Woman vs. Shark in The Shallows

The Shallows

The Shallows could be easily dismissed as a guilty pleasure if it weren’t so competently constructed and self-serious.

Nancy (a believable and shockingly likable Blake Lively) is a med-student at a cross-roads in life wondering if she will or won’t become a doctor?  She’s also still emotionally scarred by her mother’s cancer-related death. Therefore, she does some soul-searching in Mexico where she successfully finds a secret cove and beautiful beach where her mother spent some time shortly after learning she was pregnant with Nancy.  There she takes to the surf and stays out in the shallow waters just a little bit too long…accidentally stumbling upon one insatiable shark’s feeding spot.

It’s not often you get such depth in a character leading a monster movie.  So when things get silly and over-the-top (especially in the deliciously inane third act), the viewer is invested enough in Nancy to not give a damn about how patently ridiculous her tete-a-tete with one nasty shark gets.  I imagine some animal rights activists will not be happy with the unfair portrayal of sharks…though seaguls (in the form of Nancy’s injured companion “Steve”) certainly get a nice image make-over here. Continue reading

Godzilla vs Great Expectations

Godzilla 2014

I grew up watching Toho’s many incarnations of Godzilla.  I loved Godzilla – especially the 1989 Godzilla: Monster of Monsters Nintendo video game.  I loved all of the films too, from the iconic 1954 Gojira original to the ridiculousness of “Baby Godzilla” blowing bubbles to the overly melodramatic Godzilla 1985 to the righteously badass Marv Newland animated student film Bambi Meets Godzilla (for the love of god, Youtube it) – still my favorite in the canon, and in that one we only ever see the monster’s foot, so quit your whining about his 2014 screen time!  Because of its Japanese origins stemming from real nuclear horrors, it was an inherently silly franchise that somehow always carried some weight, or the illusion of weight…as if it was far more serious or important than it really was.  Also our fond memories of watching it as children fogged the reality of its natural stupidity.  For some ungodly reason, fans still reeling from the rape of Godzilla in 1998 placed insanely lofty expectations on this latest film incarnation thinking that this Godzilla had to be something more – it had to match our fantasies…it had to be everything we ever dreamed of.

In steps Gareth Edwards, indie director of the silly emo but shockingly effective character drama, Monsters, that had two unlikely people falling in love while trying to get out of Mexico – a Mexico that just happened to be under quarantine due to some rampaging giant walking…squids?  It was a fun little genre mash-up.  Continue reading

The Lights are Dim in Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim 1

In the past Guillermo del Toro has used ghosts as metaphors for fractured relationships (The Devil’s Backbone) and task-master demons as the personifications of the ill effects of civil war and bad parenting (Pan’s Labyrinth), but in Pacific Rim he goes Hollywood and delivers a simple giant monsters vs. giant robots saga.  Which….when you think about…in the hands of del Toro…should be totally badass, right?  I mean, 180 million dollars to film non-stop monsters vs. robots mayhem?  What could go wrong?

Pacific Rim is by no means a bad flick, in fact, most of it is quite fun.  I just couldn’t help feeling underwhelmed considering the can’t miss concept and del Toro’s knack for adding deeper meaning to genre conventions while delivering some of the most wildly imaginative creature effects you’ll ever see.  Everything about it is just…well…good…but not as good as it should be…or as good as I wished it could be.

The monster (kaiju) and robot (jaegar) designs are well done and handled with great care (it’s not your typical cut-and-paste CGI) but sadly, though saturated with rich colors and photographed much more cleanly than a Michael Bay film, the gee-whiz effects spend most of the film hazed in smoke, the dark of night or covered in water.  I would’ve liked some more lingering shots…some more day time stuff…to really bring about that sense of awe. Continue reading

Me Myself and Prometheus

Noomi oh my! Don’t go in there!

The trajectory of the Alien series has followed an eerily parallel path to my own life.

Behold, both Alien and I were born into this world in 1979 with great fanfare…and we scared the bejesus out of all.

We then went through a zany action-packed early childhood, with me waging wars with my GI Joe figures on my parents’ living room floor and James Cameron waging war on-screen with Aliens in 1986.

Then there were the awkward and painful teenage years that both I and the Alien series would rather forget. Cough cough Alien Cubed. Egads! Alien: Resurrection.

Then there was the turn of the century where we both kinda sold-out and lost ourselves. Ugh…Alien vs. Predator! What were we thinking?

But now past the age of 30 we both have grown introspective and retrospective, once again returning to the great mysteries of life and the age-old questions of where did we come from and why does our creator hate us? And thus, Ridley Scott comes full circle in his career and has bequeathed to us this ponderous and wickedly entertaining Prometheus.
Continue reading

Alien vs Aliens vs My Childhood

Inspired by the fan-boy raving over at Condemned Movies and in anticipation of the June release of Ridley Scott’s prequel/not-a-prequel hybrid Prometheus, I decided to take a stroll down memory lane and revisit Scott’s iconic Alien and Cameron’s raucous Aliens.

What kind of damned robot are you?

I have such fond childhood memories of Scott’s Alien.  Even though I first watched it at a very young age (I think it must have been around the time of Aliens‘ release so I would’ve been about seven), it’s not memories of the film scaring me that I remember most, but memories instead of my parents telling stories of how it scared them when it came to theaters in 1979, also the year of my arrival into the world.  There was pent-up giddy kid-wild anticipation in the Schleicher household as our parents regaled tales of the shock and horror and the downright badass spookiness of Alien – a film that took old-school monster-movie horror and melded it with a new wave of gritty futurism.  It was both a throw-back film and pop-avant-garde.  And I remember feeling truly special when my parents finally let us watch it.  The initial shock of the chest-bursting scene lasts with me to this day as well as fractured fairy-tale memories of a an android that bled milk, an acid-filled face-hugging bug, a pretty girl in her underwear, and a kitty that must be rescued! Continue reading

A Review of “Cloverfield”

CAPTION:  Lizzy Caplan and Jessica Lucas were ready for their close-ups until that pesky monster came along.

Pretty Close to Something Terrible…, 21 January 2008
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

At one point during the mayhem of “Cloverfield” our jerky-jokey cameraman Hud (an annoying T. J. Miller) remarks that the monster ravaging New York City is “something terrible.” Well, “Cloverfield” is pretty close to something terrible, but it’s also laugh-out-loud funny and loads of fun.

Taking cues from “The Blair Witch Project”, “Godzilla”, and our current YouTube/MySpace crazed youth oriented culture that believes everyone’s point of view deserves to be recorded, producer J. J. Abrams’ opportunistic “Cloverfield” operates at a mercifully quick clip to maximize entertainment value with a minimum of effort (and budget) while showing us allegedly top-secret video footage recovered after a massive monster attack on NYC.

Though barely ninety minutes long, we still have to suffer through an excruciatingly banal opening twenty minutes of vapid, spoiled twenty-somethings partying the night away before the monster strikes. There was a moment somewhere during this that I actually zoned out completely and found myself staring at the dark theater wall. The cast of unknowns thankfully contains a few people who might be able to act if given the chance in a normal film. Standouts include the painfully lovely Jessica Lucas as the feisty Lily and Zooey Deschanel look-a-like Lizzy Caplan as the sarcastic Marlena. These two young actresses acquitted themselves nicely while a group of anonymous and interchangeable actors playing stupid characters making bad decision after bad decision whirled around them. It made for one of those odd movie-going experiences where you actually start routing for certain characters to die in horrible ways while you hope the pretty girls make it out alive because, well, they’re cute.

As a gimmick film, “Cloverfield” is as shallow as they come. It’s also too silly and too much fun to end up mad about it. At least the idiot hand-held cameraman/character wants to see the monster and the destruction as much as we do. This leads to some great money-shots of the creature and its tour of terror through midtown Manhattan. It would’ve been more thrilling had I not seen very similarly designed creature effects in last fall’s “The Mist”. Like that film, “Cloverfield” certainly has its moments of giddy monster oriented fun, but it ultimately implodes and leaves behind a wreck of a movie that is pretty close to something terrible.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:


A Review of Frank Darabont’s Adaptation of Stephen King’s “The Mist”

Misanthropes in the Mist, 27 November 2007
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

*** This comment may contain spoilers ***

It’s official: Stephen King and Frank Darabont hate humanity. It’s almost impossible to fathom that these two were responsible for the life-affirming “Shawshank Redemption” when you consider their last two collaborations: the covertly vile and morally misguided “Green Mile” and now this bleak and hazy endeavor. Here they go back to King’s roots in this horror tale of a mysterious mist that falls on a small town and the group of people trapped in a grocery store who must survive the monsters lurking in the fog. Leading the cast are Thomas Jane as the artistic everyman (a stock King character), Laurie Holden as the pretty school teacher, and Nathan Gamble as Jane’s emotionally distraught little boy (another King archetype). Also along for the ride are Toby Jones as a spry and sensible grocery clerk, and Andre Braugher as an irate out-of-town lawyer.

Darabont is a director of considerable skill, and it’s pretty amazing what he is able to do with a small budget in his depiction of some truly horrifying monsters and well orchestrated bouts of gore. He builds suspense, creates likable characters to root for, and crafts a fun, scary ride for the better portion of the film. Like in all the best horror films, the creatures are symbolic for modern society’s ills. Here the filmmakers explore the current “culture of fear” that has been created in the wake of 9/11 by politicians and religious zealots. Like most of King’s works, humans are even scarier than the creatures as seen in the character portrayed in great over-the-top style by Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden. Her fire and brimstone preaching quickly divides those trapped in the grocery store down the lines of those who will be paralyzed by fear and turn to barbaric ways disguised as religion, and those who will do anything to fight for the right to survive. For the first one hour and forty-five minutes, the audience is treated to a well crafted, allegorical little monster flick, a throwback to those great creature features of the 1950’s.


With less than ten minutes to the credits rolling, Darabont decides to bash his political message into the back of our skulls with all the subtlety of the blunt side of an ax. “The Mist” is impossible to talk about without talking about the ending. After keeping the nut-jobs at bay and effectively escaping the grocery story, five of the characters travel in relative safety inside a car to see how far the mist has conquered and if anyone else survived. With the mist still all enveloping, the car runs out of gas.

Nothing Thomas Jane’s character says or does (with the exception of promising his young son that he will never let the monsters get him) lead the audience to believe he would do what he does when it seems that all is lost. All throughout the movie he fights and overcomes his fear, yet at the last minute, without even a second-thought, he does the unthinkable with a gun, four bullets, and five people, and is left to wallow in his own misery. His character, and those other people in the car, didn’t deserve that. Had he stayed true to his character, before agreeing to shoot everyone in the car after it ran out of gas lest the monsters savagely eat them, he would’ve stepped out of the vehicle to check things out one last time before giving up. Then he would’ve seen that the mist was now harmless and heard the army trucks coming. Or had the monsters come and eaten him, as they all feared, then there would still be the four bullets for the four left in the car. Instead we have to suffer through this complete betrayal and are left with images of the writer and director shaking their fingers at us, “See, you idiots! This is what could happen if you buy into this culture of fear. You become the monsters!”

Well, I don’t buy it. Next time, boys, don’t try to be so profound and just deliver us a good monster movie. We know you can you do it. You were so close here. You’re really good at writing horror stories, Stephen, and you’re an ace behind the camera, Frank, but sadly through “The Mist” your disdain for mankind shines brighter than your collective talents.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database: