Film Friday: ‘Battle: Los Angeles’ and ‘Mars Needs Moms’

by W. Andrew Powell

Aaron Eckhart in a scene from Battle Los Angeles

Aaron Eckhart in a scene from Battle Los Angeles

Opening at a theatre near you this weekend: aliens are trying to take over the planet in Battle: Los Angeles; Seth Green gets animated in the Disney adventure Mars Needs Moms; plus a look at Red Riding Hood.

Battle: Los Angeles
Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Ramon Rodriguez, Will Rothhaar, Cory C. Hardrict, Jim Parrack, Gino Anthony Pesi
Director: Jonathan Liebesman

Rated: 5/10

If you asked me to define a cookie-cutter movie, there is no better example than director Jonathan Liebesman’s new action movie, Battle: Los Angeles.

Intentionally or not, Battle: Los Angeles is a slick amalgamation of at least five or six other greater, more interesting films, ranging from the obvious (Independence Day) to the not so obvious (Black Hawk Down). As with all cookie-cutter films though, there is nothing positive about the way this film borrows from its predecessors–this is simply a rehashing of concepts that never goes anywhere interesting in its nearly 2-hour running time.

Aaron Eckhart stars as Staff Sgt. Nantz, a somewhat worn-out military man in Los Angeles who is ready to retire from the Marines when the planet is hit by a weird meteor shower that is striking off the coasts of major cities around the world.

Trying to put his past tour of duty behind him, when he lost his entire team of soldiers and miraculously survived, Nantz is sent back into duty with a fresh group of young Marines with a Lieutenant who has lots to prove, and another soldier who lost his brother under Nantz’s leadership.

For the soldiers, this will be their first battle, and they don’t realize how big a deal the meteor shower is until orders are handed out for all the squads to be positioned near the beaches of Los Angeles. The soldiers quickly discover that the meteors were some sort of disguise for aliens who are landing in the oceans around the world before they start attacking the nearby cities.

For Nantz and his team, the goal is not to hold off the aliens, but to head to a nearby police station and rescue any survivors who may be left alive. The Marines will have to fight to survive against the superior weapons of the aliens, while working to save any civilians they find, and obviously, it won’t be easy.

What makes Battle: Los Angeles so hard to enjoy is more than just the cookie cutter storyline, but also the dialogue and the slick editing. Liebesman chose to film Battle: Los Angeles from the perspective of Nantz and his men, which makes the film tense in a few, brief scenes, and a little visceral, but if the soldiers don’t see it, we don’t get to see it either. That means that some of the most interesting aspects of the average alien invasion movie are glossed over, like the first sighting of the aliens, and the first up-close encounter. We do get to see the aliens arrive, but it’s distant and in the background, or rendered as a news report that doesn’t really show us much.

A bit later on, we get to see the aliens close-up, but the scene takes all the power out of the punch–we see the creature, but there’s nothing much about it that matters. All they are in the film are the enemy, and rarely are we amazed by what they can do. They’re simply killing machines or fodder, and nothing more.

Other films have gone this same route, but the difference is that we can’t care for the characters either. They’re poorly-written archetypes with nothing to make them truly memorable, and we certainly don’t care if they live or not. The only interesting character is Nantz and that’s because Eckhart pours himself into the role and achieves some success despite the dialogue.

Essentially the only redeeming qualities of Battle: Los Angeles are the special effects and the camera work, and they aren’t entertaining enough to be worth the price of admission.

Mars Needs Moms
Starring: Seth Green, Joan Cusack, Dan Fogler, Elisabeth Harnois, Mindy Sterling, Kevin Cahoon
Director: Simon Wells

Rated: 6.5/10

The next time someone interviews producer Robert Zemeckis, perhaps they can ask him if the motion capture process is really entertaining to work on, because from my perspective it’s ruining his movies.

The Prince of Egypt director Simon Wells helms the latest Disney film by Zemeckis about a young boy named Milo, played by Seth Green, who wakes up to witness his mother being kidnapped and taken to Mars.

Luckily, Milo ends up on the Martian ship and eventually meets the loony and technology-obsessed Gribble, voiced by Dan Fogler, a full-grown man who’s been living inside the alien planet since his mother was abducted back in the 1980s. The only problem with Gribble is that he wants Milo to stick around so he can finally have a friend on the planet, but of course all Milo wants to do is find his mother.

At the same time Milo learns about the control-obsessed Martians who have given up normal parenting in favour of a culture that has men and women segregated, with the boys being raised by the men in the garbage pits, and the girls being raised by robots that are programmed with the parenting skills of the captured mothers from Earth.

Fighting to save his mother, Milo will go from the surface of Mars, down to the heart of the planet and back again, meeting a strange assortment of creatures along the way and learning what movie makers might want to call a “valuable lesson” about his mother.

Featuring some impressive, beautiful scenery, design and effects, Mars Needs Moms has its moments that will inspire kids or adults. Topping that list are some of the subterranean landscapes, which are actually stunning, and the overall character design. The ending is also fairly touching, and might be a lesson a lot of moms would like their kids to learn.

On the other hand, the writing is okay at best, and often not very funny, and the human faces are absolutely appalling. These are really terrible, terrible renderings of human faces, and the mixture of human and Martian faces on screen together actually looked disconcerting, like you couldn’t imagine why an animated cartoon was standing next to a somewhat human looking face.

This problem has haunted Zemeckis since he started doing motion capture films, and I don’t know why he hasn’t given up on the process. It seems to work fine for regular body movements, but the more the producer tries to make these character’s faces look human, the farther away he seems to get.

Despite the faces, the slow pace throughout the early scenes, and a script that could have been a lot better, I’m still recommending Mars Needs Moms, especially for families headed out to theatres this coming week for March break. It will definitely keep the young ones happy, but I would caution parents that some elements may be a bit scary for younger children.

Red Riding Hood
Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Billy Burke, Shiloh Fernandez, Max Irons, Virginia Madsen
Director: Catherine Hardwicke

And finally, there’s Catherine Hardwicke’s teen-steam inspired remake of Red Riding Hood, with Amanda Seyfried playing the role of Valerie–a girl torn between two men. Planning to run away with one of the men, her plans are changed when she finds out that the werewolf who has been terrorizing the town for years could actually be one of the men she loves.

Starring Gary Oldman as Father Solomon, the werewolf hunter, Red Riding Hood is exactly what you would expect from the director of the first Twilight film.

Mary F. Pols of TIME Magazine wrote, “Was Red Riding Hood masterminded by a cadre of particularly silly eleven year-olds undergoing withdrawal from Twilight? That’s the only excuse for a movie this dopey.”

And Andrew O’Hehir of commented, “[the] WTF factor is off the charts, beginning with Hardwicke’s all-too-obvious attempt to avenge herself upon the Twilight franchise.”

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