Sunday, January 27, 2008

New Movie Review: "Cloverfield"

Terrible. That's a word I heard repeatedly from an older couple as the crowd left the theater after watching the J.J. Abrams produced Cloverfield. It was then that it hit me: Cloverfield is really a movie for a newer generation, a different mindset. The monster movie, which has the gimmick of being "shot" entirely by one single camera, one that you and I may have, really plays with pre-existing ideas and cliches. It has simplistic plot (unknown monster attacks NYC), but the movie isn't about why things are happening, just that they are happening.

Let me stop here for a moment and talk about the gimmick. Although shot similarly to The Blair Witch Project, it isn't presented as "documentarily" as TWB was. The characters are halfway between the Hollywood stereotype often seen and the "real" people of TWB. There are jump cuts and rocking of the camera, skipping over some action, etc. It is stylized is such a way that it is indeed a blend of big budget Hollywood SFX and Blair Witch-inspired realness.

As to see why this film is both so out there, yet so riveting, one should examine what Cloverfield is not. It isn't a Hollywood movie, with big names (Lizzy Caplan, who was last seen on the one season show The Class is probably the biggest name). It isn't a typical monster movie, with shots of the monster crossing the New York skyline. There were many more shots of the monster than I expected, but the concept of the movie is that we see it through the eyes of the survivors, not from some omnipresent source. We don't get a backstory to the creation of the monster. The movie was written by Drew Goddard, who also wrote for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and currently is involved in Lost. Much like those shows, the extraordinary is only used as background for illuminating the ordinary.

And I think that is where the older couple, and perhaps the older generation as a whole, might miss the boat with this movie. On the surface, this movie is full of cliches. Longtime friends have feelings for each other, but have a big fight and separate the night of the attack. This causes the man, Rob, to chase after the girl, Beth, out of love through the disaster. There is the wisecracking sidekick, the dutiful brother, all the typical group dynamic cliches. There are deathbed conversations that last longer than they should. People survive one big tragedy, only to be taken away in another one. A lot of cliches, no?

But anyone who has seen BtVS or Lost knows that there is a newer generation of geeks that love to mess with conventions. Look at Abrams' other big projects: Alias (which combined spy genre with sci-fi elements) and Mission Impossible 3 (which had a plot device that Abrams repeatedly teased the viwer with that he never revealed). I truly believe that the intention of this movie was to send up those monster movie cliches. That is why it was filmed as being real. Abrams and company were sticking the trappings and sometimes stitled dialogue into real people as if to say "See this? This is believable? Yet, we've all been watching these sorts of movies for decades." If Abrams intends to turn Cloverfield into a franchise, then this movie is the perfect palate cleanser for a newer monster movie. Abrams combined the old with the new.

The movie is a brisk 90 minutes, with about the first 10 or 15 mood setting, as a party is thrown for the main character, Rob. It sets up the characters well, as the walking cliches I mentioned before. My point about them being shoehorned into roles and being somewhat unlikable has been mentioned elsewhere. The movie does capture the terror of being in a dangerous situation that is completely out of one's control, as I felt pangs of fear where the military finally showed up. The movie is rated PG-13, so it isn't as gory as I thought it would be either, which made it more easy to watch.

Taken at face value, the movie is okay, maybe even terrible, as the older couple put it. But much like The Blair Witch Project and Adaptation, movies that you needed to know a little about before you went in and be able to take a step back and realize what is going on, it is a great movie. It is scary without being horrifying, it is funny without being obvious, and it is excellent filmmaking.

4 1/2 Dudes out of 5.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Oscar Nominations

Oscar nominations can be found here.

Once again, I have seen only one of the multinominated-in-the-major-categories movies, Juno. I am surprised that it got nominated for Best Director, as many were saying Jason Reitman would be passed over. I am disappointed that The Simpsons Movie didn't get a nod for Best Animated Film, especially since Surf's Up did get a spot. I mean, really, are we still that much in love with animated talking birds? Then again, I am a Simpsons fanboy, and I think Persepolis will win that award, considering it is more current (in timing and subject matter) than Ratattouile.

Anyways, who knows that form or shape the Oscars will take this year, with the Writers Strike? When we get closer to knowing if the show will go on, I will post my predictions

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

How to Deal With The Writers Strike

It is something like Day 76 of the Writers Strike, which continues as an impasse between the WGA and the AMPTP (or whatever the studio acronym is), and the effects are being felt in TV Land. For all the shows you loved in the Fall, it looks like they won't be coming back in the Spring. There are some new shows this Spring that are begining to air now, but they too have a limited number of episodes filmed, less than what they would normally air. So what should one do to pass the time?

Well, there are some new/returning shows as I mentioned that seem to be worthwhile. The Sarah Connor Chronicles (9 PM on Fox) is off to a good start. You don't need to know The Terminator mythology to enjoy the show, though it helps. It stars someone from 300, someone from Heroes, and someone from Firefly so it is a geek's dream come true. There is also the returning Lost (two weeks to go!), now airing on Thursday at 9 PM on ABC. I am of two minds about Lost coming back. It has been like 9 months since the finale blew me away and I need my fix, but it is only coming back for 8 episodes instead of the scheduled 16. I think the fact that I can see Jack and company again will outweigh the brevity of this season.

On the movie front, Cloverfield comes out tomorrow. So far the reviews have been good for a movie that might have died ala Snakes on a Plane due to the Internet hype. Also coming up in May is Iron Man and in July, The Dark Knight, two superhero movies that will go for more pathos than punchouts. Also in May, Indy returns with Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Indiana Jones was a favorite series of mine growing up (despite me only seeing the last two of the original trilogy), so I am definitely looking forward to this film. Advance word says that Harrison Ford is not showing his age and is still an action star.

On the book front, well, I am not too up to speed on that. I haven't found the time to look over any new novels, still haven't finished the two books I started over the summer. But, of course, if you want to completely rid yourself of Hollywood, book reading is the way to go.

While the situation looks bleak, as the writers and studios butt heads over and over again, there are still some rays of hope out there. But those rays will get snuffed out the longer the strike goes.

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

New Movie Review: "Walk Hard"

Sometimes a serious genre needs to be taken down a peg or two. The Judd Apatow produced and written (but not directed) movie Walk Hard parodies the recent glut of musical biopics, in particular, Walk the Line about Johnny Cash and Ray, about Ray Charles. All the cliches are here: the troubled childhood, the descent into drugs, the rebirth, etc. The lead character of Dewey Cox is played affably by John C. Reilly, who has seemed to take a recent turn into comedy.

As typical with an Apatow movie, the real treasure is the supporting cast. It seemed like just about every person who has appeared in a movie with Apatow involved, or has known someone in an Apatow movie shows up: Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill and Jane Lynch are frequent Apatow collaborators. The newcomers include Jenna Fischer as Dewey's second wife in a role not unsimilar from her role in Blades of Glory: the innocent girl turned into a funny sexpot. Dewey's back up band is made up of solid comedic actors Tim Meadows and Chris Parnell from SAturday Night Live and Matt Bresser from Upright Citizens Brigade. And as I mentioned, there are many cameoes, from people as diverse as Frankie Muniz to Ghostface Killah. It was a real treat to see them pop up.

The movie is mostly funny, even if the jokes aren't 100% on. I found myself laughing not at the jokes themselves at times, but their setup and execution. The music itself is pretty good and authentic sounding. Only a couple of songs are out and out silly, with most of the tunes sounding like what a real singer-songwriter would write with just a little comedic twist.

The best part of the whole movie, to me at least, is the appearance of the Beatles, with Paul Rudd being John Lennon, Jack Black being Paul McCartney, Justin Long as George Harrison and Jason Schwartzman as Ringo Starr. Justin Long is spot on as Harrison, as his inpersonation seems not parodic or over-the-top, but a real attempt to speak in George's voice. Rudd's Lennon is slightly over-the-top and more of an exaggeration than Long's George, but is pretty close to the original. Schwartzman's Starr is meh, as it is more like he is doing a Liverpudlian accent, and the less to say about Black's McCartney, the better. But the scene where Cox meets The Beatles in India is pure comedic gold in terms of both mocking and embracing the Fab Four. I enjoyed it.

While Walk Hard is not the funniest movie of the year but it is entertaining and a very well made spoof if you have seen the films that inspired it. It is hearting to see a parody movie done right, especially when such dreck as Meet The Spartans seem to embrace the million-miles-a-minute style of rapid spoofing. Although the box office returns do not reflect this next statement, I believe it is true: Walk Hard is on the level of Superbad and Knocked Up in terms of solid entertainment.

3 1/2 Cox puns out of 5

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

New Movie Review: "National Treasure: Book of Secrets"

Are you ready for some adventuring, with a team of characters seeking some artifact? Well, if you can't wait till Indiana Jones 4 comes out, the sequel National Treasure: Book of Secrets is a suitable, if not stellar, substitute.

As in the first movie, Nic Cage, Jon Voigt, Diane Kruger, and Justin Bartha all seek a treasure tied to America's past for the sake of clearing the Gates' family name. Basically, NT:BoS is the first movie with different puzzles (solved more quickly), more diverse locales, and some extra big names, as Helen Mirren comes on as the matriarch of the Gates' clan and Ed Harris chews the scenery as the baddie. The stunts remain the same though and there is really nothing new. Not that the lack of innovation is a drawback, as the first movie pretty much embraced its own cheesiness, and the sequel follows suit.

The plot revolves around clearing an ancestor Gates' name as it is tied to the Lincoln assassination. This allows for a lot of American chest beating as Cage spouts off the accomplishments of Lincoln and how he united the country, etc. But again, it is done is such a cheesy way, it is entertaining. The Book of Secrets in the title doesn't make an appearance until the movie is 3/4 done and isn't really that key. It is used, however, to lay a plot down for the inevitable sequel.

There are some plot holes and some head scratching going on. The movie hinges on clearing the ancient Gates name, but we are shown in the first minutes that he was indeed innocent. It would have been better if we didn't know he was innocent until Cage confirmed it. But, it is an action movie, so plot holes and such are allowable. Is the movie worth a look? Sure, if you enjoyed the first one. It won't tax you, Nic Cage plays Nic Cage, and Bartha has some good comedic chops and timing. See it in theaters if just for the animated short before: Goofy sets up a home entertainment system.

3 Ciphers out of 5

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