Isle of Dogs

Release: Friday, April 13, 2018

→Theater

Written by: Wes Anderson

Directed by: Wes Anderson

When it comes to Wes Anderson, ‘more of the same’ is absolutely a compliment. I don’t find myself saying that about many other filmmakers. Now nine films deep into a career that has netted him an ever-growing, passionate and devoted fanbase it is clear he isn’t changing tacks. On evidence of his latest effort, a visually dense yet lucidly told saga about a young Japanese boy in search of his lost pup, it is clear he doesn’t need to.

With Isle of Dogs, it is more than just a case of absence making the heart grow fonder. (It has been four years, apparently, since The Grand Budapest Hotel.) Isle of Dogs has the distinction of being only the second animated feature film on Anderson’s résumé. Like 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, it is rendered in stop-motion animation, an aesthetic choice that on its own attests to a profound commitment and love for the craft of telling stories in moving pictures. His live action films feel restrictive by comparison in terms of the number of aspects he can control and customize to his completely obsessive liking. This new offering is so meticulously crafted you can easily take its beauty for granted.

Set in the fictitious metropolis of Megasaki City in a near-future Japan, trouble begins when the new, authoritarian, cat-loving mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) orders the exile of all dogs from the city to an off-shore wasteland called Trash Island following an outbreak of “snout fever.” A brief timeline of events is immediately established, tracing the downward trend in the public repute of our canine companions. The relationship has deteriorated from dogs being subjected to harsh verbal treatment from their owners to being flat-out persecuted. So when I say this film is beautiful, I suppose I’m being shallow because if you do a little thematic digging you are sure to find some things that are actually quite ugly. Elements of immigration, of second-class citizenship and racial prejudice, even slavery are touched upon.

In the present/future/future-present/whatever, a young boy named Atari (Koyu Rankin), who happens to be the nephew and ward of Mayor Kobayashi, flees the city in an attempt to reunite with his best buddy. His dog Spots was the very first to get booted to Trash Island. Upon his crash-landing there several months later Atari meets a group of abandoned mutts — Chief (Bryan Cranston), Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Bill Murray), and Duke (Jeff Goldblum) — who prove surprisingly willing to aid in his quest. After mistakenly identifying the remains of another dog as Spots, they seek the advice of wizened old fools Jupiter (F. Murray Abraham) and Oracle (Tilda Swinton) who point them to the remote reaches of the island where they might have luck finding him amidst the cannibalistic tribes rumored to be living there.

Luckily, a post-Breaking Bad Bryan Cranston isn’t in his first Wes Anderson movie just to give a whimper of a performance. He has real bite here, playing a tough pooch who must break free from his habit of distrusting others, especially he who walks upright. This is his movie more than anyone else’s, and that of course means sacrifices on the part of Anderson regulars in order to elevate his status. Good for fans of Cranston, but perhaps a disappointing revelation for those wanting more Bill Furr-ay.

Isle of Dogs is a very busy place, a fully realized environment bustling with activity and overloaded with imagery that pays tribute to Japanese culture and iconography. To this viewer, that effort comes across as sincere and respectful but that hasn’t been the case for everyone. If your experience was anything like mine you may have spent more time and a frustrating number of scenes trying to figure out which famous actor was voicing which animal rather than all the ways in which this movie appears to reinforce negative stereotypes. My head hurts already from overthinking things.

And then there are those obligatory subplots to contend with as well, which are considerably less interesting this time around. More often than not these asides tend to chop the central conceit up into annoying bits and pieces of doggie chow. One involves the predictable repercussions of Atari’s disappearance as his uncle vows to bring him and his newfound friends to justice. The other, also an attempt to balance perspectives, finds an outspoken animal rights activist (Greta Gerwig with HUGE hair) stumbling upon a potential conspiracy involving the corrupt mayor and a group of scientists featuring Yoko Ono. (Like I said, there’s just a lot going on.)

Much of the ambition pays off. How can it not when you have a filmmaker as uncompromisingly idiosyncratic as Wes Anderson, and especially here, when he is in complete control? Unfortunately not all of it succeeds and a few bells and whistles feel unnecessarily tacked on. Frances McDormand’s inclusion is a shining example of Anderson trying to do too much. The talented actress fulfills this really weird-bordering-on-condescending role as an English translator in select scenes where Japanese is spoken. She more often than not just gets in the way, neither becoming an interesting character nor a necessary plot device. In fact her function is borderline insulting, not simply to the few Japanese characters who actually do get speaking roles, but to those of us who are even decent at reading body language and facial expressions. Never mind the fact that the movie stops dead in its tracks just to explain such superfluity.

Ultimately though, Isle of Dogs does a lot of good. It is as uplifting in its action sequences as it is saddening in its darkest trials, of which there are quite a few. The whimsical spirit of the adventure and the often comical physical renderings — the scrappy dog fights are true highlights — go a long way in making a somber reality more palatable. The film is perhaps the darkest one yet in his filmography, yet it is perpetually buoyed by its fascination with the simple but unconditional love a dog has for his owner. Isle of Dogs may not be Anderson at his narrative best, but its flaws are not enough to stop me from asking for more of the same. Please, just. More.

Dog day afternoon

Recommendation: Isle of Dogs represents only the second time Wes Anderson has gone the way of stop-motion, but it is a welcome return to a form that I find he actually excels even more in. Barring a few niggling detours here and there, Isle of Dogs is consistently entertaining, surprisingly dramatic and a visually enthralling experience. Four barks out of five.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 101 mins.

Quoted: “You’ll meet a bitch named Nutmeg. Tell her Chief says, ‘I’ll see you in Megasaki.'”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Thor: Ragnarok

Release: Friday, November 3, 2017

→Theater

Written by: Eric Pearson; Craig Kyle; Christopher L. Yost

Directed by: Taika Waititi

Save yourself a pat on the back for me, Marvel. The Taika Waititi experiment has paid off and now you’ve got a great big success on your hands. Thor: Ragnarok isn’t a revelation but it is a very entertaining package, and that largely comes down to the studio investing in yet another unlikely candidate for the job. The New Zealand-born comedian-turned-director has the global audience in his hands as he sets about parodying the realm of fancily-clad, musclebound superheroes into oblivion.

Rarely do you find a franchise hitting a high note late into their run, yet here we are three films in and Ragnarok is unequivocally one of those highs. Thor (2011) had its moments but too often it took pleasure in slamming you in the gut with corny dialogue and half-hearted attempts at levity. The Dark World in 2014 overcompensated by going really heavy and really broody. In the end it was even sillier than its predecessor. Cut to another eight films deeper into the superstructure of the MCU and we finally get a Thor film that beats everyone to the punch by being the first to make fun of itself. It’s still not quite a balanced effort but Thor: Ragnarok is a much better film for using humor as its primary weapon.

From the opening scene it’s apparent things are going to work a little differently under the Kiwi’s creative leadership. In his fifth reprisal of the legendary son of Odin, Chris Hemsworth is able to find the funny in everything, including being hogtied upside-down and held captive at the hands of the fire demon Surtur on a remote planet. (Well, almost everything. He doesn’t seem to enjoy being tasered, being bound to a chair or losing his beloved Mjölnir.) It’s been two years since we’ve last seen Thor, when the Republic of Sokovia was lifted dramatically skyward during another marquee Avengers moment. He’s been scouring the Nine Realms for the remaining Infinity Stones ever since but we find him now caught in a bind.

Spewing exposition for the benefit of the audience is never a glamorous job, so Waititi figures why not let it fall to an anthropomorphic molten rock thingy. Surtur informs us that ‘Ragnarök’ — the prophesied destruction of Thor’s home world — is nigh, and that essentially nothing can stop it. Even though he Houdini’s his way out of this initial hang-up, Thor is sent on a collision course with an even bigger problem: dealing with his incredibly dysfunctional family. In tracking down Odin (Sir Anthony Hopkins), who is in failing health and has exiled himself from Asgard, Thor, along with half-brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), learn about the sister they never knew they had in Hela (Academy Award-winner Cate Blanchett) as well as her imminent return to Asgard.

And it is imminent. Hopkins has barely finished his monologue before we get our first glimpse of a goddess scorned. Blanchett, resembling at the very least in her eye shadow an evil version of Canadian pop singer Avril Lavigne, comes storming on to the scene, a wicked grin transforming her naturally pretty visage. The anticipation of her return proves to be far more interesting than the return itself however, as not even Ragnarok can stem the tide of Marvel’s history of disappointing villains (though the irony of this franchise spawning arguably the entire MCU’s best baddie is never lost). Spouting the platitudes of power-hungry deities isn’t the actor’s forte, yet Blanchett is such a pro she hides her inexperience well, clearly relishing the opportunity to do something a little different. If only the writing around her character aspired to do something different as well.

The major beats of the story ping-pong us back and forth between two alien worlds, the Eden-above-Eden that is Asgard, and a garbage planet called Sakaar, a wild land that feels like an extension of a music video for Empire of the Sun. There we are walking not on a dream, but amongst the brokenness of dreams, of spirits. It’s a planet literally comprised of junk and over which Jeff Goldblum‘s Grandmaster deludedly reigns. As the resident Crazy, the Grandmaster likes to put on gladiatorial battles for his scavenging underlings to drool over. (Cue Thor’s involvement and, so as to emphasize the film’s newfound identity, his new haircut.)

Contrived writing and trailer-provided spoilers aside, this is an important detour as it introduces a pair of fringe players who end up vying for MVP of the movie. And when Waititi prioritizes entertainment over logic at almost every turn he could always use more hands on deck. In the arena we meet Korg, a warrior made out of rocks and brought to life by Waititi himself in a motion capture performance. He’s a gentle giant whose voice is guaranteed to throw you for a loop. Then there’s Tessa Thompson’s hard-drinking bounty hunter, who at the behest of the screenwriters consistently rejects Thor’s pleas for help. The Valkyrie brings a beguiling new attitude that makes her eventual turnaround not only convincing but emotionally satisfying. She needs a movie of her own.

Thor: Ragnarok is a spirited good time, and it is surely an impressive feat for a director who considers himself decidedly more indie. The guys over at Industrial Light and Magic contribute an appropriate sense of scale and the rich textures needed to make these alien environments feel lived-in. The world-building is beyond reproach, but not even Waititi’s brand of comedy is enough to cover up all the existent flaws in the design, the likes of which seem to accrue rapidly along a common fault. The tonal shift is so jarring between the events taking place on poor old vulnerable Ass-guard and those on Sakaar that the film could be clinically diagnosed as bipolar. One part of the film is unapologetically fun, the other — Hela’s brave new world — feels like Game of Thrones. Enormous man-eating wolves only solidify that impression.

It’s ironic that the third Thor film suffers from precisely the opposite problem its predecessors had. It seems almost unfair or overly harsh to criticize the new one for correcting and then overcorrecting, but the scales are nevertheless still unbalanced. The comedy is too varied for Ragnarok to be dismissed as purely asinine — you’ll find elements of slapstick coexisting with wry observational humor, and then there’s always the familiar Marvel formula for giving us a sense of power dynamics (the Hulk smash is once again invoked, and we all know that’s not something Waititi invented). Indeed, there’s much to celebrate with this movie, and while there’s nearly as much to criticize, I’d call this progress. Significant progress at that.

Recommendation: Colorful, energetic, popcorn-destroying fun. The continued adventures of Thor are given a new lease on life with the Johnny-come-lately director who seems to take advantage of the timing of his arrival. When in full comedy mode, Thor: Ragnarok is at its best but as with all of these movies, I’m not the expert. I wonder how more dedicated fans in the long run come to view movies like this, like Shane Black’s Iron Man 3. Will these movies be remembered for the history they helped shape or what they had to sacrifice in order to make room for more laughs? 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 130 mins. 

Something kinda neat: Thor’s “friend from work” line about the Hulk was suggested to Chris Hemsworth by a Make-A-Wish child who paid a visit to the set on the day the scene was filmed.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.flickeringmyth.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Independence Day: Resurgence

'Independence Day - Resurgence' movie poster

Release: Friday, June 24, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Roland Emmerich; Nicolas Wright; James A. Woods; Dean Devlin; James Vanderbilt

Directed by: Roland Emmerich

Nothing brings a tear to my eye faster than knowing that Earth’s mantle is going to be safe, at least until the next ill-advised blockbuster sequel. I really felt more for the core of the planet than I did for the core group of humans at the heart of this underwhelming summer spectacle.

You might get away with arguing that Independence Day: Resurgence is simply more of the same, and that’s everything the film needed to be. And I get some of that. While we don’t have Will Smith back (too expensive), we see many favorites return: Jeff Goldblum and Judd Hirsch as the Levinsons; Bill Pullman as the former President; Vivica A. Fox (the exotic dancer mom, remember?); and a particularly odd scientist is back, too (thanks trailers, for spoiling that one). More of the same though, in this case, just means more: more CGI, more indecipherable chaos, more gimmickry that tries to evoke the past (see Patrick St. Esprit’s stand-in for James Rebhorn’s Secretary of Defense Albert Nimziki).

For a fleeting few minutes, Resurgence shows its mettle: the invasion of Earth is, once again, astonishingly cool. And eerie. And the tagline for once fits: “we had 20 years to prepare; so did they,” only “they” in this case refers to the wizards responsible for all those nifty visual effects. The hellfire that lights up our skies somehow looks even more ominous this time around; watch as landmarks the world over are uprooted like twigs and repositioned miles away. We don’t get the chess game that resulted in gigantic fireballs engulfing major cities but we do get one hell of a Mother Ship, which, in a particularly memorable shot, is shown clamping down on at least a quarter of the planet like a massive leech. They apparently have an interest in the molten core of Earth, which they’ll drain for energy. Obviously that’s not good news for us.

The problem with ‘more-of-the-same‘ in this case is that familiarity déjà vu creeps in much too soon. Resurgence will never be appreciated on its own merits, but rather how far the apple (spacecraft?) did or did not fall from the tree (outer space?). Comparisons may be unfair, but they become less so when a director decides that humanity once again needs to come together like all the colors of the rainbow to fend off another alien invasion. Talk about some shit luck. It took everything we had in the ’90s to stand our ground, to establish Earth as the only planet that really matters in the universe. And here we are again, shaken by the scary thought that maybe it just ain’t so.

At least Emmerich, with his team of writers, has the sense to try and cover for the mistake made in setting up an almost identical invasion — no small thanks to the overly familiar shot selection — by setting the mood much more pessimistic. President Lanford (Sela Ward) seems to be a symbol of hope and unity at the start but she’s soon overshadowed by former President Whitmore’s moroseness. “There’s no way we’ll win this time.” Not with that attitude you won’t. Poor ol’ Prez; he’s been haunted ever since by the last encounter and now can’t really go out in public. So his daughter Patricia (Maika Monroe), who happens to be a fine Air Force pilot herself, dedicates much of her time looking after him. But that benevolence only runs as deep as the script; soon enough not even Monroe is capable of making us believe she’s the President’s daughter.

The plan of attack, drawn up by General Adams (William Fichtner), is shades of grey different from the international united front we launched last time. We’re going after the Queen this time instead of a rogue ship stationed just outside our atmosphere. The goal is to distract this supremely large otherworldly being (no, seriously, think kaiju large) from obtaining a spherical orb/macguffin that ties in to some larger intergalactic story, one that, cosmetically, feels ripped straight out of Men in Black but in concept fits better into Star Wars mythology. (Oh, there’s a cool cross-over idea: Men in Black 4: Star Wars Independence Day.)

Returning characters are given the juicier parts. Unfortunately, few of them share any significant screen time together. Giving those with more experience more prominent roles is an age-old practice that just means we get to spend more time with Goldblum’s David, which is far from a bad thing. Now a revered, distinctive member of the human race, even his dad trusts him more. And no one is telling his David to shut up. In Resurgence a larger spotlight also falls upon the personnel working inside Area 51. The base, once-upon-a-time a secret and mythical location, has since been designated as Earth’s Space Defense Headquarters. And of course President Whitmore has a few wrongs to right, so he jumps back into an aircraft to do his civic duty. On a less welcomed note, Liam Hemsworth replaces Captain Hiller’s sidekick Captain Jimmy Wilder with little enthusiasm; while Jessie T. Usher plays Hiller’s son all grown up. There’s some sort of alpha-male struggle between the two but it’s added in, also digitally, just to give the actors some lines to read. Very little of what they say to each other actually matters.

In fairness it wasn’t scintillating dialogue that defined the classic that came before — yes I’m calling it a classic — but rather an overt but not misplaced sense of American pride. After all, it was the product of American filmmakers and events took place on and around the Fourth of July. In Resurgence, though, the fire just isn’t there. There’s no Whitmore rallying cry. There are only mutterings from a jaded man who can’t seem to believe all of this is happening again.

It’s all numbing special effects stuff that impresses upon us how far technology has come in the last couple of decades. It’s less of a championing of the human spirit as it is a competition to see who has the bigger laser, the bigger home base, the smarter individual beings. Resurgence is pretty brainless. It’s certainly redundant. But I guess there’s no denying the visual grandeur, or the scope of Emmerich’s ambitions, even if all that adds up to is proof that there’s nothing bigger than the greed consuming Hollywood studios who think blockbuster sequels will save us all.

Recommendation: Independence Day: Resurgence is yet another of those sequels that few earthlings asked for. (I certainly didn’t want it.) The ridiculousness of it all threatens Michael Bay, which is to say the film tries to upstage the competition with brute force via CGI saturation. Too bad it forgets that a) humans will always remember their first alien invasion and b) they will always want Will Smith back. In ID4: 2 spectacle trumps all. Even if that means screwing up the alien mythology. Will there be more? Of course there will be. You can take that all the way to the bank, provided it’s still there. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 120 mins.

Quoted: “They’re not screaming. They’re celebrating.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com 

The Grand Budapest Hotel

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Release: Friday, March 7, 2014 (limited)

[Theater]

Getting to work with Wes Anderson on any given project just has to be an unforgettable experience. If he called, I honestly don’t know how one would be able to use the word ‘No’ during that conversation; that scheduling conflict better be worth it.

Whether just a weekend visitor or planning to rent out a room for the long term, an actor who steps foot inside the lobby of Wes Anderson’s creative space is never quite the same afterwards. Ideally, this is what happens anyway. The opportunity of getting to work alongside such a unique and self-assured director has been one a diverse collection of actors has already taken advantage of and benefitted from.

It’s like clockwork with this guy. Each time he has a new offering there are more big names to point out in a cast that seems to continuously expand. In the case of his latest, the roster has swelled to very grand proportions indeed. Weekend visitors this time around include the likes of Ralph Fiennes, Tom Wilkinson, Willem Dafoe, Jude Law, Saoirse Ronan and Léa Seydoux — all names that bear much recognition already but that also decided they could use some time away at the Wes Anderson school hotel of filmmaking in order to tap new potential.

Their career moves aren’t so much brave as they are smart. In 2014 the aforementioned names are to join the Wes Anderson fraternity — Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Edward Norton, among others all being potential role models for the newcomers to this wild and wacky world created by one of the most original filmmakers in the business today. By attracting this large of a cast, his new work seems to be bursting at the seams with potential to take his signature quirk to the highest level.

This year Anderson has whipped up The Grand Budapest Hotel, a rollercoaster ride of a friendship between hotel concierge M. Gustave H (Fiennes) and his lobby boy-in-training, Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori). Taking up the task of training the wet-behind-the-ears lad, Gustave proudly and confidently tours both Zero and the audience through the expansive and elegant enclaves of the hotel whilst explaining the proper etiquette that is expected of its staff. Gustave is something of a celebrity in the mountainous region of the Republic of Zubrowka, where his hotel is located, as he has been known to go to bed with several of his female guests — all of whom have been blonde.

His latest escapade with an elderly woman leaves Gustave embroiled in controversy when evidence of her mysterious death surfaces and doesn’t exactly cast him in a favorable light. As it turns out, Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) was an incredibly wealthy individual with a number of possessions to give away. In a surprise move, she bequeathes a rare painting to Gustave for his kindness and care in her later years, and this is done to her surviving family’s great chagrin.

Embittered and angry sons Dmitri (Adrien Brody) and Jopling — which must be a Zubrowkan name for ‘Dracula’ or something because Willem Dafoe looks the part — plot Gustave’s demise in the ensuing chapters. Gustave and Zero bond over the years as they attempt to prove his innocence in the matter by traveling all over the ridiculous place just to get him an alibi. He has to consort with the mysterious Serge X (Mathieu Amalric) in order to do so and at the same time, avoid the increasing threat posed by Jopling and Dmitri. For his assistance and loyalty in this most trying time, Gustave promises to make young Zero his heir at the Grand Budapest, all in due course. . .of course.

Despite the film borrowing shamelessly elements from all other Anderson films — as all other Anderson films do of all other Anderson films — The Grand Budapest Hotel is decidedly one of the darker tales. It shares the same giddy levels of cartoonish action and physical comedy, and the writing is sharply written to the point of guaranteeing at least one painful laugh per half hour. It is even divided up into small chapters like other films are. It features heavy narration and a bevy of well-known actors in funny roles and outfits.

Upon reflection, the 2014 effort features a central story that’s generally bleaker than a lot of his other material has been. Though it is not completely lacking, there isn’t quite as much adoration or affection presented in the affairs ongoing. Even though we’re told about it, we don’t see Zero’s passionate love affair develop much with Agatha (Saoirse Ronan); there are more threats than laughs coming from Madame D’s family as the investigation continues into the death of a member of elite society; Gustave goes to prison for some time because he gets framed for the murder. When Zero’s backstory is given time to be explained, the film looks to be heading in the direction of full-on drama but thanks to the strength of the screenplay and the awareness of Anderson, we never quite go there.

Even when it is apparent that the fate of the hotel is anything but certain given the looming violence on the European horizon, this is through-and-through a Wes Anderson comedy-drama that banks on the same appeal his films have consistently displayed and been appreciated for over the last 20 years.

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4-0Recommendation: Although it doesn’t do much in the way of providing an argument as to why it should be considered his best, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a traditional Anderson dish with a European flare. Almost slapstick in delivering the laughs, the tale is quickly paced once it gets going, though first-time or on-the-fence viewers might find the first twenty minutes or so a bit tedious. Although, the Anderson tropes and the film’s slow opening may all be forgotten if one is a big enough fan of Ralph Fiennes. A stellar turn for the man in a role that contrasts considerably from his usual fare.

Rated: R

Running Time: 100 mins.

Quoted: “You’re looking so well darling, you really are. I don’t know what sort of cream they put on you down at the morgue but, I want some.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Independence Day (1996)

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How’s the weather where you are today? It’s a drab, rainy afternoon here in Knoxville, with no sign of the clouds really making an effort to allow us to see some big bright explosions in the sky later. For some reason, the weather never seems to cooperate around this time, but maybe that’s just my poor memory failing me. I sure hope they don’t end up shooting off fireworks regardless, because standing there in the street staring up at a bunch of colored clouds is not what I would imagine to be the best celebration of America’s birthday. Regardless of the fireworks show, the rain can never stop a good blog post from happening. And in honor of it being July 4 (even though I’m British and really have no room to talk), I’d like to send everyone back to a time and place where Roland Emmerich actually made a really good movie. Well, I guess ‘good’ is a relative term; I really can’t imagine him topping this epic disaster film. 

Today’s food for thought: Independence Day

Independence-Day

Release: July 2, 1996

[VHS]

While Emmerich makes it quite easy to rail against his style of direction —  the use of campy situations, cheesy dialogue and wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am action sequences to excess — here’s the one movie that really seemed to make the most of all of his trademarks to deliver a smash hit that we can go back to again and again. Although it’s a little odd to label some global catastrophe as an event that’s typically reserved for the United States following their successful break from British rule, there’s no doubt this movie is one of those that can stand the test of time. It may be cheesy, it may be bombastic, but man is it a fun film.

Perhaps no Emmerich film has been as loaded with iconic imagery as this global-scale disaster film. We have the moment when the ships appear in our atmosphere: the loud groaning of the crafts coming to a halt over major metropolitan areas, the embankment of clouds an inferno of friction with the force of these gigantic slivers of metal making their dramatic entrance. Of course there’re the aliens themselves, which — correct me if I’m wrong — were rather well done considering the date on this film. You have the great cities of New York and Los Angeles getting obliterated in one of the most memorable attack sequences of any movie (certainly upon New York City); Lady Liberty left face-down in shallow waters following the attacks, a sight that is far more perturbing than seeing her engulfed in 100-foot drifts of snow like she was in The Day After Tomorrow.

And then, of course, you have the cast, with Will Smith being the icing on this blockbuster cake. You could argue the storyline borrows very heavily from a lot of other sci-fi/disaster films but without these significant elements and visuals, Independence Day would have very little with which to plant its seed in our memories. Quite simply, it would be as forgettable as Godzilla, or as asinine as 2012. But this film from the late 90s actually does have staying power, and not just based on its overt (if not slightly abused) sense of patriotism.

“Should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day the world declared in one voice: ‘We will not go quietly into the night!’ We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive! Today we celebrate our Independence Day!” President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) addresses a fleet of fighter pilots accrued from all over the globe in the early morning light before launching the largest counterattack ever attempted on the technologically-superior extraterrestrials. Yes, because a year from now we are all going to move on from apartheid, starvation and wars over water and other base needs. . .we will be a human race indeed reborn. This digression really doesn’t mean anything, though. It’s just a thought. The point being: there’s a strong high we experience in watching the humans stage a massive attack against the almost inconceivably brilliant aliens. With the release of this movie around July 4, 1996, that particular birthday for America might be more remembered for that than anything else. Emmerich deserves a little pat on the back for that.

Even though the film approaches unremarkable, generic status with its larger-than-life ambition, it still manages to anchor two enjoyable personal journeys — those of David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) and Captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith). David is a brilliant mind but a terrible underachiever. His father Julius (Judd Hirsch) is a hilarious filter for our curiosity as to what exactly his major malfunction is, and quite honestly he could be one of the more memorable performances in the movie. As for Smith’s role, he’s stuck playing the young gun who’s got plenty to prove for himself. He’s good at these kinds of roles, but it’s certainly not a new discovery. Still, he is a great fit for this film, particularly when push comes to shove and he’s face-to-face with one of the alien invaders. And how’s that for another iconic image — Smith sitting on the fallen craft, smoking a stogie and ripping off a couple of quips about the fallen alien? He almost dies in the pursuit of this thing, but he’s just annoyed that he had to put his barbecue plans on hold. Oh, the cheesiness. But in this case, I am willing to accept it. It really works.

As does the beyond-ludicrous concept that Levinson devises in the film’s clumsy-getting-clumsier third act. How exactly does one expect to give a machine a ‘virus,’ as he purports to be able to do to the mothership, which hovers on the edge of Earth’s atmosphere? Oh wait, it was a computer virus. With any luck, the “technologically superior” race of beings that have provided our armageddon have PC’s and not Macs — Apple has really established itself as one of the leaders in virus-resistant technology. While completely filled with plot holes, the unification of David and Captain Levinson is somewhat rewarding and a whole mess of fun to experience when they are jettisoned into space. They do their job, but of course problems arise. (I did mention this film’s predictability, right?)

At worst, this plot is more riddled with holes than Swiss cheese; at best, it’s an impossible but irresistibly spirited testament to humanity’s unwillingness to throw in the towel, even in the face of certain annihilation. Emmerich’s directorial lunacy reaches a fevered pitch during the Area 51 scene in which our Commander-in-Chief makes contact with the captured alien by speaking in English. The alien communicates via its many tentacle-like appendages, coiled around the vocal chords of a human victim — in this case, an eccentric scientist. (The moment that guy says something to the effect of “As you might imagine, they don’t let us out much….” and then begins laughing uncontrollably, I knew this guy was destined for great things. . .) The alien wishes death upon everyone and everything, before unleashing a terrible sound that somehow gets stuck in only the President’s brain and no one else’s. Again, one must overlook such gaps in logic, because to do otherwise would be…well, you just wouldn’t be a true patriot. Even as dumb as this scene is, when I first experienced it as a kid, I was actually deeply disturbed. It was between this moment and the surgery scene.

Independence Day may take its fair share of bashing, but there’s no denying how much fun it was. Still is. I haven’t revisited it in quite some time, but it might be a real fun journey back in the time machine to the days before CGI really stepped up in quality. That said, there are plenty of moments throughout that succeed without being Transformers-quality. Seeing the city of Los Angeles laid to waste was rather disturbing. Watching the various ships crash landing to Earth at long last was satisfying to no end. The aliens themselves looked menacing.

I only have one question to pose for Emmerich, though: what happened after 1996, man???

I also have one piece of advice that might help counteract your crumbling image: don’t you dare go through with this next idea. For if you truly celebrate humanity, you won’t do this. Of course, I’m no director and I shouldn’t be dishing out advice to those with experience, but I shall again play devil’s advocate……..should Emmerich have created an alternate ending, it should have gone something like this:

3-5Recommendation: ….I’m pretty sure most of us have seen this blockbuster by now. If you haven’t, what are you waiting for? Celebrate America’s birthday with this loud, raucous and oversized military science fiction thriller. You (probably) won’t be sorry.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 145 mins.

Best Scene: