Tag Archives: Cloverfield

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

10cl_poster

There are some movies that are remembered to be better than they really are. The 2008 Matt Reeves film, Cloverfield, is one such movie. The found-footage alien-monster horror flick has a solid reputation today, but in my opinion it is vastly overrated. The shaky-cam literally made scores of people vomit (and brought me perilously close to it), while the characters were annoying and the dialogue insipid. Yeah, it was an innovative idea for its time, had a cool marketing campaign with a memorable poster (the one with the Statue of Liberty missing its head) and a well-designed monster at the end, but we had to endure 80 minutes of filler before a brief glimpse of it at the very end.

Still, Cloverfield earned its reputation and became a recognisable brand, which is why, eight years later, we got 10 Cloverfied Lane, a little side project described as a “blood relative” and also produced by JJ Abrams. Like the film it got its name from, 10 Cloverfield Lane was made on a super low budget (US$15 million, compared to US$25 million for Cloverfield) and got a fantastic marketing campaign. No one even knew the film existed until the start of this year, and even after the trailer was released people still didn’t know what it was about or what to make of it. In other words, huge success, because the less you know about this movie the better.

I saw it after having managed to avoid all spoilers (I only saw the moronic super-spoiler international poster later) and was absolutely blown away by the film. Simply put, 10 Cloverfield Lane is the best movie I’ve seen on the big screen thus far in 2016. It’s clever, incredibly tense and full of twists and turns. It’s one of those films where you don’t really know where it is heading, which makes it an absolute rarity in today’s cinematic landscape.

The premise is simple. A young woman named Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes up in a mysterious location after an accident. There are two other people there — a middle-aged man (John Goodman) and a young man (John Gallagher Jr — ie, Jim from The Newsroom). She’s being told there’s a reason why she’s there, but she doesn’t know if it’s true. She’s not sure what to believe and who to trust. And it’s all a matter of life and death.

I feel like I’ve already revealed too much, but all of this is in the trailer. As I said, the less the better. The screenplay by Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken and Damien Chazelle is something every wannabe screenwriter ought to aspire to. It’s (relatively) cheap to make, it has only a handful of characters, and most of the story takes place in one place. And yet, it is one of the most suspenseful movies I’ve seen in a while. There is so much tension in the dialogue, the actions of the characters, and even the silences; the growing sense of dread, the paranoia, the claustrophobia from the confined spaces. And it’s not like the film is dead serious all the time — there are lighter moments that bring some welcome relief and remind you to breathe. All of it is crafted so well, with a kick-ass musical score to boot, and executed to near-perfection by director Dan Trachtenberg in his feature debut.

I love how, like Michelle, you don’t know who or what to believe, and that what you believe could keep changing, sometimes in an instant. I had my suspicions throughout the film, but I could never be sure and kept second-guessing myself. I knew the title of the film would lead to certain insinuations, though at the same time I wondered if it was merely a red herring. And after being gripped by the story for more than an hour, the climatic payoff was, at least in my opinion, worth the wait. It might not be what some people are hoping for, but I enjoyed how bold it was and how certain it was of its vision.

The performances are outstanding — all three of the leads shape their characters the way they need to be. John Goodman, in particular, is ridiculous, and I’m sure some nominations (for whatever awards) are going to be coming his way. I’ve been watching him in movies for decades and I never knew he could be this good in a non-comedy role.

Of course, this is still a small film for which expectations need to be kept in check. You’re not going to be getting loads of action or special effects, and to make the story work there are certain contrivances and deliberate tactics that might not be entirely realistic. Having said that, 10 Cloverfield Lane is still intelligent, thrilling, horrifying and fun — it’s the type of film cinemagoers should relish because they don’t come around very often. In a year where we’re getting more than half a dozen big superhero movies, several major epics/blockbusters and another Star Wars film, it’s great to be able to see a little gem like this come out of nowhere and remind us that great movies can come in all shapes and sizes.

5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Battle: Los Angeles (2011)

After Skyline last year (and to a lesser extent, the overrated Monsters), the alien invasion movie was not high on my list.  On Friday night, I had a choice of either Battle: Los Angeles, The Adjustment Bureau and Red Riding Hood.  Some would probably advise to stay home and not waste my money, but these were all films that I was curious about.

Following a consultation with some friends, I decided to go with Battle: Los Angeles. The consensus was that The Adjustment Bureau was painfully average and Red Riding Hood was most likely trash (which would reflect the review I quickly glanced at from that morning’s paper).  Battle: Los Angeles had Aaron Eckhart and Michelle Rodriguez, and it received some decent buzz in movie mags in the lead up to the premiere.  Besides, if all else fails, at least I get to see LA being blown up.

While Battle: Los Angeles was not fantastic, I probably made the right decision.  It was entirely predictable, with an archetypal progression for alien invasion movies and your usual host of characters.  The surprise of the attack, the carnage, the despair, the retaliation, the jubilation — it could not have been more ‘cookie cutter’.

However, I must admit I found it rather enjoyable.  Thank goodness for Aaron Eckhart, who delivered a bunch of cheesy, melodramatic lines so well that I wanted to believe him.  Kudos to the special effects team, who made the action look absolutely seamless.  And the action was relentless, loud and explosive.  It reminded me of a gritty war movie (say Saving Private Ryan or Black Hawk Down or Letters from Iwo Jima), except with aliens.

Unfortunately, I would have enjoyed it even more had it not been for two problems.  The first is that the film was waaaay too long.  It was 116 minutes but dragged on in parts and could have easily been a more compact and manageable 90 minutes.  The second, which almost killed the film for me, was the handheld camera crap.

Man, it frustrated me to no end.  I understand the idea of the handy cam — it makes you feel closer to the action — but there needs to be a balance.  This was not Cloverfield, where the entire film is supposedly shot by amateur cam.  There is no point in having a shaky camera for a two-man conversation.  No matter how close it makes you feel to the action, no film is worth vomiting over.

On the whole, Battle: Los Angeles still exceeded my relatively low expectations.  In some ways it could have been better, but in other ways it could have been a lot worse.

3.25 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: Monsters (2010)

Monsters commences across Australia on 25 November 2010

Tell me this is not an awesome premise for a film:

To find alien life in the universe, NASA sends a probe into space.  The probe crashes at the US-Mexico border upon its return.  Six years later, the US and Mexican military are still struggling to contain the “creatures” in a sealed off area dubbed the “Infected Zone”.  And now, an American photojournalist is entrusted with escorting his boss’s daughter through Mexico back to US soil as the mayhem continues around them…

If that synopsis got you a little interested, then you might understand why I was super excited to catch a screening of Monsters, the low budget British sci-fi written and directed by special effects master Gareth Edwards.

Unfortunately, Monsters doesn’t come close to living up to its promising premise.  There were some good moments, but the main problem is that Edwards decided to place the focus of the film on the relationship between the two central characters, Andrew (Scoot McNairy), the photojournalist, and Sam (Whitney Able), the boss’s daughter.  While the two actors have chemistry (they were dating at the time and are now married), neither character came across as particularly likable, making it a bit of a stale romance in my opinion.

Consequently, Monsters became a bizarre hybrid between an alien sci-fi and road romance movie — kind of like a mix between District 9 (or Cloverfield) and Before Sunrise — except neither aspect was done very well.  There were moments of genuine tension and excitement whenever the “creatures” were nearby, but they were too often overshadowed by the tedious glances and conversations between the leads as well as the long montages of them travelling through Mexico.  This doesn’t mean those things weren’t done well, but man, I just wish Edwards took a different path with this film.

Having said all of that, Monsters does have a lot of positives.  The visual effects were magnificent (as you would expect from a writer and director who specialises in it), despite the fact that the entire film was made on a budget that would ordinarily only be enough to cover the catering expenses of most Hollywood blockbusters.  The acting was solid, as was the cinematography.  Much of the dialogue was apparently improvised, and I think it shows (in a good way), coming across as natural and unforced, for the most part.

Clever idea, intriguing premise, good performances, wonderful special effects, and when it wanted to be, pretty exciting.  But at the end of the day, Monsters was not what I wanted it to be.  That’s really my problem, but it is what it is.

2.5 stars out fo 5