Battle: Los Angeles
Coolest extra: “Building The Aliens” featurette (DVD); “Do You Believe In Aliens?” featurette (Blu-ray only)
Complex says: At the beginning of 2011, hopes were high for Battle: Los Angeles; backed by an undeniably effective and riveting trailer, the latest alien invasion flick had all the makings of bucking the tired sci-fi subgenre’s recent trend of soulless mediocrity. Boy, were the optimists ever flat-out wrong. Despite its hefty budget, notable talent (Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez), and pre-release set-up, Battle: Los Angeles ultimately proved itself as an early contender for the year’s worst movie; as June keeps on chugging along, it’s still a top seed.
There’s nary an original idea at work in this Jonathan Liebesman-directed pile of rehashed clichés. The plot itself—a unit of Marines pushes through the City of Angels as robotic aliens blow shit up and kill any human in sight—is skeletal, but that’s no excuse for screenwriter Christopher Bertolini’s laziness, or Liebesman’s incoherent direction. The characters are all stock types (the soon-to-be-married soldier, the scared soldier, the hardened leader with a chip on his shoulder, the recording artist—Ne-Yo, in this case—who can’t act, blah blah blah), the aliens are underwhelming, the dialogue is laughably contrived, and action sequences are shot with such a Ritalin-lacking franticness that Battle: Los Angeles makes first-person shooters like Doom feel subtle. Other than all of that, though, it’s a gas.
Coming off a weekend in which an intelligent, alien-related popcorn flick (Super 8) owned the box office, Battle: Los Angeles is all the more insulting. Liebesman and company seemingly thought little of the audience’s brainpower while making this witless slog; when it’s not battering the viewer over the head with forcibly "EXTREME!” action, The Hangover Part II’s biggest competition for “Turd Of The Year” dishonors interjects stilted character scenes that scream, “Here’s a bone, lovers of story.” And then it’s right back to the video game-like litany of shoot-’em-up set-pieces and disposable narrative. Though, comparing Battle: Los Angeles to anything found inside GameStop is a slight—grunts like Duke Nuke ’Em have the gravitas of Brando by comparison.
Buy it now: Battle: Los Angeles
Coolest extra: Deleted scene (DVD); Gag reel (Blu-ray only)
Complex says: Quietly, 2011 is shaping up to be the year in which Owen Wilson got his mojo back. He’s terrific in Woody Allen’s fantastical comedy Midnight In Paris (currently in theaters), and, prior to his present victory, the recently non-existent funnyman emerged as the only good thing about Hall Pass, the latest cinematic airball from the once-reliable filmmaking duo of Peter and Bobby Farrelly (Dumb And Dumber, There’s Something About Mary).
It’s not that Wilson’s performance in Hall Pass is all that great, because it’s a far cry from his funniest turns (i.e., Wedding Crashers); the funny-nosed actor gets a pass—pun intended—simply because his work doesn’t come across as forced, unlike everything else about the Farrellys’ flick. Wilson and Jason Sudeikis play a couple of disenchanted married men whose wives (Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate) grant them one week’s worth of fidelity-less freedom, which, of course, leads them to the realization that home is where the heart lies, not in some jump-off’s fake boobies.
It’s a pretty good concept for a dude comedy, yet Hall Pass doesn’t have the cleverness or, even worse, the laughs needed to capitalize on such a high and effortlessly raunchy premise. Wilson handles the straightman role with agreeable reserve, but Sudeikis tries too hard to be the film’s Zach Galifianakis-like scene-stealer, a mission that’s futile when carried out with obvious dick jokes. Really, no one involved stood a chance. The pic’s humor and overall quality bring to mind one of those straight-to-DVD American Pie sequels, only less funny. And for the Farrellys’ career trajectory, much sadder.
Buy it now: Hall Pass
Red Riding Hood
Coolest extra: Deleted scenes (DVD); “Before The Fur… Making Of The CG Wolf” featurette (Blu-ray only)
Complex says: Ready for a fairy tale, kiddies? Here goes: There once was a talented and sexy young actress, named Amanda Seyfried, who signed on to a revisionist’s grown-up take on a classic children’s story in hopes of proving she could carry a big-deal Hollywood project, known as Red Riding Hood. She was joined by a director, one Catherine Hardwicke, who was hot off of a colossal, franchise-starting hit, Twilight. But, despite fair maiden Amanda’s best efforts, her first legitimate shot at stardom was squandered by everyone, and everything, else involved. And now, she’s still seen by your trusty narrator(s) as a hot piece rather than an A-lister.
There are several wicked wolves to blame for Red Riding Hood’s inferiority, particularly whoever cast the vapid James Dean-wannabe Shiloh Fernandez as Seyfried’s supposedly badass love interest and scatterbrained screenwriter David Johnson, whose script can’t decide whether it’s a crappy teen romance or a horror show for the high school crowd. But the biggest culprit is Hardwicke, who clearly wanted to show Hollywood that she’s capable of darkening her work up after achieving massive success with the paint-by-numbers, creatively stifled, and boringly safe Twilight.
We can’t blame her, but that respectable desire to change her game blinded her better judgments. Red Riding Hood alternates between random and admittedly hardcore horror violence to sappy, Twilight-cribbing romance, albeit of a more sexually promiscuous caliber. And, no, Seyfried doesn’t get naked; for that, rent her 2009 drama Chloe. Come to think of it, that’s another film in which a strong Seyfried performance is wasted amidst misguided execution behind the camera. Why can’t the blonde sexpot’s collaborators let her be great? Word to Kanye.
Buy it now: Red Riding Hood
Norm Macdonald: Me Doing Standup
Coolest extra: “Norm’s Roast Of Bob Saget’ featurette (DVD)
Complex says: Five minutes into Norm Macdonald’s hour-long comedy special Me Doing Standup, which aired on Comedy Central this past March, the former Saturday Night Live “Weekend Update” anchor, and current Sports Show With Norm Macdonald host, gives a deadpan account of his father's death via heart attack. Though, it’s played for laughs, set up by the idea that the real terrorists in our world are our hearts, not Osama bin Laden types. As Macdonald puts it, “My dad, he wasn’t expecting it—he was fucking looking for Arabs and shit.”
And with that morbid yet honest opening, Me Doing Standup proceeds to display Macdonald’s unique ability to riff on life’s contradictions through prolonged pauses, matter-of-fact observations, and exaggerated observations. The routine here, filmed at The Fillmore in San Francisco, is at times dark, covering such topics as mortality, alcoholism, sex addiction, and cancer, but it’s never mean-spirited. Take his bit about Alcoholics Anonymous, for example, during which Macdonald questions the whole “anonymity” angle by imagining a guy who openly admits to “punching [his] newborn in the face” because no one in “some church basement” knows his real last name.
Me Doing Standup, like all of Macdonald’s material, isn’t flashy, or boisterous—it’s simply the calm musings of an affable cynic who’s just telling it like it is. And in our boy Norm’s eyes, we’re all part of a “hellish joke we call a ‘life.’” So why not laugh about it, right?
Buy it now: Norm Macdonald: Me Doing Standup