Monday, November 22, 2010

The Brother Strause' SKYLINE

Skyline was released by Universal studios in the usual lot of 2000+ theaters, but it was produced independently by its directors, the "Brothers Strouse", with its production shooting at one of the brother's condos and all of the fx (and there are MANY fx shots in this movie) done in-house with their production company. In theory, the film is inspiring as a way of showing what can be done when two filmmakers pool in their own resources, keep things relatively inexpensive, don't hire big-name stars but keep the aesthetic one that might appeal to a mainstream audience like an alien-invasion picture set in the backdrop of Los Angeles. On paper it looks like it should be a sure thing as far as what its story is... and then you read a little more, and then see the movie, and it's not good. At all.

First off, as an aside, the brothers are actually rip-off artists (emphasis on the rip-off, less so on artistry). Put aside the fact that so much of the movie is taken from other movies- Independence Day, The Matrix, War of the Worlds (2005), even Return of the Jedi to an extent (the Rancor-beast things)- and that it's quite blatant even if one is only slightly familiar with those by comparison much original films, and notice that the brothers also worked on, Battle Los Angeles (trailer out now), has a similar plot (sub-out military for civilians) and fxscheme. Whether they ripped off a whole lot of the movie or just a little is debatable until the movie comes out next year (from my understanding there is still a lawsuit pending, or it's been decided or whatever).

But what about Skyline itself? Skyline posits the alien invasion as we have seen before, with a couple of little twists, barely enough to register as unique for anyone with a cursory knowledge of the sub-genre of sci-fi. In this kind of situation where the aliens come to earth and will (for realz) eat your brains to gain knowledge or, um, something, you need some good characters to stick with. Skyline's characters are upper-middle class white kids (and Donald Faison) who have a big party at a hotel in LA and get drunk and loud and freaky and stuff like that. Oh, and one of the couples (Balfour and Thompson) have just realized they're pregnant, so they're a whole ball of wax unto themselves, sort of. But on to the invasion! It's, um... lame, kind of.

If you're watching the alien invasion from inside an apartment, and have the Night of the Living Dead-style argument of being closed in but what to do from there like going outside or staying in or fighting back or where to run away, it can be done with captivating motivations. There isn't any here. It's just a bunch of people who are mostly brainless or just argue to the point of it being banal and lame. And what they see outside from their blinds (the alien light burns the skin for one thing, and puts one into a trance, or lets the aliens know there's fresh meat for their um alien-sucker-vagina things), or on the TV(?) is pandemonium from just the immediate area. One only gets a sense of the alien apocalypse from the view of an LA window, and with the requisite alien fighters going against the fighter pilots from the army.

I'm not sure what could've been done with the material to make it fresh. No, that's not true. What could be done is better work on characters, to make us care about their situation. What could be done is to make someone like the Maitre'D at the hotel played by David Zayas the protagonist (the best actor in the movie which is saying a lot mostly in comparison to everyone else), but instead the filmmakers go the route of Cloverfield- nay, would-be Cloverfield- with self-absorbed twits who are led by a guy (Balfour) who may be one of the aliens or might not be or what's up with that(?) And the action outside that the filmmakers put together is just... repetitive and not very exciting. It's a reel for their fx department that is passable- though the directors aren't that adept at framing their shots some of the images in their rip-off manner are decent- not a movie that tells a story that gives some kind of context for something, ANYTHING.

But most of the movie, as far as a somehow-slipped-into-theaters SyFy channel or (yes) Asylum DVD product that has hack actors with little genuine expression to their performances and dialog that is turgid and occasionally ludicrous (listen to one girl describe how the light appealed to her), is just forgettable junk. It's not "good", but it's not the worst that one has ever seen, or at least doesn't offend with its voracious attitude against logic like a Transformers movie. That is, dear readers, until the ending. This is where any logic that came before, even in the scope of an alien invasion flick done for dirt cheap, gets shredded into a thousand pieces and most of is flushed down the toilet. What happens when two of characters end up inside one of the spaceships? Well, if I revealed it I wouldn't be spoiling so much as doing too good of a favor to let you know why not to see the movie.

The ending of Skyline reaches up to the heavens as a "twist" that suddenly makes most of the rest of the movie seem totally ludicrous in retrospect. What the hell happened? Did the screenwriters not read what they had written or tried to pass as writing to the Strause brothers? More to the point did the directors know that by trying to do a "leave open a sequel?" possibility that it destroyed whatever tiny shred of credibility the already loose and stupid plot had before it? The movie left me bored and dissatisfied at the hack-like nature of the material from all fronts, but the last scene left me flabbergasted and just speechless. All one would need is the colonialists coming to shore at the end of Apocalypto and saying they're searching for a New Beginning and it would take the cake.

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