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"Cloverfield"

Directed by Matt Reeves.
Written by Drew Goddard.
Starring Michael Stahl-David, T.J. Miller, Lizzy Caplan and Jessica Lucas.
Release Year:  2008
Review Date:  1/15/08

Folks--

Ross and I had freebies to catch "Cloverfield" a few days before it opened, so that plus the chance to get some Five Guys before the movie made this a no-brainer.  I was initially intrigued to see this film when I first saw the trailer in front of "Transformers" many moons ago; the trailers since then have slowly given away what the film is really about, but I still came in with an open mind even though I was worried that this would be another Aliens Attack the City movies featuring a band of hapless humans.

I was right and wrong about that.  One night in late May, a few friends are having a surprise party for their friend Rob (Michael Stahl-David) at an apartment in New York City.  The action is being filmed by Rob's best friend Hud (T.J. Miller), who becomes our vantage point for the remainder of the film as the surprise party turns into an even bigger surprise: a big fucking alien/dinosaur that drips evil blood-thirsty spiders has mysteriously dropped into the city and is randomly attacking every person in sight.  The party breaks up and various people begin to run everywhere...except for Rob, Hud, Rob's brother Jason (Mike Vogel), Jason's girlfriend Lily (Jessica Lucas) and Lily's good friend Marlena (Lizzy Caplan).  You see, Rob's got a crush on a girl named Beth (Odette Yustman), and when Rob learns that Beth may or may not be alive and trapped in her apartment building in midtown, Rob decides that--alien/dinosaur be damned--he must attempt to rescue Beth before the military takes out that alien or the whole damned city in a carpet bombing.

The 80-minute film is brisk, and starts slowly/badly as we meet Rob and his friends and get the skinny on the whole Rob/Beth thing.  The first 20 minutes really blow, but once it gets moving, at least "Cloverfield" is a ride all the way to the finish line.  But, it was a ride that I did not love as much as Ross did, who loves these kinds of movies.  Once you stretch beyond the fact that the fucking alien/dinosaur is attacking the city (a required stretch of the imagination, fine), I had a really hard time just with the logistics of the human behavior in this film, and it was something that usually doesn't slow me down this much.  In fact, at times, "Cloverfield" is a strange mix between thriller and comedy, with Hud cracking jokes even as or just after he has been in direct contact with ALIENS.

The behavior things were really a stretch.  Am I going to try to rescue a girl that I've got a crush on in a building that looks like the Leaning Tower of Pisa amidst an alien attack where we have already determined that tank shells and bazooka rockets don't even make a dent?  When I watch buildings explode and see shots of a fucking alien/dinosaur on CNN, am I going to loot the local electronics store for a new TV?  Am I going to run full-bore from previously mentioned alien with a video camera essentially attached to my face?  Will I be making comic book reference jokes in a dark tunnel that might be infested with previously mentioned spiders?  With most of these questions, I am guessing that no, I will not be doing any of these things.  But, in "Cloverfield", not only is this okay, it seems like one should never even question these kinds of things.  (Don't even mention to me the fact that one character's cell phone battery dies, and to fix this, the character walks into a store, pulls a boxed battery off the shelf, shoves it in the cell phone WITHOUT CHARGING IT and suddenly the phone works again.  Or that the phone can receive calls in a New York City subway station, where it is famously tough to get a signal.)

This, plus the fact that we have to watch the whole film through the video camera's eye (and, trust me, if you get motion sickness easily, you do NOT want to go see "Cloverfield"), made this film a tricky proposition.  Despite all of this, the film is watchable; its pace is occasionally relentless and one of the chase sequences was pretty cool to watch even as I had to occasionally close my eyes to keep from getting sick from Shaky Camera Syndrome.  Using unfamiliar faces (all of the main characters are played by TV actors that you may recognize only if you watch a lot of TV on the WB, CW, or ABC Family) was a good thing for "Cloverfield"; keeping the film short and to the point was also a great idea.

But, overall, I did not enjoy "Cloverfield", and I suspect that folks will be a mixed bag on this film.  There's really only an hour's worth of movie thanks to the slow start, begging the question of whether or not this would have been a better TV movie instead.  And, the ending is revealed at the start of the movie (although the "how" is not), so some of the suspense is taken away in that respect.  Catch it in a theater but maybe on a Saturday afternoon in a couple of weeks at a theater outside of town, where you can save yourself some bucks.

Rating:  Rental

 

Comments?  Drop me a line at justin@bellviewmovies.com.

 

Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/bellviewmovies.com except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09