Month: October 2016

INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE

independence-day-title2016 – 20 years after the events of the first film, the aliens return and the exact same things happen. 

Nothing like striking while the iron is hot, right? Demand for a mega-blockbuster sequel to a 20-year-old film starring Jeff Goldblum has NEVER BEEN HIGHER! Resurgence is like that Lego castle you had as a kid: it might have worked great the first time, but now that decades have gone by you realize that the dog chewed up some of the pieces and a lot of the others are missing.

Much like The Force Awakens, this movie makes the tragic mistake of assuming we WANT to see the youthful stars of yesterday as the tired old revenants of today. President Whitmore (Bill Pullman), the speech-making ace from the first movie, is now shambling around like a crazy stroke victim. Vivica A. Fox is unrecognizable. The only returning cast member who hasn’t degenerated drastically is Judd Hirsch. The man doesn’t look a day older than he did in 1996, and he seemed really old back then! And Will Smith is just nowhere to be seen.

But don’t worry! The movie has a metric ton of new characters for us to not care about! Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth) is a devil-may-care ace pilot whose incredible skill is only equaled by his bad-boy attitude! Dylan Hiller (Jessie T. Usher) is the son of Will Smith’s character, so you know you have to like him despite his total lack of personality and charisma! Patricia Whitmore (Maika Monroe), the old President’s daughter, is somehow in love with Morrison and is ALSO an ace fighter pilot herself! Take THAT, boys!

Alright, so we’ve got the requisite young heartthrob heroes, the girl who’s amazing, and the old geezers who don’t get to do cool stuff anymore. That’s not nearly enough supporting characters. Quick, dial up a Bill Duke knockoff to play a stereotype African warlord character (Deobia Oparei)! Get me an unfunny comic relief best buddy (Travis Tope)! Heck, get me TWO unfunny comic relief guys (Nicolas Wright)! In fact, get me THREE (Brent Spiner) even if the guy’s character seemed to get killed in the first movie! Get me a bunch of no-name kids on a bus, and a bunch of foreign guys on a boat, and a Chinese girl who is ALSO a badass pilot because having ONE girl who’s a badass pilot isn’t enough! AND DAMMIT SOMEONE GET ME A FEMALE PRESIDENT (Sela Ward) BECAUSE NO ONE HAS EVER SEEN THAT BEFORE!

Whew. Okay. I think our cast is complete. Except for William Fichter, but he can be anyone. Some military guy of indeterminate rank and authority? Fine.

The film expends incredible effort in trying to turn minor characters from the first movie into compelling leads this time around. The Jeff Goldblum character’s annoying old dad and Brent Spiner’s not-deceased scientist get major storylines of their own. This is so blatant that I’m surprised they didn’t dig up Randy Quaid’s kids and have them defend the family farm or something.

Do I even need to explain the plot? We thought we’d defeated all the aliens, but another, even MORE gigantic ship arrives to attack Earth. They’re after our planet’s molten core, and they’re prepared to make every mistake they made the first time in order to get it. This includes, but is not limited to, allowing us to fly our ships into their mother ship, allowing us to use their own ships against them, and not realizing we’re using Area 51 as a base.

The first 45 minutes of this movie are solid entertainment, and the special effects are incredible. Unfortunately, the next hour + are absolute, eye-rolling, “come on!”-inducing dreck. When we finally see the aliens, they’re completely CG and look much more fake than the practical effects from the first movie. Seeing a really crappy computer effect does not carry the same sense of physical menace.

The writing is abominable. Every character is instantly established as a “type” and left to simmer – the Righteous Native Black Warrior, the Wimpy Repressed Office Guy, the Goofy Doddering Old Jewish Man… it’s a real insult to the intelligence of the audience. The movie also introduces the idea of a “queen alien” – something I’m pretty sure has never been explored in a science fiction film before. I mean, “queen alien”? Doesn’t sound familiar at all.

This is the most sterile, white-washed blockbuster you’ll ever see. The film desperately swerves away from any hint of risk or controversy, delivering a swear-less, boob-less, virtually on-screen death-less snooze-fest. What it does deliver are odd echoes of scenes from the first movie, like the “dog rescue” scene and the “tearful death” scene and the “inspiring Bill Pullman speech” scene and the “character sacrifices himself so that others might live” scene.

Perhaps the most insulting part of the movie is the dreadful set-up for a sequel at the end. I won’t give it away, on the off chance that you make it that far, but it’s even worse than the “battle for Middle-Earth is about to begin” line from The Two Towers. It’s bad.

Studios seem to have limitless time and resources when it comes to resurrecting these long-dead films and franchises. Unfortunately, like a certain “Pet Sematary,” these things are coming back wrong. And we, the audiences, are the ones who suffer the most.

IT’S SUCH A BEAUTIFUL DAY

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2012 – A hat-wearing stick figure named Bill contemplates his life in the sometimes-beautiful, oftentimes-nightmarish world of his own failing memory.

That plot summary may not be accurate. The movie may be about something else entirely, or it may be about nothing. Think of it as the most depressing episode of Seinfeld you’ve ever seen, with no Jerry, Kramer, or Elaine. It’s just George, trapped in his own private world of insecurity, depression, and minutiae, striving to rise above the stale miasma of everyday life but lacking the insight and temerity to do it.

“But then he wondered if, realistically, this WAS his life, and the unusual part was his time spent doing other things.”

There’s a story being told here (Bill may be dying from some unspecified illness), but it’s told out of order and meanders down various unrelated tangents. We see most of the action through asymmetric holes cut out of the encroaching darkness. The images range from stark and simple, to beautiful, to horrifying. I don’t know what the technical term is, but I like to think of this animation style as “squiggly, like Dr. Katz.”

Despite the crudity of the images, some of them become unexpectedly beautiful. In one scene, when Bill receives a bad diagnoses, he removes his trademark hat and slowly runs a hand over his head. It’s heartbreaking.

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Writer, director, and animator Don Hertzfeldt mixes humor, horror, pathos, and hope in fairly equal measure, although the story has a tendency to veer into the grotesque and the bizarre.

"In the middle of the night she opens the drawer to find the preserved cat head from last week."

“In the middle of the night she opens the drawer to find the preserved cat head from last week.”

As the narrative slowly winds its way along, we discover that Bill’s memory is starting to fail him, and some of the things we’ve seen (including flashbacks to Bill’s childhood) may never have actually happened. There’s a lot of musing about the nature of time (“The passing of time is just an illusion, because all of eternity is taking place all at once“), life, and death (“Each cell in the body replaces itself and dies as the years pass“). You become convinced that it means something.

You have no idea what that “something” is.

Yes, it’s one of those movies: the kind that’s kinda quirky, funny, and depressing, but that ultimately leaves you with the suspicion that even the creator didn’t know what the hell he was going for. Kinda like a Wes Anderson movie.

As a long-time stick figure fan, I give It’s Such A Beautiful Day credit for the way it makes us care for poor Bill. For most viewers, however, it’ll seem too bizarre and disjointed to be regarded as anything more than a deep Netflix curiosity.