(In French, Video on Demand, October 2015) By now, the conventions of animated kids movies have been codified in an industry standard that only the daring or the foolhardy dare to ignore. You can recognize the average middle-of-the-road animated feature by how well if hews to that formula: imaginative concept involving a bit of fantasy or science-fiction; a resolutely cheerful tone that still allows for a few moments of terror or sadness; a younger protagonist with fantastical friends; high-energy musical number and action sequences; and celebrity voices. Home checks off all of these items twice. It’s about a curiously dim-witted alien invasion that relocates all humans to dense custom suburbs in desert Australia, but it’s mostly about how a young teenager quests to reunite with her mother and understand an alien outcast who becomes her best ally. Cats, broken syntax, the Eiffel tower and another alien race all complicate the plot, but by and large Home is about a girl trying to get back to her mom. Having seen the film in French, I missed out on Jim Parson’s voice acting as the alien, but a few of Rihanna’s songs are featured in their original language. (The broken language jokes are valiantly translated in French –although a few of them have to be back-translated in English to make sense.) It’s an amiable and colorful film, definitely quirky enough to be interesting for adults, while being good-natured and funny enough for the younger set. I’ll note that alien invasions are, by now, such a familiar SF concept that the film can dispense of the invasion sequence in a few minutes and then take place entirely after the event. (The film also gets to play a bit with the idea of alien invaders, all in the service of a non-violent film) The standout sequence of the film is an imaginative action sequence featuring a levitating Eiffel tower being thrown off-balance and scratching a bit of the Parisian landscape. Home does not manage to make enough of its elements to propel itself in the front-row of animated features: it’s a by-the-numbers affair, amusing but unremarkable. That’s not necessarily bad, but there are plenty of other similar features to take up your time if you’re in the mood for that kind of thing.
(On-demand, August 2012) Everything about Battleship is ridiculous, starting with the premise. Adapting a board game by turning it in a movie where the US navy battles aliens? Well, I suppose someone thought it was a good idea. Never mind the pedestrian dialogue, contrived set-pieces, dull characters (too bad, Taylor Kitsch… although Rihanna does a bit better in her big-screen debut), terrible science and suspicious similarities with other films. (This best Michael Bay movie not actually directed by Michael Bay feels a lot like Transformers 3.5, but there are similarities here with everything from Titanic to Independence Day.) The trick, of course, is that by Hollywood’s action-movie standards, Battleship isn’t badly made: director Peter Berg knows how to put together crowd-pleasing entertainment, the action sequences are spectacular, the look at the modern US navy is intriguing and the technical credentials are polished to a fine gloss (the sound design itself is exceptional). But appreciating this kind of film requires a special mind-set: Battleship’s make-or-break moment comes at the beginning of the third act, as a patently impossible “let’s get the band of brothers back together” moment occurs. At that point, viewers will either throw their hands up in the air in disbelief, or rock out to AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck”. As for the rest, stuff blows up real good (nowhere no more spectacularly than during a long uninterrupted shot flying over a sinking ship.) and there’s a lot of detail shown on-screen. For Science-Fiction fans, the pickings are slim: Beyond the excuse needed to pit the modern US Navy against more capable foes, Battleship notably isn’t interested in explaining anything –besides a few mid-story flashes of memory transfer that are never referred to again. But that only makes it a terrible SF movie, not necessarily a bad viewing experience. Anyone with a tolerance, heck, a fondness for the kind of gloriously loud Hollywood action film will get a charge out of Battleship. The soundtrack helps.