Independence Day Movie Review

Overview:

It’s almost July 4 and as Americans prepare for their Independence Day massive spaceships take positions about cities around the world beginning a fight not for independence, but survival. Also, let us all pretend the sequel never happened.

Review:

There’s something highly enjoyable about these movies that do things on a grandiose scale. Massive space ships, big air fight sequences, whole city destruction, global conflict; it’s all just so large in scale and by its very nature kind of gets you caught up in the events. Okay, this movie suffers from the same issue as every other of its ilk. The only parts of countries you see are the ones with iconic buildings and settings so the key to survival is clearly living anywhere but that one city from your country that always gets shown. It is a minor detraction from what is otherwise a fairly global phenomena and not as significant as the basing the entire thing around an American holiday, but given its an American movie and Americans get to the heroes lets just roll with this and understand that everyone else does the same thing when they make a movie.

ID4-5

From a story point of view this is pretty standard. The scale of the conflict is large but the story focusses in on three groups (all conveniently representing different ethnicities and types of families just to tick off as many demographics as we can). The enemy is easily identifiable and at no point made to appear in anyway sympathetic. Other than the President’s one attempt at communication almost zero effort is ever made to understand or to negotiate (admittedly, it wasn’t like the aliens were open to it either). So pretty much aliens vs humans and the audience connects to the conflict via the different groups. The family in the trailer looking for shelter, the air force pilot, and the computer geek who somehow hacked an alien signal and apparently that skill allows you to hack anything alien related (moving on).

ID4-6

Probably the weakest part of the plot is that it is so very clearly written formulaically and with focus groups in mind. There are so many nods to this group or that group, or scenes that exist only to hit particular emotional cues. It all feels scripted (and yes, it’s a movie) but it doesn’t feel like it reflects life. It feels like it reflects the movie world’s view of relationships and life. Does that ruin the experience? Well, if you sit and deconstruct it, yes. Everything is chosen with such precision and included for such loaded reasons its impossible to see the film as anything than exercise in Hollywood marketing. If you just stop thinking about that and watch the movie, no. It’s well paced, comedic moments happen bang on mark, emotional moments linger just long enough but don’t intrude, and the action is great fun (unless you watch the director’s cut, then some of the emotional moments linger far beyond their welcome – there’s a reason these got cut initially from the theatrical release).

ID4-4

And yes, there are all sorts of plot holes that spring up. Lets be honest, they are fighting aliens who can cross galaxies and destroy entire cities with a single blast. We should not be able to fight back in any meaningful way. So pretty much everything that happens to resolve this issue can be questioned if you want to play that game.

What helps pull this a little bit above a Hollywood fluff action movie to something with rewatch value are the characters. Again, they are very much selected from focus group discussions and there isn’t anything surprising or new here. Nor is the acting off the charts incredible. However, the actors deliver their lines in ways that make the characters seem authentic. You can actually believe that line of dialogue coming out of the mouth of that character at that time. You can genuinely accept the interactions between the characters. By the half-way point you are even reasonably invested in characters that really shouldn’t be more than a forgettable sound bite. They also get some great moments.

ID4-2

Will Smith as the fighter pilot definitely steals the majority of these moments and one liners, but he does that in a lot of his films. And his character is incredibly likable if a little ordinary in terms of protagonist characters in action movies. The rest of the cast though each shine in small ways and bring some real heart to a movie that could otherwise just feel like a by the numbers science fiction/ action film (and this is something the sequel should have realised).

ID4-3

Ultimately your enjoyment of this movie will depend on what you want from a film. If you want to see burning cities and survivors come together to hear an inspiring speech from the President before turning the tide on technologically advanced aliens, you’ll have a great time. If you want anything resembling depth this one isn’t for you. It is superficially shiny and it holds up very well on the surface but there’s just nothing underneath.

Advertisements

Deep Blue Sea Movie Review

Overview (Spoilers):

Medical research into a treatment for Alzheimer’s is underway in a science station out in the middle of the ocean. Of course, the scientists have genetically modified sharks to increase the size of their brains in order to harvest enough material of a particular protein to succeed. As one of the characters puts it: “As a result, the sharks got smarter”.

Amazingly enough, smart sharks don’t really want to hang around a scientific research lab where they are the guinea pigs and so embark on a ridiculous scheme to sink the facility and escape into the “Deep Blue Sea”.

Review:

Deep Blue Sea is one of those movies you know you shouldn’t like. It’s riddled with clichés and is kind of self-aware that it is a poorer imitation of other movies that have done sharks and ocean horror better. There’s a few moments when you might actually believe this is supposed to be a parody rather than a horror/thriller in its own right, however there are insufficient of these moments to accept that it was ever intended to be viewed in that light. So what you end up with is a mish-mash of moments that might have been tense if handled better, a few genuine jump scares, the occasionally well delivered character moment, interconnected with some really cheesy dialogue, lame special effects, and a plot that essentially makes you wonder if you haven’t seen this movie a thousand times before.

With all that said, I’ll be honest and point out I love this movie. I love terrible horror and this ticks all my boxes for a fun-filled weekend of bad horror watching. While the story is incredibly predictable and very little of the horror sticks, there’s something comforting and entertaining about formulaic cinema delivered tolerably well. And while none of the character performances are going to be nominated for any kind of award (except Samuel L Jackson who you have to wonder why he was in the movie, and the only award I’m nominating him for is most inappropriate place for delivering a monologue), none of the performances are so bad as to be painful.

dbs5

Probably the weakest part of the story is the plot itself. While they try to set it up that the sharks are thinking and planning their way through this ‘escape’ very little of what they do seems sufficiently reasoned to justify this and a lot of the sharks’ ‘success’ is entirely dependent on the actions the humans take to escape and relies far too much on coincidence.

From the very beginning we see that one of the sharks has escaped and been retrieved. The shark wrangler worries about the height of the fences and so they are raised preventing further escapes. Okay, the sharks have motive. However what follows is incredibly reliant on narrative convenience. First there’s an ‘inspection’ by an investor about the progress being made. Also, it’s the weekend so almost all the staff are leaving and there won’t be another way out until after the weekend, plus a storm is coming in making rescue extremely difficult. Why is this inspection happening on the weekend? Wouldn’t he want to see the facility actually doing what it normally does?

Anyway, convenient storm and character who knows nothing allowing other characters to explain how various things around the facility works aside, we then have the demonstration of the experiment where the apparently sedated shark does this:

dbs1

Apparently part of its master plan to get the humans to call for a rescue in a storm which then leads to a winch malfunctioning, dropping this guy while strapped to a gurney into the shark tank, allowing the sharks to use him to bludgeon the glass of the underwater facility and begin the process of sinking the facility. Excuse me? Run that one by me again because no matter what else happens in this plot, I am not buying this as a master plan.

Still, it wouldn’t have been a problem if the shark wrangler had shot the shark here and now, except that the crazy obsessed researcher saves the shark dropping it back into the tank. You wouldn’t want all that research to go to waste.

dbs3

Oh the irony given later that is exactly what happens later when the data gets fried. Yeah, the plot is rubbish so if you are looking for a compelling storyline, pass right now. There’s no way I can recommend this story on plot.

dbs4

Which is why the characters are so important. Each character in this story serves a purpose (and yes most of them serve the ultimate purpose of dying tragically or amusingly to inject some emotion into the story and to remind us it is a horror) but while they are alive they play an important role. The interactions between the characters are fairly formulaic and the dialogue is nothing revolutionary, but it moves quickly and the exchanges are entertaining. There’s some highly entertaining one-liners as well as some more forgettable moments of reflection, but all and all the characters work. The performances are decent enough with the material given to be delivered. While it is pretty obvious which characters will make it through to the final confrontation and which will survive, the timing of some of the deaths will still make for a reasonable jump scare even if you see it coming.

dbs6

All that aside, it can’t be helped that a movie about killer sharks will be compared to Jaws yet there is really no point. Jaws has a slow build up and goes for sheer human drama of man vs beast. This story is really reaping what you sow and from the very beginning they bring gore and shock. Plus, they really want you to get a good look at these sharks as regularly as possible. There are few moments where they actually play with the idea of them being hidden under the water.  So other than the shark thing, there’s genuinely very little similarity in the way these stories present.

My recommendation on this is pretty basic. If you like bad horror movies where the plot is obvious, character deaths will involve more blood than is necessary and will usually occur on screen in front of other characters so we can see those extremely over the top reaction shots from teh survivors, and you are in the mood for something that doesn’t seem ot be taking itself too seriously but isn’t a tongue in cheek parody, you will probably have fun with this film. I personally recommend watching it at the same time as Anaconda and Lake Placid and then you can wonder why your brain has turned to mush but you’ll have probably had a fun afternoon.


Are you a fan of 100WordAnime.blog?

If you like this site and you like what I do, please consider becoming a patron.

patreon

Thanks,

Karandi James.

avatar

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider Movie Review

Overview:

Based on the games, Tomb Raider follows Lara Croft as she raids tombs? Not really. She finds a device hidden inside a clock that apparently is some big deal and some ancient cult have been trying to track down forever. What follows are a bunch of action set pieces before she kind of joins forces with them to find out what will happen when they get the fancy triangle all assembled and then some more action set pieces.

Review:

I love action films and I particularly love action films that don’t have the only female character being a damsel in distress. I also was a massive fan of the Tomb Raider games growing up (though I was not great at playing them because half the time I couldn’t figure out the difference between walls I could climb, rocks I could pull, or holes in the ground that I was about to fall down – the graphics, while awesome for the time, left much to be desired). So when this film came out in 2001 I really wanted it to be amazing.

tomb5

What I got was a reasonably decent if generic action movie, a product of its time, and while there were enough stylistic nods to the character designs of the game, the actual plot left a little bit to be desired. I did enjoy watching Tomb Raider but part of me always laments the ‘what could have been’ part of this film.

The list of concerns starts with Angelina Jolie as the titular Lara Croft. I was so excited when I saw she was going to take on this role. After seeing her performance in Girl Interrupted I was sold on the idea that Angelina could breathe life into a video game character who might be memorable but not so much for her personality (though she does deliver some good one-liners). Unfortunately, that isn’t what happened. Instead we see Angelina working very hard at looking tough or pouty and that is more or less the extent of Lara’s emotional range in this film. I get she’s meant to be a strong female character who is capable of taking on the guys but some more nuanced expressions might be nice. The closest we got was Lara laughing during a fight sequence in a way that I guess was supposed to show us just how tough she was because she could laugh while bullets flew everywhere.

Even if we accept that Angelina actually played Lara pretty much the way Lara is presented in most of the games we have the script itself. While some lines hit their mark such as Lara’s, “I’ve always found your ignorance quite amusing” others just land flat on the floor and then sit there while the characters kind of wait for the next thing to happen. “It’s a clock. It ticks. It’s wrong.” Thanks for pointing that out.

Then we have the action itself. Sometime in the late 1990’s, somehow people got it into their head that an action movie is made by coming up with a number of action scenarios with major set pieces and cool choreography, throw in some quick cuts and quirky camera angles, and then you can just kind of run them all together with some generic dialogue and call it a plot.

I’d point back to Terminator and Die Hard. These films got action right. They had an excellent core to their stories that was simple and yet drove every event that followed. Terminator, was simply “kill Sara Connor”. Right from the start, that’s what we were aiming for. Every action sequence had something to do with either achieving that goal or preventing it. Die Hard had terrorists in a building. “Stop the terrorists from killing the hostages.” It’s simple and yet gives meaning to every action scene in the film.

Tomb Raider starts with a massively over the top action sequence against a robotic adversary that is revealed at the end of the sequence to be just part of Lara’s training regime. It is a cool sequence, don’t get me wrong. But what do we learn? Do we know what the story is? Is Lara’s ability to hang upside down going to be useful later? Hey, I would even accept that somehow this film is going to be about the robot running amok. But, no. That isn’t the case.

tomb4

Instead, we go from this action sequence to some exposition about a planetary alignment (ooh) and then Lara has weird dreams which somehow lead her to find the ticking clock in her mansion (through some property destruction that seems to only exist to show how little regard Lara has for her own wealth). Follow this with a motorbike sequence (she’s awesome, she motorbikes) and so on. Admittedly, she does ride the motorbike in her mansion later for some reason. Blast out a massively overblown soundtrack and presto action movie of the early 2000’s here we are.

tomb6

Again, this doesn’t take away from any one of the action set pieces. There are some incredibly interesting enemies (if slightly unbelievable) and the setting changes so regularly you can’t possibly complain about the variety. It just makes it difficult to care about the outcome of any particular sequence when as an audience we’ve really been given no reason to care.

tomb8

Before I wrap up, I do want to touch on the ‘villain’ of the piece. While he has the right amount of slime going on with his dialogue delivery and his lines are about as good as you could expect given the rest of the dialogue, I just don’t think he ever presents enough of a threat to actually make this seem like anything more than Lara goes on a fetch quest while things get shot.

That said, I did enjoy this film. It is great like so many generic action movies for sitting back with some snacks and switching off. You’ll get a few laughs and the fight sequences are worth watching. Will you get anything more than that? Probably not.

If you watched Tomb Raider what did you think?


Are you a fan of 100WordAnime.blog?

If you like this site and you like what I do, please consider becoming a patron.

patreon

Thanks,

Karandi James.

avatar

Die Hard Movie Review

Oh look, another non-anime review. Actually, this was holiday viewing because it is about the only movie everyone in my family agreed on that had a Christmas theme so here we go.

Overview:

John McClane has been invited to a Christmas party at the company his wife works at. While there, a group of armed terrorists take over the building and take the party goers hostage. Now, John, a cop from New York is trapped in the building and has to face the terrorists to try to free the hostages.

Review:

Okay, if you watch action movies you have already seen Die Hard. It is a classic and a staple of the genre. Bruce Willis, when he still had hair, making sarcastic quips on the radio while limping around the building carrying a gun and wearing the signature white singlet (ignore the part in the movie where it obviously changes colour and then returns to being a dirty-white singlet, nobody likes you pointing out too many continuity errors) and the police outside being totally useless. It is a classic for a reason and while most of what happens is now considered cliche and Die Hard didn’t do it first, it definitely did it well.

diehard

Breaking it down, probably the best thing the movie did was cast Bruce Willis. I am not a massive Bruce Willis fan, I find his movies hit and miss, but Bruce Willis is John McClane. I can’t imagine another actor delivering those lines and giving a performance as believable as Bruce Willis did and to be honest when the terrorists were having hissy fits and his wife pointed out that nobody can drive someone crazy like John I totally believed it. This casting is so important to everything in this movie as it is the glue that holds all the other parts together.

hqdefault

As for the remaining cast members, they are a bit hit and miss. More of less anyone could have been the wife and most of the minor terrorists are only there to add to the body count. The cops outside are all kind of cookie-cutter characters with various levels of incompetence and the limo-driver serves pretty much no purpose. But, Alan Rickman, as Hans and the leader of the terrorists, is perfect. He delivers a great performance as a villain and the play between Hans and John has some great chemistry which just adds to the experience and you genuinely want to see these two face off. The other character of note is Sgt. Powell, one of the only cops outside who seems to have a functioning brain and the one John spends a lot of time on the radio with. Though these characters don’t actually meet until the end, they build a fairly solid relationship over the course of the movie.

As a narrative there are no surprises. You have your hero of the story who goes through a series of trials and set backs on his way to accomplishing a single, established goal.  The only real surprise you will have is the wonder of how John McClane has not died at least six times before we get to the end of the film.

diehard_1_tony_600

But, what it gives us in exchange for a very by the numbers plot are some truly memorable set pieces and lines. Yeah, the hero takes out each of the baddies, working his way up to the leader with the stakes getting higher as he runs out of weapons, and blood given how many wounds he accumulates, but what really makes this film memorable is that each scene is crafted to be memorable. There’s the C4 in the elevator shaft moment, the jumping off the roof with the fire hose moment, the glass shooting scene, the dead man in the elevator in the santa hat, etc, etc. Each action set up works and is striking in how it plays out so you aren’t getting bored by the same sneak up, shoot and kill over and over, or just guns blazing and shouting every single scene. Too many modern action movies go for repetitive action while changing settings rather than changing up the actual action itself. And, that carries over to all the Die Hard sequels (though some of those are pretty terrible). The action sequences are diverse even if the outcome is a foregone conclusion.

So, if you haven’t yet seen this movie and you were looking for a ‘Christmas’ movie that has a touching resolution but doesn’t get so sweet it makes you roll your eyes, Die Hard is probably a good choice. There’s definitely blood, violence and a little bit of swearing, but by today’s standards it’s a pretty tame movie visually but it is good mindless fun.

The Cabin in the Woods Movie Review

My very first movie review (yes, even I take a break from anime occasionally).

Overview:

Five friends go to a remote cabin in the woods. Then things go strange. And really, that’s all you can say about this without giving anything away. The review below is completely full of major plot points so please feel free to know the movie is awesome and go watch it before reading. I am also going to put a warning on some of the images below containing fairly gore filled images so if it isn’t your thing maybe pass.

cabin1

Review:

One thing about watching a lot of genre fiction is you learn early on that at least 70% of what you are watching is either formulaic, derivative, or just plain dribble. 20% of what remains is genuinely well written genre fiction and the final 10% is varying degrees of incredible depending on your mood and tastes. But, it also means that we get used to certain archetypes and set-ups and The Cabin in the Woods fully embraces this. In point of fact, without the entire body of horror stories sitting behind it, The Cabin in the Woods would fail terribly as a film. It takes your expectations and uses them as the basis for the entire narrative and it does it in a way that doesn’t seem smugly self-aware, even though the film clearly is.

cabin3

So why did I watch The Cabin in the Woods? There are plenty of other self-aware horror stories out there. Plenty of other gore-fests in isolated locations. Plenty of other conspiracy stories if that is what you are looking for. My honest answer would be Joss Whedon. Joss Whedon is the closest thing to a living legend in terms of the stories he has been a part of crafting and while not everything he touches turns to gold I find a real appeal in both his subject matter and delivery. Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Doll House, these stories all take fairly common and basic ideas and yet made them feel fresh, new and interesting while just telling a solid and simple narrative. You can sum up each of the plots of these stories in a single sentence and yet you can’t convey how deep the lore and characters are without spending about a month pulling everything apart. So yes, I am a fan and The Cabin in the Woods certainly reinforced my admiration for Joss Whedon as a story teller (though certainly this is not a one man effort and while there are distinct traces of Whedon in this story it is distinctly different from some of his other works).

cabin4

Back to reviewing the actual movie rather than the people who worked on the movie. From the opening scenes we have a parallel narrative being established. On the one side we have the corporate or government workers who are worried about those upstairs and a project that literally has to be successful. These characters are very human in that they have friendships and history with one another that comes across clearly even while they are the faceless corporation and government workers who carry out whatever jobs they need to because it is their job. The building they work in is cold and sterile and this setting kind of works to distance the viewer. It actually reminded me a lot of the offices in Burn After Reading (and the reuse of an actor from that film just kind of reinforced that impression).

The other side of the coin are the college students. Two girls and three guys each fitting the standard archetype of characters in horror movies who are going to visit one of the guy’s cousins cabin in the woods. They don’t really know much about it and don’t seem to care because they are planning on a fun weekend. Our introduction to these characters is as cliché as it comes but we already know from the conversations in the other storyline that there is more going on which makes us pay more attention and we start picking up small details early on that are going to become very important to the story.

And that is where The Cabin in the Woods shines. It truly takes on the rule of Chekov’s Gun. There is nothing in this story that is introduced without purpose. The more assertive girl recently dyed her hair and this is commented on (in a perfectly natural way) when she meets with her friend before they meet the guys. The fact that this makes her the ‘blonde’ of the group plays on a cliché of horror movies and that would be enough to make it work but then we have the parallel story. Yep, that project they are all working on is to get these guys to the cabin (though why is still not revealed but heavily implied). We learn later that there’s been a lot of prep work for this trip and that included doctoring the dye used on the girl’s hair and that blonde die is literally making her act dumb (or at least not think clearly through her actions). Why would they do that? Well, other than embracing another horror cliche there’s actually a really good reason.

Seriously stop now if you don’t like spoilers.

cabin7.jpg

Turns out these guys have been selected to be sacrificed and you know, old gods/demons/whatevers really do have preferences. The whore or the modern dumb blonde cliché is about as typical as they come in terms of preferences for sacrifices in old legends. But what if the reason we see so many of these types of characters in horror movies is because these sacrifices are literal rather than legendary and our entire horror genre is built on an actual fear of a reality that is being orchestrated by our government?

So it all ties back in together. We embrace the cliché of horror because that stereotype is actually build on a reality that this movie is establishing as the basis of its entire plot. It makes you rethink every horror movie you have ever seen in the context of what if we only write these stories because we fear they are true.

Back to Chekov’s Gun the van they drive has a motorbike attached to the back which we get many lingering shots of as they drive toward the cabin. Okay, they are young and there are three guys so it makes sense. Except no one mentions it or even seems particularly like they are even aware of it. Then the van goes through a tunnel and we see that the road curves back on itself. Without going through the tunnel there’s a gap between the two roads with a steep drop. Okay, starting to put things together. And then an eagle that has been following the van hits an invisible force field that runs through that gap and the eagle explodes. Right… I see where this is going. Some people would argue that such obvious foreshadowing is a flaw but I really find it enhances this kind of viewing. You know what is coming and all that is left is how they manage to orchestrate the situation and deliver. So by the time one of the students attempts to go for help by jumping the gap on the motor bike you are on the edge of your seat and just waiting for the punch line and you are rewarded in truly spectacular fashion. The reaction of the other two characters is pretty priceless as well.

cabin6

We also get glimpses of the results of other countries attempts to orchestrate a sacrifice. The Japan one is pretty funny even while it is truly heart wrenching to think of young girls in that kind of situation. The resolution of that will make you laugh out loud even though by the time we get to the end of the film it turns out that it won’t make any difference.

cabin5

The passive way that the workers view the plight of the friends (and in point of fact orchestrate worst case scenarios for the friends) is disturbing. You wonder how humans can become so detached and carry out their duties in such a manner when they can see the results on the screen right in front of them. But they are detached, when they aren’t placing bets and celebrating their success at setting up a violent death. And while the motives of those who work in this corporation are clear by the end you still can’t help but wonder about the morality of taking on such a job or how you would feel if you were the one given such a responsibility. Not to mention, it is hard to know how you feel about the absolute massacre of workers at the end. Part of you wants to rejoice because of what they did to the students and part of you just feels horrible that you feel good about them getting killed without remorse.

cabin2

Before I wrap this up (because this is getting long) I do want to address the end of the movie. Amazing and twisted. Amazingly awesome and twisted. It’s fantastic. This is the perfect mix of satire on human condition, embracing horror stereotypes, and modern corporate culture, with a whole lot of supernatural violence overlaying the entire thing and a bit of comedy. Okay, it is a gore fest and visually there are some real cringe worthy moments, but it also has a lot to say while sitting back and happy just to be horror film. So you can watch and enjoy without thinking about anything because it is a survival horror. Or you can question everything and pull all the ideas apart and still end up with something pretty fantastic.

In case you hadn’t noticed, I kind of loved this film. It is exactly to my tastes in terms of subject matter, characterisation, and delivery. While part of me really wished the group had chosen something else in the basement (I love how we get hints about how different the story could have gone) going with the cliché further reinforces the overall narrative structure and it works. Plus, at least they don’t have to spend half the movie explaining the rules about the zombies. There’s an assumption that the audience already know the story because we’ve seen that element before).

If you love any kind of horror, you have to check out this movie. If you’ve watched it, I’d love to know your thoughts.