goldblum and Hirsch reunited, and it’s always great to see Brent Spiner. Jake also has a love interest, Patricia, Whitmore’s daughter (Maika Monroe), who is also a pilot. Their story also leaves something to be desired.

Overall, the film is overstuffed and almost claustrophobic in how much it tries to pack into its two hour running time. If I were a 16 year old seeing this now, I’d probably be disappointed and deflated from sensory overload. Then again, that’s probably what a thirtysomething would’ve said about the first film, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Maybe it just depends on which part of your life cycle you end up on in whether you can enjoy a movie like this. Of course this is a sequel–but it’s not like the original film was all that original.

It is an experience. But it’s one that you already had 20 years ago, maybe better, and maybe you don’t need to try and recreate it. That’s probably what I would’ve told the filmmakers on this one.

My rating: :?

After Earth

June 3, 2013 by  
Filed under Movies

“Danger can be very real. Fear is a choice.” That’s a line from Cypher Raige in “After Earth”, a film that is so very basic and simple in its storytelling, it was refreshing to see a science fiction film that really understood the medium. The film takes place in the future, of course, and Earth is no longer inhabitable. Instead, there are human colonies set up on another planet in the solar system. But humans are not entirely safe after evacuating earth. There is an alien race that wants to destroy humans inhabiting Nova Prime (the new planet the humans have colonized) and their weapon of choice is a creature known as an Ursa, which can sense fear and find and kill humans that way since they can’t hear, smell or see. But there are certain humans who can “ghost”, which means they do not give off fear and can remain undetected by the Ursas, killing them undetected.

General Cypher Raige (Will Smith) is one such “ghoster”, and also is a superior Ranger who leads a group of other Rangers on one last mission before retirement (of course!) including his son Kitai (Jaden Smith), who has failed becoming a Ranger thus disappointing his father. There’s another backstory regarding the father/son relationship as well, though, that complicates it a bit more. We learn that Kitai had a sister named Senshi who was killed by an Ursa while Kitai was a boy, and he watched her die from a little bubble she had put him in to protect him. Cypher believes he should have saved her. While Kitai is riddled with guilt, he also feels his father should have been there as well, instead of just on some other mission.

The two of them are thrust into a very dire situation when their ship hits an asteroid belt and they are forced to crash land on earth, susceptible to all of the problems that the planet has now such as large, primal animals that will kill them; and, tempature shifts that cause the planet to freeze overnight. In the crash, everyone but the father and son are killed. Cypher is badly injured, and so it’s up to his son, Kitai, to retrieve a beacon from the tail end of the ship that landed halfway across the planet. The atmosphere is not breathable so he has to take oxygen capsules with him in order to survive. This sets up what I call the “video game plot”, in which a character’s only means are basic tools that all will serve a very specific purpose in getting to the end and completing the mission. You realize, too, that whatever the character is given will be challenged and possibly taken away during the course of the plot as well.

The story unfolds predictably; but it’s directed at such a good pace by M. Night Shyamalan that it feels okay to just sit back and enjoy it. The morality tale that lies beneath the action is nice, and the performances by Smith and his son work even though the elder Smith is far superior as an actor and has much better range. It rarely is distracting because the two of them rarely share the same screen time since Kitai is off on the planet and Cypher is back in the ship, directing him through a communicator.

There’s a nice little subplot involving a large condor as well that serves as possibly the only other “character” in the story. But the focus is mainly on the father and son, and their journey not only to recover this beacon to send a distress call, but also to mend their relationship. For Kitai, he must get over his fear and guilt in order to survive the final “boss” of the film, an escaped Ursa that was being brought along on the ship in captivity. For Cypher, he too has guilt over allowing his daughter to die and his own fear of losing his only other child.

The climax and resolution is satisfying, mainly because the film does not rely on a deus ex machina like so many sci-fi films do these days. Instead, Kitai must look within himself in order to “ghost”; and while you still have to suspend disbelief a bit in some of the third act, we’re invested enough in the characters by then to forgive some things that are outlandish. This is sci-fi fantasy, after all.

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to enjoy a film directed by Shyamalan and it was nice to see him take a step back a bit. He co-wrote this film, and Will Smith provided the story. I think it was smart for Shyamalan to share this time, and it should benefit him for the future if this film is a success. On balance it is a nice enough film with plenty of thrills and even some touching moments that were unexpected. I hope this is the start of a recovery for Shyamalan. As for Jaden Smith, he still has a long way to go. But this was certainly a big step for him

Men In Black 3

May 30, 2012 by  
Filed under Movies

I have a continuing dilemma whenever I see that there will be a  new MiB movie released. On the one hand, I have a lot of anticipation that it will be better than the last one that came out; and inevitably, when I see it, I’m always underwhelmed and disappointed that it wasn’t even as good as the last one that came out. Such is the case again with “Men in Black 3”, a movie with just enough ambition to make a smile-worthy film, but tries nothing new to re-invent itself or push its own limits. It goes through the motions and hopes we are pleased. This may work for some people who just want to get out of the house for a few hours and sit in a cool theatre on a hot day (as I call them, “get away” movies); but for me, at least with this franchise, I’m always wanting more. The jokes are predictable, the climax and resolution always seem to leave me empty–and in this case, kind of sour.

This film begins with a  bad guy named Boris “The Animal” (though it’s just “Boris” to you) who is locked up on the moon after being captured by Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones). He subsequently breaks out and goes back to earth with the intent to travel back in time, kill Agent K, and start an invasion with his cronies, an alien race known as the Boglodites. Agent K’s original capture of The Animal 40 years ago is legendary because he also installed what’s called the ArcNet, a protective shield that won’t allow the Boglodites into the earth’s atmosphere.

Agent K and J discover Boris’s time travel plot when they are checking out routine alien criminal activity, and when K disappears, J also finds himself in a rip in time that makes him crave chocolate milk, and he soon learns that he’s in an alternate present in which K was killed 40 years ago by Boris. J then has to go back in time to save Agent K to the 60’s.

I’m going to stop here and reveal that I’m instantly on edge whenever time travel is introduced to a plot as a device. It’s so incredibly contrived and overused and because there are so many possibilities and flaws, it winds up being ludicrous and unconvincing. It also usually leads to many, many plot holes. When I was reading about the production of this film, Will Smith had said they had tried everything to make sure that the film’s time travel rules were followed as best as they could. At the same time, the film’s director, Barry Sonnenfeld, admitted they did not have a definitive act 2 or 3 when production began. Well, it certainly showed.

J has to convince K about this plot of Boris (played by Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement) going back in time, stopping K’s original arrest of Boris by killing K, and also killing  an alien named Griffin whose race created the ArcNet (Arcadian is the name of Griffin’s race, and Net is pretty easy to figure out) and gave it to K to begin with. Griffin (played by Michael Stuhlbarg) is kind of like a cross between Tobey Maguire, Elijah Wood, and Robin Williams. He has one of the more memorable scenes when the three of them are in the infamous The Factory (although the Andy Warhol joke is a bit weak, I thought), when he goes on and on about possible futures, confounding Agent J. 

The best scenes in the film involve Agent J (always charismatically played by Will Smith) and the young Agent K (well imitated Jones by Josh Brolin–he has a knack for imitation). We finally see a softer side of Agent K, and find out he did at one point have a love interest, Agent O (played in the present tense by Emma Thompson). That plot is never really explored but it’s probably for the best as it would’ve been far too complicated to sort out in an alien comic action adventure movie.

As relieved as I was that it didn’t become a love story, I was also left unmoved by the main story involving the plot to save Agent K. I’ve enjoyed the two characters through their movies, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say I really cared about them. And usually by the time the new movie comes out, the old one has evaporated from my mind. These are not inherently memorable films. While the chemistry is fine, and it’s fun to see some of the antics the MiB go through to catch the bad guys (bowling with an alien’s head, for example), it never really leads to anything that memorable. I also found the villain Boris to be a bit stale at best; and at worst, kind of irritating. You never really get a good read on what kind of personality he has. He’ll toss out a one-liner here or there that makes you think he’s hip; but then he’s stone faced or upset about being called “The Animal”. I also thought that the lack of “place” in the 60’s was a missed opportunity. I get that they can’t go “Austin Powers” on everybody, but what were aliens like 40 years ago compared to now? There could’ve been many possibilities for humor and even some adventure. There’s one flat joke about how the Neuralizer has evolved but that’s pretty much it.

Where the film ultimately fails, though, is the ending (how could you guess?). There’s a twist which I won’t give away–I will just say that it has its heart in the right place, but unfortunately doesn’t have its logic in the right place. Up until that point the film was digestible. Nothing great, but nothing bad. But the twist, with all of its intentions, just falls flat. And you don’t even have to think that hard about it. Almost immediately you will think, “Are they just throwing this in here for the sake of it?”

Sometimes I wish someone would just tell a screenwriter, “Look you don’t have to just throw a twist in there okay?” Just resolve the movie and move on. Sure, the film would still be less than a masterpiece. But it at least would be closer to that than an out of focus Polaroid, which is what “Men in Black 3” ultimately is.

My rating::?

Hancock

July 24, 2008 by  
Filed under Movies

Continuing the summer’s tradition of superhero movies, this one features something a little different. First, one of my favorite actors of this age, Will Smith–a blockbuster king, a likable guy, and his range, though sorely underused most of the time, is not to be disregarded. In this case, however, he does not exactly play a “likable guy”.

So let’s talk “Hancock”. This film is not adapted from a graphic novel. It is not based on an old comic book series created by Stan Lee. It’s not an old Greek mythology story that’s been updated. No, “Hancock” has one thing going for it that many recent summer blockbusters don’t: It’s an original screenplay.

Not to say the story hasn’t been done before, but the script was written back in 1996 by a Vincent Ngo, about a conflicted superhero and his relationship with a 12 year old boy. Not exactly the same movie we have here. And like most original screenplays, unfortunately, they don’t turn out to be little fairy tales like the Stripper turned Screenwriter, Diablo Cody. Poor Vincent Ngo doesn’t get to have the Oscar buzz, or the Academy Award, or all the accolades. He gets a paycheck, which is nice…he also gets to watch his screenplay ultimately disfigured to the point of nonrecognition. This isn’t a rarity in Hollywood. Cody’s story is.

No, what we have here is a film, originally titled “Tonight, He Comes”, toiling over how to end itself, how to resolve act II, and what we end up with is…as best as I can put it…a mildly entertaining mess.
In the beginning, we have an alcoholic superhero who doesn’t care about tearing up LA (thankfully *NOT* NYC this time, but it was hinted at) while catching bad guys, not caring that most people hate him. But when he saves the life of a PR guru (Jason Bateman) who tries to get him to straighten up his act because deep down there is good in him.

Nice story so far. Some very funny early scenes as well. Now take that first 50 minutes, and put it in a blender…and you get the rest of the film. There is a twist that is so unbearably inevitable that once it’s revealed, it not only changes the face of the film, and the theme, but it turns the film into an absolute joke itself. It’s one of the drawbacks of taking an original screenplay of a high concept idea and NOT giving it backstory until the third act. NOBODY cares by then. And, there isn’t enough time to get the audience to believe in it. Not only that, but it completely abandons the “bad superhero turned into good guy superhero” story that it sets up so much in the trailer.

I won’t give the twist away, but now that you know there is one, I guarantee within 5 minutes of watching the movie, you will know what it is. And I have to at least let it slip that there is a twist because the entire ending of the movie depends on it, and that’s my biggest problem with the film.

This is why I mention the screenplay so much. It’s almost as if you can see the four drafts of the script (the final was credited to former “X-Files” writer, Vince Gilligan) right in front of your eyes as the movie progresses. In the first twenty minutes you probably have Ngo’s original idea. In the next half hour you have the seedlings of someone else’s hands in the dough. By the end, you probably wouldn’t recognize the first twenty minutes of the film anymore because the movie is completely different.

It’s a shame because the movie was very ambitiously directed by a guy I really like, Peter Berg. And it was extremely well acted by Smith, the beautiful Charlize Theron, and Bateman. There were some very funny moments, and even some touching ones. But once the arbitrary plot is revealed, a lot of it slips away, and you wind up being bewildered by the bad special effects and wondering why you are watching this film at all anymore.

I guess it’s just one of those typical Hollywood stories. I wonder where this Ngo guy is right now. If you look him up on IMDB, he’s not doing anything screenwriting related. The thing that irks me about things like this is, that this movie will most likely disappear once “The Dark Knight” comes out (NOT an original screenplay) and Hollywood execs will most likely use this as another excuse not to take a chance on a spec or some other weird, original idea–and keep it safe with comic book and pop novel fiction adaptations. And people like Ngo, and others who have creative ideas out there…will once again be relegated to having to watching drivel on the big screen, rather than contributing something that at least makes you feel like you’re watching something worthwhile.

My rating: :???:

Family value: Not for kids under the age of 14 unless you are very trustworthy of them and know that they won’t mimick Hancock’s dirty mouth.

I Am Legend

May 15, 2008 by  
Filed under Movies

Hands down, Will Smith made this movie as it would otherwise be a smarmy rip off of “28 Days Later”, and an unnecessary adaptation of Richard Matheson’s classic because it doesn’t use his themes at all in the film.

Will Smith deserves an Academy Award nomination for this movie; and ultimately probably won’t get one because the movie is a PG-13 horror flick that seems to have been better served as a summer flick.

The CGI is decent, but I still hate the fact that so many filmmakers rely on this as an alternative to costume design, make-up, and real effects.

The sequences of Smith alone are masterful because he is. There are scenes in which he’s talking to mannequins as if they’re real people, and there’s even one he’d like to “hit on” a bit–and in theory, this seems ridiculous and a bit too out there…like you’d never believe even in 10 years much less 3 that a person would try and convince themselves that a mannequin could be real. But Smith pulls it off because he’s so endearing and honest. And you start to think–yeah maybe it IS possible to be that lonely and think that way…

There are times, especially in the beginning of the film, where I really got involved emotionally and was in the spirit of the film completely. But toward the end, it just starts to feel like any other “survival of a virus infection” movie and that’s unfortunate because it did have potential to at least be a companion film to “28 Days Later”.

I still overall enjoyed it, and because of Smith, I’m giving this:

:grin::grin::grin: out of :grin::grin::grin::grin:

Some kudos to the dog Sam, as well–she had more character than I think a human companion could.