Tag Archives: Michelle Monaghan

Apples and Trees and All That


by Hope Madden

Back in 2001, Brad Anderson scared the living shit out of us with the ingenious institutional horror, Session 9. He followed this up with the utterly remarkable The Machinist, and a few years later, the mind-bending thriller, Transsiberian.

Things began to peter out for Anderson as a filmmaker by 2010’s Vanishing on 7th Street, and as he found more success with episodic programming, he more or less stayed there, popping over to film every few years with routinely middling results.

Such is the case with his latest, the supernatural family drama, Blood.

Michelle Monaghan is Jess, a recently sober, recently divorced, harried nurse settling her pre-teen children into their new home, an isolated farmhouse owned by her aunt before she passed. But Pippin, the golden lab, knows something’s wrong out in them woods.

Whatever’s out there ends up in Pippin and then, shortly, in Jess’s 8-year-old, Owen (Finlay Wojtak-Hissong). The obvious tension is amplified by the fact that Jess is desperately afraid to lose custody of her children, so she is loath to admit there’s anything seriously wrong. But things are seriously, seriously wrong with Owen.

Writer Will Honley hits on a topic that was really popular in the genre maybe five years ago (The HoleThe ProdigyBrahms: The Boy 2ZBrightburn ).  His updates actually recall slightly older films – Grace (2009), It’s Alive (the 2009 remake), even 1990’s nutty Baby Blood to a degree. What Blood is saying is not original at all, so to make it relevant, Anderson will need to mine Honley’s script for some real relevance.

The family dysfunction and addiction angle could be it. There’s an undercooked metaphor here concerning addiction and heredity. Owen’s bratty behavior buoys the film’s darker qualities, and that business down the basement is especially gruesome (as “down the basement business” so often is). But none of it pans out. In fact, some of it – the least forgettable bits – are forgotten entirely as the film delivers a kind of final grace that is wildly unearned.

Had that moral ambiguity felt intentional the film would have been at least provocative. The fact that it does not is alarming, but not in a way that makes the film more enjoyable.

All the performances are solid. Monaghan and June B. Wilde spar beautifully with each other. Meanwhile, Skeet Ulrich (nice to see you!) and young Skylar Morgan Jones fill out the problematic family well. They just won’t help you remember the movie.



by Hope Madden

Senegalese transplant Aisha (a transfixing Anna Diop) cares for a little girl whose mother works too much and whose father is often away. Aisha’s care is tinged with her own deep well of sadness and guilt at handing the care of her own son Lamine over to a friend back in Senegal. But this job will allow her to finally pay for the flight to bring Lamine to NYC, and just in time for his birthday.

Writer/director Nikyatu Jusu’s feature debut employs fantastical elements, but her Nanny is never an outright horror film. Aisha’s visions, though thoroughly spooky and potentially dangerous, speak to the fear, powerlessness and profound sadness facing a woman forever making impossible choices, regardless of the country.

Jusu gives these folklore-rooted images purpose as Aisha awakens to the real nightmare that the American Dream so often becomes. As self-pitying employer Amy (Michelle Monaghan) works long hours to compete in a man’s world, she shorts Aisya’s pay while taking advantage of her time. Reuniting with Lamine feels less and less likely. Helplessness, hopelessness and anger grow.

Jusu’s lighthanded with true horror, a choice that benefits the film because its honesty is horror enough. Diop conveys more with a glance or a sigh than any scaly monster or hairy spider could ever display. Her command of this character’s melancholy and rage is extraordinary.

The addition of Leslie Uggams as Aisha’s love interest Malik’s (Singua Walls) grandmother introduces exposition and explanations that feel slightly forced, particularly compared to the nuance defining the rest of the film. But it’s a slight fault in an otherwise beautiful, devastating movie.

Like Jenna Cato Bass’s Good Madam, Nanny identifies the uneasy social structure that guarantees inequity, and all the accompanying horror it produces. Jusu’s tale sidesteps the true genre punch, though, which may leave some viewers unsatisfied. But, even for its diabolical sirens and eight-legged tricksters, it’s Nanny’s naked honesty that makes it so scary.


Patriot’s Day

by George Wolf

If director Peter Berg and star Mark Wahlberg are on a mission to salute America’s unsung heroes, they’re doing a damn fine job. After Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon, they bring a similar formula to Patriot’s Day and achieve even more satisfying results.

A chronicle of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the frenzied search for terrorist bombers that followed it, the film employs a breathless timeline and confident pacing to triumphantly salute the courage, compassion and dedication of a city under siege.

As he did so well in Deepwater Horizon last year, Berg opens with quick snapshots of the many lives involved (terrorists included), efficiently creating a layer of humanity and emotional depth. The explosions are sudden and jarring, presented with a compelling mixture of chaos and carnage, as bloody limbs and shell shock bring us uncomfortably close to the suffering.

The ensuing manhunt is nothing less than thrilling, with the rock-solid ensemble cast (including Kevin Bacon, John Goodman, J.K. Simmons, Michelle Monaghan and a fully committed Wahlberg) illustrating the harried teamwork of first responders and government agencies.

Strong and sturdy with undeniable spirit, Patriot’s Day stands as a fitting tribute to both individual heroes and an entire city itself.




Hopeless Romantic


The Best of Me

by George Wolf


And lo, the decree came down from the mountain of recycled melodrama:  more Sparks at the multiplex!

There will be an idyllic Southern setting surrounded by water and plenty of pretty white faces. There will be a love story, a couple brought together by destiny but pulled apart by a cruel world. Tragedy. Flashback. Kissing in the rain. Reunion. Then, a final plot twist so over the top and ridiculous it would get laughed out of most creative writing classes.

It’s the Nicholas Sparks formula, and he’s doing all the laughing, every time a truckload of cash backs up to his front door.

His latest novel to hit the big screen is The Best of Me, and it keeps the formula intact with nauseating precision.

Teenagers Amanda (Liana Liberato, spunky) and Dawson (Luke Bracey, bland) promised forever back in the 90s, but couldn’t make it past high school. Twenty years later, they’re brought back to their Louisiana hometown by the death of an old friend.

As the older Amanda and Dawson (Michelle Monaghan and James Marsden) struggle to put the past behind them, frequent flashbacks clue us in to the tragic circumstances that forced them apart.

It’s so much soap opera fodder, with cheap manipulation standing in for actual storytelling.

A look at the writing team responsible for the script reveals Will Fetters, who has not only penned one other awful Sparks adaptation (The Lucky One), but another film that’s even more shamelessly heavy-handed (Remember Me). Hey, they needed a writer who could provide that Nicholas Sparks feeling and apparently, this guy has it in spades.

Director Michael Hoffman (The Last Station/Soapdish) makes sure everything looks dreamily perfect and really, that’s all he was hired to do. There’s a good reason this isn’t a Coen brothers project, after all.  The goal is style over substance, and to make a Sparks movie, not a good movie.

Well done, then.