Tag Archives: Mary Elizabeth Winstead

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: The Thing (2011)

I haven’t seen John Carpenter’s 1982 original and went into the new version of The Thing believing that it was a remake.  Interestingly, while the premise is somewhat similar, the 2011 version is not a remake and not a sequel, but a prequel.  Apparently those who have seen the 1982 film will understand why some things in the 2011 version turn out the way they do.

Anyway, I digress.  Either as a prequel or a standalone film, The Thing works on some levels as a sci-fi horror but fails to be nearly as effective as it could have been.  It contains a solid performance from Mary Elizabeth Winstead (the object of Michael Cera’s affection in Scott Pilgrim vs the World), who channels her inner Ellen Ripley, some freaky special effects and a whole lotta paranoia, but I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that I had seen it all before (and this is without seeing the original).

The Thing (2011) tells the story of a group of researchers who head to a Norwegian base camp to examine a “discovery” from Antarctica.  As it turns out, the discovery is not quite as dead as they thought it was, and soon the base is turned upside down, with people dying gruesome deaths and the survivors not knowing who they can trust.  There’s tension and there’s paranoia and there’s chills (it is, after all, based in the ice).  As far as freaky scares go, The Thing delivers.  The titular character is a nasty, “WTF is that?” piece of work and kudos must go out to the special effects team that created it.

As I said, I haven’t seen the 1982 film, so I cannot comment on whether the 2011 film compares favourably (though from most accounts it doesn’t).  What I can say is that it is certainly better than the vast majority of films in recent years that have been reboots, remakes, sequels, prequels or spin-offs of other popular/famous horror  films or franchises (eg, those Alien, Predator, Alien vs Predator, Nightmare on Elm Street, Freddie vs Jason, Saw, Final Destination filmsetc).  That said, there wasn’t anything particularly clever or special about this film either, and it’s highly unlikely that it will have the longevity of the original, which is still often brought up as a horror classic.

At the end of the day, The Thing (2011) is what it is — a solid prequel that doesn’t nearly live up to the highly touted original but doesn’t crap all over its legacy either.

3 stars out of 5!

DVD Review: Scott Pilgrim vs the World (2010)

Man, then end of the year is almost upon us and I still haven’t had time to review all the movies I’ve watched over the last couple of months.

Scott Pilgrim vs the World is another one of those movies that I’ve heard great things about, though the reactions have been somewhat mixed.  After all, it is based on a ‘graphic novel’ and it runs more like a video game than a conventional movie.

Being a fan of graphic novels and video games, I thought I would no doubt fall in the category of people that thought Scott Pilgrim was one of the best movies of the year.  But as it turned out…well…it is funny, fun, original and unlike anything you’ve ever seen before (and I really mean that), but as a piece of entertainment it doesn’t quite get there for me.

The premise is simple.  Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a young unemployed dude in a band, dating a high school girl and living with his gay best friend.  He meets the girl of his dreams (literally), Ramonda Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and seeks to win her heart — but to do so, he must defeat her seven evil exes.

And man, there are some good ones, from former Superman Brandon Routh to Chris Evans to Jason Schwartzman to my personal favourite, Mae Whitman (who coincidentally played Cera’s girlfriend/ex-girlfriend on Arrested Development as Anne/Egg/Her?).  Each opponent is set up like a round from a beat ’em up like a Dragon Ball video game or something, with points scored for blows, etc etc.

If that’s turning you off already, then Scott Pilgrim is probably not the movie for you.  But if you have an appreciation of video game culture, then Scott Pilgrim could potentially blow your mind.

For me, the action and fight scenes were clever and fun, entirely and outrageously over the top, as they are intended to be — but it’s the pop culture references and the witty jokes and one-liners that kept me interested.  Even if you peel back all the crazy stuff, Scott Pilgrim is still a very good comedy.

Michael Cera is essentially the same in every movie, but he’s actually pretty suited to the role.  Everyone else is fairly decent too, and I know Chris Evans is constantly ridiculed for his acting, but the truth is, he’s not that bad.  I found him adequately funny in this one.

My problem with Scott Pilgrim is that there’s not enough real substance for a 108 minute film.  You know he has to battle through the exes — he just has to — and even though they attempt to mix things up a little (instead of having the same fight every time), it does get a little tedious after a while.  Maybe I’m just getting too old.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed Scott Pilgrim for what it is — a quirky, action-packed romantic video game movie based on a comic.

3.5 stars out of 5