Posts Tagged ‘Monsters’

Frenzy on the Wall: Where’s the Geek Love for Monsters?

Monday, November 1st, 2010

The way the film geek crowd ate up District 9 last year, you might expect Monsters, another indie entry in the “aliens among us” genre, to be garnering similar geek buzzing this year, but it’s not. Monsters is not a perfect film, but I was kind of blown away by it, and I think it’s a better film than District 9. So where’s the love for Monsters?

If you, like me, haven’t heard much about Monsters yet, you may be wondering what exactly it’s about, because the title is a bit misleading. So allow me to sell you on why you should check this movie out, and why it deserves more accolades than it’s getting.

First, the creatures in the film are not monsters, per se, but extraterrestrials that look a bit like enormous octopi (and by enormous, we’re talking Godzilla-big). Second, the title is misleading because it’s not really about the creatures at all; they are merely the catalyst and the danger in the background of what is really a two-character love story.

The film is set six years from now and the world has adapted to the fact that a large chunk of northern Mexico has become overrun by the aforementioned aliens, prompting many travel restrictions in the area and the building of a huge wall on the Mexico-USA border (insert political POV here). But the crux of the story follows photojournalist Andrew Calder (played by Scoot McNairy), who is given the job of finding and ensuring safe passage home for the daughter of his boss.

The woman is, of course, a beautiful blonde named Samantha Wynden (played by Whitney Able). The film follows the two of them as they are forced, through a series of interesting circumstances, to travel through the “infected” zone in order to get home.

Well, I gotta say, I was absolutely riveted from start to finish and there are very few “action” scenes. This isn’t your typical monster movie; instead, it plays a bit like Before Sunrise meets Cloverfield, but better than the latter and not as good as the former. Even that is an unfair comparison because, despite some beats that feel eerily familiar, Monsters is a uniquely original picture. It doesn’t go the way you think it will either in terms of storyline or tone. Moments that you’re sure will be amped up are played down and scenes that feel innocuous are actually loaded with either meaning or intensity.

Monsters does what almost every modern genre film forgets to do: it gives us characters that we give a shit about. Characterization is done in such a formulaic way in most genre films these days; each actor is given simply one trait that they have to play up, so there’s the “crazy” guy or the “jock” or the “rebel” or the “prom queen” (maybe I’m just doing The Breakfast Club now). But the fact that Monsters has two characters who actually seem like real people and speak to one another in a way that doesn’t feel forced not only makes the film more captivating, but it feels like a revelation.

The man who wrote and directed the film, Gareth Edwards, deserves a great deal of kudos. I didn’t find out until after seeing the movie that it cost about $15,000 to make. Let me tell you something: if I had to guess, after seeing the film, how much it cost to make it, I would have said something like $30 million. This looks like a studio picture in terms of aesthetics. The creature special effects alone make this film look more expensive than it was and I don’t know how he was able to create such realistic looking special effects without it costing him many millions of dollars.

Whoever has a superhero movie should give this guy a call because not only can he make a film cheaply, but he can imbue it with heart and soul. Seriously, if this is what he can do for $15,000, then I can’t imagine what he’ll do when someone gives him millions (and you can bet that someone will).

Now, some people will think of District 9 when they see Monsters. Hell, I did, but it was only because I kept thinking, “Wow, this is so much better than District 9.” I know there are a lot of fans of District 9 (I wasn’t), but Monsters takes a similar concept and makes it less politically heavy-handed and more grounded in character development.

The effects in District 9 are extraordinary, but the storyline didn’t hook me as much as Monsters because I didn’t think the characters were particularly interesting or realistic.

District 9 has that documentary-like approach to the proceedings and yet it doesn’t feel quite authentic whereas Monsters, to me, felt like what would actually happen in these circumstances. I believed in the world of Monsters more and I believed in the characters, that they had lives and desires that didn’t start and stop with the aliens. It felt more akin to how the real world operates; despite the fact that strange things are going on, our instincts are still calibrated to find love or sex partners. If aliens did come to this planet, people would still want to find love regardless and not just focus on aliens non-stop, which is how most other films treat alien invasions.

The two lead actors are not always perfect in their roles, but I found both of them to be charming enough that I was won over by them. They have great chemistry to the point where you actually root for them to wind up together in the end. By the end of the film, I felt like both actors had found their groove — or maybe it was just that I fell into a groove with them — but earlier in the picture some of their dialogue fell a little flat, especially from McNairy.

The male lead is a more difficult role, perhaps, because he’s supposed to be this laconic journeyman type, and I wonder if McNairy was just playing that role accurately or if he was just a little unsure of himself in the earlier scenes. Able was impressive throughout the film and I liked that she didn’t overplay scenes and wasn’t reduced to being a shrinking violet; she’s a tough chick and I liked that Edwards didn’t write the character as someone who complains or whines. She doesn’t fall into the kind of stereotypes that many female characters in these films fall into.

The question for me is, why isn’t this movie getting the hype that District 9 got? This one flew under the radar until I saw it pop up on my cable provider’s On-Demand station, then I read a little bit about it and decided to check it out. This is the kind of film that I would expect the geek sites to be crowing about for months on end, creating some sort of buzz that would seep out and reach the masses, but alas it seems to be just eking its way through theatrical until it ultimately hits DVD where it will eventually be hailed as a cult classic.

Look, this is not the greatest movie ever made, but it’s rare to find a indie genre film this compelling. It’s beautifully shot, it’s intelligent, it moves swiftly, it’s got characters that we care about, wonderful special effects, etc. It’s got its share of problems too, including being somewhat on-the-nose with its political messages at times and a needless scene where Calder beds a girl before they embark on their journey. But the bottom line is that this is the kind of film that needs all the support it can get and will reward its viewers.

This is not the kind of film that builds towards some big blow-out action scene like it’s some videogame. Rather what it builds to is startling in what it both does and what it doesn’t do. What Edwards realized — which so many other filmmakers don’t — is that ending with an act of passion or love is so much more powerful than ending with an act of aggression or action. What Calder and Sam witness at the end of the film is achingly beautiful and really touching – not words that you can often use to describe the ending of a monster movie.

Note: Pay special attention to the opening scene, which is intercut with the credits. I had to re-watch it after the end of the film. It’s a killer.

Weekend Box Office Report – October 31

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

See … Saw … Ouch!

Saw 3D whipped into cinemas with an estimated $24.3 million to take top spot in weekend movie going. Distributors gave a wide berth to the Halloween frame when traditionally there are sharp drops in attendance; making the Saw finale the sole new national release.

A different sort of ghoul — the Millennium finale The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest — went limited wide to solid returns of $890,000, but otherwise the frame’s new entries were dominated by niche and exclusive launches. The best of the bunch was the Chinese trembler Aftershock with a single screen entry of $17,600. Other newcomers with good but not spectacular returns included indie drama Welcome to the Riley’s, Brit spy spoof Wild Target, Mexican prize winner Nora’s Will, Claude Chabrol’s final effort Bellamy and non-fiction entry Waste Land.

Overall box office saw a sharp fall from last weekend and a slight bump from 2009 results.

The seventh annual edition of the Saw franchise was hoping for an exit with bite with the addition of stereoscopic imagery. But pre-release tracking indicated that with or without gimmicks the mania was fading and its mid-$20 million weekend tally was pretty much in line with pundit’s predictions. The gore crowd would appear to be sated with current splatter fare but the past month has seen every segment of the audience unenthusiastic for the new crop of movies beyond their opening sessions.

The global juggernaut for the Millennium trilogy continued with the U.S. bow of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. The first installment, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, has racked up $99 million internationally and it and its second chapter are the top grossing foreign-language movies in America post-Pan’s Labyrinth.

Weekend revenues generated about $95 million in sales that translated into a 28% drop from the immediate prior session. It was a modest 6% improvement from 2009 when Michael Jackson: This Is It bowed to $23.2 million followed by Paranormal Activity with $16.4 million.

The fact-based Conviction expanded nationally to fair results and appears to be headed to the same sort of indifferent commercial returns as the rest of the early award season contenders. A sharp drop for last weekend’s Hereafter departs from the sort of holds associated with recent films directed by Clint Eastwood whereas the better than expected stamina of the geezer spies of RED has confounded box office mavens.

But apart from Jackass 3D (which passed a $100 million tally this weekend) such well-reviewed positive word-of-mouth entries as The Social Network and Secretariat have struggled to maintain a presence (forget about momentum) in a marketplace that has all but eliminated the possibility of a second wind.


Weekend Estimates – October 29-31, 2010

Title Distributor Gross (average) % change * Theaters Cume
Saw 3D Lionsgate 24.3 (8,660) New 2808 24.3
Paranormal Activity 2 Par 16.4 (5,070) -60% 3239 65.6
Red Summit 10.9 (3,250) -28% 3349 59
Jackass 3D Par 8.5 (2,720) -60% 3139 101.7
Hereafter WB 6.4 (2,630) -47% 2424 22.2
Secretariat BV 5.0 (1,610) -28% 3108 44.7
The Social Network Sony 4.7 (1,690) -36% 2767 79.7
Life As We Know It WB 4.1 (1,440) -33% 2860 43.6
The Town WB 2.0 (1,250) -27% 1608 87.7
Conviction Fox Searchlight 1.8 (3,220) 501% 565 2.4
Legend of the Guardians WB 1.8 (880) -46% 2010 52.7
Easy A Sony 1.1(880) -37% 1262 56.3
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest Music Box/Alliance .89 (5,830) New 152 0.89
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps Fox .78 (840) -37% 933 51.2
Waiting for “Superman” Par Vantage .52 (1,580) -33% 330 4.6
Devil Uni .51 (800) -21% 635 33.1
Alpha and Omega Lionsgate .48 (710) -34% 676 24.1
It’s Kind of a Funny Story Focus .46 (960) -32% 477 5.8
You Again BV .41 (610) -37% 673 24.7
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger Sony Classics .33 (1,022) -24% 323 2.4
Toy Story 3 BV .31 (920) -34% 337 413.9
Weekend Total ($500,000+ Films) $89.70
% Change (Last Year) 6%
% Change (Last Week) -28%
Also debuting/expanding
Stone Overture .22 (1,760) -39% 125 1.2
Nowhere Boy Weinstein Co. .13 (840) -62% 153 1
10.50 Alliance 55,800 (4,290) 13 0.06
Welcome to the Riley’s IDP 41,600 (4,160) 10 0.04
Nora’s Will Menemsha 25,300 (4,220) 6 0.03
Wild Target FreeStyle 23,200 (5,800) 4 0.02
Bellamy IFC 19,700 (9,850) 2 0.02
Monsters Magnolia 18,100 (6,030) 3 0.02
Aftershock AMC 17,600 (17,600) 1 0.02
Waste Land Arthouse 10.300 (10,300) 1 0.01
Walkaway IABA 9,400 (360) 26 0.01
Strange Powers Variance 4,800 (4,800) 1 0.01
The Kids Grow Up Shadow 4,600 (4,600) 1 0.01

Domestic Market Share (Jan. 1 – Oct. 28, 2010)

Distributor (releases) Gross Market Share
Warner Bros. (25) 1436.3 16.40%
Paramount (16) 1389.1 15.90%
Fox (16) 1289.8 14.70%
Buena Vista (15) 1155.5 13.20%
Sony (23) 1142.4 13.10%
Universal (17) 774.3 8.90%
Summit (10) 473.3 5.40%
Lionsgate (12) 412.7 4.70%
Overture (7) 80.6 0.90%
Focus (7) 74.1 0.80%
Fox Searchlight (6) 73.4 0.80%
Weinstein Co. (7) 61.9 0.70%
Sony Classics (21) 54.7 0.60%
MGM (1) 51.2 0.60%
CBS (2) 50 0.60%
Other * (277) 229.7 2.70%
8749 100.00%
* none greater than .04%

Top Limited Releases * (Jan. 1 – Oct. 28, 2010)

Title Distributor Gross
Hubble 3D WB 17,246,918
The Ghost Writer Summit 15,569,712
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Music Box/Alliance 11,270,373
The Young Victoria * Apparition/Alliance 11,131,232
Get Low Sony Classics 8,980,294
A Single Man * Weinstein Co. 7,935,872
The Girl Who Played with Fire Music Box/Alliance 7,768,761
Cyrus Fox Searchlight 7,461,082
Babies Focus 7,444,272
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus * E1/Sony Classics 7,394,171
City Island Anchor Bay 6,671,036
The Last Station Sony Classics 6,617,867
The Secret in Their Eyes Sony Classics 6,391,436
Winter’s Bone Roadside Attractions 6,204,696
It’s Kind of a Funny Story Focus 5,342,641
Under the Sea 3D * WB 5,256,073
I Am Love Magnolia 4,982,446
An Education * Sony Classics 4,963,224
The Hurt Locker * Summit 4,531,548
Solitary Man Anchor Bay 4,360,548
* does not include 2009 box office

Friday Estimates – October 30

Saturday, October 30th, 2010

Saw 3D|10.8|2808|New|10.8
Paranormal Activity 2|6|3239|-57%|55.2
Red|3.4 |3349|-25%|51.5
Jackass 3D|3.1|3139|-59%|96.2
The Social Network|1.5|2921|-33%|76.5
Life As We Know It|1.4|3019|-28%|40.9
The Town|0.6|1918|-24%|86.3
Also Debuting
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest|0.28|124||0.28
Welcome to the Riley’s|12,500|10||12,500
Wild Target|7,600|4||7,600
Waste Land|4,800|1||4,800
The Kids Grow Up|2,650|1||2,650
*in millions|||

Critics Roundup – October 28

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

Saw 3D|||||
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest|||Yellow||Green
Shake Hands with the Devil|Green||Green||
Amer ||||Yellow|
Nora’s Will |Green||||
Bellamy |Green||||

Monster Warnings

Sunday, September 19th, 2010

A Trailer for Monsters

Thursday, August 19th, 2010