BATTLE: LOS ANGELES
My number-one, hands-down, love-it-to-death favorite scene in the science-fiction action spectacle Battle: Los Angeles occurs roughly 40 minutes into the film. Hundreds of meteors have fallen to earth in urban centers around the globe, and are revealed to be teeming with aliens, who waste no time in annihilating everything and everyone in their paths. After engaging in long sequences of L.A.-based retaliation, a stalwart band of Marines is helicoptered into Santa Monica to fend off one of these attacks, and a frightened lieutenant ducks into in an apartment complex's laundry room, where he watches the horrific destruction through a window. Suddenly hearing a noise behind him, the man whips around, expecting to come face-to-face with one of the monstrous invaders from another world. Yet instead of terror, the lieutenant's face quickly registers relief, as the sound he heard was just that of the washing machine's spin cycle.
You know what that means, right? That in the midst of this apocalyptic showdown that, as we've witnessed on TV newscasts, has been going on for several hours now, someone in that apartment complex decided it was a good time to throw in a load of laundry.
If only all of Battle: Los Angeles were on this level of camp hilarity! Unfortunately, however, most of director Jonathan Liebesman's big-budget, low-I.Q. outing is just dumb without accompanying, if unintentional, laughs; despite a few arresting early images, this badly written and awkwardly performed endeavor is loud, incoherent, repetitive, manipulative, and achingly cornball. (You want to weep for poor Aaron Eckhart, cast as a grimly haunted staff sergeant, as he struggles through one of those embarrassingly sincere "This is our Independence Day!" speeches.) Beyond trying to determine just what was happening amidst all the shaky, hand-held camera work, the only thing that kept me alert in the film was the constant barrage of questions that flooded my brain. How, with those tentacle arms, did the aliens construct such exactingly detailed spacecrafts with those tiny lights and buttons? How are these shrieking, clanking creatures so successful at sneaking up on our Marines? Why the lengthy alien-autopsy sequence when nothing remotely comes of it? Did Bridget Moynahan's character really just say, "Maybe I can help - I'm a veterinarian"? Battle: Los Angeles is deadly serious piffle, but every so often, it rivals Rango and Cedar Rapids as, thus far, the funniest movie of the year.
RED RIDING HOOD
I've yet to run across a review of director Catherine Hardwicke's Red Riding Hood that doesn't compare it, unfavorably, with the Twilight series, the first installment of which Hardwicke herself directed. There's a reason for this: It's Twilight. With a werewolf. Which just makes it Twilight. Here, Amanda Seyfried (what big eyes she has!) and Abercrombie-models-in-training Shiloh Fernandez and Max Irons enact the whole Team Edward/Team Jacob thing on tacky storybook sets while we try to determine which of the brown-eyed cast members is a (silly-looking) CGI lycanthrope in human form. For added "fun" in this exhaustingly earnest undertaking - a film that doesn't boast half the edginess or thematic richness of its Grimm inspiration - Red Hiding Hood features Gary Oldman as a heavily accented priest offering warnings about the "beeeeg baaaad voooolf," Julie Christie as a hippie grandma in dreadlocks, and Billy Burke as Seyfried's generally ineffectual dad. You're familiar with Billy Burke. He's the actor who plays Kristen Stewart's generally ineffectual dad in ... . Oh, never mind.
MARS NEEDS MOMS
Like most of you, I opted against seeing the recent, life-in-the-'80s comedy Take Me Home Tonight, mostly because my schedule didn't quite allow for it, and partly because I felt no guilt in skipping a movie with that braying Jack Black-wannabe Dan Fogler in a sizable supporting role. Yet as if to punish me for my negligence, Fogler - or rather, a kind of Fogler - turns out to be a major figure in the new Mars Needs Moms, and I've now discovered that a motion-capture animated version of the actor is actually more obnoxious and aggressively off-putting than the real thing. To be fair, though, director Simon Wells' family-themed treacle about a boy's attempts to save his kidnapped mother from a race of parentally deprived aliens would be plenty irritating even without Fogler. Many of the Martian-landscape designs are extraordinary, but even if you can get past the lame jokes, shrill banter (and constant yelling), and frequent steals from the Star Wars films, WALL·E, and other genre mainstays, that damned motion-capture technique is distracting in the extreme. The human figures all move just a little too slowly, their facial features are just a little off, their expressions are just a little too Stepford Wives-vacant: Why is motion-capture pioneer Robert Zemeckis (a producer here) so enamored of this creepy process? It seems almost criminal for Mars Needs Moms' filmmakers to hire, for the role of the mom, Joan Cusack - one of the world's most naturally animated actresses - and then zombify her in this manner, even if her character does spend most of the movie unconscious. Lucky Joan.