Thursday, March 24, 2011


Paul, simply put, is a blast.  It's really a wet-dream for movie geeks and it's going to appeal most to fans of late 70's/early 80's sci-fi (and Spielberg in general).  The gist -- two lovable buddies (Simon Frost and Nick Pegg) take a UFO-inspired road-trip only to meet a real-life, F-bomb-dropping, joint-smoking alien (perfectly voiced by Seth Rogen) who's being pursued by FBI agents (Bill Hader, Jason Bateman) -- is pure stoner-movie material to be sure, and with Greg Mottola at the helm (Superbad, The Daytrippers, Adventureland), Paul sort of amiably shambles about from scene to scene, sampling pop-culture from the last 30 years, dropping a shit-ton of movie references, blowing some stuff up real nice, and having fun for the entire time.  Unless you're a total kill-joy then I think it'll be next to impossible to actively hate a movie like Paul; it might not be your exact cup of tea but it's too lovable a movie to really hate on. The film is an interesting hybrid of sly British comedy (these are the guys responsible for writing Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, two critically revered movies that I've only liked, not loved)  and raucous Apatowian riffing.  It's not a movie that needs to be analyzed too much.  It's just silly entertainment, nothing more, nothing less.

Battle: Los Angeles.  The title says it all.  There's a battle.  And it's in Los Angeles.  And in the movie Battle: Los Angeles, that's basically all you get:  one, big, motherfucking battle.  I loved the action and the integration of the special effects in this film.  Jonathan Liebesman, as a director of major action set-pieces, has stepped up into the big leagues with this picture.  His previous efforts (Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, Darkness Falls) would never have lead me to believe that he was capable of something like what he displayed in this film.  Borrowing the oft-used Peter Berg/Ridley Scott/Paul Greengrass/shake-the-hell-out-of-the-camera-aesthetic (one that I personally love as it ramps up the kineticism and the visceral thrills), Liebesman totally puts the viewer in the middle of an extraterrestrial war-zone, with bullets constantly zipping overhead, explosions rumbling from side to side, and general menace around every corner.  However, he's totally let-down by the overly cliche nature of Chris Bertolini's paint-by-numbers script.  Here's a film that, beyond playing like a Marine recruitment propaganda piece, shows you EVERY SINGLE war-movie-moment from the last 30 years of cinema.  Dialogue is so square and obvious at times that you can't help but roll your eyes.  But you know what -- I couldn't have cared less about ANY of that.  What I wanted from Battle: Los Angeles was to see what it would look like if Hell-A got its ass handed to itself by visitors from another planet, and in that sense, the film is an out-and-out triumph.  The free-way over-pass sequence was extraordinary, the showdown with the communications mother ship was mighty impressive, and the overall relentlessness of the entire film reminded me of Black Hawk Down, still the absolute gold-standard of combat movies.  From a cinematography and editing standpoint, Battle: Los Angeles is a remarkable achievement.  From a special effects standpoint -- wow -- some seriously good work was done, work that Bay would have approved.  All of the actors did what they could with the words provided to them (Aaron Eckhart being the obvious stand-out).  It's just a shame that the script didn't help anyone out with more polished dialogue (why couldn't they have called Steven Zaillian for a quick rewrite?)  I was a fan of how the Marines never knew anything more about the situation than what they were getting from the media.  I liked how the intentions of the aliens were only half-clear -- they want our water but he why and how were never answered because we wouldn't really know.  And I also liked how you never saw a full glimpse of the alien invaders until more than half-way through the film.  In reality, if this sort of colonization/invasion happened and we were immediately under siege from an unknown and more powerful enemy, my feeling is that what was depicted in Battle: Los Angeles would more or less be the case.  It just didn't need to sound so lunk-headed.  But whatever -- minor quibbles when it comes to a movie so bluntly titled as Battle: Los Angeles.  I hope to see it one more time in the theaters, but this time, I might bring an iPod into the theater and listen to that Johan Johansson song from those incredible trailers.


Joel said...

"From a cinematography and editing standpoint, 'Battle: Los Angeles' is a remarkable achievement." Uh, sorry, Nick, but no. The cinematography in that film was atrocious, and the editing was...well, I'm not sure it WAS edited. From a technical standpoint, it's horrendous: the action is nearly indecipherable, with random and chaotic explosions happening God-knows-where. At least Michael Bay understood that there's a human limit to the tolerance of just how much action one can take in one sitting. Jonathan Liebesman plowed over the line in what amounts to the most cynical big-budget production since Uwe Boll's "In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale" (which had Boll's biggest budget, at $60 million).

From a writing standpoint, it was as if the film was written in a full format, then a huge gust of wind came and blew the pages away, and they gathered up what they could to shoot, then shredded those pages and decided to shoot without a script.

I'm one to leave my brain at the door. (You have to for masterworks like "Transformers 2.") I am a fan of sci-fi, war films, alien invasion pictures, and the like. Films like "District 9," "Independence Day" and "War of the Worlds" did this brilliantly and are personal favorites.

But "Battle: Los Angeles" was ugly. It was brain-dead. It was a soul-sucking waste of celluloid and whatever special effects we apparently weren't allowed to see, because the cameraman had a series of strokes. It was a godawful hodgepodge of military mumbo-jumbo and meaningless carnage, and not one shot seemed to be related to the next. You learn not a single bit of relatable humanity about any of the characters, who are worse than cardboard (they're an insult to useful packing material). The only character I felt for was the alien midway through that was screaming and pleading for its life while the soldiers heartlessly tear it apart and then gouge its life-force to pieces.

So I liked it.

Recovering Booth Rat said...

"At least Michael Bay understood that there's a human limit to the tolerance of just how much action one can take in one sitting. "

Does he really? Because I love---make that adore---violent cinema and action movies but both Transformers movies challenged my ability to take a punch.

Actionman said...

Joel -- I think you took Battle: LA a little too serious. It's a goofy, X-box influenced action movie. And personally, I had ZERO problem following any of the action. It all made perfect geographic sense to me. The long-running complaint about how "shaky-cam" makes things confusing holds no weight/water with me -- I am able to follow all of it with zero problems. I would say NOT to see Black Hawk Down because that film is the same as Battle: LA -- pure fighting for 2 hours.