For movie watchers, few things can be more frustrating than films that begin with a sequence of immense promise, only to show over the remainder that the emperor truly wears no clothes. Two new examples come from the horror realm.
Until now, Ethan Hawke was having a wonderful year. Before Midnight, the third leg of his trilogy with director Richard Linklater and actress Julie Delpy, brought waves of critical acclaim and talk of another Oscar nomination for their collaborative screenplay, while The Purge turned a meager investment into a highly profitable box-office take.
Neither a chain of spice stores nor a Food Network program, The Seasoning House is a bleak-as-nuclear-winter thriller set during the Balkan conflict of the 1990s. A deaf girl named Angel (Brit teen Rosie Day) is taken from her home by soldiers who shoot her mother dead.
Paul Schrader’s The Canyons opens and closes with a montage of abandoned movie theaters. For this film in particular, that choice strikes one as symbolic in several ways: not only as a comment on the state of the industry, but on the state of The Canyons itself. You’re unlikely to find many 2013 films this empty.
What's a director of classic musicals doing in science fiction? Making Saturn 3, one of the worst of the genre Hollywood made in the immediate post-Star Wars / Alien era. Stanley Donen (Singin' in the Rain) takes to it about as well as you'd expect; he's in over his head.
One needs more than two hands to count the numerous other films from which “Battle: Los Angeles” has been cobbled: “Independence Day,” “Cloverfield,” “Starship Troopers,” “Transformers,” “Aliens,” “Predator,” “Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem” and
any movie in which bullet casings fall to the ground in slow motion, to
name just a few.
If the alien-invasion flick often looks like a video game, that’s because it’s written like one (as in barely), as a loose string of missions for its gung-ho Marines: Rescue civilians from a police station; take them to safety; destroy the mother ship. That’s the simple-structured path for our cardboard, interchangeable heroes, led by a stoic, ever-grimacing Aaron Eckhart (“The Dark Knight”) as Staff Sgt. Nantz, after aliens lay waste to several locales around the world, La-La Land included.
As Billy Joel once sang early in his career, say goodbye to Hollywood.
Employing a shaky-cam style reminiscent of first-person-shooter games, director Jonathan Liebesman (“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning”) puts his cast through nearly two solid hours of rat-a-tat-tat and budda-budda-budda, all in a messy manner making it difficult to tell who’s who. When this sci-fi actioner says “Battle,” it means it, but at the expense of any kind of story. One doesn’t expect much from effects-driven efforts like this, but even I was astonished at how little it aims to tell. All it cares about it aiming to shoot. That quickly wears audiences out.
Bonus points if you believe it ends in a setup for endless sequels, from “Battle: New York City” to “Battle: Sheboygan.” Retreat! —Rod Lott