Monday, December 19, 2005

Walk the Line (2005)

"Every man knows that he is a sissy compared to Johnny Cash."
—Bono

Aside from remakes, the most recent big thing in Hollywood has been to make movies based on or inspired by true stories. From horror movies (The Amityville Horror, The Exorcism of Emily Rose) to sports movies (Miracle, Glory Road) to action movies (Saving Private Ryan, Walking Tall) to dramas (Apollo 13), movies based on true stories have proven to be rather prevalent in filmmaking. Among these true stories are biographical movies.

Of course, these are nothing new. Dozens have been made about a wide range of subjects, ranging from music legends like Jim Morrison and Loretta Lynn to people like comedian Andy Kaufman, serial killer Aileen Wuornos, Irish journalist Veronica Guerin, and Scottish revolutionary William Wallace. With the exception of Braveheart, perhaps the most notable in recent memory is 2004's Ray. The cinematic biography of Ray Charles, Ray garnered high critical acclaim and numerous awards (including a Best Actor Oscar for star Jamie Foxx), proving it to be one of the biggest movies of the year.

The tale of another drug-addicted singer was told to moviegoers just over one year later in the form of Walk the Line, the story of Johnny Cash. One of country music's first true outlaws, his distinctive sound and dark clothing made him one of music's most enduring icons. Many are quick to pigeonhole Cash as just a country star, yet he has transcended nearly every possible boundary in the fifty years since his first album was released.

His influence as a musician can be seen in almost every popular genre, from country music to rock and roll, to even rap. (Famed film director Quentin Tarantino once mused, "I've often wondered if gangsta rappers know how little separates their tales of ghetto thug life from Johnny Cash's tales of backwoods thug life.") Cash's tumultuous life story is the kind of tale that Hollywood scriptwriters can only dream of thinking up, so it only made sense for Walk the Line to enter production. Let's get to the review, shall we?

Following a brief prologue, we are introduced to twelve-year-old Johnny Cash (Ridge Canipe) and his brother Jack (Lucas Till) at their family's Arkansas cotton farm circa 1944. The brothers are an extremely close-knit pair, so when Jack is killed in an accident involving a table saw, young Johnny is devastated. His sorrow is exacerbated by his insufferable father Ray (Robert Patrick), who places the blame squarely on Johnny's shoulders by proclaiming that "God took the wrong son."

From there, we take a quick glimpse of his stay in Germany while serving in the Air Force, then move to Memphis circa 1955, where the adult Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) is a family man and struggling traveling salesman. During a particularly bad day at work, he stumbles upon the Memphis Recording Service, the home of Sun Records. A "closed" sign hangs in the front, but when he hears music coming from the nearby alley, he sneaks around and watches some musicians recording an album before the soundman shoos him away.

Sometime later, Johnny and two friends, bassist Marshall Grant (Larry Bagby) and guitarist Luther Perkins (Dan John Miller), practice playing a gospel song on Johnny's front porch. They sound like they could use a lot more practice than what they're getting, which prompts Johnny's wife Vivian (Ginnifer Goodwin) to get upset and throw a tantrum. When Johnny attempts to check on her, Vivian screams at him, telling him that she's sick of him wasting his time with a couple of no-talent mechanics, hammering the point home by throwing an eviction notice in his face.

The next day, Johnny catches up with the recording studio's soundman, famed record producer Sam Phillips (Dallas Roberts). Though doubtful of another wannabe, Phillips is taken by Johnny's enthusiasm and offers him an audition. Showing up at the studio dressed in black ("You look like you're going to a funeral," Vivian tells him. Johnny's reply: "Maybe I am."), Johnny and his band start into the same hokey gospel song they rehearsed earlier.

Sam is clearly unimpressed, to the point that he stops the trio and tells them to leave because it's nothing he hasn't heard before. Johnny takes offense, thinking that the complaints are instead questioning his religious faith, but Sam says that he merely thinks that Johnny just has a mediocre way of showing it. He asks them what they would sing if they were hit by a truck and had one song to perform for God before they died, and after a few moments, Johnny comes up with a song. He launches into a song that will one day gain fame as "Folsom Prison Blues," and despite Marshall and Luther being concerned because they hadn't practiced the song, Sam is impressed and signs them to a contract.

Billed as "Johnny Cash and The Tennessee Two," the trio of musicians go on tour with other Sun Records artists like Elvis Presley (Tyler Hilton), Jerry Lee Lewis (Waylon Malloy Payne), and Roy Orbison (Johnathan Rice). But of all the performers on the tour, perhaps the most notable is June Carter (Reese Witherspoon), whom Johnny has had a crush on his entire life. Stardom and life on the road soon becomes too stressful for Johnny, leading him to alcoholism and an addiction to amphetamines and barbiturates.

As his addictions escalate, so does his affection for June. Despite her initial refusal to even consider a relationship with him because he's married with children and she's recently divorced, Johnny still carries a torch for her, to the point that he hangs pictures of them together in his den. Already jealous of his popularity with the ladies, Vivian decides this is the straw that broke the camel's back and puts a kibosh on their crumbling marriage.

His unrequited love for June pushes Johnny deeper into addiction, and he finally hits rock bottom when he ends up sharing a ratty apartment with fellow drug-addicted musician Waylon Jennings (Shooter Jennings). Desperate to speak to June despite having his phone disconnected, the very wasted Johnny walks on foot to her house, a good twenty miles away. June refuses to talk to him while he's hopped up, not letting him anywhere past the front yard before making him go home. He eventually leaves, stumbling home in the rain before passing out by the side of the road. When he wakes up the following morning, he discovers himself outside a beautiful lakefront mansion, immediately asking if it's for sale.

He buys the house, bringing his family and the Carter family together for Thanksgiving shortly thereafter. Johnny's father is less than impressed, commenting that his son probably shouldn't be leaving his expensive tractor stuck in the mud outside. That comment is the straw that broke the camel's back and the very high Johnny flips out, venting the pent-up anger towards his father that had been building since Jack died.

Ray quickly retorts that being rich and famous doesn't change the fact that Johnny is an alcoholic and a junkie, and Johnny storms out. He heads straight for the tractor stuck outside. While he succeeds in getting it out of the mud, he ends up crashing it into the lake. June rushes to his side, diving in and pulling him to shore, starting a chain of events that leads to his recovery. The movie concludes in 1968, as the clean and sober Johnny performs his legendary concert at Folsom State Prison, and June accepts his marriage proposal.

I'll admit that although I had a great respect for him and his body of work, I wasn't exactly a Johnny Cash devotee prior to seeing Walk the Line. But the thing is, you don't need to be a fan of Cash (or of country music, for that matter) to appreciate the movie. Director James Mangold has crafted a wonderful movie that very rarely dips into the realm of hero worship, instead wisely focusing on the music and the love story. Co-scripted by Mangold and Gill Dennis, the movie seems to gloss over certain parts of Cash's life, yet still tells a compelling, engaging story.

Cash is depicted not as a heroic figure, but as a flawed yet noble human being stuck in the mire of substance abuse. His alcoholism and drug use are a focal point in developing the love story, as he is ultimately saved not a desire to overcome his demons, but by the love of his soulmate. This is most evidenced in the scene where a wasted Johnny tries to pull the tractor out of the mud and falls into the lake. He didn't look like he was in any hurry to save himself, but it was June that pulled him out. I'm of the opinion that the scene is symbolic of the couple's entire relationship. Johnny was drowning in his addictions, until June pulled him out.

In a movie about a legendary musician, the music can make or break it. That said, I loved every bit of the music in Walk the Line. From T-Bone Burnett's twangy, country-infused score to the numerous songs, the soundtrack is just as entertaining as the movie itself. The stars lend their own singing voices to the movie, and sound uncannily like the musicians they're portraying.

Speaking of the cast, both Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon are nothing short of astonishing. The two have a great chemistry that is needed for a movie such as this, and their performances were amazing. While I immensely enjoyed Phoenix's cocky yet sympathetic performance, I enjoyed Witherspoon's a lot more. Given that her recent movies have mostly been fluff (would you expect to be taken seriously when you're doing movies like Legally Blonde 2 and Just Like Heaven?), it's my belief that this just may be the best performance of her career. Thanks to Witherspoon, it's not hard to understand why Johnny fell in love with June in the first place. She is engaging and incredibly likable, and very deserving of all the praise she gets. The rest of the cast is nothing to sneeze at either, especially Robert Patrick as Johnny's harshly critical father.

Johnny Cash's voice was often described as being "steady like a train, sharp like a razor." That's the best description I can give Walk the Line. The movie never drags, and manages to tell a consistent story without coming off as just a series of moments strung together. It is my sincere hope that Walk the Line will add to the legacy of Johnny Cash, as Mangold, Phoenix, and Witherspoon have made a film that is absolutely stunning on all fronts. The movie is a fitting tribute to the Man In Black and the woman in his heart, and as a well-acted, well-made film, I'll give Walk the Line the full five stars.

Final Rating: *****

Sunday, December 18, 2005

War of the Worlds (2005)

In 1898, H.G. Wells published The War of the Worlds, a novel that would eventually become one of the most influential science fiction novels of the century that followed. In the hundred years since its first publication, Wells's tale of an insurmountable alien invasion has inspired movies like Independence Day and Mars Attacks!, and has been adapted into a syndicated television series that ran from 1988 to 1990, an Oscar-winning movie directed in 1953 by George Pál that drew a parallel between the alien invasion and the Red Menace, and Orson Welles's infamous 1938 radio play invoking World War II.

No stranger to huge summer blockbusters or movies about aliens visiting Earth, Steven Spielberg teamed up with his Minority Report star Tom Cruise in 2005 for his own adaptation of the novel. With fifty years of technological improvement over the 1953 version and the aftershocks of the World Trade Center attacks still lingering, does Spielberg's version of the alien incursion story hold up to Pál's movie and Welles's radio play?

Spielberg's version of the story centers around Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise), a blue-collar crane operator that can barely making ends meet. Well, he doesn't exactly make ends meet, but he gets the ends really close to each other and calls it a day. He does have an awesome car, I'll give him that. Anyway, Ray arrives home from work one morning to babysit his two children while his pregnant ex-wife Mary Ann (Miranda Otto) and her new husband Tim (David Alan Basche) go to Boston to spend the weekend with her parents.

Ray is extremely lacking in parenting skills, and is so wrapped up with his own life that he hardly even knows who his kids are. He finds himself ignored when he tries to say hello to his teenage son Robbie (Justin Chatwin), who has adopted the "rebellious teenager" outlook. Ray later tries to start up a game of catch, only to get met with the line, "baseball season's over." Robbie is so dead set against spending time with his father that he calls him by his first name instead of "Dad," even starts wearing a Red Sox hat, a cardinal sin to a Yankees fan like Ray. On the other hand, his preadolescent daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning) is a bit more willing to spend time with Ray, but still shows more affection towards her new stepfather.

After attempting to find solace in an afternoon nap, he awakens to find both Robbie and his car gone. And perhaps worse than that, a strange, powerful lightning storm arrives, prompting everyone in Ray's neighborhood to step out into the streets and their backyards to watch. But once it gets out of hand, everyone retreats back to their houses until it apparently subsides, but they're quick to discover that the storm has rendered every piece of electronic equipment in the house inoperable. Ray steps out into the sidewalk and bumps into Robbie, who is on his way after Ray's car stalled along with every other car in the street. Robbie tells him about how twenty-six bolts of lightning hit a spot a block over, and Ray sends him home while he goes off to investigate.

He soon arrives at the small crater left by the lightning, and as a crowd starts to grow around it, the ground beneath them begins to shake. The shaking is only the tip of the iceberg, as an enormous three-legged machine breaks through the ground, leveling buildings and reducing every human it sees to dust with its laser beams. Narrowly avoiding getting zapped on numerous occasions, Ray rushes home, packs the kids into a recently-repaired minivan, and hits the road through the New England countryside to find safety, wherever it may be.

It may not hold up as one of the smartest science fiction movies ever, but War of the Worlds is an exciting, intense thrill ride. The movie very rarely lets up, only occasionally letting we the viewer catch our breath before moving to another terrifying situation. While a movie about an alien invasion may be science fiction by design, It may not hold up as one of the smartest science fiction movies ever, but War of the Worlds is a hybrid of disaster movies and old-school monster movies. So imagine if Godzilla was one of the aliens from Independence Day, and you're set. The movie is also very much a part of post-9/11 culture, as evidenced by the two children asking if terrorists are behind the invasion.

Fellow online reviewer James Berardinelli theorized that this movie evidences that a great director can overcome a mediocre script, and I'm inclined to agree. Steven Spielberg (with the assistance of the amazing camerawork of cinematographer Janusz Kaminski and composer extraordinaire John Williams's dark, subdued score) shows why he's one of the best directors in Hollywood with this movie, which boasts numerous impressive visuals, such as a flaming locomotive rocketing past a group of survivors or the revelation of the first alien tripod. Spielberg has peppered his film with allusions to numerous sci-fi classics, from Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial to The Day The Earth Stood Still and British TV miniseries Quartermass and the Pit. There's even an extremely subtle nod to The Blob, though that one may be more of a coincidence than anything.

But where the direction truly succeeds is the little moments, like a scene in which Dakota Fanning's character discovers a quiet river in the middle of the woods. Everything is calm and serene, but that is quickly dashed away by a mass deluge of corpses floating downstream. The peacefulness of the scene is transformed into horror, and serves as perhaps the movie's most truly disturbing moment.

However, no one will accuse Josh Friedman and David Koepp of having written a screenplay worthy of any awards. Many of the characters find themselves either unlikable or poorly written, and outside of what they've taken verbatim from Wells's original novel, not a lot of their dialogue is very outstanding or noteworthy. To call the script "mediocre" is the biggest compliment I can give it. The movie also suffers from an unbearably weak ending, but in all fairness, the aliens are brought down in the same fashion they were in the novel. Then again, as lame as it is, I guess it's a good thing that humans never found a cure for the common cold, otherwise we'd have been conquered by our new alien overlords.

Speaking of lame endings, let's not forget the idiocy of the film's coda, a "happily ever after" moment that makes no sense within the context of scenes earlier in the movie. It's such an enormous leap in logic, it's insulting. How are we the viewer supposed to believe this when common sense dictates otherwise? Maybe Spielberg should make a movie about the coda, as a twist on the Hamlet spinoff Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. However, in defense of the script, Friedman and Koepp manage to throw in a few scenes that resemble a social commentary, how humans would react when faced with the end of the world and the possible extinction of our species. Would we be unselfishly brave in the face of adversity, or would the mob mentality take over as society devolved into sheer insanity?

The acting, as well, is a mixed bag. Tom Cruise is great like always, but his character is a selfish jerk, who at first only rushes his kids to Boston so he can dump them off on their mother. He spends so much time as an unlikable character than when he begins his evolution into a good father and person, we don't really believe it. You know, in retrospect, the idea of Cruise starring in a movie about aliens is kinda funny, what with his religion being founded by aliens and all. Yeah, I think it's crazy too, but Hollywood makes people stupid. Anyway, Justin Chatwin is rather boring and uninspiring as the typical moody, rebellious teenager. He comes off as being just plain irritating at times, like he's going out of his way to start arguments with Cruise's character.

And folks, Dakota Fanning is absolutely wretched in the movie. The audience is supposed to feel sympathy for her, but she achieved quite the opposite. She's just an annoying little rat for the whole thing. By the end of the movie, I was rooting for the aliens to zap her with one of those heat rays, but sadly, it never happened. Fanning serves no purpose in the movie, outside of screaming, crying, and doing something stupid to let the aliens know where she's hiding. The girl even screams and cries when she's happy. If I never see another character like this one in a movie, I'll be the happiest boy alive.

It's funny that Fanning and Morgan Freeman (the movie's narrator) are both in War of the Worlds, because it seems like they're both in every movie that comes out nowadays. She's only eleven years old, and has been in as many movies as actors three times her age. I'm sure Fanning is a sweet little girl, but maybe she should try being a kid for a while, and see how that works.

The only other cast member whose performance I thought stood out was Tim Robbins as an unhinged survivalist that offers Ray and Rachel temporary shelter. He's only in one scene and has a relatively minor role, but Robbins makes his character both believable and entertaining, if not a little sleazy.

A review posted on IMDB.com says that War of the Worlds was the best alien invasion movie ever made until the third act, at which point the movie tries to shoehorn itself into various summer action movie clichés. I don't know if I'd call it the best ever, but I'll generally agree with that statement. The movie's vibe changes significantly once Cruise stops acting like the aliens are intergalactic exterminators and starts acting like he's going to conquer them one tripod death machine at a time.

But the movie does have exciting action sequences and simmering tension, as evidenced by the lengthy scene where the alien probe searches for human survivors (recalling the "spider search" scene in Minority Report). And while showing the destruction of cities around the globe may have been more spectacular, it would have undermined the idea of showing how the family unit would survive. In spite of its glaring flaws, War of the Worlds still manages to be an entertaining. And for that, I'll give it three and a half stars. Check it out.

Final Rating: ***½

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Alien vs. Predator (2004)

Fictional characters crossing over to either team up or do battle is nothing new. It happens in comic books all the time, and can be seen in movies like Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man, King Kong vs. Godzilla, and Freddy vs. Jason. While many are intended to be one-time-only ideas, one crossover has become a full-fledged media enterprise. Following the first publication of Dark Horse's Alien vs. Predator comics in November 1989, the clash between the two extraterrestrial beasts went on to spawn novels and numerous video games, along with its own comic spinoff featuring another cinematic killing machine from the '80s, Alien vs. Predator vs. The Terminator.

After New Line Cinema scored big business with the release of Freddy vs. Jason in 2003, Twentieth Century Fox unleashed its murderous monsters onto the big screen the following year. There was much rejoicing in the fanboy community, but Fox ultimately decided to anger those fanboys by hiring relatively unpopular director Paul W.S. Anderson and released it with an unimaginable PG-13 rating. But does it manage to be good as its R-rated predecessors, or is it just a great big letdown?

Our story takes place in Antarctica, where a satellite owned by the Weyland Corporation has discovered an unusual heat signature on Bouvet Island, a remote island off the coast of Antarctica. Upon further investigation, the Corporation discovers what appears to be an immense ancient pyramid buried two thousand feet beneath the island's surface. The pyramid apparently has characteristics of Egyptian, Aztec, and Cambodian pyramids, which is pretty amazing considering that it predates each of those civilizations. But the thing is, they never really make a credible attempt to explain the how's or why's of it. If you're not going to explain it, why bother even bringing it up in the first place?

Anyway, corporation founder Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henriken) and his assistant Maxwell Stafford (Colin Salmon) assemble a team of scientists and archaeologists to check the place out. The team is mostly comprised of faceless nobodies, with three exceptions: Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan), who is drafted as the team's guide for some reason known only to the filmmakers; Sebastian de Rosa (Raoul Bova), an Italian archaeologist who can read hieroglyphics; and Graeme Miller (Ewen Bremner), a naïve archaeologist with a penchant for photography. (And truth be told, Bremner's character only stands out because of his thick Scottish accent.)

Weyland and Stafford inform the team at a briefing that the expedition will be getting underway as soon as possible, but Alexa objects. Turns out that the team will need at least three weeks of training because they don't exactly have the proper survival skills to survive the kind of environment they'll be up against. Yeah, essentially calling the crew a bunch of pansies is a really nice way to endear yourselves to everybody.

Weyland informs Alexa that time is a luxury not afforded to them, so she quits. So what does Weyland do? He threatens to hire her closest competition if she doesn't accompany them on their fantastic voyage. A harsh businessman, Weyland is. Alexa knows that nobody can do the job as well as her and really isn't in the mood to lose out to a rival, so she reluctantly rejoins the team as they set sail.

The team arrives at an abandoned whaling station and prepare to drill down into the pyramid, but they soon learn that a passage has been neatly carved out at a perfect 30-degree angle. The passage wasn't there the day before and nothing on Earth could have carved it that quickly, but nobody in the team questions it. The team ventures down the tunnel and enter the pyramid, but a few rash decision on their parts unleash the bloodthirsty Aliens from their crypt in the pyramid's basement. And to make matters worse, the scientists are also intercepted by three interstellar hunters we know as the Predators.

Thanks to Sebastian's skill at reading hieroglyphics, we learn that the pyramid is a hunting ground for Predators, where they bred Aliens every hundred years so young Predators could engage in a ritual rite of passage. And just their luck, the humans are the bait. The squadron of Aliens soon wipes out pretty much everyone, leaving only Alexa and one Predator (Ian Whyte) to band together and fight there way to safety.

What a sad, sad, sad state of affairs Alien vs. Predator is. The movie is one of the most disappointing sequels I've ever seen, and everyone involved should be ashamed of themselves for ruining a movie that had such wonderful potential. There's something going on all the time while nothing really happens, resulting in a film that's all effort with no results. Not once during the course of the movie is any sort of coherent story told, the movie is too poorly shot and too tightly edited to make any sort of sense on a visual level, and the cast brings nothing to the table. Not even the effects can save the movie, because everything has been reduced to get a PG-13 rating. Instead of the straightforward violence we're used to in the Alien and Predator movies, the violence here is broken into three parts...

  1. Show the monster swinging a sharp object.
  2. Show the victim anticipating the death blow (and screaming, if the victim is human).
  3. Show blood splattering nearby.
Simple as that. Oddly enough, the movie is rated PG-13 for violence, language, horror images, slime, and gore. Slime?! If the MPAA can give a movie a PG-13 rating for slime, then I'm surprised Ghostbusters 2 didn't get an R. That movie is about slime. Just add that to the list of things that made absolutely no sense at all in this movie.

Speaking of confusing things, we don't see the Aliens and Predators onscreen together until 53 minutes into the movie. When you see a movie called Alien vs. Predator, you expect to see monsters fighting each other, not occasional monster fighting interspersed with a bunch of worthless cannon fodder people walking around like a bunch of morons. I can understand wanting a human element in the film, but it shouldn't be at the expense of the title characters. The two species of extraterrestrial killers do square off, yes, but by the time they get around to fighting, the poor direction and paper-thin characters will have probably bored you to death.

Seriously, what kind of idiot thought it was a good idea to give the quite inconsequential research team more screen time than the Aliens and Predators combined? Oh yeah, I know who that idiot is: writer and director Paul W.S. Anderson. Anderson's screenplay is ungodly bad, immediately evidenced by the fact that the movie was set on Earth circa October 2004. That's about as lazy as Anakin Skywalker living on Tatooine in The Phantom Menace. Why not just set it in space in the year 3000, or something like that?

The movie just plods along, not really bothering to explain what's going on at any given time. How do the little Chestburster Alien guys grow so fast, when it took days in the previous four Alien movies? I guess the Predators had the Alien Queen hopped up on steroids in order to speed up their hunt, but since they never say one way or the other, all I can do is make assumptions. It's one thing for a movie to make the audience think about it, but it's another to force the audience to guess what's happening at any given time. Sometimes even the brightest viewer needs to have things spelled out for the movie to make any sense. And then there's the "surprise" coda that was so expected, it wasn't even a surprise at all. I'll admit that it was cool, yes, but it could be seen coming from a mile away.

And am I the only one who noticed a few large jumps in logic? Take, for example, the scene in which we are introduced to Sanaa Latham's character. She's hanging from the side of a cliff on a clear day with nobody and nothing around, yet is surprised when she discovers a helicopter at the top. I may be jumping to conclusions here, but wouldn't she have, you know, heard it flying overhead? I could understand if she was so focused on scaling the cliff that she didn't notice, but how do you not notice a helicopter landing right above you? They aren't exactly a stealthy type of transportation.

Another bizarre moment sees Latham's character telling everyone that the first rule of business was that everyone should stick together. So what does everyone do? They split up and go off by themselves. And then Latham goes off by herself to yell at everyone for going off by themselves. The insanity of the movie's screenplay culminates in a scene where we learn about the ancient civilization that populated the pyramid getting decimated by one of the Predator wrist-mounted nuclear bombs. If the entire civilization was wiped out, how could they write hieroglyphics about it? Were they doing it from beyond the grave? And what was with the pyramid walls intermittently moving around? There's no real rhyme or reason to anything. The whole movie is a vicious cycle of stupidity.

And let's not forget about Anderson's trite, hackneyed direction. With Alien vs. Predator, Anderson appears to have no grasp on what made the first two Alien movies and the first Predator so enthralling. The movie suffers from uneven pacing and lighting that's too dark to really get a grasp on what we're seeing. Alien vs. Predator also suffers from the same problem plaguing many action movies nowadays: lightning fast editing and shaky camera work. During many of the one-on-one fight scenes involving the Aliens and Predators, the camera is all over the place and each cut lasts only a few seconds. What ever happened to the good old days, where filmmakers would just film a fight scene from two or three angles and let that be that?

While I have no doubt that Anderson can make a movie that is visually stimulating, he seems to forget all the important stuff like story, decent scripting, good characters, good actors, that sort of thing. He is very much a director that favors style over substance, and while a "style over substance" type of film can be good in the hands of a competent director (e.g. John McTiernan's work on the original Predator), Anderson has yet to prove himself as either a credible writer or director. I don't hate Anderson with the same vitriol of others online, and I do think he has a good movie in him somewhere, but he needs to realize that just because you make a movie with style doesn't mean you've made a good movie. Even the musical score, composed by Harold Kloser, is unremarkable. It's just way too generic to make any sort of mark on the movie.

I also found the cast to be a tad lackluster. It seems like almost every character has an overstated foreign accent, but the funny part is their accents are all real. With the exceptions of Sanaa Latham and Lance Henriksen, just about everyone in the main cast is from Europe. The cast reads like a who's who of European countries; England, Scotland, France, Italy, Denmark, and the Czech Republic are all represented. Maybe the movie's very British director wanted a cast full of Europeans because he didn't want to feel lonely, I don't know. I don't have anything against Europe, but hearing almost every character speak with an accent threw me off.

But in any event, Sanaa Latham has nothing resembling the screen presence or strength as Sigourney Weaver would have. Latham has all the charisma of a brick wall, and for the majority of the movie, she's an annoying harpy that just bogs the movie down. There's absolutely no reasoning given to make we the viewer want to see her survive. The rest of the cast is nothing but fluff and filler, with only Lance Henriksen being of note because he rules no matter what project he's working on.

The movie's tagline is "whoever wins, we lose," and I don't believe they could have picked one that was any more fitting. Alien vs. Predator is stupendously bad, a disappointment on the grandest scale. It's one thing to not live up to Predator and the first two Alien movies, because those three movies are classics no matter how you slice it. But when your movie makes people pine for Predator 2 and Alien: Resurrection, you may want to rethink your career. I honestly can't justify giving Alien vs. Predator anything higher than two stars. It's a sad, depressing waste of potential, and it's a shame that it couldn't even achieve mediocre status as a film.

Final Rating: **