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Battle Los Angeles (2011)
Interesting concept, worth seeing, but should have been handled better
The basic premise of this film, and about the only original aspect of it, is, "What if you took a science fiction trope (alien invasion) and put it into the framework of a traditional war movie?" And, ultimately, this film is much more of a war movie than a science fiction flick. All of the clichés from war movies are there ("Black Hawk Down" seems to be the single biggest source), and scarcely any attention is paid to the science fiction elements at all. This premise could have produced a great movie if only the writers were up to the task. As it is, the film is pretty bland, containing just about every cliché in the book, both in terms of story and dialogue, although I give it some credit since it certainly did hold my interest for two hours. And it is the first alien invasion movie I've seen that actually attempts to depict the terrestrial military's response to the attack in a realistic manner. In that it is somewhat original and enjoyable. Both the 1953 original and Spielberg's remake of "War of the Worlds" toyed with this concept a bit, although since the emphasis in those films is on civilians rather than soldiers I don't think they count.
To enjoy this film, you have to resist the urge to analyze it too deeply. Or to think about it at all, actually. It's yet another in the long line of recent films about aliens with the capability of crossing the galaxy but who still have difficulties foiling a handful of enterprising Earthlings ("Signs" is the worst offender in this regard). Still, I have to say, I love war movies about tough, determined soldiers, and if you do as well then you'll probably like this film. I certainly enjoyed it much more than either "Independence Day" or "Avatar."
Hopefully some other group will use this concept to make a really GOOD SF war film, but I'm not going to hold my breath considering the trends in Hollywood.
Meteor Storm (2010)
Another steaming turd from "Syfy"
Like 95% of the original programming on "Syfy" (I have to put that in quotes as I still cringe when I see that spelling), this movie was another complete waste of time. The only reason I actually watched it all the way through was because I was doing something else in my living room at the time and it was convenient to have something on that I didn't need to concentrate on to follow it. It never ceases to amaze me with "Syfy" movies that a no doubt well-intentioned screenwriter, crew and actors spent months of their lives, and doubtless millions of dollars, to make something as bland as this. The plot is not even worth recounting since you've seen it many times before - a meteor is heading towards Earth, threatening to destroy it, and some scientists have to figure out a way to stop it, while incidentally saving their marriage in the process. Suffice it to say that there is not a single even remotely original or interesting moment in the entire movie.
The only reason I even gave this movie two stars is because of the acting. All of the acting, especially poor Michael Trucco (who must have had trouble keeping his lunch down, having to do this on the heels of "Battlestar Galactica" - I hope you were at least able to pay your rent, Mike!) and Kari Matchett, is as good as it possibly can be considering what they were given to work with.
It would be great if the executives at "Syfy" would decide to make fewer movies and focus their budget instead on making some quality films. Surely making a few halfway-decent films each year, rather than just turning out one piece of garbage after another, would help to improve their reputation.
Tropic Thunder (2008)
Formulaic comedy, but with some brilliant acting
This movie is a typical American comedy - meaning that the plot is completely predictable, it relies on a lot of disgusting visuals and bathroom material for its humor, and many of the jokes fall flat. The reason I rated it as highly as I did is because Robert Downey, Jr. and Tom Cruise, ironically the only NON-comedic actors in the group, are both hilarious. Downey, in particular, as an Australian superstar who immerses himself completely in his role as a stereotypical African-American Vietnam-era soldier, is ingenious in this film. He has some of the most brilliant comedic dialogue I've ever heard. I laughed nearly every time he opened his mouth, as did everyone else in the audience. And Cruise, virtually unrecognizable in his costume, is great as a studio executive who sees himself as a gangsta. Nick Nolte, playing the Vietnam vet who wrote the book on which the film they're making is based, has some great scenes early on. And it's a shame that Steve Coogan exits the story so early on, as he had the potential to bring a lot more to the movie. Everyone else in the cast is pretty average. Ben Stiller is a washed-up action hero trying to save his career, although nothing he does on screen is particularly memorable. Jack Black is a heroin-addicted teen comedy star trying to make it as a serious actor, but unfortunately he isn't given much to do. I don't know what the producers thought was funny about watching a man go through heroin withdrawal for 107 minutes, but Black is never allowed to get beyond that. Jay Baruchel is basically there to play the straight man, while the actual African-American actor, Brandon Jackson, who is given about six lines of dialogue, is clearly only there to ease the producers' conscience about having a White man in blackface in their movie. Matthew McConaughey, as Stiller's agent, is only there as eye candy for the ladies (and to provide an unlikely deus ex machina at the movie's climax). There's not much else to say about this movie - the plot is trite and ridiculous, although film buffs who, like me, are burnt out on Vietnam films will appreciate the many references to "Platoon" and "Apocalypse Now," some of which are quite subtle.
Why does Hollywood insist on continuing to ruin Philip K. Dick stories?
I really have no idea why Hollywood continues to purchase Philip K. Dick properties, and then "adapt" them for the screen - which in the process ruins them completely. Of all of the films made from PKD stories, only "Blade Runner" and "A Scanner Darkly" are worthy of their source material. Did the screenwriters for "Next" really need the inspiration of PKD in order to concoct this collection of warmed-over leftovers? Besides its (lack of) value as an adaptation, however, "Next" also fails completely as a film. It takes an overdone science fiction premise (what if someone could actually see into the future?), throws in some name actors to give it star attraction and sex appeal (the section of the film which deals with Nicolas Cage's clichéd attempts to seduce Jessica Biehl was lame beyond description), and then tries to mix it in with an anti-terrorism plot lifted from "24." (Oh, my God - ambiguously ethnic terrorists from some unnamed country have smuggled a nuclear bomb into Los Angeles for some unstated purpose! I've NEVER seen that one before!) Fortunately, I saw this film at a second-run theater and only paid $1.50 to see it - otherwise, I would have been angry about the money I'd wasted.
The Jacket (2005)
Watch something, anything, other than this!
I can't understand why so many people have been singing the praises of this film. As others have pointed out, this film is a none-too-subtle ripoff, primarily of "Jacob's Ladder" (which, in itself, was inspired by "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge") but also of elements of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," "Twelve Monkeys," and probably other classics of the sanity-bending genre that I can't recall at the moment. We were not even five minutes into the film yet when I turned to the friend I was watching it with and said, "Is this going to end up being a 'Jacob's Ladder' remake?" That's how blatant it is. By thirty minutes into it, I was mentally naming the films that each sequence in the film was stolen from whenever there was a scene change. There was even a shot in which we see Adrien Brody's character staring into a coffee cup, and the camera slowly descends toward the surface of the liquid in an exact copy of a similar scene in "Taxi Driver." Now, I'm well aware that stealing (aka "influence") is a hallowed tradition in all fields of art, and being influenced by one's predecessors is not in itself a bad thing. The problem is that this film is not even a tenth as good as any of the films it steals from, and is not even a hundredth as original. The film's intent seems merely to try to give you the same sense of creepiness and dread that you get in its sources, but it completely lacks their depth. "Jacob's Ladder," "Twelve Monkeys" and "Cuckoo's Nest" were great because you delve deeply into the souls and mental confusion of the central characters. All of the characters in "The Jacket" are as interesting as cardboard cutouts and I never came to care about what happened to any of them. The only reason I even gave this film three stars is because of the incredible acting talent (Brody, Jennifer Jason Leigh, etc.) that is wasted in it. How Adrien Brody was able to stomach this after doing "The Pianist," I have no idea. Their talents are worthy of greater productions than this. Don't waste your time.