Tag Archives: Maika Monroe

Philadelphia Freedom

Brothers by Blood

by Hope Madden

It can be tough to find a fresh way to tell a mob story. Brothers by Blood doesn’t bother.

Director Jeremie Guez’s film, based on his own adaptation of Peter Dexter’s novel Brotherly Love, offers an intimate look at masculinity, loyalty, faith and redemption through the eyes of two men who are as close as brothers. They’re part of the criminal underground, and one (the brooding, quiet, good one) is worried that the other (the loose cannon) may have gone too far.

Like Mean Streets. Like The Drop. Eastern Promises, Casino, Legend.

Like a lot of movies.

Luckily, Guez has a strong cast with the potential of finding something uniquely human in these characters.

Matthias Schoenaerts is the quietly observant Peter, a reasonable man who isn’t proud of what he does but he keeps his head down, his mouth shut, and does the work. Michael (Joel Kinnaman), on the other hand, likes attention. He likes power and respect, and he’s quite sure he isn’t getting enough of either.

Kinnaman brings a weaselly quality to Michael that suits him. His best scenes showcase a level of insincere congeniality that really is sometimes chilling. Meanwhile Schoenaerts—a truly talented actor able to disappear into characters—is hamstrung by a role that requires little more than disappointed headshakes, askew glances and sighs.

The surrounding ensemble offers opportunities as well. Paul Schneider (nice to see you!) carves out a little authenticity as Jimmy, a restauranteur in over his head. Maika Monroe plays Jimmy’s kid sister Grace. They all grew up together—Jimmy, Michael, Peter and Grace—and now Grace has come back home.

Monroe, by the way, is fully twenty years younger than her co-stars, which makes the prospect of a love scene the single creepiest aspect of this film.

Talent be damned, Guez can’t find an original thought to explore. Everything about Brothers by Blood feels absolutely garden variety, although competently made. Except for the obligatory flashbacks, which are wedged in so poorly you almost overlook the fairly decent acting going on in them.

Mean Streets is $2.99 on Prime right now, by the way.

Visions of the Past

I’m Not Here

by Brandon Thomas

Loss, regret and redemption permeate people’s lives. We all have those things we wish we could “do over” — a life mulligan, if you will. It’s a universal fantasy that binds us together as human beings. This idea of redemption, or at least the understanding of one’s mistakes, is right at the muddled heart of I’m Not Here.

Steven (J.K. Simmons) is a shell of a man. He drinks too much, lives in squalor and has distanced himself from his remaining family. Through a rotating series of flashbacks, we’re introduced to Steven as a boy dealing with the complexities of his parents’ divorce, and also as a young man (Sebastian Stan) who has just started to make his own life-altering missteps. For present-day Steven, a phone call delivering upsetting news brings all of his past trauma to the surface.

I’m Not Here is frustrating. Its cast is more than capable of knocking this kind of material out of the park, but they are hobbled by a poor script and weak direction. Simmons fares best as his segments are solo and allow him to channel the intensity that’s he’s so well known for. The rest of the cast, including Stan, Maika Monroe and Mandy Moore, get bogged down by the cliche-ridden script. The lack of subtlety, especially in the flashback segments, undermines the emotional wallop of grief and loss that director Michelle Schumacher is trying to convey.

Schumacher’s handling of the material is scattershot. The present day scenes involving Simmons show a confidence that isn’t replicated in the flashbacks. The present day material has a more natural flow that lets the audience settle into Steven’s world of loneliness and self-pity. The darkness of his home mirrors the darkness of his life. On the other hand, the flashbacks offer hazy, overlit scenes that wouldn’t be out of place on CBS’s prime time schedule.

Casting Steven as the ultimate Unreliable Narrator is perhaps I’m Not Here’s greatest strength. His unwillingness to come to terms with his choices have clouded his memories with excuses. Steven’s memories cast him as a victim with only slivers of truth peeking through.

I’m Not Here has the foundation for a complex look at how tragedy and grief shape us, but it doesn’t have the follow-through. This one is not worth remembering.

https://youtu.be/sYDwdCdXCOM





A Friend in Need

Greta

by Hope Madden

Greta is a mess, and I don’t just mean the character.

In fact, I’m not sure the character is a mess at all, no matter how she hopes to fool you. Played by the inimitable Isabelle Huppert, the titular friend in need is, in fact, a crackpot. She’s a force to be reckoned with, and poor, wholesome Frances (Chloe Grace Moretz) doesn’t seem up to the reckoning.

A Midwestern transplant still grieving the loss of her mother, Frances lives in an irredeemably perfect New York apartment with her debutante bestie (Maika Monroe), but she feels a little untethered in the big city without her mom to call.

Enter Greta, the lonely older woman whose handbag Frances finds on the subway train and returns.

Director Neil Jordan hasn’t shot a feature since his underappreciated 2012 vampire fantasy, Byzantium. Here he shares writing duties with Ray Wright, who’s made a career of outright reboots and overt reworkings.

Like maybe Fatal Attraction with mommy issues.

There are elements to appreciate about Greta. Huppert is superb, her performance becoming more unhinged and eventually comical in that Nic Cage sort of way. Her time onscreen is creepy fun.

Moretz’s fresh-faced grief convinces for a while, and Monroe excels in an absolutely thankless role.

So what’s the problem? Well, number one, are we really afraid of this tiny, frail old lady?

No. We are not. Jesus, push her down already. I get it, you’re polite, but come on. I’m Midwestern and I’d have knocked her under a NYC taxi by now.

The terror is so unreasonable and yet so earnestly conveyed that scenes meant to be tense are comedic, and once you start laughing it’s hard to stop.

In fact, the sound of your own guffaws might distract you from the film’s truly breathtaking leaps of logic. It often feels as if whole reels were chunked out of this film and replaced with unconnected scenes from a private detective TV drama—one in which Stephen Rea’s dialog is inexplicably and unconvincingly dubbed.

What on earth?!

Well, par for the course with this film. It opens strong, develops well and relies on Huppert’s supernatural presence to create palpable tension before going entirely off the rails.





Scared Single

It Follows

by Hope Madden

David Robert Mitchell invites you to the best American horror film in more than a decade.

It Follows is a coming of age tale that mines a primal terror. Moments after a sexual encounter with a new boyfriend, Jay discovers that she is cursed. He has passed on some kind of entity – a demonic menace that will follow her until it either kills her or she passes it on to someone else the same way she got it.

Yes, it’s the STD or horror movies, but don’t let that dissuade you. Mitchell understands the anxiety of adolescence and he has not simply crafted yet another cautionary tale about premarital sex.

Mitchell has captured that fleeting yet dragging moment between childhood and adulthood and given the lurking dread of that time of life a powerful image. There is something that lies just beyond the innocence of youth. You feel it in every frame and begin to look out for it, walking toward you at a consistent pace, long before the characters have begun to check the periphery themselves.

And though the entire effort boasts the naturalism of an indie drama, this is a horror film and Mitchell’s influences are on display. From the autumnal suburban loveliness of the opening sequence to the constantly slinking camera, the film bears an unabashed resemblance to John Carpenter’s Halloween.

Mitchell borrows from a number of coming of age horror shows, but his film is confident enough to pull it off without feeling derivative in any way. The writer/director takes familiar tropes and uses them with skill to lull you with familiarity, and then terrify you with it.

Maika Monroe – hot off an excellent turn in The Guest – anchors a cast of believable teens, absent mindedly bored with their adolescence. The performances across the board are fresh and realistic. The gang of buddies movies languidly toward adulthood in a time outside time – their lives speckled with TV antennas and wall phones but also e-readers. This inconcrete time period allows the film a nostalgic quality that any audience can tap into.

The shape shifting entity itself appears in a variety of forms, each a more lurid image direct from some nightmare.

Mitchell’s provocatively murky subtext is rich with symbolism but never overwhelmed by it. His capacity to draw an audience into this environment, this horror, is impeccable and the result is a lingering sense of unease that will have you checking the perimeter for a while to come.

Verdict-4-0-Stars