Friday, November 12, 2010

They came from the stars... to take our braaaiiinnnss!!! A Review of Universal's Skyline

As my go to guy for film reviews, The Movie Preview Critic, would say: "What's up good movie lovers?"

I just came back from watching the sci-fi alien invasion flick Skyline and now I'm going to dish out some good ol movie review moves on this one.
WARNING this is SPOILER FILLED! If you hate being spoiled don't continue any further!

First off, I'd like to go a little deeper behind the movie Skyline. This film is directed by The Brothers Strause, who had the misfortune of directing the second AVP film for their debut into directing films. These guys have had it bad since then on many AVP fan forums, and I honestly have to say I cannot hate on these guys like most people. I've seen the behind the scenes of AVP 2, and while the movie was horrible, these guys did seem to enjoy making the movie. These guys look like they love movies, and I cannot fault them for wanting to direct a movie that covers two popular franchises. I can however fault Fox for a number of reasons, and obviously if The Brothers Strause were here they'd probably tell me what a nightmare it was working under Fox. Remember, these are the guys who think they can boss Tony Scott around on how to make another Alien film.

However, I did have my doubts when I heard that The Bros. would be making yet another alien-based movie. After all, they did direct AVP 2. However, when they discussed about their approach to this film, I couldn't help but give the movie a little more consideration. First off, they took a more independent approach, with an aversion to studio involvement. Most of the filming took place in The Bros. own home, that's how independent it was. Second, the effects looked great, The Bros. started out with working on numerous computer effects for numerous films, so if there's something they knew how to do it was make effective computer created effects. Third, they put their own little twist to the formula of an alien invasion movie: the aliens use our own curiosity against us. Using blue lights to seize control of our bodies and pull us up to the mother ship.

However, I was still reluctant to see this movie. It was only my morbid curiosity and the minor insistence of a friend that put my butt in the theater.

What I saw was a mix of stereotypical alien invasion movie cliches and a few new twists that truly didn't make a whole difference to the overall film. What does change the feeling of this movie is the ending, which completely blew my mind in it's surprisingly ballsy and original splendor.

However, the first and second acts are most definitely the worst parts of this movie.

The first act instantly attempts to drag us in by plunging us right into the beginning of the invasion as hundreds of blue lights fall from the sky and begin to attract people like moths to a flame. The group of people we focus on here are evidently the remnants of a drunken party as tables are laden with empty alcohol bottles and couches laden with unconscious women. These people awaken as the light shakes the earth and one, a guy named Jarrod (Eric Balfour who I remember from Syfy's Haven), is hooked like a fish on a line by the blue light.

Cut to a few hours earlier where we see Jarrod and his girlfriend Elaine (Scottie Thompson) arriving in LA to visit their friend Terry (Dr. Turkleton or Donald Faison, I'm going to call him Turkleton for the rest of the review cuz I luv me some Scrubs) who is celebrating his birthday. We have a couple other relative no-name alien cannon fodder such as Turkleton's girlfriend and someone who I think is Turkleton's secretary. This act was probably the worst of the two acts as the film struggles to introduce the audience to the people we should be caring for, and the only ones I end up caring for are Turkleton (cuz he's Turkleton) and Jarrod (cuz I like his goatee, oh and he's the kind of guy who likes to help people with their luggage). I couldn't help but notice that the movie can't even properly explain what it is that Jarrod and Turkleton actually do for a living. Judging by the fancy apartment I can only guess that Turkleton is doing something that pays well for no particular amount of effort, oh and he apparently is "talented at it" because Jarrod explains everyone in his home town knew he (Turkleton) was "going places." Basically, you have to be Sherlock Holmes (or at least someone who habitually watches crime procedurals or Psych) because it's only through what these characters have or you see do in only two shots that you get what these people do in the normal world. Jarrod, for instance, is evidently a struggling artist, judging by the book he carries around on the plane filled with pretty colours and the small scene where he says he's "barely surviving."

Elaine, Jarrod's girlfriend, suddenly announces to him that she's pregnant (if you didn't pick up on it when you saw her go into the bathroom to puke in the MORNING at the start of the film or the fact that she was feeling SICK on the plane in the MORNING. Then you must be Helen Keller. Actually I take it back, you don't have to be Sherlock to work these things out. You could be Helen Keller and still figure out she's with child!) much to Jarrod's surprise. However, I'm not sure if the fight they got into ended by the time they went to bed even though they seemed to be fine enough to stay in the same bed by the next scene. There isn't a scene where they work things out and assure one another that they'll get through this. Who needs good character development when you've got an impending alien attack coming up?!?

The rest of act one follows as such: The aliens attack, people argue about what's going on, aliens attack, people argue, aliens, argue, until they finally agree on leaving the apartment building to escape the city. One thing I couldn't help but feel annoyed about was how Turkleton's girlfriend felt it was a good idea to act like a jealous bitch during an alien invasion. Sure I can understand the lady felt betrayed about Turkleton sleeping with his secretary during the party but seriously, there are friggin aliens swallowing up all the people in Los Angeles, there's a time and a place! The only way I could see this sub plot being needed is if, through the adversity of the alien apocalypse, Turkleton and his girlfriend find reconciliation and grow as a couple. But this doesn't happen, Turkleton gets eaten by a giant monster that shoots tentacles out of its hand like a frog's tongue (this is the one and only death I mourned, well no I mourned the death of the old guy with the dog cuz he's an old guy with a cute puppy dog, but of all the main characters Turkleton was the only death I mourned.)

The second act starts with the concierge appears and saves our heroes from one of the smaller aliens. It is here that we realize why the aliens have come: they use our brains to control their bodies!!! I am not sure why they replace the brains they've got with ours (or how a species that does this even managed to evolve. Seriously think it through: if aliens needed other things' brains to do anything, how did they become a dominant species?), but it's a motive and it's slightly original. The second act kinda goes through the motions as our heroes argue on whether waiting for help or trying to escape the city is a good idea again. As the hum drum of alien invasion sets in, we are give segments where Jarrod, who at this point has been exposed to the strange alien light three times, is beginning to show some odd side effects such as a weird alien crossword puzzle on his chest and the occasional burst of superhuman strength (he lifts the concierge into the air like the Predator lifted Arnie in the first movie). Soon, the inevitable military counter-attack occurs, however, I actually really enjoyed the fast-paced dog fight over the Los Angeles skyline (see what I did there?!?!?). I will admit that this is pure CGI porn. As predator drones and stealth bombers try to punch a hole through the enemy offensive to shove a nuke down their gooey throat I couldn't help but feel like a big gambler at the horse races. The one bomber in particular had me rooting for it more than I have been rooting for our heroes. So when the bomber finally manages to launch it's payload (get your mind out of the gutter!), the entire city is engulfed in a brilliant light.

Here I predicted that, like in Independence Day, the alien mother ship would've been unscathed, but much to my surprise the nuke actually took it out! I was surprised when the ship came crashing down to earth in a blaze of nuclear fire. However, this didn't call for a sigh of relief as almost instantly the alien menace poured out of the wreckage thoroughly pissed off! I then found myself groaning, not because the movie was bad, but because of the shot of the alien ship reassembling itself. This was one of the scenes that set this movie apart from other alien invasion movies because it actually managed to change the formula up: these aliens aren't indestructible, they are very much destructible but they are also tenacious. A car can crush one of these aliens, you can cut them down with an axe, but if you don't put them down for good they will put themselves back together like some sort of bastardized version of the Iron Giant.

By this point, Jarrod is really feeling the effects of the alien light, where the slightest disturbance can set him off and make him all "dark eyed." All he wants to do is get out of town with his girlfriend and his unborn child before the aliens or the radiation kills them (I'm pleased that a movie actually acknowledges the threat of radiation after a nuke goes off). So he intends on taking Elaine up to the roof to signal for one of the many choppers that show up to drop troops to combat the aliens to come a rescue them. The concierge and Turkleton's girlfriend remain in the apartment where they soon suffer horrible deaths at the hands of the aliens. The concierge, a portly latino man, has one of the most predicable one liners in the entire movie. the very second you see him about to light off the gas from the stove you can already hear him saying: "Vaya con dios, you (insert nasty insult here)!"

While cliche fills the 20th floor of the apartment, Jarrod and Elaine try to signal for one of the choppers to save them. Sadly, the aliens get to them first, and they are beamed up into the mother ship. I sat in the theater wondering if this was how the movie would end: with our heroes getting their brains sucked out and the earth is left in ruins. It's a path not so commonly taken in most alien invasion films, but I couldn't help but think it was a bit anti-climactic.

So this brings us to the ending. The one redeeming factor for this movie. The one thing that made me really enjoy this movie after it dragged me through a really basic alien invasion storyline. It is this ending that made me walk out of the theater thinking that this movie was actually really good.

The ending is this: after we are shown various parts of the earth being picked clean by the aliens the scene cuts to Elaine inside the alien ship. She watches in horror as Jarrod's head is removed and his brain taken to be "processed" (not the movie's word, mine). Elaine is about to be "brain-ified" when the aliens realize she is pregnant. They take her to another holding room where women are being subjected some horrible procedure that I think if the movie actually showed would've given them an X rating. Meanwhile we are shown where the harvested human brains go to get implanted into alien bodies. Here we see what evidently is a normal blue glowing brain being implanted into a flying alien. Then we see a red glowing brain pop up and it is quickly transferred into an alien that looks kinda like Dog from Half-Life 2. This alien looks confused and dazed as we soon realize this is Jarrod's brain, somehow the continual exposure to the light has made his brain immune to the implantation process and he quickly fights his way to Elaine and saves her. The movie ends with Alien-Jarrod quickly putting himself between Elaine and the nightmare creatures in the mother ship.

This ending left me wanting to see the epic fight that they only tease us with in between the credits. This ending was such an unexpected twist for me that I couldn't help but exclaim: "Holy f***in s**t!" I was pumped after seeing this ending, so much so that I am already itching for a sequel just so we can watch Alien-Jarrod kick some major alien ass all to protect his gal and their baby.

So was Skyline a worthy movie to go see? No. It was a typical alien invasion movie. The characters are poorly developed, the movie follows the basic formula for an alien invasion movie, and it still manages to be predictable even though it had an unpredictable ending.

Is it a good movie? It's better than most of the films I've seen come into theaters recently. Though I'd have to say it's asking a lot if I said that it is worth watching just to see the ending. To be honest, I would've been more interested in seeing a movie that would probably end up being the sequel. The idea of Jarrod being Elaine and their baby's body guard in the post-apocalyptic alien infested world just seems like a more interesting film to me. It's an idea I'd like to see be made into a movie. I mean how can you go wrong with something like that? You have kick ass alien vs alien battles and the internal struggle of a family where the father is a monster. I say it's a win/win situation!

Whatever the case, whether or not The Bros. Strause do end up making a sequel or not, I can safely say I walked out of the theater surprisingly satisfied that I watched Skyline.

So the verdict:
I give Skyline three glowing brains out of five for it's fantastically surprising ending yet it's very predictable formula and underdeveloped characters.

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