• Film reviews

    #610 – Battle: Los Angeles (2011)

    Battle: Los Angeles (2011)

    Film review #610

    Director: Jonathan Liebesman

    SYNOPSIS: Strange meteors begin falling from space and landing in the ocean around major coastal cities. It turns out that are not meteors at all, but aliens intent on the invasion of Earth. A marine unit is assigned to the evacuation of civilians, and finds itself heading onto the frontlines in an attempt to bring some civilians home before the area is bombed…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Battle: Los Angeles is a 2011 sci-fi military alien invasion film. Starring Aaron Eckhart as Staff Sargent Michael Nantz, he is forced into a unit before his retirement to help evacuate civilians in Los Angeles, as it turns out a meteor shower that has dropped meteors off the shore of coastal cities around the world is actually the start of an alien invasion. Focusing on Nantz and the military platoon he is assigned to, the film feels like Black Hawk Down with an alien invasion plot, with the aim of creating that sense of the viewer being on the ground amidst the thick of the action. It does this with the low camera angles and close ups that put you on the same level and right beside the characters, to generate that kind of adrenaline and urgency that the situation demands. At first, it definitely feels disorienting as the camera shakes about and you can’t get an establishing shot to position yourself, but you do get somewhat used to it. Also, the film does seem to pull back from this technique in the bigger action scenes to use more typical shots and compositions, whether that’s because of the bigger scale of the aliens, or the lack of expertise to pull off the more advanced scenes is difficult to say. Regardless, the overall story is very much a typical alien invasion story in the typical Los Angeles setting, which hampers the film’s ability to offer too many surprises.

    At the beginning of the film, we are briefly introduced to the marines that make up the squad, their families etc., but it’s all done very quickly, and we don’t get much of a sense of distinguishing many of the characters. However, it’s not too important to know their backstories when they’re in the heat of combat, it’s just that it would be nice to be able to distinguish them a little to stop those scenes becoming very cluttered. Aaron Eckhart is a commanding and likable lead, with the typical baggage his character as a combat veteran has. The rest of the characters, as mentioned, are briefly introduced at the start, or throughout, so we have a basic idea of who they are, but their backgrounds don’t matter too much once you get into the combat. The film also keeps you guessing which characters are going to make it, although the death’s of some of them are fairly obvious. The aliens themselves we don’t see too much of, but they are weird and ‘alien’ enough to offer something a little different. Their background and motivations aren’t explored too much, but again, that’s part of the film being from the soldier’s perspectives, where you don’t need to worry about anything other than killing your enemy.

    We get the usual big scenes of destruction that you would expect, but there’s nothing much to distinguish it from all the over alien invasion films that are set in an American city. The film was actually shot in Louisiana with sets of Los Angeles reconstructed on location, so we obviously don’t see too much of the city or it’s landmarks. Overall, Battle: Los Angeles is a fairly entertaining one-time watch, but doesn’t really distinguish itself from other alien invasion films set in a major U.S. city. The perspective from the military unit is jarring at first, but soon finds its rhythm. It’s got enough to make it a complete experience, but there’s not really much that will stay with you.

  • Film reviews

    #609 – Darkest Hour (2009)

    The Darkest Hour (2011)

    Film review #609

    Director: Chris Gorak

    SYNOPSIS: Two American entrepreneurs travel to Moscow for a business deal. When they find that their business partner has sold them out, they go to a bar to drown their sorrows, meeting two other American tourists there as well. While there, an alien invasion gets underway and everyone flees as the aliens hunt them down. Managing to hide underground for a few days, the survivors emerge and try to make their way through Moscow, all the while avoiding the aliens that are roaming the city…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: The Darkest Hour is a 2011 sci-fi alien invasion film. In the opening, we see two American entrepreneurs, Sean and Ben, travelling to Moscow for a business deal. When they arrive, they find their business partner, Skyler, has already sold them out and cut them out of the deal. Going to a bar, they meet two American women who are visiting Moscow on holiday. Their party is cut short though, when an alien invasion gets underway, and they begin disintegrating humans. The four Americans, along with Skyler (who just happens to be at the bar too), manage to hide underground, and after a few days, emerge to try and get to the American embassy. To do so, they must navigate the deserted streets of Moscow…well, deserted apart from the invisible aliens prowling the streets anyway…

    The film is very much a typical alien invasion/survival film, with a group of ‘ordinary’ people just trying to survive the post-invasion world. The only real unique thing about the film is that it’s set in Moscow, rather than a more typical U.S. setting, but this doesn’t really offer anything interesting for the plot. We get plenty of shots of an abandoned Moscow, but none of the film’s action scenes take place there, which is a missed opportunity. As the group moves through the city, they meet other people and learn a bit more about the invasion, doing all the typical beats and plot points you would expect. The film does keep you on your toes with who is going to live or die as well, always leaving itself open to a sharp turn.

    The characters are perhaps the big thing that really drag this film down. From the start, the characters come across as unlikable. Sean and Ben are laddish techbros whose banter is insufferable. Natalie and Anna, the two female leads, aren’t much better. Their turn-around into survivors is a bit of a leap and they almost feel like completely different people. Ben particularly is someone who does not seem like the heroic leader he becomes at the start. The supporting cast fulfil their roles, but that’s about it. There’s no real attempt to develop the character’s personalities, back stories etc. and it is unbelievably dull watching them wander around aimlessly. On top of all this, the acting is so flat and bland that means it is impossible to feel anything but disdain towards these characters.

    The aliens themselves are invisible, which conveniently means we never get to see them, or other characters interact with them. The brief glimpses we do get of them show some very average looking CG lacking spectacle or detail. The motives of the aliens is also left very much unexplored, other than they are on Earth seemingly to strip it of minerals. This isn’t so much of a problem, because you don’t expect survivors to try and work out motivations when they’re trying to survive, but the film needed something for the viewer to get into. As it stands though, The Darkest Hour is a drab and bland venture that, despite the more unique setting, fails to grab viewers attention thanks to it’s one-dimensional characters, flat acting, and a general lack of anything interesting happening on screen.

  • Film reviews

    #463 – Alien Invasion (2020)

    Alien Invasion (2020)

    Film review #463

    Director: Yun Xiang Lin

    SYNOPSIS: Private detective Xu Siwei is hired by Yang Lin to investigate the disappearance of her Father. They are led to a secret underground facility where they encounter a strange portal to an alien world. Barely escaping the alien horrors within, Xu is haunted by strange dreams that relate to this alien species, and heads to the town where Yang Lin was raised to find answers…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Alien Invasion is a 2020 science fiction film. The film starts off in a secret laboratory where an experiment on an alien portal goes wrong and a creature escapes into the laboratory, forcing it to be sealed to prevent the alien’s escape into the world. Next, we are introduced to private detective Xu Siwei, who after capturing a thief returns to his home to find Yang Lin, a young woman who wants to hire him to find her Father, who went missing fifteen years ago. The two are led to a secret laboratory where they stumble upon the alien portal from the opening of the film. They manage to escape, but Xu starts having recurring nightmares about the aliens, and seeks to unravel the mystery further by visiting Yang Lin’s hometown, where strange things are happening. The plot of the film is inspired by the Cthulhu and other such eldritch horror, as the alien in the opening scenes shifts its amorphous form and impales people with its tentacles. The film is essentially a science-fiction thriller, attempting to build tension in the mystery it creates and the environments in which it is set. The film struggles to do this successfully because the whole tone of the film is very inconsistent: at the start there’s some more action and quirky light-heartedness, as Xu is clearly emulating Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. The film leans more towards a horror theme as Xu and Yang investigate the laboratory, and more of a slow-paced thriller as Xu and Yang investigate what happened to her parents in the town she grew up. With these constant shifts in tone, the flow of the story is constantly interrupted and it it becomes difficult to maintain engagement in the story.

    The film centres around the two main characters Xu Siwei and Yang Lin, who investigate Yang’s father’s whereabouts after he disappeared some fifteen years ago. As mentioned, Xu is clearly ‘inspired’ by Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Sherlock Holmes, but that part of his character doesn’t really factor in after the first act when the film shifts to a thriller and the mystery overshadows any character quirks. Yang has plenty of mystery about her, but there’s nothing too special about her character. The chemistry between the two is alright, but could probably have been pushed further to increase the stakes. Overall they’re pretty standard characters from the genre, but still fairly likable, and supplemented by decent acting on behalf of the actors.

    The film is very much on par with other Chinese science-fiction released around the same time in terms of production, which means in terms of the CG is that it doesn’t look too bad, but it also typically looks like someone put it together in After Effects in an afternoon. The colour is one thing that I think stands out, as it is vivid without making the scenes lose their tense atmosphere. The practical effects look pretty daft, particularly the aliens which are obviously people in very silly looking masks that are quite distracting. The fact that we don’t see any of the aliens for a good majority of the movie again breaks the sense of flow, as we are treated to this set-up at the start, then nothing really comes of it for most of the movie. The whole mystery surrounding Yang’s mother and father also never gets a satisfactory payoff, as everything is delivered in cryptic riddles and not explained properly. Overall, Alien Invasion is a fairly standard Chinese science-fiction film of its type, and is unremarkable in terms of story, characters or production. It’s inspirations are obvious, and does little to develop or explore them in any unique way, making it a fairly forgettable experience.#movie#movie review