Posts Tagged ‘Science-Fiction’

Review of “Cloverfield”: It’s Not Donkey Kong Destroying the City

January 19, 2008


In a movie like Cloverfield it doesn’t matter what’s attacking the city, though it certainly helps if its larger than life and terrifying. In the end it could be anything. What matters is whether or not you give a damn about the characters. On Christmas Day Aliens vs. Predator opened and I didn’t give a stitch about a single person in that film. It ruins the magic, destroys the imagination if we’re not dealing with believable characters. One never feels afraid.

Cloverfield spends some time smartly developing the characters up front and this time is wisely spent because we feel the ripples throughout the rest of the film allowing each situation they find themselves in to be much more involving. They aren’t the usual B-Grade characters you find in movies like this. They’re grounded in a reality most people can relate to.

These young adults are generally smart, have a sense of humor and are affected by decisions they have made or will make. Sex actually has real emotional consequences between two of the characters. And the actors are affable, lending each character a likability that helps later on when the tension is rising.

Rob Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David, who gives a particularly good performance) is leaving for Japan for a new job and his brother’s girlfriend Lily Ford (Jessica Lucas) has gathered a large group of people together to send him on his way: Rob’s brother Jason Hawkins (Mike Vogel) and Rob’s best friend Hud Platt (T.J. Miller) who ends up carrying the camera most of the film giving it the cinema verite look that drew people to the awful Blair Witch Project. Thankfully Cloverfield is more than just a gimmick.

Also along for the ride is Marlena Diamond (Lizzy Caplan also giving a performance that sticks long after the movie is over) who doesn’t look like she even wants to be at the party and probably ends up wishing she hadn’t, since she along with several of the other characters go on a mission to save Beth McIntyre (Odette Yustman) a girl who has made Rob’s life very complicated in recent weeks and will continue to make it even more so. But the mission is noble and you want them to succeed.


“Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem”

December 25, 2007


I can take pretty much all levels of violence in cinema. Everything but one, pregnant women being brutally murdered by Aliens. If a movie has to stoop so low to push the envelope and get our attention then something else is obviously lacking. For Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem a lot of things are lacking.

I was never a big fan of the Predator. He’s sort of one note. It’s my belief if it hadn’t been for the popular run of comic books released by Dark Horse, Predator would have disappeared after the debacle of Predator 2. But I’m a giant fan of the Alien creature. It’s one of my favorite movie monsters of all time. And the first three and a half films are excellent movies dealing with pure carnal fear. Facing the unknown. The first 7 or 8 minutes of this new incarnation of the combined two franchises gives you hope for an interesting time. The directors, with a spoonful of geek pretension are calling themselves The Brothers Strause, but when they aren’t setting themselves up for a huge fall by making comparisons in name structure to the Brothers Grimm are separately known as Colin and Greg, and they immediately show us that they aren’t afraid to break some rules. They have a handsome visual flair and the special effects up front are pretty slick. The blacks in the film are bold, and the Predator looks pretty cool. Then we’re introduced to Generic Human Charater #1, then Generic Human Character #2 and they have a conversation and you realize that the first 7 or 8 minutes was just a trick to keep you from leaving, hoping that there might be another good 7 or 8 minutes worth sticking around for…and there really isn’t.

Just to give you an idea of who some of these Generic characters are. The first is someone stepping off a bus in Generic Rural Town, North America. His name is Dallas and he’s a felon getting out of prison who likes to spend his time in diners and bars, but isn’t against helping his brother make the right choice and saving the day if necessary (What say you ladies? Huh?) G#2 is the Sheriff, Dallas’s best friend from days gone past. Dallas has a younger brother who has to deliver a pizza to the hot, popular high school girl who has an a-hole boyfriend. Of course Younger Brother and Hot High School girl look like they’re actually 25 or 26, but I guess they’re supposed to be 18. And needless to say it’s obvious this film was written by fanboys for fanboys because he ends up with her at the high school swimming pool late one night kissing her in bra and undies. She’s way hot and we’re momentarily distracted from the badness of the film, but when the a-hole boyfriend and his flunkies make a grand entrance you really start hoping for the next 7 or 8 minutes to start.


“I Am Legend”: Sacrifices Nothing

December 20, 2007

I Am Legend

Most often than not the big budget films of the year will pander to their audiences; too much handed to us, too much force fed. Excitement is equated with explosion. Ideas are sacrificed for marketability. Character development is exchanged for a big climax. I Am Legend does none of this. Except for maybe the big climax – but it’s well deserved.

Quickly, a virus breaks out, kills everyone except for the scientist hard at work at ground zero, also known as New York City. The island is cut off. The rest that survived can’t be explained. I will only say that it’s a world full of tension, the silence of a naked city is almost worse than what’s waiting around the corner. Though what’s waiting around the corner is deadly too. Robert Neville, our scientist, our hero, is left to live in this world alone. His only connection with life is his German Shepherd. He lives out a routine, perhaps so he doesn’t go mad. The dog has become more than a companion, he’s the last shred of reality that Neville clings to, and Will Smith lets you know this. And not by saying it, but by giving a surprisingly strong and sympathetic performance. There’s a reason why Will Smith is the biggest international superstar we have, and it’s not only based on box office receipts, its because he cares about the roles he takes on. He could have easily been Will Smith, strolling through this movie, letting us fall prey to the pandering, but he doesn’t…


Southland Tales: A Case of Intriguing Befuddlement

November 29, 2007

Southland Tales

Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales is not a great movie. Too much time is spent following characters that have little to do with the emotional center of the film – it almost feels as if Kelly didn’t trust the core of his story and so brought all of the subplots to the forefront (though that isn’t the truth and I’ll get back to that.) We follow all of these tangential storylines that one after the other fade away leaving us with an accomplished final twenty minutes of film, one that has baffled many viewers, but I found to be powerful enough and understandable enough to have stood alone as a movie. Of course, we all know, or maybe not, the story of how Southland Tales came to be.

An unfinished cut premiered at Cannes and was booed by the audience…those French are apparently difficult to please. The studio said they wouldn’t release it unless the film was cut down… and now the studios are listening to the French? The first studio said by an hour, the second studio only twenty minutes. So Kelly recut, keeping the “sellable” stars in the foreground, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Sarah Michelle Gellar, and keeping in the background the central theme of the film represented by Sean William Scott and Justin Timberlake. Both now seem less important than all of the other minor characters of the film. It’s truly frustrating to feel like a chunk of the film was missing as I watched. It almost feels like watching the cut the studio put together for television of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.

Even though it feels like a mess, it is a well thought out mess with a lot of ideas; an influx of ideas that I feel comes closer to representing our post 9-11 hysteria and uprooted sense of safety and perception in the years following the collapse of the twin towers than any other film has done. How Kelly achieves this is by multiplying the devastating attacks by a thousand. We’re greeted in the first 5 minutes of the film by a nuclear explosion on US soil followed by a blanket of information age updates that follows uniformly with the neurotic news broadcasts that throw so much information at us in boxes and scrolling text and announcements that it’s hard to tell what’s important and what’s not. Familiar words and phrases keep us grounded in reality: “This is the worst attack on US soil,” one news reporter proclaims and talk of a heightened Patriot Act is equated with an image of an elephant mounting another. Ah, so it’s satire that Kelly has in mind. A news broadcast with a porn star Krysta Now played by Sarah Michelle Gellar that deals with everything from politics to teen horniness being okay only cements this idea. And that’s where the biggest problem of the film rests. None of the satire is really that funny. Sure it makes a point but everything is directed, edited and scored with a distant coldness that keeps the comedy at arm’s length. This has nothing to do with the studios, but everything to do with Kelly’s choices as a creator. Relying on easy jabs at the porn industry is not the ultimate joke in a world close to apocalyptic meltdown. But the idea is interesting when you reflect upon how the citizens of the US view a shallow porn star’s ideas as something to be seriously thought about. The idea is interesting, because whether Kelly means to infer it or not, it’s our idea and not one he deals with, because before we know it his ADD induced world has moved on to other territory. He goes as far as casting comedians in roles that require no comedic skills, or gives comedians very few funny situations to deal with. It’s a strange middle ground that tells me Kelly didn’t quite know what he wanted the tone of his film to be, but somewhere strongly in the middle. A faux murder that goes wrong is the funniest moment of this middling film. Back to the story: (more…)