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Tag: alien invasion

The Great Wall (2017)

The Great WTF

It feels weird, following our last week 2016 wrap up, that our first 2017 movie has such a solid chance to also be this year’s worst. The Great Wall is truly dumbfounding, and the only thing it shares with its titular wonder of the world is a monumental scale – of stupidity and ugliness. Some movies truly are beyond any word or philosophy: they just happen for undecipherable reasons, like an earthquake, the killing spree of a mass murderer or a flood. Call it an act of God if you must, something He would send His followers to test their faith. Yes, it’s that bad. And oh, it’s actually worse.

Matt Damon plays (if what he does here still qualifies as such) a mercenary on the quest for black powder. His crew has no map, no medicine, no food. They do not have a script, either, so they basically walk forth until they bump on the Great Wall. That’s when you remember that Yang Zimou directed the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony before this, for Chinese troops are colour-coordinated and all too eager to give a Cirque du Soleil performance under Power Rangers management. But first, Matt Damon has to clean up and shave, otherwise he wouldn’t look like a good actor with questionable choices.

As soon as he makes a grand entrance in the banquet hall, everyone raises and applaudes his fresh looks, as was the custom in ancient China. The head warrior, who also is the general’s daughter, looks suspiciously like good CGI and she tells him “Meet me on the Wall”, which considering the length of said wall sounds a bit like “Meet me in Chile”. There, the High Concept is exposed: Mars has been attacking China for the last 20 centuries, and the purpose of the Wall is to contain the green herds, looking suspiciously like bad CGI. What’s implied is that only Matt Damon will be able to successfully stops the invasion, first because he’s white, but also because he knows that killing the alien queen will result in her spawn dying in a second. Does that sound familiar to you? I don”t know what you’re talking about. Did one mention it happens in CHINA?

Chinese people, if they were stupid enough not to implement the very basic plan Matt Damon comes up with, have not remained idle during these twenty centuries. On top of black powder they have invented trust-building exercices, moderately successful hot air balloons and rotor blades, even though most of their creativity seems to have been spent on military fashion. At some point the Emperor even discovers the fridge magnet: both hilarity and mayhem ensue.

Add to this William Dafoe, convinced he stars in a Beijing Circus version of The Count of Monte Cristo, a sadly underused Andy Lau, any available cliché including the slow clapping traitor and the bravoury suicide, and if you are not bored stiff you will be rewarded at the end by a couple of scenes, one in the Forbidden City sewers, one in a tower entirely made of typical ancient Chinese rainbow stained glass. Already in Yang Zimou’s The Forbidden City, interior decoration was bordering on garish; here, we enter Las Vegas LSD Disco Inferno territory. Once again, to say that it’s stupid and ugly would be missing the point: The Great Wall is far, far beyond both. Have your optometrist at hand if you dare watching that thing. Just saying.

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Under the Skin (2013)

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Siren Song

One doesn’t know if it took Jonathan Glazer nine months to complete Birth, his previous movie, but it is a pity that it took him nine years to finally release Under the Skin. The man is truly gifted. The complete antithesis of Independence Day and its bombastic clones, the movie treats alien invasion as the intimate drama of its unnamed heroin, splendidly interpreted by Scarlett Johanson, who seems to be unable to be bad in anything for quite some time now.

She drives a white van in concentric circles around Glasgow, stopping to ask directions to lonely men she lures into empty houses with the promise of sex. She is very good at small talk and they are unable to refuse her siren song and looks. As tedious and repetitive her routine is, following her is all but boring. She’s often filmed behind the wheel with the empty passenger seat at her side, her concentration never breaking while she scans the street in search for her next target. As was the case with the prolonged close up of Nicole Kidman’s face listening to concert music in Birth, Johanson expresses an impressive range of micro-emotions without being emoting. She’s literally hypnotic.

Once in the empty house, she progressively disrobes in a seemingly infinite dark space and the men follow her before disappearing in the most intriguing way. Under the Skin uses CGI in the cleverest way possible, not adding non-existing sets but subtracting any set, a smart choice for both an alien creature lost in space and her human preys. Three such scenes are shown in the movie, progressively revealing what is the trade she’s plying, the object of her quest, the function she fills. And that function is ghoulish.

A mysterious accomplice on a motorcycle helps her disposing of evidence, most strikingly in a scene requiring extraordinary guts to put onscreen as it involves a young man disfigured by neurofibromatosis, the illness that affected John Merrick (The Elephant Man). That encounter is treated with incredible flair, as shocking as it is delicate. The way the episode ends is devastating and the woman starts feeling the strangest thing: reluctance to fulfill her search-and-destroy mission. She meets a good Samaritan and experience a series of weird events, being repelled by chocolate cake, not getting TV comedy or seemingly discovering her own shoulder blades. A creeping sense of sadness unfolds, furtively balanced by funny moments, counterpoints to her own dissonant tune.The sudden revelation of her true nature is both brutal and minimal in its violence, but it carries a lingering echo, as disturbing as it is unforgettable.

Checking IMDB made one aware that Under the Skin‘s original score won an outstanding 20 awards across the globe. The music, based on venomous strings reminiscent of snake charming, impressively blends into the soundscape designed for the movie, alternatively emphasising parts of it while muffling others. It is also interesting to learn that Scarlett Johanson won a prize for Best Naked / Seduction scene awarded by a feminine critic jury. She is a gorgeous woman and seems unwilling to remain fully clothed for very long in spite of Scotland’s rigorous climate, but it says more about the gullibility of lonely men being offered a lift by an unknown woman than it plays bare breasts as exploitation. Aliens, see, have understood a thing or two about what it means to be a human male.

IMDB page

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Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)

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Same Player Shoots Again

Hollywood must be psychic: this is the second week in a row that London gets destroyed, this time by Singapore and Dubai debris, in a thinly veiled metaphor for alien migrants. Also, Independence Day: Resurgence (henceforth Resurgence) acts as a cautionary tale about the dangers of having a woman elected President of the United States, while devaluing the office so much that any four star general can be sworn into it by happenstance. It is good that 20 years have passed since the original movie became  the highest grossing blockbuster of 1996: the State of the Union has changed quite a bit in a generation, and the sequel brings those changes under a magnifying lense.

In 1996, the aliens stroke the United States, perceiving the land of the free / home of the brave as the world’s thinking head and powerful shoulders. If Washington fell, their victory was a sure bet. Former jet pilot POTUS led the counter-offensive of a ragtag skeleton crew and USA, therefore humankind, prevailed in spite of being unprepared and vastly overpowered technologically. So, what happens in 2016?

The world stands united under a US and vaguely Chinese leadership and has established a space defense system based on alien technology (basically a very slow blue laser which takes forever to charge after it blasts). The aliens will come back sooner or later,  but surely not on the very anniversary of their first strike, implicating that the American calendar rule the Universe? Well, of course they appear right on time: it goes with the territory…

Some kind of an eight ball appears out of a worm hole and is promptly shot over the moon. Madam POTUS, as the party girl she remains, decides to delay the examination of the crashed spacecraft until “after the celebration”, one of her many poor decisions before she gets annihilated with her whole administration, conveniently assembled in one place. But David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum, hardly changed in 20 years) thinks differently; he join forces with a suit (Nicolas Wright, also writer of the thing and unable to provide himself with any character consistency), an old flame (Charlotte Gainsbourg, in her ill-advised big budget debut) and an African warlord (Deobia Oparei, don’t ask) to examine the alien spacecraft, doubtlessly full of goodies.

“What are we looking for?” asks someone, to be answered “I hope we’ll know when we see it.” What they don’t see at first is the 3000 miles long alien spaceship gamely hiding behind the moon. This time, they are prepared, see. The mothership has an motherfucker of an EMP which crashes all satellites, an anti-gravitational pulse which sends the Burq-El-Arab on a collision course with the Tower Bridge, and lands over the Atlantic (“Which part? All of them!”), missing the White House by an inch.

And so it’s back full circle to the first movie but bigger, louder and, mercifully, shorter. The dynastic system being firmly established, we have President Whitmore’s (Bill Pullman, shaving his beard to commit the ultimate sacrifice) daughter Patricia, herself a jet pilot with intuitive knowledge of alien fighters command system; Will Smith’s son (not Will Smith’s son, praise the Lord), himself a jet pilot, etc. etc. etc. Patricia’s boyfriend’s Jake (Liam Hemsworth) is here for the ride with sidekick What’s-His-Name. Jeff’s Goldblum’s father shows up too, bringing the kids to what is essentially a family reunion compromised by poorly educated neighbours, aka evil alien harvesters refueling their motherfucking ship with Earth’s molten motherfucking core.

The script oscillates between destruction and attempts at witty banter. Very few characters die but when they do they do so nobly. The promise of yet another sequel is shamelessly made, since a new treasure trove of technology has been unlocked for humanity to “kick some alien ass”, rejoices mad gay scientist Dr. Brakish Okun (Brent Spiner, easily the best character around), seemingly unaffected by the death of his long time partner. By contrast, the war lord has a considerable effect on the suit. Go figure.

Transposing in the interstellar realm the US inability to win a war on Earth then deal with its aftermath, Resurgence‘s long awaited “killer idea” of a sequel basically boils down to reheating the first movie with some Star Wars (the Dark Star) and some Alien (the Queen and her hive) added in the mix. To say that it doesn’t break any new ground would be stating the obvious. “It’s getting real real” underlines a savvy jet pilot, when on the contrary it has never felt so unreal, devoid of any original idea, feeling, or purpose. See you, aliens.

IMDB page

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