Thursday, January 26, 2017

Movies That Suck: Bruiser (2000)

I can't tell you how much it pains me whenever I have to rag on any director who I have tremendous respect for, one of whom is Mr. George Romero. I love this guy not only for his movies but also for his unflinching independent spirit and his determination to continue making films outside of the Hollywood system, a mindset that led to the creation of classics like his original Living Dead trilogy and Creepshow. Those movies feel less like theatrical movies and more like movies Romero made for himself and with his friends, making them akin to all of these no-budget, shot on video films that you see everywhere now, with the major differences, aside from them actually being good most of the time, being that they managed to accrue more money in their budgets than those films could ever hope to, had backing from the kind of independent financers that don't really exist anymore, and were fortunate enough to be seen in theaters. However, as much as I love how he's always in there pitching as hard as he can, I'd be lying if I said that Romero's filmography is spotless. While I haven't seen many of his very early films (i.e., pre-Dawn of the Dead), I have seen The Crazies, which I didn't like at all, and I also don't think he's made a truly good movie since his heyday in the late 70's and 80's, with his last one being Monkey Shines (I like The Dark Half okay but it's far from a great movie to me). I haven't loved any of the films he made in the 2000's: Land of the Dead was okay but a far cry from the greatness of his original trilogy, and I couldn't stand Diary of the Dead, which I found to be horribly pretentious, misguided, and with awful acting. I still haven't seen Survival of the Dead but, given everything I've heard about it, it sounds like Romero's ability slipped even further down with it. That brings us to our topic here: Bruiser. I think I first heard it mentioned by Christine Forrest, Romero's now ex-wife, on the audio commentary she did with him and Michael Felsher for the original theatrical version of Dawn of the Dead, as she used it as an example of how Romero could do much more than just blood and guts. I didn't know what to think of the title, as it didn't tell me anything of the movie's plot or ideas, and I didn't see anything of it until I saw the DVD bundled with another movie (it might have been the remake of Dawn of the Dead) at Walmart. Like the title, I didn't know what to make of the cover, which showed little more than a blank, white face with two tiny, black holes for eyes, reminiscent of Michael Myers' mask, and a tagline that read, "Meet the new face of terror." The word-of-mouth I'd heard about it, that it was a very boring and unremarkable movie, didn't help matters but, always needing to form my own opinion about something, I eventually bought the DVD for very cheap at a big used book and movie store in Chattanooga in early 2012. After seeing it, I had to agree that there was very little about it that I could say I liked and, after multiple viewings, it hasn't got any better. It's little more than an unpleasant, downbeat, and incredibly vulgar movie that comes across as very blatant and pretentious in the dark, social satire it tries to have.

Henry Creedlow's shitty life consists of a wife who barely pays any attention to him and is having the house renovated, a little poodle that annoys him to no end, a very successful friend who invests some money for him, only for the return to come back insultingly low, a disgusting, insulting boss who makes everyone who works for him at his magazine, Bruiser, feel like trash, especially Henry, and fantasies of committing suicide and violently killing all of those who walk all over him like he's nothing. During a company pool party as his boss, Miles Styles', house, Miles' wife, Rosie, makes a blank mask out of a plaster mold of Henry's face and tells him to give it an identity by painting a unique design on it, but Henry can't think of anything. Later on, he sees his wife, Janine, playing with Miles'... "yardstick" at the bar, and when he confronts her about it on their way home that night, she not only doesn't deny it but uses the fact that he didn't do anything as an example of how weak-willed and pathetic she thinks he is. She goes on to say that she wants to go places, whereas Henry is going nowhere. Left at home by himself that night, Henry drinks heavily and, the next morning, goes through his same old routine... until he looks in the mirror and sees that his face has been replaced by the white, feature-less mask Rosie made for him. When his and Janine's once-a-week maid shows up and begins stealing valuable items from the house and money from his wallet, he confronts her and fatally hits her with her own goods-filled bag. As he hides the body, Janine arrives home and Henry overhears her talking to somebody whom she plans to leave him for on the phone. Following her to the Bruiser office, Henry now knows that the other man is indeed Miles, but before he can kill them both, Rosie catches them having sex in the conference room and photographs them. While Miles chases after Rosie, Henry confronts and murders his unfaithful wife and manages to elude the police, who are questioning Miles. Heading back to his house, hiding from the police again, and finding evidence that his friend, Jimbo, has been stealing money from him, Henry decides he's had enough and embarks on a journey of murderous revenge against all those who have ruined his life.

Bruiser is a notable film in the context of George Romero's career for two reasons. First off, it's the first film he made in Canada, where he now lives, having become an official Canadian citizen in 2009, a fact that is painfully obvious in regards to the movie's look. More significantly, it was the first film he made after a long absence from feature film directing (eight years, to be exact; although it was released in 1993, The Dark Half was filmed in 1990 into 1991), having only directed a Japanese commercial promoting Resident Evil 2 in 1998. Because of that, I've heard some theories that the film's nasty, vitriolic nature was a projection of some anger that Romero himself possibly felt about the state of his career and personal life at that time, specifically all of his struggles to stay independent and keep his own identity from being swallowed up by the studios he eventually had to deal with. Those dealings with the studios, specifically Orion Pictures, who mishandled the productions and releases of Monkey Shines and The Dark Half, did not go well with Romero and are undoubtedly why he dropped off the filmmaking map for a while afterward, as they left him hating the studio system. If that is the reason why Bruiser is the way it is (it's all conjecture, mind you, as Romero himself has described filming it as both enjoyable and liberating), then I can totally understand and, as writer Scooter McCrae notes in his article on the film in the Fangoria Legends issue dedicated to Romero, it's a good thing Romero has a creative way to vent any anger he may have, but it also makes the movie all the more unpleasant to sit through.

(I apologize for the images in this review, which are sometimes either not exactly appropriate for what I'm talking about or aren't there at all. This movie is so obscure, I'm lucky I could get what I did.)

One thing I will give Bruiser is that the motives for the lead character's actions are made absolutely clear and understandable. After being trotted on by everyone around him both in his personal and professional life, Henry Creedlow (Jason Flemyng) decides that enough is enough and begins making his homicidal fantasies a reality, brutally murdering everyone who's made his life miserable and made him feel like nothing. In the process, he's reclaiming his identity, as the white, feature-less mask that has become his face gets its own, personal design, first being splattered with blood on its upper, left side and then painted flesh-colored, with lurid colors placed on top of that, by Henry himself. Again, it's perfectly understandable why he snaps the way he does. We've all had fantasies of wanting to explode and beat the living crap out of someone who's made us angry or screwed us over in some way, often to the point of death, and while some may see Henry's fantasies as evidence of a deranged mind, I see it more as somebody who's just wishing he had the gumption to stand up for himself. I think it's also believable and understandable that he would be pushed to the breaking point by everything that's happened to him, as that's definitely happened before. I'm not condoning murder, mind you (although, all of the people he does kill are so loathsome that they had it coming), but it is understandable, which is akin to what Rosie tells him late in the movie. His switchover to his homicidal nature does come about rather suddenly, with his first murder being an unexpected and impulsive one, but I guess you could chalk it up to his maid's stealing things from his house and insulting him under her breath in Spanish being the straw that breaks the camel's back (he even says, "She just made me so angry), and that once he's done it and then overhears Janine's plans to leave him, he decides it's time for some payback. Plus, what's nice is that he doesn't become a complete lunatic, as he spares the life of Tom, a co-worker who could've ratted him out after he came across him but didn't, and makes sure that the media and everyone else knows that Rosie had nothing to do with Janine's death.

Henry's "mask" is definitely the film's most memorable image and the heart of its main theme. For starters, it is a striking and unsettling image, becoming even more so when he paints it in various ways later on, but more importantly, it represents how he's been stripped of identity by everyone around him and, as the film goes on and he takes back his life, he's painting the design on it that he couldn't think of before. How exactly it went from being just a mask that Rosie made from a mold of his face to actually being his face is something that I pondered and I toyed with the thought that maybe it was simply there in his head, that the revelation of Janine's affair and her pure contempt for him the night before caused one of his fantasies to take permanent hold in his mind. It seemed to fit as, while people acknowledge that he looks different, they don't bring up the mask specifically, meaning that they might be commenting on an anger and rage in him that they hadn't seen in him before. But then comes the scene where Rosie finally sees him for the first time since his face changed and remarks, "That's not a mold I made," to which he says, "It's all me." In other words, he really did lose his face and has now gotten it back along with his identity, a notion I really don't like because it makes the core theme, which is already shoved in your face repeatedly, way too literal for me. But you know what's really frustrating? At the end of the movie, after everything he's done to reclaim his identity, Henry is seen working in an office for another loathsome employer and the last shot is him turning to face his boss, the blank mask now back, suggesting that he's got to do it all over again (in the scene index, the scene is even titled, "The Cycle Continues) and that his taking a stand was all for nothing. He seems to have more guts now with how he talks to the boss, granted, but it still feels like nothing was accomplished. Maybe that's the point, that you always have to fight to keep your identity, but, regardless, I don't care for it because it begs the question, "Is this going to happen every time somebody acts like a dick to him?" If so, there are going to be a lot of dead bodies lying around!

One of the things that makes this film so unpleasant to watch is how utterly unlikable and contemptible just about every character other than Henry is, and no one is more repulsive than his boss, Miles Styles (Peter Stormare). Right from his introduction, you know that this guy is a sleazy, vulgar, and despicable excuse for a human being, one who treats his employees and everyone around him, including his own wife, like crap, humiliating them out in the open for all to see. He flat-out insults Henry and his choice for the cover of Bruiser's next issue, telling him that his taste is in his ass and rubbing the photo he picked on his butt, calling the woman a "fucking skunk," makes similarly nasty comments about the other losers, and even when a winner is picked, Miles has to insult her, revealing himself to also be a racist as he makes comments about her being a mixture of Hispanic and Korean, saying, "Can you imagine this face, on a 'Be Like Me' cover, among all the white bread in the fucking supermarket?" At the pool party he and his wife host for everyone at the company, he continues to act like a despicable sleazeball, pushing one guy into the pool, and calling one guy, Tom, a "fucker" behind his back right after he gave him some advice about how to get with the model who was picked. When Janine asks why he has to fuck with people all the time, he says, "Because there's nothing else you can do with them. Look at them. Fuckin' pathetic crowd. I don't even know half of them. All I need to know is that they're busy, and what's keeping them busy is me." This attitude of his is reinforced before his death at the end, when Henry says, "We all mean nothing to you," and he says, "That's right. You mean nothing to me. You know why? Because you are fucking nothing. An ant, a fucking ant, with no mind and small balls. That's what you all are, and I'm a fucking anteater!" Not only does he cheat on Rosie with Janine, he has no shame in doing it in front of everyone at the party, and when Rosie catches them doing it at the Bruiser offices and takes a picture of them, he chases after her and can only say that she walked in on a private moment. The only decent thing that he does in the entire film is to defend Rosie when she becomes a suspect in Janine's murder, saying that she would never do that to anybody, but even then, he acts like an ass about, not letting Rosie talk when Detective McCleary is trying to get a statement from her and screaming at her when she tells him to shut up. Plus, in the end, he's probably only defending her in order to save face for himself, which he brings after she takes the picture. He's nothing less than a disgusting, foul-mouthed asshole who deserves the painful death that he gets at the end (right at the balls, no less).

Just as contemptible as Miles is Henry's bitch of a wife, Janine (Nina Garbiras). Like Miles, you know from the start that she's not a good person, with the way she talks to Henry at the beginning when he unintentionally wakes her up and completely ignores his pleas to call her annoying little fart of a poodle away from him, instead just lying in bed, doing nothing but smoking a cigarette. This perceived contempt that she has for Henry continues at the pool party with some of the comments she makes when Rosie is making his mask and it's all but confirmed when she strokes Miles at the bar. And when Henry confronts her with it on their drive home, Janine not only doesn't deny it but uses it as an example of what a pushover loser she thinks he is, that people walk all over him every day and he does nothing about it, bringing up how he didn't have the guts to slug Miles when he caught them. She says that she wants to go places, whereas he's, "Going no place. You're nothing. Nobody," and when they get back home, she makes Henry get out of the car and tells him not to wait up before insulting him again and driving off into the night, obviously to be with Miles. After Henry kills their kleptomaniac maid the next day and hides the body, Janine arrives back home and insults him some more, unaware that he's there, and calls Miles, unknowingly letting Henry know that she's planning to go off with him. This tears it for Henry and when he follows her to the Bruiser office where she has sex with Miles, he corners her as Miles runs after Rosie. Not surprisingly, she remains completely unremorseful and the only thing that she can say is how he seems to have lost his mind, leading to Henry's murdering her, throwing one of her last insults back at her in the process.

The first time I saw the movie and it came to the introduction of Henry's friend, Jimbo, (Andrew Tarbet), I found myself wondering why the guy seemed so familiar to me until it suddenly hit me, "It's Booker from The Famous Jett Jackson!", which was a Disney Channel show I watched a lot when I was in middle school. However, the character Tarbet plays here is the exact opposite of the bumbling but likable deputy sheriff of Wilstead, North Carolina. At first, Jimbo seems like a decent, likable guy (save for how he doesn't remember his secretary's name and his fairly unsympathetic opinion of a man who shot himself on a radio show that morning), and one of the few friends that Henry has, promising to take care of his money problems and calling him to try offer help for him when hears of Janine's death. However, Jimbo's suspicious comment about an unexpectedly low return on an investment he handled for Henry ("You make it sound like I short-changed you") turns out to be foreshadowing of Henry's later discovery that he's been stealing money from his bank accounts and mutual funds. Henry confronts Jimbo about it at the local tennis club, asking him how he could do this to him after they've been friends for ten years, and Jimbo says that it was Janine's idea to steal the money and she kept the rest of it for herself. Jimbo tries to make things even by writing Henry a check for the entire $30,000 he's been cheated out of but when Henry makes it clear that he's not interested in money, that it won't make them anywhere near even, Jimbo pulls out a gun and shoots at him, saying that it's his fault for not noticing it sooner. Henry manages to kill Jimbo, who was just as unremorseful as everyone else, and disposes of his body. In the end, the only good bit of advice he gave Henry is to shoot someone other than yourself when you get really angry, which is what Henry does.

The one character who's always good to Henry and never betrays him is Miles' wife, Rosie (Leslie Hope). She knows him quite well, since she works at Bruiser too as a photographer, and it's clear that they're quite friendly with each other, as he picks his choice for Bruiser's September cover because of her. There's an obvious mutual attraction between them, as she's the most friendly and sympathetic towards Henry, much more so than Janine, and she also knows all too well what a piece of crap her husband is, having suspected his affair for a long time and planning on leaving him. She decides to get proof of his infidelity by taking a picture of him and Janine having sex in the Bruiser conference room. Things get complicated, though, when Janine is murdered and she becomes a suspect. Because of their mutual attraction, Henry tries to help her and eventually calls in to the popular radio show, clearing her name, although he's really frustrated with her for knowing about the affair as long as she did and continuing to live with Miles. Rosie says it's complicated and not as simple as murdering someone. She tells him, "I can understand what you did. I can't forgive it, and I can't forget it, but I can understand it." Henry, in turn, tells her not to betray herself by staying with Miles, although she obviously thinks that she's nothing. She follows Henry to Miles' party, trailed by McCleary, and tries to keep him from killing Miles, saying that there other ways to get what he wants and that any chance they had was destroyed when she found he was a murderer. She does say they could leave together but Henry says she's only doing that to save Miles, telling her to instead do what everyone else does and take advantage. In the end, she allows him to escape by wearing the costume he discarded and her own mask, which is blank just like his, while proclaiming to be the murderer.

I know you can't see his face but this is literally the only
image of Atkins in this movie I could find.
It's always nice to see Tom Atkins in a movie and he's likable enough as Detective McCleary but he can't make me like the movie, especially since he doesn't show up until 45 minutes in and isn't in it that much. Still, it's good to see him playing an old-fashioned, hard-nosed detective (you have to love how he uses the terms "dame" and a "cup of joe," as if we're in the 40's here) who doesn't take any crap, especially from Miles. He's so cool, that he simply lets the guy say what he has to say and doesn't lose his patience with him, until later on when he keeps interrupting Rosie while he's questioning her, saying, "Styles! The lady just asked you to shut the fuck up!", which is just so badass. You also got to love how he goes along with the joke that their only "witness" as to what happened at the Creedlow household is Janine's little poodle and he tells the dog her rights. Plus, I love him for pointing out how bizarre that party is, asking, "What the fuck is wrong with you people?!" He does mistakenly think that Rosie is the killer, going so far as to bet money on it, repeatedly saying, "The dame did it!", but he never becomes loathsome about it. When he and everyone else learns that Rosie is innocent, he still follows her to the party, hoping to catch Henry before he can kill Miles, but fails and loses him in the crowd when Rosie gives him the opportunity to escape. He talks to her about it afterward, getting no answer as to why she helped him, and asks her to give him a call if she ever finds Henry before he can... knowing full well that it'll probably never happen.

One other noteworthy character is another one of the few people who's decent to Henry, Tom Burtram (Jeff Monahan). Even though they work together, they barely know each other, but there is still something of a kinship between them since they share a mutual dislike of Miles and are both trotted on by him at the office. Tom stumbles across the aftermath of Henry's murder of Janine and while he does threaten Tom not to say anything to the police, he also tells him not to be like him and take any more crap from people. You find out that Tom actually considers Henry possibly the best friend he's ever had and doesn't tell the police anything when they bring him in for questioning as a suspect. When he admits this to the winning model, who's trying to blow him in his hot tub, it actually saves Tom's life as Henry is about to kill him because he thinks he talked but when he overhears him, he relents and even makes it clear on the radio show that, like Rosie he had no involvement in the murder. Tom, meanwhile, decides to get out of town while the getting's good... with or without the model, who's not happy about the idea.

Aside from all the despicable characters, Bruiser's very look makes it unpleasant to watch. First off, like all of George Romero's films since the millennium, it was filmed in Canada, specifically Toronto (where Romero lives and, although it's never specified, is possibly where the movie is set), and more often than not, films shot up there, especially those with very little money, tend to have a bland, generic look to them and this is no exception. It looks like a TV movie (the very cheap-looking, occasional CGI scene transitions don't help matters), and a very murky one, at that. While the exterior scenes look okay (fortunately, it's often nice and sunny in the exterior scenes, rather than gray, overcast, and depressing, as it can get in Canada), the interiors are filmed in a dark, ugly manner, with highlights of a nasty, amber-brown color in the lighting. Even the interiors of the Miles' rather posh mansion have this look to them. It's very uncomfortable, but not in a cold, clinical way; rather, it's a very seedy, scummy way, which I guess fits well with the characters of Miles and Janine, the latter of whom is having her and Henry's house remodeled, making it even more uninviting in how it looks with all that plastic hanging up and that button to a saw on the floor that Janine's dog has learned to press. Some shots in the movie are nice to look at, like some of those inside the Bruiser offices and when Henry confronts Jimmy at the tennis club, but for the most part, the movie is as unpleasant to look at as its characters are to watch.

George Romero has always been known for injecting political and social commentary into his films but, as he's gotten older, he's gone from being able to skillfully inject it into movies that are, first and foremost, entertaining, to only caring about the commentary itself. He's become so heavy-handed with it, in fact, that his films are no longer fun and you feel like you're being preached to, making him feel like a pretentious old man. Now, that said, I'm not going to dislike a movie just because it feels pretentious, mainly because it'd be awfully hypocritical of me, as a couple of my favorite filmmakers, Christopher Nolan and David Cronenberg, can often veer off into self-indulgence (especially the former). What matters to me is if a movie either entertains me or, at the very least, keeps me interested enough to where I can overlook its pretentiousness, and Bruiser, which seemed to be the start of Romero's habit of repeatedly whacking you over the head with what he's trying to say, doesn't, making it all the more tedious and hard to sit through. Obviously, the movie's main idea is that of identity in the modern world, how we define ourselves, and how that can be both hard to obtain and easily taken away... and boy, does Romero shove that idea down your throat constantly. There are so many lines that allude to this, like Henry's raving at Janine that he gave her everything and she's taken his identity, Rosie's question to him as to whether or not he can make others see him when presenting him with his mask to decorate, his comment to her that he's always been invisible, which is why he'll have no trouble evading the police, and on and on. While I do kind of like the idea of Henry slowly creating his own persona and identity as the film goes on by decorating his face with flesh-color makeup and then various, lurid colors, as I said earlier, the idea of his face actually becoming that blank mask in reality rather than in his mind makes the main theme far more literal than I think it should be. But I think what really got me was when Henry was reciting to himself as he made himself up: "The man had gone to market, to buy a diamond ring. The man who never noticed, that he was not a king. He choose the brightest sparkle, a diamond made of glass. The setting bright and gold, was crafted out of brass. The man spent all his money, the jeweler was a cheat. He told the man that royals, wore diamonds on their feet. The man went proudly walking, inside his shoe the ring. And no one ever told him, that he was not a king." At that point, I was so bored and irritated by this movie, to the point where it was sucking the life out of me, that I rolled my eyes and thought, "Romero, cut me a break."

It's especially frustrating when Romero perfectly alluded to the film's main theme early on. As the opening credits roll while Henry goes through his morning routine, he listens to a radio program where a guy calls in and talks to the asshole host about how he wants to kill himself, saying that it wouldn't affect him if he lived or died, and talks about how he lost the house he inherited from his father to the bank. He then says, "A guy spends his life working, paying what he owes, doing what he's supposed to do, can't leave his house to his only kid. What kind of mark has he made? You shovel shit all your life, and you don't even leave a mark? It's like you shouldn't bother. It's like you've never been here at all." Then there's a gunshot, indicating that the man just followed through on his threat of suicide... which doesn't affect the host at all. All while this is going on, we see that Henry knows how the guy feels and has his first fantasy, which is about killing himself. Later, when Henry is going through his routine the morning after he learns of his wife's infidelity, somebody calls in talking about the suicide, saying that he made an impression, for the first time in his life, he's been noticed... and eventually reveals himself to be said guy, saying, "I'm risen from the dead, and this time around, I'm not taking any shit from rat bastards like you. You treat us like garbage. Like we're nothing. Like we're not even here. Well, you can't turn a man into nothing. You try, you're the one that's gonna pay,"... just as Henry sees his now blank face and begins to embark on his murderous quest to retrieve his identity. I don't think Romero would have had to have reinforced his theme any further after those perfect parallels, don't you think?

I think many people see Romero as a master of truly gruesome horror but, if you think about it, outside of his living dead series, his films typically aren't that gory and that goes for Bruiser. While definitely a violent movie, the murders are almost completely bloodless. The first three deaths in the film are actually Henry's fantasies and the first, which him shooting himself through the bottom of his chin, is probably the bloodiest part of the movie with the splatter on the wall behind him. The second one is him fantasizing about beating up a woman who cut in line ahead of him while getting on the train to head into the city and placing her head on the track. He proceeds to beat up her husband, who jumps him, and knocks him down, as her head gets crushed by the train. You hear a nasty crunch when that happens but you don't see anything, as the transition back to reality obscures the aftermath. And finally, the third fantasy is of him killing Janine as she drives her car into the garage by grabbing an axe and smashing through the windshield at her; again, you don't see anything. The first actual murder is of Henry and Janine's thieving maid, whom he knocks over the couch by whacking her across the head with her bag full of stolen items. As he hides her body and puts things back the way they were, you see that some blood was splattered on the couch cushions, and as he hides from Janine with the body, having wrapped it in plastic, it starts to convulse before finally expiring, which does get to Henry when he sees it. His murder of Janine is one of the film's most brutal, as he wraps his tie around her neck after catching her underneath the conference table and then, after smashing out the window with a chair, throws her out while she's tied to an extension cord, breaking her neck and leaving her hanging there. Jimbo's death is long and drawn out, first causing him to trip over a stool in the tennis club locker room, seemingly causing him to break something, and then picking him up, slamming him against a locker, smacking him across the face with one of his documents, and pulling a gun on him, causing him to lose his balance and fall to the floor. Trying to save himself, Jimbo tells him to give him his briefcase so he can write Henry a check for all the money he's stolen from in and Henry does give it to him... by flinging the briefcase at his broken leg. When Jimbo pulls a gun out of his briefcase, Henry dodges the shots and shoots him back, square in the chest, causing him to slowly bleed to death before he can get another shot off. Henry dumps his body in the river, along with his new, expensive car that he bought his money, just as he did the maid. Fittingly, Miles' murder at his costume party is the most painful and elaborate, with Henry bribing some people into putting him into a special harness that's lowered down from the ceiling above the dance floor. Miles is enjoying himself, until Henry aims a special laser, meant to pop open pinatas, right at his balls. Defiant and unremorseful to the end, Miles sees Henry in the booth and once again calls him an ant, prompting Henry to shoot the laser right through his head, reciting the Bruiser motto, "We make heat," before he does.

Speaking of that party scene, when the film finally reached that point, I was well past the point of no return and wanted so badly for it to end. I'd been bored to death, had all the energy sucked out of me, and then, we get thrown into this bizarre costume party, where you have bizarre characters like a woman whose costume is a face on her torso (the eyes, which are on her boobs, light up), a woman with what looks like a birdcage on her head, a guy dressed up as a jester with blue face-paint (Boyd Banks, who's had roles in Jason X and the remake of Dawn of the Dead; another future Jason X actor, Peter Mensah, is also present as a skinhead), Miles dressed up in a red, Latino lothario-type of shirt and, fittingly, with a devil horn sticking out of one side of his forehead, a woman who's practically naked, the winning model for Bruiser dressed up as a geisha (she's not happy when she overhears Miles planning to replace her as the September cover model), and a bunch of people being lowered down from the ceiling in harnesses while dressed in leather, all while the band, The Misfits, plays on the stage. It is one weird as hell scene, one where Henry walking around in his Phantom of the Opera costume wouldn't draw much attention, and I wish I could find more images of this scene so you could see the lunacy. While it's the setting for the climax, involving not only Henry's final revenge on Miles but his being chased around and shot at by Detective McCleary and his partner, Rakowski (Jonathan Higgins), like I said, I didn't give a crap and was wishing that this endurance of a movie would wrap up already.

The music score by Donald Rubinstein (brother of distributor Richard Rubinstein and who's worked with George Romero before on Martin, Knightriders, and Tales from the Darkside, both the show and the movie) is just as melancholic and downbeat as the movie it accompanies, often sounding like a bluesy jazz whenever it accentuates Henry's pitiable situation. Honestly, though, that's all I can say about it, as the music has no memorable themes and all of the pieces run together for me. There are also a number of songs on the soundtrack, including some by the Misfits, whose music video for their song, Scream, was directed by Romero in exchange for them appearing in the film. Like the score, the songs that they sing during the climactic party scene run together to me and I can't tell one from another, although that said, I don't think they sounded all that bad, especially whichever one is playing when Miles gets his. Otherwise, save for a shitty cover of Take On Me by Wohlstandskinder that plays during the first part of the ending credits, I can't tell you much about any of the other songs on the soundtrack, which play during the pool party, when Miles and Janine have sex in the Bruiser conference room (it's a generic, salsa-like number), and at his and Rosie's house after Janine's death (I swear, I heard something there that sounded like a cover of Stevie Wonder's Superstition).

I'm not going to lie, guys, this wasn't an easy review to write. Not only is Bruiser an unpleasant, boring, vulgar (did you see how many times I wrote the word "fuck" while quoting it, especially Miles?), and pretentious movie, it's also so forgettable that I had to put the DVD in my computer's built-in Blu-Ray player so I could make sure I got a lot of the plot and character points right. Even then, I'm still not sure if I got everything (I thought Miles' name was "Milos" but it's written as "Miles" according to sources like Wikipedia and IMDB) and if I didn't, I apologize. This movie just drains me. Other than the character of Henry, the look of his mask and blank face, a couple of the supporting characters, and some occasional nice-looking bits of cinematography, there's not much about it I like. Most of the characters are loathsome, it has an unpleasant, murky look to it most of the time, it's so vulgar and sleazy at times that it makes me roll my eyes, the music and songs are forgettable, and, above everything else, it's so heavy-handed and pretentious in what it's trying to say. Maybe it's meant to be allegorical but it's still too much and makes it even more of a chore to sit through. Since I haven't seen all of Romero's movies, I can't rightfully say that this is his absolute worst, as I've heard There's Always Vanilla and Survival of the Dead are much worse, but this is still a major low-point in my opinion. Given his cult status, I'm sure there are fans of this movie out there who get more from it than I do and they're welcome to it. For me, all I can say in conclusion is what a way for Romero to return to directing after almost a decade.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Monsters (2010)

There are a lot of movies that I've checked out solely because they were the works of directors who I greatly admire (and I've ended up enjoying most of them) but the case with this item is a bit different: I did check it out because of its director, Gareth Edwards, but it was so I could get an idea of his directing style and what to expect from a big movie he was directing that I was eagerly waiting for. If you've been following this blog for a long time, you'd know that I'm a huge fan of Godzilla, to the point where I devoted the better part of a year reviewing all of the movies in that franchise, said year being 2014 to commemorate the release of the Legendary Pictures film. I couldn't tell you how much I was anticipating that film's release and, at the same time, I was curious of its young, newcomer director who'd only done one other film before, one that I'd never even heard of until he was announced as the director of Godzilla. So, when I stumbled across a used copy of the Blu-Ray for Monsters after Christmas of 2013, I saw it as a nice opportunity to get a handle on the guy. I wasn't quite sure what to expect with it. I'd heard something of the plot beforehand but no specifics and I thought the title was as generic as you could get. Ultimately, I figured that it would probably be a monster movie that wouldn't be exactly original but would be stylish and entertaining regardless, akin to something like Neil Marshall's Dog Soldiers (not the best example, since I'm not that big a fan of that movie, but it's the closest thing I could use to describe my mindset). I couldn't have imagined that I would instead get a leisurely-paced, quiet road movie centering around two characters, with the monsters themselves and the havoc they cause being little more than a backdrop for the story. It felt like a science fiction version of The Motorcycle Diaries in that regard! I came out of the movie feeling very polarized. I thought it was well-shot, especially for the tiny budget I knew it had, and the special effects were pretty good, but I also found the movie very hard to sit through, as I really didn't care for the two characters I was following for the duration or their story and I especially didn't like the lack of scenes with the monsters or the teasing of an appearance by one, only for nothing to happen (which would become something of a trademark from Edwards, as I would soon learn). It's ultimately a movie I'm very mixed about it. After a couple of re-watches, now knowing what I was getting into, I could appreciate it much more and understand what Edwards was trying to accomplish, which is quite amazing given the very limited resources he had, and it does have more of an effect on me now, but it's still not the most emotionally-rewarding thing I've ever seen.

Six years ago, a NASA space probe sent to investigate the possibility of extraterrestrial life crashed in the heart of Mexico, apparently occupied by alien life-forms that have spread like wildfire across the northern region of the country. This area, known as the "Infected Zone," has been completely quarantined, with an enormous wall built across the U.S.-Mexico border to keep the creatures, gigantic, squid-like beasts with numerous legs like spiders, from reaching America, while U.S. and Mexican troops continuously fight to keep them contained. Photojournalist Andrew Kaulder is sent to a devastated Mexican city to find his employer's daughter, Samantha Wynden, which he does in a hospital, nursing an injured arm. However, when Kaulder calls back home, he's tasked with escorting Samantha back to the U.S., much to his chagrin. It also soon becomes clear that the journey will not be an easy one, as the train they initially take is forced to stop because of damaged tracks up ahead and they learn that if they don't make it back within two days, all means of travel to America will be completely blocked. Upon reaching the coast, Kaulder buys Samantha a very expensive ferry ticket for the following morning but this plan goes south when, the next morning, a local woman whom Kaulder spent the night with steals their passports. With the ferry gone, the two of them now have no choice but to journey through the Infected Zone, a dangerous trip that the ticket seller arranges for them after Samantha gives him her expensive engagement ring as payment. As they travel through the zone by boat and by land, aided by various men, the two of them witness and experience the destruction and fear caused by the creatures and the military attacks on them but also see something of a beauty in them, and when they finally reach the wall, they realize that both they and the world they knew will never be the same.

Just as his movies, Gareth Edwards is himself something of a very polarizing figure, with some people finding him to be a unique genius and others feeling he's a hack. I can't deny the fact that he is a talented guy in the visuals department, as his films always look great, and you also have to admire his determination to make this type of movie for only $500,000 (if that, according to some sources), to write and direct it in the very unusual way in which he did (literally taking it on the road), and also acting both as cinematographer and visual effects artist (the latter of which he'd done before on television shows, movies, and documentaries). When it comes to telling a well-paced story with interesting characters, however, Edwards is more than a little weak and seems determined to screw with people's expectations in a way that's kind of annoying, particularly in Godzilla where he continually cuts away from the monster action to focus on people I don't care about. I guess I could say that, as a story, Monsters works better than Godzilla because of how unique it is and how there are no lofty expectations that come with it since it's something Edwards himself conceived, but it still has those same problems. I do, however, think Edwards improved substantially with Rogue One, as that story and the majority of those characters kept me interested throughout and I really enjoyed the climactic battle, making it his best film in my eyes.

Edwards has said that his biggest goal was to have a film where really good special effects punctuated an already engaging story with characters you genuinely care about but for me, the biggest problem with Monsters is the two lead characters. However, the reason why I'm not invested with them is not for the typical reasons like bad acting, lack of development, or the characters just being plain unlikable, as none of them apply. In fact, I'm not sure what it is other than both of them just feel kind of... there. You certainly get to know them over the course of the movie and they're definitely not unlikable, even though they have their faults, but nothing about them really grabs me. Again, I can't say that it's a case of bad acting either, as neither of them are awful, but at the same time, they're not awe-inspiring. Edwards wanted the two of them to feel as real as possible, right down to the fact that he hired a real-life couple (Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able) and, rather than write dialogue for them, gave them only key plot-points to work with and an idea of what needed to be conveyed in a given scene, so that their interactions would feel more genuine, but sometimes, real just isn't interesting and I think that's the issue here. Maybe they are acting and reacting the way people would if this were truly happening and while that can work, here it feels like the end result is your following around two people who don't have much personality to them. I didn't spend the movie wishing they would die but, at the same time, I wouldn't have cared if they did either, to the point where their developing relationship and the revelation of the meaning of the film's random opening didn't have much impact on me.

Both of the actors do have a lot to work with. McNairy portrays Andrew Kaulder as a rather jaded photojournalist who's in Mexico in order to photograph the creatures and the havoc that they cause, particularly keen on getting a photograph a live one, which pays a lot of money, and is none too happy when he has to act as chaperone for Samantha and get her back to the United States. He's especially unhappy about being threatened with losing his job if he doesn't do it and is quite impatient with Samantha at first, although he slowly grows to like her as the story progresses. After she misses the ferry when he discovers too late that the woman he spent the night with stole their passports, Kaulder, at first, tries to get another ticket just for her, but when it's made clear that she'll have to go through the Infected Zone in order to reach America, having to sell her engagement ring to pay for passage, he decides to go with her all the way. As they travel, Samantha learns several things about Kaulder. When she asks him if it bothers him that, in order for him to benefit, something bad has to happen to someone, his initial response is, "You mean, like a doctor?" and then clarifies that pictures of death and destruction get more money from his boss, and her father, than anything happy. He says he doesn't cause the grief, he just documents it, hinting that it's not a job he's completely satisfied with but he has to make a living, to the point where he continues taking pictures even when they're in potential danger. More significantly, she learns that Kaulder has a kid from a past relationship, one who's allowed to talk to and visit but not tell the truth about who his father is, as she's now married. As much as it hurts him, Kaulder goes along with it so as not to cause the kid any confusion and he's clearly the one thing he cares about, as he tries to call him whenever he gets a chance, especially since he's not going to make it home in time for his birthday. The scene at the end where Kaulder finally gets to talk to his son over the phone and begins to cry, both from missing his birthday and not being able to tell him the truth, is the one point where I think the acting goes from just being good to quite affecting, although it still doesn't have too much of an impact on me.

Whitney Able also plays Samantha "Sam" Wynden with a lot of baggage, although the details of it are left ambiguous. You never learn why she was in Mexico at the time of the monster attack (Kaulder asks her but never gets an answer) and while you do learn that she has an engagement that she doesn't seem too thrilled about, you never why or if it had anything to do with her being in the wrong place at the wrong time. She never lets on that her fiancĂ© is a bad guy or abusive or only interested for her because she comes from a wealthy family, and, in fact, when she calls him after they reach the abandoned gas station upon crossing the border, her responses to his questions hint at a caring guy who even offered to come by and get her, so you can only guess why she feels the way she does. I personally think that it has something to do with her father, whom she calls before they board the train at the beginning of the movie, as judging from his voice, he does come across as a bit overbearing and patronizing, particularly when he demands to speak to Kaulder even though she tries to make him understand that they need to board the train. I'd bet money that he's probably pushing her into this marriage. One thing that is clear about Sam is that she's much more sensitive to the death and suffering that they see than Kaulder is and often shows much sympathy for the people they come across, especially children. And like Kaulder, by the time the two of them finally make it through the Infected Zone and reach the border, she's a much different person than she was when the journey started and doesn't want to leave him and go home, although they're forced to when the military picks them up at the end. Their ultimate fates are left ambiguous, as you don't know if they were killed in the ambush and resulting battle seen at the beginning or managed to escape the blast of the missile fired at the creature that attacked them.

Aside from the two leads, all of the other people in the film are real people rather than actors and ended up on camera simply because they happened to be there when Gareth Edwards and company arrived (the armed men who escort Kaulder and Sam through the interiors of the Infected Zone were actually the filmmakers' personal bodyguards). As a result, and because they're onscreen so briefly, there's not much point in talking about all of them, save for one exception: the ferry ticket seller (Mario Zuniga Benavides). This guy was working in the diner at the spot where Edwards decided to shoot and turned out to be one of the best actors in the film, as he plays the character as a real fast-talker who drives a hard bargain and doesn't feel all that trustworthy given the ridiculous price he asks for a ticket. And the next day, he's not exactly sympathetic to Kaulder and Sam's problem, telling Kaulder a couple of times, "It's not my problem," and that he'll need twice the amount money to arrange such a dangerous trip through the Infected Zone, which is why Sam is forced to give up her engagement ring.

More than the movie itself, what I find most interesting about Monsters is the very guerilla-style way in which it was filmed, which is so unheard for this type of movie in today's age. Basically, working from just an outline, all Gareth Edwards and his crew did was drive around Central America and if they found people and places that they thought would fit well into the story, they shot it, often without any official permission. Filming at real locations without permission is not unheard of but it's the idea of a movie that features a number of special effects being shot almost entirely like this, on the fly, that really blows my mind. It was also shot entirely on digital cameras rather than 35mm and even edited on a laptop, making it sound more like a very good-looking student film than something meant to be shown in theaters. And that's something else: despite the tiny budget and guerilla-style shooting, the movie looks pretty damn good. It has a much grittier feel to it than Edwards' later, infinitely more big-budget movies, but this is no slouch in the visual department either, thanks to the digital cameras and the amazing locations. I've always loved the way Central America looks, with all of those rainforests and rivers running through it, and this film makes them look both mysterious and beautiful, especially in the moments shot at dusk. Ironically, the sequences in the Infected Zone look more appealing than those shot in the actual towns and cities of Mexico, which look grimy, sleazy, and dirty, as is sadly the case in reality. Look at that motel Kaulder and Sam stay in the second night, for instance. It really looks like one of those places you'd want to avoid staying in unless you had no choice at all. But what's most affecting is the memorial that they come across for the people who've been killed by the monsters and the bombings, which was a real thing that they filmed and later tweaked with effects to make it serve the story. That's about as real as you can get.

In wanting to create the "most realistic monster movie ever" and make it as far removed from a Hollywood blockbuster as he could, Edwards said that one of his goals was to create a world where the existence of monsters has become an accepted part of life that people don't really pay attention to anymore. His analogy was, "If Cloverfield was 9/11, then our movie is the War on Terror." Six years after the alien creatures first started popping up, their existence has now become an accepted part of the world and life is simply going on as it was before they first appeared, just as it did in real life after the shock of the terrorist attacks slowly went away. For Edwards, the scene that best quantified this is when Kaulder and Sam arrive at the motel, turn on the TV in Sam's room to news footage of the military battling one of the monsters, and they don't even pay attention to it because they've seen it all before, engaging instead in simple small-talk. You also see old billboards portraying the monsters and showing the reach of the Infected Zone, as well as an animated public service announcement showing kids what to do in case of an attack, showing how much this situation has become a part of everyday life, as is the sight of dead monsters lying atop the ruins of demolished buildings. The film also addresses the notion of how the people of southern Mexico live with the ever-present threat of monster attacks, exemplified by the moment early on when Sam asks a taxi driver why they don't just move away and he answers to the effect of, "Where would we go? My family is here, our life is here?" Edwards likened it to hurricanes and how people don't move away from where they live because of the threat they pose; they just go about their daily lives and during certain times of the year, they have to prepare to batten down the hatches, which is the case here due to the monsters' yearly migrations. Undoubtedly an interesting concept for a monster movie, one that lives up to the tagline, "Now, it's our turn to adapt."

In another attempt to make the movie as atypical as possible, Edwards decided not only to keep the monsters themselves off-camera for most of the film but to also stray away from the characters getting caught up in the ongoing battles with them except for a few notable moments. He said imagine that the real action is going on over the nearby ridge, while the characters you're following would obviously want to do everything to avoid it and instead go around, only blundering into it those few times when they're forced to go through the Infected Zone. The biggest example of this idea of more going on just out of sight is when they hear the monsters' wail in the distance a couple of times during their journey but manage to slip away before anything happens. The first time I watched Monsters, those moments really annoyed me and I felt like I was being repeatedly teased with no payoff, but now that I understand what Edwards was going for, I can appreciate it more, as I can the idea of the characters arriving at a scene of carnage and destruction either too soon or, more often, too late, as is the case in real-life. He once said that he finds the aftermath of something destructive more affecting than seeing it happen, which is why you have so many sequences of cities and towns that have gone through complete hell, with dead monsters lying here and there, most notably with that town they find when they cross the border that looks as if it's been bombed (which it might have been, considering how the movie starts). In retrospect, I do find that to be an interesting direction to go with in a monster movie... I just wish he hadn't continued to go with it with Godzilla, which I do find to be a tease most of the time, but that's a story for another day.

Maybe it's just me but, when I first saw the movie, I thought the designs of the creatures themselves were just kind of, "eh." They certainly look good, thanks to the special effects courtesy of Edwards himself, but to me, it feels like ever since Cloverfield, giant monsters in movies have continuously been conceived as insect-like in some way, usually in regards to having long, spindly legs, with other examples being the creature in Super 8 or even the MUTOs in Godzilla later on. Upon repeated viewings, though, they've grown on me a little bit, as I think they are interesting-looking creatures, feeling like a combination of several different types of animals. Their heads are shaped like that of an octopus, their tentacles are akin to those of a squid, and they have long legs like spiders, as well as bio-luminescence akin to deep-sea creatures, which makes them look surprisingly beautiful during the final scene at the gas station. They also appear to be attracted to lights or anything electrical, as seen during that scene when the one creature sticks its tentacles into the station towards the TV inside. Like the Aliens, you also get a sense of their biology and life-cycles, learning that the name, "Infected Zone," refers to how they lay their eggs in the trees (there's a shot that suggest that they either develop inside mushrooms on the sides of the trees or the eggs simply look like mushrooms) and, once they hatch, they make their way into the rivers and ocean, where they grow. The destruction they wreak tend to be due to their yearly migrations, which take them through populated areas, and while they're definitely very aggressive and willing and able to defend themselves if threatened, one of Kaulder and Sam's guides through the Infected Zone says that if you don't bother them, they won't hurt you, and it's often the military's bombing of them that leads to the attacks.

Like a lot of monster movies, this film tries to make the case that the titular creatures aren't really bloodthirsty, evil demons but just animals doing what they do. You do see how frightening and dangerous they are, with the death and destruction they cause and the way they're initially filmed, be it in the night-vision shots of the military battling them that open the movie and are seen on the news or from Kaulder and Sam's viewpoint during the scene in the van as one of the creatures kills their guides and everyone else, which is followed up by Kaulder finding their mangled bodies the next morning (we don't get a good look but Kaulder's expressions and what little we do see are enough). The implication during the final scenes that they've managed to make it across the border and into the U.S. is also an unsettling one, punctuated by the devastated town that they find. But, just when you think that these things truly are nothing more than monsters, you have the final scene, where two of them come together right behind the gas station and gently mate. There's a reason why this scene is talked about so often, as it's definitely the best one in the whole film. It would actually make for an amazing short for its atmospheric beauty, as everything from the effects, the location, the creatures' bioluminescent glowing and the sounds they make, the lightning flashing in the distance, and the music is just perfect. I also like when the creatures finish and go their separate ways and you can still see them glowing in the dark as they move off into the distance. For me, that one simple scene got across the idea that these things are just animals at the end of the day and that there is a gentleness and beauty to them, in spite of the havoc they cause and are now likely to cause in the U.S. since they're now reproducing on the other side of the border. You also have their vocalizations, which are often loud, unearthly wails and roars but can also sound very sweet and even loving, such as the mating calls those two at the end make (something else that these creatures share with the male and female MUTOs in Edwards' Godzilla). Ultimately, which ever party are the "monsters" that the title refers to is left ambiguous, as this is not a film that paints mankind as a killer of nature (despite the gun-ho nature of the soldiers who pick up Kaulder and Sam) but rather as trying to defend itself while, at the same time, showing that the creatures are not evil and, in fact, that their presence has made the Infected Zone a rather lush, healthy ecosystem. In short, there are no heroes and villains here; just two species trying to survive.

Another thing that astonishes me about Gareth Edwards, besides his unusual approach to shooting the film, is the idea that he created all of the digital effects himself, in his apartment, on his home computer, and it's even more mind-blowing that they turned out good as they did. The obvious things to point to are the creatures which, even though you know they are CGI, look just as good as any digitally-created monsters you'd see in a mega-budget, Hollywood blockbuster (Edwards spent a long time on them and it shows). Even more astonishing are the visual effects that are so good, you don't even know that they are effects, which is everything that wasn't there on location when they shot the film, be they tanks, fighter jets, crashed vehicles, the big wall separating Mexico from the U.S., and all of the signs and text that correlate to the film's story. They're right in front of you, often not too far away from the camera, but they're so well-done and because they're things you see in everyday life, you would never guess that they were created inside of a computer, and that is where Edwards' talents lie. I really wish I could do the stuff he does on the laptop I'm using to type this! I know he used everyday effects software that you could buy in a store and he credits it to the advancements of digital technology since the 2000's but there is something to how he himself used it, because I rarely see it used as effectively as this.

Inevitably, somebody is going to point to a parallel between the film and the Mexico-America border situation given the main backdrop of the story, as well as the plot of Kaulder and Samantha having to pay for passage to the border, where they'll meet up with Mexican families desperate to make it over there too, but Edwards has always insisted that was the furthest thing from his mind when he came up with the story. I'm not one of these people who actively tries to see things in films and TV that aren't there, especially politics (mainly because I'm not that interested in them), so I can buy the idea that the parallel was just a big coincidence and Edwards simply decided to set the story in an exotic location like Mexico (if he really did have a political agenda in mind, he apparently was much more subtle about it than I hear Robert Rodriguez was in Machete, which came out the same year), but it is interesting to note the feeling of oppression that's befallen the Mexican people not just from the monsters but also from the military attacks against them, with those animated public service announcements about what to do in case of such a scenario, the ready availability of gas masks, and some anti-bombing graffiti seen here and there. I've heard some people interpret the notion of the characters' eagerness to make it out, in particular Kaulder's line to Samantha early on that she'll soon be back home and will be able to forget about it all, as being an implication that what's going in Mexico happens to "other people," in someplace "other than America." There could be something to that, as well as how surprised the two of them are when they learn of the chemical weapons used against the monsters, which is a well-known, constant threat in Mexico, could be seen as a subtle hint that most people in America are unaware of what's really going on down south and that the American government is determined to keep it Mexico's problem. Again, though, I'm not say that's absolutely what the movie is trying to say; I'm only saying that you could see that if you wished to, and since Edwards is one of those filmmakers who feels it's best to leave some things up to the audience, then why not?

One other aspect of Monsters that I have no problems with at all is the sparingly-used music score by Jon Hopkins, a very subtle, airy work that fits well with the low-key, quiet nature of the film it's set to. My favorite is the main theme, which you hear over the ending credits and is a very beautiful, emotional piece that, while certainly fast and impressionable, never becomes too loud or overbearing and, as I feel all pieces played over ending credits should do, leaves you reflecting on what you've just seen. After the sweeping beginning, it segues into a very soft, sad-sounding piano piece accompanied by ethereal background sounds that becomes very, very quiet near the end, finishing on an eerie, humming sort of sound before finishing. Iterations of the two halves of this main theme are heard throughout the film, notable examples being a more synthesized, plucking version of the first half when they see the candle-filled memorials and the use of the latter half when they're talking around the campfire, and most of the rest of the music is done in this same subtle, emotional manner. You have a very otherworldly, wondrous bit that plays when Kaulder and Sam are shown the spores in the trees and a mysterious piece that has a sort-of vocalizing but not quite sound to it that leads into a softly reverberating sound when they come across the old temple that's been overtaken by the rainforest near the end. Only the music that's frightening and suspenseful is a threatening bit that you hear the convoy Kaulder and Sam end up in is attacked by a monster and when the one appears over the gas station that Sam is in at the end and sticks its tentacles inside and even that leads into a very pretty, haunting piece when the other one appears and the two of them mate.

Monsters is definitely an interesting film, albeit one that I don't think is completely flawless. It does have a lot of things going for it, such as well-done cinematography and good use of locations for such a low-budget, very impressive visual and creature effects that are even more so when you know that they were all done by the director in his apartment, a unique way of presenting the monsters themselves and the world they exist in, and a beautiful, ethereal music score, as well as the guerilla, on-the-fly way in which it was conceived and shot. Unfortunately, it fails in delivering on Gareth Edwards' biggest hope, which is two lead characters that I really care about. I don't hate the two leads at all, and they're certainly not bad actors, but, at the same time, they felt very unremarkable and I ultimately didn't care if they lived or died. And while his goal to create the most realistic monster movie was an interesting and admirable one, certain aspects of this film I feel prove that "real" isn't always interesting. When it comes to recommending the movie, I do only to people who know that what they're getting is not a movie where you'll see monsters smashing things and ripping people apart left and right but rather, a subdued, dramatic road movie with a science fiction backdrop. If you're up for that, then I'd say check it out, because it does have a lot of things to recommend it (save for two, well-rounded leads, in my opinion); if not, you may want to steer clear because it could easily come across as boring.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

127 Hours (2010)

I first became aware of this film when I saw a preview for its home video release on either a DVD or Blu-Ray (I can't remember at all what movie it was) and, initially, I thought it might have been a direct-to-video release or, at the most, a theatrical movie that nobody had heard of and had slipped quietly in and out of theaters. Boy, would I learn I was wrong about that but, regardless, I was intrigued by the story and setting, and my interest was especially piqued when I heard somebody who normally isn't a big fan of James Franco give it some of the highest praise imaginable. It didn't take much longer for me to decide that I would eventually seek this movie out, ultimately picking up the Blu-Ray for very cheap at Best Buy in the summer of 2015, mainly because I wanted to watch some things that were very definitely summertime-oriented and this, with its desert canyon setting, seemed to fit the bill; the fact that I was also apparently getting an inspiring, well-made story was just icing on the cake. It wasn't until I picked up that Blu-Ray that I learned that the movie was directed by Danny Boyle and also that it was an absolute critical darling, with a quote from the New York Times' glowing review prominent on the front cover and Roger Ebert's perfect four-star rating on the back. However, critical praise means little to me, as I've long since learned to save judgement for something until I see it for myself and also because I've been burned before by movies that were very acclaimed. Case in point: once I finally did get around to watching 127 Hours, I came out of it feeling rather underwhelmed, unaffected, and surprisingly emotionless. I was mainly taken aback and thrown by how overly-stylized the film was, which I often found confusing and distracting, which resulted in my not caring that much about the main character's plight and struggle for survival. But, most shocking of all to me, Franco's performance, which has been praised to high-heaven, didn't get me swept up in the story at all... and with that, I'm sure that I'm going to get some flack and told that I don't have a heart or a soul or what have you. Trust me, I'm not going to sit here and say it's a bad movie, because it's not. It's very well-made and stunning on a technical and visual level but, story-wise, every time I've watched it, I've been left with a feeling that I can only describe as, "Whatever," which I wish was not the case.

Aron Ralston's biggest passion is the outdoors and, on a Friday night in April of 2003, he heads out to a campsite near Utah's Canyonlands National Park to prepare for a lot of biking, hiking, and mountaineering the next day. After biking for nearly 20 miles, Aron heads out on foot, soon coming across hikers Kristi and Megan, who believe that they're off-track from where they plan to go and Aron points them in the right direction, leading them to an underground pool along the way. The three spend some time swimming and dropping down into the pool repeatedly before parting ways, with the two of them inviting him to a party the following night. Aron makes his way to Blue John Canyon and attempts to climb down into a small slot canyon, only to slip and fall to the bottom, knocking loose a large boulder that smashes and pins his right hand against the canyon wall, leaving him stuck. Unable to pry the rock off, Aron soon realizes that he's completely alone and isolated, with very little food and water, and, worst of all, he told no one where he was going. As the days pass, he continues to try to free himself, with no luck, and begins recording a video diary to try to keep his morale up, telling himself not to lose it. However, as his condition and exposure to the elements worsen and his food and water run low, he begins to both hallucinate and remember notable moments in his life, both good and bad, ultimately coming to the conclusion that his arrogance and disregard towards the people in his life, including an old girlfriend and his family, led him to where he is now. Now, it's just a question of whether Aron will simply accept his impending death or find a new will to survive.

Danny Boyle is a director whose work I'm not that up on. I know of a lot of his movies, like Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, The Beach, and especially Slumdog Millionaire due to all of the hype and accolades it got around the time of its release (although, nowadays it seems like one of those movies that's been forgotten), but the only other ones that I've seen are A Life Less Ordinary and 28 Days Later. I actually saw the former on the ride back from a retreat in my junior year of high school and, from what I remember as I've seen it briefly on cable since then, I thought it was interesting, albeit not something I'd watch all the time (funnily enough, it's considered one of Boyle's few misfires). As for 28 Days Later, I didn't really care for it the first time I saw it but, upon subsequent viewings, I've grown to think it's a pretty fair horror movie. I wouldn't put it in my top favorites list or anything but I think it's okay. Looking at his filmography, it's obvious that he's one of those filmmakers who really likes to experiment with the visual flair of a movie, especially in the effects and editing, and there are directors who do that who I'm personally quite fond of. However, from what I've seen of Boyle's work, while I do find the stuff he does interesting, it doesn't inspire me to seek out his other films and it comes across to me as kind of artsy for the sake of it (as we'll get into, one of my problems with this film is that I think he really went overboard with it, which I don't think was needed for this story). It also doesn't help that the subject matter of his movies is often stuff I don't care about but that's beside the point. I definitely don't mean any personal disrespect for the guy, as I love the passion and zeal for his work that he displays when he's directing in behind-the-scenes footage (he's like Martin Scorsese in how he really gets into what his actors are doing), but his work and style doesn't really excite me.

Obviously in a movie like this, the lead role is what's most important, as he or she is literally the one who holds the entire weight of the story on their shoulders (or their hand, in this case), and I'd be lying if I said James Franco's performance as Aron Ralston sucked because it definitely doesn't. It had to have been a very taxing role not only physically but acting-wise as well, because he has quite an arc to play here. We see him start as a reckless, perhaps even a bit arrogant, but charismatic free-spirit who loves the outdoors, so much so that he neglects a message left on his answering machine by his sister in order to get going to Canyonlands National Park, and looks most comfortable when he's biking and hiking across the desert and canyons. Even a fairly nasty crash on his bike early on doesn't dampen his spirit, and when he comes across two young women who are lost, he not only good-naturedly points them in the right direction but shows them an underground pool where they can have and cool off for a bit. Despite the bond the three of them seem to form, it's obvious even at this early stage that Aron probably wouldn't have shown up at the party they invited him to because of how carefree and independent-minded he is, whooping excitedly as he heads on down his own path after they go their separate ways. However, when things take a dramatic turn after that boulder traps him at the bottom of the slot canyon, you see the change in Aron's attitude immediately. Naturally, he starts out in a panic, trying desperately to free himself, and when that doesn't work, he attempts to call for help, only to realize that there's no one within miles. He's completely alone. Once that's dawned on him, he calmly empties his backpack out to see what he's got in there that could help, wisely rationing his water and whatever food he has, and attempting to chip away the rock with his pocketknife in order to get enough room to free his hand. As time passes, he begins making a video diary with his camera, both to keep his morale up as well as to leave something behind for his loved ones in case he doesn't make it. Trying to keep his cool, reminding himself not to lose it when he becomes frantic at one point when he thinks there's somebody up there, he makes other attempts to free himself with a makeshift pulley and again tries to chip away at the rock, only to theorize that he's actually causing it to settle more, while continuing to ration his supplies.

As his situation becomes more and more dire, Aron's morale slowly but surely begins to fade, and as his physical condition worsens from the weight of the rock and ongoing exposure to the elements, he begins to have a number of strange dreams and hallucinations, which are intertwined with a process of deep introspection he begins to go through. He thinks back on various moments in his life and realizes the mistakes he's made, mainly how he's neglected his family and friends, determined to do everything on his own because of his ego and selfishness, and how it cost him his relationship with Rana, a young woman who seemed to truly love him. In his memory, she tells him that he's going to end up alone... and she was exactly right. This leads Aron to come to the conclusion that everything he's ever done, all of the bad choices he's made, have led him to this point, saying, "I chose this." Resigned to this revelation, he basically gives up and waits to die, apologizing to those who he'll never see or hear from again thanks to his reckless selfishness. But then, in his fragile mental state and physical condition, he sees a hallucination of himself playing with a little boy... the son he'll have if he manages to free himself. This gives him the incentive to keep going, create a tourniquet around his right arm, and use his pocketknife to sever everything else that's been rendered useless by days without circulation. Finally free, he's able to make his way out into the desert, where he comes across a family of hikers who alert the authorities to what's happened, leading to Aron being airlifted to the hospital.

After all of that, you're no doubt going to say, "I thought you said you ended up not caring about the main character's plight and that Franco's performance didn't do anything for you." Well, it's weird. When I think about it in retrospect, like right now, I can really look into and appreciate all these nuances in his performance and characterization but, when actually watching the movie, even though I can see them there as well, they don't do much for me. I think a big reason for that is, again, how off-putting I find Danny Boyle's overly-done direction and editing to be (in other words, it's so "in your face" that it distracts me from enjoying the real meat of the film) but another reason is Franco himself. You ever have one of those actors who, no matter how truly good some of their individual performances are, you just can't get into them? That's how it is with Franco for me (Tom Cruise is another example, in case you're wondering). I don't mind him as Harry Osborn in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man movies, mind you, but he's never been an actor who I find to be that appealing and someone I want to watch. He has charisma, yes, especially at the beginning of the movie and when he meets the girls, but something about him has always felt... off to me. Maybe it's that cheesy, stoner-like smile he often has or the fact that he is apparently a bit of an oddball (like I'm one to talk) but, whatever it is, as much as I can appreciate his really dramatic moments, character insight, and the sense of desperation he gives off when things quickly go south in the film, it's not enough for me to really root for him to make it. I don't hope that he dies, mind you, but I'm mainly just sitting there, watching him emote without much emotional investment. I'm probably not making any sense and sound very contradictory but, in the end, Franco is both a big strength for the film and a weakness for my personal enjoyment of it. I will say, though, I think he was a better choice for the role than Cillian Murphy, who Boyle originally wanted. I like that guy as an actor but he's so unintentionally creepy and menacing that I think it would have been far more detrimental for the movie if he'd been Aron Ralston.

This is such a one-man show for James Franco that all of the other characters are pretty much superfluous, save for how Aron feels about them and how their significance in his life impacts his state-of-mind. Really, they're only worth mentioning in passing. The two who get the most screentime outside of Aron are Kristi (Kate Mara) and Megan (Amber Tamblyn), who Aron comes across in the desert before his trek goes south but they really only serve to show how free-spirited and good-natured Aron is when he points them in the right direction and has some fun with them before heading on his merry way, probably not giving them a second thought until he gets stuck. One of them, however, does seem to have an interest in him... or maybe they both did. It was kind of hard to tell since their personalities aren't developed that much. Really, there are only two other characters who have a major impact on the story: Rana (Clemence Poesy), Aron's former girlfriend, who seemed to have genuine affection for him but was ultimately driven away by his distant, isolating attitude, warning him that he was going to end up alone someday, and the vision of his future son (P.J. Hull), which is what motivates him to do whatever it takes to survive. After them, you have his sister, Sonja (Lizzy Caplan in the present and Bailee Michele Morgan in the flashback where she's ten), his mother (Kate Burton), and his father (Treat Williams), all of whom he's been neglecting and ignoring and recent years, an act he comes to seriously regret when it begins to look like he's not going to make it. The most prominent appearance in the film, though, is of the real Aron Ralston, his wife, Jessica, and their infant son, who the fictional Aron sees a vision of at the very end after surfacing from a swimming pool. I always thought that was an interesting and clever touch, especially since it goes along with the caption that informs the viewer that Aron's vision of his future son ended up coming true (those are also the real man's friends and family standing around the couch beforehand).

By far, one of the biggest strengths of 127 Hours is in its look. This is a very gorgeous-looking movie, with excellent cinematography by Enrique Chediak and Anthony Dod Mantle, and it really comes to life in high-definition. Like I said at the beginning, one of the reasons why I wanted to check the film out was the setting. Besides being in that hot-weather frame of mind at the time, I've always liked the desert as a cinematic environment period and I think the filmmakers did a really good job in making it come to life here. The film's opening is full of breathtaking beauty shots of the Utah landscape, with its long stretches of vast desert and rocky mountains and canyons in the distance, which prove to be just as lovely when we see them up close as they are in the distance. We also get to see how incredible the place looks at different points during the day, with one of my favorite moments in the film being when Aron thinks back to when he was a little kid and his father took him out to a cliff so they could watch the sunrise illuminate the landscape. That no doubt had to be the start of his love of the outdoors and you can't really blame him, as it's a beautiful sight, like something you'd see in an issue of National Geographic. Another moment that I like is when, after his first night of being Aron, sees the sun gradually illuminate the slot canyon, starting at the end across from him and then proceeding to come right towards him. I think my favorite location altogether, though, is the underground pool that Aron leads Kristi and Megan to. I'm sure that was actually a set, especially since the real Aron Ralston says that this part of the story is fictional, but it's lit so well and looks so beautiful, with the water being pure blue, that I don't really care. It also doesn't hurt that I love hidden spots like that anyway, as I feel that they give a kind of mystery and wonder to everyday life.

You really have to admire any filmmaker who takes up the challenge of setting the majority of their movie inside one small, claustrophobic setting because it must be really challenging to keep it from becoming boring since the viewer is going to be looking at the same thing for a very long time and also because it's undoubtedly very challenging and taxing for the actor, as it was for James Franco here, who found the filming to be very exhausting and even physically painful. I think Danny Boyle rose to the challenge quite well and managed to successfully pull it off, which is what I meant when I said I can't fault the film's technical achievements (for the most part, anyway) as it's very well-made. You're basically stuck in this cramped, uncomfortable little quarry with Aron Ralston, with very few angles aside from the camera often being right up in his face, especially when he's recording his video diaries, but Boyle's direction, which lets you see how the place looks at different times of day (midday, afternoon, night, and even during a rainstorm that floods the place), and Franco's performance do manage to keep it from becoming monotonous and allow you to focus on the drama at hand... that is, until Boyle's overzealous visual style gets in the way yet again.

That's not a mistake on my part. That's how this moment
looks in the film.
Alright, let's stop beating around the bush and get into that aspect of the movie. There are a number of movies that are very stylized that I do enjoy (I like Ang Lee's Hulk, for crying out loud) and I'm well aware that this is one of Danny Boyle's trademarks. It's something you come expect in his films and, let's face it, he's pretty good at it. For a guy who was almost 40 when he broke into the feature world, he's managed to sustain an energy in his movies that would make you think there was a much younger man behind them. But, I feel there are instances where that aesthetic fits and when it doesn't. A Life Less Ordinary? Sure, because the story itself is weird and over-the-top. 28 Days Later? Oh, yes, because the apocalyptic setting and the basic premise of the movie lend itself to the unique look Boyle gave it. 127 Hours, however, I don't think needed to be so overdone as it is. Boyle, you're telling an intimate, human story that also happens to be based on something that happened to a real person. Ease up on the crazy visuals, because it honestly distracts me from it and is the main reason why I can't say I absolutely love this film. It starts up right from the beginning, with a bunch of split-screens of people cheering at a sporting event (I'm sure it ties into the flashback Aron later has about Rana leaving him at such a place; Aron's feeling that the rock was waiting for him ever since it was part of a meteorite is the same way because you see what looks like the meteorite travel across the screens later during this opening), hands clapping, what looks like Middle-Eastern people bowing in prayer, people swimming, running a marathon, enjoying a day at the beach, and such, when the middle split-screen shows Aron getting ready to head out to the park and it gradually takes up the whole screen. I get that the intent is to show that he's an adrenaline junkie like all of these other people but, regardless, that threw me the first time I saw it and it goes on from there, as Boyle shows us the inside of Aron's water-filled canteen as he screws the lid on (he later shows us the water going through the rubber drinking pipe in his backpack, bubbles inside a bottle of orange Gatorade, sweat running off of said bottle, and the last of the water in the canteen going into his mouth), more split-screens with different angles of his dripping kitchen faucet, and then shots of a sped-up freeway intermingled with screens of Aron driving out to the park and random shots of fast food restaurant signs, people biking on the opposite side of the room from him, and so on..

Once he gets stuck and he begins to both dream and hallucinate, the film's visuals become all the more confusing. You see a random shot of somebody climbing atop one of the large stones in the canyon and asking someone else, "How the fuck did this get here?" I'm guessing it's supposed to be a memory of him and a friend taking a hike there which, fine, whatever. It was still random but at least it didn't take me long to realize what it probably was. However, later on you get a sudden cut to a van full of naked people out in the middle of a snowstorm. Huh?! Later, it's made clear that this was some bizarre thing he took part in (maybe it was the Polar Bear Club) and was how he first me Rana but, when I first saw it, I thought I accidentally sat on my Blu-Ray Player remote and skipped ahead a chapter! And near the end, when he's given up hope and is basically just waiting to die, there's a moment where he looks up and sees somebody looking down at him who I think is meant to be Theodore Roosevelt. I could be wrong on that and it's something I'm not getting but I think that's who it's meant to be. Regardless, why is he thinking about Theodore Roosevelt in his dying moments? I understand that, by this point, his brain is not functioning properly at all but, still, why Roosevelt? It's another random visual that takes me out of the drama that I should be caught up in. But the one I can't get over is a motif that, at first, made sense. Kristi and Megan tell Aron that the place holding the party they invite him to can be recognized by a big, inflatable Scooby-Doo nearby and, during his second night being stuck, he dreams about going to said party and we not only see the balloon but also hear the Scooby-Doo theme song. Odd but at least it makes sense... and then, later on when Aron has really gone off the deep end and is hallucinating almost constantly, he thinks that there's something behind him in the quarry. He cranes his neck around and uses the flash off his camera to illuminate whatever it is, revealing that Scooby-Doo balloon for a brief second, accompanied by his trademark laugh. Again, what the hell?! I know he was thinking about Scooby-Doo before but this happens long after that, so why would that come up in his head? I can't believe Danny Boyle saw that and thought it was acceptable because I just find it to be stupid and weird for the sake of weird.

In addition, there are visuals in the film that I find to be either not necessary or make me roll my eyes and go, "Really?" For instance, after Aron tries to unsuccessfully to hoist the rock off with a makeshift pulley, he mentions in his video diary what he needs for it to work, adding, "Oh, and, uh, eight burly men to do all the hauling," during which we see the shadows of eight big guys on the desert landscape. Okay, why was the necessary? At one point, Aron has a dream about a massive thunderstorm hitting the desert and flooding the slot canyon, with the buoyancy allowing him to free himself and we see him escape, only to end up at Rana's house and for her to leave him outside in the rain. I get that the last part was meant to emphasize how much he's isolated himself and how that's one thing he'll never have back even if he is freed but the sequence with the storm, the canyon filling up, and Aron getting free and heading back goes on for a while and is a bit excessive for something that turns out to be a dream, even if I know that it has to be something that's been on his mind for a while, given the situation. But the one that really got me is when Aron, before he gets the will to live and go on, sees a vision of his parents sitting on a couch in the quarry with him, followed up by all of his friends being there with them as well. As I've said many times by now, I get the idea behind it, that he's thinking about all the people he'll never see, but I still have to ask if it was necessary to visualize it in such an artsy way, with the couch and everything. Maybe I'm nitpicky and cynical but that kind of imagery comes across as pretentious to me and I hate it when it's thrown into a movie for seemingly no other reason.

All of this criticism aside, though, there are moments where the stylization doesn't help the story. For me, the absolute best example is when Aron first becomes trapped and, as he futilely yells for Kristi and Megan, the camera, which is directly above him, looking down, pulls back and back and back until we're now in an aerial shot of the canyon and the very vast wilderness surrounding it. The addition of Aron's screams growing more and more faint as the camera pulls back until we can't hear him anymore hammers home his situation of being completely alone and isolated perfectly. Another moment that I like is when, on his third day stuck there, Aron goes through a bit where he imitates a talk show host and interviews himself about his situation. It's really amazing how this bit evolves. It starts off completely funny and silly, with Aron acting all smarmy as the "host" and dopey and shallow as "himself," and then, right at the end, becomes dead serious. Some of the more memorable exchanges of dialogue are, "Hey, Mom. I'm really sorry I didn't answer the phone the other night. If I had, I would have told you where I was going, and then... well, I probably wouldn't be here right now." "That's for sure! But like I always say, your supreme selfishness is our gain... Oh, wait. Hold on. We've got a question coming in from another Aron in Loser Canyon, Utah! Aron asks..." "Am I right in thinking that even if Brion from work notifies the police, they'll put a 24-hour hold on it before they file a Missing Persons report? Which means you won't become officially missing until midday Wednesday, at the earliest?" "Yeah. You're right on the money there, Aron. Which means, I'll probably be dead by then." "Aron from Loser Canyon, Utah. How do you know so much?" "Well, I'll tell you how I know so much. I volunteer for the rescue service. You see, I'm something of a... well, a big, fucking, hard hero. And I can do everything on my own, you see?" "I do see! Now, is it true that despite, or maybe because, you're a big fucking hard hero, you didn't tell anyone where you were going?" He then answers, "Yeah. That's absolutely correct," and proceeds to say, "Oops," several times, growing quieter and quieter as it truly sinks in how screwed he apparently is. It's probably the best scene in the entire movie, as I feel the way the tone shifts is both skillfully played by Franco and well-directed and edited by Boyle and company. At first, I thought the sound of the "audience" applauding and clapping, as well as Brion's face appearing onscreen as if he's on a Skype call, was a bit much but now, I don't mind it, as it adds to the impact when the scene ends with Aron fully realizing what kind of trouble he's in. I also don't mind the effects of Aron taking pictures of himself and later with the girls and the image flicking off-camera afterward, because I think it fits with what's going on, as does when the image on the camera begins to break up (I only put a shot of that and one with his son in that paragraph where I complained about the visuals because I couldn't find any of what was actually talking about) and the same goes for the shot inside his arm when he first contemplates cutting it off and you see the knife-blade hit the bone and especially the vision of his son, as it's what drives him to not give up and eventually free himself.

No matter what my opinion of the movie as a whole is, I can't deny that the makeup effects showing the injury to Aron's arm are excruciatingly realistic and uncomfortable to look. It was already cringe-inducing when the boulder first landed on his arm and you saw the blood on the side of the canyon-wall and later saw that his thumb was turning a nasty purple color from the lack of circulation but the worst part by far is when he finally decides enough is enough and cuts it off. He first bends it until it breaks in a couple of spots (the brief inside shot of the bone bending makes my skin crawl) with a very loud snap each time and then, he proceeds to cut deeply into the flesh, covering his hand, and his face when he wipes it with blood. He stops momentarily to make himself a makeshift tourniquet and tightens it before continuing to cut and cut, quietly telling himself not to mess it up. It is absolutely nasty and sickening to watch (the makeup effects are by the legendary Tony Gardner) and to emphasize the agonizing pain he feels when he hits the nerve, which you see in gratuitous detail, Boyle puts in a high-pitched, shrill shrieking sound that also gets under my skin. When he finally sucks it up and cuts the nerve, going through the pain until it snaps, you see a silent montage of him screaming, which is just as powerful as if we could actually hear him. After that, he pulls and pulls and cuts some more, spurned on by another vision of his future son, until it finally comes loose and is free, albeit at a massive, painful price.

The music score by A.R. Rahman is pretty stark and sparing for the most part, with no real discernible themes or leitmotifs, which makes sense given that this is a small, intimate human story. No need for anything really big. The most memorable parts of the score are these low-key, guitar pieces that play like when Aron tries to move the rock when he first gets stuck and when he's cutting through his arm, as well as sort of drum bit for when he's getting his stuff out after getting trapped and nice, ethereal music for both his happy and sad memories. Actually, the most memorable piece of the score itself is this big, grand theme that plays when he's finally freed himself and eventually comes across the family who arrange for his rescue. That plays a little too long for me, though, but I like the more subtle, calm bit it segues into the section before the ending credits. The film truly goes for musical inspiration in the songs it plays on its soundtrack, with the opening being set to Never Hear Surf Music Again by Free Blood, another part that really threw me off when I first saw it but, after watching the movie a couple of more times, I've grown to like the unusual beat and the energy that it has. Bill Withers' Lovely Day plays when Aron tries to hoist the rock up with a makeshift pulley and fails, with the upbeat, happy tune making for an interesting contrast with what it's accompanying. Plastic Bertrand's Ca Plane Pour Moi plays during that random flashback with the naked people in the car in the middle of a snowstorm and since it's a random-sounding song itself, it fits with that scene in how much it threw me. Unfortunately, I have to confess that I'm not a big fan of If I Rise, which is performed by Rahman himself, along with Dido. I know it's supposed to be the musical heart and soul of the movie, as it plays when Aron has the meaningful vision of his future son, but I just don't like the way it sounds and I can understand most of the lyrics because of how high-pitched the singing is.

I really hope that this review hasn't come across like a contradictory, nonsensical Noah Antwiler, aka Spoony, type of review but if so, I can't help it; 127 Hours is a movie I have such mixed feelings about. On the one hand, I can definitely praise its technical and visual achievements, with beautiful cinematography, great used of a confined, claustrophobic main setting, well-done and unusual editing, and uncomfortably realistic makeup effects, as well as a decent score and soundtrack and a genuinely good performance by James Franco. But, all that said, since Franco is not one of those actors I'm really into, I ultimately don't find myself caring much about his character's plight, no matter how good he is (he was nominated for an Academy Award, so what do I know?), and Danny Boyle's overly stylized conception of the film, while well-done and sometimes beneficial, ultimately takes me out of the story more often than not. That's really my main issue with the film: I wish it were done in a more straightforward manner rather being so artsy that it feels like it's trying to call attention to itself. I'm well aware I'm in the minority on this, though, and that's okay. If you're one of the many who like it, great. Don't let anyone ever take that away from you. But it's one of those movies that just doesn't do it for me.