SOUTH AMERICAN GETAWAY Paul Gallagher talks to the director and stars of brilliant new sci-fi horror Monsters ‘Doing visual effects for a living is like being a gynaecologist’, says Gareth Edwards (pictured), ‘when you do it every day at work, it doesn’t turn you on any more.’ So he decided to stop staring at pixels and pick up a camera. The result is Monsters, one of the most unique and surprising films of the year, an ingenious mix of indie romance, sci-fi road movie and CG trickery that positions Edwards as his generation’s answer to James Cameron. All he wanted was to reclaim visual effects from the blockbusters: ‘I really hate watching Hollywood films where you can tell they’ve made lots of effects people break their backs to do these shots, but the final emotional impact is nothing. So it was really important for me to put the record straight: what I did with this film is not technically groundbreaking, but I hope the choices that were made were to be bold and throw away visual effects, not make a big deal of them.’ Monsters takes place in an alternate, alien- invaded earth, but Edwards’ focus remains on two human characters, travelling through the Mexican ‘infected zone’ throughout: ‘My favourite bits in the film are when you have these crazy visual spectacles, and as a cameraman I’m more interested in this couple. I hope that’s infectious for the audience.’
The couple are real-life husband and wife actors Scoot McNairy (In Search of a Midnight Kiss) and Whitney Able, who signed up for Edwards’ improvised Mexico shoot on the strength of one meeting and a 12-page plot treatment. ‘He’s a mad genius’, says McNairy, emphasising the mad: ‘We were down in Mexico City and Gareth needed people in gas masks, and this was just when swine flu came out. Gareth was like “This is amazing, everyone’s wearing masks, it’s perfect!” And Whitney and I were like, “Well yes, but we don’t want to get swine flu and die”’. The seat-of-the- pants nature of the shoot was an ideal form of marriage preparation for the then-dating couple though. ‘I’m a huge outdoors guy’, says McNairy, ‘and I thought, if she can make it through this production – cos it’s going to be hell – I could definitely spend the rest of my life with her!’ For her part, Able relished the chance to do something that broke her out of the traditional confines of her stunning movie star looks: ‘Most [directors] want to put me in a box, being blonde and blue-eyed, so I was really excited to get a chance to show another side of myself.’ Edwards was clearly impressed: ‘It’s the Scoot and Whitney show, and I can’t imagine this film with anyone else.’ ■ Monsters, general release from Fri 3 Dec. See review, page 46.
DRAMA SOMEWHERE (15) 97min ●●●●●
Sofia Coppola returns to familiar thematic territory in her latest take on the dull realities that lie beneath the hedonistic lifestyle of the pampered and the privileged. Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), a permanent resident of LA’s infamous Chateau Marmont Hotel, wastes his time on fast cars and fast women – oh, the ennui of it all. But a visit from his young daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning) makes him reassess his priorities. So far, so hackneyed . . . perhaps.
Coppola has not been without her detractors over the years (Particularly since 2006’s Marie Antoinette), but what these critics have failed to realise is that she is indeed a director who deals, and quite deliberately so, in both visual and cultural clichés and, in this respect, her latest offering is no different. However, Somewhere marks a somewhat radical aesthetic departure for the director, primarily because of the collaboration of cinematographer Harris Savides (Milk, Margot at the Wedding, Zodiac, Greenberg). This is thoughtful and intelligent filmmaking in that content is precisely matched with form: Coppola doesn’t need to tell us Marco’s life is a horrid and utterly depressing void of meaninglessness, tiredness and seemingly endless waiting because we feel this (witness the scene in which Marco waits for a plaster mould of his face to dry rendered through a painfully slow tracking shot into close-up). Also welcome is her pared-down use of music (more soundscape than soundtrack), which serves Coppola’s quiet and meditative film well. (Anna Rogers) ■ Selected release from Fri 10 Dec. See preview, opposite.
DRAMA/SPORT SECRETARIAT (U) 117min ●●●●●
The tried and tested Disney formula for heart-warming stories about inspirational animals finds an ideal subject in the true story of Secretariat, a horse who improbably won the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing back in 1973.
Given that, being a horse, Secretariat doesn’t have much to say for himself, director Randall Wallace focuses on the horse’s owner instead. Denver mom Penny Chenery (Diane Lane) hires sartorially challenged trainer Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich) to provide her with a winner, and then bets her farm on track success. With the outcome never in doubt, screenwriter Mike Rich (The Rookie, The
Nativity Story), working from William Nack’s book, offers up a decently mounted but somewhat stale rehash of Seabiscuit, complete with a gallery of two dimensional supporting characters, from deferential groom Eddie (True Blood’s Nelsan Ellis) to Penny’s unbelieving husband (Dylan Baker) and her raddled old dad (Scott Glenn). Directing his first feature, previous screenwriter and producer Wallace films the various races with vigour, but precious little eye for scale or composition – metronomically cross-cutting between extreme close-up shots of hooves and Penny’s hopeful, tearful face. In any racing form book, Secretariat certainly has the pedigree of a winner, but really it’s a donkey. (Eddie Harrison) ■ General release from Fri 3 Dec.
2–16 Dec 2010 THE LIST 45