Friday, September 2, 2011

PCP on DVD - 4 2011 Sci-Fi/Fantasy movies reviewed

Time for your next hit of PCP.  Today I’ll be talking about 4 films from 2011 and 1 from 2009 that take us out of our normal reality and add an element of sci-fi or fantasy.  We’ve got 2 alien movies, 1 in a fairy tale, 1 in a fantasy world, and 1 with Nazi zombies.  These 5 films are now available on DVD and I recently caught them on Netflix:  Battle: Los Angeles, Sucker Punch, I Am Number 4, & Red Riding Hood from this year, and Dead Snow from 2009, which is currently available on Netflix streaming.

Battle: Los Angeles – 2011, Rated PG-13.  116 minutes.  Starring:  Aaron Eckhart, Ramon Rodriguez, Bridget Moynahan, & Michelle Rodriguez.  My rating:  7 out of 10.

Battle: LA is a movie you’ve probably seen before, back when it was even more unrealistic and titled Independence Day.  Aliens have invaded, we have to fight back, etc etc.  Nothing particularly new here.  However, it is some of the performances that stand out and help salvage the movie from being a complete snooze.  Aaron Eckhart is great as Staff Sergeant Nantz, a 20 year veteran Marine that was about to retire after he lost soldiers under his command in Iraq but has been forced back into active duty when the invasion happens.  He is the right hand man to 2nd Lieutenant Martinez, played by Ramon Rodriguez, who is fresh out of officer training and has never seen combat.  Rodriguez does a great job of portraying the Lt’s fear and trepidation when he first encounters combat.  They have to lead their platoon into LA to rescue some stranded civilians before the Air Force is scheduled to wipe that part of LA off the map.

This film is a straightforward alien invasion movie:  aliens have invaded and it is up to our soldiers to fight back.  There is nothing particularly original here, and in fact the film is rather filled with clichés from almost every war movie ever made.  That doesn’t mean that it isn’t enjoyable, however.  Just because a film has a bunch of war movie clichés doesn’t mean that it can’t be fun to watch.  Although, if you get nauseous from jittery camera movies like District 9 or Cloverfield, then this might not be fun for you to watch after all.  Aside from the documentary-style aspect of the filmmaking, the film is rather similar to Independence Day, without the whole implausibly bogus story of going into space to upload a computer virus to save the day.  Battle: LA is more gritty and more realistic, and even portrays more despair than ID4 ever did, but at the same time you know as a viewer of alien invasion movies that everything will still turn out okay.  So who cares if the film is formulaic?  If you are a war or alien junkie, then this is a film for you.  If not, then take a pass.

Read the rest of the reviews after the jump

Sucker Punch – 2011, Rated R.  110 minutes.  Starring:  Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, & Jamie Chung.  My rating:  4 out of 10.

Sucker Punch takes place all within the mind of a woman sent to a mental ward.  In fact, the sequences in the film are a fantasy within a fantasy in the mind of Emily Browning, called Babydoll in the movie.  It’s like Inception, only sucky.  Joining her within her fantasy world are Abbie Cornish (Sweat Pea), Jena Malone (Rocket), Vanessa Hudgens (Blondie – a weird choice given that she’s nowhere near blonde), and Jamie Chung (Amber).  The second layer fantasies are the more interesting ones, with the girls fighting giant evil samurai, steampunk Nazi soldiers, slaying a dragon, and much more.  Unfortunately, despite all of the visual goodies (and the film is shot beautifully with some really cool effects), the film just lacks any sort of coherency or sense for its plot.

I think the title of the movie refers to how the audience feels after wasting nearly 2 hours of their lives watching this movie, they got sucker punched.  An alternative title would be Zack Snyder’s Ultimate Fanservice Extravaganza.  Dressing up his female stars in schoolgirl outfits right out of Sailor Moon, and having them fight in all sorts of different fantasy settings, feels like something out of a manga universe.  He tries to make a film for the fanboys to drool over, but the only drool that emerged from my mouth was when I nearly fell asleep.  I usually like Snyder’s films also, both 300 and Watchmen, but this one just bothered me for reasons I can’t quite pin down.  Probably because I was just laughing throughout the film at the absurdity and pointlessness of everything taking place on screen.  Don’t waste your time on this one.

I Am Number 4 – 2011, Rated PG-13.  109 minutes.  Starring:  Alex Pettyfer, Timothy Olyphant, Dianna Argon, & Teresa Palmer.  My rating:  5 out of 10.

I Am Number 4 tells us the story of an alien boy, John played by Alex Pettyfer, who is the 4th of 9 surviving super-powered children descendants of his race.  He has a bodyguard, Henri (Timothy Olyphant), who has to protect him from the other evil alien race that almost completely wiped out their species.  The 9 children are hidden all over the planet, and if the bad aliens track them down and kill them in the proper order (1 through 9) then they will become super-powerful or something like that.  The first 3 children have been killed by the aliens, so John knows that he is next on their list.  After the death of number 3, Henri relocates John to a small town where he falls in love with Glee’s Dianna Argon, but his powers are starting to manifest and he’s actually putting everyone in the town in danger by being there.  Or at least that’s what the plot seems to be going for.

The film plays like a cross between a teenage love story and an alien story.  It’s like Twilight, but with aliens instead of vampires.  Unfortunately, it’s pretty blah as a movie.  It is somewhat boring in places, dragging through the typical high school tropes – the jerk jock, the science nerd that befriends the new guy, the pretty girl that is the jock’s ex, etc, without adding anything particularly new to the mix.  The action sequences are cool though, even if they are chock full of CGI and also have clichés, most notably the slo-mo walk away from an impending explosion.  This time though the explosion engulfs a character, revealing that they are in fact fireproof.  Apparently this film is based on a book, one that I haven’t read, and now that I’ve seen the movie, I won’t waste my time on the book either.

Red Riding Hood – 2011, Rated PG-13.  100 minutes.  Starring:  Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Billy Burke, Shiloh Fernandez, & Max Irons.  My rating:  6 out of 10.

Red Riding Hood is an update to the classic children’s fairy tale, with a bit of a darker twist to it.  Instead of a wolf terrorizing Red Riding Hood and her grandmother, it is a werewolf and it is terrorizing a whole town.  The townspeople believe that the wolf is someone who lives among them, and the film does a decent job of keeping it a mystery right up until the end of the film.  Amanda Seyfried stars as the title character, Valerie, who lives in a medieval village with her parents.  Gary Oldman hams it up as the werewolf hunter that has come to the town to slay the wolf.  Seyfried’s dad is played by Billy Burke, who is better known as Bella’s dad in the Twilight films.  That isn’t the only similarity between this film and the Twilight franchise.  Director Catherine Hardwicke directed Twilight, this film is also filmed in British Columbia, and there is of course a love triangle.  The film feels very similar in mood and tone to Twilight, and considering the director, that comes as no surprise.  One primary difference is that unlike Kristen Stewart, Amanda Seyfried actually has more than just one blank expression during the movie and is a lot less wooden than Stewart.  All in all the film is an average film, with some ok sequences involving the werewolf, but it doesn’t cover any new ground in the werewolf genre.  If you like Twilight, watch this, otherwise take a pass.

Dead Snow – 2009, not rated (but should be R).  91 minutes.  Starring no one you’d know – it’s a Norwegian film with subtitles.  My rating:  8 out of 10.

Dead Snow is an indie zombie flick from Norway, shot on a presumably very low budget, in the best tradition of classic indie horror movies.  The characters in the film even make reference to the Evil Dead franchise in dialogue, and there is a scene where characters arm themselves that is an obvious homage to similar sequences in the Evil Dead series.  It is an entertaining zombie movie, that one-ups traditional zombie films by adding the only thing more evil than zombies:  Nazi zombies.  It is an extremely gory film, with some brutal deaths and graphic violence, and for some reason the director really likes having people have their entrails ripped out (happens at least 3 times that I recall).  If you’re a fan of the zombie genre, or liked the Evil Dead movies, this one is a can’t miss film.  If you don’t like those types of movies, then don’t take the time to see this.

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