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Boring Aliens, Momish Aliens 

and a bad teen fairytale

BATTLE: LOS ANGELES. I would not recommend Battle: Los Angeles to anyone. Not that it’s especially unlikable or hard to watch, there just isn’t really anything to hold a viewer’s attention for more than a few minutes.

Hard-bitten, battle-scarred Marine Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) is but days away from retirement when duty calls, and he must lead his platoon of green recruits in the evacuation of civilians from Santa Monica following a sudden, unexpected attack by an unidentified enemy force. Soon and precipitously enough, we learn that the attackers are -- lo and behold -- extraterrestrials who have come to Earth to colonize and use up all our precious water. It's a pretty thin premise to sustain a big-budget Hollywood action movie, and sustain it does not.

The alien enemy is only seen from afar, usually framed by the shaky un-composed hand-held camerawork that so often takes the place of mise-en-scene or suspenseful editing these days. If not for the TV news broadcasts constantly streaming through the narrative, the audience wouldn’t really have any idea what the Marines are fighting -- or why. Even with some modicum of knowledge as to motivation, the spidery foes aren’t particularly fearsome, especially because they apparently function on the impulse of some hive-brain, rather than any individual compulsion to murder and subjugate human beings.

In the absence of any clearly defined nemesis, we’re supposed to rely on the esprit du corps of our fighting men for unity and strength. But any real unit-cohesion or loyalty is bravery are replaced by false bravado and hackneyed one-liners that are outdated by a half-century or more: “Yer not gonna die today, Marine!” (a paraphrase, but you get the gist). 116m. Rated PG-13 for sustained and intense sequences of war violence and destruction, and for language. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and the Fortuna.

Mars Needs Moms. In one of the purest, cruelest, sweetest ironies in my life to date, I went to an early matinee of Mars Needs Moms specifically so I could avoid seeing it in 3D. But guess what? After attempting to repair the apparently color-damaged conventional print for 20 minutes or so, in came a theater staffer with a tray of the dreaded glasses -- and my nightmare was once again made real. Without retracting my prior comments about 3D, I'll admit some moments in MNM benefited from this treatment, and the many vertiginous scenes even get a little edge-of-the-seat thanks to it. Moving on …

The fundamental through-line of the movie is that Mars’ civilization is a sort of fascist matriarchy, where nanny-bots imbued with the stolen mothering skills of a hand-picked Earth mom (who gets vaporized in the process), raise the females, while the males, who bear a disturbing resemblance to Phish-heads, are relegated to lowly, though markedly huggier, life among the planet’s trash piles.

Seth Green is CGI rendered as Milo, the kid who doesn’t appreciate his mom until it’s (almost) too late, Joan Cusack (the mom), and Dan Fogler (a highlight in the otherwise lifeless Take Me Home Tonight) is Gribble, a previously orphaned victim of Mars matricide who has been living unobtrusively on the red planet for the better part of 20 years. With the help of a free-spirited Mars girl named Ki (Elisabeth Harnois), whose obsession with groovy colors is based on her accidental discovery of some archival footage from a Laugh In-type Earth TV show, Milo and Gribble embark on a mission to free Mom before she meets her doom, while also rediscovering the value of friendship, celebrating the warmth and import of the family bond, and nurturing young love.

I doubt the ending will really surprise anybody, but along the way there were definitely moments that seemed a little heavy for the young audience to whom this is pitched. Also, it seemed strange to include, alongside the end credits, behind-the-scenes footage of the actors in their motion-capture suits. Kind of takes you out of it right at the end. Overall, there were some dazzling visual moments, and a few tearjerkers that even worked on me. Rated PG for sci-fi action and peril. At the Broadway and the Fortuna in 3-D, Mill Creek in 2-D.

RED RIDIND HOOD. What really gets me is that so much money is spent churning out plainly uninspired, recycled, mass-manufactured movies like this one and on marketing them to teens, who are not at fault here, really. I firmly believe that if Hollywood gave these kids the benefit of a doubt and invested in smart, creative scripts by emerging talents, they could turn a profit while also raising the natural cultural IQ by at least a few points.

Instead, we get another fairy-tale rehash cast as whodunit, with touches of Inquisition-style Catholicism, too much misdirection to even get into, wooden performances by muckle-mouthed, sweaty chested, cookie-cutter, would-be heartthrobs, no atmosphere, completely formulaic pacing and structure, production design that sacrifices detail for squeaky clean ersatz woodsiness, and a photographic/editing style so flat it makes Dirty Dancing look like Requiem For A Dream.

Star Amanda Seyfried’s weapon of choice is the widening-eye look of incredulity, and she deploys it rampantly here. Her performance helps elevate RRH from complete failure status, but she’s new to this and isn’t given much of anything to work with, unlike Gary Oldman (?!) whose salary I hope helped him buy a house for his mom or something, as I think he deserves better than this. 120m. Rated PG-13 for violence and creature terror, and some sensuality. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and the Fortuna.

Previews:

PAUL. Alien comedy directed by Greg Mottola (Superbad, Adventureland) starring and written by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz). Frost and Pegg play Graeme and Clive, British nerds in America visiting UFO hot spots. By chance they meet Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen), an alien pursued by government agents after escaping from Area 51. 100m. Rated R for language including sexual references, and some drug use. Opening at the Broadway, Mill Creek, the Minor and the Fortuna.

LIMITLESS. Thriller starring Bradley Cooper (The Hangover) as an unemployed writer who turns his life around through use of a mind-opening experimental drug that gives him extreme mental powers and draws notice from a wheeler-dealer (Robert De Niro). There are side effects. 105m. Rated PG-13 for thematic material involving a drug, violence including disturbing images, sexuality and language. Opening at the Broadway, Mill Creek and the Minor.

THE LINCOLN LAWYER. L.A. crime tale with Matthew McConaughey as a defense attorney whose office is a Lincoln Town Car. His big case: defending a Beverly Hills realtor (Ryan Phillippe) up on charges of rape and attempted murder. Marisa Tomei shows up as Haller's prosecutor ex-wife. 119m. Rated R for some violence, sexual content and language. Opening at the Broadway and Mill Creek.

The Arcata Theatre Lounge has a Friday screening of EASY RIDER, the classic 1969 road movie directed by Dennis Hopper, written by Hopper, Peter Fonda and Terry Southern. Hopper and Fonda are bikers Billy and Captain America on a journey of discovery across the Southwest and into the South who meet an ACLU lawyer (Jack Nicholson) along the way. Trippy, man.

GREASE is the word Saturday at the ATL with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John as Danny and Sandy, mismatched teen lovers spending “Summer Nights” in a kitschy '50s high school setting.

Sunday at the ATL it's THE DARK CRYSTAL, a fantasy from Muppeteers Jim Henson and Frank Oz with a pair of (good) Gelflings on a mission to heal a powerful crystal and save their world from the (evil) Skeksis.

It's zombie time! Wednesday's ATL Sci-Fi Pint and Pizza Night has Bela Lugosi as the evil overlord in the prototypical zombie flick WHITE ZOMBIE, paired with REVOLT OF THE ZOMBIES in which evil Count Mazovia (Roy D’Arcy) rules a personal army of the living dead in the Cambodian jungle.

Westhaven Center for the Arts presents a pair of Irish-themed documentaries Sunday, March 20, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day: WHEN IRELAND STARVED (at 4 p.m.) tells the sad history of the potato famine. In THE FAIRY FAITH (at 7 p.m.), filmmaker John Walker explores the magical "otherworld" of fairies with visits to places fairies live (presumably Ireland), and folks who believe in them.  

-- Bob Doran

Continuing:
THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU. An ambitious politician falls for a ballet dancer but mysterious forces scheme to keep the two apart. Rated PG-13. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
BEASTLY. Never piss off the goth girl. She might be a witch. Rated PG-13. 95m. At the Broadway.
GNOMEO AND JULIET. Yup. Romeo and Juliet, only with garden gnomes. Yup. Rated G. 84m. At the Broadway, Garberville and Mill Creek.
HALL PASS. Bored with marriage, two guys are given passes by their wives to do whatever they want for a week. Rated R. 108m. At the Broadway.
JUST GO WITH IT. Adam Sandler enlists Jennifer Aniston to help him find the woman of his dreams. Not her. Rated PG-13. 116m. At the Broadway.
THE KING’S SPEECH. Based on the true story of the Queen of England’s dad and his remarkable friendship with a maverick Australian speech therapist. Rated R. 119m. At the Broadway.
RANGO. What chameleon doesn’t dream of becoming a swashbuckling hero? Rated PG. 107m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.
UNKNOWN. Liam Neeson awakens after a car accident to find another man has assumed his identity. Rated PG-13. 113m. At Garberville.

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John J. Bennett

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