Sunday, August 14, 2022

They/Them

Movie Name:
They/Them
Year of Release: 2022
Director: John Logan
Starring: Kevin Bacon, Anna Chlumsky, Carrie Preston, Theo Germaine, Quei Tann, Austin Crute, Anna Lore, Monique Kim, Cooper Koch, Darwin del Fabro, Hayley Griffith, Boone Platt, Mark Ashworth, Brooke Jaye Taylor
Genre: Thriller, Horror, Mystery
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3
View Trailer

Synopsis and Review
Another Blumhouse Productions feature, this one comes courtesy of writer/director John Logan, the talented screenwriter who worked with Martin Scorsese on "The Aviator" and "Hugo", as well as Sam Mendes' "Skyfall" and more recently on his own show, "Penny Dreadful". The film follows the story of a group of teenagers who find themselves in a gay conversion camp in the middle of nowhere. The camp is run by Owen Whistler, with the assistance of a small crew which includes Dr. Cora Whistler (Owen's wife), Amy the activities director, Zane the athletics director (also a former convert from the camp itself), groundskeeper Balthazar and Molly, the camp counselor. While Owen initially tries to set everyone's fears at ease, as the days evolve, the activities become progressively more challenging and the camp's true nature and that of its staff, also presents itself. However as those activities start to occur, so does the emergence of a killer who starts attacking and killing individuals from the staff as well. Jordan one of the campers, who has had their fair share of personal challenges, takes a stand and ends up leading the group against a merciless killer.
Much has been written about the tone of "They/Them", and that indeed seems to be the issue with John Logan's directorial debut. While the film has a very ripe and interesting premise, namely a conversion camp where its sadistic owners finally get their comeuppance, the director can't really find a tone for the narrative, oscillating between wanting to create an homage to the "Friday the 13th" films, combined with a slasher/b-movie approach, but also with dashes of something more dramatic and serious. In a way, opting for a slasher/b-movie approach and aesthetic would have benefited the film greatly, since the cast is more than game for it, and Kevin Bacon is one of the central performances of the film (and "Friday..." is where he actually started his career). What we get in the end, is indeed an anemic take on the slasher film genre, where the end itself wraps the narrative all too neatly, and where none of the characters, including the killer, particularly standout. While the film starts strongly, by its final chapter, it fizzles and wraps itself up in somewhat of a made for TV kind of approach (happy endings). The cast is where the film shines, with Kevin Bacon, Carrie Preston, Anna Chlumsky and Theo Germaine, all managing to have fun with their thinly written characters, however every one else on the cast has very little to do. The production values are also somewhat limited, and reinforce the perspective that this film feels as a low budged made for TV endeavor. While John Logan is definitely a name to keep an eye out, this film is a poor showcase for his talents. 

The Black Phone

Movie Name:
The Black Phone
Year of Release: 2021
Director: Scott Derrickson
Starring: Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw, Ethan Hawke, Jeremy Davies, James Ransone, E. Roger Mitchell, Troy Rudeseal, Miguel Cazarez Mora, Rebecca Clarke, J. Gaven Wilde, Brady Hepner, Tristan Pravong
Genre: Thriller, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
View Trailer

Synopsis and Review
After his stint with Marvel and the successful "Doctor Strange", writer/director Scott Derrickson is back to his horror roots, with an adaptation of the short story by Joe Hill "The Black Phone". The narrative focuses on two siblings, who are living in the suburbs of Denver during the late 70s. Their neighborhood has been the focus of extra attention since quite a few children have gone missing, with the responsibilities for those events falling under the guise of an abductor, aptly named "The Grabber". Finney and Gwen live with their alcoholic and abusive father, since their mother has passed away. Finney is bullied frequently, but he has good support in Gwen and also Robin, who puts those same bullies in their place whenever he gets a chance to. Things start to dramatically change for them when The Grabber firstly takes Robin, and then takes Finney himself. Gwen who has psychic dreams, much like her mother, has been trying to help the police with additional clues, but is having some trouble getting a sense to where her brother is. Finney in the meantime wakes up in a basement, which has been sound proofed, with a disconnected phone on the wall, a mattress and a small bathroom. The phone however starts ringing, and when Finney picks up, he realizes it's the ghosts of the boys who have been killed, who want to have their comeuppance and also help him escape. 
One of the most interesting aspects to "The Black Phone" is how successfully Scott Derrickson manages to capture and define the paranoia and fear that existed in communities in the late 70s. With various serial killers being caught or on the prowl at that period in time, such as John Wayne Gacy, and the Hillside Stranglers, "The Black Phone" ties its narrative to that fear that most people had of predatory killers, something that this quiet suburb of Denver was not stranger to. The siblings at the core of the narrative are swiftly characterized, but the director still gives them enough nuance and distinctiveness to make them feel vividly compelling and not a standard cliché. When it comes to the supporting characters however, they're a bit underdeveloped, which is the case of the father, and even The Grabber himself. The film manages to maintain its watchability due to the compelling presence of its actors, and the fact that the narrative itself is a slow burner, that while never avoiding some horror elements, doesn't necessarily go for the gruesome or for gratuitous tricks. The cast is very effective in bringing these characters to life, with Ethan Hawke, James Ransone and Jeremy Davies batting for the more experienced adults, and Mason Thames and Madeleine McGraw for the children, in the process ending owning the narrative in a decidedly compelling manner. The cinematography from Brett Jutkiewicz is solid, as is the score from Mark Korven. Worth watching.  

Sunday, August 7, 2022

We Summon the Darkness

Movie Name:
We Summon the Darkness
Year of Release: 2019
Director: Marc Meyers
Starring: Alexandra Daddario, Keean Johnson, Maddie Hasson, Amy Forsyth, Logan Miller, Austin Swift, Johnny Knoxville, Allison McAtee, Tanner Beard
Genre: Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 1
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review
After making a splash with "My Friend Dahmer", director Marc Meyers returned in 2019 with two films, "We Summon the Darkness" being the first one which premiered in February of that year, followed by "Human Capital", which had its premiere at the Toronto Film Festival of that year (and of the two, has the glossiest cast, featuring Liev Schreiber, Marisa Tomei, Peter Sarsgaard, Alex Wolff, Maya Hawke amongst others). "We Summon the Darkness" takes place in the late 80s and follows the story of three girlfriends, Alex, Val and Bev, who are on their way to a heavy metal concert. While on the road, they get hit with a milkshake from a blue van who is passing them by. Turns out the people in the van are three boys who are also going to the concert. They quickly establish a rapport and Alex invites them to her father's empty mansion nearby. Once they're at the mansion, and in order to break the ice, they start playing a game of "Never Have I Ever". The girls drug the boys' drinks, tie them up and reveal that they're actually going to murder them and make it look like a Satanic cult killing. Turns out they're part of "The Daughters of the Dawn" church, who has murdered a bunch of people recently in order to create fear and send more people to their religion. Alex stabs one of the boys, but the other two manage to escape into the nearby pantry. While Alex and Val are figuring out to best kill them, Bev suddenly realizes the seriousness of the situation, and just wants out (not to mention she likes one of the boys, Mark). Alex's soon to be ex-stepmother shows up unexpectedly, complicating matters for the girls, as does the sheriff whom she has called when she saw lights on at the mansion. 
"We Summon the Darkness" has an interesting premise, leveraging the topic of religious paranoia to create a horror story, which sadly is rather anemic and not very horrific. All the characters that populate this narrative don't have much to them, aside from the basic outline that positions them in the narrative itself. The girls, or at least Alex and Val, are clearly invested in going through with the murders in order to be in good standing with Alex's father, the reverend, though it's never entirely clear why are they both that invested in doing such actions. The boys are even more thinly characterized, and their sole intent in the film is to be the victims and/or escape the predicament in which they find themselves in. It's a rather shallow premise for a film that could have benefited from a stronger directorial point of view, one that could leverage the whole religious paranoia/satanic hysteria/heavy metal topics into something more memorable and engaging. As it is, the film just adds some layers/challenges to the murders the girls are trying to accomplish, and there's not much more to it. The film lacks nuance, substance and stronger characters to make it impactful. The tone and environment created, are equally lackluster. The film ultimately lacks conviction in what is trying to convey. The overall cast is unmemorable, including Johnny Knoxville who doesn't get to do much. Ultimately it's just not a very interesting, memorable or particularly watchable film. 

Tully

Movie Name:
Tully
Year of Release: 2018
Director: Jason Reitman
Starring: Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Mark Duplass, Ron Livingston, Asher Miles Fallica, Lia Frankland, Elaine Tan, Gameela Wright, Joshua Pak
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review
After the not so well received "Men, Women & Children", director Jason Reitman reunited with screenwriter Diablo Cody and actress Charlize Theron, his previous collaborators on the fantastic "Young Adult" (and in the case of Diablo Cody, his third collaboration since their acclaimed first project, "Juno"). "Tully" follows the story of Marlo, a woman in her early 40s who's about to give birth to her third (and unexpected) child. She works in HR and is quite exhausted with all the tasks and responsibilities she has to attend. As she's about to give birth, her much wealthier brother, suggests and offers to hire a night nanny to come in and help her with the newborn. While initially reticent about the whole notion, after the birth of Mia, Marlo's exhaustion worsens, and she concedes eventually calling the nanny. Tully shows up that evening, and while initially unsure about the whole situation, Marlo decides to give in. Tully proves more than apt for the job, and assists Marlo around the house, including cleaning, baking cupcakes, and even jolting her relationship with her husband. One night Tully shows up clearly distressed, and they both decide to go to Brooklyn and have a girls night out as a way to relieve the stress. As Marlo reminisces about her single years, and what her life has become, Tully informs her she is moving on. 
"Tully" is another great character study shaped by Diablo Cody's writing, Jason Reitman's staging perspective and Charlize Theron's phenomenal performance. Jason Reitman manages to efficiently showcase Marlo's daily life and convey her sense of exhaustion, with all the challenges she has at hand. We palpably feel the workload, the crushing weight of life on Marlo's shoulders, and how her dreams and even her personality, seem very much muted out as a result of all that she has to tackle. As the narrative unfolds, and Tully the nanny shows up, there's a magical sense of a weight being lifted, and with that the nuances of her personality also shine through. Even though we are eventually presented with the scenario that Tully is indeed a representation of Marlo's younger self (and Marlo's maiden name is Tully), and that she created that persona due to sheer exhaustion, the film manages to portray the burden of every day life, of how getting older and accepting some choices, also means letting go of some expectations and dreams one had at some time. And as people change, so do their dreams and journeys. It's a smart script, anchored in a towering performance from Charlize Theron, who is simultaneously funny, wired, warm, saddened, and nothing short of brilliant. She gets good support from Mackenzie Davis, but where the film lacks some dimension is in the remainder supporting characters, who are for the most part, very flat (the husband who is sweet, but is playing video games, and the rich brother, who is slightly full of himself, are just two examples). The production team is uniformly excellent, featuring a great cinematography from Eric Steelberg, score from Rob Simonsen and production design from Anastasia Masaro. Worth watching. 

Sunday, July 31, 2022

The Devil Wears Prada

Movie Name:
The Devil Wears Prada
Year of Release: 2006
Director: David Frankel
Starring: Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Emily Blunt, Stanley Tucci, Adrian Grenier, Simon Baker, Tracie Thoms, Rich Sommer, Daniel Sunjata, David Marshall Grant, James Naughton, Tibor Feldman, Rebecca Mader, John Rothman
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review
With a career peppered with brilliant roles and performances, Meryl Streep's rendition of Miranda Priestley in "The Devil Wears Prada" is still to this day, one of her most memorable and instantly recognizable roles. The film which is an adaptation of Lauren Weisberger's novel, follows the story of Andy Sachs, a young journalism graduate who applies for a job at Runway, a prestigious and well known fashion magazine. The role she specifically is considered for is that of second assistant to the magazine's Editor-in-Chief, Miranda Priestley. After initially being dismissed due to not fitting the style they want, she manages to intrigue Miranda and is hired. While initially she struggles with fitting in, mostly due to the fact that she believes to be above fashion and its trends, Andy quickly learns some valuable lessons thanks in no part to Nigel, a close confidant of Miranda and a successful Art Director in his own right. She evolves her style and also her work ethic, constantly fulfilling Miranda's demands, at times going beyond what is actually professionally possible to be delivered. She soon finds herself struggling with her personal relationships, while also at work she is presented with a tough and morally challenging situation when Miranda asks her to go Paris for the fashion shows, something her colleague Emily had been longing to do for quite some time.
"The Devil Wears Prada" is a perfect example of how the brilliance of a performance can at times actually minimize the entire narrative of a film. "The Devil Wears Prada" is intended to be the story of how Andrea/Andy, a young and somewhat ambitious wannabe, gets tangled up in a high profile job which threatens to eat away at her soul and integrity. A bit like Alexander Mackendrick's "Sweet Smell of Success", only without the sophisticated scenario, "The Devil Wears Prada" features an iconic and ruthless figurehead, one that is feared by all, and that Meryl Streep manages to create as both a collection of quotable expressions and soundbites, but also someone she humanizes, by showing the person behind the facade. Even without being the central character in the narrative, she manages to maker her character simultaneously the most outlandish one, and the most humane. David Frankel who started his career in television before making his feature directorial debut with "Miami Rhapsody" in 1995, merely illustrates the narrative, failing to bring much in terms of a distinct storytelling, style or point of view. The film is nonetheless watchable, with the director capturing influences from Charles Shyer ("Baby Boom"), Rob Reiner ("When Harry Met Sally"), Nancy Meyers ("Something's Gotta Give") and even Nora Ephron ("You've Got Mail"), all films and directors who have somehow defined the staple for this type of "polished and elegant" comedy, where no one is ever particularly vicious, or insufferable, and where everyone is always minimally rich. The supporting cast manages to bring some dimension to the film, with particular emphasis going to Emily Blunt (in her breakout role) and Stanley Tucci. Anne Hathaway's role, for all her charm and competence, could in fact be played by a variety of other actresses to more memorable results (at the time, why not hire Reese Witherspoon or the edgier Eva Green for that role). The cinematography from Florian Ballhaus is solid, as is the score from Theodore Shapiro. The film is ultimately a good showcase for Meryl Streep's magnum talent, in a somewhat generic wrapper of a film. 

John Carpenter's Vampires

Movie Name:
Vampires
Year of Release: 1998
Director: John Carpenter
Starring: James Woods, Daniel Baldwin, Sheryl Lee, Thomas Ian Griffith, Maximilian Schell, Tim Guinee, Mark Boone Junior, Gregory Sierra, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Thomas Rosales Jr., Henry Kingi
Genre: Action, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review
The 90s were an interesting decade for the fantastic John Carpenter. While he managed to create some solid films for his cannon, including "In the Mouth of Madness", the underrated "Memoirs of an Invisible Man" and "Village of the Damned", he also released "Escape from L.A." and "Vampires", both of which were met with a tepid response. "Vampires" focuses its narrative on Jack Crow, a vampire hunter/slayer, whose activities are sponsored by the Vatican. He has assembled a solid crew which includes his good friend and second in command, Tony Montoya. After a particularly successful hunt and disposal mission, all of his team is celebrating, until they're caught by the Vampire leader, whom up until that moment they had been unable to locate. That Vampire, by the name of Valek, kills everyone, save for Crow and Montoya who manage to escape, taking with them Katrina, a woman Valek had bitten, thus creating a psychic link with him. Crow meets with his superior, Cardinal Alba, who explains Valek is in reality a disgraced priest who led a rebellion against the church centuries ago, which eventually led to his execution and transformation into the first vampire. Crow goes on the hunt once again with the additional assistance of Father Guiteau, and soon they reconnect with Montoya and Katrina, leveraging her link with the master Vampire, to locate him. Valek however has been recruiting and all is not as transparent as Crow has been led to believe. 
"Vampires" most interesting aspect lies in the perspective John Carpenter brings into the film, shooting it very much like a B-movie western (with faint traces of Sam Peckinpah's "The Wild Bunch"). Characters are economically established with bare dimension to them, with the single purpose of getting the action going. Something John Carpenter has always been able to successfully do, even with low budgets, is effectively create a context in which his characters live, making the narratives all the more consistent and enthralling. "Vampires" brings to mind Robert Rodriguez's "From Dusk till Dawn", which in itself isn't that memorable, without ever truly establishing an identity of its own. It's a film that lacks some of the visual inventiveness of the director, something that may be tied with some issues he encountered while shooting the film. The cast is also not as compelling as his previous features, with Sheryl Lee and Maximilian Schell being the highlights of the film, whereas the lead character needed someone who could marry grit, charisma and resourcefulness, something James Woods sadly is unable to properly translate (he plays the character very similarly to the work he did in Luis Llosa's "The Specialist" or even John Badham's "The Hard Way"). Thomas Ian Griffith sadly also does not bring much to the role of Valek, making the central villain an anemic one. In the end, while not a dreadful film, it's not one of the most memorable endeavors from the always compelling John Carpenter.  

Monday, July 25, 2022

Umma

Movie Name:
Umma
Year of Release: 2022
Director: Iris K. Shim
Starring: Sandra Oh, Fivel Stewart, Dermot Mulroney, Odeya Rush, MeeWha Alana Lee, Tom Yi
Genre: Drama, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
Watch it on Netflix

Synopsis and Review
Another release hailing from Netflix, and another directorial debut, this time around for Iris K. Shim, whose previous works includes some shorts and also documentary features. "Umma" follows the story of Amanda, who lives with her daughter Chrissy on a farm, raising bees, selling honey, and also raising chickens, all this without modern technology. Amanda has explained to Chrissy she has an allergic reaction to electronics and electricity, which explains the somewhat rustic way they have lived. Amanda is surprised to learn Chrissy wants to leave the farm and go to college. At the same time she receives the visit from her uncle from Korea, who is delivering the ashes of her recently deceased mother. These events spark some memories of her abusive childhood. Turns out Amanda was raised by her mother, whom she refers as Umma, in the US, and her mother was unable to speak English or understand the culture. Amanda fabricated her pseudo allergy to electricity, since her mother used to shock her multiple times as a punishment. Amanda eventually cut ties with her mother and her culture. Soon after the ashes arrive, a vicious spirit appears, with the intention of claiming Amanda's body. As the supernatural events continue to present themselves, Amanda's fears she's becoming her mother intensify. This is also enhanced by Chrissy's desire to leave for college. When Amanda decide's to bury her mother's ashes, a flurry of events occur which threaten the peaceful existence she has carved for herself and her daughter.
One of the biggest issues with "Umma" doesn't lie with the fact that it doesn't have an interesting premise. In reality the premise itself is fantastic, since it deals with issues such as cultural inadequacy, loneliness, alienation of affection and fear of abandonment. What doesn't really work is that the film showcases the relationship between this mother and daughter in a somewhat shallow manner, never truly going beyond the superficiality of certain tasks, or for that matter, never illustrating the ties that bind these characters. For that matter, it doesn't do the same for Amanda and her relationship with Umma. And that's one of the film's biggest gaps, because there's not much context illustrated for what Amanda went through in the past, and how that shaped her present (including her own relationships with others). While the film toys with shadows and darkness to build this ominous environment, it's at times too dark to actually allow the viewer to catch a glimpse of whatever is happening, which is also an apt metaphor for the fact that so much of background on these characters is actually given. It's a film that feels built around an interesting concept, but which has failed to materialize itself with actual characters and storytelling behind them. Sandra Oh tries her best to bring Amanda to life, but there's so much more to explore in that character that her rendition feels somewhat incomplete, the same going for the supporting cast who sadly never have much to do (her daughter apparently only wants to go to college, and has no interests other than that). The cinematography from Matt Flannery is at times too dark, and the production design from Yong Ok Lee is stark but efficient. While not a dreadful film, it definitely could have benefited from additional development time. As it is, it's forgettable. 

The Gray Man

Movie Name:
The Gray Man
Year of Release: 2022
Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Billy Bob Thornton, Jessica Henwick, Dhanush, Alfre Woodard, Rene-Jean Page, Wagner Moura, Julia Butters, Shea Whigham, Robert Kazinsky
Genre: Action, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 2
Watch it on Netflix

Synopsis and Review
Directors Anthony and Joe Russo are back, following "Cherry" which they tackled for Apple's streaming service. "The Gray Man" is an adaptation of a book by Mark Greaney, and follows the story of a man by the code name of Six, whom we first encounter being recruited for a special undercover program, after being sentenced to jail for a particularly violent crime. Onwards a few years and Six as it turns out, is one of the most efficient agents of that secret initiative. In his latest assignment, he is given the directive to avoid a transaction taking place and take a particular target down. Things don't go quite so well, but much to Six's surprise, his target is another agent whom he doesn't know from his agency, under the name Four. Before dying, this individual tells him to take an encrypted drive, which contains data exposing the corruption going on in his agency, which traces itself to the people who are his actual bosses. His bosses intent on getting that drive back, unsuccessfully try to kill Six with their own team, and soon resort to hiring Lloyd Hansen, a former agent kicked out of the agency for being too violent. Six in the meantime becomes a worldwide target, since Hansen puts a bounty on his head, and as Six tries to elude his pursuers, his only assistance comes from Miranda, who has already been a good partner in a prior mission. Hansen however also holds a special trick up his sleeve, and is determined to get that drive and capture/kill Six.
"The Gray Man" is another Netflix production, one of their most expensive thus far, and yet it feels very much like a spy film from the 80s/90s that is essentially a mash of far better and more interesting films. There are elements of Luc Besson's "Nikita", Doug Liman's "The Bourne Identity", Richard Donner's "Assassins", Chad Stahelski's "John Wick" and even dashes of John McTiernan's "Die Hard" series peppered throughout this narrative, with obvious references also to Anthony and Joe Russo's own work in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier". All this to say, this film doesn't feel necessarily fresh or particularly distinctive, even if the directors did manage to hire a fantastic cast to bring this narrative to life. The main issue with the film is the fact that for all its mayhem and destruction, the film ultimately doesn't have much at its core in terms of character motivation or even much in terms of actually defining who these characters are. Whereas Jason Bourne's motivation in that series was to recover his memory and understand who he was, Six's motivation is the rescue of the niece of his mentor, and his nemesis who is simply established as deranged, quickly hates him with a passion. There isn't much subtlety in this film, and everything goes mechanically from one set piece to the next, as if the directors have failed to realize all the excellent work that Christopher McQuarrie for instance has done with the "Mission: Impossible" series, where there's a logic and a progressive momentum for what is occurring onscreen. The cast fails to bring much to the film, with Ryan Gosling tracing some aspects from his previous characters such as Nicolas Winding Refn's "Drive" to his vision of whom Six is, whereas Chris Evans just repeats some of his prior performances but without much nuance and Ana de Armas doesn't really have much to do. It's a film that independently of its obvious production values, feels heavy handed, dated and made in auto-pilot (almost like everyone knew this was a flashy, glossy paycheck, and therefore their own investment was quite basic). The supporting cast also fails to register in a meaningful way, as does the production team itself (the cinematography from Stephen F. Windon is generic as is the score from Henry Jackman). Forgettable and unnecessary. 

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Monsters

Movie Name:
Monsters
Year of Release: 2010
Director: Gareth Edwards
Starring: Scoot McNairy, Whitney Able, Mario Zuniga Benavides, Annalee Jefferies, Justin Hall, Ricky Catter
Genre: Adventure, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon Prime

Synopsis and Review:
Though these days director Gareth Edwards is known for tackling "Godzilla" and "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story", his actual feature directorial debut was "Monsters", which he almost single handedly created on his own. The film which premiered at South by Southwest Film Festival in 2010, on its way to being well received a bit everywhere, follows the story of Sam Wynden and Andrew Kaulder who both meet in dire circumstances. Andrew is a photojournalist, and his boss asks him to escort his daughter Sam to safety in the US, since they're both in Mexico, and the border area between both countries is about to become inaccessible for quite some time. In fact that whole area has been riddled by issues since an alien species has come to Earth and latched on that particular area. The alien species came onboard of a space probe originally sent from Earth to investigate alien life forms. The creatures have quickly taken hold of the region, and the American side has built a large wall trying to prevent their invasion. After realizing the train lines are blocked and that option is no longer viable, they decide to hitchhike their way to the coast. Upon reaching the coast, Andrew buys a ferry ticket for Sam, however after a night of partying, they find themselves without passports (they were stolen by Andrew's casual partner of the evening). They use Sam's engagement ring to negotiate another exit strategy, this journey forcing them to go through the quarantine zone, including across the river and then by land.
Gareth Edwards managed to shoot "Monsters" on a very limited budget, with himself playing many of the production related roles, including cinematographer, visual effects supervisor, in addition to writing and directing the feature itself. And for the most part, he manages to be quite successful in his endeavors. With limited resources, he has successfully created an environment that very much feels like it is descending into an apocalyptic type of scenario, showcasing humanity's inability to unite their efforts, and also the chaos of dealing with the unknown. While not as distinctive and impactful as Danny Boyle's "28 Days Later" or inquisitive and ambitious as Alex Garland's "Annihilation", it's still very much a film that manages to convincingly portray this suspenseful and possibly lethal situation in which these characters find themselves in, smartly avoiding to gratuitously showcase much of the monsters themselves. The film feels at times like an extended "Twilight Zone" episode, save for the fact that the characters are very thinly characterized, and while their burgeoning romantic interest is completely expected, it also doesn't add much to the characters depth or for that matter, provide additional meaning to their travel. It's nonetheless an economically and smartly crafted film, featuring a solid performance from Scoot McNairy, and a stunning score from the always great Jon Hopkins. Worth watching. 

Tim Burton's Corpse Bride

Movie Name:
Tim Burton's Corpse Bride
Year of Release: 2005
Director: Tim Burton, Mike Johnson
Starring: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Emily Watson, Richard E. Grant, Tracey Ullman, Joanna Lumley, Christopher Lee, Paul Whitehouse, Albert Finney, Michael Gough, Jane Horrocks, Enn Reitel, Deep Roy, Danny Elfman
Genre: Animation, Musical, Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
Watch it on Amazon Prime

Synopsis and Review:
Coming off the well received "Big Fish", director Tim Burton premiered two films in 2005, firstly the re-imagining of Roald Dahl's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", followed by "Corpse Bride", which he co-directed with Mike Johnson, while also authoring some of the characters of the narrative, leaving the screenplay itself in the capable hands of writer/screenwriter John August (whom with he also worked on "Big Fish", the aforementioned "Charlie...", and he would later work with again on "Frankenweenie" and "Dark Shadows"). The film which takes place in a Victorian town, follows the story of Victor, a young man still living at home with his family. His family has made its money in the fish industry, and he is betrothed to a young woman whom he has not met, by the name of Victoria. She is the only daughter of an aristocratic yet impoverished family, who considers this marriage like a transaction which will allow them to keep their mansion and their reputation. Victor is tremendously nervous with the whole situation, and when he accidentally meets Victoria before the wedding rehearsal, they both are drawn to each other, but Victor's nerves make him fail miserably during the rehearsal. Fleeing the scene, he goes to the woods, where he recites his vows out loud, and places the ring on what he thinks to be a tree. Turns out, it's actually the finger of a dead bride by the name of Emily. She rises from her grave, and announces herself as Victor's wife and brings him to the land of the dead. While there Victor learns of Emily's story, while also understanding the actual value of what he has in the land of the living.
While possibly not as immediately associated with Tim Burton's directorial career as "The Nightmare Before Christmas" (or even "Frankenweenie"), though of course "Nightmare..." was actually directed by Henry Selick, "Corpse Bride" is nonetheless very much a film tied to his universe, with plenty of Gothic elements and a story that at first glance sounds romantic, but as the layers get peeled off, is at its core a very dark tale. The central characters of the narrative are also very much drawn from his typical universe, including the hapless central hero who finds himself in a situation that he's not comfortable with, and that he desperately needs to understand and come to terms with. There's also the additional central character who has been wronged, who has her own agenda, and wants nothing more than to find closure in her existence (these characters arcs for instance, have ties with some of the characters from "Edward Scissorhands", "Batman Returns" and even "Sleepy Hollow"). It's a film that touches on topics such as wronged lovers, violent deaths, arranged marriages, topics that could be somewhat grotesquely characterized in less capable hands, but that Tim Burton elevates and brings a touch of whimsicality, humor, and irreverence, in the process also embedding an energy and exuberance to the land of the dead, which rivals the dour grayness of the land of the living (something Pixar also used in their 2017 release, "Coco" from directors Adrian Molina and Lee Unkrich). Stylistically and aesthetically it's a stunning feature, with fantastic voice work from the entire cast, with special highlight going to Helena Bonham Carter who makes the bride a mix of hopeful, naive but also embittered for all that she has gone through. The score from Danny Elfman is wonderful, as is the cinematography from Pete Kozachik. A wonderful feature always worth revisiting.