BATTLE: LA -
Rated: USA: PG 13
Unless you are an envious jerk (and we've all been that at some time), we all like to see folks who once sucked at something, do well.
Before Joss Whedon hit it big and wonderful on TV and the Internet with shows like BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, ANGEL, FIREFLY and DR. HORRIBLE'S SING-ALONG blog, he wrote movies like BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and ALIEN3.
Before David S. Goyer wrote BLADE and BATMAN BEGINS, he wrote DEMONIC TOYS.
Before Frank Darabont adapted THE GREEN MILE and THE WALKING DEAD, he wrote A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3, THE BLOB (1988), and THE FLY II.
BATTLE: LA, was directed by Jonathan Liebesman. Before BATTLE: LA he directed DARKNESS FALLS, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE BEGINNING, and THE KILLING ROOM. Nothing there to make you think this guy is going anywhere, right? Yet Jonathan has hit the ball into the stands with BATTLE: LA.
Working off a screenplay by
Christopher Bertolini, Jonathan's BATTLE: LA begins in the thick of things. The aliens have attacked. San Diego and San Francisco have been taken over by the invasion. A helicopter squadron is flying toward LA, loaded with Marines. We can't let the aliens capture Los Angeles too.
Let me tell you about these aliens. Imagine that we discovered a technologically advanced life form living in the far reaches of our solar system. How did we not discover them sooner? Well, there's an awful lot we don't know about the moons of Saturn, Neptune, so on. We just recently learned enough about Pluto and its relation to our solar system to downgrade its planetary status. Maybe this other life form is only technologically advanced enough to reach the next nearest moon, and they haven't done anything better than that in the last 40 years.
So we find this other advanced lifeform and to our surprise, they are only ten, maybe twenty years behind us in technology. Like us, they are politically fractured with multiple, confrontational governments, scattered across their world. What's more, they are largely a warrior race.
And they are In! Our! Solar! System!
That's how the aliens are in BATTLE: LA . They are only a few years ahead of us in tech, apparently can't live in our atmosphere (they wear spacesuits/armor), and use our water for fuel (I'll get back to that in a moment). No one knows why they have come and why they are attacking, but that doesn't stop the regular talking heads in the media from throwing out one baseless conjecture after the next as if they were facts.
We meet the various marines, who all had better things to do with their lives than have them stopped dead by a surprise otherworld-ly alien invasion.
There's Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Ekhart: THE DARK KNIGHT), a Marine lifer who, after the pyrrhic victory of his last battle, is ready for retirement.
The first wave of the alien invasion hits and the very experienced Nantz is assigned to his very inexperienced commanding officer, 2nd Lieutenant William Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez: TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN).
ADVANCE MOVIE POSTERS USED ACTUAL IMAGES FROM THE "REAL" BATTLE OF LOS ANGELES, 1942
Among the new men assigned to this squad there are,
Corporal Jason Lockett (Cory Hardrict: DRIFTWOOD) who feels he has a very good reason for despising SSG. Nantz.
Cpl. Nick Stavrou (Gino Anthony Pesi) who is best man and best friend to
Cpl. Kevin Harris (Ne Yo) who is mere days from being married.
LCpl. Steven Mottola (James Hiroyuki Liao),
Pfc. Shaun Lenihan (Noel Fisher: FINAL DESTINATION 2, RED), the "kid" soldier who is old enough to drink but is still a virgin.
Corpsman Jibril Adukwu (Adetokumboh M'Cormack), a foreigner who joined the U.S. military to earn his citizenship.
The aliens have overpowered law enforcement and the military so far. Temporary "Forward bases" have been set up at civilian airports and the order has been given to bomb Santa Monica entirely, in three hours, to stop the aliens and save the rest of Los Angeles. So soldiers are being flown in (the aliens, though arriving from space, appear to be land-based only, no air support), in the hopes of evacuating the last of the humans trapped behind enemy lines.
SSG. Nantz and his squad face one set-back after the next in battling the thin, stringy aliens, and the action stays tense and only lets up to build suspense. BATTLE: LOS ANGELES is a Knock-Down, Drag-Out, Kick-Ass movie with a Balls-to-the-Wall ethos. And once you see it, you'll realize that my alliteration fits.
This would be a five Shriek Girl movie except for two things.
The cinematography by Lukas Ettlin (THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE BEGINNING). BATTLE: LA has the worst shaky cam I've ever seen in my life! And I saw THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT! Worse! I saw CLOVERFIELD (good movie, bad camera work)! I've watched BABYLON A.D., PANDORUM, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, and never was the stupid shaky cam worse than in BATTLE: LA. The camera shakes constantly, even in those moments when people are just standing there. There was no doubt a lot of very cool visuals to be seen. There was probably a lot of drama and tension and suspense as well as fright, scares, and horror if only the camera wasn't being knocked around all over the god damn place but where it needed to be. A camera operator suffering a Grand Mal seizure would have done a better job. The camera work of BATTLE: LA sucks so damn hideously bad! If Lukas was following someone's orders to shoot it like this, he should have walked away from the insufferable jackass (y'know, this is probably why my reviews rarely get on DVD covers).
The other thing is this: you can have bad science in a movie and people will go along with it because they don't know. As long as your error isn't too obvious, or is such a common crutch that audiences are used to it (sound in space), then you're safe. So when this movie makes it clear that the aliens are here for earth's water, and in the space of mere hours the ocean level was already lowering, the audience erupted in derisive chuckles.
The aliens could have attacked for any reason or no readily apparent reason at all (that would have been the best choice). The laughably bad choice of stealing water and the foolishly shaky camera work, knocked major points off this story. Seriously: as big as the ocean is, you are going to attack military fortified, land-based cities to steal our water? When you can suck up enough water to lower our sea level in a matter of hours (holy shit that is just so stupid!), plunking down somewhere in the middle of nowhere Pacific, thousand plus miles from anywhere, isn't gonna do it for you?
Yet the tale remains compelling. Based on the idea of the actual Battle of Los Angeles aka The Great Los Angeles Air Raid (a World War II rumor that got so out of hand that the U.S. military actually scrambled to defend Los Angeles from a supposed invading Japanese army), this movie is gritty, the deaths and attacks are constantly surprising. If it wasn't for the moronic shaky cam, Liebesman would have pulled off the feel of an actual war movie instead of a SciFi alien invasion movie. Kudos to the acting, the overall, affecting human story and above all, the energetic gung-ho enthusiasm of it all: a winning combination that pulls BATTLE: LA through to a solid well-earned 3 Shriek Girls! So far, Director Jonathan Liebesman's best!
Also look for Michelle Rodriguez as TSgt. Elena Santos (RESIDENT EVIL, THE BREED, LOST [TV], AVATAR, MACHETE) and
Bridget Moynahan (THE SUM OF ALL FEARS, I, ROBOT, UNKNOWN, PREY) as Michele the Veterinarian.
copyright 2011 E.C.McMullen Jr.
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