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All reviews - Movies (204) - DVDs (1)

The Fighter

Posted : 6 years, 11 months ago on 24 December 2010 01:47 (A review of The Fighter)

If there's something I've said in several other reviews of movies that are inherently cliche-based that deserves to be repeated here, it's this: if you can do something interesting with the conventional material you're working with, or if you can at least make the characters worth caring about, the film is certain to be at least good, despite the familiarity of the material. Such is the case with THE FIGHTER, a predictable film about boxing that has more strengths than weaknesses (the tragically humdrum title being among the latter). The boxing sequences in the film aren't anything special, and for the most part, we can easily predict who will win which fight, but that's of little importance when the film's emotional conflicts are so well-developed and when we get a couple of outstanding supporting performances in the midst of it all.

In fact, if you look at THE FIGHTER from the perspective that I viewed it, you'll find that it's more of a love story than a film about boxing. But it's not a rosy love story. It's about how one tough bitch, Charlene (Amy Adams) tries to save the guy she's fallen in love with, Micky (Mark Wahlberg), from being controlled by his family, mainly his mother, Alice (Melissa Leo), and his brother, Dicky (Christian Bale). Perhaps without noticing, Alice and Dicky are basically "using" Micky's boxing talents for purposes that are more self-serving than they may even realize. Charlene not only realizes what Micky's family is doing to him, but she realizes that she believes in Micky's potential as a fighter, and decides she's going to do whatever she can to help him succeed, even if that means separating him from his mother and brother. Family dynamics unravel, and much drama ensues.

What I described in the above paragraph might make the film seem corny, but the reason why it's not is that the character of Charlene isn't one of these weak females who sobs as she watches the man she loves take a beating on the ring (cough, CINDERELLA MAN). I don't know how else to put this, but Charlene is one tough bitch ("I'll see you in Micky's corner, otherwise go fuck yourself"). She exemplifies that several times verbally, and even physically at one point. And something similar can be said of the film as a whole: it has no qualms about displaying a fucked-up family life. THE FIGHTER doesn't try to sanitize anything. The film's best scene takes place in the living room on the first occasion that Micky's entire family meets Charlene and everyone lays out their (very) different ideas of what Micky's immediate future as a boxer should look like.

Mark Wahlberg's lead performance is decent. It's not a particularly showy role, so he correctly goes for subtleness more than anything else. Christian Bale is getting loads of acclaim for his work as the frenetic, crack-addicted older brother, and as great as his work is during the film's final act, I found his performance during the first half hour to be a bit cartoonish: you can only widen your eyes so much before the audience members are going to want to yell "OKAY, we get it, you're really high right now." It's another story with Amy Adams and Melissa Leo, though. Both women give two of the year's best supporting performances, and they both easily deserve Oscar nominations. This is outside Adams' comfort zone, because she's not playing a weak, soft-voiced character this time around, and the interesting thing is that she's a playing a character that you would normally EXPECT to be like that. The mental fortitude and toughness that she exhibits in the role of Charlene is something to marvel at, and she is absolutely fantastic in the climactic scene when Charlene and Dicky have their final showdown of sorts on her front porch. Leo is unrecognizable. I can't believe this is the same person who, two years ago, gave an astounding lead performance as the struggling wife and mother in FROZEN RIVER. She plays a different type of mother in THE FIGHTER for sure, but she's tremendously good here as well. Plenty of other actresses would've played Alice as a straight-up villain, but Leo gives us something much better. We get someone who means well, yet can be savagely selfish and mean-spirited in the process of meaning well. She does an expert job at avoiding going over the top (unlike Bale) during a scene in which she's standing at the kitchen throwing pots and pans at her husband.

THE FIGHTER doesn't do as many wonders with the boxing cliche as Clint Eastwood did six years ago when he directed MILLION DOLLAR BABY. After all the intense drama that we're exposed to during THE FIGHTER, the resolution feels a little too pat for my taste. Still, the strength of its performances and the expert way in which all the layers of the film's conflicts are handled make it easily recommendable.


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127 Hours

Posted : 6 years, 12 months ago on 17 December 2010 01:45 (A review of 127 Hours)

Beautifully photographed and anchored by an extraordinary lead performance, 127 HOURS is one of those inspirational movies based on real events that is actually BETTER than the mostly mediocre films of that ilk. That's mostly thanks to the fact that the film's inspirational nature doesn't stop it from being thoroughly raw and gritty in its portrayal of a person's intense struggle for physical survival. Danny Boyle's follow-up to the 2008 best picture winner SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE may not be as fascinating and engrossing as its predecessor, but it still deserves to be seen for its undeniable power and its terrific cinematography.

Aron (James Franco) is the epitome of the carefree adventurer. When we meet him, he's getting ready to go mountain climbing (or "canyoneering," as he likes to call it) in Moab, Utah. He's got all his gear ready, and that includes a video camera, because he loves to document bits of his adventures. It doesn't seem like there are other people involved in Aron's life, and we soon learn that he likes going solo on his trips. As his journey is getting started, he tells the camera: "It's just me, music and the night - I love it!". He happens to meet two girls, Kristi (Kate Mara) and Megan (Amber Tamblyn) and acts like a bit of a dork as he gives them a tour of the area. Rather than being a stereotypical guy and leaving with these two girls, Aron is all about living his adventure by himself, so he eventually bids them farewell. The real film starts once Kristi and Megan are far enough that any cries of help from Aron can't be heard by them. Aron falls through a hole, which is no big deal, as this guy has done all sorts of risky jumps and whatnot; however, a boulder falls along with him, and Aron soon realizes that his arm is completely stuck between the boulder and a wall. He has no way of pushing the boulder off or getting his arm out without causing harm to it. Right there, the title of the film comes on the screen, and we start witnessing Aron's intense struggle to survive the dire situation that the cards have dealt him.

As we watch Aron try to find ways to get free, while trying to keep himself hydrated without using up all his available water, the film employs two "strategies" so that it doesn't feel like the entire film is about Aron's physical battle with the boulder. First, there are a lot of occasions in which Aron records himself with the videocamera, and these moments are easily the best the film has to offer, because they carry so much emotional heft and they give James Franco the chance to deliver a devastating, heart-breaking performance. And what's amazing is that, despite the seriousness of the situation, the film manages to turn one of these moments into delightful dark humor when Aron pretends to interview himself as the host of a TV show. In this particular scene, Franco's rendition of the TV show is laugh-out-loud hilarious. It's not just great that the movie gives us a moment of respite here with some light-heartedness, but it's the fact that, in spite of the terrible situation that his character is in, Franco makes us BELIEVE that Aron would have such a goofball moment to take a break from the problem he's facing. All of the scenes in which Aron records himself are truly terrific, and Franco's acting makes them even better.

The second technique that is used to "fill in" the time as our main character struggles to stay alive has slightly more mixed results. In order to give us a glimpse into Aron's life (his family, his former girlfriend, etc), we don't get flashbacks. I applaud that decision, because using flashbacks would've been the easy conventional choice to make here. What happens instead is that we're placed inside Aron's mind. We get to see the random thoughts and memories that sneak into his head, and we get to see the dreams he has. For the first half of the film, this approach is effective. An instance in which Aron is getting incredibly thirsty and he starts craving for the Gatorade he left in his car is edited perfectly well, and it makes his dehydration palpable. During the film's second half, the images become more random. That's understandable, since we're in Aron's mind, and thoughts ARE random, after all. However, the problem is that they don't contribute to much. The apparent difficulties he had with his former girlfriend aren't explained as effectively as they should've been, and an instance in which Aron imagines his friends and family sitting on a couch in front of him feels unnecessary. Because I feel that the scenes in which Aron talks into the camera are so great, I think this would've all been better if that technique had been exploited more: let us get to know Aron's relationship with his friends, family and ex-girlfriend by having him "talk" to them on the camera, leaving them a final message. During the film's second half, some of Aron's "memories" feel like they're there for the sake of ensuring the film reaches 90 minutes rather than because they have relevance to the film's emotional core.

I'm usually not a victim of allowing large amounts of hype to affect me, but I feel it may have happened to a certain extent here, NOT in terms of my appreciation of the film as a whole, but in terms of my reaction to the film's notoriously disturbing climactic scene, which has supposedly caused some people to faint and others to leave the theater. Maybe I didn't see the same cut (no pun intended), but all I saw was a somewhat large amount of blood, though nothing compared to what we see in some of these gore-infested horror movies that are constantly put out in multiplexes. I thought I was in to see a bone being cut through, or that we would literally see ligaments tearing away from one another. The "big moment" in 127 HOURS isn't as "bad" as most people are proclaiming, but that's actually a good thing, because it wasn't really necessary anyway. The film does a more than good enough job at portraying the dire situation that Aron is in, and it certainly didn't need to enter gratuitous territory just to make us flinch.

James Franco's performance in 127 HOURS is outstanding. The camera is on him the entire time, and we never stop believing him as a solo adventurer whose general avoidance of people has, to a certain extent, put him in this horrible situation. Franco has already proved in the past that, whether it's drama or comedy, his work is never anything short of fantastic, and I'm delighted that it looks like he'll finally get recognition for his performing abilities. His rendition of Aron impacted me deeply, and I won't soon forget it when making my list of favorite performances of the year.

127 HOURS doesn't allow the fact that it's based on real-life events to push it into schmaltzy territory. If last year's THE BLIND SIDE scored a best picture Oscar nomination (which was truly ridiculous), there's no reason why this film shouldn't get the same credit, even if it isn't necessarily one of the year's best. In 2010, we have seen two films that depict a male character literally STUCK in a physically dire situation: we first got BURIED, and now we have 127 HOURS. While BURIED is certainly the better film, that's mostly because it has a terrific ending, whereas the last few minutes of 127 HOURS feel a little haphazard. The more important note to be made, though, is that both films depend entirely on their respective actors' performances, and the result in that department in both films is nothing short of amazing.

Boyle has given us a nimble, visually-striking motion picture in 127 HOURS. One of the things I most admire about it is that, before entering inspirational territory at the end, it forces the viewer to endure an intense and wrenching experience. Contradictory as this may sound, I appreciate any film that refuses to make life easier for me, and instead, is willing to depict events with a higher sense of realism.


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Black Swan

Posted : 7 years ago on 10 December 2010 03:45 (A review of Black Swan)

Searingly dark, haunting and intense, BLACK SWAN is a remarkable look at a person's discovery of their inner demons. The fact that the film's focus is exclusively on that one character makes it impossible for us to get to know any of the supporting players, because we see everything from the protagonist's (mostly warped) perspective, but that's fine, because it doesn't make this any less of a fascinating cinematic experience. In 2010, we've already had other films with unreliable main characters (namely SHUTTER ISLAND and THE KILLER INSIDE ME), but none of them can top what is accomplished in BLACK SWAN. The film is beautiful and horrifying, and I mean both adjectives in the best possible sense.

The person whose mind BLACK SWAN penetrates is Nina (Natalie Portman), a ballet dancer who lives in an apartment with her mother (Barbara Hershey). The leader of the ballet company that Nina belongs to is Thomas (Vincent Cassel), and he's organizing a production called "The Swan Lake," which features two characters that are of particular importance to the film's plot: there's the White Swan, a pure girl who is in love with a prince, and then there's the Black Swan, the seductress who ends up stealing the prince from the White Swan. What Thomas wants is for the same ballerina to play BOTH roles, and he chooses Nina to take on that task. It turns out that Nina is PERFECT for the role of the White Swan because, well, of how "perfect" she is. Nina is 100% precise in her ballet movements and doesn't make a single mistake. However, Thomas expects something different when it comes to playing the Black Swan: he wants imprecision, looseness, seduction. He needs someone who can literally lose herself on stage while playing this dark character. Nina doesn't fare as well here. She's too much of a "sweet girl," as her subtly domineering mother constantly refers to her. A possible threat to the casting of Nina comes when another member of the company, Lily (Mila Kunis), shows that she's got all the spice and allure needed to play the Black Swan. The film takes us on a descent into the darkest places of Nina's mind as her paranoia and desperation reign supreme throughout the entire running time, growing more and more intense as we approach the evening of the performance.

BLACK SWAN will resonate in a particularly harrowing way with those of us who are perfectionists in life, who try to be 100% well-meaning and precise in everything we do and hardly ever give in to passions for fear of steering in the wrong direction. For those of us who've never "done anything wrong," the thought of possibly exploring our dark side can be both tempting and terrifying. The film is never too obvious in depicting Nina's mother as oppressive, but it often comes across in an expertly subtle way. There's a particular scene in which a lot is said in only a matter of seconds: the mother arrives home with a celebration cake with a ballerina on it (as if Nina were still 12), and when Nina refuses to eat a slice because she has a stomachache, the mother brashly threatens to throw the entire cake in the garbage. During a scene in which Nina claims that she isn't a virgin, the tragically innocent and hesitant look on her face reveals the truth.

Prior to the film's roller-coaster of a climax, one of its best moments comes when Lily asks Nina to break the rules for once and go out partying with her rather than staying home with her mother and going to bed early. Nina accepts, and when she and Lily meet two guys at a bar, we instantly assume that Nina will finally be able to get in touch with herself sexually with this guy that she'll hopefully hook up with. But BLACK SWAN is nowhere near as tame as that. This is an incredibly dark motion picture. The way the evening actually ends is a searing shocker, and what we discover later about what may or may not have happened is even worse. That's because, as we soon realize, we're looking at things from the perspective of someone who is truly losing her mind. Nina's desperate, haphazard attempt at getting in touch with her dark side in order to be able to perfectly embody the Black Swan is like a mad descent into hell during which we're teased with images and events that may or may not be real, but they never cease to be stupefying and engrossing.

Where other directors would be more subtle with their visual imagery, Darren Aronofsky is the exact opposite. Some people who have watched the film have correctly drawn comparisons to the subject matter of his last film (THE WRESTLER), but BLACK SWAN is a thousand times more shocking and visceral. It may not have had the scathing emotional effect that REQUIEM FOR A DREAM's final minutes had on me, but it's still a film that you simply can't look away from. In fact, the only problem that truly sticks out in BLACK SWAN is its occasional unnecessary venturing into horror movie territory. I counted two intentional "boo!" moments, both involving the sudden appearance of an unexpected person. Inserting "boo!" moments into what is already a haunting movie due to its subject matter and its occasionally gut-wrenching visual imagery is simply something that momentarily cheapens the viewing experience. It's a lot more effective to play at disturbing the viewer's mind than to play at trying to get the viewer to jump in his/her seat.

The range of emotions that Natalie Portman has to capture in her depiction of Nina is simply staggering, and the fact that the role was also so physically arduous makes her work in BLACK SWAN even more mind-blowing. Those calling it the best performance of her career may be right, though I wouldn't be so quick to forget her remarkable turn in CLOSER or to reject the possibility that someone as young as her still has a chance to out-do herself in a future performance. Still, Portman's bravura entrance into the depths of psychological hell in this particular film is overwhelmingly great. Because she's in every scene of the film, she outshines everyone else, so it's difficult to say much about Barbara Hershey, Vincent Cassel and Mila Kunis, though they all hold their own reasonably well.

There were some who used the adjective "Kubrickian" to refer to this year's INCEPTION, and as much as I loved INCEPTION, it has to be said that "Kubrickian" is far more appropriate an adjective for BLACK SWAN, or rather, for its final act, which is nothing short of a frenetic, delightfully twisted conclusion. It becomes literally impossible to tell which events are truly happening and which ones are simply in Nina's mind, which is what leaves the ending somewhat open to interpretation. Unsure as one may be as to what actually happened to Nina, there's no doubt that the journey into her mind proves to be a blood-curdling cinematic experience, and a very good one at that.


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Buried review

Posted : 7 years ago on 5 December 2010 06:57 (A review of Buried)

The final moments of BURIED are among the most devastating I've witnessed in any film this year. You may be turned off by the film's premise if you discover that the movie spends an entire 90 minutes focusing on one character who's stuck inside a coffin (no flashbacks or other cinematic shenanigans to give us any reprieve from the claustrophobia). But the film's approach pays off because once the extremely intense climax comes along, we're so involved in our lone lead character and concerned about what his fate will be, that the emotional thrust of the final few minutes is almost too much to take.

But that's not all due to the film's claustrophobic style. In fact, most of it is due to the greatness of Ryan Reynolds' fierce and uncompromising performance in which he expertly handles what may easily be one of the toughest roles an actor has faced this year. Here's what's ironic. BURIED had a limited release several months ago, and it wasn't till now that I was finally able to see it, and I just found out that a couple of days ago Reynolds was named "sexiest man of the year" by some magazine or whatever (I don't care much for celebrity gossip and whatnot, so my memory of stuff like that is pretty short-term). Contrary to what most people apparently think, I don't find Ryan Reynolds all that attractive, and ALSO, contrary to majority opinion, I was never a fan of the work he did at the start of his career (mostly crass, silly comedies). It wasn't till last year that I realized that he should've definitely started out in the genre of drama instead - he was impressive in his supporting role in the remarkably underrated ADVENTURELAND (which, again, contrary to what most people think, is NOT a comedy, and it's not meant to be one either). In BURIED, Reynolds not only reaffirms that he should focus his energy on meaty dramatic roles rather than dumb comedies, but he gives an award-worthy performance. If BURIED weren't such a small film, I could easily see him scoring nominations in at least a few precursors. So, my hope is that being named "sexiest man of the year" won't boost his ego so much that he'll avoid making very good small films like BURIED in which he gets the opportunity to shine so much. We'll see.

BURIED's plot unfolds through the conversations that Paul (Reynolds) has on a cell phone that he happens to have in the coffin in which he's buried somewhere in Baquba, Iraq. Apparently, he's not buried in THAT deep a place, which means he's able to get a phone signal. It's obvious that Paul is a perfectly decent guy. The fact that the film's main arrows of criticism are aimed at the evil/selfish nature of human beings has to do with the decisions made by the people on the other end of the phone line. The dialogue slowly reveals to us that the people speaking to Paul aren't all interested in helping him, but rather, most of them just care about saving their own skin. The film's most infuriating moment comes during the conversation with a lawyer who represents the company that Paul works for. But BURIED isn't all about anger and desperation. There's a particularly funny moment in which Paul behaves very nicely to this total bitch on the phone, just to get the information he needs, and as soon as he gets it, he quickly says "Fuck you!" and hangs up. Later on, there's a heart-breaking moment in which Paul listens to a recording of his daughter's voice. This is one of the many instances in which Reynolds gets to display his prowess, because he smiles during this moment, but the smile is still tinged with the sense of hopelessness that gradually increases throughout the film.

Yes, there are moments at which BURIED drags. Even if the film had only been an hour long, it's hard to find THAT much to do if your film literally takes place in such a confined location and with only ONE visible character. To try to remedy this, the film features a somewhat contrived and overblown moment involving the random appearance of a snake. But it's not too bad, and the film quickly moves back to its strength, which comes from the phone conversations that make us gradually fear more and more for Paul's survival.

The ending is nothing short of terrific, and with Reynolds' bravura work to anchor it, it makes for a truly devastating cinematic conclusion. The gradual pouring-in of sand while Paul runs out of time makes for an incredible amount of suspense. BURIED is one heck of a good thriller, and it benefits greatly from its sociopolitical commentary and from one of 2010's most incredible performances.


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Flipped

Posted : 7 years ago on 24 November 2010 10:43 (A review of Flipped)

I've recently gotten the feeling (especially after watching LET ME IN a few weeks ago) that it'll be quite difficult for a filmmaker to ever find a way to give a tough, heart-wrenching treatment to an adolescent love story. If you're working with actors who are maybe 14 or 15, it's not just the fact that you could be crossing legal lines if you delve too much into sexuality, but also, there's the fact that having something too dark or disturbing happen may be "too much" for the young actors or for the audiences (or for both). While I can't quite say that FLIPPED breaks a lot of ground in terms of a teen love story entering deeper-than-usual emotional waters, it's a great step in a good direction: the film teems with the innocence of its two leads, yet it isn't scared to let the emotional demons out, and for a PG-movie about two teenagers who may or may not be in love, that's impressive.

"All I ever wanted was for Juli Baker to leave me alone," says 15-year-old Bryce (Callan McAuliffe) during a voiceover in the first few minutes of FLIPPED. Ever since they were little kids, Juli (Madeline Carroll), whose name is spelled like that because it's short for Julianna, has held on to her schoolgirl crush on Bryce, who is very much not interested in Juli, and instead worries about all the embarrassment he has to deal with her going ga-ga over him, particularly once middle school starts. One of the best things about FLIPPED is that Juli's infatuation is never an annoyance; instead, it's super cute and heart-warming. When she sniffs his hair, it doesn't feel creepy, and when she goes to his house and we hear her express in a voiceover how much she loves "getting a few moments alone with the world's most dazzling eyes," it's not corny in the least bit, because we easily believe it.

What makes FLIPPED special and particularly interesting is the style in which it's edited. Scenes transpire from Bryce's perspective, as we hear his apprehensive voiceovers in which he talks about how he's handling Juli's ogling over him. THEN, we "flip" to Juli's perspective - the image on the screen actually flips each time this happens, although that's not the ONLY reason why the film is titled FLIPPED, as we soon discover. While we're looking at things from Bryce's perspective, we only get a superficial look at the things Juli does, and then once the "flip" occurs, we get a clearer explanation for her motivations. As much as I love the approach and as much as it makes the film consistently engrossing, there are two problems. First, the film feels more episodic than it should. It could've easily had occasional title cards that read "Episode #1: The Sycamore Tree", "Episode #2: Juli meets Bryce's grandfather," etc. With love stories, I think linearity is the better approach: it's better to have a sequence of connected events careen into a heart-tugging climax than to have all these isolated incidents fused together. Secondly, because the approach is constantly that of Bryce's perspective giving us a superficial look at what JULI does, and then Juli's perspectives going deeper into HER OWN motivations, we don't get as much insight into Bryce's demons as we do into Juli's. It would've been good for the film to "flip" every now and then to give us a deeper look at the male protagonist. This is one of those rare cases of a 90-minute movie that I would've definitely liked to be longer. Bryce and Juli may be some of the best lovebirds their age we've seen on film, and I would've liked to spend even more time with them.

Still, the mixture of humor and heartbreak in FLIPPED makes it very easy for me to recommend it. There's an ironic moment involving a science fair, in which Bryce and Juli are competing, and of course, Bryce goes for the cliche of the fake erupting volcano, whereas Juli comes up with something much more raw and simpler, yet wins because it's also a lot more interesting. Bryce is too busy avoiding Juli in order to not be embarrassed in front of his classmates, all the while not realizing that he's slowly letting love slip right through his hands. He starts developing feelings for Juli, but now that Juli has more maturity in her, she realizes she's not really as excited about Bryce as a person, because of how he has treated her. This is where the word "flipped" truly attains its meaning within the film, which analyzes the deep emotional changes that can take place from childhood to adolescence. Juli the child was enthralled with her idealistic view of this boy who kept avoiding her, but now Juli the teenager is learning than Bryce "may be less" than what she thought. Bryce, on the other hand, is now starting to understand that he hasn't appreciated something AMAZING that has been right in front of him his whole life (in fact, the kids live right across from each other).

My description of the film has probably made the character of Bryce out to be a jerk, but if you watch FLIPPED, you'll realize that's not the case, and most of it is thanks to Callan McAuliffe's performance - by the way, the kid is Australian, but his American accent is incredibly dead-on (oh, and the script doesn't lie to us: his eyes truly are dazzling). Madeline Carroll frequently goes from effervescence to pain throughout the film, as she captures the emotional rollercoaster experienced by Juli, and she doesn't miss a beat. I don't think you could've picked a more appealing and capable pair to play these two characters.

As one supporting character says early on in the film, "you have to look at the whole landscape" of things. Looking at the whole landscape proves difficult when you're young and innocent, but it becomes easier once you hit a few bumps, as Bryce and Juli find out. As much as I hate having to compare a film to other works that its director has done in the past, I feel that I, um, have to look at the whole landscape here. :) A review of Rob Reiner's FLIPPED doesn't feel complete without mentioning 1986's STAND BY ME. In fact, STAND BY ME is a big reason why I'm only giving a 6/10 to FLIPPED. As much as I like FLIPPED, it pales in comparison to the earlier film, which is easily one of the best stories about adolescent characters ever committed to film. It's funny because, considering that it's been 24 years, you might think we would've gotten something BETTER now. Perhaps age has made Reiner become a little, um, softer, because "softer" is a good word to use in comparing FLIPPED and STAND BY ME. The latter film often moved into dark, disturbing matters, despite having an all-teenaged cast, whereas with FLIPPED, as moving as it often is, you can't ever escape the feeling of how nice and well-intentioned it is. FLIPPED is very much a "feel-good" movie, while STAND BY ME was emotionally searing, both in a "feel-good" AND a "feel-bad" way. All in all, though, we can be thankful for what FLIPPED has to offer, which is a more authentic than usual look at adolescent romance. FLIPPED doesn't have the full-on happy ending that those expecting a conventional movie pay-off will want, but it does end on a hopeful note, and it's a note that accurately foreshadows the even tougher years of maturing that our two protagonists have yet ahead of them. Considering the dross of films that are out there calling themselves "teen comedies," we have to be appreciative when a film manages to do something like that.


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Let Me In

Posted : 7 years, 1 month ago on 8 November 2010 12:12 (A review of Let Me In)

Those who read the synopsis for LET ME IN and aren't familiar with the Swedish film on which it is based, will be forgiven to think "Well, isn't it just TWILIGHT in reverse, with the girl as the vampire instead?" That's what goes to show you that two films can be what you'd call "vampire movies," yet totally different in their approach. While the TWILIGHT saga is more aimed at the majority of teenagers who don't like to think too hard and whose favorite channels are the CW and MTV, the more sullen, atmospheric LET ME IN is aimed at those of us looking for a deeper form of entertainment. The film may be a near-copy of the Swedish movie it's based on, but it adds enough spice of its own to certain moments that make this a worthy curiosity. Add two terrific performances from child actors and you've got a worthwhile cinematic experience.

Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a 12-year-old boy who lives with his mother in a boring New Mexico town. It seems that there was a recent fight between his parents, because Owen's dad is missing in action, and any time he calls the house, we hear the parents arguing over the phone. Owen is very lonely, and to make matters worse, he gets bullied viciously at school, all because of his somewhat feminine looks (he clearly hasn't reached puberty yet). But Owen may have just found a new friend. Some new neighbors have moved into Owen's apartment building: an old man (Richard Jenkins) lives next door with Abby (Chloe Moretz) who looks to be about Owen's age. Owen and Abby soon start getting to know each other. Their conversations are particularly sullen, and they also have a twinge of mystery to them, because as both Owen and the audience can tell, something's off with Abby. The film wastes no time in informing us that she is actually a vampire and that the old man is in charge of venturing out to kill people (often young, attractive guys, for some reason) in order to drain the blood from them and bring it to Abby. But Abby's not the stereotype of the evil, demonic being we've seen in other vampire films - we can tell that she genuinely cares about Owen. But will Owen still feel as deeply as he does for Abby if and when he discovers what she really is?

In adapting the Swedish film LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, the makers of LET ME IN have decided to add more spice to the gory/violent scenes. None of the additions are significant in a way that they depart heavily from what happens in the original, though, which is a great decision on the filmmakers' part. They've accomplished something I didn't think possible: they've made an Americanized version of a foreign film, but they haven't Americanized it to the point of dumbing it down for us, which is exactly what happens with nearly all remakes. Despite the slight changes, LET ME IN is aimed at the exact same crowd who would enjoy the original. That crowd is the type that enjoys more a more sensitive, less in-your-face approach than the one the "Twihards" prefer.

Perhaps because of how unflinchingly faithful this American version is to the original, it's got the same predominant flaw. The scenes of dialogue between Owen and Abby are terrific, all emotionally-immersive scenes, and the performances make them even better, and the more violent moments in which Abby has no choice but to find herself a prey are also wonderfully intense. The problem is that, in between all of those scenes, we've got the moments in which Owen gets bullied, and those moments are handled way too conventionally in both films. The bullies who have made Owen their target are portrayed as one-dimensional villains, and the contrivances involved every time that they "catch" Owen doing something that leads them to target him certainly aren't helpful. Take, for instance, the predictable moment in which Owen is smiling because one of his bullies got what he deserved from someone else, and the bully happens to spot Owen among the crowd, and responds with a cliched furious glare. The "bullying scenes" make LET ME IN feel like a movie with some great unconventional, atmospheric moments that is mired with a few scenes that were taken from a typical high school movie. Oh, and for those of you who think there aren't any movies out there that have refused to make their 12-year-old bullies one-dimensional, I suggest watching BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA and MEAN CREEK.

Of the few moments in which LET ME IN departs from what occurs in LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, there's only one that is handled poorly. This involves the series of events that lead up to the old man getting caught while trying to kill a human prey for Abby. In LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, this moment takes place almost entirely in a bathroom, and it's handled in a nicely atypical manner, with the suspense being constantly palpable. In LET ME IN, we get an extended sequence that starts at a gas station and then leads to a car chase. There's nothing really wrong with it, but it's simply not as interesting. For some reason, in the original film, it feels easier for the audience to secretly root for the old man to successfully kill the guy and get the blood and get away with it, whereas here I don't think that feeling is quite as concrete.

Of course, as many complaints as I have about the bullying aspect of the movie, we need the "hook" of the bullying theme in order to arrive at the fantastically horrifying climactic scene, which takes place in a pool. It's the best kind of violently heroic moment, because you can gasp in terror at it while also cheering at the top of your lungs for it. When I watched the original in 2008, it was easily the most shocking scene in a film that I saw that year. Because LET ME IN is almost identical to LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, the moment isn't as surprising here, but that doesn't take away from how impressively visceral it is.

Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Moretz are very likely the current cream of the crop of American actors their age. The amazing thing is that, as young as they both are, they've actually already displayed their talent elsewhere. Smit-McPhee gave a courageous performance in last year's unabashedly gloomy THE ROAD, while Moretz was great at being two different forms of precocious, first in (500) DAYS OF SUMMER, and then in this year's KICK-ASS, which will easily be one of 2010's most memorable performances. In LET ME IN, Smit-McPhee is perfect in his depiction of lonely vulnerability, and he's particularly good during his moments of apprehension as he comes closer to discovering more and more about Abby. As for Moretz, despite the fact that we've got it in the back of our minds that Abby's a vampire, there's never a moment in which the young actress doesn't make us see her character as a thoroughly human, conflicted being. We better see more of these two kids in the next few years. If Hollywood cared more about good filmmaking than about money, they'd take the funds away from the people working on the Justin Bieber film, and use it so that actors like Smit-McPhee and Moretz can star in more films.

LET ME IN may have its missteps and it may be too obviously faithful to the film that inspired it, but it's still worth seeking out, regardless of whether or not you've seen LET THE RIGHT ONE IN. If anything, this film is a good model of how NOT to ruin things when you decide to go about doing a remake.


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Paranormal Activity 2

Posted : 7 years, 1 month ago on 23 October 2010 10:08 (A review of Paranormal Activity 2)

There's an important warning to be issued for anyone interested in watching PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2: if you did not see the first film, or if you saw it but don't remember the plot details very well, you may be a little bit confused about this second film's narrative. Sure, the fact that the film is so effectively scary might make you not care about that stuff. After all, most of today's sub-par horror movies don't even have a plot, so you may not even care much about whether you understand this particular film's plot. But for those who do care about understanding the context of the story, I highly advise watching the first movie at some point before venturing out to see PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2. In fact, as I write out the synopsis, I'll be assuming that the people reading saw the first one.

You see, I initially thought that this film was destined for a lower rating than its predecessor because its approach to horror is more based on "jump scares" rather than on the subtleties of the original. But then I realized just how intelligently the storyline of this film CONVERGES with that of the first one. The number 2 in this film's title is deceptive. 95% of its events happen BEFORE the events of the first film. So, you can't really call it a sequel, or a prequel for that matter. This film EXPANDS on the first film. It's an excellent complement to it. For those of us who loved the original, this is just more fodder for us to continue savoring. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 will give an incredible amount of satisfaction to those who were engrossed in the first film's storyline.

The events of the first film focused on the story of how during the fall of 2006, Katie (Katie Featherston) and her boyfriend, Micah (Micah Sloat), were haunted by a demon in their residence. At the end of the film, Katie gets possessed by the demon, which leads her to kill Micah. We found out nothing else about what happened to Katie. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 begins a few months before all of this happened, in August 2006. We meet Katie's sister, Kristi (Sprague Grayden), who lives in a suburban house with her husband, Dan (Brian Boland), and her stepdaughter, Ali (Molly Ephraim). But now there's a new member in this family: Kristi recently gave birth to baby boy Hunter (played by twins William and Jackson Prieto). Eventually, Katie comes to the house with Micah to visit her sister. There aren't any signs at all yet that Katie has experienced anything out of the ordinary. The situation in Kristi's house is different, though. One day, her house looks like it's been ransacked, yet no valuables were stolen. So, they decide to set-up a camera security system, to surveil most parts of the house. Suddenly, strange noises and events similar to those we saw in the first film start happening in the house, and they're all captured by the cameras.

So, is there any connection between the demon haunting Kristi's house and the one we already know will eventually go after Katie and Micah? The brilliance of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 comes from how amazing a job it does at connecting its story with that of the first film, so much that, instead of treating them as "a first movie, and then the second movie," it would be better to just coalesce them into one magnificent fright-fest. But PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 does more. For those of us who were left wondering "what happens next" after the ending of the original film, we get our answer here, and the answer comes during this second film's terrifying final 10 minutes.

One of the problems I did have with the first movie was that it introduced a character who came to the house to try to "explain" the phenomena that was taking place. I was fearing that a similar thing would happen in this movie, but thankfully, it's handled a lot more subtly. There's a maid working in Kristi's house who seems to be aware of what's going on, though she has a hard time explaining it because she doesn't speak much English. Thankfully, the maid is gone for most of the film, and she only reappears when her presence is absolutely essential. Contrived, sure, but at least we're spared not having to hear a lecture on demonology. I would've much preferred having NO information on what was haunting the characters in the two films. Uncertainty can cause a great sense of dread. It's why THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT was so great (still my favorite horror film).

However, there IS an issue that was sort of a problem in the first movie that feels even MORE pronounced in this one, and it's the constant editing cuts, often mid-dialogue. This is jarring (especially when a movie is trying to create a realistic feel), but it's only a minor point. Without a doubt, the most legitimate complaint to be had with PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 is that the scares are less subtle than those of the first film. Instead of provoking a gradual, increasing sense of terror, the movie delivers its scares by sudden loud noises that will inevitably cause you to jump. For the most part, though, this isn't a problem for me - it's just a different method of scaring you. But it's still scary. The inconsistency, though, comes once we discover that the demon in the first film is, indeed, the same one terrorizing the characters in this film. One may easily wonder why, if most of the events of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 happened before those of the first film, the demon is so much more blatant in the things it does in the second film.

Still, many will welcome that blatancy, because several of the scenes in this film are undoubtedly terrifying. There's no doubt that this is the most scared I've been in a movie theater this whole year. It may not be saying a lot, considering how awful a state the horror genre is in, but you have to welcome something as intense and thrilling as this when it comes along. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 is the perfect companion piece to its predecessor. The way in which the events of both films are integrated is perfectly seamless. While THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT may still remain at apex of horror cinema verite, we have to recognize that the crew behind the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY films could've easily decided to just cash in on the first movie's popularity and give us an abomination on the level of BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2. Thankfully, we get the exact opposite of that, and the fact that it was obviously so important for these filmmakers to celebrate and complement the first film's storyline shows that they simply wanted to please the fans of this awesome horror franchise. As one of those fans, I'm very happy with the result.


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Never Let Me Go

Posted : 7 years, 1 month ago on 18 October 2010 01:32 (A review of Never Let Me Go)

NEVER LET ME GO is a thoroughly mediocre piece of melodramatic filmmaking. It's got all the ingredients to make for excellent commentary on subjects such as love, the fleeting nature of life, cloning and human organ transactions, and it winds up saying incredibly trite things about ALL of those themes. If that were it and the characters were still interesting and easy to care about, I may have still given it a mild recommendation, but instead, NEVER LET ME GO offers us one of the weakest, most ridiculous love triangles I've ever witnessed on the big screen. As it turns out, only one of our three protagonists is worth caring about, but that's only because of the talent of the actress playing her, not because of the film itself. The fact that the humdrum title is taken from a song that is heard more than once during the film is only one of the initial signs of the cinematic flatness that you'll be exposed to during NEVER LET ME GO's running time.

The film starts at Hailsham boarding school, which is located in a pretty remote location, and it certainly looks like the students here haven't seen much of the world. In fact, we soon discover that the teachers have told stories to the students about the "awful" things that have happened to anyone who has dared cross the gate that guards the school. We get to meet a particular trio of the kids: Kathy (Izzy Meikle-Small), Tommy (Charlie Rowe) and Ruth (Ella Purnell). It quickly becomes evident that Kathy is very interested in Tommy. Despite her being a child, it seems like more than a school crush, as she worries about him more than you'd expect. She notices Tommy speaking to their teacher, Miss Lucy (Sally Hawkins), and immediately wants to know what he said to her. Ruth, on the other hand, doesn't seem to care much for Tommy, though she's completely aware of Kathy's interest in him.

One day, all of a sudden, much to Kathy's chagrin, it turns out that now Tommy and Ruth are together, even holding hands during recess time. This happens completely out of the blue, with absolutely no development on how or why Ruth made the decision to be with Tommy, and therein lies NEVER LET ME GO's first fault, which continues to snowball into the rest of the film; things happen jarringly, with little development or background to serve as explanation. On a similar line, one random day during class Miss Lucy decides to reveal to the students the reason why they're, um, "special" (but not special in a good way). This moment is horribly awkward; first of all, it's completely divorced from the way something as devastating as this is revealed to a group of children, and secondly, for the AUDIENCE, this is way too much of a blunt, in-your-face revelation. The film would've benefitted from using a more subtle method to let us in on the secret of Hailsham.

We move ahead several years in time, and the now adults Kathy, Tommy and Ruth (now played by Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley, respectively) are sharing living accommodations with a few other people who are meant to suffer the same fate as them. They are all clones whose bodies will gradually be used for purposes of organ donation, which means they will all likely be dead in their 30s. But there may be some hope... there's the possibility of a deferral, if two of these people prove that "they're in love". It doesn't mean their bodies won't still be used; it just means they may be given more time. Of course, Tommy and Ruth are still together, though we certainly don't understand why. The film continues to do nothing to portray the relationship between these two or their feelings for one another. All we get are random moments in which we hear them having sex, while a pouting Kathy listens in the other room, still pining for Tommy after all these years. There's a ridiculous scene that almost feels like it was taken out of another film: Ruth walks into the room to explain to Kathy that "Tommy doesn't see her that way," and the moment feels terribly soap-operatic, with its awful lines of dialogue, and to make it even worse, it concludes with a kiss that makes absolutely no sense nor does it have any relevance to the advancement of the plot.

As the film's predictably melodramatic tearjerker of a denouement looms, we get contrivances galore. Kathy happens to spot a picture of Ruth on a computer. Ruth has a last-minute realization that Kathy and Tommy should instead be together, and Tommy's transition from one woman to the other is handled as if feelings and romantic bonds were passed from one person to another as easily as you may pass someone the salt at the dinner table. It's ludicrous. The ultimate "revelation" about the deferral is insultingly predictable. What makes NEVER LET ME GO even worse is that most of this takes place with a strident violin-based score that is WAY too imposing. It's like the movie is BEGGING us to cry.

Obviously, when a character dies in a film, audience members are aware that an actual death hasn't happened because, well, it's just a movie... so, why is it that sometimes we're emotionally affected when a movie character dies? Because he/she has been developed fully and we've come to care a lot about him/her. Not so in NEVER LET ME GO. The film does a monumental disservice to both Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley by giving them completely underdeveloped characters. We never get to know much about Ruth; the film seems more interested in accentuating Knightley's hard facial features, which don't look good in the least bit (certainly no comparison to how regal and luminous she was in ATONEMENT). Tommy has his moments, but he never comes to the surface either, and this is particularly irritating in light of the work Garfield did in BOY A and THE SOCIAL NETWORK, because we KNOW that the guy could've done something incredible with this character if he'd been given the chance to.

The film's lone strength, and the reason why I'm actually being generous in giving it a 4/10, is definitely Carey Mulligan's wonderfully natural and realistic performance as Kathy. If this film had exploited its potential to be a truly devastating piece of cinema, Mulligan's performance would've elevated NEVER LET ME GO into greatness. She belongs in a different movie. Because of the film's lameness and emotional hollowness, it's impossible for her bravura work to have the effect it deserved to have on us.

It's not too important for me whether or not a film has a message. If it takes an interesting path in saying what it has to say, and in the end, we're not quite sure WHAT it said, that's not necessarily a bad thing. But if a film does decide to deliver a message, the LEAST it can do for the audience is not insult it with something that's beyond trite. I can tell you without really spoiling anything what NEVER LET ME GO's ultimate message is: "Life is fleeting and sometimes we may wonder whether we lived it to the fullest or not." Do you feel enlightened? I didn't. Of course, it didn't help that the message is delivered through the film's cheesy voiceover. While I haven't read the novel it is based on, I'd bet money that a lot of these voiceovers are straight from the novel's text. They feel out of place and they're overly descriptive, thus taking away from the film's authenticity. This film should've been raw and devastating, not schmaltzy and superficial. NEVER LET ME GO is a total waste of a great idea for a plot and of a stellar cast.


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Holy Rollers

Posted : 7 years, 1 month ago on 18 October 2010 01:31 (A review of Holy Rollers)

The set-up of HOLY ROLLERS gives us the impression that we're in for a very interesting, extreme case of the "fish out of water" storyline that we've seen a bunch of times before. Unfortunately, as the plot unravels, the "interesting" fades for the most part, and all we're left with is, well, a lot of stuff that we've seen before. What confuses me the most is the fact that the makers of HOLY ROLLERS don't seem to be worried at all about how commonplace their story about an innocent person who gets pulled into the world of drug smuggling actually is. The fact that it's supposed to be based on a true story is irrelevant. The film should have more spice to it. You know you're in trouble when a film switches locations from Brooklyn to Amsterdam back and forth, yet there are moments at which you're unaware of which location we're in because the editing doesn't help in the least bit.

Sam (Jesse Eisenberg) is a member of a family of Hasidic Jews. All they want for their eldest son is for him to study to become a rabbi and to arrange for him to marry a girl from a good family. Sam's next-door neighbors are the Zimmermans, another Hasidic Jew family. Although Sam is friends with the two Zimmerman siblings, these two brothers couldn't be more different. Leon (Jason Fuchs) is their parents' pride: he's well behaved and has no problem correctly answering questions about the Torah. Yosef (Justin Bartha) is another story, as he's not popular for anything other than his misdeeds. Though the 3 guys hang out, the difference between the Zimmerman siblings is exactly what makes Yosef approach Sam about a job that involves transporting "medicine" from Amsterdam to the U.S., yet he asks Sam not to tell Leon anything about it. Of course, we know what's going on, but Sam is too naive for that, at least so far. The instructions on how to behave while carrying the bags with the "medicine" at the airport are to simply behave normally: "Just act Jewish." It all gets very complicated once Sam discovers (of course) that he's actually smuggling illegal drugs. The money he's making from it is too tempting, which makes him decide to continue doing it, but as he soon discovers, it's at the expense of his reputation in the community and of the love of his family members.

What's initially interesting about HOLY ROLLERS is the quirkiness that comes from Sam's ignorance of the transactions that are taking place. There's a hilarious moment in which Sam, Leon and Yosef are all arguing on the street, all of course in their Hasidic garb, and a few thugs walk by and laugh at their arguing. In addition to that, the scenes in which Sam is unsure of how to behave at clubs and parties are very effective, and they'll be relatable to anyone (Hasidic Jew or not) who's been the odd person out in an awkward situation.

It all becomes much more bland and procedural once Sam "gets into the swing" of things. It's a little bit jarring that he does this so easily, and the movie attempts to justify this by portraying Sam as a keen businessman during the first few scenes, but that isn't enough justification, because for Sam, getting into this situation isn't just about being in a business. It's about being in a new world that is COMPLETELY different from anything he's experienced within his tight-knit community. It's supposed to be a culture shock. I have no idea why the film hardly milked the Amsterdam trips to portray the clash between Sam's conservative background and the ultra-liberal atmosphere of the European city. Instead, as I said, the tragedy here is that sometimes we don't even know if we're in Amsterdam or in New York. It appears to have no relevance.

No one should have doubts about this after THE SOCIAL NETWORK, but Jesse Eisenberg continues validating the fact that he's a wonderful actor. He has an uncanny ability at playing uncomfortable, awkward characters. While I'm not a big fan of HOLY ROLLERS, I have to admit that the last scene is handled very well, with the screen fading to black precisely at the right moment (without showing anything more than what is necessary), and in this last shot, Eisenberg displays an incredible range of emotions in just a matter of seconds. I would've changed several things about this film, but the selection of him to play the protagonist would definitely not have been one of them.

I wouldn't call this a crime, but it's definitely not very NICE to get a viewers' hopes up about a movie during its plot exposition, and then immediately descend into over-familiar territory. The story about a Hasidic Jew who gets unwittingly pushed into the drug smuggling business is just way too brilliant an idea, too filled with potential for hilarious situations and for dramatic intensity. Sam's bewilderment at this entirely new world should've been much more palpable and it should've served as the main course of entertainment offered by HOLY ROLLERS. In fact, there comes a point at which it seems that Sam's moral/religious upbringing loses all importance in the plot. Once our main character eases into the situation, we're forced to just go through the motions for the rest of the film, and while I wouldn't call this a boring movie, it's certainly not something to get super excited about either.


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Monsters

Posted : 7 years, 2 months ago on 12 October 2010 03:09 (A review of Monsters)

The very simplistically-titled MONSTERS tries to do a lot in its short running time. It tries to be a quasi dramatic romance, a monster thriller, and a critique of U.S. immigration policy. Of those three things, it does a more than good job at the first one (thanks to a solid script), a lackluster and unoriginal job at the second one, and as for the third third thing, well, it's kind of hit-and-miss.

Chaos is taking place in both the U.S. and Central America as a result of some creatures that have spawned recently, and the situation is so intense that a massive wall has been built in the border between California and Mexico. Although Andrew (Scoot McNairy) is American, he's currently in Costa Rica, and when he enters a hospital looking for a girl, we instantly assume he's looking to get his girlfriend out of there, but it turns out it's just his boss' daughter, Samantha (Whitney Able). Andrew has been given strict orders to get Samantha safely across the border. As Andrew and Samantha make their way towards the border, they're basically forced to spend a lot of time together. Samantha is engaged, though we quickly get a lot of signs that all isn't necessarily going well in that department. After a few drinks, Andrew is okay with being more forward and trying to see if he can spend the night in Samantha's room, but she doesn't think it's a great idea.

These initial scenes are quite good. After several minutes had elapsed of Andrew and Samantha interacting with nothing else happening in the movie, I was more than ready to forget about the titular characters and just focus on these two people. Of course, though, once they start getting closer to the destination, the monsters surface and so do some of the film's flaws. I wouldn't have had a problem with this in the least bit if, during these "suspense" sequences, it would've been easy for us to root for Andrew and Samantha to survive the attacks and that maybe all that adversity would lead Samantha to relent emotionally, but the problem is that the monster chase sequences are simply dull and generic. Nothing interesting to see here - they feel pointless.

As for the film's obvious condemnation of U.S. immigration policy, the results are mixed. On the one hand, there's some brilliant irony during several scenes in which our American characters are forced to ask their lower-hemisphere counterparts for help, in particular a moment in which a Latin American woman gives food and shelter to Andrew and Samantha. On the other hand, some of the criticism is just too bloody obvious. Once our protagonists make it to the border, a character says "It's different looking at America from the outside in"... okay, so far, a little cliche, but not too bad, but THEN he adds: "... in our little, perfect suburban homes." It's a little surprising that a script that was so good at depicting romantic awkwardness in those early scenes stumbles like this towards the end.

However, the reason why the film ultimately deserves a recommendation is due to how different and interesting the film's ending is. The "monsters" switch from being threatening to being something else that you may not expect. And, without spoiling anything, I'll just say that the final moment between Andrew and Samantha is like a punch to the gut. Emotionally, the moment isn't easy to take but therein lies the strength of that final scene.

I do have to make reference to something that has been mentioned in tons of reviews (by both critics and users) and that has been, um, bothering me a little bit. It's the whole "OMG I can't believe this movie was made for only $15,000! Look at how much they did with just that. Maybe I didn't like it so much, but you GOTTA at least give it credit for that." I'd like to talk about how thoroughly WRONG it is to praise a movie for something like this. You see, the fact that the movie was made for $15,000 is something you discovered only because you did research on the movie... so, what would have happened if you did NOT have that piece of information? Was it going to change your mind about what rating to give it? We shouldn't base our assessment of a movie on what resources the filmmakers had, because we often don't KNOW what they were - we weren't there on set. We're supposed to evaluate a movie on the FINISHED PRODUCT we see on the screen, regardless of how they got there. It's like praising someone for studying super hard for an exam, even if the person just gets an average grade; you just HAPPEN to know that the person studied a lot, so you praise them for it despite the final product, while the person who evaluated the test probably has no idea that the person studied a lot, and they definitely weren't gonna take that factor into account when giving them the grade. What's gonna happen if someday you no longer have access to information that tells you what resources filmmakers have or didn't have to make a movie? My rating for MONSTERS would be the same if it had been made by James Cameron. It would be ludicrous for people who are giving this film a good rating to have switched to a lower rating if Cameron directed it, claiming "WTF, Cameron could've done so much more with this!". It's about the FINAL PRODUCT, NOT about the behind-the-scenes aspects that we're not necessarily always privy to.

So, after that long tangent, I'll conclude by saying that MONSTERS is a decent cinematic effort. It's marred by an overdose of formula in the action-based sequences, but there are more than enough solid moments between its two leads to make for a satisfying experience. The last time I saw Scoot McNairy on a film, his character was also sharing a lot of dialogue with a female character. That was IN SEARCH OF A MIDNIGHT KISS, one of 2008's best films. While I can't give MONSTERS the same amount of praise, it may be something you'd like to check out when it comes out in indie theaters during the next few weeks.


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