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Skyline
(2010)

Come to L.A., rent an apartment, make a movie.

Not nearly as good as its sequel, Skyfall, although directors the Strause Brothers also provided effects for Bond’s 50th. Appropriately, since Skyline is basically one long micro-budgeted promo for their Hydaulx Filmz. You’d think, with the kind of industry foothold they already had, that their “movie shot in a kitchen” would be superior to most youtube fare. But it really isn’t.

So finely-honed is the screenplay (admittedly not credited to the brothers) that it begins with Jarrod (Eric Balfour) and Elaine (Scottie Thompson) arriving in L.A. for Jarrod’s friend Terry’s birthday. Terry just happens to own a special effects company that he wants Jarrod to join! It might have been interesting if there had been some sort of meta-commentary on a film about effects wizards, by effect wizards, which revolves entirely around its CGI. But I suspect not; everyone involved is too dumb.

90% of the film takes place in and around the high-rise apartment complex (where one of the brothers lives/lived). Which results in numerous sequences of characters looking out of windows at the shocking alien invasion, but doing bugger all. When even the directors realise this has been going on and on and on, they mix it up by having the same events shown through a telescope or on a TV screen. The characters argue tiresomely, wave guns around tiresomely, and get killed or abducted tiresomely. 

Apparently the shoot itself cost about $500k, with the effects priced at another $10m+. Presumably the former bill consists mostly of paying the actors, otherwise I’m surprised it was so expensive! Given that Gareth Edwards’ Monsters (vastly superior in every respect) came in at a reported $500k.  There’s a moment where the characters head for the building’s underground car park to make an escape. You know they won’t actually get outside because the filmmakers have been so clumsy about exposing their limitations (we’ve already been on the roof and by the pool, so most options have been covered). It’s not like you couldn’t make a claustrophobic, John Carpenter-esque film in this setting, and have it as a calling-card, but the Strauses seem to want to summon the spirit of Michael Bay and it ends up looking risible.

The performances are all one-note, but you can’t really blame the actors. Dexter’s David Zayas turns up as the concierge but fares no better than the others (particular in his heroic moment). The effects are variable (the ships drawing up thousands of people aren’t convincing anyone), but often decent, in a generic way; the facial scarrings, the War of the Worlds/Matrix-type drones; the last five minutes, which are pretty much pure CGI, even threaten to yield something interesting in terms of plot (but can’t quite muster to the challenge).

Skyline was a (limited) financial success, and unnecessarily threw Sony into a panic as the brothers had also worked on the effects-heavy invasion flick Battle: L.A. (released about four months later); they eventually withdrew their threat to take legal action (Battle is a marginally superior film, but it’s all relative). The Strauses’ debut feature was the spluttering mess that is AVPR: Aliens vs Predator – Requiem, which looks like a masterpiece stood next to this shambles.

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