Mini Reviews (June 2011)
Sanctum, Monsters vs Aliens, Conan O'Brien Can't Stop
Sanctum (June 4/11)
Produced by James Cameron, Sanctum follows the members of a cave diving team - including Richard Roxburgh's Frank, Ioan Gruffudd's Carl, and Alice Parkinson's Victoria - as they find themselves trapped within an expansive underground system and must subsequently attempt to escape by venturing further into the labyrinth. It's a promising setup that is, at the outset, employed to seriously underwhelming effect by director Alister Grierson, as the filmmaker, working from John Garvin and Andrew Wight's screenplay, offers up a bland assortment of characters and tosses them into one tedious scenario after another. It's not until the situation begins to worsen that the movie starts to improve (albeit slightly), with the inclusion of a few admittedly gripping set-pieces (eg one character's breathing apparatus malfunctions) certainly proving instrumental in resuscitating the viewer's dwindling interest. And while virtually all of the protagonists remain hopelessly unsympathetic from start to finish, it does become marginally easier to root for their ongoing efforts as they're slowly-but-surely killed off one by one. The mindlessly watchable atmosphere is perpetuated by Grierson's emphasis on sequences of a decidedly suspenseful variety, with the highlight undoubtedly a cringeworthy, impressively brutal scene in which one character's hair winds up caught in her gear. The passable vibe persists right up until the absolutely ludicrous finale, with Garvin and Wight's decision to transform one of the surviving characters into a monstrous villain smacking of desperation (and needlessness) and ensuring that the film concludes on as anticlimactic a note as one could possibly envision - which effectively cements Sanctum's place as a well-intentioned yet utterly misguided underwater thriller.
Monsters vs Aliens
A typically slick effort from DreamWorks Animation, Monsters vs Aliens follows Reese Witherspoon's Susan Murphy as she's hit by a meteorite and transformed into a giant - with the film subsequently detailing the character's efforts at working alongside a ragtag group of monsters to defeat a malevolent alien (Rainn Wilson's Gallaxhar) bent on destroying the world. Directors Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon have infused Monsters vs Aliens with a consistently irreverent feel that's reflected most keenly in its cartoonish characters and larger-than-life plot developments, and while the lighthearted atmosphere proves effective at initially capturing the viewer's interest, there does reach a point at which the relentless emphasis on comedy of a decidedly juvenile nature becomes increasingly difficult to stomach - with the pervasive lack of laughs only highlighting the needlessness of many of the film's jokier elements (eg the President busts out a rendition of "Axel F" during his first face-to-face encounter with Gallaxhar's enormous robot). It's just as clear, however, that the film does improve demonstrably as it goes along, with the palpable chemistry between Susan and her four sidekicks (Seth Rogen's B.O.B., Hugh Laurie's Dr. Cockroach, Will Arnett's Missing Link, and Vernon's Insectosaurus) ensuring that the action-oriented midsection actually fares a lot better than one might've anticipated. The decidedly lackluster nature of the movie's central villain - Gallaxhar is simply too goofy to take seriously - ultimately results in a less-than-engrossing climax, which cements Monsters vs Aliens' place as a watchable yet somewhat underwhelming release from DreamWorks Animation.
Conan O'Brien Can't Stop (June 28/11)
Conan O'Brien Can't Stop follows the redheaded entertainer as he embarks on a concert tour in the wake of his decision to leave The Tonight Show, with the film subsequently detailing O'Brien's ongoing exploits as he travels from state to state (and province to province) alongside his friends, employees, and assorted hangers-ons. For the most part, Conan O'Brien Can't Stop plays like a fairly typical tour documentary - as filmmaker Rodman Flender offers up an entertaining blend of O'Brien's behind-the-scenes antics and his energetic onstage performances. The all-access vibe ensures that the film is often at its best in its quieter stretches, as Flender has suffused the proceedings with a number of eye-opening glimpses into O'Brien's private life (eg the comedian plays with his kids before the trip). And although there are a few lulls within the movie's midsection, Flender's warts-and-all treatment of his subject proves effective at buoying the viewer's interest on a fairly consistent basis (eg there's a fascinating sequence in which O'Brien clearly wants to rest and yet finds himself forced to meet more and more people backstage). Ultimately, Conan O'Brien Can't Stop feels like an above-average, hour-long DVD extra that's been needlessly padded out to 90 minutes - which inevitably diminishes both its overall impact and its mainstream appeal.