Independence Day: Resurgence

Cast: Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Maika Monroe, Jessie T. Usher, Travis Tope, William Fichtner, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Judd Hirsch, Brent Spiner, Sela Ward

Director: Roland Emmerich

Writers: Nicolas Wright, James A. Woods, Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich, James Vanderbilt

It’s no secret that nostalgia is a strong selling point for audiences seeking to recapture their pasts, childhood especially, with adult colouring books and Pokemon Go marking just two of the popular trends to emerge this year. It’s the reason why we keep getting movies and shows that honestly have no business existing like Dumb and Dumber To and Fuller House. Because we associate the original works with our fond memories of the past we crave for more of the same regardless of whether they were actually any good or not. Our expectations are then so twisted by our memories that we are inevitably disappointed by the cheap knock-off that couldn’t possibly have lived up to our nostalgia. While Independence Day was very much its own thing when it came out, pretty much every disaster movie that has come out since has tried to copy and outdo it. Should it be a surprise then that the sequel feels like nothing more than another cheap imitation of the original?

In the twenty years since the alien invasion human society has made great advances in its technology and global security and have established a defensive base on the Moon. A couple of days before the twentieth anniversary of their victory David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) makes a discovery with Catherine Marceaux (Charlotte Gainsbourg) that leads him to believe the aliens might return soon. Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman) shares the same belief as his telepathic connection with the aliens gives him a premonition of their arrival. His daughter Patricia (Mae Whitman Maika Monroe) is now grown up, is on the staff of the current president Elizabeth Lanford (Sela Ward), and is engaged to Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsowrth), a hotshot pilot stationed on the Moon. There he comes to blows with his former best friend Dylan Dubrow-Hiller (Jessie T. Usher), the son of Jasmine (Vivica A. Fox) and the late Steven Hiller and one of the best pilots in the armed forces. On July 4 the aliens do indeed return, this time in greater numbers, which means that the Earth must once again band together to combat them.

Independence Day is perhaps the quintessential popcorn movie which is why criticising it for its illogical plot or its stereotypical characters does little to deter viewers. People are watching this movie for one simple reason: spectacle. Who cares about the ridiculousness of defeating an entire alien army by uploading a computer virus onto their mothership if it means we get to see Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum escaping a giant explosion in a spaceship? Back then the visual effects were so mindblowing and the actors were so entertaining that people were willing to put up with any number of faults in terms of story and character. This time around, we’ve seen it all before. Independence Day: Resurgence looks like every other disaster movie being made today which means that it falls short in spectacle. We’ve seen cities get levelled, spaceships get into dogfights and famous landmarks get destroyed in a countless number of movies over the last two decades. Because it all feels so done and tired, it doesn’t feel like anything is really at stake in this story. The result is a movie lacking in thrills and suspense.

The biggest absentee from the first film is Will Smith and it shows. When you see the kind of stilted dialogue and weak characterisation that many of these actors have to put up with, it makes you realise just how much life Smith brought into the first movie through sheer charisma alone. Few actors possess that same level of on-screen presence and none of them are in this movie. Jeff Goldblum gets on alright as he revives the ticks and quirks that made him a household name in the 90s but the others are not as successful. While Hemsworth, Usher, Monroe and the other new kids do what they can, there is only so much they can bring when the film only requires them to be good looking, run around a bit, and fire the occasional laser. A more thrilling experience might have distracted me from these faults like in the first movie but here they were inescapable.

Independence Day is a movie that isn’t and didn’t need to be perfect. It is a silly, corny thriller with some neat effects and decent comedy that holds up pretty well today. It was its own thing that had its time and place in the 90s and there was nothing about it that warranted a revival. This sequel isn’t exactly terrible but it is dull, stale and pointless. It has the same ludicrous plot, stereotypical characters and hackneyed dialogue except this time the spectacle isn’t nearly spectacular enough to distract us. This movie is almost indistinguishable from the dozens upon dozens of other films that have followed Emmerich’s example except that this one happens to share its name with the movie that started it all. Everyone who worked on this movie has wasted their time by trying to capture something that could probably have never been recaptured anyway. Independence Day: Resurgence is what happens when we allow nostalgia to govern our movies above all else: we get an empty, hollow imitation of the original.


The Dressmaker

Cast: Kate Winslet, Judy Davis, Liam Hemsworth, Hugo Weaving

Director: Jocelyn Moorhouse

Writers: Jocelyn Moorhouse, P.J. Hogan

This film definitely wasn’t what I expected it to be. Based on the trailers and posters I was pretty much expecting a period soap opera set in Australia with a few light-hearted laughs thrown in. I was wholly unprepared for how dark this film turned out to be. The comedy is still there and it is for the most part light-hearted, making the dark twists and turns of the story all the more shocking. The film’s tone is all over the place which means you are never sure what to expect next. Sometimes the change can happen in a split second. A scene that starts off as being fun and innocent will all of a sudden end with a twisted or tragic turn before you even realise what is happening. In a lesser film this results in a confusing and frustrating experience for the viewer. In the hands of an artist however a film that shifts its tone in just the right ways can send its audience on a rollercoaster. For me I think The Dressmaker is somewhere in the middle.

In 1951 Australia Tilly Dunnage (Kate Winslet) returns to her rural home of Dungatar after a 25-year exile. There she is met with hostility by most of the residents including her mother, christened by the residents of Dungatar as Mad Molly (Judy Davis). The resentment directed towards Tilly all stems from an incident during her childhood that resulted in a boy’s death, an incident of which Tilly has no memory. Amongst the few residents who welcome Tilly’s arrival with kindness are the handsome neighbour Teddy McSweeny (Liam Hemsworth) and the closet cross-dressing sergeant Horatio Farrat (Hugo Weaving). During her time away from this town Tilly has become an accomplished dressmaker and soon astonishes her neighbours with her provocative and stylish designs and the confident ways in which she flaunts them. The townspeople however have no idea what is in store for them as Tilly unleashes a plan to right the wrongs of the past.

There are two things I absolutely loved about this film: the acting and the costumes. Winslet is on fire as this cunning, talented and sexually confidant woman who defiantly asserts herself before this traditionalist town while struggling with the guilt of a crime that she may or may not have committed. I admittedly did find the age gap between her and Hemsworth to be a bit distracting (given that the film tries to pass them off as being around the same age) but found it easier to accept when I saw the chemistry between them. Besides given the number of times we’ve had to see women being paired with men several years their senior it’s refreshing to see it the other way round. Davis and Weaving also provide standout performances playing outlandishly eccentric characters and clearly loving every second of it. The costumes that Tilly designs for the townspeople are invariably stunning, employing a wide variety of styles, colours and designs. I don’t remember ever seeing two dresses that looked the same. I will be absolutely appalled if the Oscars overlook this film in this year’s ballot for Best Costume Design.

This is a film that tries to blend several genres into one. It is a story of love, revenge and creativity that borrows elements of black comedies and westerns. It certainly is an ambitious effort, especially for a director who hasn’t made a film in nearly two decades, and there are times when this blend works very well indeed. There were other instances however when I felt what was happening was too outrageous or too out of character. The blending of genres is a device often seen in the works of popular directors like Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarantino whose works are similarly difficult to categorise. What I think sets those two directors apart though is that whatever type of film it is they decide to make they still each have a unique visual style that is distinctively theirs. I think the reason I struggled to go along with parts of The Dressmaker was because Moorhouse’s style of direction wasn’t pronounced enough to substantiate the type of universe where a story like this would take place.

With all of that said however I cannot deny being greatly entertained by this film. Although I struggled with it at certain intervals, the parts that I did go along with I found to be a lot of fun. The ensemble as a whole was consistently strong and the characters they played were both memorable and enjoyable. While I didn’t think Moorhouse’s direction was distinct enough to compliment the story she wanted to tell, I still think it was strong enough to deliver an entertaining film with plenty of laughs and drama. Since it is such an unusual film with a premise that is so difficult to define I can imagine that the audience’s opinion will be greatly divided. Those who have watched the trailer expecting a straightforward narrative or a particular type of film will likely be disappointed. However those who walk into this film with an open mind and a certain suspension of disbelief will I think be surprised as I was by how much they’ll enjoy this film.