Independence Day: Resurgence vs The Shallows vs Free State of Jones

Kenny D June 24, 2016 0
Independence Day: Resurgence vs The Shallows vs Free State of Jones

Independence Day: Resurgence

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There was once a time when director Roland Emmerich was on top of the world. Strange, considering he loves destroying it so much. Soon after the success of Stargate, he directed the highest grossing movie of 1996, Independence Day. It only makes sense that he’d move forward with a sequel. So, 20 years later we’re finally seeing the outcome of what happens when Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum save the world.

In the alternate world shown in Resurgence, we have made good use of the alien technology left behind. Our military aircraft can now travel to our moon base and back in a matter of minutes. Yet, on the 20th anniversary of the original war of 1996, former President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) has been seeing visions of the coming destruction as the aliens seek revenge on our planet. These visions become a quick reality as David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), now Secretary of Alien Stuff travels the globe investigating signs of an invasion. In a matter of days, a giant mothership descends on the Earth, destroying half of the world’s population.

Let’s address the elephant in the room first. Will Smith did not sign on for this sequel. His absence in this movie singlehandedly makes him the smartest man in Hollywood. Instead, our young heroes are now his adopted son (in the first movie) and Liam Hemsworth (Liam Hemsworth). These two talented pilots traverse through immense wreckage (somehow larger than the scale of destruction in Emmerich’s 2012) and through the mothership itself. Sadly, these two guys have 1/32 the charisma of Will Smith. You never care for their survival because you never get to know them.

Because there are no interesting new characters, ID4 2 forces familiarity upon the audience by bringing back characters from the first movie. Yes, even Judd Hirsch gets a large role. Other than winking at the audience and saying what they’ve been up to for the past 20 years, none of the older characters make an impact on the story.

Oh, did I say story? That was a mistake. Independence Day: Resurgence is essentially an effects-driven screensaver based on the first movie. It is lifeless, hollow and flat. The plot moves along quickly, but there’s no reason or explanation how things get from point A to point B. It’s definitely an “And then…” type movie. Action happens, but there’s no excitement. We then see a bunch of military guys staring at a screen yelling “code red!” More action happens, with no explanation. Back to the military guys. And so on.

It’s insane that such boredom can be achieved in a movie where half of the world is destroyed. The only reason to laugh during its two hour runtime is to relieve yourself of tension. I think I poked myself in the eyes to at least feel something while watching this green screen trainwreck.

Resurgence is the worst big-budget summer blockbuster since 2000’s Battlefield Earth. Yes, I unabashedly hate this worse than Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Anytime someone feels that Michael Bay might be a better director for the job, a litter of kittens explodes. I’d like to apologize for my part in exploding those kittens.

Sequels aren’t always known for their superiority to the original. Yet, Resurgence almost seems to spit in the face of anyone who liked the first movie. Sure, the 1996 blockbuster wasn’t the brainiest flick. However, it had moments of excitement and humor. It was perfect for the time. Now, Emmerich almost treats the audience as if they were Brent Spiner’s character and have been in a coma for 20 years. He wants us to simply see Jeff Goldblum and think, “Hey, I know that guy! I must like this movie!”

Independence Day: Resurgence deserves an absolute F. It’s irredeemable and boring. It is now the flick I’ll remember when I need an example of summer movies that lowered the bar. The next two movies (reviews below) will now be raised a half letter grade because of the drastic comparison to this glorified screensaver.

The Shallows

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While most of the movie-going audience will be seeing Dory search for her parents at Sea World, there’s another adventure at sea being released.

The Shallows stars Blake Lively as Nancy, a young surfer who is struggling with life’s big questions after the recent passing of her mom. She is compelled to get away from the world and……. Okay, okay. I’m sorry for boring you. There’s one reason to see this movie and it has nothing to do with a meaningful backstory. This is a movie about a BIG FREAKING GREAT WHITE SHARK!

The initial attack is not exactly the shark’s fault. Nancy sees a dead whale floating as she’s trying to find some waves. When she approaches it, you’re almost screaming at her to, essentially “Not look in the basement!” It’s then that the shark declares her as its victim of choice. For the next hour, it stalks her as she remains injured, stranded on some rocks in low tide.

In order for a movie this cheesy to be decent, it needs to work on three levels. It needs to be a successful creature feature, it needs to be scary and it can’t feel boring.

Admittedly, there are lower standards for creatures features. Rarely, if ever, are they anything special. The genre is so watered-down that it really only exists on the SyFy channel now. In fact, sharks have probably been ruined forever solely because of the Sharknado franchise. It hurts me to call it a franchise. I’d say that The Shallows is a great fit and provides some revitalization for the genre because it comes down to one person against nature. In what seems to be a completely unbelievable story of shark obsession, you go along for the ride and actually root for the human to defy the odds and survive.

Whether audiences will be terrified or not, depends on their fear of not being at the top of the food chain. Great Whites are my personal #1 fear, so I’m a little biased. However, The Shallows is creative by being more of a slasher flick than a killer animal story. The first thing you see shows a shark attack, followed by some minor ‘final girl’ character growth, then the hunt begins. This movie plays out like a horror flick, where there may be a safe place to stay, but safety can’t last forever. Like any scary movie, there are jump scares. But, instead of pouncing cats, dolphins jump out of the water. What could possibly be more terrifying than a monster that wants to swallow you whole? I could honestly see this movie playing in my regular horror rotation every October.

At 87 minutes, The Shallows does its best to not test your patience. However, your interest will depend on how much you enjoy isolated location movies. While there are officially eight characters shown in the movie, Blake Lively is the focus. The effectiveness of her plight is a mixed bag. She is battered and bruised throughout the movie, but is looking for any way back to the beach. She thinks out loud constantly to give the audience a clue about her next move. It’s not as awkward as hearing her thoughts in voice-over, but still wooden all the same.

I got a kick out of this B-movie that doesn’t ask for forgiveness. It knows that people are seeing it for the shark attacks and it doesn’t disappoint. B-

Free State of Jones

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In Free State of Jones, Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey) is a recent Confederate Army deserter. While he is on the run, he finds sanctuary with a few escaped slaves in a Mississippi swamp. His camp eventually provides safety for more deserters and they become a type of Merry Men. These men begin to sabotage shady confederate battalions and their stolen shipments. In time, Knight is looked to as a hero for some, but a thorn in the side for leaders in the South.

It’s rare to find a story about the Civil War that hasn’t already been told. Gettysburg and Gods & Generals showed the leadership of both armies in action. Glory showed the plight of black soldiers fighting on the Union’s side. 12 Years a Slave showed the repulsive ugliness that occurs on a slave plantation (which will also be seen later this year in Birth of a Nation). Yet, Free State of Jones recounts the war from a different angle. It tells the story of southerners who didn’t necessarily believe in slavery or have the money to own a plantation, but had to fight for a cause based on where they lived.

I respected the nerve of the movie to not end with a victory just because the Civil War ends. Instead, half of the movie takes place after the South was brought back into the Union. It explores the continued servitude and discrimination years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. In that way, there isn’t much hope in the back half of the movie because it details the ugliness of discrimination.

In terms of pacing, Free State of Jones is all over the place. It attempts to tell a simple and true story, but jolts you out of the movie with its drastic time jumps. At several times, it also rushes the story, not with dialogue, but with Ken Burns style photographs and details about history. The documentary inserts took me out of the movie and made me feel detached to the characters, especially because drastic life changes happen for the characters in between these inserts.

It’s hard to tell if McConaughey passively walked through his role of Newton Knight or was just born to play a grizzled southern freedom fighter. He does add weight to this story, but I couldn’t help but want the movie to explore the side characters more. Mahershala Ali plays Moses, who is the closest friend to Knight. His performance provides the emotional moments, but he is sparingly used. Gugu Mbatha-Raw has a large role that starts out strong, but seems to disappear into the plot. Also, there seems to be a great story with Serena (Keri Russell) that is never considered or explored. Free State of Jones happens to get many of the facts straight, but doesn’t get the emotional conflict right.

I wanted to like Free State of Jones more than I did. In 20 minute increments, the movie was very strong. However, the change of time period and drastic pacing issues took me out of it. This movie is worth watching if you’re a Civil War buff looking for a different take on a oft-recounted time period. C+

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