Everybody in Mexico wants to be in a monster movie!

Before I saw Gareth Edwards’ film, a friend told me that he’d heard some advance reviews said it rocks and others said it sucks. As one who falls into the former camp, I suspect that those who fall into the latter are folks who went into it expecting one thing but getting another. And I can’t blame someone for going into it with the wrong expectations…

It’s called “Monsters”, after all.

You can't get there from here

But it is more interested in telling the story of the human characters, nicely played by Whitney Able and Scoot McNairy. Andrew (McNairy) is a professional photographer whose employer asks him to escort his daughter Sam (Able) out of Mexico, where she was vacationing when aliens attacked and demolished her hotel. The aliens have been on Earth for 6 years, at this point, and populate several areas around the world, which are referred to as “infected areas”–including northern Mexico. Right in between where Sam is and where she needs to be.

That makes this a road movie. And, like most (all?) road movies, it’s more concerned with the developing relationship between its lead characters than it is about the journey, itself. The titular characters are supporting ones. And I’m alright with that.

The script is strong and the performances are too. At a Q&A after the screening, Able, McNairy, and writer/director Edwards explained that the dialogue was all ad-libbed. The script gave the actors a scene’s setup but the words came from them. And Edwards also explained that he’d spent considerable time trying to decide how to cast the film… pondering two options: hire 2 strangers and hope they could develop chemistry, or hire a couple and hope they could pull off being strangers at the beginning of the film. In the end, he went with the latter and hired real-life couple Able and McNairy. I think it was the right decision. I enjoyed both performances. I cared about these characters. Able and McNairy are the only professional actors in the cast; the rest are amateurs, easily recruited from the shooting locations because, as Edwards explained, ‘Everybody in Mexico wants to be in a monster movie!’

I guess my only complaint would be that the script’s politics were a little too obvious. That means the ending is telegraphed from too far away, but one thing that I thought was a surprising and nice touch was the final revelation that the narrative was circular. I liked that!

And I was actually a little surprised at how much we do see of the aliens. I was also surprised that they looked every bit as good as anything Hollywood puts onscreen for budgets 7,500 -10,000 times the size of Monsters’. I make no secret of being okay with a “monster movie” that plays hard-to-get. Because the film had a very low budget (a shooting budget of, allegedly, only $15G!), the director took his cue from such filmmakers as (early) Steven Spielberg (with his oft-hidden mechanical shark) and Robert Wise (with his emphasis on the horrific sounds of Hill House)… being very choosy about when and how and why to use his special effects budget to show the amphibious aliens. More often, we just hear them. And that’s creepy enough!

Shot with minimal crew (2!) and cast (2!) on a minimal budget, Monsters is a pretty big accomplishment.

→ originally published 2010-09-22

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Shaddap and play the hits, James

No, really. I haven’t died. I’ve just been, er, distracted. But this can’t pass without notice… It simply cannot!

Here is the trailer for Shut Up And Play The Hitsthe movie of 2012 for me.

Its world premiere is at Sundance, later this month, when there are 5 screenings scheduled. Agh, how I wish I could be at one of ’em!

TIFF 2011 shortlist

Every year, in the runup to the Toronto International Film Festival, I poke through the (typically logy) website, looking through the 300 or so programmed films for a few I think I’d like to see.  So, in addition to the 3 films I chose for this year’s Chasing the Buzz, here’s my shortlist for TIFF ’11 (TIFF synopses in italics and my reasons for choosing follows)…

 

Starting a few months after Hurricane Katrina, Jonathan Demme follows a strong matriarch from the Lower Ninth Ward named Carolyn Parker as she struggles to rebuild her home over several years.
It is the Demme name that draws me. He’s made quite a number of films I admire, including documentaries such as Man From Plains.

This shocking investigation into the world’s water crisis, draws upon the work of scientists and activists including the real Erin Brockovich, from Academy Award-winning director Jessica Yu and the producer’s of “Food, Inc.”
Yu’s Protagonist was one of the most interesting films (form-wise and content-wise) that I saw at Hot Docs ’07.

Exploring the rough and tumble world of hockey, Academy Award winner Alex Gibney (“Taxi to the Dark Side”) looks at the world of the NHL enforcers and specifically the career of Chris “Knuckles” Nilan who helped the Montreal Canadiens win the Stanley Cup.
On May 13/11, Derek Boogaard died of an accidental lethal mix of alcohol and oxycodone. On Aug. 14/11, Rick Rypien committed suicide. And last week, on Aug. 31/11, Wade Belak did, too. All of these guys were so-called “enforcers” in the NHL–guys whose role it is to enforce what Don Cherry refers to as “The Code”–and at least two of them (Rypien and Belak) admitted to suffering from clinical depression. Don’t know if Boogaard did, too, but he did have substance abuse problems for which he had sought treatment. I am not sure I’d want to link these personal issues to the role these guys played on their teams, but it is, certainly, a discomforting coincidence. Here, director Gibney looks at Chris “Knuckles” Nilan, who managed to make the transition from “NHL enforcer” to “retiree” that these three did not.

Acclaimed maverick Michael Dowse (FUBAR, FUBAR 2, It’s All Gone Pete Tong) returns to the Festival with his latest, Goon, a raucous, hilarious take on Canada’s one true national obsession — hockey — and the divisive topic of violence in the game. Co-written by and starring Jay Baruchel (The Trotsky, Tropic Thunder) and boasting a truly great cast including Seann William Scott, Nicholas Campbell, Liev Schrieber, Alison Pill, Kim Coates, Eugene Levy, and Marc-Andre Grondin — Goon is the Canadian comedy counterpart to Jimi Hendrix’s version of the “The Star Spangled Banner”: sacreligious, twisted and, somehow, perversely patriotic.
Not sure how funny this is going to seem, what with recent events… but I’m curious not just because it’s a movie about hockey but also because I loved Dowse’s It’s All Gone Pete Tong (which you can watch here).

Continue reading

Buzzed

As is often the case, it’s not whatcha know as much as it’s whoya know… and, in this case, it means I was invited, again, to participate in The Toronto Star‘s Peter Howell‘s annual pre-TIFF feature called Chasing The Buzz, wherein li’l film-loving bloggers like me get to throw our 2¢ into the pot along with the pocket change from professional film columnists and reviewers, critics and professors, festival programmers and assorted muckety-mucks (Hello, Piers). What’s in the pot, you ask? Well, Pete wants us to explain–in a single sentence (although a garrulous few get away with more)–which three films we are most excited about seeing at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Take Shelter, dir. Jeff Nichols

Jeff Nichols wrote and directed one of my happiest discoveries of the past year, Shotgun Stories (2007), which also features the star of Take Shelter, the estimable Michael Shannon. (Okay, full disclosure: I have an extreme case of the h-h-hots for Mr. Shannon. Fair ’nuff?  In fact, Shotgun Stories may have been the Shannon performance that hooked me. You might know him best as Agent Van Alden Awesome in HBO‘s “Boardwalk Empire”.)  It is a quiet but devastating little film about a feuding family that I highly recommend–the writing and performances are beautiful.

It is on the basis of Shotgun Stories that I am keen to see Take Shelter.  Again written by Nichols, it is the story of Curtis–a young husband and father and a crew chief for a mining company in the American Midwest–who may or may not be taking a frightening trip around the proverbial bend.  I expect it will be up to the viewer to decide which is the case… as Curtis struggles to understand the same thing onscreen.   Continue reading

TAD 08 features announced

The Toronto After Dark Film Festival has announced its first 8 titles for this year (Oct. 17-24).

Two jumped out at me immediately: Red, a story about revenge starring the always wonderful Brian Cox

and Let The Right One In, a Swedish vampire film based on the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist

If you are a Facebook member, you can see all 8 hi-res trailers here. Otherwise, g’wan over to the TAD site to watch ’em.

I attended last year and I gotta say I hadda blast. I was really impressed with this upstart fest: it was well organized, the programming was international in scope, it included short programmes as well as features, it cut a pretty wide swath of genres (horror, SF, documentary, animation, cult, musical, and unpredictable combinations thereof), and it attracted thousands of patrons who weren’t averse to a little grue. Or a lotta grue, for that matter. 😉

Plus, it dovetailed with the annual Toronto Zombie Walk! Beat that, TIFF!

→ originally published 2008-08-27

Joy and Sorrow

Bernard, Ian, Peter, & Stephen in Manc

Y’know, I felt expectedly sad but still in control throughout Grant Gee’s documentary about Joy Division—long one of my favourite bands—before finally breaking down and sobbing over a visual pun at the end of it all. Gee had overlaid footage of a New Order performance of “Shadowplay” and footage of a Joy Division performance of same (one shadowing the other, you see) and, my God, what a terrible feeling of loss came over me.

Ian Curtis was gone before I’d ever even heard the band. I was introduced to the music of Joy Division by my friend Peter (who had eclectic tastes and who introduced me to a lot of interesting music) when I was in third-year university. At that time, the band’s dark and brooding post-punk music resonated with me and it has remained very important, very personal to me even though I’ve gone through a lot of changes since then. The intriguing thing about their music is that it just doesn’t sound dated. It doesn’t sound out of place today—nor has it ever, throughout all the years since it was laid into wax. They were way ahead of their time back then and, despite their minimal output, are generally considered a hugely influencial band.

I first heard of Gee’s documentary in the run-up to TIFF07, where it got its world premiere. This film, along with the North American premiere of a dramatized version of the story (Anton Corbijn’s Control) meant that Joy Division was certainly well represented at the film fest. Unfortunately, neither film screened during the few days I attended and—naturally—neither film ever showed up onscreen in the city where I live, so their release this summer on DVD was much anticipated.   Continue reading

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Skull-Pounding Set Pieces

here's your hat, what's your hurry?

‘I have a bad feeling about this…’
– Indiana Jones, quoting Han Solo, in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Damn, I knew it was a mistake to let hope and a few (over-?) generous reviewers overwhelm my longstanding belief that another Indiana Jones film would be a fiasco… As I start to write this, I just got back from seeing the latenight screening of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Incredibly Long and Charmless Movie Titles, and I’d rate it somewhere between the hokey-jokey Last Crusade and the screamy-corny Temple of Doom. And closer to the latter than the former. None of ’em even comes close to the pure cinematic joy of Raiders, of course.

But at least I didn’t hafta pay to see it.

The film bolts out of the gate and maintains the frenetic pace of a gallop to the end. It needs to stop and take a breath. It needs to pause and take a look around and think for a minute. Instead, it’s just one furious action set piece after another. But for all that, there are no thrills. I wasn’t moved to the edge of my seat even once. I never felt any sense of danger for the characters onscreen, even when they went plunging over three (count ’em: 3) enormous waterfalls. (Overfuckingkill. That’s the film in a nutshell.)   Continue reading

Ironclad hit

I see Rotten Tomatoes has compiled a 95% positive rating so far for Iron Man. And that percentage is slightly higher than the percentage of the movie than I saw tonight at the preview. Apparently, there was about 20 minutes left in the film when there was a reel switch and–whoosh!–everything onscreen was now dizzingly 1. backwards, and 2. upside-down. Remember the dancing Man From Another Place in Twin Peaks? Yeah, it sounded kinda like that. Except without the dancing.

made me feel a little woozy

Y’know, in the olden days, I’d’ve flipped out over that. I woulda stormed the projection booth, cussing and flailing, spittle flying. (I know, I know what you’re thinking: “Carla? Swearing? Nawww!” But it’s true! Believe. It. Or. Not.) It seems I have mellowed.

Up ’til that point, though, I can tell you that this is probably the best comic book adaptation I’ve seen onscreen. (And this coming from a diehard Hellboy fan. Sorry, GDT.) It’s an absolute blast–it’s got all the action you’d expect in a film of this genre, plus more wit than you’d expect, and a first-rate performance in the lead. Ah loves me some Robert Downey Jr, and his built-in bad-boy rep serves him well as Tony Stark–whose life-long self-absorption gets turned on its head (kinda like the final reel of this screening!). It’s still there, mind you–and this is good because I prefer my heros flawed–but leading him in a different direction after a rather major epiphany.

Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark

Downey’s razor-sharp delivery is perfect for Stark. His darkness is perfect. His intelligence and quick wit are perfect. And how he learned to perform his lines backwards and upside down is some kinda miracle. Genius! (Plus, umm, this might sound a little drooly girly but, oh my, those muscular shoulders and arms look mighty fiiiiiiine in those muscle shirts!)

(Incidentally, we were each given two free admissions to try to make up for the badly fracked screening, and one of mine will be used to see this again. All the way to the end right-side up next time. I hope. By then, of course, you will have seen it y’self, so I don’t need to tell you about it. And if you haven’t seen it by then, yeesh, crawl out from underneath that rock.)

→ originally published 2008-05-01

Do geminoids dream of electric sheep?

Could you love a robot? Should you love a robot? Or, rather, a geminoid, as its creator, Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro, calls it. That’s one of the questions posed in Phie Ambo’s Mechanical Love.

Ishiguro and his evil twin

Ishiguro built his geminoid in his own image. Make of that what you will.

In fact, he coined the word “geminoid” from the Latin geminus, meaning “twin” or “double” and oid, which indicates “similarity”. And the damned thing does really look like him. If he were a robot, that is.

Apparently, he got the idea for this because he is so busy. He can’t be in two places at once, after all. So he built this copy of himself–sculpted from casts of his body–so that it could, say, sit in a meeting at the office while he was working elsewhere, and it would stand in for him as he spoke through it and manipulated it via remote control. ‘If I could have one at the university, and one at ATR, I would just do all my work from a hot-springs resort.’ Well, okay… it makes sense when he puts it that way. But he also wonders if people could come to have feelings for these things. Continue reading