Borderlands (Zev Berman, 2007): 6.5/10

The Magic Flute (Ingmar Bergman, 1975): 7/10

La Guerre Est Finie (Alain Resnais, 1966): 7/10

Speed Racer (The Wachowski Brothers, 2008): 8/10

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Cloverfield (Matt Reeves, 2008)

By now, everyone (or at least $40 million worth of people) has seen this thing, so there are spoilers abound in my review. Be forwarned!

By now, there's been over six months of buildup for this movie. Strange that people (including myself) got so excited about a movie from the director of The Pallbearer and a writer from Lost, which I've never gotten into. But the viral campaign was so great, and so successful (at least at first), that plenty of people were inevitably disappointed in the movie. There are plenty of people on the imdb boards complaining about how the movie has no plot, how you don't see the monster enough, how there needs to be more explosions, etc. But that's exactly what I like best about Cloverfield: it's a horror/monster movie from the first-person perspective. We see what people on the ground see, not what the scientists or heroes fighting the monster do. At first, the hand-held camera motions make you sick on the big screen, but you get used to it ], even when it obscures the action and makes this almost too intense to bear.

The movie does actually have a plot, contrary to naysayers; Rob is leaving for Japan the next day, and his brother Jason, future sister-in-law Lily, best friend Hud, Hud's crush Marlena, and Rob's friend/lover/whatever Beth are all at a surprise party to say goodbye to Rob. Things start exploding in Manhattan -- at first, everyone thinks it's an earthquake, but when the Statue of Liberty's head comes flying at them on the street, it's pretty clear it's not. Rob becomes fixated on the task of finding Beth, who he fought with at the eginning of the night but got a phone call from saying she was really hurt in her apartment, and Hud, Lily, and Marlena end up going with him. It seems nonsensical, but I can completely understand why they would follow Rob instead of the military out of Manhattan. Rob has a plan, he's determined, and the rest of them are so confused and terrified that following Rob seems only natural. So their group wanders through the subway tunnels (rats! baby aliens! Both are terrifying), runs through the street, and generally just tries to avoid the monster in order to find Beth.

The monster! I had read beforehand that you get disappointingly few looks at it, so I was actually surprised at the amount of close-ups of the monster we get from this supposedly hand-held camera. It's terrifying, worth the price of admission alone -- when you get the closeups of it right before it devours Hud, I almost couldn't look. Not only is the monster scary, but it drops lots of baby monsters, and their bite apparently makes you bleed from your eyes. Or something. (The imdb faq is very helpful on this account -- the monster's venom could cause the pressure in the body to become too much to bear, or it could be that the monster is like the alien from Alien, and tries to replicate through humans.) The entire movie, save the first 20 minutes, is so intense. It's the most intense experience I've had in the theater since Hostel. How was this thing not rated R?

Many reviews have brought up the inevitable September 11 connections, and while I did think of that when the first shots of buildings on fire were shown, the movie does such a good job of wrapping you up in this monster attack that I didn't think about it again. There is quite a bit of character development, or at least introduction, in the first 20 minutes, but I was more impressed by the growth of Rob's character throughout the movie. It's a hard situation in which to have a character "learn something," but Rob does, and not in an unbelievable way. The actors are all very authentic, which might have had something to do with the fact that they were all relative unknowns.

I'd definitely like to see it again, but I might wait for the second-run theater. It was almost too intense to take in again right away. And if you've seen the movie, but didn't catch the little surprise in the final scene with Rob and Beth on the ferris wheel (I did, I was too busy crying!), check out the imdb faqs. And apparently, after the credits, there's a whisper of "help me" that, played backwards, is this:

Sounds like a sequel is likely. I'll be waiting.


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Comments on "Cloverfield (Matt Reeves, 2008)"


Blogger The Vicar of VHS said ... (10:21 AM) : 

I too enjoyed this movie in the theaters, and got annoyed at the predictable "too hip for the room" backlash. Godzilla from Ground-Level, and effectively done--and one of those movies you REALLY need to see on the big screen.

I was confused at why the baby aliens looked nothing like their mama, but then I heard somewhere that they weren't babies, but actually giant poisonous alien LICE that dropped off their host to go looking for tastier morsels. Which actually makes a lot more sense.

As to the 9/11 stuff, I don't think you could make a movie now that has buildings collapsing in a big urban center WITHOUT using the "9/11" visuals, i.e. the billowing clouds of dust, the people walking round in a daze coated with it, etc. Basically we learned something we never really knew before about how such disasters would look, so I don't think it's "tasteless" for the filmmakers to have done that. Otherwise we just go back to Toho miniature sets made out of cracker boxes.


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