Tag Archives: Monsters: Dark Continent

Failed Critics Podcast: Unfriending the Monsters

infernalWelcome to another episode of the Failed Critics Podcast! Our special guests this week are Mike Shawcross and Andrew Brooker (that we know of, there could also have been a spooky spectre lurking on our Skype call) who join our regular hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes.

We review two new releases, the cyber-slasher Unfriended and the “infuriating” Monsters: Dark Continent alongside our usual quiz, news and ‘what we’ve been watching’ sections. The latter of which sees Steve finally complete the Harry Potter franchise, dropping the mic at the suggestion of a proposed remake; Mike reminds us all how good Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is; in full old man moaning mode, Owen apologises for disliking Bryan Coyne’s Infernal; and Brooker gets disappointed with Gareth Edwards’ Monsters.

Much like the past few weeks, our news section is dominated by Marvel and particularly Age of Ultron, which has run away with the recent US box office records and smashed them to bits. However, DC manage to squeeze in on the action with the emergence of the first images from their new project, Suicide Squad.

Join us again next week for a top secret triple bill and new release review of Spooks: The Greater Good.

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Monsters: Dark Continent

Infuriating and unnecessary sequel with an identity crisis.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)

monstersA few years back, next to nobody director Gareth Edwards came out of nowhere and wowed almost everybody with his feature debut, Monsters. A super-low budget monster invasion movie with hardly a monster on screen. Praised for its direction and pretty well received by more-or-less everyone that saw it, it earned Edwards a place at the big boy table and a job resurrecting Godzilla for Warner Brothers last year. I didn’t watch Monsters, as much as it was recommended to me I just skipped past it. In fact, I only watched it a few days ago in preparation for watching its sequel and to be honest, I wasn’t wholly impressed. I thought it was a 90+ minute slog through to the end, with not an awful lot happening to keep me interested. I genuinely struggled to keep my eyes open and prayed for a swift end just so I could get to bed!

Now don’t get me wrong. I an definitely amongst those that praise Edwards’ technical skill. I’ve got some experience with the Autodesk and Adobe software he used to create his effects and I know what he done was no small feat. But all the skill in the world can’t make up for poor acting and generally rubbish story telling. The Cloverfield style of barely showing you anything of the monsters until towards the end is a decent tension builder when it’s done right. Unfortunately in this case, I just don’t think it worked. A symptom that, in my opinion, seems to be following Mr Edwards around seeing as my complaints about Godzilla were almost identical. But, before I go off on a tangent about my worries and what him being handed a Star Wars film could mean for that franchise, I’ll crack on with my thoughts on Monsters: Dark Continent.

Before I start though, a little insight. This is what happened before Dark Continent even hit pre-production (Disclaimer: this may not actually have happened, but without this explanation, there is no valid reason for the existence of this movie). It’s 2013, Iraq war movies are enjoying a massive comeback. Zero Dark Thirty, Lone Survivor etc. all enjoying a butt load of success and even getting Oscar wins. In the scramble to get the next big desert war movie, a couple of hack writers (said with no feeling of irony, whatsoever) let’s call them Tom and Jay, sell a treatment to Vertigo Films about a rag tag collection of Iraq war first-timers going on a mission to rescue a captured team of soldiers behind enemy lines. Now Jay and Tom, they work tirelessly, really working themselves ragged trying desperately to get all their ideas onto paper, never has a pair worked so hard for so long. After spending close to 45 minutes on their masterpiece, the dynamic writing duo head back to the production company, script in hand, proud as punch and ready to start filming. At this point, film company execs all start having heart palpitations. Their guys, their ticket to the Oscar party have spent half an hour writing a script that essentially says “Desert war tropes and nothing else” in crayon and Tom and Jay are over at the window trying to work out which side of the glass tastes the worst.

So at this point, any and all film producers are kicking these writers to the kerb, losing their rag at Tom and Jay and the way they lied about being able to string a sentence together or put thought, character or emotion into anything more interesting than a stale digestive. But not these guys, they’ve got a better idea. “We just made a load of free cash off that Monsters thing. Let’s use this script, add a load of those weird octopus things to it and call it Monsters 2

And so, Monsters: Dark Continent was born.

Essentially, I don’t have to tell you much more than that. Dark Continent is set ten years after the first Monsters film. The alien visitors have spread from their comfortable little quarantine zone on the Mexican border and are now a worldwide issue. But they aren’t the enemy anymore. We have learned to live with them as just a part of out world, as part of our countryside like sheep and cows, humongous ones with tentacles! In this world we now share with the monsters, apparently we are still at war in Afghanistan and the United States military is still full of generic jarhead wannabes and pretty much every war movie stereotype soldier you can think of. There’s the guy that just had a baby before going on tour (although, the directors at least got a real baby so it’s got points over American Sniper) the guys that grew up together that are like brothers, the angry Sargent and the not quite so common angry black sidekick who thinks he’s R. Lee Ermey giving his angry speeches and trying to add some pretty flat and uninspiring comic relief.

After their first mission together is reasonably successful, this group, this band of idiots, are given the task of rescuing a team of soldiers captured behind enemy lines and are almost certainly being tortured by the hostile Afghan force they are still fighting. They must battle the desert, the insurgents and the monsters while they try to complete their task. Not long into their mission, the guys are hit with a roadside IED, disabling their Humvees and forcing them to walk to, well, somewhere, I’m not entirely sure where. You know what? I don’t think it’s important. Twenty minutes after they set off, I’d actually forgotten they were on a mission. They were just a bunch of muppets lost in the desert. Like the SAS searching for Saddam Hussain, not really knowing what direction to stumble towards next.

From a filmmaking perspective, Dark Continent is riddled with issues. It’s not as dull as it’s predecessor but at the same time it’s not got the redeeming features that the original Monsters has. There’s no skill to be shown in its effects work and there’s certainly no skill to be shown in Tom and Jay’s writing or direction. Everything is blatantly stolen from other, much better films. Like Delta Farce. Silly colour tinting, over saturation, slow motion explosions, instead of showing the skill that Edwards showed with his Adobe software, these guys have googled “how to be Zack Snyder with windows movie maker” and rolled with it. The film starts with some terrible, really badly written, tacky narration that is peppered across the whole movie that serves no purpose other than to annoy. Maybe worse than the poor use of narration is the terrible, terrible music direction. Some scenes are forgivably quiet when there should be something in the way of a score, but man. There’s one scene, a night incursion into a suspected insurgent encampment that should be insanely intense (ignoring the black dude from Detroit on over watch that’s rapping about his night vision goggles). We’ve all seen these scenes play out. They’re silent, all you can hear is footsteps and every creak of a door should have you on the edge of your seat. But that just doesn’t happen here. Whoever was in charge of editing the music in decided, against all rhyme or reason, to keep the prelude to the sneak-a-thon nice and quiet, except for the rapping soldier. But once the sneaking starts, all tension is broken by the bizarre addition of a cheap late 90’s hip-hop backing track overlaying the action. I shit you not.

As the film progresses, the titular monsters add almost nothing to the proceedings. Being reserved, more or less, to background scenery and something to shoot at on occasion instead of people. They are seen roaming around the desert and running like cattle together but they could literally be replaced with any other animal. Sheep, bison, kangaroos, whatever, and they would be just as effective a side-story for the soldiers and their travels. More so maybe. You wouldn’t have to spend money on a giant CGI sheep and could maybe throw some at a couple of decent actors or someone to rewrite the screenplay, or teach Jay and Tom how to colour inside the lines. Like I said at the top of this review, I’m no fan of the original Monsters, but to see the animals fall to a fate usually reserved for shit serial killer franchises, being shoe-horned into a movie they have very little business being in must be heart-breaking for its creator.

Like it’s original, Monsters: Dark Continent is dull, poorly paced and lacking in substance. But worse than that, it’s unnecessary, it’s a cheap cash-in and it’s just a sad film to watch. Evidence that the “We can churn out anything and sell it to you” mentality is still rife in Hollywood and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere soon. Take it from me, you’d be better off burning your money than spending it to sit in a dark room and watch nothing happen on that big screen really, really slowly.

BFI London Film Festival 2014 Preview

It’s that time of year again – the bathroom light has to go on in the morning, loads of good American TV shows start again, and Christmas tat is starting to appear in the shops. Yes, autumn is on the way, and with it comes the 58th London Film Festival.

by Carole Petts (@DeathByJigsaws)

lff14My initial reaction to this year’s line-up – once I had grumbled about the member’s launch being a day later than the press launch, rendering it invalid for the most part – was how many big names are missing. No room for The Theory of Everything, St Vincent (the film, not the singer), or The Equalizer; all making their Toronto debuts this week. But scratching beneath the surface yields some treasure.

First up, let’s deal with the obvious contenders. I am looking forward to Foxcatcher very much – directed by Bennett Miller of Capote and Moneyball, the film stars Steve Carrell in a rare serious role alongside Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo. Loosely based on a true story, the film follows the struggle between two wrestling champion brothers (Tatum and Ruffalo) which takes a sinister turn with the arrival of a mysterious benefactor (Carrell). Foxcatcher received stellar notices when it premiered in Cannes earlier this year and has also been prominently mentioned in early Oscar buzz. Other big hitters include The Imitation Game, the long-awaited Alan Turing biopic which stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the tortured mathematical genius, and Fury, a World War 2 film from David Ayer (End of Watch) starring Brad Pitt. These open and close the festival respectively, and will be shown at cinemas across the country in tandem with their gala screenings. Mr Turner features an already award-winning performance by Timothy Spall as the titular JMW Turner, and LFF also hosts the directorial debut of Jon Stewart – Rosewater is the story of an Iranian journalist covering the country’s political unrest in 2009 who gets on the wrong side of the establishment.

Gala screenings I am looking forward to include The Salvation, a Danish western (!) starring Mads Mikkelsen and, bizarrely, Eric Cantona; Whiplash, a story about the relationship between a musical prodigy and his virtuoso teacher which is audaciously structured like a thriller; and The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom, a wuxia starring Fan Bingbing as a witch fighting to free people from tyranny during the end of the Ming Dynasty.

the immitation game

In the official competition, the film that stands out is Dearest – the story of a couple whose lives are turned upside down when their son goes missing. One of the most eagerly anticipated films in the first feature competition is ’71, set in the streets of Belfast during the titular year and starring Jack O’Connell (Starred Up) as a wet behind the ears squaddie dispatched to keep the peace.

The documentary strand has yielded some interesting prospects. There are familiar subjects in Hockey: A Life in Pictures, National Gallery, and The Possibilities Are Endless (the story of Edwyn Collins after his stroke), and a step into the unknown with In The Basement – a film about what Austrians do – yes! – in their basements. The love strand has one particular film of interest to me – Love is Strange, starring John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as a couple forced to leave their apartment separately. This film has gathered some notoriety in the States for being rated R for no apparent reason, apart from its central relationship being a homosexual one.night bus

1001 Grams is an intriguing-looking slice of dark humour, and Night Bus explores the sometimes intimate, sometimes scary, but always intriguing world of the London night bus (shout out to route N1). A Hard Day is described as a neo-noir slice of Korean cinema, following a policeman who is having a really bad day. The follow-up to Monsters, Monsters: Dark Continent, had more creatures in the trailer than in the whole of the previous film put together, so that bodes well. There are also restored classic films scattered throughout the programme, from Orwell’s Animal Farm to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Guys and Dolls. And of course, the legendary shorts programmes are back, spanning all strands and giving you plenty of bang for your buck.

So although at first glance the line-up looks a bit light, a proper dissection of the schedule reveals that there is something for everyone here. The beauty of LFF has always lain in taking a chance and seeing something you would never normally buy a ticket for. I think this year will see a return to that essence for many people.

We will of course be bringing you reviews and diary entries during the festival itself, so don’t forget to check back between 8-19 October 2014 for more articles! You can find a full line up of what’s showing at the LFF 2014 on the BFI website.