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This week:
Monsters vs. Aliens

Filthy says:
"Homage to derivativeness."

Monsters vs. Aliens begs the question what is an homage. I believe it is a tribute to something you admire. An homage enhances its reputation, brings it wider recognition or illuminates its value. The emphasis is on what is being honored. I don't think an homage is just referring to something. If it is, here is my homage to Donald Barthleme: Donald Barthelme. Homage is not lazily ripping something off without doing anything to burnish what you love. The spotlight is not supposed to be on the one paying homage.

Those lazy grassfuckers in Hollywood frequently get this wrong. Over the years, they have repeatedly interpreted "homage" to mean you can steal from the past while acknowledging your thievery. By admitting to the theft, they think they are somehow honoring what they stole. That's pretty convenient of them. It's sure as hell easier than coming up with new ideas, and if they don't think too hard they can feel good about themselves. Their idea of homage is sort of like people with Priuses who drive a half-mile to the convenience store instead of walking, or riding a bike.

Monsters vs. Aliens, the latest pile of animated crap from the Dreamworks poopchute, claims to be an homage to the monsters and sci-fi movies of the fifties. Where the hell is the homage? It features characters lifted from the old movies; the Creature From the Black Lagoon; Mothra, the 50-Foot Woman; the Fly and the Blob. The movie does nothing loving or endearing with those characters, though. It just rips the bones out of them and packs new flab on. That flab feels designed for toy sales and Happy Meals. The story surrounding the monsters is a stale and recycled chunk of formula crap.

Reese Witherspoon plays Ginormica, a newly fifty-foot woman captured by the government and imprisoned with other monsters in an underground military complex. The government has been hoarding the monsters because it's afraid the public would be terrified by them. When a giant alien robot lands on earth, the government unleashes Ginormica, B.O.B, Dr. Cockroach, The Missing Link and Insectasaurus to destroy it.

The interesting part of Monsters vs. Aliens is Witherspoon's character evolving from a wimp to an empowered woman who likes being gigantic and kicking ass. That's really nice to see. Once she understands her power, she embraces it and saves the other male monsters. It's a rare and very good quality for a movie to let a woman beat the shit out of bad guys as a woman, without screaming for help and without really being a man with tits. There are also a few decent jokes, mainly using Seth Rogen's blobular B.O.B., a gelatinous thing with no brain who can play catch using his eye and is both indestructible and mostly useless.

What sucks, though, is how fucking formulaic the rest of the story is. The monsters team up, they are in peril, they destroy the aliens and they become heroes who can walk amongst polite society once again. None of the aliens has much personality. Well, they each play a very broad archetype, but without any twists that would surprise you. Stephen Colbert plays the president and the writers tried to write jokes that are consistent with his TV character. Except the writers sort of suck, the jokes are awful, and Colbert's role comes off as stunt casting.

The movie's idea of monsters is nothing new. They are fifties sci-fi creatures in appearance only. They don't act like 50s sci-fi creatures; they act like Dreamworks characters. That is, generic plot devices with simple emotional problems that can be easily resolved. Outside of their looks, they don't reference those old movies and they don't touch on the old movie themes of cold war paranoia or fear of science. The alien is a lame ripoff of Marvin the Martian and every cartoon alien descendant of him. I don't know why Hollywood always depicts cartoon aliens as pompous buffoons, but I guess it's easier than trying to be clever.

The animation is blah. The landscapes have a lot more interesting detail and beauty than the characters. They offer nothing fresh or interesting to look at. And it all has a mechanical feel to it. Monsters vs. Aliens lacks the artistic grace of a movie like Wall-E or Cars, as though it were built on an assembly line rather than crafted by artists. The 3-D sure as hell ain't worth three dollars extra, especially when they ask you to "recycle" the glasses afterward. My ass. It has nothing to do with saving the planet and everything to do with propping up their bottom line. If everyone keeps the glasses, maybe Hollywood will be a little more judicious with their application of this stunt. There are a couple of 3-D tricks at the beginning of the story, but most of it would be exactly the same in 2-D. The characters and plot are only two-dimensional anyways.

Monsters vs. Aliens also has the Dreamworks quota of cheap pop-cultural gags where you're supposed to laugh just because you get the reference. At one point, the president plays the Axl Foley theme from Beverly Hills Cop to welcome the alien robot. Why that song? What's so funny about that? Why would the adults in the audience laugh? Just because they recognize it? Similarly, another melody hints at the B-52s Planet Claire, and all that did was make me wish the movie had that song's (and band's) way-out-there weirdo sensibility.

It's a damn shame, really, for with the promise of monsters and aliens fighting each other fail to so meekly. The title offers a shitload of potential, but it's where Dreamworks stopped being creative. They put hack writers and boring directors in charge, and the result is factory-grade mediocrity. Monsters vs. Aliens is too lazy to pay homage, too lame to be funny, and too stuck in formula to be fresh. Two Fingers.

Want to tell Filthy Something?



Pete Hammond of Hollywood.com

Race to Witch Mountain is "A fun, heart-racing adventure! Race to Witch Mountain has it all!"

Alien Trespass is "Highly entertaining!"

Paris 36 is "Purely delectable and visually enchanting, a Parisian dream that will have you walking out on air and feeling great about the joyous possibilities of movies. Nora Arnezeder is a major new talent."

Filthy's Reading
W. R. Burnett - Underdog

Listening to
The Obits - I Blame You


Let the Right One In