Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Skyline - Pretty People, Pretty Lights, No Substance.

I've always been an easy fan of movies involving characters going about their normal lives who begin to notice that the extraordinary or possibly the horrific is sneaking in around the edges. This can take the form of natural disasters, biological threats or the quiet ( or not so quiet) arrival of hostile visitors from beyond. The recent release, "Skyline", takes on the alien invasion plot with the opening scene being luminous and ethereal blue lights dropping from the sky onto a sleeping Los Angeles. We flashback to the day before and meet our main characters of Jarrod (Eric Balfour) and Elaine (Scottie Thompson) who are traveling to L.A. to visit an old friend of Jarrod's who has made a successful go at fame and fortune in the movie industry. Very quickly we get the necessary but shallow set up for our characters. Jarrod is a knight in shining armor who helps strangers with their luggage on the airplane and Elaine is appropriately uncomfortable with the L.A. lifestyle they stumble into. Jarrod's friend, Terry (Donald Faison) has become a bit of a sleaze and has a girlfriend (Brittany Daniel) so instantly unlikable that you know attempts to humanize her later will fail. Terry throws a blow out party in his penthouse and we're  ready for the invasion scene this hungover group will awake to early the next morning.

I'll render my final judgement early and say that if the goal here was to create a group of vaguely unlikable characters and kill them off over 92 minutes, then they succeeded. There are obvious similarities between "Skyline" and 2008's "Cloverfield". I was a fan of the latter and despite any gimmicks used like the hand held camera work, I related to the characters and cared about them in the way an audience should.  That just did not happen during "Skyline". The first obvious issue I had was with the two leads. Jarron and Elaine have very little chemistry as an onscreen couple and the casting choice was odd. The actors have such similar and distinct faces that they look like siblings. It was as if they came from the same very pretty Eastern European, Calvin Klein "esque" family of models.

"Skyline" also lacks creativity and suspense. The aliens must be keeping up with Earth pop culture because they are a mish mash of creatures from "The Matrix",  "War of the Worlds" and the recent Terminator movie.  Out of the 92 minute run time there were only a couple moments that reached edge of your seat anticipation and those involved the decent special effects and an air battle that conjured a feeling of "hooray for U.S. military might"

"Skyline" should have ended with the forlorn scenes of the world's capitals in ruins and under the same type of attack as L.A. but instead we get an overly long ending that screams "SEQUEL".  In fact it is so long it continues in snapshot scenes during the credits. I'll spare you. You can exit the theater  as soon as possible because there is nothing left worth seeing.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Charlie St. Cloud - How not to make a I see dead people, drama, teen romance, semi-comedy.

 "Charlie St. Cloud" starring Zac Efron is the story of the title character and how he deals with the loss of his younger brother, Sam, (Charlie Tahan) in a car accident made even worse by the fact that Charlie is driving. Seemingly from beyond the grave or only in Charlie's mind, Sam shows up every day for a promised baseball lesson. We flash forward five years and Charlie has given up on college, his love of sailing and become the town recluse all to make his daily appointment with Sam.

From my title of my post you may have picked up on the fact that I think "Charlie St. Cloud" is a awkward mismatch of ideas that don't necessarily fare well in the same movie. Self-editing is a valuable skill that would serve the creative forces behind this movie very well.  There are three, possibly four distinct story lines going here including a missed opportunity at a supernatural drama. I don't think any of them succeed because it doesn't appear this movie knows what it wants to be.

As far as acting, Efron has a charming face and disposition that lends well to the humor but not so much the drama. You can practically see him straining in the first part of the movie to keep up with the movie's over the top dramatics. It's further proof to me that Hollywood finds us a bit dense and believes we need a trail of bread crumbs leading to the obvious. In this case the obvious is that the sudden loss of a young family member is tragic.
Of course you cannot have Zac Efron as your lead without some romance. Charlie attracts the interest of Tess (Amanda Crew), a young woman training for a round the globe sailing trip. I hate to be harsh but my biggest criticism is for Amanda Crew. She has a delivery so flat as to suck any spark or chemistry out of the scenes between Charlie and Tess. Since I'm really trashing this movie, I will give some props to Charlie Tahan who plays Sam. He is genuinely funny and at times conveys the sadness embodied by his character.
Have I made this sound so terrible?  There is an audience for this movie but I don't think that includes people like me who take a cynical view about the state of creativity in film.