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Battle: Los Angeles

If you thought a Michael Bay movie had a lot of explosions, wait until you see this. Loud, crazy and ridiculous are the only ways to describe Battle: Los Angeles, an escapist film that has zero substance, but manages to make up for it with little downtime and non-stop action. By normal movie making standards, it’s not what one would call “good” (the script, quite frankly, is garbage), but my job is to say whether or not the film is worth seeing and based on pure fun factor alone, I have to conclude that it is.

The movie takes place in the not-too-distant future, August 2011, and Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) has just signed his release papers after 20 years in the Marines and a tour in Iraq where he lost his platoon of soldiers. Recent reports on the news have been saying that meteors have been falling from the sky, landing near coasts all around the world. The strange thing, however, is that they’re slowing down before impact. The world quickly finds out these are no ordinary meteors and that aliens have landed and are planning to wipe out all human existence. In light of this, Nantz is pulled back into the Marines and is tasked, along with a new platoon of soldiers, with defending Los Angeles.

Before the attack, things are running normal at the California Marine base where we are introduced to a host of faces. Each character has their own story. Some are comedic, but not funny, while others are dramatic, but emotionless. It jumps so frantically from character to character that none really work. Rather than develop these plot points and show why certain people act the way they do, they’re quickly said through expositional dialogue and brushed over in favor of getting to the action. Because of this, there’s nobody to care about, so when characters get killed off, you won’t bat an eye.

Still, the feeling of war in one of the country’s largest cities is expertly realized. The streets are lined with fire and give off the feeling that the enemy could be anywhere. Cars sit desolate near gas stations while buildings house dozens of corpses of folks unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Aside from some occasionally sketchy special effects, all of this is brought to convincing life with the help of an effective handheld shooting style that gives the film a sense of realism.

Of course, that realism is lost on such a ridiculous science fiction film, as is the horrors of war message, which is forced into the film through corny dialogue filled scenes where Nantz sadly reminisces about the men he lost in Iraq. In addition, the non-diegetic musical score is out-of-place, serving only to further cripple a movie that desires to be authentic.

Regardless of the lack of character development and other flaws, the acting is good and somehow manages to keep you distracted enough to focus on what’s important: having fun. Eckhart is terrific as usual, as is the rest of the cast, even when they are throwing out stupid one-liners, of which none are funny. Essentially, Battle: Los Angeles is a mixture of Independence Day, Cloverfield and the recent Skyline and its quality rests somewhere between the two latter films. It’s not as strikingly original as Cloverfield, but it’s not as bland as Skyline either. Although most will surely be disappointed that it’s not as good as the trailers suggest, it’s still worth a look.

Battle: Los Angeles receives 3/5



The equipment to create state-of-the-art visual effects must be getting cheaper. Last year’s District 9 and last week’s Monsters have proven that a low budget does not equate to poor visuals. But those superb effects were merely footnotes in otherwise grand movies rich with character and heart. Skyline, a similar low budget monster movie, nails the look, but is missing the substance.

The melodramatic story follows a group of C-list actors as they attempt to survive an alien invasion in Los Angeles. There’s Elaine (Scottie Thompson), who is pregnant with Jarrod’s (Eric Balfour) baby, but Jarrod just isn’t ready to be a father. They are visiting their friends Candice (Brittany Daniel) and her boyfriend Terry (Donald Faison), who is cheating on Candice with Denise (Crystal Reed). Joining them is an employee of the apartment complex they live in, Oliver (David Zayas).

If not already noticeable, the cast of Skyline is full of “that guys.” There’s “that guy from Scrubs,” “that guy from Dexter,” “that guy from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and a host of others that you’ll recognize, but won't be sure where from. It’s a group of actors and actresses that have only been interesting when working opposite someone with talent. Alone, they fizzle and when coupled together, it’s like watching a class of amateurs struggle through a simple acting exercise.

Given that they are forced to say and do some stupid things probably doesn’t help their case, however. When watching a movie like this, you expect the characters to make bad decisions, but there at least has to be a moderately reasonable path to those decisions. At one point, an alien peeks inside the windows to the apartment they are holed up in because they have foolishly left the blinds open. While they hide behind objects in the room, the alien takes off. They quickly establish that they can’t be seen or heard and all they need to do is close the blinds and be quiet. So, naturally, they decide to make a run for it. The writing is full of moments like this. To keep things fresh, the flimsiest reasons to go outside are given to the characters and they’re all head slappers.

The worst part of that, however, is that they end up back where they started minutes later. There’s nothing in the script that keeps them moving forward. The majority of the film is spent watching them watch the creatures outside. It plays like a movie that only wishes to showcase its special effects. With these one-dimensional characters, it was probably a smart decision.

Skyline is directed by the Brothers Strause, their sophomore effort after Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem. What a resume. If these two movies are any indication, these guys are so focused on what their film looks like that they forget to do anything else. They get so excited by the idea of showing off disgusting creatures that their characters come off as an afterthought.

And an afterthought is pretty much what this movie is. It’s a case of too little, too late and it rips off other better monster movies, including Cloverfield and War of the Worlds. At times, there is a strange appeal to its flashy look, but there’s nothing to compliment it. Skyline works where it wants to, but if your movie is driven solely on the basis of the special effects, you have failed.

Skyline receives 2/5