Charlize Theron exploded in a magnetic Oscar-winning (Best Actress 2003) performance as convicted killer Aileen Wuornos. Severely abused and unloved Aileen immersed herself in the dangerous world of highway prostitution...until she met Selby Wall (Christina Ricci), a naive girl who was Aileen's last chance at a normal life. Ultimately, all Aileen understood was violence and nobody imagined the nightmare that awaited the seven men standing in the way of her happiness. A critically acclaimed film from writer/director Patty Jenkins.
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
I know this will sound bizarre, but I've always found serial killers to be incredibly interesting. From the issues in their lives that lead to their decision to take lives, how they select their victims, how they go about covering their trails, and how long they stay active before getting caught, their entire twisted tales are massively intriguing, both in modern days where the media seems to turn them into celebrities, and historically, where many cruel men became legend by making a living out of killing.
Key word in that sentence? Men. Female serial killers are a whole different breed, a far more exclusive club. They think and kill differently than men, with the notable exception of Aileen Wuornos. The result of an extremely broken home, the prostitute turned petty criminal turned murderer turned serial killer acted in patterns very similar to the historical male killers, rather than female, creating a somewhat unique profile.
The film about her killings, 'Monster' (a title which doesn't lend one to believe the film would be impartial), disregards her criminal past, presenting Wuornos (Charlize Theron) as a depressed prostitute living day to day, John to John. After a chance meeting with Selby (Christina Ricci, though the historical counterpart was Tyria Moore), an awkward, young lesbian, Wuornos seems to turn her life around, until a job leaves her bludgeoned and nearly killed, only surviving by killing her assaulter. Now paranoid and delusional, Wuornos will leave a trail of bodies behind, some from those soliciting her for sex, others just trying to help her.
'Monster' doesn't truly delve into what created the "Damsel of Death," ignoring her childhood save for a brief glimpse, and completely avoiding her past convictions for assault, armed robbery, and grand theft auto. It begins in the short time before the slayings began, and chooses to also not create a timeline for her slayings, which in real life lasted nearly a year. Rather than bog itself down with facts, 'Monster' wants to go the route of portraying a woman alienated, abused, and neglected, a victim herself who turns the tables and goes off the deep end.
'Monster' is just barely better than those direct-to-video serial killer chronicles, and the only reason it is a step above is due to the amazing performance by Theron, who is unrecognizable, hidden beneath layers of prosthetics and makeup. The Academy Award winning performance (Best Actress, 2003) is absolutely amazing, as the appearance is not the only thing different from her past (and future) works. Ricci doesn't share this fate, as her performance doesn't ever allow one to forget she's "that girl from the 'Addams Family' movies."
I would have much preferred a tale full of Wuornos' tragic life, as there is more to be told than just from the first killing to the trial. Her arrest records and history as a child would set up the character quite well, to understand the actions that happen later in life, while the trial itself would have been interesting, due to the fact that there were five separate trials, all of which found Wuornos guilty. The situations involving her fitness for trial (psychiatric tests), and the fact that her first victim did, indeed, have a rape conviction in the past would also have created much more drama than what we get here. 'Monster' is just a brief, shallow glance at a woman's life, rather than a real in depth look at what created a true monster.
'Monster' arrives on Blu-ray with a 1080p MPEG-2 encode from First Look Studios that is far from eye candy, but it isn't bad, either.
The most obvious element of the video is the strong grain leve, that occasionally spikes...to a stronger grain level! While it isn't quite as prevalent as 'Burn Notice,' it does deter finer detail quite a bit.
Blacks are soft, with pretty poor shadow delineation qualities. Colors in the film are drab, with only a few sequences showing a bright, vibrant palette. Skin tones are often quite nice, but tend to lean towards the orangish side. There were a few flashes of digital noise that were a bit distracting, some minor splotches of dirt (that got extreme in the closing shots), and some shots that were blurry to the point that the Florida license plates were not legible. On the bright side, edges are very clean, and there do not appear to be any DNR issues.
'Monster' has two audio options: a lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix (default), or a Dolby Digital Stereo track.
After the credits, we are bombarded with a strong downpour of rain, that drops in volume when dialogue begins, and soon disappears, and, along with it, so does the best moment of activity in the film. While spoken words are clear, they often don't seem to line up with lip movement whatsoever, resulting in a peculiar watch.
There were a few bits of motion through the surrounds in the final bits of the film, but for the most part, surround effects are minimal, with some random ambiance at times, and nothing else. Gunfire has a soft pop, with no bass presence. The 1980's soundtrack has a very soft bass presence, as well. There were a few moments (screams) where the high end of the mix was utilized nicely, but for the most part, this film stays on the middle ground, never really flexing its audio muscles.
All of the extras from the original DVD are in attendance on this Blu-ray release, and they've all aged horribly.
- Making Of (SD, 14 min) - A look at Wuornos through news coverage, with interviews on the film's themes from the cast and crew, and from real life acquaintances. Real life locations from the story are visited, the makeup procedure is exposed, and the connections of the film to the true story are delved into. Not a bad feature, at all.
- Mixing Demo (SD, 2 min) - A scene from the film that can be tinkered with, as three elements (music, effects, and dialogue) can be turned on and off, to demonstrate how a sound mix is created. This may have been innovative when the film first hit DVD, but this is quite a relic here.
- Interview with Patty Jenkins and BT (SD, 15 min) - Initially titled Evolution of the Score, this feature discusses the music in the film with the director and composer. If I had to rank all the elements in the film that deserved an in depth look, the score would have been just barely above the catering. There are so many intriguing elements to this story and film that get ignored on the supplement package, and we get this. Wow, we get to hear about the difficulties placing microphones for the surround sound effect. Again, archaic.
- Trailers (SD) - Two trailers are available for 'Monster:' both a domestic and international version. There are also trailers for a few other First Look films, including the heist film 'The Code,' the abominable 'Labor Pains,' and 'Direct Contact,' one of the most ridiculously over the top (possibly in a good way) films ever made.
'Monster' is a tough cookie, since it has very little replay value. Who wants to sit through a downer of a film, repeatedly, showing how much it took for one person to go over the edge? Add in the fact that this Blu-ray doesn't sport the best audio or video, and the supplement package is as lame as the one found on the DVD release, and this release isn't an easy recommendation.
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