MONSTERS: DARK CONTINENT (2014)
Sequel to Gareth (Godzilla) Edwards’ Monsters takes place years after the first film with the monsters spreading to the Middle East. As the U.S. military attempts to eradicate the creatures, the heavy bombing of Arab cities has not only produced a lot of civilian casualties but, a rising anger towards American troops and a growing and dangerous insurgency. The film focuses on a group of soldiers from Detroit whose squad goes deep in enemy territory to find some missing troops. They face danger on all sides as they are surrounded by monsters and insurgents alike. Sequel is actually not a bad movie though, it is a very somber and bleak one. It focuses on the human element much like Edwards’ first film and presents a seemingly hopeless situation as the monsters are spreading and so is the division between those trying to stop them. It raises questions about U.S. involvement in Middle East affairs while presenting a fairly engaging film about troops being overwhelmed by the horror of war both on the human and inhuman fronts. Definitely about 10-15 minutes too long but, actually far better than expected from some heavily unfavorable early word. Film is written by Jay Basu and competently directed by Tom Green.
CHALET GIRL (2011)
A really engaging cast elevates this routine British romantic comedy about skater girl Kim (an endearing and adorable Felicity Jones) who becomes a chalet girl in the Austrian Alps to help support her out of work, widower father (Bill Bailey). There she finds friends, love and her inner ski boarding champion amongst the rich vacationers and the free-spirts who work for them. The flick is harmless and fun and actually very energetic as directed by Phil Traill from Tom Williams script. But, it is a top-notch cast including Brooke Shields, Ed Westwick, Sophia Bush and the incomparable Bill Nighy, the really gives this a heavy dose of charm. It’s harmless and cute and never takes itself too seriously and the fun the cast appear to be having making it…no more evident than the outtakes during the credits that illustrate the actors’ camaraderie…translates to the screen. A very enjoyable little movie that is a lot of fun and has a cast that lifts it above it’s familiar trappings.
I, FRANKENSTEIN (2014)
Basically if you took the first Underworld movie and threw it in a blender with Stephen Sommers’ delirious cheese-fest Van Helsing… I, Frankenstein is what you’d get. And that isn’t all bad as I quite enjoyed Van Helsing for it’s audacious ridiculousness. I, Frankenstein is co-written by Underworld co-creator Kevin Grevioux based on his graphic novel and produced by the producers of the series that made Kate Beckinsale and latex catsuits a fanboy dream come true. The story tells of a war waged for centuries between the guardian Gargoyles and Hell spawned Demons lead by their prince Naberius (Bill Nighy). The creation of Dr. Frankensteins’s Monster (Aaron Eckhart) adds a dangerous twist as Naberius and the Demons seek to find out the legendary scientist’s secret of re-animating corpses so, they can create soulless vessels to host the spirits of all the Demons that the Gargoyles have vanquished, thus brining their souls back from Hell. Still with me? Now they have pursued the creature, named Adam by the Gargoyle queen Lenore (Miranda Otto), through two centuries into modern day as the monster has steadily been vanquishing them in return for bothering him. But, now with the help of a naive scientist, Terra (Yvonne Strahovski) the Demons have literally thousands of corpses stored ready for the time when they possess the creature or his creator’s journal and they can unleash their army of possessed corpses upon the world… and that time has come, as the journal is in their possession and Adam seeks to thwart their plans if the Gargoyles don’t destroy him first to keep him from their enemies’ hands. Whew! I think that’s it!
Despite the utterly ridiculous and convoluted plot, the movie can be fun at times especially due to the fact that it is taken so seriously by the filmmakers and cast despite being quite silly. Director Stuart Beattie (who co-wrote with Grevioux) does a really good job almost making you buy the ludicrous premise and stages the action well and keeps the melodrama at a level that doesn’t ever spill over into camp… though it skates close… and actually gives it a bit of weight. The film can be a little too serious at times considering it is about Frankenstein’s Monster caught between Gargoyles and Demons in a centuries old conflict between good and evil. And the film could have used a bit more ‘over the top’. Also, if the film added a conflict within Eckhart’s creature as to which side he should take, it might have been more interesting but, despite his reluctance to take sides, he seems to be leaning toward the anti-demon stance as they do want to take him apart to see how he ticks. Beattie has a really good cast. Eckhart is a proven good actor and he really gives a good performance in a cartoonish role that makes a superhero out of one of the most famous monsters in history. His going along with it and treating it with respect makes his Adam work despite the preposterousness. Nighy once again proves he is simply a great actor by giving strength and majesty to a cartoonish character similar to his Viktor in Underworld. The man can do no wrong in my book and can make any role work as he does here. Strahovski doesn’t do much but, look concerned, bewildered and pretty but, since that’s all she’s required to do, she does it well. Rounding out the cast is Miranda Otto giving regality to a cartoonish fantasy character, that of the Gargoyle Queen Lenore. A classy actress giving her all in a comic book part and she makes it work, too. We also have Jai Courtney in a supporting role as chief Gargoyle warrior Gideon. He gives the role a nobility but, the character really doesn’t amount to much when all is said and done. And, as with Underworld, Grevioux has a supporting role as a bodyguard. The SPFX are well done, there is some weak CGI but, most is quite suitable and the budget is used quite well in giving the film a lavish Gothic fantasy look to support the action.
So, I, Frankenstein was not the disaster that it’s weak box office led one to believe. It is a comic book style movie with a ludicrous plot and has the audacity to take itself very seriously when it could have easily been played for laughs. The story is ridiculous but, has some solid action and a great cast who give the cartoonish events and characters respect and play it straight. And despite the preposterous goings on, the solid cast and more then competent direction almost had me going along with it… almost. Not a great film by any means but, it passed the time and I did have a little fun with it. Not as audacious as Van Helsing but, close and if you were able to chuckle at that, give this a spin.
2 and 1/2 gargoyles
THE WORLD’S END (2013)
The World’s End is the third film in writer/director Edgar Wright’s ‘Cornetto trilogy’ that feature friends and frequent collaborators Simon Pegg (who co-wrote) and Nick Frost. I like these films though, I don’t quite see them as the comic masterpieces their passionate fan-base does but, I do enjoy them. And much like the other films (Hot Fuzz, Shaun Of The Dead) this is a fun romp where the genuine friendship between these three talents comes through and the good time making the film is evident as you watch. This film tells the story of eternal teenager Gary King (Pegg) who is determined to regroup his band of school buds (Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine and Eddie Marsan) and finish the epic pub crawl in their home town that they failed to complete 20 years ago. He somehow convinces the men, some who are now married, have families and are fairly successful adults, to return to Newton Haven and complete ‘The Golden Mile’ a stretch of road containing twelve pubs in which they each must have a drink. Things start off well enough… at least in Gary’s eyes… but, soon they realize something is very wrong here in their former stomping ground and an encounter with a gang of youths reveals the town has been taken over by alien robots and their very lives may be in jeopardy. But, despite the alien occupation, Gary is determined to finish what they started two decades ago, even if it means battling a town full of inhuman invaders to do it. Edgar Wright is a clever director and it is the cleverness in his mixing of a story of growing older and facing change and responsibility with an Invasion Of The Body Snatchers-esque Sci-Fi tale that makes it work and makes it fun. He creates some very human and endearing characters in his leads who are brought to life by a talented cast including Rosamund Pike as Sam, who is the sister of Oliver (Freeman) and with whom Gary wishes to repeat his previous pub crawl bathroom encounter with. It is the likability of this bunch and their personal growth during this adventure that keeps one from realizing how silly it all is. Despite some amusing action scenes and abundant SPFX in it’s second half, the movie is rooted in this band of middle-aged friends trying to relive days gone by even in the face of an alien invasion. Their bickering over personal issues while being pursued by a town full of robotic alien clones of their old friends and neighbors, is what really makes this flick work despite top notch effects and the well choreographed action. Not everything works perfectly. It takes the film a while to get going and it takes some time for you to warm up to Pegg’s Gary who is basically a jerk but, when the film does start moving it’s a lot of fun and Pegg skillfully makes you not only root for Gary but, feel sorry for him when his personal secrets are revealed. The climax in the alien hive does bring the momentum to a grinding halt, though, it isn’t boring, just stops the action cold and the film does have a somewhat gloomy finale considering the more energetic tone… but, it works and certainly doesn’t ruin the film. All in all, I liked this third and finale (?) chapter in the trilogy but, like the others, I don’t think it’s a classic. It certainly is a bit of a refreshing change from the crude and lazy comedies that Hollywood is cranking out continuously and that is most welcome. Also stars Pierce Brosnan as the gang’s school professor Guy Shepard and a vocal cameo by the great Bill Nighy as the alien ‘Network’.
With The World’s End opening this weekend, I decided to revisit the first big screen film from Pegg, Frost and Wright…
SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004)
Not the masterpiece most fanboys make it out to be, but British flick Shaun Of The Dead is an amusing horror comedy with a twisted sense of humor and some some excellent gore effects. The film mixes the laughs and horror well enough (which isn’t easy as most horror/comedies fail) and actually is a pretty decent zombie film even without the jokes. Simon Pegg plays Shaun, a slacker who yearns for more yet, can’t quite get off the couch to go for it, despite pressure from his pretty girlfriend, Liz (Kate Ashfield). When a zombie apocalypse breaks out, Shaun finds the hero within when he’s forced to take action to save his girl, his mom (Penelope Wilton) and their friends.
Frequent collaborator Nick Frost, in the lovable loser role, plays Shaun’s best friend and bad influence Ed, and the two play off each other very well and their reactions to each other come across as very natural (they are friends in real life). The rest of the supporting cast, including the great Bill Nighy, back them up nicely and all come across as real people not quite able to deal with what’s happening. The group turns to Shaun to guide them as he seems to be the only one with a plan, even if it is only to get to the local pub and wait things out. Director Edgar Wright wisely gives plenty of clever props and nods to the zombie films of George Romero, which clearly influenced Shaun, but while making the movie all his own. The flick has it’s share of flaws though. It is a bit predictable as we know how it’s going to all wrap up as we’ve seen the ‘slacker does good/wins the girl’ story many times before. Frost’s Ed was a bit annoying to me in the earlier scenes and I kind of sided with those who don’t like him much. He has some funny bits and again, he works well with Pegg and the two are fun to watch once the film gets going, but I wasn’t as endeared to the character as others seem to be. Also, some of the scenes of Shaun being lectured by those disappointed in him get tiresome quick. We get the point. He’s lazy. In fact I find the stuff before the zombies show up to be a bit dull and, ironically, the film only really livens up when the dead show up, but maybe that was the point.
Not quite the great movie it’s made out to be, but a fun ‘Saturday night with a few beers’ flick and one of the better horror comedies of the 2000s. An enjoyable flick and a lot of fun, but a bit overrated in the context of all the fuss that’s made about it.
3 fun zombie fighting friends!