Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Review: Cloverfield

Director – Matt Reeves
Cast - Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, T.J. Miller, Michael Stahl-David, Mike Vogel, Odette Yustman

After months of buildup and hype, Cloverfield is finally upon us. A moderately-sized budgeted Monster Movie from Lost Creator and future Star Trek Director J.J. Abrams. Does it live up? Is it effective? Is it scary? Hell yes. This movie delivers. I haven’t enjoyed a Monster movie this much at the theaters in some time. This is 2008’s earliest contender for Horror Movies of the Year. Awesome…so, now to why.

The movie starts off slow, introducing an average batch of characters. Each is rather typical, which is what they’re meant to be – one of us, or the friend you have or the person you know. While it gives the beginning a disadvantage, it is what makes the rest of the film so believable. The setting is a going away party for Rob, who has accepted a big promotion taking him to Japan. The party is thrown by his brother and brother’s girlfriend. His best friend, Hud, is there and the girl the friend has a crush on, Marlena. Another character makes a late entrance – his maybe girlfriend, love-of-his-life, Beth. They fight, she takes off, and he sulks. Poor Rob, boo hoo.

Then all hell breaks loose. Yes, this is a Monster movie. And right in the middle of Rob’s normal everyday not-so-exciting life, a Godzilla-sized Monster attacks New York. The rest of the movie is their attempts to survive the carnage and rescue Rob’s Beth.

Its Rob’s passionate determination to find and save Beth that drives the film. It serves both as a catalyst for the various set pieces, keeping the cast in and around the Monster and the devastation and the emotional core of the film that sets it apart from every other Monster movie out there. The Monster becomes secondary. While have the dramatic tension coming from a Giant Ferocious Beast is unique and exciting, it could have easily been a sinking ship, an earthquake or some other natural catastrophe. But, thankfully, it is a Monster and that perspective provides some of the most stunning visuals ever seen.

Now, as you may know, I haven’t touched on the gimmick of the film yet. The movie is filmed as if it was recorded by Hud with a hand-held camera. And that’s it. Every scene is filmed in this manner. Shaky at first, then surprisingly it steadies a bit when needed or rocks violently when exaggerating an escape or confrontation. It works wonderfully. It totally draws you in. And when you feel you are there, you believe what is going on around you. The fact you don’t know what’s going on or where the terror is, the more gripping the story becomes.

The cast is remarkable as well, playing it naturally and convincingly. It is totally believable that Rob would decide to chase after his love. He never asks anyone to join him, but when they do you understand their decision – you want to as well. Subtly the movie speaks to how the human race values love and friendship and companionship. How we don’t want to be left alone. Marlena, who barely knows the others, follows along as an example of this. She could have easily decided to do otherwise but remains with her new companions at every opportunity. Hud continues to follow his best friend, risking his life to save Beth even when he knows he should do otherwise. He must help his friend; no other choice would be honorable or honest.

Now, the Monster -- how does it live up to Movie Monsters? It may be the best Movie Monster in the history of motion pictures. What? How? It succeeds more so than any of the others have or can. Godzilla may the be the granddaddy of all Monsters and hold a very special place in Horror Movie lovers’ hearts, but he rarely instills fear – he’s a man in a suit. King Kong is fearsome and sympathetic, but it’s that sympathy that makes him less a Monster. The dinosaurs in Jurassic Park are terrifying at times but they’re in our subconscious already, we are aware of what dinosaurs are. They become more of a loose animal than a Monster. The Monster of Cloverfield is totally unknown to us and no one is telling us squat about him. He’s there; he’s mean, hungry, angry and tearing up the place.

The special effects are spot on. They deliver and how, from the Monster, to the parasites that accompany him, to the destruction, to the army’s counter attacks and more. They are totally believable and convincing. Enhancing the believability of the movie is the sound effects, expertly capturing the thunderous roar of the Monster, the deafening thunder of the guns, tanks and bombs, the terrifying screeching of the parasites.

I’m giving this movie a perfect score. I don’t expect to give out another such score anytime soon. I can’t wait to see this movie again.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Review: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Director: Tim Burton

Johnny Depp ... Sweeney Todd
Helena Bonham Carter ... Mrs. Lovett
Alan Rickman ... Judge Turpin
Timothy Spall ... Beadle Bamford
Sacha Baron Cohen ... Signor Adolfo Pirelli
Jamie Campbell Bower ... Anthony Hope
Laura Michelle Kelly ... Lucy / Beggar Woman
Jayne Wisener ... Johanna
Ed Sanders ... Toby

Released: December 21, 2007


A barber, falsely imprisoned for 15 years, returns to London to exact his revenge on those responsible. Upon setting up residence on Fleet Street above Mrs. Lovett’s bakery, Sweeny Todd is further enraged when he learns the fate of his family he was forced to leave behind. Mrs. Lovett quickly recognizes a mutual benefit in Mr. Todd’s homicidal habits. Soon, a plot is in play to trap Judge Turpin enabling Sweeney Todd to reintroduce himself and his “friends.”


Tim Burton has crafted his finest work in years. This movie succeeds on almost every level. As a musical, the songs are lively and memorable and exceptionally well played. As a gothic horror, the setting is dark and dreary and the gore is plentiful and red. As with most Burton films, the cinematography permeates with atmosphere and mood. However, while there are moments of tension, the movie lacks an appropriate amount of suspense for its like.

As for the cast, Johnny Depp is magnificent as Sweeney Todd. He manages to restrain much of his typical ticks and brings the barber an endearing amount of pathos and pain. His motivations and character arc is clear and focused. Helena Bonham Carter surprises as Mrs. Lovett. Her performance grounds the story. When she needs to decide between her love for Sweeney Todd and her love for young Toby, you feel her pain and regret. She deserves to be recognized for her performance. Alan Rickman does not disappoint as Judge Turpin. He delivers one of the most despicable and shady performances possible. However, it is Ed Saunders as Toby who made an incredibly strong and lasting impression. He is able to handle scenes easily on his own and against heavyweights such as Depp and Carter – no easy feat. Again, the scene between him and Mrs. Lovett where he swears his loyalty and love is a heartfelt and heartbreaking as they come.

This is a masterpiece of cinema. I recommend it strongly.