Film Friday: ‘Monsters’ and ‘127 Hours’

by W. Andrew Powell

Whitney Able in Monsters

Whitney Able in Monsters

Opening this weekend in theatres: two people try to escape Mexico and return to America in the alien-infused drama, Monsters; James Franco stars in the survival drama, 127 Hours; aliens are abducting the population of Earth in Skyline; and Denzel Washington stars in Tony Scott’s thriller, Unstoppable.

Starring: Scoot McNairy, Whitney Able
Director: Gareth Edwards

Rated: 5/10

Titles, and trailers, are a lot more important than most people realize, and a film like Gareth Edwards’ “Monsters” abundantly proves that.

Gareth Edwards’ movie certainly has style, interesting characters, and a lot more going for it, but for a movie with a title like “Monsters,” there sure aren’t a lot in sight.

Sure, there are giant octopus-like creatures roaming parts of the United States and Mexico, and I think Edwards wants you to see them as monstrous at times, but they’re spotted so infrequently, it’s hard to even imagine them as the stars of the film.

Instead, Monsters is about two people, thrust together and trying to get across an area known as the Infected Zone, where alien life has sprung up following a NASA disaster some six years ago.

Andrew, played by Scoot McNairy, is a young photographer hoping for his chance to get photos of some of the numerous creatures that are roaming the Infected Zone and outside parts of Mexico. He has to take a time-out from his job though when the owner of his publication sends him off to take care of his daughter Sam, played by Whitney Able, who was injured in a recent attack by the creatures as she vacationed in Mexico.

With a kind of migratory season about to push the alien creatures through a major portion of Mexico, Andrew needs to escort Sam to a nearby port where she can catch a ferry back to civilized America, but through a serious of problems the duo are forced to walk the wilds of the Infected Zone. That leaves them cozying up to each other as they try to survive the desolation left behind by the alien creatures.

Inviting obvious comparisons to films like Cloverfield and District 9, Monsters is a solidly built movie that feels like a thriller early on, but fizzles into a strained drama by the time it ends. It also doesn’t help that if you’ve seen the film’s trailers, you’re probably expecting something far more thrilling than this aimlessly lukewarm story about people, rather than alien life forms hell-bent on mankind’s destruction.

Had the trailer not been so misleading, I probably could have forgiven the film more, but that doesn’t change the fact that Monsters just doesn’t deliver a strong or moving story. I liked the film’s stars, the music, and cinematography was solid, and there’s something a little magical about the size of the creatures and how they’re presented, but I still walked out of the film scratching my head and expecting much, much more.

127 Hours
Starring: James Franco, Amber Tamblyn, Kate Mara, Clémence Poésy, Kate Burton, Lizzy Caplan
Director: Danny Boyle

Worthy dramas come along but once a season, but this one might not be the best choice of films for everyone, particularly the squeamish.

Based on the real story of Aron Ralston, whose harrowing tale of survival swept through the media a few years ago, the film has been receiving rave reviews from critics and fans alike since it debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.

James Franco stars as Aron, a young party boy who goes on a hiking expedition alone into the remote canyons near Moab, Utah. When an accident leaves his arm trapped beneath a boulder, Aron takes a new serious look at his life and vows to make it out of his predicament.

As most people know, the harrowing part of the tale is that Aron cut off his own arm with what little tools he had with him so he could finally escape.

While the reaction to the film has been strong, there’s no question that this part of the film has caused various reactions from viewers, so it’s safe to say it’s not for the squeamish among us.

That said, the reviews of the film have been beyond glowing.

Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal wrote, “Mr. Franco is simply terrific, and Mr. Boyle’s trademark exuberance creates a dizzying succession of images that get the movie not only out of the canyon but into its hero’s mind.”

Dan Kois of the Village Voice reflected that same sentiment, calling the film “A passionate, bloody argument for engagement with the world.”

Starring: Donald Faison, Eric Balfour, David Zayas, Scottie Thompson, Brittany Daniel, Crystal Reed
Directors: Colin Strause and Greg Strause

On the lighter side of the movies this week, Skyline is an action-thriller about an alien invasion that has humanity vanishing off the face of the earth.

While one group of friends avoid being captured, humanity is being drawn outside of their homes by strange lights that has them vanishing into thin air a moment later.

Starring a relatively unknown cast of actors, the film is somewhat reminiscent of the classic alien actioner Indepence Day, but the big difference is that it’s not getting very good word of mouth, and it also wasn’t screened for the press, which suggests very bad things indeed.

There are a scattering of reviews coming out of Australia and Europe though, where the film has already opened, including Tim Robey’s review for the Daily Telegraph.

“We get some watchable flurries of hunt-’em-down suspense between the interminable kvetchings of the human prey,” Robey wrote, “but the only salient reason to see this is the creature design, by those HR Giger-inspired wizards Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr.”

Starring: Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Rosario Dawson, Ethan Suplee, Kevin Dunn, Kevin Corrigan
Director: Tony Scott

The surprise film of the week, at least for me, is Tony Scott’s latest thriller, Unstoppable, starring Denzel Washington.

Earning fantastic reviews from the majority of critics, Unstoppable follows an engineer and a conductor as they try to bring a runaway train filled with toxic chemicals to a stop.

Peter Debruge of Variety wrote, “Given the linear, one-track nature of the plot, Scott and Bomback prove surprisingly effective at delivering a well-rounded experience, going out of their way to fill in the personalities of their two leads.”

And Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert wrote, “The movie is as relentless as the train, slowly gathering momentum before a relentless final hour of continuous suspense. In terms of sheer craftsmanship, this is a superb film.”

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