Review: Monsters


[Because the film opens theatrically in NY and LA today, and has been available online for a month on VOD, here is a re-post of my review for Gareth Edwards’ Monsters. Also check out Jandy’s take on the film and if you want further Monsters reading, check out my interview with the director posted up over at Twitch.]

There are monsters amoung us – figuratively and literally – in the simple yet aptly titled not-quite-creature-feature, Monsters. Sometime in the near future a wee spot of primordial alien matter got all tangled up with a returning man-made space probe. After about 6 years the effects of the tag-along DNA have resulted in some rather large and terrifying beasties that call about half of Mexico, from Mazatlan to Tampico and all the way north to the American border, home. The Americans respond by building a towering and intimidating 30 meter high concrete wall that makes the $1.2 billion 2006 mandated (by Bush and company) fence looks like no more useful than to pen in goats. The term “Fortress America” is starting to sound rather closer to reality. It being the US-Mexico border, stuff is bound to penetrate and be met with an overabundance of force. Not quite Don Johnson in Machete, but you have to wonder if the response creates half the problem. While Monsters is no Starship Troopers, it is about as far from the crazy violence or anti-fascist bombast as possible, there is a satirical streak hidden under it all that probably would make Paul Verhoeven concede a knowing nod to its sub-textual, humanist slant.

Apparently, it was director Gareth Edwards’ goal to make the most ‘realistic’ movie about gigantic monsters invading earth as possible. If that means a quieter, more mundane tone, more a movie of our collective environment altered by the presence of alien beings rather than the typical crash-and-smash mayhem caused by invaders from Mars then so be it. He has succeeded in an act of alternate-future that feels real, it feels lived in, and there is a sense of the mundane and normalcy that is almost always lacking in pictures of these type. Shooting in the central American wilderness and small towns therein make for a gorgeous movie on top of its unconventional execution. To say it defies expectations, the constant comparisons to District 9 are, on one hand, appropriate yet still quite misleading. Monsters is not an action picture, it is a contemplative road picture. That it defies easy comparison is simply because there are not enough of these movies made to draw accurate comparisons. I was rather reminded by the opening hours of the 1980s TV miniseries “V” or perhaps Alien Nation; where the presence of extra-terrestrials make a large-scale change on society merely by existing in it. But it also evokes the social journey-films of Alfonso Cuarón, pick either Y tu mama tambien or Children of Men, there are similarities to both. We exist in our environments even as a collective societal shift from panic to uncertainty to ‘the new normal’ follows any major global ‘sea change.’ Of course, all of this inferred shock and awe happens offscreen, only implied by a few title cards. The Monsters could just have easily been another country’s military occupation of modern Mexico, or how the world at this point is rather used to the quagmire in Iraq after 6 years of US entrenchment. As it stands, the gigantic walking squids are here, and they have left their mark, but are now simply a part of the fabric of North American life. This is the greatest achievement of the film, and one that allows for a bit of consideration and politics, although, really the joy is simply existing in this plausible new world order. Part of me wishes that if someone is going to make Max Brook’s overcooked novel World War Z, Gareth Edwards would be the man to leaven out the breathless hyperbole of the ‘letters from the front’ and make it a mature allegory for adults.

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Racism: Alive and Well

The Order of Myths Movie Still

When I saw The Order of Myths earlier this year, I was surprised to find that such a public display of race division was still alive and accepted in the US. It’s not to say that I live in an ideal world where racism doesn’t exist but it’s usually a topic that hides behind closed doors, which people discuss in hushed whispers and (mostly) deny in public.

Margaret Brown’s documentary about Mardi Gras in Mobile, Alabama was an eye opener. A celebration that predates the much more popular one in New Orleans’, things in Mobile are done a little differently with not one but two Mardi Gras parades and celebrations: one for the whites and one for African Americans. Though the individuals live, work and play together when it comes to celebrating Fat Tuesday, celebrations are segregated. There are two parades, two dances and two sets of Kings and Queens of Mardi Gras.

Brown’s documentary is a fascinating watch and though she is given access to the various groups involved in with the floats and organizing of events on both sides, no one really has an answer to why the celebration is still separate. The common answer is always “tradition” or “that’s how it’s always been done” but it makes you wonder why few people ask “When is enough enough? When do you fore go tradition?” And though Brown attempts to get some answers, she leaves the film open ended and rarely does racism rear its head although it’s always in the back of the mind and in full display on screen.

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Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon Trailer

Frost/Nixon Movie StillThe list of “must see” films for this autumn/winter season is stupendous and it just seems to be getting longer by the second. The latest addition: Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon.

Adapted from his play for the big screen, Peter Morgan’s script documents a series of televised interviews that Richard Nixon granted David Frost in 1977, a series of interviews that ended with a tacit admission of guilt regarding his role in the Watergate scandal.

I was curious about the film version which stars The Queen‘s Michael Sheen as Frost and the wonderful Frank Langella as Nixon (could this finally be an Oscar win for Langella?) alongside Oliver Platt, Sam Rockwell, Rebecca Hall and Kevin Bacon. But along with the great cast was the direction of Ron Howard which I typically find OK at best. I’d nearly forgotten this was coming but it looks like Universal will be squeezing it in just under the deadline for Oscar contention.

I saw the trailer twice and a few things stand out above all else: Sheen and Langella’s performances – both actors seem to disappear into their characters, the way the period has been captured, the unmistakable Zimmer score but above all else, the dueling tones of the film – both playful and serious. This could still be nothing more than a well cut trailer but I have a feeling Howard may have nailed this one.

Frost/Nixon opens in limited release on December 5th.

The trailer is tucked under the seat!

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Oliver Stone’s W. Trailer

A little while back, Jonathan posted the first image of Josh Brolin as President Bush. It’s safe to say that that magazine cover caused as much controversy as the announcement that button pushing Oliver Stone was behind the film about the currently US president.

I’m tempted to think that this has disaster in the making written all over it. To begin with the film is about a president that isn’t only still alive, he’s still in power. To make matters worse, Stone hasn’t exactly been on a roll with his last few films. There’s a lot at stake here and frankly, this trailer doesn’t suggest that we’re in for anything more than initially expected: a collection of potshots at the current president. I have my issues with Bush but I’m not sure this is the best approach to the situation and though it could be fun to watch and I haven’t lost complete faith in Stone, this trailer doesn’t do anything for me.

W. opens on October 17th.