Mini-Review: The Monitor

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

The Monitor

I will freely admit that Noomi Rapace along with the fact that this film is a subdued Swedish horror film were both selling points. I saw The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series in rapid succession and became quite an admirer of hers rather quickly. Sadly, elevating her global star status was just one of the many failings of Prometheus.

What is perhaps most surprising about The Monitor is not that it reveals twists, and character in wonderfully indirect, yet clear, ways; but that what would be the biggest twist in most films is one you become fairly certain of early on, and I was actively thinking and hoping that “There’s gotta be another one,” and sure enough there are plenty both big and small.

The Monitor is a very interestingly handled narrative that is a great character study not only of the protagonist but of her newfound friend Helge, played wonderfully by Kristoffer Joner.

I watched this on Amazon Prime, but any way you can watch this film would be good.

9/10

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Best Films of 2014: 15-11

This list began in two installments 25-21 and 20-16. It will conclude in one more part.

15. Oculus

Oculus (2013, Relativity Media)

I have often mentioned how merely starting a dialogue after having viewed a film is a boon in and of itself. Aside from that it is also my belief that horror cannot be safe, and in that vein this film is one that does tweak with things inasmuch as its not interested in motivating the malevolent entity at the center of the film. Furthermore, it is a film that plays in two time periods and features four tremendous performances (Brenton Thwaites, Karen Gillan, Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan). It also offers its protagonists no safety whatsoever. You may not like it as much as I do, but it is most definitely looking out for.

14. The Drop

The Drop (2014, Fox Searchlight)

Even if you only know Dennis Lehane (Mystic River and Shutter Island specifically to this example) from the filmic adaptations of his written work you know there’s usually a huge reversal or fortune or what you thought you knew was true in the third act. In many prior instances this fact has lead to a downgrade of the overall quality of the film to varying degrees. Here quite the opposite happens and The Drop grows tremendously. Also, this film features an excellent turn by Noomi Rapace, one two absolutely stellar performances by Tom hardy this past year that earned him a BAM Award nomination, and one of the last films for James Gandolfini.

13. Joe

Joe (2013, Roadside Attractions)

“That dog is a asshole!” Perhaps one of the dividing lines between people who need black-and-white characterizations and those who can embrace grays are films like Joe. Joe (Nicolas Cage) likes dogs just fine, he loves his dog, but seeks to deal with one he dislikes with fatal finality. Similarly, he may not be what is commonly thought of as a good man but when he sees wrong he has to rectify it and he has to deal with it in his way whether society or people like it or not. His chance encounter with, employment of, and befriending of Gary (Tye Sheridan) brings another set of challenges to his life. There are bad things that happen in Joe, there is some redemption to be found, and closure too. It’s about some decent people in hard situations and how they respond. Joe is a tense film that is buoyed by accomplished direction and wonderful performances by Cage and Sheridan.

12. The Lego Movie

The Lego Movie (2014, Warner Bros.)

“Everything is awesome!” Or so Emmet and other people in the world of this story like to believe. In seeking out more is where the adventure begins and the commentary sets in. The Lego Movie is insanely meta, creative and funny. It also gets touching with its reveal. The song will get stuck in your head, the score will have you tapping your toes and those who ever felt confined by sets will find their liberation here. It was the first revisited film in 2014 and it will likely earn many other revisits by other people.

11. The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears

The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears (2013, Strand Releasing)

This is a film I didn’t re-watch yet but has lived off-and-on in my mind since I saw it. The initial ambivalence about it overall are fading away. Yes, I was floored by the sound mix, edit, the visuals and oneiric flow, but I think now that I’ve chewed on it enough that it’s the giallo elevation I wished Amer was, and whether or not I get it intellectually is almost secondary to its overall gut-punch impact. It’s a film you should allow to ravish you. I cannot guarantee that it will be as rewarding for the uninitiated as it is for someone who knows Giallo, well but if you stick with it and start to reconstruct the jigsaw you may well find you like it as well.

This list will conclude shortly.

Mini-Review Round-Up: October 2012

I had quite a review drought to end 2011 so I think the remedy for this kind of post would be to have the post be cumulative monthly. Therefore, after each qualifying film a short write-up will be added to the monthly post. The mini-reviews will be used to discuss Netflix and other home video screenings. Theatrical releases will get full reviews, or another kind of write-up as per my recent shift in focus.

For a guide to what scores mean go here.

9.79*

ESPN’s 30 for 30 is back, and I’m glad. More than ever it seems like the landscape of sports fandom and coverage is more reactionary and instantaneous. We’ve almost devolved to the point where we’re immune to revisionism because there is less and less focus on the past, history and progression of certain sports. Not to sound overly dire or pessimistic, but sometimes perception is reality. However, what the ESPN Films documentary series is goes back and finds milestones, overlooked stories and traces the trajectory of the events, themes and trends involved.

Therefore, 9.79* about Ben Johnson’s disqualification after winning gold with a record-shattering time in 1988 Seoul Olympics starts by tracking each of the finalists (some more than others) following the events that lead to that fateful day and the fall out since. It’s not a story told in precise chronology, there are jumps and clearly new interview footage will reflect the past, but it tracks the phenomenon of doping rather well, exposes the testing issues of the time and leaves a lot of great tidbits dangling for your interpretation. One of the more astounding one is ones that gets hinted at early then dropped like a hot potato until very late in the film. In a way, it makes the capping of the story even more potent. There are quite a few players in the game here. My interpretation is that it’s all a moral quagmire when in this era doping was rampant, harder to prove and everyone is seemingly guilty of something. It makes the situation fascinating almost like a “sports noir” tale. No one’s angel, but you fall on one side of the issue or another, and maybe even side with one camp or another on certain claims.

Not only is it an event that I wanted to be more informed about (and now I am) but Daniel Gordon does great work reconstructing the narrative from an impartial place and bringing forth all the opinions and information known and presenting it in a compelling and dramatic way.

9/10

Girl vs. Monster

For a review of Girl vs. Monster please go here.

Excision

What is most successful about Excision is that it is a study in character from the inside out. Which is to say that the fantasy/daydream segments in this film may be too numerous, but the purpose they do serve is to show how the inner-monologue of a disturbed, delusional character come to the fore and affect her everyday life. There are a few dichotomous splits in character: a struggle between adoration and mutilation (both their own versions of body worship), a fight against authority, a struggle between a libertine attitude and a theistic construct. Perhaps, what’s most intriguing about Excision is watching the journey, granted I did figure where the journey would end at some point, but it seems like a basic virginity plot with a very socially awkward lead, but as it progresses you see so much more is going on here. Through all the serious and horrific observations you make there are also some laughs to be had, and many great performances notably AnnaLynne McCord, Traci Lords, Roger Bart, Ariel Winter and Jeremy Sumpter.

8/10

Magic Silver and Magic Silver 2

Without going into a full rehash of recent guest post that I did, what I will say on a wider scale with relation to the Magic Silver films is that it’s prime example of what’s great about Netflix. Here you have two recent and rather popular Norwegian films that I had heretofore not heard of. Physical home video distribution of these titles in North America is a riskier, more expensive proposition so the streaming solution is perfect and brings these films to a wider audience.

As for the films, what drew me to the films at first was the 1980s-like illustrated approach to the artwork. Sure enough, the first film does have that feel, with some 21st Century technique thrown in. The film excels in virtually every level of production and maximizes the values it can get for whatever the budget is.

It’s a fantastical tale about how gnomes can control the weather and their life in a mountain. The sets of the inside of the mountain in the first film are simply but beautifully done and gives everyone just enough room. In the sequel the expanded space is not maximized. Similar to the costuming which in the first film is simple but effective, but in the second gets a bit more intricate and somehow doesn’t work as well. However, the art direction in both is quite good.

The story, however, again more so in the first film than the second, introduces the rules of this world wisely, as we hear it being told to the children of the village. It’s a thin but effective veil on the exposition, and some of the rules are really fascinating dramatically as they have intriguing consequences.

Both films are quite good, but the difference being that the first film has much higher stakes. Not only is the protagonist, Bluerose, coming to grips with overcoming her own fears, she must also learn the consequences of her actions, learn to assume responsibility, deal with mortality and try to do what is best for all concerned; a test of true leadership. Making this an even more intriguing dynamic is the fact that her struggles as princess are mirrored by a child king in the other clan of gnomes. There’s an innocent, subtly played romantic interest, but they both in working together learn how they can face up to their newfound responsibilties.

In these films I expected good escapist fun, what caught me most off guard about the first film was the gravitas of it, how involved and moved I would be by the narrative, and how compelling the performances of the entire cast especially Ane Viola Semb and Johan Tinus Lindgren. The best fantasy tales go to a very real place emotionally, when they are character-driven. When plot-drives a bit too much it’s harder to reach that heightened level. So a film like the former can be fun (read the sequel) but is ultimately disposable. Whereas, the film that finds universal truths in its fantastic settings, and also connects across cultural boundaries is truly special.

One more note about the follow-up film, it is fun and intriguing for randomly deciding to have four musical numbers. The first caught me totally by surprise but the next three are better, and the last one is a great Christmas-themed song that also highlights the climate change subtext of the story.

Very fun and different movies both that lend themselves to consecutive viewings like I had.

10/10 and 6/10

There’s No Place Like Home

ESPN’s 30 for 30 continued last week with There’s No Place Like Home. Here’s another case whereupon seeing the synopsis of the film I was not so interested, but after having viewed the film it’s more effective than anticipated.

The film tells the tale of Josh Swade, a lifelong Kansas Jayhawk fanatic, who organized a grassroots effort to try and win the original rules of basketball as written by James Naismith. When reading the narrative the piece I was missing, either from ignorance or faulty memory, was that Naismith shortly posting these rules in a Massachusetts YCMA took the game to Kansas and started the Basketball program at Kansas. He was at the University for four plus decades after that. So, yes, Kansas has, and had, a very rightful claim to ownership that I was unaware of.

Another moment of enlightenment was the underscoring of the fact was that basketball, as opposed to other sports which became formalized after years of play, was very much created fairly spontaneously. I was always a rules nerd as a kid, and gaining access to rule books was a big deal, and writing down rules to created games was something I’d partake in. Therefore, the provenance of the document also interested me.

However, that’s all information gleaned, which is valuable but not the be all and end all. What’s truly most interesting in this film is that it takes perhaps the most interesting avenue in telling the film. It takes the perspective of a superfan who has the unmatched, undying passion for his team and has him be the mouthpiece, the spokesman for what he knows is something right but hasn’t the means to accomplish: acquisition of the rules. Through sheer will and determination he does get in contact with those who have the connections and the financial means, and it is impressive to see the seemingly spontaneous outpouring of similar emotions from members of the KU family.

There are some occurrences that would’ve been great to see on camera (like the apparent defeat faced), but other portions that seem rather extraneous do come back into play. The film does feel like it could’ve been tightened a bit, however, it builds the personal connection well and gets a lot of tension and drama out of the auction day even though the outcome is somewhat foreseeable.

All in all, it’s a very good dramatic rendering of the situation, and I always like to see the bump where the filmmakers discuss the process, their inspiration, etc. and this one is perhaps the best I’ve seen.

8/10

Sexual Chronicles of a French Family

I discovered that this film existed through Instant Watcher, more specifically their Twitter. It is a website that it perhaps the best source for what’s new to stream on Netflix. I was not surprised to see that this film is a popular streaming choice. The title is designed to intrigue and get people watching. Based on the fact that it’s a French film, and the totality of the synopsis, I expected more scenes like the one between the matriarch of the household and the grandfather. So, my expectation of more of a chamber drama was mislaid, OK. I won’t, and can’t, penalize it for that. What I can penalize it for is that for as short as it is, the insightful, charming, touching, intelligent scenes are few and far between. Instead, you get many love scenes which are protracted and only add minimally, sometimes not at all, to the story. The intention of the film is one I understand and respect, and it is successful in a few of its attempts, but ultimately it left me wanting and a bit bored.

5/10

The Monitor

I will freely admit that Noomi Rapace along with the fact that this film is a subdued Swedish horror film were both selling points. I saw The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series in rapid succession and became quite an admirer of hers rather quickly. Sadly, elevating her global star status was just one of the many failings of Prometheus.

What is perhaps most surprising about The Monitor is not that it reveals twists, and character in wonderfully indirect, yet clear, ways; but that what would be the biggest twist in most films is one you become fairly certain of early on, and I was actively thinking and hoping that “There’s gotta be another one,” and sure enough there are plenty both big and small.

The Monitor is a very interestedly handled narrative that is a great character study not only of the protagonist but of her newfound friend Helge, played wonderfully by Kristoffer Joner.

I watched this on Amazon Prime, but any way you can watch this film would be good.

9/10

Review- Prometheus

I spent a good amount of time getting caught up on my reviewing. There’s no logical explanation as to why I get back-logged save for procrastination, but having said that I knew that I needed to have Prometheus last. Now, just the fact that I felt the need to stew on the film a bit longer is proof that there is a bit more to it than other films that just flat-out didn’t work at all. So in that regard, I do have to give it a grudging amount of respect, however, that was already there by the implication of its plot and the trappings. It’s not the aims of Prometheus that are so bothersome, but rather how it goes about trying to achieve said aims and fails.

As soon as you get aboard the Prometheus, the eponymous ship, you’re introduced to a rather different aim than in Alien, this is not strictly a cargo ship but a mission with a loftier goal, seeking the alien race that theoretically populated the earth. Essentially, seeking what we’ve come to call God. This is intimated visually with an archeological site, but we as an audience discover this when Elizabeth Shaw’s (Noomi Rapace) memory is read. Granted this gives us some insight into both David (Michael Fassbender) and her but it’s an extremely clumsy way to introduce her theological views, especially when she’s not necessarily shy about sharing them with any and all who ask.

If a film wants to be a precursor to another film, inhabit its universe but not really have any drastic ties that bind it to the original film chronologically, I have no problem with that. I have been, on multiple occasions been surprised by a prequel or a remake, even when I saw the original product first, however, what confounds me about Prometheus is that it sets some pretty different aims in the beginning and then seems to spend much of the first and into the second act of the film doing a pale, sterilized impersonation of Alien, which makes you think maybe the God plot is a MacGuffin and you’re really going to get a rehash. It’s not the fact that it’s misdirection that bothers me, clearly films need to misdirect audiences for certain payoffs but it’s the amount of time dedicated to and the certain lack of follow-through and dispelling the other track that really gets to me.

There are more than a few rehashed tropes from the initial series of films that really don’t add that much drama or significance to this film. One of the most annoying ones is the character of David and his nature. This was a pretty huge reveal in the first film to both audience and characters involved, yet here it’s played blatantly and everyone knows. Well, why does an earlier crew know something a later crew doesn’t? Is it the nature of the manifest or something else?

I recognize that certain mysteries and certain tricks are harder to pull on multiple occasions, but it does sort of make you wonder why certain elements are even being reintroduced. If you’re wiping the slate clean, wipe it all the way clean. This way all the plot twists have impact. Instead, there are multiple sequences in this film that are just utterly hollow because I can already tell where a particular plot is going and there’s no real drama in its outcome. One of the more effective prequels in recent memory was Rise of the Planet of the Apes, simply because they rewound so far back in the narrative there was really no telling how you’d get from point A to B to C.

So there’s a major portion of the film that’s really just Alien Lite or Alien for Dummies, if you prefer but then there’s the part where something new is trying to be accomplished and the focus completely drifts away from it for rather significant stretches and when the film’s focus drifts what hope do we as an audience have or caring?

Is there more to this story than I’m giving credit for? Yes. However, part of the impetus for me (or almost anyone) to plunder the deeper depths of the film for meaning is a willingness to dig. What makes one willing to dig? Having something to latch onto in the first place, and there’s nothing that really gives you a handhold here. I’ve seen some commentary and read some reviews around that were rather interesting. Once cited Contact as a good double feature. The seeking some sort of greater meaning in the far reaches of the universe theme is there, but despite the surprise ending, the through-line of Contact is rather clear and never clouded. Many people disliked it for what it was or because of what they considered to be a deus ex machina in the story-line, but I’ve never seen anyone cite that it was confused about what it wanted to be. Relating back to the digging deeper comment I made above, A.O. Scott makes a fascinating comparison between the David of this film and the David in Artificial Intelligence: A.I., even as seemingly perplexed as I was walking out of that film for the first time there was something there I knew I liked it a lot, I just couldn’t put my finger on what. I’ve read some things and come to realize some things about Prometheus since I’ve seen it but none of it has illuminated it in my mind. It’s not a sense of revelation like I had after I walked out of The Turin Horse, it’s kind of like finding the occasional diamond in a pile of garbage; sure you have a diamond but you still feel dirty. The revelations do nothing because they’re not big enough and granted some films can get too grandiose, especially when failure is the more likely outcome but after a certain point there’s just an emotional flatline in this film that could’ve been at least jostled slightly by something pertaining to the purported point of this endeavor that could’ve helped.

Those are the more technical, narrative aspects. On the visceral front those shortcomings proved to make this my most boring moviegoing experience since Cowboys and Aliens. Note, I did not and will not say it’s that bad. This film does have a lot more going for it than that did, which I’ll get too but it’s by no stretch of the imagination enjoyable.

The film is unquestionably beautiful to look at, the effects work is pretty bullet-proof and while 3D isn’t amongst the very best I’ve seen it’s quite good and doesn’t distract or interfere with the experience at all. For more detail on the 3D from someone who appreciated that aspect a lot more than I did I refer you to CinemaBlend.

Most of the actors do what they can with the limited, usually one note characters they are given to work with. I wish Charlize Theron was given more range to work with, as her coldness in this does get a bit trite and it seems like she and Rapace are fighting over who gets to squeeze into the Weaver mold next. The slight power struggle is a bit enjoyable, but also a bit repetitive. However, some of the performances do fall a bit flat also namely Logan Marshall-Green, Sean Harris and Rafe Spall.

Sadly, Prometheus is an unmitigated mess. Some messy films can end up being lovely regardless of that fact, but this film never really has that chance. It’s pulled in different directions and slapped together with glue and scotch tape, as refined and brilliant as some of the images are, the construction and handling of the narrative is equally inelegant.

3/10