Battle: L.A.

Columbia Pictures

Rated PG-13 for profanity, scenes of destruction and sustained, intense violence.

Disgraced Vet Gets Shot At Redemption In Apocalyptic Sci-Fi

Between an apocalyptic plotline and a budget exceeding $100 million, it’s no wonder that Battle: L.A. is being touted as the first summer blockbuster of 2011. Forget the fact that it’s still winter, from the breathtaking panoramas to the bombastic pyrotechnics to the eye-popping special effects to the mob scenes of mass hysteria, this film is filled with fixings which just scream 4th of July weekend.

And provided you’re prematurely in the mood for such unseasonably overblown fare, Battle: L.A. won’t disappoint. Directed by Jonathan Liebesman (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre prequel), this high-impact action flick revolves around the daring exploits of a rag-tag team of Marines representing the last hope for humanity in the wake of an alien invasion, which is decimating the planet.

As the film opens, we are introduced to Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) as he’s called on the carpet for his soldiers having suffered heavy casualties in Iraq. The humiliated platoon leader grudgingly agrees to retire, but not before first helping to whip their replacements into fighting shape.

The new unit is a motley crew of readily recognizable archetypes. There’s Nantz, the proverbial, battle-hardened veteran who now has to report to an untested Lieutenant (Ramon Rodriguez). We also have a raw recruit (Noel Fisher) so young he had to get his parents’ permission to enlist, a corporal (Jim Parrack) suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder since his last tour of duty, a soldier (Ne-Yo) set to marry his sweetheart, another (Taylor Handley) who knows about Nantz’s checkered past and the brother (Cory Hardict) of a G.I. who died overseas under the disgraced Sergeant’s command. You get the idea.

This freshly forged band of brothers is about to ship out when a mysterious meteor shower morphs into a lethal legion of hostile extraterrestrials, armed to the teeth and bent on world domination. With the entire globe suddenly under siege, instead of being deployed to the Middle East, our intrepid heroes are sent to the city of Los Angeles. While staging a last stand there, they join forces with Elena Santos (Michelle Rodriguez), a feisty Air Force Sergeant on a reconnaissance detail.

Despite the film’s futuristic pretensions, Battle: L.A. is basically an old-fashioned war flick, which unabashedly employs every cliché associated with the shopworn genre. For instance, the fate of apprehensive Lieutenant Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez) is sealed, cinematically, the moment he sits down to write an ominous letter to his pregnant wife back home. Yet, the squad leader’s untimely demise does dovetail ever so conveniently with his replacement’s need for a shot at redemption. Like a kid operating a computer game joystick, Nantz proceeds to spearhead a strategic search and destroy mission for the aliens’ command and control center.

The frenetic action consists of wave after wave of mindless mayhem intermittently interrupted by sentimental reminders that God is on our side and by simplistic sloganeering such as “Marines don’t quit!” and “Let’s go show ‘em how Marines fight!” With no message deeper to impart, some might suggest that the film amounts to little more than a two-hour PSA for the U.S. military.

On the other hand, the less cynical are just as likely to rally behind the defenders of Mom and apple pie, and to cheer their every kill with approving howls of “Hoo-rah!” (Marine shorthand for “Heard, understood, recognized and acknowledged.”) After all, you don’t have to be tiger-blooded Charlie Sheen to know what really matters most in a showdown with any worthy adversary.

Duh? Winning!

Very Good (2.5 stars).

Running time: 116 minutes.

The Fighter

Paramount Home Entertainment

Rated R for violence, sexuality, drug use and pervasive profanity.

Two-Time Oscar-Winner Arrives On DVD

Veteran boxing fans are undoubtedly familiar with the exploits of “Irish” Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), the junior-welterweight pugilist from Lowell, Massachusetts best remembered for a trio of memorable matches against the late Arturo Gatti. In fact, two of the gladiators’ epic battles (one in 2002, the other in 2003) were dubbed “The Fight of the Year” by Ring Magazine.

But don’t expect to see any of those classic showdowns in The Fighter, an overcoming-the-odds biopic for which Christian Bale and Melissa Leo won Oscars in the Best Supporting acting categories. For the film culminates a couple of years earlier with Micky’s first world championship bout in London against the division’s then reigning titleholder, Shea Neary (Anthony Molinari).

Director David O. Russell (Three Kings) was ostensibly far more interested here in recreating the rampant dysfunction marking his protagonist’s personal life than with merely chronicling the aspiring contender’s rise inside the ring. Thus, the character-driven plotline proves particularly compelling, thanks to its examination of Micky’s angst as he contemplates cutting the ties to his smothering, tight-knit family.

Reminiscent of the cast of Jersey Shore, except with thick New England accents, the trashy clan is run with an iron fist by his domineering mom, Alice (Leo), a meddling matriarch who doubles as his business manager. Meanwhile, she’s directed her other son, Dicky (Bale), to serve as Micky’s trainer.

But that hasn’t been working out at all because he’s a washed-up boxer with a crack pipe dream of mounting a comeback, despite a bad drug habit and regular run-ins with the law. The boys also have seven sisters; gum-smacking, couch potatoes sporting mullets, who function as a veritable Greek chorus inclined to rubber stamp their momma’s every wish, however unreasonable.

Micky finally summons up the gumption to do something about his family’s always frustrating his potential after he falls in love at first sight with Charlene (Amy Adams), a college-educated bartender offering him the kind of encouragement and support that he really needs. The proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back arrives when he brings her home to meet the folks only to have them tarnish her name with unsubstantiated gossip designed to wreck their budding romance before it even has a chance to blossom.

That unwarranted attempt at sabotage has a salutary effect on Micky who steels his resolve to find a capable corner man to replace Dicky in order to begin his inexorable assault on the boxing crown. A fitting tribute to a real-life Rocky featuring inspired performances not only by Christian Bale and Melissa Leo but by Mark Wahlberg and Amy Adams as well.

Excellent (4 stars).

Running time: 115 Minutes.

Blu-Ray/DVD Combo Pack Extras: Deleted scenes, director’s commentary, theatrical trailer, plus featurettes entitled “Keeping the Faith” and “The Warriors Code: Filming The Fighter.”

OPENING THIS WEEK

Kam’s Kapsules:

Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun

For movies opening March 18, 2011

BIG BUDGET FILMS

Limitless (PG-13 for profanity, mature themes, violence, sexuality and disturbing images). Bradley Cooper stars in this action thriller about a frustrated writer whose life is transformed after he is introduced to a top-secret, smart drug which enables him to use 100% of his brain. With Robert De Niro, Abbie Cornish and Anna Friel.

The Lincoln Lawyer (R for violence, sexuality and profanity). Matthew McConaughey stars in the title role of this courtroom drama about a disgraced criminal defense attorney working out of the back of his car who finally lands a shot at redemption when he’s hired by a Beverly Hills playboy (Ryan Philippe) accused of raping a call girl. With John Leguizamo, Marisa Tomei, William H. Macy and Josh Lucas.

Paul (R for profanity, sexual references and drug use). Sci-fi comedy about a couple of nerds (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) who encounter an alien (Seth Rogen) while driving an RV across the desert on their way to a comic book convention in San Diego. Ensemble cast includes Jane Lynch, Kristen Wiig, Jason Bateman, Sigourney Weaver, Bill Hader, Steven Spielberg, Blythe Danner and Jeffrey Tambor.

INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS

0s & 1s (Unrated). Digital Age comedy about a yuppie (Morgan Krantz) who is so dependent on his computer that his life starts to come apart at the seams when he discovers after a night of partying that someone has stolen his laptop. With Jeremy Blackman, Ryan Reyes and Hannah Hunt.

Bill Cunningham New York (Unrated). Shutterbug biopic chronicling the career of the legendary Bill Cunningham, the 80-year-old, New York Times photographer who has documented the latest fashion trends for decades. With appearances by Tom Wolfe, Annette De la Renta and the late Brooke Astor.

The Butcher, The Chef And The Swordsman (PG-13 for stylized violence, bloody images crude humor and partial nudity). Revenge comedy revolving around a beefy butcher’s (Liu Xiaoye) attempt to even the score with the Zen swordsman (Senggerrenqing) who stole the woman (Kitty Zhang Yugi) of his dreams. (In Mandarin with subtitles.)

Desert Flower (R for profanity, violence and one scene of sexuality). Female empowerment flick based on the autobiography of the same name by Waris Dirie (Liya Kebede) who fled Somalia for London as a teenager to become a world-renowned supermodel. (In English, Somali and French with subtitles.)

Motherland (Unrated). Crime drama about an Asian-American lesbian (Francoise Yip) who returns to the U.S. for the first time in years following the murder of her estranged mother (Shoyi Chang), only to find herself drawn into a web of deception being spun by her stepfather (Kenneth Tsang) and his best friend (Byron Mann), while trying to come to grips with her grief.

The Music Never Stopped (Unrated). Bittersweet drama about a regretful father (J.K. Simmons) who seeks to reconcile with his long-lost son (Lou Taylor Pucci) suffering from a brain tumor by listening to the Grateful Dead. With Tammy Blanchard, Mia Maestro and Cara Seymour.

Win Win (Unrated). Buddy comedy about a down on his luck attorney (Paul Giamatti) moonlighting as a high school wrestling coach who gets a new lease on life when he stumbles across a star athlete (Alex Shaffer). With Amy Ryan, Burt Young, Jeffrey Tambor and Melanie Lynskey.

Winter In Wartime (R for profanity). WWII saga, set in Holland in 1945, about a 13 year-old boy (Martijn Lakemeier) who joins the Resistance after coming to the aid of a wounded British pilot (Jamie Campbell Bower). With Melody Klaver, Raymond Thiry and Yorick van Wageningen. (In Dutch, English and German with subtitles.)

One Response

  1. Rob Greer

    You wrote: “As the film opens, we are introduced to Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) as he’s called on the carpet for his soldiers having suffered heavy casualties in Iraq. The humiliated platoon leader grudgingly agrees to retire, but not before first helping to whip their replacements into fighting shape.”

    What movie were you watching? He was never “called on the carpet” nor was he humiliated nor was he asked to retire.’ In fact, he was asked by his first sergeant to NOT retire. Although your description may make for good reading, it isn’t accurate to the film!

    Reply

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