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independence day resurgence



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Film picks up two decades after the events of the original Independence Day with earth having rebuilt and now using recovered alien technology to devise a better defense system in case the invaders return…and they do. Right before they were taken down in 1996, a distress signal was issued and now it’s getting a response. With a massive ‘harvester’ ship heading towards earth, familiar and new faces must band together to battle this even more formidable invasion.

The first Indepenence Day may have been silly, corny and loaded with clichés, but it was also fun, charming and had loads of heart. Sadly, it’s sequel is a cold, soulless and actually kinda dull, follow-up that can’t even generate some emotional intensity with some major story points involving beloved characters. And while speaking of characters, the film is so quick to get to the destruction and carnage, that none of the new characters get any real development and thus we are never as endeared to them like we were to the first film’s ensemble. In fact, most of this film’s effective moments feature some of the returning characters and the newbies are left to sort of clean-up behind them. The film also feels like it was edited down quite a bit in an attempt to make it more fast moving and get to the explosions quicker. At least the first film took it’s time to set-up the story and introduce it’s stereotyped characters. Roland Emmerich directs this sequel very by-the-numbers and only sparsely does he recapture a little of the old ID4 spirit. Sure, there are a few moments, especially during the final confrontation, though one has to laugh that the battle with the giant alien queen was a far better monster movie than Emmerich’s entire Godzilla. He finally figured it out 18 years later. There is a lot of action here, though it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. If Emmerich was smart about something, he keeps the city destruction to a minimum as it’s been overdone in so many movies, including his own, since he blasted worldwide landmarks back in 1996. The SPFX are top notch, but basically boils down to the same Star Wars-esque dog fights that also have been done to death since Star Wars and Emmerich fails to give any of it a sense of urgency or intensity…and they are also kinda hard to follow as all the ships look alike in combat. This keeps us detached from what’s going on. Again, it’s pretty lifeless for a movie that sacrifices story and plot development to concentrate on the action. Speaking of story, Emmerich co-wrote the script with ID4 partner Dean Devlin and three other writers and it’s sad that five people churned out such a routine and formula flick. There are a few interesting elements, such as the previous invasion’s effect on Earth, a really interesting segment in Africa and the possibility that this formidable enemy might have enemies of it’s own, but it’s not enough to make this truly engaging. Even the first film’s goofy sense of humor has been toned down considerably making it a lot drier in the humor department. The first film wasn’t afraid to make you laugh, even in the middle of dramatic moments.

The cast is a mix of familiar and new faces and none of them are given anything really special to do or even the kind of corny, melodramatic moments that made the first film such cornball fun. Pullman, Goldblum, Judd Hirsch and Spiner all try hard to give the flick a little life, but even they seem to be performing by-the-numbers at times. Only Hirsch really feels like the guy we saw in ID4 and he also doesn’t seem to have aged any more in the twenty years since. Pullman has a big moment, too that is mishandled and it’s a shame as it should have been one of the film’s standout scenes. Emmerich blows a lot of moments like this and big moments is what made the first flick fun. As for the newbies, Liam Hemsworth, Jessie Usher and It Follows‘ Maika Monroe all come across as bland and that’s disappointing, especially as this is Monroe’s jump to the big time after getting attention in last years horror hit. It’s not totally their fault, as the script doesn’t give them much to work with and the focus keeps shifting back and forth from the previous to the new generation, which gives the old school cast the advantage, as we are already familiar with them. The new generation are underused and even vet William Fichtner fails to really make a strong general turned President as Pullman successfully did with his war hero president in the first film. A good but underused cast. Will Smith is definitely missed.

So, while one was hoping this would be the surprise delight of the summer, it’s just another disappointment. It never captures the corny fun of the 1996 classic and is very cold, routine and by-the-numbers sequel. Roland Emmerich fails to recreate the magic with some of it’s returning characters and squanders the potential of it’s new generation characters and the charming young actors that play them. It’s a heartless and lazy sequel that only sporadically delivers brief moments that evoke the silly popcorn crowd pleaser that captured the hearts and dollars of a generation in 1996. Sometimes thing are better left…un-sequeled?

Personal Note: At least I can boast that I saw the original on July 4th, 1996 in a packed theater in Long Beach Island, N.J. while on vacation there with friends.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 aggressive aliens.

independence day resurgence rating




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ELYSIUM (2013)

As a huge fan of writer/ director Neil Blomkamp’s District 9, I couldn’t wait to see what he came up with next. Now after a 4 year wait, his sophomore flick Elysium has arrived. I liked Elysium. I was certainly entertained but, it does have some problems that keep it from reaching the standard set by District 9 such as, a bit of an overloaded story and some surprising overacting by a few principles. Elysium tells the story of the future Earth of 2154. The planet is overpopulated and ravaged and the rich and powerful have moved off planet to the enormous space station of Elysium where they have every convenience and luxury, while the rest are left to labor and wallow in the mess. Enter ex-con Max, (Matt Damon) a man trying to work hard and stay out of trouble and prison, while dreaming of reconnecting with childhood sweetheart, Frey (Alice Braga). An accident at work leaves Max fatally poisoned with radiation and with 5 days left to live, Max needs to get to the only place where he can be cured, Elysium… which is off limits to the poor inhabitants of Earth. Max turns to crime-lord and hacker, Spider (Wagner Moura). Spider will get Max on Elysium if he helps steal the information about all it’s access codes stored in the brain of one, John Carlyle (William Fichtner) who, unknown to Max and Spider, is working with Elysium Secretary Of Defense, Delacourt (a surprisingly miscast Jodie Foster) to overthrow Elysium’s president (Faran Tahir). Still with me? Needless to say Max now has information that Delacourt will kill to get and is being hunted by her henchman, Kruger (Sharlto Copley) all the while trying to find his way to Elysium to heal himself. Throw in strength enhancing exo-skeletons, Frey’s sick daughter and we have a Sci-Fi action soup with a lot of ingredients. Elysium does have a bit of an overcomplicated story and while it is not hard to follow, it just has a lot of elements to it as, once again, Blomkamp tackles the theme of  ‘the haves and the have-nots, as he did in District 9. We get the contrast of the over populated slum Earth has become to the spotless and perfect living conditions the wealthy enjoy in Elysium which, floats above in Earth’s orbit as a constant reminder of how little we all are to them and how they are so above us. The message is not subtle but, Blomkamp skillfully keeps it from overwhelming things with so much else going on. There is a lot of fast paced action and with a complex story as we have, the director keeps things moving very quickly. The excess of plot doesn’t slow things down though one feels it might have served the film if things were streamlined a little bit and there weren’t quite so many players in the game. And as for the players, Damon and Braga are strong though Braga’s Frey really doesn’t get that much screen time till the last act so we don’t identify with her as much even though we do get treated to flashbacks of she and Max as kids in an orphanage. Damon proves once again he can be an action star yet with some nice depth, giving Max some layers that enhances his character much like his surgically attached exo-skeleton enhances his strength and agility. Sadly it’s veteran actress Foster who seems to be miscast here. She never quite strays into camp but, plays Delacourt like one half stereotypical bureaucratic douche and the other half Roger Moore era Bond villain complete with unidentifiable accent. It sticks out awkwardly in what is a serious Sci-Fi flick as does District 9 star Sharlto Copley, who is completely over the top as Kruger. Which is disappointing consider how good he was in D9. A calmer demeanor would have made him more threatening. Neither characterization seems to fit in with the more grounded performances of the leads and more serious tone of the film. Joining them is Wagner Moura who is just weak and tries to compensate by over doing it as Spider. An actor with a bit stronger presence who doesn’t need to try as hard would have worked better. But, there is still plenty to like about this film. It’s story may be complicated but, there is a lot of action to move it along and some delightfully gruesome moments splattered here and there as this future’s weapons do make a mess. The last act especially is quite thrilling and has a nice emotional impact to go with all the explosions, gunfire and mechanically enhanced hand to hand combat. The SPFX are flawless, the design is breathtaking and the film could easily take place in District 9’s world. The score by Ryan Amon suits the film well, though reminded me of Dark Knight Rises a bit, but, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. So, all in all I liked Elysium and recommend it especially if you enjoyed District 9. It’s a bit meatier then most summer fair so, those who are tired of moody superheroes might like being given a bit more to chew on. Just be prepared that there is a complex story to digest along with the action and that a few of the veteran cast members just don’t seem right for their roles. Entertaining despite it’s flaws and another strong role from the versatile Damon.

A solid 3 mechanically enhanced Matt Damons

elysium rating




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One of my favorite 70s B-movies. Race is now loaded with nostalgic charm, as well as, being an entertaining and sometimes spooky movie in it’s own right. Story of two couples on an RV road trip vacation crossing paths with a sinister cult and witnessing a human sacrifice is campy to be sure, but there are some creepy scenes and the are a number of good chase/action scenes as well. As the couple try to get out of town while being pursued by what appears to be everybody, director/actor Jack Starrett does a good job of creating tension as everyone seems suspicious and no one appears trustworthy. True, the cult’s actual subject of worship is unclear as our antagonists’ research drags up everything from witchcraft to Mayan sacrificial ceremonies and the cult creates far more attention and far more evidence of their existence by pursuing the RV cross country leaving a wake of death and destruction behind. But if they had just cleaned up their tracks and left no evidence to support the couples’ claims, we wouldn’t have anything to entertain us for the next 90 minutes. The acting is surprisingly good and the cast, including Peter Fonda, Warren Oates and Loretta Switt, and crew wisely take the proceedings seriously and let the audience have all the fun with it. A 70s gem that is still fun today.

3 and 1/2 fighting Fondas

race devil rating





Drive Angry is another homage to the “Grindhouse” style movies of the 60s and 70s and for fans of this type of flick, it is an action packed, bloody good time. Nicholas Cage stars as a man who literally escapes from hell to avenge his daughter’s murder and granddaughter’s kidnapping by a Satanic cult and it’s Jim Jones like leader. Along for the ride, in a powerhouse turn, is Amber Heard as a tough as nails and hot as hell waitress who gets drawn into Cage’s quest. Heard is a true star in the making. She simply smolders on screen and you have no problem believing she can kick your ass. The bad guys are pretty generic except for a great performance by William Fichtner as the mysterious “Accountant” and it was awesome to see genre favorite Tom Atkins on screen again as a redneck sheriff. My only quibble is that the pacing was a bit off, but the films it honors were made before the Michael Bays took over, so they weren’t as breakneck paced as today’s action flicks. But Angry more then makes up for it with bullets, boobs and blood and on that note, delivers the goods. And if you’re a car freak, there are plenty of vintage muscle cars to salivate over if Ms. Heard is not distracting enough. A fun, trashy action/horror.

 3 and 1/2 smokin’ hot Heards (movie gets and extra 1/2 star for Amber’s sexy and tough Piper!)
drive angry rating