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Good Googly Goo, the way I suffer for the faithful … Chitlins, I have to tell you that your beloved elephant–head is dealing with a mastodon-sized stomach-ache right now. In my quest to bring you celluloid enlightenment, I’ve managed to come across a film that evidently must’ve been produced by the pharmaceutical companies behind Dramamine and Alka-Seltzer, both you will need in liberal amounts after watching the wonder that is Cloverfield. 

There’s so much to say, I don’t know where to begin. Let’s do the rundown. A monster invades New York City and that’s pretty much it. Throw in the dumbest, most vapid and vacuous, silly characters ever created for a modern monster film, and you’ve got Cloverfield. Yeah, this is how it’s gonna be… 

What a catastrophe, and I don’t just mean the damage the CGI creature renders unto Gotham. This is a movie that had everything going for it; most notably a trusted, respected producer in J.J. Abrams, who seems to get action and thrills judging from his excellent TV series Alias and Lost, and the capably handled feature Mission Impossible 3. Bearing my voluble adoration of the Mighty Green Nipponese Lizard and my raves for the Korean creature thriller, The Host (- click here to read the many-tentacled praise), I was on board for a good old scary monster movie. What I hadn’t foreseen was the complete lack of any discernable plot other than ‘Let’s follow the stupid Yuppies as they risk their lives and the lives of those around them for the sake of a college crush”. Mind you, as the world collapses around the airheaded young urban professionals, one of them always has the presence in mind (- or the loss of it) to “document” everything that is happening to them; clutching a digital camera despite being attacked by the monster, running from the monster, crossing the rooftops of 60-storey skyscrapers – doesn’t matter because “people are gonna want to know... how it all went down.”  Yeah …you know, Peter Arnett, even the most hardcore CNN reporter would know to put down the freaking camera and run like heck if something with sharp teeth and claws was attacking your head. Oy. 

That’s one thin premise to give us the shakiest camerawork to ever curse a 40-foot screen. Comparisons to the hand-held work in The Blair Witch Project are rife, but the one big difference with the two films is that you were actually engrossed with the happenings of Blair Witch, so that one could ostensibly ignore the effect. Not so here, kids. The already nausea-inducing unsteadicam is paired with an annoying, unending harangue of a voiceover by the Will Ferrell-esque doofus of a documentarian. The character of Hud is the most irritating thing to ever crawl off the short bus. Meant to be the trademark goofy but loyal pal, his ceaseless nattering and desperately unfunny court jester lo-jinks will make you scream like you’re the one being attacked.  

Hud, Jason, his fiancé, Lily, Beth, and a spunky acquaintance (- and lust-object for Hud) named Marlena all gather together in an offensively ghetto-ised loft somewhere in downtown Manhattan to bid farewell to Rob. Rob was meant to be off the Tokyo for some vague executive job, never mind that Rob looks like he’s still got one foot in the frat house and sulks like a junior high-schooler after an argument with longtime crush, Beth. After something like an earthquake rattles the floor beneath their feet, they turn on the news to discover that there has been a disturbance near the Statue of Liberty in the East River, so they all head up to the roof of their luxury tenement to try and see what’s happening (- don’t get me started on the myriad of location mistakes). Sparks or something shoot out of the sky and crash down to earth causing all the partygoers to immediately run inside to the safety of the apartment and watch the TV for further news, and… Oh no, I’m sorry, that’s something that would have made sense and there’s no place for that in this flick. Nooo…instead of taking shelter and battening down the hatches (- two words everybody in New York City knows post-WTC, children – duct tape), they all decide to run out into the street, wandering around talking to each other until things really do start happening. Major landmarks crumble and huge dust clouds very like those that engulfed the area around the Twin Towers rise and gust down the yuppies’ street. Still, they’d rather be outside adding to the confusion and bathing in toxic dust instead of just going back into the apartment. As has been seen in the TV spots for Cloverfield, the head of the Statue of Liberty comes flying out of the sky pulling a bank shot off the buildings where the hipsters are congregating and having seen the entire film I’m sure it’s the monster playing dodgeball. If only he had better aim.

Deciding to make a run for it, Rob’s party makes the decision to cross the Brooklyn Bridge: I know I said I wasn’t going there, but I would like to point out for those not familiar with Manhattan geography that three downtown bridges cross the East River into Brooklyn, each one distanced less than a 10-minute walk from the other. In what portents to be an illustrative show of the collective brain power of Rob’s pals, they choose the bridge nearest to the where the creature was first spotted, the one closest to the just-decapitated Statue of Liberty. It is while slowly trudging across the span that Rob stops in the middle of the bridge to get the call for help from Beth, the one-night stand he dissed earlier in the evening. Apparently, she’s trapped in her midtown apartment and can’t move. Why she would call Rob and not, say, 911, or her wealthy parents, or the doorman of her luxury high-rise, perhaps a parish priest, a plumber, or somebody nearby who could actually help, I couldn't tell ya. But no, she rings Rob, who not fifteen minutes before the fun and games began called her twenty shades of ho. That’s the guy I’m sure is going to help me out of a jam! Of course Rob, seized by guilt and lurve takes it upon himself to turn around and trek all the way through the chaos to midtown. At that precise moment, while everyone was waiting for Rob to get more bars on his cell, the monster decides to do some landscaping. Apparently, 200-year old suspension bridges are just not in with the new, modern Manhattan decor and so the losses to Rob’s crew begin. I love that it all starts with his incredibly stupid decision to go play the hero and save Beth. 

I may have said this before, but if there’s one thing that will get me to hate your movie, it’s giving your characters actions that make them seem like they’ve lived in a box all their lives. Never seen a horror film, never lived through a catastrophic world-changing disaster… So when none of his friends tell Rob that he’s an idiot or physically restrain him from this suicide mission and instead cheerfully volunteer to join his crusade like they’re going to the corner to get pizza, it’s not just bad writing, it’s an insult to what precious intelligence I have left. The group is constantly in situations where the monster is very literally about to stomp them, but does that make them think, ‘Man, maybe I should get out of here and leave the rescuing to the professionals’? Of course it doesn’t. Even the perky Marlena, who is the only character in this mess worth saving, somehow finds herself aimlessly following Rob’s band of idiots, despite her assertion earlier at the party that she didn’t know him well. They run into the safety of the New York subway system and decide to take a healthy five mile hike from Soho to Beth’s midtown flat; Lily doing so in a pair of 4-inch stiletto heels obviously made by Easy Spirit. For some reason, the presence of rats in the subway tunnels surprises these New Yorkers, so they are in no way prepared for the further fun and games they face there.  

They arrive at Columbus Circle lessened again in number, but straight into the arms of the military that - insanely - are intent on getting the strays to the nearest evacuation point. But wait, Rob has to throw a tantrum when he’s told that the army won’t risk their men to save his fling because they’re planning to bomb Manhattan island in less than a half hour. Rob’s a little Terminator, he is, and once he’s set his goal, nothing, not the realisation that Beth’s apartment building is half-toppled, and certainly not the horrible, agonising death of some friends is going to stop him. He manages to sweet-talk one military guy into letting them go to Beth. Next on the plate of fun is scaling the upright building - all 60-ish storeys of it - closest to the leaning tower of Beth’s house and then traversing over the rooftop into Beth’s waiting arms.  

I swear, I’ve never cheered so hard for the monster to win in my life. 

J.J. Abrams has stated the idea for Cloverfield originated with his fascination at the continued popularity of Godzilla, and the resonance and staying power of the 54-year-old King of the Monsters. That is what spurred him on to make a modern American monster. Well, all righty then, but wouldn’t it have been a nice idea to actually give your creation some kind of background? Or even to define what it is? One of the reasons why Godzilla has remained relevant and appealing is because he’s a walking stomping, fire-breathing reminder that war is bad. Born of the nuclear bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he has a relevant mythology. Even his younger cousin, Steve, from The Host was the issue of the carelessness of some jerk chucking toxic chemicals into the local river. Cloverfield’s amorphous CGI mess of a monster can’t be bothered with anything as plebian as an explanation, or an origin, or a point. The audience is just supposed to accept its appearance as a random freak happening. Yaaaahh, no. Pull the other one, especially since the plot you’ve contrived is thinner than Kleenex. I doubt that knowing where the monster came from or why it was there would have saved the film, but it certainly couldn’t have hurt. It would’ve given us something to think about other than how much longer we have to watch these moronic characters do stupid things? Why make a monster movie about a creature the audience will find out nothing about?

The cast is mostly unknowns, and with the exception of Lizzy Caplan as the acerbic Marlena, deserve to stay that way. I know this isn’t Bergman, but rarely have I viewed a collection of performances more amateurish or unconvincing. With the exception of Marlena and despite an abundance of shrieking and running around, I never believed for a moment that any of the characters were ever in terror for their lives, as might’ve been appropriate when a monster of varying size (- don’t ask) is poised to possibly eat them. The one redeeming way I can look at this film is to question that perhaps it’s a statement against annoying yuppies? Surely, the real monsters are the gentrifying hipsters already infesting the city, and the creature is the spirit of fading Manhattan come to get them off the island! The creature does have a knack for showing up wherever Team Rob turns up… That’s the only way I can forgive this cinematic catastrophe and yet another pummeling of the fair Apple. 

Was there anything salvageable about Cloverfield? Well, the first glimpses of the monster are actually nicely creepy (- until you find out there isn’t much more to it). The scene on the Brooklyn Bridge was a full-on good moment, really exciting. There is one edge-of-your-seat tunnel scene, but it’s gone all too quickly. Even though I’ve made clear my vexation at Hollywood’s intensified trend of beating on NYC (- click here to read I Am Legend), I say, if you’re going to do something, do it right. There were dozens of opportunities for heart-stopping landmark destruction and urban obliteration, which would certainly have made up for some of the character-based misery, but that road is not taken. I would have liked to seen more from the streets as to what the monster was doing, but thanks to the single-digicam contrivance, we’re cheated of that possibility. And there were possibilities here folks, but they were all wasted by director Matt Reeves, whose only other feature effort was 1996’s The Pallbearer. Bad decisions everywhere you look. Don’t make another one and pay to see this movie.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva/Mighty Ganesha

January 15th, 2008

 

 

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Photos

(Courtesy of  Paramount Pictures)

 

 

 

 

 

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