Tag: roland emmerich


2012 (2009)
★ / ★★★★

Although a portrait of the end of times, disaster flick “2012” is meant to be fun and entertaining. But what results is a work that is over reliant on CGI, coupled with wafer-thin characters with nothing of interest to say or do other than flail around when the occasion calls for it, to the point where it is impossible to believe—let alone emotionally connect—in whatever is unfolding on screen. The movie boasts a budget of 200 million dollars, but it proves unable to buy deep imagination, genuine excitement, and a wellspring of creativity. All it manages to offer is empty spectacle: giant crevices dividing grocery stores in half, massive tidal waves engulfing the Himalayas, state-of-the-art ships capable of housing a hundred thousand individuals. What makes the movie special?

The screenplay by Roland Emmerich (who directs) and Harald Kloser is not without potential. It requires sitting down, thinking about, and discussing which elements are worth delving into and which aspects should be excised altogether. An example: The material wishes to make a statement about how we as a society can so easily turn against one another in life-or-death situations. But notice the work’s failure in showing specific examples that make a lasting impression. In a movie with a running time of nearly a hundred and sixty minutes, it is not asking a lot to show regular folks fighting for resources. The camera is almost always on the powerful, the rich, and the brains working for the government. Worse, like clockwork, these people have the tendency to deliver tedious speeches about survival, heroism, and importance of coming together. It lacks a dramatic anchor.

Our anchor, I guess, is a work-obsessed author named Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) whose most recent novel tells the story of how humans deal with the apocalypse. His work was panned by critics for being too naive and optimistic. Jackson must now face a real-life apocalypse. If you think his naïveté and optimism are bound to be challenged by a dead screenplay, think again. Naturally, the way he perceives the world is solidified. The writers have failed to ask themselves how drama can be mined from a character whose ideals are not challenged.

You know it’s coming: Jackson is divorced, but he still loves his ex-wife (Amanda Peet) and two young children (Liam James, Morgan Lilly); he would do anything to make sure they survive. Despite the Jackson character being provided a lengthy (and boring) exposition, Cusack is given nothing substantive to work with. This character’s trajectory is predictable from the beginning all the way up to the moment when the two former spouses lock eyes and fall in love again. And can you believe it? This is not the only romantic angle proposed by the script. The other one, between a geologist (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and the president’s daughter (Thandie Newton), is so undercooked that had it been removed completely, it wouldn’t impact the story in any way.

Back to what most viewers likely signed up for: the special and visual effects. Sure, they look expensive at first glance but look closer: when performers are placed amidst the destruction, there is a glaring disconnect because it is obvious they’re acting in front of a blue or green screen. Consider the scene where Jackson must escape Los Angeles with his family on a limo. Homes, small businesses, landmarks, and gargantuan skyscrapers collapse all around, the score is booming, and there is deafening yells and screams. It drags for so long that near fatalities are reduced to running gags eventually. Suspense and tension devolve into physical comedy. Control—of effects, of timing, of editing—could have turned the sequence around. It were as if everyone in charge of helming the picture fell asleep at the wheel. It’s depressing.

Although science is thrown out the window, I enjoyed how the filmmakers find the time to explain how solar flares (releasing particles called “neutrinos”) lead to the destabilization of the earth’s mantle. Yes, it’s ridiculous. That’s not a question. But I think those who have little or no knowledge of geology and physics can follow the movie’s logic because the animation is presented in a clear and precise manner. This short segment reminded of James Cameron’s “Titanic,” specifically the computer model that showed how water moved from one compartment to another which led to the sinking of the purportedly unsinkable ship.

White House Down

White House Down (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

Cale (Channing Tatum) snags an interview for a chance to become a part of the Secret Service but it does not go well. His record reflects that he has trouble committing to projects and seeing them through. It is also the day in which he and his daughter plan to take a tour of the White House. Emily (Joey King) is passionate about politics and it is exactly what they need to have the opportunity to bond especially since Cale missed her talent show performance. But something else is going on. Men disguised as blue collar workers surreptitiously gather inside the White House movie theater and await for a bomb to go off.

“White House Down,” directed by Roland Emmerich, is not an intellectual movie by any means but it is undeniably entertaining. Because the screenplay is willing to be goofy during the most unexpected moments as ludicrous events occur inside and around the White House, it is enthralling in its own way. More than once it proves that a well-placed attempt at a joke or a clever line is an effective distraction from the obvious clichés it embraces. Its goal is to deliver an escapist popcorn flick and it has the energy to match.

What I did not enjoy is the shallow earnestness of President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx). One would think that since an ace performer like Foxx is at the helm, the character would have been written, or re-written, with more complexity from the moment we meet him. Is the president delivering syrupy speeches about America’s role in the war in the Middle East supposed to be a jab at liberals? If so, it is difficult to understand if it is supposed to be digested in that way because we do not know a thing about the character in order to make the necessary assumptions. Instead, he simply comes off silly—almost spineless—and I wondered how he got to be president in the first place. Sawyer is no Barack Obama.

The material picks up from the first explosion. The action sequences employ familiar quick cuts to evoke a sense of urgency but they are not done in such a way that it is difficult to tell what is going on exactly. There is a natural flow to the editing. Scenes that unfold in one scene offer various angles with accompanying cuts so we get a sense of place despite the flying bullets, pieces of wood, and broken glass. In addition, scenes that take place between two groups communicating via telephone are supported by dialogue that sounds urgent. The logic may not always connect but he flow to the editing is successful in creating the illusion that the thought processes are practical.

The villains actually work as a team for the most part. Though members of the group have different motivations, it is nice to see that the leader does not simply wait in a room and glare at his hostages while his henchmen do all the heavy lifting. Jason Clarke stands out as the lead underling named Stenz. Since we are given time to hate him for bit, the eventual hand-to-hand combat with the lead character is well-earned.

Though the two share a similar plot, “White House Down” exudes more joy than Antoine Fuqua’s “Olympus Has Fallen.” The latter offers a few strong scenes but they are scattered among poorly-lit padding. With this picture, however, the energy is consistently positive. It invites us to have fun but at the same time it is not above having us poke fun at it.

Independence Day: Resurgence

Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)
★ / ★★★★

Roland Emmerich’s “Independence Day: Resurgence” is a limp sequel to a mediocre predecessor that just so happens to offer a few memorable lines. Heavy on visual effects but light on creativity in terms of story, characterization, and action sequences, there is not much to experience here other than to waste one’s money, energy, and time.

The exposition shows some promise. I enjoyed that twenty years after the extraterrestrial attack which reduced major cities across the world into ashes, humans have found a way to weaponize alien technology. There is intrigue because the 2016 shown here is far more advanced than our reality; I looked forward to possible nifty surprises in terms of how the previous attack changed the course of humanity’s trajectory. In a way, one can make a solid case that the sequel is more of a science fiction picture than its antecedent.

While it is fun to encounter familiar faces such as Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Vivica A. Fox, and Brent Spiner, the younger generation introduced do not hold a candle against or alongside these effortlessly charming and inviting performers. For example, Liam Hemsworth who plays a UN space pilot often comes across as very flat. The jokes that the script requires him to say do not land on a consistent basis partly because of his limited range. Sound of crickets after a joke is deafening. Travis Tope, portraying the co-pilot, is the best of the young cast but he is not given enough to do.

Barely any excitement or tension is generated during the alien invasion. This can be attributed to the images looking too much like they are generated using a computer. (Which they were.) Numerous times we recognize laws of physics broken. When a person or an object makes violent contact against another, there is no convincing impact—whether it is through the utilization of images or sounds. Many of those who die are only extras or tertiary characters. There is no element of wonderment or surprise.

Only one marginally effective action sequence is created but this is only due to the fact that it is a direct reference to the first film. The reason why it works is it manages to turn our expectations inside out. We wonder if luck would be able to strike again from using a similar strategy to defeat an intergalactic enemy. However, a viewer who has not seen the predecessor—or doesn’t remember much of it—will likely miss the nod and therefore will not be receptive of what the scene seeks to accomplish in terms of entertainment value.

As I sat in my chair feeling desperate to be intrigued or entertained on any level, I tried to grasp at all the possible more interesting avenues the screenplay could have gone. There are five writers who helmed the screenplay but I got the impression that each of them had only a tenth of a brain—thus producing a movie with only half a brain.

They could have explored the American mentality of militarization and implications for fusing man-made and alien technology. They could have delved deeper into international relations and the complex politics that come into play when beings outside of earth come in and do not abide by any of the rules. They could have compared and contrasted two generations’ approach to war and warfare.

Instead, creators of “Independence Day: Resurgence” chooses to traverse the path of least resistance instead of making the effort to provide an engaging mainstream summer blockbuster. It is pessimistic filmmaking and I found the work to be distasteful, completely unnecessary, and its title should be cemented underneath the term “cash grab.”


Stonewall (2015)
★ / ★★★★

The failure of “Stonewall,” written by Jon Robin Baitz and directed by Roland Emmerich, lies in the fact that it never gathers the dramatic momentum required to show the audience why the Stonewall riots is arguably the most important event that triggered the gay liberation movement in the U.S. It is curious because the film has essentially two chances to build a cathartic climax using the lead protagonist as the conduit of a revolution.

Danny Winters (Jeremy Irvine) is an all-American teenager from Indiana who runs away to New York City a few months prior to his first year in Columbia University. A series of flashbacks reveal that his reason for leaving home is homophobia from his peers and friends at school, even from his own family. During Danny’s first day in the big city, he is befriended by a colorful street hustler named Ray (Jonny Beauchamp). But NYC is no safe haven. It turns out that homophobia in the city is magnified, sometimes violent.

There are many scenes that ought to have been rewritten because the dialogue comes across corny, forced, and downright silly. Irvine, a performer who is proficient when it comes to delivering subtle emotions and building layers to his characters the longer the camera rests on his face, looks awkward, a fish out of water, barely able to make sense of what his character wishes to communicate or accomplish. The script’s overall disconnect is so palpable, during the key Stonewall sequences I found myself either laughing out loud or burying my face in my hands out of shame and disbelief.

The picture hopes to make a tribute to the unsung heroes of the Stonewall riots, but none of them are particularly engaging or interesting. Danny interacts with various LGBTQ street kids, older gay males who wish to make a change through a more peaceful means, and policemen with varying motivations, but these scenes are not engrossing, merely decorations to service the plot. It would have been an interesting approach if the lead character had been muted at times, serving as an accessory, when the figures with whom we are supposed to pay attention to are front and center. Instead, just about everybody is so dull, they end up blending into one another.

A few flashbacks command a whiff of resonance but they are evanescent. There is a level of genuine yearning in the moments between Danny and his secret lover from school (Karl Glusman), but it is clear that what they have—whatever it is—will lead only to pain and heartbreak. Thus, I was somewhat moved by Joe and Danny’s reunion toward in the end—one in chains while the other is free. These two souls might have spent their lives together in another place and time. But not in this story.

“Stonewall” paints a rather bland picture when it should have been full of color, personality, and, perhaps most importantly, rage. Halfway through the film I considered how filmmakers like John Cameron Mitchell or Bernardo Bertolucci might have taken the material to more daring, complex, vibrant, and emotional avenues.

Men in Black

Men in Black (1997)
★★★ / ★★★★

The opening scene of the highly successful “Men in Black,” both in box office results and audience approval, featured a group of border patrolmen stopping a vehicle suspected of carrying aliens/illegal immigrants. Little did they know that one of the passengers was an actual alien from outer space. The first scene rightfully set the tone of the rest of the picture. There were a handful of clever and funny double entendres, one of the most notable being an alien cockroach inhabiting a human body (Vincent D’Onofrio) posing as a bug exterminator. It also had a level of irony. Enter Will Smith as an NYPD cop–eventually renamed Agent Jay–recruited by Agent Kay (Tommy Lee Jones) to be a member of the government designed to protect humanity from all things extraterrestrial. Agent Kay was serious and he spoke in a monotonous manner (perhaps his performance was influenced by a television show called “The X-Files”). Agent Jay was lively and had a penchant for cracking jokes and wielding big weapons. They were amusing in their own ways so we cared about them. Right off the bat, we felt that they had great chemistry which the film sometimes used as a crutch when it diverged its focus from the main storyline which involved the possible destruction of the human race if a certain jewel wasn’t delivered to its rightful owner. For instance, one distraction was Agent Jay’s romantic interest toward a woman (Linda Fiorentino) who worked in a morgue. However, I didn’t mind its occasional lack of focus because it was very fast-paced and it never forgot to have fun. It kept me curious. When the woman examined a dead body and she found something curious inside it, the camera did not rush to show us what she saw. The material was smart enough to let us think about the oddity. More importantly, it impressed me because “Men in Black” proved that a film about the end of the world can be both successful as a sci-fi comedy and a commercial project. Unlike Roland Emmerich’s disappointing “Independence Day,” this movie captured a sense of fun within the dangers that were unfolding before our eyes. Based on the comics by Lowell Cunningham and skillfully directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, “Men in Black” may have felt small in scope but the rewards were undeniably big. It wanted to engage its audiences instead of spoon-feeding us information. For a movie about a world inhabited with aliens, I admired that it didn’t offer interminable scenes which served to explain. It simply showed. And that may have been its main recipe for success.