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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.

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London Has Fallen (2016)

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Welcome to Bordelistan

It starts with a bang (very distinguishable India standing for the Philippines drone massacre) and after the mandatory “Two years later” card proceeds to a 40′ gleeful mayhem in which no less than six Heads of States are dispatched through a bloody carnage leaving the center of London eviscerated. After that it becomes a regular thriller for its remaining hour, albeit a violent one, its hero brutally played by Gerard Butler, not known for his lightness of touch. Accordingly, it starts and ends on very unpleasant notes. But let’s separate the grain from the chaff first.

More deserving a deconstructing recap than an analytic review, London Has Fallen is competently made by Iranian-born Babak Najafi, after some shorts, two episodes of Banshee and two feature films, first of which he directed in Sweden. Its premise is clever, if not novel: after the British Prime Minister dies “mysteriously”, leaders of the Free World congregate at the St Paul cathedral memorial service held for his State funeral. This is a nightmare scenario for logistics and security services alike. It’s also about to become a nightmare, period.

To enjoy this movie, suspension of disbelief is of the essence. You will have to accept that the London police force has been infiltrated by the personal militia of a vengeful arm dealer mourning his daughter. You will have to take at face value that even the Royal Guard has been infiltrated. You will have to be fatalist about the fact the “the most protected event on Earth” therefore becomes a fish-in-a-barrel shooting party. Your reaction will probably be “Why don’t they just blow up St Paul Cathedral once everyone is inside?”. Well, I’ll tell you why: it would be less fun.

The best moments of the movie are the Heads of State’s dispatch. Apart from the President of the United States (Aaron Eckhart) and the Canadian Prime Minister, no one seems in a hurry to attend church. The German Chancellor (even more poorly dressed than Angela Merkel) is gazing at the changing of the Royal Guard, the French president procrastinates on a Riva Bella motorboat stationed on the Thames river, the Italian Prime Minister treats his 30yo mistress (one guesses) to a private visit of Westminster Abbey, while the Japanese Prime Minister… is stuck in traffic with only one driver and no security.

After all are dead but POTUS, thanks to Butler, an exfiltration turns really bad, killing Angela Bassett in the process, which is inexcusable. The two last men standing will have to find a way to avoid that the president is decapitated online for the whole world to see, an exploit they achieve by killing dozens of terrorists and exchanging one-liners. “I was wondering when you would get out of the closet” says his Head of Security to the President. What are they, f*** buddies?

It ends with what seems to be an inflection in Hollywood policy about terrorism. It is unpalatable, to say the least, to show the US military in full knowledge there will be collateral civilian casualties to yet another drone strike, especially so when the Vice President ordering it is played by Morgan Freeman, aka God. No doubt it has, and will, happened. But that it appears as just retaliation in such a movie makes one wonders if the neo-cons who left the White House have found shelter in the Dream Factory.

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Starry Eyes (2014)

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Better The Devil, You Know…

Sarah (Alexandra Essor, fearless), an aspiring actress, pays her bill by working at Big Tatters, a family restaurant with boobs where the waitresses wear potato-skin-inspired very tight pants. She shares a house with a bunch of bros and hoes, endlessly discussing the movie they will never shoot. For some obfuscating reason, the scene is in Los Angeles.

Sarah gets an audition for “The Silver Scream”, produced by Astreus Pictures, a once prominent company now on an eclipse but planning their big return to the horror genre. It does not go well and she throws a fit in the bathroom, banging her bag on the wall (with her cellphone in it, one presumes), screaming and pulling off her hair, a rather mild reaction after such a disappointment. Her rage attracts the attention of the casting director who’s not played by a terrible actor and she’s asked to replay her fit, only with epileptic shaking.

By the time a disheveled Sarah walks the streets while synth music plays, two things have become obvious: the movie will follow the same Halloween-inspired horror nouveau template than features like The House of the Devil or Girl Walks Alone at Night, and it will neither be great or awful. But it has a certain something in the slow burn vein.

At her second audition Sarah is asked to disrobe completely, which she does reluctantly at first, until she experiences some kind of an epiphany possibly induced by the flashing strobe lights. Are they trying to give her a seizure? The casting matron sports a pentacle pendant, so one knows that some cult is behind Astreus. Ominous name, check.

Three being the charm it is, she’s invited to met the producer, a libidinous creep who tells her in a conspiratorial tone things like “Ambition is the blackest of human desires” and “I want to capture the ugliness of the human spirit” before feeling her up. Being the epileptic goody-two-shoes she is, Sarah backs off and storms out. Her one female roomate who’s not passive-agressive is appalled: “You don’t mean sex!” she scoffs as if the casting couch was an alien notion in LA.

Sarah takes the walk of shame, begs for her job back at Big Tatters and threatens to spiral into depression. She musters the courage, or is desperate enough, to beg Astreus for a second chance. At this point, one would be allowed to think of her as a tad irresolute.

She goes to her meeting with the head of Astreus dressed as a hooker, because life is for doers, not quitters, and she also gets to meet his other head. “Show me the real Sarah”, he says, to which she doesn’t respond since her mouth is full. The producer has a pentacle tattoo and a very vulgar diamond watch. A masked silhouette observes Sarah, well, performing.

Morning after is a b****. She feels nauseous, gets fired, flashes her roommates and loses her hair while wandering the streets on obsessive dialogue loops. Visions of herself dolled up like a drag queen alternate with losing tooth and nails in he fashion made popular by The Fly. At the point her vagina bleeds and she throws up worms, one wonders what it was she actually swallowed the night before. Astreus explains her that she has to die for a new star to be born.

But not before killing her roommates, in a slasher segment which provides a welcome rush to the movie pace. The worst of the lot has the best death scene, Torn Curtain-style, before it is time for Sarah to lay down and die.

In a finale which does not make any dreadful mistake (ultimate jump scare, loose ends, call for a sequel, to name but a few), Sarah is born again as Annie Lennox, complete with Savage wig and make-up moves from the Why video. Part character study, part body horror, part slasher, part satanism, Starry Eyes does not really coalesces into a coherent whole. The idea that to become part of the Hollywood elite you have to suck c***, lose your teeth and vomit maggots seems eerily adequate, though.

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