“BATTLESHIP” (2012) Review

“BATTLESHIP” (2012) Review

Several years ago, the toy company Hasbro made a deal with Universal Pictures to produce and release a series of movies based upon their games and toys. The first movie to emerge from this deal turned out to be the 2009 movie, “G.I. JOE” THE RISE OF COBRA”. Recently, another movie emerged from this deal, namely an alien invasion tale called“BATTLESHIP”

Named after the popular board game, “BATTLESHIP” told the story of a fleet of U.S. and Japan Navy ships forced to do battle with an advanced group of invading aliens. The story began in 2005, when NASA discovers an extrasolar planet with conditions similar to Earth. The space agency transmits a powerful signal from a communications array in Hawaii. Also, an undisciplined slacker named Alex Hopper tries to impress a woman by getting her a chicken burrito by breaking into a convenience store. The woman in question is Samantha Shane, the daughter of the U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet commander Admiral Terrance Shane, who is the superior of Commander Stone Hopper, Alex’s older brother. After Alex is arrested, an infuriated Stone forces Alex to join the Navy.

Seven years later, Alex is a lieutenant and the Tactical Action Officer aboard the destroyer, U.S.S. John Paul Jones, while Stone is the commanding officer of U.S.S. Sampson. Alex is still dating Samantha and wants to marry her, but is afraid to ask her father for permission. During the opening ceremony for the RIMPAC naval exercises, Alex clashes with Japanese officer Captain Nagata. This incident proves to be the latest in a string of incidents that could result in the end of his Navy career. Meanwhile, Samantha, who is a physical therapist, accompanies retired Army veteran and amputee Mick Canales on a hike to help him adapt to his prosthetic legs. However, the arrival of five alien ships places Alex and Samantha’s problems on the back burner, when the U.S. Navy and forces from the Pacific Rim nations to deal with the alien invading force, after it places a force field around the Hawaiian Islands.

When I first saw the trailer for “BATTLESHIP”, I found myself wondering if Universal Pictures and Hasbro came up with the idea of a movie about the U.S. Navy battling aliens, from the naval warfare service. And I found myself wondering if the Navy wanted their own alien invasion movie, following the success of last year’s “BATTLE: LOS ANGELES”, which was about U.S. Marines fighting aliens. However, production for “BATTLESHIP” began some two years ago; so I nixed that idea. Whoever came up with the idea for “BATTLESHIP” . . . I wish that he or she never had in the first place.

There were aspects of “BATTLESHIP” that I liked. I thought it had a solid cast. Taylor Kitsch was very effective as Alex Hopper, who developed from an undisciplined slacker to a responsible and resourceful naval officer. He also had good chemistry with singer Rihanna, who portrayed a weapons specialist under Hopper’s command; and Alexander Skarsgård, who portrayed Alex’s uber disciplined older brother, Stone. But I was especially impressed with Kitsch’s chemistry with Tadanobu Asano, who portrayed Japanese naval officer, Captain Nagata. Both Kitsch and Asano did a great job in developing the relationship between the two men. I was also impressed by Tobias A. Schliessler’s breathtaking photography of the Hawaiian Islands and the nearby Pacific Ocean. And I was also impressed by the visual effects team led by Akemi Abe. Although I found the aliens themselves a little too mechanical, I must admit that visually, they were effectively frightening.

But when all has been said and done in the end, I must admit that I did not like “BATTLESHIP”. Not one damn bit. Well . . . at least most of it. I feel that it was one of the most over-the-top action movies I have ever seen. Even worse, I got the feeling that Peter Berg, who has proven to be a solid director in the past, was trying to channel Michael Bay and the latter’s TRANSFORMER movies. And it just did not work. It is bad enough that I am not a fan of the TRANSFORMERfranchise. For me, it is like watching a science-fiction version of the TWILIGHT films. But that a decent director like Berg felt he had to lower himself to that level . . . dear God! Why? What director in his or her right mind want to become a second-rate Michael Bay?

So . . . what was it about “BATTLESHIP” that I disliked? After watching this film, I realized that a movie about an alien invasion set aboard naval ships is not very effective. The aliens in this movie limited themselves to naval ships and a communication array in the hills above Honolulu, Hawaii. Very limiting. And how on earth did a character like Alex Hopper lasted seven years in the U.S. Navy? Apparently, seven years of military service had done nothing to curb his undisciplined personality. It took an alien invasion to get him in line. Really? Give me a break. I bet that a character like Alex would not even last during officer training school, let alone seven years in the Navy. How on earth did a guy who had been arrested for breaking into a convenience store ended up as a naval officer in the first place? Guys like Alex would have ended up as an enlisted man. And yes, I found some of the performances rather mediocre – especially from the inexperienced Gregory Gadson, who was a former U.S. Army Colonel amputee; and actor Jesse Simmons, who came off as a second-rate Matt Damon, “the early years”. And Liam Neeson proved to be wasted in this film, due to his appearances in the movie’s first 30 minutes and last 10 minutes. But what proved to be the last straw for me was the initial encounter between the survivors of the destroyed U.S.S. John Paul Jones and a group of World War II veterans aboard the museum ship U.S.S. Missouri. This scene was so ridiculous that it took me at least five minutes to stop rolling my eyes in disgust.

I wish I could say that I liked “BATTLESHIP”. But I would be lying through my teeth. It had certain aspects that I found . . . admirable and likeable, including a strong screen chemistry between leading man Taylor Kitsch and Tadanobu Asano.  And there were moments in the movie that I found entertaining.  But in the end,“BATTLESHIP” made director Peter Berg seem like a second-rate Michael Bay. And you know what? That is not good for a solid director like Berg.

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“BATTLE: LOS ANGELES” (2011) Review

“BATTLE: LOS ANGELES” (2011) Review

I was surprised to discover that “SKYLINE”, an alien invasion movie that had been released last fall, was not the first movie to be directed by Greg and Colin Strause. Three-and-a-half years ago, they directed a movie called “ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM”, which managed to generate solid box office, if not critical acclaim. “SKYLINE” generated even less box office and critical acclaim than the 2007 movie, but it did earn a profit. But the movie generated even more – a scandal involving cries of plagiarism that involved the latest alien invasion film called “BATTLE: LOS ANGELES”

Before making ”SKYLINE”, the Brothers Strause had been hired by Sony Pictures and the producers of ”BATTLE: LOS ANGELES” to generate special effects for the latter. But after working on the latter film, they began producing and directing a film with a similar premise – alien invasion in Southern California. Sony Pictures decided to dismiss the arbitration against the brothers, six days after ”BATTLE: LOS ANGELES”, claiming that after the discovery phase they were satisfied that none of the ”BATTLE: LOS ANGELES” visual effects were used in ”SKYLINE”. After seeing both movies, I personally believe that Sony Pictures had nothing to worry about. ”BATTLE: LOS ANGELES” made ”SKYLINE” look like a drop of dog poop on the side of the road.

Set in Southern California – mainly in Santa Monica and West Los Angeles, ”BATTLE: LOS ANGELES” is an alien invasion tale about a squad of U.S. Marines, tasked to search for civilians trapped at a local police station, before the U.S. Air Force can commence upon a saturation bombing of Santa Monica. Before they could find the civilians, the Marines are joined by two others and a U.S. Air Force intelligence tech sergeant, who has information regarding an alien command center that allows the invaders control of the air. But before the Marines can make use of tech sergeant’s information, they have to ensure the safety of the civilians they finally come across and survive the best way they can.

Although ”BATTLE: LOS ANGELES” is obviously better than ”SKYLINE”, it is not without its flaws. To be honest, I have very few problems with the movie. Perhaps two or three problems. One, I think that screenwriter Chris Bertolini may have rushed the movie’s first fifteen to twenty minutes. From the moment when the camera focuses on lead character Staff-Sergeant Michael Nantz engaged in an early morning jog on a beach near Camp Pendleton to when he and his squad discover that they will be facing invading aliens at the Forward Operating Base at the Santa Monica Airport, at least fifteen to seventeen minutes passed. That seemed a bit . . . too fast to me. I would have preferred if Bertolini had been a little more in-depth in his introduction of the major characters. And I would have preferred if they had discovered that they would be facing hostile aliens, after hitting the streets to find the missing civilians. Oh well. We cannot have everything. Two, it almost seemed as if the Marines were using a strange mixture of military and sports jargon. I have heard it before in a miniseries called ”TOM CLANCY’S OP CENTER”. I found it strange then and I still find it strange. I suppose they use this brand of jargon in the military. But quite frankly, it makes me cringe. After a scene in which some of the Marines survived a traumatic attack by aliens near a freeway, director Jonathan Liebesman followed up with a brief scene of them tramping through the streets before seeking refuge at a convenience store. That scene featured a building that is located in downtown Los Angeles. But the Marines had not reached downtown. Because after leaving the convenience store, they returned to the Santa Monica Airport. There is no way they could have traveled from the West Los Angeles area to downtown Los Angeles and back to Santa Monica . . . that fast. Liebesman should have never included that building in a shot.

Now that I got my complaints out of the way, how did I feel about ”BATTLE: LOS ANGELES”? As I had earlier stated, I believe it was at least ten times better than ”SKYLINE”. In fact, it has become one of my favorite movies of 2011 . . . so far. I really enjoyed it. Despite Bertolini’s fast introduction, he did a first-rate job of maintaining some of the personal storylines and angst that plagued the main characters. The most important personal story involved Staff-Sergeant Nantz’s last assignment in Afghanistan. He turned out to be his squad’s sole survivor, which led many Marines to believe he had abandoned the squad. Because of his last tour in Afghanistan, Nantz decided to retire from the Marines. One of the Marines in Nantz’s old squad turned out to be the brother of one of the movie’s survivors, Corporal Jason Lockett. Lockett’s resentment toward Nantz more or less remained on the back burner, until after the tragic circumstances of the freeway battle. Another personal story centered on the squad’s commander, the newly commissioned Second Lieutenant William Martinez and his eagerness to prove himself in battle. Yes, this kind of storyline has been seen in many military films. Yet, thanks to the performances actors Aaron Eckhart (Nantz) and Ramón Rodríguez (Martinez), this storyline actually worked. I read somewhere that the character of Air Force Tech Sergeant Elena Santos was added at the last minute. And yet, this addition worked, for her character provided valuable information for the Marines to do something about the aliens’ command center. Nantz’s emotional connection with civilians like the veterinarian named Michele and a Latino father and son pair named Joe and Hector Rincon provided a great deal of angst in the movie’s center. More importantly, both Bertolini and Liebesman milked these minor storylines throughout most of the movie.

And I cannot talk about ”BATTLE: LOS ANGELES” without bringing up the film’s special effects. As I had earlier pointed out, the Brothers Strause was responsible for the visual effects and I believe they did a first rate job. Between their visual effects, Liebesman’s direction, Lukas Ettlin’s photography and Christian Wagner’s editing, ”BATTLE: LOS ANGELES” featured some very memorable scenes. Some of the scenes included the squad’s first encounter with the aliens on the fogged-covered streets of Santa Monica; Lockett and Lance Corporal Peter Kerns’ sighting of alien scouts on the roof of the police station and the surviving squad members’ nighttime helicopter ride above battle torn Los Angeles. But the visual centerpieces proved to be – at least for me – the two major battles featured in the movie. And I am referring to the freeway battle that resulted in tragic consequences and the final battle that featured the squad’s attempt to destroy the aliens’ command center. Between the visual effects, the editing and the action, these scenes struck me as mind blowing.

The movie’s producers and Jonathan Liebesman did an excellent job in casting the roles in the films. Aside from a few performances, most of the cast did solid work. I was even impressed by singer Ne-Yo, who portrayed one of the Marines, Corporal Kevin Harris. He and Gino Anthony Pesi (Corporal Nick Stavrou) managed to establish a humorous screen team as two best friends. I am certain that many people are aware that Elena Santos became another one of Michelle Rodriguez’s “tough girls” roles that has become her personal stock over the past decade. Mind you, her Santos came off as mature and did not turn into one of those “in your face” types that many have complained about over the years. And she blended well with the cast. Bridget Moynahan gave a solid performance as one of the civilians trapped at the police station. And she and Eckhart managed to establish a good chemistry without any taint of romance. I was especially impressed by his work in a scene in which his character expressed regret over his failure to leave the police station, when he had the chance. I would like to point out that Adetokumboh M’Cormack (Corpsman Jibril Adukwu), Jim Parrack (Sterns), and Will Rothhaar (Corporal Lee Imlay) did a great job in establishing why Nantz seemed to regard them as three of the sqaud’s most dependable character. And Rothhaar managed to achieve this with a great deal of humor. I just realized that Rodriguez is not the only ”LOST” cast alumni who appeared in this film. M’Cormack did two guest appearances on the show and both acted opposite British actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje.

But there were performances that really stood out for me. Michael Peña also gave excellent performance as Joe Rincon, of the other civilians that were trapped at the West L.A. police station. Cory Hardrict gave a first-rate and subtle performance as Jason Lockett, the one Marine who harbored lingering resentment toward Nantz over the death of his brother – especially in one scene in which the two finally faced the matter. The last time I had ever seen Ramón Rodríguez , he portrayed Shia LaBeouf’s frantic roommate in the second ”TRANSFORMERS” movie. Imagine my surprise in seeing him portrayed the squad’s earnest, yet inexperienced leader, Lieutenant Martinez. I am happy to report that his Martinez came off as a lot less frantic(and embarrassing) than his character in ”TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN”. In fact, he did a great job in portraying Martinez’s anxieties and eagerness without even going over the top. And for that I am eternally grateful. However, it was Aaron Eckhart who really carried the movie. And he did a superb job. This is the second time I have seen him in the lead of a movie. And after watching his performance as the competent, yet angst-ridden Michael Nantz, I can only wonder why he has not been cast in the lead in more of the A-studio films. For me, his best scene featured Nantz’s reaction after destroying an alien drone using a walkie-talkie and a grenade. Watching Eckhart’s hand shake, while the other cast members applauded his character’s actions was one of the best examples of silent acting I have seen in quite a while.

I am aware that ”BATTLE: LOS ANGELES” only managed to garner mixed reviews from the critics. I am also aware that the movie is not perfect. Nor is it the best alien invasion movie I have ever seen. But I still managed to enjoy the movie so much that I have to give kudos to director Jonathan Liebsman for his direction of a first-rate movie and an excellent cast led by the always superb Aaron Eckhart. Not surprisingly, I went to see this movie for a second time before it left my neighborhood’s movie theaters . . . and enjoyed it even more.

“TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN” (2009) Review

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Below is my review of the new movie by Michael Bay called “TRANSFORMERS: Revenge of the Fallen”:

”TRANSFORMERS:  REVENGE OF THE FALLEN” (2009) Review

Two years ago, I had posted a review of the 2007 movie, “TRANSFORMERS”.  Needless to say, I had written a bad review of the film. Since then, I have seen the movie at least once or twice on television cable. And my opinion of it has changed. Somewhat. My new opinion has led me to view its sequel, ”TRANSFORMERS: Revenge of the Fallen” with different eyes. Let me explain.

When I saw ”TRANSFORMERS” for the second and third times, I discovered a little secret. If a moviegoer harbors low or no expectations of films like the ones from the “TRANSFORMERS” franchise, that person might find him or herself actually enjoying such films. All it takes is the act of simply shutting down one’s brain. However, there are chances that this little tactic might not always work. It did work for me when I saw ”TRANSFORMERS” for the second time. It also worked when I finally saw ”TRANSFORMERS: Revenge of the Fallen”.

This second movie began two years after the first, when the main hero, teenager Sam Witwicky has graduated from high school and is ready to enter college. In this film, a revived Megatron (the main villain from the first film) and the rest of the Decepticons have returned to Earth in order to take Sam prisoner, after he learns about the ancient origins of the Transformers and some vital information about a certain machine from the remnants of the All Spark (please do not ask me to explain this – I suggest you read the Wikipedia entry). Joining the mission to protect humankind are the Transformers, their leader Optimus Prime, and members of the NEST Team (military Special Forces assigned to work with the Transformers).

And how was the movie? Honestly, it was not all that bad. But it was also far from perfect. One had to deal with a lot of overbearing action – Michael Bay style. In fact, I found it nearly impossible to distinguish between the Transformers and the Decepticons during their fights. The use of Eubonics by two of the Transformers – twins Skids and Mudflap – annoyed the hell out of me. Nor did I find it at all humorous. And could someone please explain how the National Air and Space Museum (where Sam and his friends found the former ancient Decepticon, Jetfire), which is supposed to be in Washington D.C., end up in a location that strongly resembled the western United States? Seeing John Tuturro’s nearly bare ass in one scene did not help matters. Nor did Ramón Rodríguez’s frantic portrayal of Sam’s new college roommate, Leo Spitz. He made Shia LaBeouf’s performance in the 2007 movie look downright subtle. And quite honestly? This movie was too goddamn long. A running time of two-and-a-half hours for a movie based upon toy robots?

But as I had earlier stated, I had no high expectations of the movie and I managed to shut down my brain – somewhat – while watching it. And the story was not that bad. Screenwriters Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Ehren Kruges found a way to bring Megatron back from the dead in a believable manner. They also introduced another villain – an ancient Transformer Prime who went against the other Primes by constructing some kind of machine that can steal the heat and energy from Earth’s sun. Hmmm . . . not bad.

Another aspect of ”TRANSFORMERS: Revenge of the Fallen” that impressed me was Ben Seresin’s photography. Despite the movie’s fast action, Seresin did an excellent job in capturing the color and grandeur of various locations like New York, Washington D.C. and especially the Middle East. And although there were times when Michael Bay seemed to succumb to his penchant for MTV-style direction, he still managed to maintain a steady pace for the film. And through his direction, he expressed his talent for revealing the funny and quirky sides of the average American citizens.

Speaking of American citizens, I might as well talk about the cast. Shia LaBeouf gave a more subtle performance as the Transformers’ human friend, Sam Witwicky. With Ramón Rodríguez chewing the scenery, I guess that LaBeouf felt he could relax and tone down his performance. Megan Fox gave a nice and occasionally funny performance as Sam’s mechanic girlfriend, Mikaela Barnes. It was nice to see Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson return as Army Rangers William Lennox and Robert Epps. As they had done in the 2007 movie, the pair made a solid screen team. Aside from his ass, it was nice to see John Tuturro reprise his role as Reggie Simmons, now a retired U.S. intelligence agent. However, I must give top kudos to Kevin Dunn and Julie White as Sam’s wacky parents, Ron and Judy Witwacky. More than they did so in the first film, they made a great comedy team, much to my surprise.

Should you go see ”TRANSFORMERS: Revenge of the Fallen”? I cannot answer that question. It is certainly not one of the best films I have seen this year. But if you are looking for the occasional mindless form of entertainment in which you can shut down your brain, this is definitely the movie for you.

“TRANSFORMERS” (2007) Review

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“TRANSFORMERS” (2007) Review”

Based upon the Japanese cartoon TV series and the line of Hasbro toys, “TRANSFORMERS” is the story about how Earth is caught in the middle of an intergalactic war between two races of robots, the heroic Autobots and the evil Decepticons, which are able to change into a variety of objects, including cars, trucks, planes and other technological creations. This 2007 film was developed by producers Don Murphy and Tom DeSanto and executive director, Steven Spielberg, had convinced Michael Bay (“PEARL HARBOR”, “BAD BOYS” and “THE ISLAND”) to direct it as his first family film.

I really do not know what to say about “TRANSFORMERS”. It has a pretty good cast with the likes of Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Jon Voight, Anthony Anderson and John Turturro. It also featured the voices of Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime (leader of the the good alien robots) and Hugo Weaving as the voice of the evil Megatron.

I am already into the third paragraph of this post and I have yet to give my review. It sounds as if I am delaying in giving my view of the movie, doesn’t it? Perhaps I am. Like I had stated in the previous paragraph, I do not know what to say about “TRANSFORMERS”. On the surface, it is a pretty exciting, yet funny film. It can boast some first-class action, which happens to be Michael Bay’s forte. And the performances are pretty good. I could say that Shia LaBeouf (Spielberg’s new favorite) was exceptional. Although there were times when I found his performance a little frantic. Rather like a young John Cusak on crack. And I also thought that Tyrese Gibson seemed a little too big to be playing second fiddle to a TV actor like Josh Duhamel. And despite all of the action, special effects and good performances, I had left the theater with this uneasy feeling that “TRANSFORMERS” seemed a little beneath for someone of Bay’s talent or reputation. When one really comes down to it, the movie seemed nothing more than an over-the-top kiddie flick.

But hey, if you are really a fan of THE TRANSFORMERS franchise, I suggest that you check it out. Chances are you will not be disappointed.