The 5th Wave

By: Kevin Jordan

Mars Attacks.

I have a soft spot for Young Adult dystopian/science fiction/fantasy novels.  I’ve read most of those that have been adapted into movies, and I had every intention of reading The 5th Wave prior to its movie release.  Alas, I’m not a young adult and things like kids, jobs, and wives (not necessarily in that order) tend to get into the way of some recreational activities.  So, I went into the adaptation of The 5th Wave with no foreknowledge of what we were about to see.  In hindsight, I wish I had read the book first because, if it’s an anything close to what we saw in the film, then my expectations would have been much lower.

The 5th Wave is a story about what would happen if really dumb aliens invaded the Earth.  Don’t get me wrong – they still manage to kill a large portion of humanity, but their master plan leaves a lot to be desired.  Our main character is Cassie Sullivan (Chloe Grace Moretz), a high-school student who has the responsibility of narrating some of the plot to us.  When the aliens show up and start attacking the Earth, she describes the first three waves of attack because she doesn’t know we’re watching her in a movie and the screenwriters think we are blind moviegoers.

(This is the point where, if you are worried about SPOILERS, you should look away.)

The first wave is a global electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that ruins all electronics and stops all electricity on the planet.  That’s a great start to a war considering how reliant we are on gadgets and electrons.  +1 aliens.  The second wave is global earthquakes that also cause tsunamis and mass flooding.  Considering 70% of the world’s population lives on the coast, the aliens have got a massive head start and they haven’t even left their ship yet.  Again, +1 aliens.  The third wave is even more diabolical – they alter the bird flu to be wildly deadly and use the 300 billion birds on the planet to spread the disease.  As great an idea as this sounds, you might wonder why they didn’t use this one first since their goal is eventually stated as wanting the Earth, but doing as little damage as possible to it.  Using birds to spread the virus is also really inefficient because birds tend to stay away from humans, plus the second wave wiped out 70% of your potential carriers.  Hmmm….maybe we shouldn’t think too hard about that.  +1/2 aliens?

At this point in the story, most of humanity has been wiped out and the aliens just need to do some mopping up of the remaining pockets of people.  Any decent conquerors would send out squads or something to hunt down these humans, but these aliens have a better idea.  First, they activate sleeper agents, which apparently includes every human in the military.  By now, young Cassie, her father (Ron Livingstone), and her brother Sammy (Zackary Arthur) have joined up with other refugees at a camp in the woods.  This makes total sense because after fleeing population centers for fear of being a target, the next best idea is to regroup in large numbers in easily found places.  But I digress.

Eventually, the military shows up, led by Colonel Vosch (Liev Schreiber).  They tell the people that they are there to help and will be bussing the kids off to the local Air Force base, then returning to get the kids.  None of the parents thinks it’s weird that not even mothers are taken with the children, but we already know they have bad survival instincts.  During the evacuation, Cassie gets separated from her brother and misses the bus, then witnesses the aliens doing another dumb thing.  They gather all of the parents into a meeting hall, don’t disarm them, then tell them that the fourth wave is that the aliens can possess humans and that any of them could be an alien in disguise.  Predictably, the people panic and start shooting, yet somehow manage to kill just one alien.  Even more strange is that the aliens would knowingly cause a panic while still in the same room with the people wielding guns.  Whatever… -1 aliens.

We’re soon told that the fifth wave is the full on invasion by the aliens, but this is just a trick by the aliens to get kids to join the military.  The military tell the kids that they have figured out how to identify possessed humans – Google Glass.  No, seriously – they’ve attached a thing to a helmet that when looked through, makes a possessed human’s head glow green with a big red box around it.  Yes, it looks as hokey as it sounds and it’s also bullshit.  The thing doesn’t actually work and the kids don’t realize that they’re actually just shooting fellow humans.  This is the best plan that an advanced alien race can come up with??  You have the power to manipulate viruses, pop off planetary EMPs, and initiate earthquakes…but let’s trick kids into shooting people! (*eye roll*)  -10 aliens.

If all of this weren’t bad enough, there is a standard-issue romance subplot between Cassie and a possessed human named Evan (Alex Roe).  I’m not even going to get into how pathetically shallow this story was, but for all you teenage girls out there, Evan gets naked in a river (and you could shred cheese on his abs), bangs one out with Cassie in the back of an abandoned SUV, and professes that he has chosen his human side over his alien side for love.  That sounds you hear is me throwing up in my mouth a little bit.

In all fairness, if I were twelve, I probably would have liked the movie better.  It’s entertaining in a brainless kind of way and, when I was twelve, I wouldn’t have noticed how completely stupid the aliens were with waves four and five of their plan (plus, by all appearances, they only brought one ship to conquer an entire planet).  There is a really good chance that these aliens are just a group of drunk fraternity pledges winging this invasion as part of their initiation.  Of course, even as a twelve year old, I would have noticed how much the terrible graphics reminded me of Mars Attacks! and that Mars Attacks! was a much more entertaining and clever movie.  -25 aliens.

Rating: Ask for all of your money back, but your twelve-year old can do what she wants.

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

By: Kevin Jordan

Not everything explodes.

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“A filmmaking masterpiece” said nobody ever about a Michael Bay film.  That was my immediate thought when I heard that quote coming from Mr. Movie Trailer Voice a few days ago.  I scoffed at that quote and you’d scoff, too, once you remember that Michael Bay’s last five films (as director) are Transformers, Transformers, Transformers, Pain & Gain, and Transformers.  Plus, when you actually watch the trailer for 13 Hours, it looks exactly like every Michael Bay film you’ve ever seen.  After watching 13 Hours, I can tell you that Mr. Movie Trailer Voice was definitely hallucinating when he said “A filmmaking masterpiece,” but 13 Hours is a better movie than what we are used to getting from Bay.

(Side note: I am in the minority of people who think Bay is judged way too harshly.  Like Quentin Tarantino, he makes a specific type of movie and delivers what people want.  I won’t defend all of his movies, but several of them are very good movies and not just from a sheer entertainment standpoint.  In related news, Tarantino is judged way too favorably.)

If you’ve been paying attention to politics over the last three years, you will have heard the name Benghazi because there are certain politicians and news outlets who refuse to believe that what happened on September 11, 2012, in Benghazi, Libya, was no more than just a major fuck up by the people responsible for the security of diplomatic outposts.  They act as if there was some huge conspiracy headed up by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to get a bunch of Americans killed because…well, they’ve never actually come up with a good motivation for Clinton (or anybody) to do that.  What’s good about this film is that Bay doesn’t go down the conspiracy road, but instead, sticks to telling us how the events unfolded with as little political commentary as possible.  And, you know that was hard for Bay because, based on his previous films, I’m pretty sure he sleeps under an American flag blanket in a bed shaped like an F-22 and has a pin-up of John McCain’s war photo on the ceiling.

Even if you are sick of hearing about Benghazi, this movie is worth watching for the same reason I recommended movies like Selma and Bridge of Spies – it tells a story about history that you didn’t know.  All that most people know of the event is that the outpost was attacked and American Ambassador John Christopher Stevens was killed by Libyan militants.  The movie tells the story of six military contractors hired by the CIA to provide security for their secret compound near the American diplomatic outpost.  Even better, the movie is based on a book co-written by those contractors (13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi by Mitchell Zuckoff), which explains why not everything in the entire movie explodes, as is normally typical of a Bay film.  Instead, it sticks to the facts from the book as much as possible, though with plenty of Bay signatures in the film that leaves no doubt as to who is the man behind the camera.

The part of the story that you don’t know is that after the outpost was attacked, these six contractors (all former special forces soldiers) went to the outpost to rescue the ambassador and his party (spoiler alert: the ambassador doesn’t make it), then returned to the CIA compound to defend it from dozens of militants for several hours.  Considering the CIA is part of this story, it’s safe to say that there is a lot of detail missing from the story.  I’m guessing that nearly all of the CIA parts and roles were 95% dramatic license, but I’m also fairly comfortable believing we at least got the Cliff’s notes and accurate details regarding the firefights with the militants.  Then again, maybe that’s what they want us to think.

What elevates this film above many of Bay’s other films is that it seemed like he was trying a little harder to make a movie that wasn’t just a series of BOOOOOMMMMs.  While Bay relies on standard fallbacks to make us care about the characters (they won’t kill children, they only shoot when they are certain “those guys” are the bad guys, and they all have pictures of their families), he at least does that much when he could have just tattooed them with American flags and had them say stuff like “I do this because who else is gonna does this?”  The casting was also well done as I had no trouble believing any of these guys were ex-soldiers or dickhead CIA chiefs (nice work, David Costabile).  That goes especially for John Krasinski because it’s hard to see him as an ex-Navy SEAL AND as lovable ol’ Jim from The Office.  That sentiment goes away roughly halfway through the movie when a shirtless Krasinksy walks out of his quarters, showing off abs that were so awesome my wife perked up – and she wasn’t even at the movie.

In short, if you are looking for a good, solid war drama dealing with a recent event, and you aren’t a film snob that hates Michael Bay movies on principle, 13 Hours will do you nicely.  Or, if you are just looking for a non-idiotic Bay film with lots of action, shooting, car chases, and low-angle shots of people getting out of cars, you’ll still be happy watching 13 Hours.  Just because he toned down the explosions (and there are still plenty of those) doesn’t mean he’ll give up those other things.

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back, because you can’t say that often after a Bay film.