DVD Tuesday: ‘Skyline’ and ‘The Tourist’

by W. Andrew Powell

A scene from the movie Skyline

A scene from the movie Skyline

New arrivals this week on DVD and Blu-ray include: the alien invasion film, Skyline, starring Eric Balfour; the farcical thriller The Tourist, with Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie; plus a look at How Do You Know and Yogi Bear.

Starring: Donald Faison, Eric Balfour, David Zayas, Scottie Thompson, Brittany Daniel, Crystal Reed
Directors: Colin Strause and Greg Strause

Rated: 3/10

Aliens seem to be everywhere these days, but the aliens in Skyline have the motivation of 1950s-era invasion movies with the horrific sensibilities of a modern day monster film.

That could have worked in the film’s favour, if not for the total void of a decent story.

In this action-horror-thriller hybrid, a group of friends are holed up in their friend’s luxurious condo as an alien invasion has humanity being plucked off the street by bright blue lights and big, dark space ships hovering in the sky.

Starring a relatively unknown cast of actors, the film is somewhat reminiscent of the classic alien actioner Independence Day, but the big difference is that Skyline is not very enjoyable, and this is a much, much darker film overall.

Taking a full 20 minutes to introduce the shoddy, shallow, unlikable characters, out of the films 92-minute running time, we get a fair bit of backstory and introduction to these obviously hapless, doomed people’s lives. Borrowing a few pages from Cloverfield, the film tries and tries and tries to be interesting, but we end up waiting a long time before anything in Skyline could be called “interesting”.

On the very short list of things I liked about Skyline, I’d have to say I did enjoy the nihilist, creepy undertones of the otherwise ramshackle plot. The creature effects, the space ships, and all of the other effects are also stunningly realistic, but these are not what make a movie great, or even watchable for that matter: you need a good story, which seems to have been overlooked.

By the time the third chapter of the film rolls around, things get absolutely ridiculous, and even though the film has a moment where it could have been redeemed, the filmmakers obviously opted for another road, and drove the whole thing into the ground head first.

(I’m not even going to ruin the most ridiculous part of the movie for you, but I will ask why all of the alien creatures have mouths that resemble something disturbingly sexual—maybe the Strause brothers’ psychiatrists can properly explain.)

What is worth noting about Skyline is that it can be pretty gruesome at times, especially in the end, and it has a very dark finale that seems unnecessary. The film could have, in fact, ended on a fantastic note if you ask me–a cheesy moment that was actually one of my favorite things about Skyline–but apparently someone wanted to take the film to the point where you could conceivably have a very different sort of sequel, so we get a needless ending that pretty much buries all the film’s redeeming qualities.

As a joke, Skyline might be fun for a group of friends to laugh over some weekend, but I still wouldn’t recommend it unless you’ve got your heart set on personal torture. The Strause brothers, better known as Colin and Greg Strause, would be best advised to sticking to special effects, or making sure their next film has a better script.

The Tourist
Starring: Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, Paul Bettany, Timothy Dalton, Steven Berkoff, Rufus Sewell
Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

Rated: 7/10

The Tourist is simple proof, if we ever needed to see it again, that star power does not necessarily make a movie great. In case you wondered, writers and directors make movies great and somehow they bungled this one up a notch more than should be possible.

Looking at Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie on screen, it’s easy to expect a lot from them. After all, we’re talking about two of the biggest film stars of the last decade–and did I mention that The Tourist was directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, the man behind The Lives of Others? You also have Paul Bettany, Timothy Dalton, and Rufus Sewell up there on screen, and somehow things just feel a little ridiculous.

Miraculously though, unlike a lot of critics, I actually still enjoyed The Tourist, at least as a light-hearted romp.

Jolie stars as Elise, a smouldering, wealthy woman who is being followed by half of the English and French police as she wanders through Paris. The reason for her popularity with police is pretty simple-–it turns out that her well-to-do husband, the enigmatic Alexander Pearce, walked off with over $2 billion dollars that he stole from an English mobster and shortly after that Alexander went into hiding. Now the government wants their cut of the cash to the tune of $744 million in taxes, but Alexander is nowhere to be seen.

In fact, Alexander has not only gone into hiding, it’s believed he also went under the knife for millions of dollars worth of plastic surgery meant to dramatically alter his appearance so he can hide from police.

Receiving a note from Alexander, Elise is told to take the next train to Venice and find a man on the train who looks like him and convince police that the man is actually her husband. That man ends up being the demure Frank, played of course by Depp, an American math teacher who is headed to Venice on a lonely vacation until Elise shows up and essentially whisks him off his feet.

As the police realize that Alexander is trying to dupe them though, the English mobster shows up and promptly takes the bait, believing that Frank is actually Alexander. What follows is a spirited, whimsical race around Venice to uncover the truth, and find out where Alexander is hiding.

What I really liked about The Tourist was the fact that the movie has a lot of fun with the story, the setups, and the fact that it feels like it was based on a spy novel from the 1950s or 60s. As always, both Depp and Jolie use every ounce of charisma to make you love them, but while Jolie is an effortless bombshell, it’s Depp who is clearly the star of this story.

The camera lingers on Jolie, and she has more screen time than Depp, but Depp is still the star here, and that’s actually what saved the film for me. Jolie is essentially reliving five or six of her previous roles in The Tourist, while Depp once again channels someone new, creating a character that is brand new for him.

The Tourist is filled with great performances from all of the actors involved, including all three of the main antagonists: Paul Bettany, Timothy Dalton, Steven Berkoff, not to mention Rufus Sewell who makes a brief but wonderful appearance. These actors, director Henckel von Donnersmarck’s whimsical take on the story, and the film’s overall retro tone are what made The Tourist so much fun to watch. I undoubtedly left the film with a smile on my face because von Donnersmarck got the kitsch value of the material and made it memorable.

Clearly though, von Donnersmarck had his hand held by a number of American producers, whether he wanted that or not. Yes, the film has a great style because it feels like it is an Americanized European film, but The Tourist also suffers because it feels like it went through Hollywood’s old-fashioned wringer to remove any semblance of intelligence from the script. The audience is given no chance to think for itself, and that makes the film hard to watch at times. The script has also been whittled down to the point where you can see the final chapter coming at you from the moment Elise sits down at the French cafe in the opening scene.

My biggest complaint though would obviously be the film’s use of digital effects to make it look like the two stars were really doing fantastic things in Venice. At one point Depp steps out of an upper-story window to leap onto an adjoining roof, and the window with Depp in it actually wiggled around on the wall as the actor tried to prepare for the jump. The shoddy special effects were then put into play to make it look like Depp was running across a rooftop in Venice, when he was probably on a sound stage which played unconvincingly as a real rooftop.

While I have my complaints, obviously, I still enjoyed this quirky film a lot, and it’s a total treat to see Jolie and Depp on screen together. Film goers will just have to accept that they are going to be pandered to for the film’s 109 minutes, but at least you know you’re going to have fun, wherever the film leads you.

How Do You Know
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson, Jack Nicholson, Kathryn Hahn, Mark Linn-Baker
Director: James L. Brooks

In director James L. Brooks’ latest romantic comedy, Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd and Owen Wilson star as a trio of troubled professionals who find themselves in a love triangle as their lives fall apart.

Reese Witherspoon plays Lisa, a softball player who is fired when she turns 31. Paul Rudd is a corporate executive who works for his father and is being investigated by the government. And Owen Wilson is an all-star baseball player who loves playing the field.

With poor reviews from many critics, the film has not earned Brooks much respect. Andrew O’Hehir of Salon.com was one of the few positive reviewers, writing in his column, “Is How Do You Know schmaltzy and manipulative and not entirely convincing as a portrait drawn from real life? Sure–and it’s also richly, goofily funny, loaded with terrific actors and delicious moments…”

Yogi Bear
Starring: Dan Aykroyd, Justin Timberlake, Anna Faris, Tom Cavanagh, T.J. Miller, Nathan Corddry
Director: Eric Brevig

My memories of Yogi Bear are vague at best, but I recall he was that mildly amusing character from Saturday morning cartoons who kept stealing “pic-a-nic” baskets and getting into trouble.

In Eric Brevig’s remake he’s back in Jellystone Park once again, this time voiced by Canada’s own Dan Aykroyd, with Justin Timberlake voicing his sidekick Boo Boo. As they embark on their latest schemes to steal lunches and keep out of trouble with Ranger Smith, they discover that the city’s mayor is selling the park to loggers, which leaves them fighting to save their home.

Earning dismal reviews from most critics, Yogi Bear is rated just 14% fresh on RottenTomatoes.com. Roger Moore of the Orlando Sentinel slagged the film, writing, “Weak as they’ve been, the ‘Alvin and the Chipmunks’ movies are operating on a higher plane than this.”

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