Archive for the ‘Cloverfield’ Category

366 – Cloverfield

January 19, 2008

Some people may remember the heady days of 1999, when there was slow Internet hype of a low-budget first offering by two unknown filmmakers named Sanchez and Myrick. When it first hit theaters, The Blair Witch Project was a welcome change from the almost-antiseptic approach that directors were taking to movies; most scary action movies seemed almost too stagy, too unreal, too implausible. Blair Witch used a handheld camera and was marketed as lost, recovered footage of an experience in the woods gone awry.

Here in 2008, though, the anarchic, subversive idea of handheld, intentionally amateur cinematography is almost passe’, isn’t it? Since 1999, audiences have seen reality television shows and gritty, dirt-in-your-face movies that aim for an ultrareal effect; consequently, the novelty has worn off. We’re no longer amused by footage we could have shot ourselves, and we’re no longer automatically terrified when something scary is filmed with a camcorder.

In Cloverfield, a group of young people is throwing a going-away party in New York City for one of their own; Rob, who is assuming a high-paying job in Japan. Naturally, one of his best friends, Hud, videotapes the party, asking various guests to offer testimonials to Rob, sort of as one would do at a wedding reception. Then BOOM, there’s a loud explosion, and the guests flip on the TV – looks like a giant something or other is attacking the city.

Because everything is seen through the camcorder that Hud is lugging around, we’re supposed to feel a kinship with these pretty twentysomethings, although to be frank they look and act a little more like teenagers. Using Hud’s camera, director Matt Reeves introduces us to a few characters who may or may not make it through to the end of the film. We’re told very little about them, but it’s quickly evident that the people on whom the camera does linger will be characters we’ll follow after the tragedy strikes.

On the plus side, the monster is hardly seen at all, really just in shadows and the like, until near the very end of the movie, and no explanation is offered as to where it came from. The result of this, though, is that the focus is shifted to the game effort put forth by our survivors as they attempt an inexplicably dumb quest. The instant they decide that’s what they’re gonna do, you start guessing which of them will be killed off.

At any rate, such a focus means that it’s pretty important that the actors themselves turn in strong, evocative performances, and no one here does. The impression one gets is that the actors were hired mainly because they weren’t supertalented thespians, that producer J.J. Abrams was going for amateur-looking acting to go along with the amateur-looking camerawork. I get that, I really do, it’s just that watching a 90-minute home movie isn’t all that interesting when you can tell a lot of the special effects were done with CGI.

This movie represents some of the worst aspects of cinema verite. The haphazard, slapdash camerawork is, of course, how you or I might use a camcorder, so it’s realistic; on the other hand, most people don’t want to watch a homemade film to which they have no connection. If my friends had made this, I might have been into it a bit more, but the film never engages its audience. (The party is an obvious contrivance to attempt to engage us, but it just shows me a bunch of pretty young people acting like doofuses.) And because there are all of these zooms to the left and right and up and down and whoops here we go, falling and gasping, it’s tough to make sense of what’s going on. Sure, I know, that’s how the characters feel, too – what’s attacking us? Where should we go? What should we do? – but I am not the characters, and in this case, seeing things through their eyes just makes me dizzy and not care about them much at all.

And that, dear friends, is the crux of the problem. The movie wants you to be right down there in the trenches with the characters, but to do that it’s got to make you like the characters, root for them in some way, and it just plain fails to do so. Instead, we’re treated to nearly 90 minutes of people running here and there and getting attacked by who knows what, and so forth (there are a LOT of shots of feet, as Hud’s camera is pointed straight down a lot of the time). To put it simply, it’s like watching any other loud, dumb action movie, only instead of excellent camera angles and world-class cinematography that grabs you by the throat and never lets go, you get some brain-damaged diphthong toting a home video camera like it’s 1990 and he’s at his first no-adults party.

Need more? Here in 2008, it’s a scant six-and-a-half years or so since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001; one of the more unforgettable images of those attacks was that of people running down the street as a huge billow of smoke, dust, and debris chased after them, with the damaged towers in the background, ready to collapse. That image – as well as the image of one building leaning against another – is revisited in Cloverfield, and instead of being wowed and amazed, you’re somewhat chagrined and uneasy. I wasn’t even in New York on that day, and yet my reaction to those images here was just horror, not wonderment.

I initially thought that the long buildup to the monster attack itself was a bad idea in itself; we get endless shots of the party and the people in it, merely for exposition and empathy. “Bring on the monster!” I shouted, internally. And then the attack comes, and for the rest of the film you feel like you’re on a roller coaster ride after having eaten fourteen hot dogs.

Cloverfield isn’t worth the endless, smug, metahype it generated for itself leading up to its release. It means to be edgy and groundbreaking but winds up being tired and played out. The monster does look pretty cool, and some of the stunts are worth watching, and there are some genuine scares, but overall it misses its mark by quite a bit. The rolling head of the Statue of Liberty is clever, but that’s about it for wit.

**

Cloverfield

January 17, 2008

Know what finally comes out this week? Cloverfield, that invading-monster story from J. J. Abrahms. Like other films before it, Cloverfield has been able to build up phenomenal word of mouth: What’s the monster? What’s going to happen?

There have been fake websites purporting to be “official” movie sites, MySpace pages for some of the characters, and other sites relating to various aspects of the movie (such as one for a drink product, Slusho). Some of these sites are legit, containing actual clues about the movie, and others are decoys.

One site that’s trying to compile all the real clues is the aptly titled Cloverfield Clues. This site contains photos, links to trailers, and of course any kind of media coverage. Boy, you can’t buy PR like that, huh?

Still and all, the hype has worked – at least for me. I am stoked to go see it, and it’s mainly because of this word of mouth. If I thought it was just going to be another big monster-attack movie, I might not be so keen to see it, but I’m intrigued – is there more to the story? Will we find out where the monster came from? Will it attack elsewhere, or just New York City?

One troubling aspect might be the handheld-camera angle. Look! An explosion over there! VROOOOOOOOM and suddenly you’re barfing up a lung because of the hyperactive zoom lens and hyperkinetic character onscreen running madly toward (not away) from the locus of boom.

Anyone else want to see it? Let me put it this way. There are some out there to whom this movie will never appeal; they just don’t go for visceral entertainment, popcorn movies, etc. But for the rest of you, given a choice between seeing it in a theater or on DVD, you really should consider the former. I watch a buttload of movies at home, see, but there are certain types that are simply better on the bigger screen: movies that take place in space or underwater, or on a desert, or have lots of explosions, and so on. Unless you have a big-screen TV, it ain’t gonna be as exciting at home.

2008 Movies to Wait for

January 6, 2008

So it’s the beginning of 2008, so it’s the perfect time of year for a preview of the upcoming releases. Now, I don’t have the smarts or go-getter attitude needed to sort through hundreds and hundreds of movies to see which ones might be kinda sorta neato to look forward to. Luckily, the good folks at Slash Film have gone to the trouble of finding 55 Must-See Movies of 2008.

Of the 55, I’d say the following are the ones I’m anticipating, in order of release:

1. Cloverfield (January 18). There’s a lot of buzz – kind of a subtle codeword for “hype” – for this film. It’s supposed to be about a giant monster attacking New York,
but it’s not Godzilla or King Kong or any monsters with which we’re already familiar. And it’s shot with a hand-held camera (think Blair Witch Project), which might get annoying after a while.

2. The Spiderwick Chronicles (February 15). It’s another one of those alternate-universe fantasy movies, a la the Narina movies, or Harry Potter, or The Golden Compass.. but it does sound interesting, and Freddie Highmore (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Finding Neverland) plays twin boys – and he’s a great young actor.

3. 10,000 BC (March 7). I’m a sucker for epics, especially on the big screen, so this I gotta see. When’s the last prehistoric movie we’ve had, anyway? On the plus side, Roland Emmerich (Independence Day) is the director; on the minus side, Roland Emmerich (Godzilla) is the director.

4. Horton Hears a Who! (March 14). Okay, it’s another Dr. Seuss movie, but THIS time, it’s completely animated. So I think we can toss aside comparisons to How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Cat in the Hat. Jim Carrey plays Horton, and since he won’t have to screw around with costume distractions, he can be funnier than he was in Grinch. Which I didn’t see, and wouldn’t admit to seeing even if I had seen it. Which I didn’t.

5. Righteous Kill (April 18). Know who’s in this one? DeNiro AND Pacino. On the screen at the same time, as cops! They’re huntin’ a vigilante! Rounding out the cast are 50 Cent, John Leguizamo, and Donnie Wahlberg. Expect some gunplay and salty language.

6. Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (April 25). Hey, it stands to reason that if you liked the first stoner-friends movie, you’ll go for this one as well. I mean, look, same cast; even Doogie Howser returns. Originally, this was called Harold and Kumar Go to Amsterdam – they were going there to foil a wedding, or some nonsense – but when it was realized that the characters never make it that far, the title was changed.

7. Iron Man (May 2). Another Marvel character makes it to the big screen; this one’s directed by Jon Favreau (Swingers, Made, PCU). I still wanna know how IM goes to the bathroom.

8. Speed Racer (May 9). This one has a great following already, with the characters having been around like thirty years, and with the Wachowski Brothers (the Matrix trilogy) directing it. Can’t miss, right? Oh! And Christina Ricci as Trixie. Emile Hirsch (The Girl Next Door) is Speed. Expect plenty o’ CGI.

9. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (May 16). I liked the first one, and everyone’s back on board for the second one, so I expect to like this one as well. I happen to like big-budget, effects-laden supermovies! So sue me. Haven’t read the books, though, ‘cuz they’re for kids.

10. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (May 22). Finally! This is the one I’ve been waiting for. Of all the 08s, this might be the 08iest. I’ve seen some of the stills, and Harrison Ford still looks Indy-like. And look at the cast! Shia LaBeouf (Transformers), Karen Allen, Cate Blanchett, John Hurt, Ray Winstone, Jim Broadbent! No Denholm Elliott, who died in 1992, but also no John Rhys-Davies, who’s still alive. Dang. (At least, as far as I know.)

11. The Happening (June 13). Okay, I’ve taken shots at auteur (heh) M. Night Shyamalan in recent years, and I don’t think I’ve done so unfairly. I swore that after The Village, I wouldn’t watch any more of his dreck. I skipped The Lady in the Water, but I’m wondering about this one, because “they” claim it’s his best script since The Sixth Sense.

12. WALL-E (June 27). Earth has been evacuated, but the last robot is still chugging away. It’s animated, of course, directed by the guy who did Finding Nemo. Interesting concept; I’d be driven mad if I was the last human on Earth, but who knows what the last robot would do? Continue to perform its task, I suspect, until some new stimulus happened along..

13. Hellboy II: The Golden Army (July 11). Now, I liked the first one. (Shut up!) And everyone’s back, including Doug Jones as Abe Sapien and Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth. Something about a so-called master race wanting to take over the world, and, as the title indicates, they’re all blonde. It’s like a legion of Draco Malfoys.

14. The Dark Knight (July 18). I enjoyed the rebooting of this franchise, even if Christian Bale’s unofficial (i.e., known to me alone) nickname is “Light Bulb Head.” Heath Ledger plays Batman’s new nemesis, The Joker – let’s compare and contrast with Nicholson. Oh, and looks like pretty lil’ Katie Holmes has been replaced by pretty lil’ Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel Dawes – a huge, huge upgrade.

15. Trailer Trash (August 22). IMDb has no information on this release, which supposedly will be composed purely of fake movie trailers; Eli Roth is the director. The /film site says August 22 is the release date.

16. Valkyrie (October 3). Tom Cruise plays a German count who’s out to kill Hitler, which sort of makes him a good guy. Amusingly, Germany refused to allow Cruise (who executive produced) to film in Germany, on the grounds that his chosen religion, Scientology, isn’t recognized by Germany as a religion. Heh. I have a feeling this one will bomb. Why>? Because Cruise is attempting to act – check out his eye patch! – rather than get by on his derring-do and movie-star looks. He’s not a good actor.

17. The Changeling (November 7). Angelina Jolie’s kid is kidnapped; he’s returned, but she’s not so sure it’s the same kid. Interesting idea, and it’s based on a real case (from the 1920s). I think Jolie’s the only name in it, for whatever that’s worth.

18. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (November 21). Seems like only yesterday everyone was speculating about who the half-blood prince was. Each of the HP movies has been good to great – I particularly enjoyed the last one. The movies, as their main characters have, have become more adult as they’ve progressed; each film is delicious in its detail and honest in its portrayal of teenage angst. Can’t wait.

19. Bond 22 (November 22). It’s Bond. Cmon. And! It’s apparently the first one to be a direct sequel to a previous bond (Casino Royale, of course). I didn’t think I’d like Casino Royale, but it was pretty good.

20. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (November 26). In this David Fincher film based on an F. Scott Fitzgerald story, Button (Brad Pitt) is a man who ages backwards, which causes trouble when he falls for Cate Blanchett. Fincher’s films are always a bit different and entertaining, and Pitt and Blanchett were wonderful together in Babel.

21. The Day the Earth Stood Still (December 12). I’m not one of those people who immediately and automatically hates, hates, hates remakes. I think that if a new generation comes along and hasn’t gotten to see the original in the theater, what’s the problem with a remake? As long as it’s not exactly the same, you see; you got a new audience, and maybe as director you want to approach the subject from a slightly different angle. That said… why on Earth would you cast Keanu Reeves as Klaatu? I guess because he’s an alien, that’s why, and you expect them to be emotionless piles of protoplasm.

22. Star Trek (December 25). Now, this could get interesting. It’s the style nowadays to reboot movie series, at least long-running ones, so that you can cover some of the old ground while introducing new actors into the old roles. Star Trek’s been around 40 years now, and this will be the first Kirk movie since Star Trek VI. (Well, the first Kirk-as-the-main-guy movie.) Will J. J. Abrams be able to pull it off, what with a slightly unknown cast? Could sink the series, but it could also completely revive it.