Tag Archives: Maika Monroe

Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)

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As a big UFO and alien buff growing up, the original Independence Day should have been just my kind of movie. I remember Will Smith punching out an alien, Bill Pullman doing his cringeworthy Braveheart speech, and Jeff Goldblum doing Jeff Goldblum things, but I don’t remember loving the movie. A reasonably enjoyable popcorn flick is about as far as I would go.

Accordingly, apart from a little dash of nostalgia I didn’t really want anyway, there really was no reason for me to see Independence Day: Resurgence, especially not 20 years later. Sure, they brought back all the main cast sans Will Smith (maybe they refused to let Jayden Smith play his son in this one), but they also brought in charisma wormhole Liam Hemsworth as the new “younger generation” lead and replaced the wonderful Mae Whitman, who played Bill Pullman’s young daughter in the first time, with skinny blonde Maika Monre (even though I really liked her from The Guest and It Follows).

As expected, Resurgence was not very good. I don’t think it’s as vomit-inducing as what I’ve been calling it, ie Regurgitation, but it’s just a silly, special-effects heavy, overstuffed money-grab that fails to recapture any of the “event film” magic of the original.

I’ll start with what I liked about the movie. The end. Just kidding, there was a little bit more than that. I liked how the story built on the events from the first movie 20 years ago, creating an alternate timeline where humans have blended their own technology with alien technology to build a nice-looking future world where people can travel to the moon and back in seemingly minutes or hours (depending on what is most convenient for the plot), and there’s also world peace with no ethnic or religious conflict. That sounds like a much better world than the one we live in now.

The special effects are so very well done even by modern standards, and I’m glad that the film doesn’t take itself very seriously at all. It’s a movie that knows how silly it is and plays along with its tongue firmly in cheek at times without spiralling into a complete farce.

Having said that, Resurgence just doesn’t feel nearly as fun as it’s supposed to be. It gets off to a poor start with Hemsworth establishing himself as a douchey space pilot protagonist dating the ex-president Whitmore’s (Bill Pullman’s) daughter (Maika Monroe), who is now all grown up and a confidant for the current president (Sela Ward doing her best Hillary Clinton impersonation). Oh, and Will Smith’s dead (his photo is on the White House wall as a reminder), but his son (Jessie Usher) just happens to have grown up to be the best pilot in the country (and since this is the United States, the planet, but most probably the entire universe). In other words, the near-apocalypse 20 years ago had no impact whatsoever on nepotism.

The rest of the cast is also impressive, but none of Vivica A Fox, Charlotte Gainsbourg or William Fichtner have meaty enough roles to really offer anything worthwhile. The only guy who really seems to be a genuinely positive influence on the film is good old Jeff Goldblum. Though he churns through the same schtick as most of the roles he plays these days, he at least adds some levity and sense of fun with his quirkiness and one-liners.

Another really annoying part of the movie is the obvious product placement, in particular from China, from Chinese milk beverages to QQ (messaging service) to the somewhat arbitrary inclusion of Chinese actress Angelababy. She’s not bad in this, but her presence is awkward and an unnecessary distraction because her character is poorly written – though that’s pretty much like everyone else.

The biggest issue I had with Regurgitation is its inability to generate a care factor. Director, co-writer and co-producer Roland Emmerich has always had a thing for world-ending visuals (The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, etc), and in this regard he doesn’t disappoint, but his history developing characters worth rooting for has been a lot patchier. Regurgitation is not one of his stronger efforts. Hemsworth is smug, Pullman looks too exhausted for anything except limping his way to an easy paycheck, and Jessie Usher doesn’t come close to exuding even half the charisma Will Smith did.

Consequently, most of the first half of the movie is rather unengaging as we wait for the inevitable alien invasion, serious carnage and of course, famous landmark damage. And when it arrives, most of it is nothing we haven’t seen before. It gets more exciting once the CGI-heavy spaceship battles begin (largely because human technology is much more advanced than what we’re accustomed to seeing), though things eventually plunge into a wild and laughable climatic sequence that tests the limits of how much ridiculousness audiences can bear. I guess it’s no less insane than humans using a computer virus to defeat an advanced alien species like they did last time, but saving grace for the human race this time is telegraphed far too early. Oh, and I love how mere seconds can expand into a seemingly infinite amount of time when the story calls for it. The problem with all of this is that at no stage does it actually make you feel like humanity is in any real danger.

I’m actually less critical of Regurgitation than how I make it sound in this review. The second half of the film is dumb, popcorn entertainment I didn’t really mind. But then again, it might just be because the first half lowered expectations too much.

2.5 stars out of 5

The 5th Wave (2016)

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The young adult dystopian future series adaptations just keep coming. Our latest entry is The 5th Wave, based on the well-received book of the same name by Rick Yancey. And yes, it’s not very good.

Starring Chloe Grace Moretz, The 5th Wave tells the story of an alien invasion that has been happening for a while now (in “waves” of attacks), which I suppose is a little more interesting than a film that begins at the beginning (though we do get flashbacks to fill us in). There’s a body snatchers situation going on here where our heroes don’t really know who they can trust, and of course a love story (kind of a semi-triangle thing) going on as well. Honestly, it all feels very familiar and it’s nothing we haven’t already seen before. I mean, come on, the aliens are called “The Others”.

With a budget under US$40 million, the special effects aren’t as good as they need to be, and there’s just not a lot of excitement or thrilling action. Despite solid performances from a talented cast that also includes Mario Bello, Ron Livingston, Liev Schreiber, Maika Monroe (It Follows), Nick Robinson (the elder brother from Jurassic World) and Alex Roe, the film plods along and never offers anything to make it stand out from the crowded pack of young adult adaptations.

I wouldn’t say I was bored, just indifferent to the fate of the characters or their world. Sometimes I think such films might actually be better if they were more melodramatic or outrageous, because at least they would be a little more memorable. With The 5th Wave, I felt like I was simply being carried along by the current without any sense of urgency or satisfaction.

Moretz, a really underrated actress, does her best as young heroine Cassie, infusing the role with her usual sass and vulnerability. It’s just a shame the movie doesn’t make her character much more interesting than your typical teen protagonist. My main problem with the movie, however, still lies with the plot, which makes less sense with each twist and turn. I know they’re aliens, but their methodology for taking over the Earth is simply ridiculous.

In the hierarchy of young adult book adaptations, The 5th Wave is clearly several notches below the frontrunner, The Hunger Games, though to be fair it is also significantly better than the cellar-dweller, The Host (God that trash was awful). I’d probably put it in the somewhere below the Divergent series (which has gotten worse with each subsequent film), roughly around The Mortal Instruments. Perhaps the series could redeem itself if given the opportunity to make a sequel, though this is still up in the air given the poor critic ratings and uninspiring box office earnings (albeit it still made money overall). I’m not holding my breath.

2.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: It Follows (2015)

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It Follows is more than just a punny title. It’s one of the most original, clever, terrifying and quite simply, best horror movie I’ve seen in a long time. And yes, I’ve seen last year’s revelatory hit, The Babadook.

Written and directed by David Robert Mitchell, the film follows Maika Monroe (who was great in The Guest) as Jay, a Michigan student who begins to suspect, to put it lightly, that a sexual encounter with her boyfriend has made her the recipient of a curse in which she is haunted by a malevolent supernatural force.

I don’t want to give too much more away, though suffice it to say that It Follows soon becomes a film about survival, as Jay, her sister, neighbour and friends try to figure out what is happening to her and whether her fears are even real.

It’s a simple premise but an intelligent and damn effective one. A lot has been made about its symbolism and how it could be construed as a parable about promiscuity, sexually-transmitted diseases and post-coital guilt and anxiety. With elements borrowed from The Ring, it’s also about death and the avoidance of death, and the moral quandaries involved in the prolonging of life. On another layer, it’s just about horny teenagers wanting to get some action with reckless consideration  of the consequences.

All the analytical stuff is just depth gravy — because let’s face it, what ultimately makes or breaks a horror movie is whether it’s scary or not. And in this regard It Follows excels as a masterclass in atmosphere, old-fashioned fright tactics and slick style.

At its core, It Follows taps into our primal fear and paranoia from being followed. That dread from seeing something terrifying coming towards you. The anxiety from never knowing when someone with evil intentions is creeping up from behind.

I could tell from the opening sequence that the film was going to be different to the teen horrors we’ve become accustomed to in recent years. Mitchell is a filmmaker who knows exactly what he’s doing and knows how to project his vision to the screen.

I like that there’s no mention of when the story is set, but it looks and feels like it’s in a different era. I like the minimalist approach that limits the use of special effects. I like that it relies more on its creepy atmosphere and growing dread than modern “boo” scares, and that even when it resorts to such tactics athey are implemented timely. I liked the great use of silence and complementing it with an eerie, occasionally blazing score that really gets the heart pumping.

The climax — which is more conventional than it should have been — could have been smarter and executed a little better, but on the whole it’s hard to find much else to complain about.

It Follows is a unique and unsettling horror experience you just don’t see very often, which is why this low budget gem wowed audiences at Cannes last year, went from a limited release to a wide release earlier this year, and is quickly gathering steam as a commercial success.

5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Guest (2014)

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The Guest is an unusual one. It takes a simple premise — about a handsome, mysterious stranger who shows up on a doorstep claiming to know the deceased son of a bereaved family — and develops it into a dark, slightly comical psychological thriller where you never really know what’s going to happen next.

Downton Abbey alumnus Dan Stevens is virtually unrecognizable as David Collins, a dark and mysterious stranger who shows up on the doorstep of the Peterson family, claiming to have served in Afghanistan with their dead son Caleb. I had no idea that I had just watched Stevens, who is British, in A Walk Among the Tombstones, where he has dark hair and trimmed facial hair. Here, he looks completely different, almost like a young Nicholas Brody from Homeland, with reddish blonde hair, an All-American smile, and a somewhat sinister brand of charm.

Dan Stevens from Downton Abbey, A Walk Among the Tombstones, and The Guest
Dan Stevens from Downton Abbey, A Walk Among the Tombstones, and The Guest


Anyway, David is gradually welcomed into the family, offering a friendly ear for the father (Leland Orser) to air his grievances at work, taking on the bully problems of the youngest son (Brendan Meyer) at school, and impressing the friends of the young daughter (Maika Monroe) at parties. But of course, David is not quite who he seems, and eventually shit has to go down.

The stuff that happens in the guest feel familiar, and yet it’s not easy to recall where you have seen it before. Collins sets himself up as a likable antihero — he does things seemingly out of kindness and justice, things we wish we had the courage and ability to do, but at the same time he is so obviously unstable that we know we must maintain our distance. Every time a new scenario pops up you wonder if David is to be naughty or nice.

The result is a little cheesy, but it’s also plenty of fun because the film is smart enough to not take itself too seriously. It’s violent and unsettling when it wants to be, but there are times when it allows you take a step back and see how wickedly absurd the whole thing is. 

A film like this wouldn’t work without quality performances, and a big part of why it excels is because of Dan Stevens. He’s cool, he’s charming, and he can also be terrifying. There’s something about the facial expressions of David that he gets just right. Maika Monroe is actually also pretty good, as are the rest of the family.

The Guest ultimately feels like a low-budget B-movie, but boy is it a damn good one. It’s the type of film that will surprise you with how enjoyably watchable it is if you rent on DVD when there’s nothing else or come across it on late night TV. I haven’t seen any of director Adam Wingard’s other movies, but now I am intrigued by his handling of the material and wouldn’t mind checking out seemingly crappy horrors on his resume such as You’re Next and the two V/H/S films.

4 stars out of 5