Sunday, October 31, 2010

The NJNM Podcast: Ep. 15 - Trick 'r Treat (Guest: Dr. Venkman from GeekTyrant.com)


(Note: if you listened to this episode in iTunes from 10:00-10:25pm PT on Halloween night, my apologies. We had some brief issues that have since been resolved.)

In this week's episode, Ben, Pat, and Tyler are joined by Joey Paur (aka Dr. Venkman) from GeekTyrant.com to discuss Michael Dougherty's 2007 film Trick r' Treat. I actually wrote a review of this movie last year, so check that out for some supplemental material.

Don't forget, we've now got a voicemail account so you can leave us a message at (904) 469-6566.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The NJNM Podcast: Ep. 14 - The Mist and Troll 2



In this week's episode, Tyler, Pat, and Ben discuss Frank Darabont's 2007 film The Mist and also the 1990 cult classic "horror" film Troll 2. Don't forget - you can now call and leave us a voicemail at (904) 469-6566.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Tricentennial Post

This is the best I can do in five minutes right now. I'm tired. Apologies.

It's my 300th post, and I'd like to thank you for coming by. In keeping with our original NJNM centennial post tradition (instead of patting myself on the back like I did in the Bicentennial), I'll do something potentially relevant to you: list a few upcoming movies I'm looking forward to. I'll skip the superhero ones - Green Lantern, Thor, Captain America, X-Men: First Class - and also pass over anything that doesn't have a trailer yet - Fast Five (yes, seriously), Source Code, Red Riding Hood, and much more. Keep checking the trailers section on the right side of the page for updated trailers as these films (and more) get closer to release.

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark
This creepy looking horror flick from producer Guillermo del Toro and first time director Troy Nixey blew me away at Comic-Con 2010. Unfortunately, its release has been delayed indefinitely while Disney sells off Miramax and things get shuffled around over there. Here's hoping this one hits screens by the end of 2011.

Sucker Punch
I almost got into a ridiculously early cut of this movie back in September, but it fell through and now I have to wait like everyone else until March 25th, 2011. Zack Snyder's latest prompted me to post the following on my Twitter account: "Sucker Punch looks totally insane - like Inception crossed with Gamer, shaken by Tim Burton and stirred by Zack Snyder." If nothing else, it will be a visual feast.

True Grit
The Coen brothers tackling a remake of a classic western? With Jeff Bridges in John Wayne's iconic Rooster Cogburn role? And Matt Damon and Josh Brolin supporting? How can you not be excited about this? Hits theaters Christmas Day, 2010.

127 Hours
Danny Boyle's follow-up to the wildly successful Slumdog Millionaire looks to be a really intense theatrical experience. It's the true story of Aron Ralston, the man who was forced to sever his own arm in order to survive a hiking accident. Does Fox Searchlight have another hit on its hands, or will audiences shy away from the subject matter? I don't care either way - I think it looks solid. Release date: November 5th, 2010. 

The Fighter
Of all the films on this list, I'm the least excited for this one. Still, the Wahlberg/Bale combo will be interesting to see on the big screen and I'm wondering if this one will be an Oscar contender. Hits theaters December 10th, 2010.

Tron Legacy
After nothing but anticipation for this project, I'm starting to hear negative things about it for the first time. Word on the street is that lead actor Garrett Hedlund is terrible in this movie, but it's going to take more than unconfirmed rumors to keep me away from what could be one of the coolest looking movies since The Matrix. I'm still holding out hope for this one. In theaters December 17th, 2010.

Black Swan
Darren Aronofsky's follow-up to The Wrestler pits Natalie Portman against Mila Kunis in a psychological ballerina battle. Sound lame? Check out the trailer. Huge buzz for this one has me kinda stoked about it, and Aronofsky very rarely lets me down. In theaters December 1st, 2010.

The Adjustment Bureau
God bless Universal Pictures. They make some really unique business decisions that haven't seemed to pay out for them financially over the past five years or so, but I'm really digging the fact that they have the balls to make those choices. Here's hoping The Adjustment Bureau - a slick-looking blend of action, science fiction, and romance starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt - won't be another project added to their list of bad decisions. Arrives in theaters March 4th, 2011.

That's all for now. Check out the archives for some old classics and give the Not Just New Movies Podcast a listen if you haven't yet. Thanks to you for reading, thanks to my fellow writers for contributing, and everyone keep checking back for (not just) new reviews.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Paranormal Activity 2

Paranormal Activity 2 interweaves characters and scenarios from the first film into its story and does so in a surprisingly organic way. The original is almost required viewing before seeing this one, but if you worry the freshness of the first movie might wear off this time around, allow me to put your mind at ease. This sequel is perhaps more terrifying and suspenseful than the original, and establishes itself as a solid entry into a horror genre and all but assures we'll be seeing more Paranormal Activity with every Halloween to come in the next couple of years.

Paranormal Activity 2
Director: Tod Williams
Starring: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, People IMDB Hasn't Listed Yet

Set three months before the hauntings of the Katie and Micah, this story revolves around Kristi, Katie's sister. Kristi gets a video camera to document the early days of her newborn son, Hunter. Her husband Dan and stepdaughter Alli also live in the house, and the first half hour of the movie gives us a look into their daily lives and their family dynamic. But things can't stay this good for long. Strange things start happening, and soon Kristi wonders if it has something to do with her and Katie's childhood dealings with the supernatural. Katie and Micah pop in and out of the story, trying to console Kristi and her family about the weird happenings in their house.

The biggest surprise for me was the movie doesn't feel rushed or like a blatant cash grab. The filmmakers have automatically increased the stakes for the audience, manipulating our feelings with the involvement of a child and a dog. But it never feels forced; the story always comes first (and it's actually a terrific story), tying in events and characters from the first film and adding to the mythology of this franchise. I'd argue that the tension is higher in this film - not only because of the kid and the dog, but because of the camera work. Instead of a tripod recording their sleep, Kristi's family installs security cameras in multiple areas of the house. The structure of the movie plays on the same formula as the original, meaning events during the day are captured via handheld camera and when night comes, they switch to the security feed. And because of the multiple possibilities at night from the various camera angles they have set up, the tension becomes more palpable. The suspense is ramped up with each cut from one night vision shot to the next, because we never know exactly where, how, or when the spirit will strike.


It's rare that I find a film that I cannot watch because of how tense it is, but these movies get me to a point where I can't watch them like normal movies. I have to concentrate on the ticking clock in the bottom right corner of the screen and rely on my peripheral vision to alert me to any weird stuff happening in the middle. Sure, there are some loud jump scares that would probably frighten anyone based on volume levels alone, but there are also some genuinely creepy moments mixed in that, combined with the documentary style of the movie, leave the audience not ever questioning the authenticity of the movie itself, but with the uneasy feeling that events like these might be possible. Every cut is designed to heighten suspense, and every angle is chosen to get you on the edge of your seat.


My only real complaint with the film is a small one, but I think it compromises the integrity of both movies. In this film, Katie and Micah have conversations about the hauntings with Christy and her family, and since this is technically a prequel, they would have to remember these conversations in the first film. It's been a year since I've seen Paranormal Activity, but I remember Micah being very taken aback with the suggestion that the house could be haunted; if you look at the events in sequence, Micah shouldn't be that surprised considering he and Katie just had conversations about a haunted house not far from their own and involving Katie's own family. That was all - just a continuity issue. If you can get past that (and you dug the first film), then you'll certainly be OK with this one.

SPOILER ALERT FOR PARANORMAL ACTIVITY AND PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2

My favorite scene in this film was the one where Dan and Alli make the decision to spread the curse to Katie. The acting was great all around: the questioning innocent daughter forced to live with this decision for the rest of her life, and the father looking out for the interests of his own immediate family. Of course, he meets his untimely end quickly afterward, but the daughter is left with the aftermath of this entire scenario and I'm guessing we haven't seen the end of her in this series.

END SPOILERS

Paranormal Activity 2 is the most effective horror thriller I've seen in a year, and I'm cautiously optimistic about the future of this franchise. This movie certainly won't make it on my year end top ten list, but if I were to rank theatrical experiences, this one would be pretty high up there. Until next time...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Predators

One can only expect so much from a film called Predators. But sometimes having tempered expectations is the best way to experience a movie, and a genre sequel like this certainly benefits from that approach. Predators is easily an improvement over the sub-par entries in the series since the original and is unquestionably the best film involving Predators since McTiernan and Schwarzenegger stomped through Mexico back in 1987.

Predators
Director: Nimrod Antal
Starring: Adrien Brody, Alice Braga, Laurence Fishburne, Walton Goggins



Producer Robert Rodriguez's guiding hand can be felt all over this film, shot beautifully in a mixture of locations including Hawaii, on stages at Rodriguez's Troublemaker Studios in Austin, Texas, and the surrounding Texas landscape. The production designers were able to capture an alien environment that truly separates itself from the lush jungles of McTiernan's original movie. It's a shame that director Nimrod Antal isn't getting much recognition for this film, since I think it's a competent and entertaining entry into the franchise, but it would appear that Fox is content with using Rodriguez's name as a selling point. That's a fair tactic, considering the history of this project; Rodriguez actually wrote a script back in the mid-1990s which was abandoned by the studio, who eventually returned to it in 2009 and decided to move forward with it. Rewritten by Alex Litvak and Michael Finch, Predators feels very much like a Rodriguez movie in that it looks way more expensive than it actually cost.




The ensemble cast hearkens back to the original film, and is rounded out by some actors one might not expect in a film like this. Adrien Brody plays the lead character of Royce, a gruff soldier who is a polar opposite of Brody's vulnerable con man in 2009's The Brothers Bloom. While I'd argue Brody never truly gets comfortable in this role, he (like the film as a whole) is not particularly exhilarating to watch but is competent in his execution. Recent science fiction maven Alice Braga (I Am Legend, Repo Men) plays one of the most independent women in an action film in the past few years, embodying Isabelle - her sniper character - with a sense of confidence and ability that easily rises above damsel in distress status. The rest of the supporting cast is rounded out by solid character actors: Walton Goggins, Danny Trejo, Topher Grace, even an Apocalypse Now-inspired cameo by Laurence Fishburne.


By now some of you are surely wondering about the Predators themselves: how do they fare here? The scope of the extraterrestrial hunters has been expanded to dog-like creatures as well as multiple races of Predator, allowing for some non-human conflict to accentuate the horrifying scenario in which the humans are placed. If you signed up for brutal violence, you shouldn't be disappointed: an alien-on-alien beheading and a removal of someone's spinal column are grisly highlights in the film. There is an interesting twist involving the multiple races of Predator, pitting one against the other and mixing human interaction in as well. They are still, as Arnold once called them, "ugly motherf*cker[s]," but the designs have been slightly updated for the new millennium (although not so much as to anger hardcore fans of the series).




The Blu-ray special features are pretty extensive, spotlighted by a really cool "making of" featurette detailing the production process and giving an inside look at the sets, both on location in Hawaii and at Troublemaker Studios. The coolest parts revealed how Antal and his director of photography were able to shoot the actors tumbling over the edge of a waterfall in Hawaii: the camera was on a bungee cord pointing down at the water and as actors plunged out into space, the camera followed them down as they hurtled 80 feet down and crashed into twelve feet of water. Some of the actors seemed to do their own stunts, but even if they were stunt men, the footage was definitely worth seeing and was a great insight as to how they accomplished such an impressive shot. Along with the typical special features you'd expect to find (commentary, deleted and extended scenes, etc.), there are also six motion comics detailing the backstories of many of the major characters, which are voiced by the actual cast members from the film. I didn't find them particularly enthralling, but if you're into that kind of thing, you'll probably enjoy them.




Overall, you could do a lot worse than Predators if you're looking for a decent sci-fi action film. There is some impressive cinematography (a slick sword battle shot from above comes to mind), and definitely enough action to keep you involved in the story. The pacing moves quickly and rarely gives you time to concentrate on any negative aspects of the story. This is definitely a spiritual sequel to the McTiernan movie and will almost certainly spawn direct sequels of its own, but this film was enough to get me interested in the direction of the franchise. Sign me up for the next entry. Until next time...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The NJNM Podcast: Ep. 13 - The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II


In this week's episode, Ben, Pat, and Tyler discuss Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II. Call and leave us a voicemail at (904) 469-6566.



Friday, October 15, 2010

Jackass 3D

I've always found the concept of Jackass to be an entertaining mix of outrageous physical humor and repulsive shock-and-awe gags. In their latest entry, Johnny Knoxville and Co. add 3D to the mix and end up with a film that not only lives up to their extreme brand of humor, but displays a zest for life that we rarely see on screen, even in fictional stories.


Jackass 3D
Director: Jeff Tremaine
Starring: Johnny Knoxville, Wee Man, Steve-O, Ryan Dunn, Bam Margera



An introduction by Beavis and Butthead starts the film on a great note and sets the tone for the kind of humorous stupidity we've come to expect from this franchise. You know what you're getting here: each gag seems more outlandish than the one before, and the guys seem to be on a quest to top what they've done in their previous two films. Since starting Jackass ten years ago, most of the guys have now aged into their late thirties - astonishingly old considering the physical stress they continue to endure for our entertainment. One would assume that with age comes wisdom, but that is certainly not the case here. The Jackasses seem a bit more guarded this time around, but give them credit: they still attack their stunts with reckless abandon and come away with ridiculous footage worthy of the film's title.



The 3D is, in my opinion, absolutely worth the cost of admission. The opening and closing sequences - known in these films for being ridiculous - feature arguably the best use of depth in the entire film. Use of the Phantom camera (shooting up to 1,000 frames per second) provides a combo of super slow motion and 3D that almost certainly captured the attention of Zack Snyder. The final scene, so full of explosions and destruction that it destroys the set, gives Michael Bay a run for his money. However, if you don't feel like shelling out the extra cash, I spoke to Knoxville and the rest of the guys and they made clear the fact that they wanted the film to be just as funny in two dimensions. (Sure, there are some 3D specific bits, but for the most part you'll be fine in 2D if you want to avoid the extra cost.) But for those that pay extra, you will be rewarded. When a couple of the guys play a game of tether-ball with a beehive filled with angry bees, the audience must shake off the uneasy feeling that the bees have entered the theater because the use of 3D is so effective. One might assume the larger cameras and advanced technology would A) hinder the run-and-gun filming style of the Jackass crew or B) lend an air of credulity to what they're doing, possibly offsetting some of the more childish stunts due to a sense of guilt from using the world's most expensive cameras to record pranks. Both assumptions are misguided.



Perhaps some of you are wondering if the Jackasses are still capable of the same level of filth they've achieved (or sank to?) in years past. To answer, I'll tell you that I literally choked back bile several times in the theater and came within seconds of vomiting in the aisle. There are things in this movie that have never been shown on screen before, such vile departures from normal human behavior that we can't help but half-laugh, half-gasp at the audacity of it all. I won't reveal the individual gags - there's really no need to go into detail about them here - but mixed in with the depravity is a sense of exploration and pushing the limits that wasn't featured as prominently in previous films. The guys seem united in a common goal, and even the reactions to pranks among themselves (some of the funniest moments in the film) give a sort of "comrades in arms" vibe, as opposed to Jackass Number Two in which I felt there was no way these guys could stay friends after the stuff they did to each other. This movie is a bit more lighthearted; I think they realize how old they're getting and know that this is probably their last film together (at least with this structure).


If you're averse to seeing male nudity, disgusting gags, and a bit with the name "Sweatsuit Cocktail" makes you shudder just thinking about it, then definitely stay away from this one. But if you're a fan of this series, it's an amazing entry that pushes the limits further than they've ever gone before and does it with an effective use of 3D that makes Jackass 3D one of the funniest films of the year. Until next time...

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Red

If you've seen the trailer for Red, you know exactly what you're getting yourself into. There's no deception with this marketing campaign: if you're the type of person who digs movies in which bullets and bazookas are fired at the same time and collide in the middle (causing a massive explosion, naturally), chances are you'll probably like this movie.


Red
Director: Robert Schwentke
Starring: Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich



Based on the comic by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner, Red tells the story of Frank Moses (Willis), a lonely, retired CIA black ops agent. He calls the agency just to speak with the cute customer service rep Sarah (Parker), and the two have a blossoming friendship over the phone. But when a team of agents breaks into Moses' apartment to kill him, he knows that Sarah's life is in danger, too. In order to stay alive, he has to "[get] the band back together" by reassembling his old (hiYO!) team: Joe (Freeman), an 80-year-old rascal; Marvin (Malkovich), made insane by years of government testing; and Victoria (Mirren), a woman who can't force herself to fully retire. Hunted by up-and-coming agent Cooper (Karl Urban), the gang gets caught up in the remnants of a operation they worked on thirty years prior.




This movie is utterly inconsequential, but that's exactly what it's aiming for. The writing provides plenty of opportunities to let loose and have some fun, with almost all of the leads playing variations of characters they've depicted on screen before. Freeman and Willis fell right back into their natural chemistry from Lucky Number Slevin, almost as if they never left that film's set. Malkovich was perfectly crazy, striking just the right balance of slapstick and insanity. And as the action comedy equivalent of Betty White, it was surprisingly exhilarating to see Helen Mirren (notable for playing traditional, serious roles) brazenly fire automatic weapons until all of the cartridges were spent. And Mary-Louise Parker played the "Cameron Diaz in Knight and Day" part with such effortless charm and humor that I was instantly enamored with her.




The supporting cast is really a joy to watch, with hugely entertaining performances from the always-reliable Brian Cox and Richard Dreyfuss. Even Ernest Borgnine has a small role, sure to raise the enjoyment of the older audience this film caters to. But the break-out to me was easily Karl Urban (who played Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy in J.J. Abrams' Star Trek) as Cooper, standing out in an office fight scene with Willis that cements him as one of the next big blockbuster stars. [He's already been signed to play Judge Dredd in a reboot of that franchise.] Cooper's casual indifference when executing orders was effectively chilling, and his go-getter attitude seems to mirror Urban's own rise to movie stardom.


Perhaps my biggest surprise was with the assured confidence of the film itself, handled notably well by director Robert Schwentke. His filmography thus far (Flightplan, The Time Traveler's Wife) didn't seem to indicate he could pull off this type of tone, but he did an admirable job portraying the action, thankfully avoiding the quick-cut mantra of action films of the past decade. (It's so refreshing to see an action movie that doesn't give you a headache.) There are a couple of excellent sequences, one involving a car crash and Willis (predictably) being a total badass, and one involving the destruction of a house reminiscent of The Rocketeer and The Book of Eli.




Red is pure, self-assured escapism. It'll surely become a staple of cable networks in the next few years, but there's nothing wrong with that - especially when the movie is as fun as this one. The cast practically oozes enthusiasm, and their excitement seems to complement the ridiculous nature of this movie. I'd definitely recommend checking this one out if you're a fan of the action comedy genre; Red continues this year's trend of "team up" action flicks, but this one falls more on the The A-Team side than The Expendables side. Until next time...

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole

Legend of the Guardians is a beautifully animated movie which - like all the best kids' films - appeals to both children and adults. Capitalizing on stellar voice talent and Zack Snyder's undaunted directing style, this movie turned out to be a formulaic family film with inspiring messages, fierce action, and mesmerizing visuals.


Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole
Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Jim Sturgess, Geoffrey Rush, Helen Mirren, Sam Neill, Hugo Weaving



I'm not going to sit here and tell you this is the best animated film of the year (so far, I'd say that honor goes to How to Train Your Dragon*), so set your expectations low and you won't be disappointed. The CGI is truly spectacular throughout - not only in the soaring flight sequences and the stunning landscapes, but also in the little moments and conversations between characters. I saw the film in 3D and it actually did add to the viewing experience; if you're willing to pay for it, it's probably worthwhile, but if you don't feel like shelling out the extra cash, it won't change your experience that much.



Earlier today, it was announced that Zack Snyder is going to direct the newest Superman film for Warner Bros. It's clear both the studio and producer/godfather Christopher Nolan have a lot of confidence in Snyder, and I'd say Legend of the Guardians is a nice demo reel for how 3D can be used properly. If WB chooses to make the new Superman in 3D and they want to feature some flight chase sequences between The Man of Steel and Zod (the confirmed villain), we've got nothing to worry about as an audience because Snyder knows exactly how to handle it. The action in this film is consistent with his visual style (ie. - speed-ramping, slow-motion, etc.), and I'll say this about him: the dude knows what looks cool on screen, and has a talent for making it happen. Even with a concept of owls fighting in mid-air (which, granted, sounds vaguely stupid), he easily makes it both visually interesting and effectively brutal.


Legend of the Guardians isn't the most original story you'll stumble across, but it works: a prototypical hero's journey straight out of Joseph Campbell's playbook, complete with ridiculous side characters to help our protagonist and such intense sibling rivalry it hasn't been seen in animation since The Lion King. It's based on a series of books by Kathryn Lansky, who serves as an executive producer on the film. There are actually a good number of parallels to How to Train Your Dragon - from themes like family loyalty, the feeling of discovery, accepting yourself, and many of the visual cues - but HTTYD executed them all much better on screen.



I spent most of the movie trying to match the voices I was hearing to certain actors, but had to wait until the end credits to solidify my guesses. I was way off on a few of them (no Orlando Bloom...at all?), but there was some really excellent voice work by Jim Sturgess (21, Across the Universe) in the lead role, Hugo Weaving (The Matrix) and Geoffrey Rush (Pirates of the Caribbean). The younger actors, especially, do a great job of imbuing their owls with a sense of innocence that match the owls' outward appearances.


There were a few particularly striking sequences, both involving the phrase "feel it in your gizzard" which is simply a stand-in for "use the Force." The "fly through the rain" scene had me cracking up more than it should have because it evoked Chris Klein's now-infamous "this guy walks through the raindrops" moment from Street Fighter: Legend of Chun-Li, found at the :40 second mark in this video. All kidding aside, that scene was very impressive, as was a similar sequence involving fire near the end of the movie.


Legend of the Guardians is not a bad movie - it's just not as good as some of its contemporaries. I have no problem recommending both HTTYD and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs over this film because I feel like they cover similar subject matter to higher degrees of success, but if you're in desperate need of a fun family theatrical film this fall, Legend of the Guardians is for you. Little girls might like the cuteness of the owls, little boys might like the battle scenes, and adults can appreciate the movie for its technical merits - but ultimately this one left me wanting more. Until next time...


*Note: I haven't seen Toy Story 3.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The NJNM Podcast: Ep. 12 - The Fly


In this week's episode, Ben, Pat, and Tyler discuss David Cronenberg's 1986 sci-fi/horror classic, The Fly.



Friday, October 1, 2010

Monsters

At first glanceMonsters is just another story about aliens coming to Earth and humans' ability (or inability) to deal with them. But below the surface lies a fairly complex film peppered with cultural questions that aren't easily answered. Similar in look and feel to 2009's District 9, this movie feels like a feature length YouTube film featuring some impressive visual effects. But in a way, this is more impressive than Neill Blomkamp's directorial debut: D9 had a 30 million dollar budget, and Monsters was completed for only $15,000.


Monsters
Writer/Director: Gareth Edwards
Starring: Scoot McNairy, Whitney Able




Ever since my active decision to avoid trailers for Inception earlier this summer, I've gotten into the habit of not watching trailers for movies I'm interested in seeing - especially independent films. In a way I can't entirely explain, it seems as if indie movies have more to lose by showing excessive amounts of footage than big Hollywood blockbusters. Perhaps their low budgets and tendency towards intimacy with the audience are the cause of my belief, but examples in which this feeling is heightened are in mystery-based independent films. I feel like almost any footage from a mysterious independent movie is considered a "big reveal," oftentimes revealed purely from a marketing standpoint to get people into theaters. Movies like Catfish and Buried work so much better without "spoiling" any of the footage by seeing a trailer, and this point also holds true with Monsters


Luckily, I didn't watch the trailer before I saw the film. If I had, I surely would have gone in with expectations much more aligned with Blomkamp's District 9 than the film's early buzz already indicated. The trailer paints the movie in a much more action-heavy light, and I'm honestly not sure if I would have been able to get past being "tricked" - I would almost certainly have negatively judged the film based on its representation from the trailer. So heed these words: this film is not an action-based adventure story. Monsters is a pondering evaluation of life, love, and the nature of humanity.




There's a lot going on in the story, which is a testament to Gareth Edwards, who pulled quadruple duty (writing, directing, production design, and visual effects) crafting a cohesive story out of a script that was largely improvised and shot on the fly with a four person crew. Aside from a chaotic opening scene, the sequences with the creatures were beautiful and reverent, akin more to the treatment of the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park than the shoot-em-up attitude of most recent science fiction. Themes of isolation, immigration, cultural responsibility, and self-reflection cause the audience to step back and consider the messages Edwards presents, and there are many enriching ways to read the film (with the danger of mixing metaphors more prominent as it progresses).




The movie falls a bit short of brilliance by dragging a bit in the middle; even though it is actually one minute shorter than Buried, Monsters feels so much longer because of the ponderous nature of the film. The pacing starts out well, but as the duo travels across the country, it seems they aren't covering much ground for large chunks of the movie. It's a slow process, but ultimately worth the wait considering the phenomenal shots Edwards managed to capture on film. The scenery is as much a character as the two leads, and is actually sometimes more captivating.




The acting, by real-life couple Scoot McNairy (In Search of a Midnight Kiss) and Whitney Able (the pitiful cult "classic" All The Boys Love Mandy Lane), was genuine and endearing. Along with their performances, all of the supporting characters were just random citizens who happened to be in the areas where they were filming. None of the other cast members are professional actors - and I'm not implying they were good enough to hold that title - but it gave the film an added realism that enhanced the story.




I saw the movie with a friend who said he'd recommend that everyone see this movie once in their lifetime. I don't quite agree, since I think only a select few will appreciate Edwards' approach to the material and most will probably be agitated with the slow pace and lack of action. The title implies more sci-fi than the audience actually gets, but if you read this film a certain way, it's perhaps the most apt title Edwards could have imagined. Until next time...