One guy hates it. The other loves it. That's right! The East Coast-West Coast War is raging on, only this time it's two film critics that are going head-to-head over the J.J. Abrams produced, Matt Reeves directed monster thrill ride Cloverfield. Julian Roman in New York swears by the hand-held epic. WWII Vet B. Alan Orange in Los Angeles thinks it's a migraine headache sold at $12 bucks a throb. They have come together to air their praises and grievances with the over-hyped film here:
Pro-Cloverfield: East Coast's Julian Roman
Rarely does a film live up to the hype and veil of secrecy than the J.J. Abrams (Alias, Mission: Impossible III) produced Cloverfield. Here is a monster flick that throws down the gauntlet and boldly re-imagines an incredibly stale genre. It takes a simple premise and narrows it down to a singular impartial perspective - a camcorder. First-person tragedy for the YouTube generation, a devastating event of epic proportions spun from a distinctly amateur recording.
The film's prelude is a top-secret video brief from the U.S. Department of Defense. Codenamed: Cloverfield, the reel ominously states the following recording was found at the area formerly known as Central Park. Then the camcorder's journey begins. Rob (Michael Stahl-David) is recording Beth (Odette Yustman) in bed. Jump cut to a party, Hud (T.J. Miller) is taking video testimonials. Rob has received a promotion. He's moving to Japan. His friends, the usual throng of good-looking twentysomethings, are sending him off with a party. But something isn't right with Beth and Rob, as Hud investigates with the camera in hand, a massive tremor shakes the party. The crowd races to the roof. New York City is in chaos. Explosions, buildings crumbling, something awful is happening. They escape unto the streets. Panic everywhere, Hud turns the camera around, there's something in the distance. More buildings crumbling, smoke everywhere, time to run for your life.
Cloverfield has no wide angle shots, no sweeping vistas, none of what you'd expect in a hardcore, ass-kicking monster film. It's all from Hud's camera, from his eye line. You see what he sees. There is no steady cam, no dolly or crane to lift you above the shrieking masses for a birds eye view. It's like the "Blair Witch Project" on acid. But that doesn't mean there's no payoff. You get to see the monster, which is totally awesome. You see the military and soldiers fight the beast for every street, every corner. There's one mind-blowing scene in particular where Hud looks up and sees a stealth bomber dropping scatter bombs from the sky. It is all out war, but not from the safety of your living room. You are there on the streets with the characters. And it is human tragedy, as countless people are ripped to shreds and crushed before your very eyes.
While J.J. Abrams has his name plastered all over Cloverfield, the true genius behind the film is director Matt Reeves. This guy is going to be a star. His camera work and editing are unbelievable. As a piece of filmmaking, Cloverfield is flawless. It moves at a lightning fast pace. It has incredible, ultra-realistic special effects. I suspect many people will be disturbed by how much it looks like the footage from the terrorist attack on 9-11. I would guess that Reeves and his production team used the footage from that day to add depth and realism to the effects. Some viewers will get motion sickness from the erratic camera angles and jumpiness of the frame. Reeves gets major props for embracing the premise completely. The entire film is told from a first person point of view and never deviates from it.
It's important to mention that you have to accept the premise to enjoy this film. A lot of questions are not answered here, but that is clearly defined from the beginning. This is not your standard story filled with exposition. You have to willingly suspend disbelief, buy into the fact that this entire story is the footage from the camcorder. I think the people who have been disappointed, and there are quite a few, expected more from the story. That is not the point. So hop on the ride and prepare for tremendous entertainment. Just make sure to bring your Dramamine.
Anti-Cloverfield: West Coast's B. Alan Orange
Did Mola Ram direct this fucking movie? Do I have to burn you all with a torch and scream, "I love you Indy!"
I feel like Rowdy Roddy Piper in They Live. Like I got the special sunglasses and only I can see the word "Obey". I feel like the kid that knows who the real killer is, and no one will listen to him. Yeah, I feel like Brian Bloom's brother in The Stuff. Only, I don't have those beautiful blue eyes to sell my point home with.
I didn't want to write a review for this film. At all. But then I found out that I was in a tiny little minority of Cloverfield haters. Had I seen the wrong movie? At this current moment in time I feel broken. Yet, I also feel as though I have escaped some sort of mass brainwashing set forth by both producer J.J. Abrams and director Matt Reeves. As it stands, I am the only person that I have come in contact with that didn't like Cloverfield. Not only did I not like it. I fucking loathed it.
Sitting in my chair, watching the chaotic timber of that shaky cam, I thought, "God, this is going to be one of the most panned films of all time. This is just down right horrible. On so many levels." Then the lights came up. "Brilliant!", the critic sitting next to me exclaimed. My raised eyebrows ushered me into the lobby quick. In the bathroom I heard the same kind of chatter. What did I miss? I seriously needed someone to tell me. But their reasoning seemed adrift on a wave of unrequited stupidity.
I rushed past the headless Statue of Liberty in the Paramount courtyard where a number of critics and journalists were snapping its picture (just like in the movie). I brushed up against one woman that was having a one-sided conversation with her new Iphone, "Oh, my God! That was the scariest thing I have every seen, girlfriend! I don't usually get freaked out by movies, but that thing had me breathing heavy the entire way through."
I couldn't have possibly seen the same film. Cloverfield left me emotionless. I don't think there is one true thrill to be found in it. It is not exciting in the least bit. It's a stock cabinet of bad B-roll. Saying you were "Blown Away" by this thing is like saying you were blown away by your stepbrother's wedding video. Which probably has more heart. Its twenty minutes of videotaped goodbyes that you wouldn't watch if you were forced to at your grandmother's house followed by fifty minutes of some of the most nauseous cinematography I have ever seen in my life. Seriously, my left eye is still swollen and I have been chugging Advil ever since.
The film feels over-long at just 74 minutes. Yes, that's right. Without credits, I clocked this sucker at just an hour and fourteen minutes in length. Can they legally even call it a feature film? Especially with the way it's shot? I pity the fool that spends twelve bucks on Cloverfield. It proves the writers' strike can continue for infinity. If the mass majority is going to call this a work of genius, they can pretty much be convinced of anything.
I'll admit straight up that I got swept into the viral hype surrounding Cloverfield. Hook, line, and Jamie video. It was a lot funner than the actual filmgoing experience this "experimental" arthouse monster movie provides. I enjoyed the Christmas present presentation as dolled out by Abrams and Company. I liked the way Auntie Paramount dropped subtle hints about what was in the box all over the goddamn Internet in the form of viral marketing. The plots and ideas found in the Tagruato and Slusho sites are leaps and bounds beyond anything remotely seen in the film itself. The weird thing is, once you see this short form video, you realize the ideas those entities provide aren't even in the same reality as the actual theatrical exchange.
From the get-go, my expectations for the film weren't very high (and I would definitely be leaving it alone right now if there weren't so many praise-alicious scat-shoutings all over the scurvy inter-web). Like most men my age, I too spent many a Saturday morning watching Godzilla destroy the television before walking outside and demonstrating the same moves in the sandbox. I have a certain fondness for ToHo and the better parts of that franchise. Most of those movies have the hardest first and second acts to get through in film history. You certainly know what I mean. But once the monster steps foot onto Tokyo soil, its fun sailing from there on out. In my mind, I thought Cloverfield would be as good as the worst of those. It had too be better than Godzilla vs Gigan or Biollante? Right? Surely the thing would rise above and smash Roland Emmerich's Godzilla? Right? Wrong! At least those films feel genuine in their eagerness to entertain. They are fun on some level, which this is not. And that is my problem. I don't understand the people that are saying this is some sort of intellectual mind fuck. It's repetitive and old as the hills, shellacked in an ugly coat of unwatchablity. I can't quite put my finger on its pulse. It's like the first time I saw Paris Hilton. Everyone's screaming, "Most beautiful girl in the world, let's give it too her!" Then you look less than an inch deep and the masses are suddenly shouting, "Ooh, get away, you herpes infected whore!" I think once people calm down from all the excitement and return to this, they will see it for the garbage it is. Maybe if they watch The Host or Stephen King's The Mist first, and then they go back and watch this, they will see why it is such a big, bad disappointment.
The current admiration surrounding the release of Cloverfield is something I can only equate to the time travel film Primer, where two guys use a U-Haul storage locker to shave minutes off their lives. I hated that film, too. But time and again I have had people extrapolate how important and exciting, and crucial it is to the sci-fi genre and the time travel ideology itself. "It's art, man!" Says the ass-douche with blue hair. Fuck that! It is boring and confusing, and no fun at all. It is a math problem solved in lines of chalk. Yeah, I really want to stare at that for two hours. School is over at grade twelve for a reason (Grade ten if you're Ricky). Hypothetical mathematic equations do not make a good movie. And that's what this is. People are aghast over its so-called "inventiveness". It's not really all that inventive. The camera work was done awhile back in another "highly original" horror snotter called The Blair Witch Project, and a lot of the early ToHo work actually focused on some of the people caught in the rubble of a destroyed Tokyo. That franchise slowly started to turn to scientists and the military, and super hero characters in their films because guess what? Your average Joe on the street is boring!
Look, I fully understand the artistic implications and merits of Matt Reeves' videotaped after-school project that he has so deliciously wrapped up like a real motion picture. I get the inventive nature of the way it is shot, and how the narrative structure is of a new paradigm. I get that the actors are believable past the glare of that reality lens holding and suppoting them. But lets face it; some of the most technically proficient art fails to be interesting. And there's nothing interesting or new about this enterprise. The Statue of Liberty head-toss was once upon a time heart pounding upon first view. But that footage has since been drilled past dirt and soil in the process of this machine's relentless advertising campaign (a cycle of numbness that was especially helped along by sites just like this one). There is not one other scene in the entire film that leaves up to that short stretch of dead excitement.
Some pubic lice do fall off the monster at one point. And the creatures look exactly like microscopic toilet seat crabs out for crotch revenge. They appear and attack our main characters in a subway tunnel. This comes nearly at the end of the film. By the time this "action" scene rolled around, I could hardly buck myself up to care. I gathered the people in the audience felt the same way. Their hurried appreciation at the end of the scene felt slow and mistimed. Like there was a studio head (this screening was held on the Paramount lot after all) trying to perform the slow clap we see at the end of Kevin Smith's Jersey Girl. Only with less enthusiasm and participation. The people that did clap almost seemed embarrassed. Like, "Is this were we clap? Should we be clapping?" Even though the moment gives the sinking film a tiny boost of energy, those pubic lice are too little, too late in the scheme of things. They come in around the fifty-four minute mark.
By this time, we have only seen quick clip glimpses of the monster. He is, by my calculations, only in this entire papier-mache college thesis for about four minutes. Tops. And most of that time he is obscured by Sky Scrapers and missile fire. Your first real good look at the beastie comes during the mid-section of the third act. That's right. You don't actually see him until the film is two minutes away from end credits.
People are being way too easy on the monster. Almost apologetic. It was the main focal point for a long time. What does it look like? And now that most of you have seen it, you're like, "Doesn't matter that his face looks like Chris "Corky" Burke after being slimed on You Can't Do That on Television. The movie actually works on some grand artistic scheme. So who cares?" Well, I do. The damn thing looks like a string of vegetarian noodles attached to a pair of uncooked frog legs. He has pulsating testicle cheeks, and his face looks like a mutated Michael Chiklis after a stint at the retard farm. We don't see much of this guy because he is goofy looking. The unnamed Slusho abomination doesn't have any sort of personality, and it is far from being iconic. It is a rushed version of a pencil sketch. A piece of waded up concept art that accidentally made it to the screen. No wonder they kept it hidden. It is obvious in the monster's clumsy nature at the end of the film that Abrams did pay a bit of an homage to the Amazonian River Dolphin from The Host. And that little bit of slip and fall is the coolest thing about it.
I don't buy this Spielberg Jaws defense. That they are dolling out his "site-unseen causes more suspense" mantra. It's a cruel crutch when you don't have a leg (or cool looking monster) to stand on. Back in the day, Spielberg had to show a lot less of the shark because the mechanical robot that they were using kept sinking to the bottom of the ocean. It was a lucky break for them that Spielberg actually had some talent, and knew how to make something interesting in the absence of his technical wonder. It was done out of necessity. Plus, it actually looked cool when we finally saw it. Now, people like Matt Reeves use it as an excuse to have a shitty looking centerpiece. When I go see a giant monster movie, I want to see the monster! Damn it! I want to see it destroy stuff and eat people (we don't see ol' Noodle-Tard scarf a single cab driver or big-tittied woman for the entire duration of the ride, and the head-chewing scene at the end doesn't count...What was that besides a bunch of blurred rubbish anyway?). I am not ashamed to admit that's what I wanted. That's what I expected.
This film isn't about the monster at all. It's about this small group of people you would never hang out with. And even if you did hang out with them, you'd never willingly sit down and watch this boring tape of them giving testimonial to the camera for the first thirty minutes of the movie. Cloverfield reminds me of all the boring parts of your average Godzilla movie. You know, the stuff you fast-forward through. Just without any of the good bits added in. There is no pay off. There is no linear concept of time. I just met these people. I have spent less than forty minutes with Jason when he gets hit by that tail and dies. How am I supposed to evoke some sort of heartfelt rush inside myself? The Host on the other hand takes the same amount of time and truly develops a relationship between Gang-Du and his father. When dad dies, it brings about the same wave of nauseous emotion that something like Terms of Endearment is capable of providing. We actually care about Gang-Du and his dad. The Cloverfield kids? Fuck 'em. Who cares? We want to see them get eaten. And, sadly, that doesn't even happen.
The thing that bothers me most about the wannabe film is its shoddy cinematography. I would have walked out of the theater with a shrug, had it not been for the handheld motif carried through the duration of this eye-blistering spectacle. I rarely ever get headaches, but this thing gave me a massive one. It is a migraine sold in light form. It's like trying to watch a film on a sinking boat during a tidal wave. Again, not fun. For anyone. But people are rushing to defend it. Bullshit, I say! Not only that, I was overly aware of every shot in the film. Each angle is meticulously set up to look like an amateur is capturing it. Yet, at the same time, every single shot is artistically constructed in a certain choreographed way. It is purposely manipulative. It's like Spielberg mimicking Ed Wood. It's distracting. Why didn't they just give the camera to the actor playing Hud? I know why. Because once that bridge is destroyed, he would have dropped that camera and ran for the hills. Also, I'd like to know where they bought this never dying video camera battery. It is truly more amazing than the sea beast itself.
So. This is what I have to say about Cloverfield: Boring. Thrillless. Monster Deficient. Ugly. Unwatchable. And Headache inducing.
Hear me out. I wanted to like this. I am willing to give it a second chance after enough people explain why I should. And they are arguments I believe in. I want people to justify their reasons for liking the movie, because as it stands, I don't understand it one bit. Does every critic simply want to give J.J. Abrams a keyboard blowjob in the hopes of getting that exclusive Star Trek pic, or what? Please, please help me to understand. My ears are open...
(P.S. I just watched an interview with the Director Matt Reeves, and I like the guy. A lot. He seems really nice and very cool. But guess what? I still hate this fucking movie.)
Cloverfield opens January 18th, 2008.