cloverfield.jpgrating-4.0Cloverfield, like The Blair Witch Project, is a film that's going to divide people. Some people are going to hate both for being overhyped and not living up to their preconceived notions. Some people are going to hate both because they don't get either of them, because neither falls into their limited definition of a science-fiction or horror narrative. Some are going to froth at the mouth and give both films too much credit as the "bestest movie ever" because they're riding the zeitgeist of movie hype too closely and don't have real opinions of their own. Most will just find that the two movies make them motion sick. Because, boy howdy, if you thought Blair Witch was too shaky for you, that was like watching a dull romantic comedy in comparison to Cloverfield.

Now some will probably just heap accolades onto Cloverfield until you're sick of hearing about it, because it happens to fall into their dork niche and they love "Lost" or some shit. Truthfully, the movie is good. Not great, but solidly good. That doesn't mean I'd rush out to watch it again, but, qualitatively, it's a well-crafted film.

There are a few things, immediately, that hold the movie back. This is, ostensibly, a modernization and return to the days of the giant monster movie. The best way for the filmmakers, they thought, to accomplish this is through cinema verite, giving the plot the weight of the struggles of a single group of people and filtering the disaster that befalls Manhattan through their experiences. This, in turn, severely limits the film's premise by roping it into the confines of what the handful of characters can see or surmise on their own, which is never too much.

The movie does a fine job of introducing the various characters through the premise of the film's found footage and all the acting is above par in all cases. The plot works well, though one feels constantly left out of the movie's meta-plot of city destruction, as you're left to follow the few members of a farewell party, trying to escape the island before they're killed. Some will complain about the logic or developments of the film's writing, but they would be retards who just don't understand shit. They'll find a reason to bitch and moan whether or not the movie's brilliant or not.

The visuals are both impressive, intriguing, and hard to watch, making it something of a enigma. Aside from the dizzying and nauseating movement of all the film, it's unusual to have such a big-budget, high-profile movie that hides the effects in an intense amount of camera-shaking and seeing nothing. And it's a very effective technique, to say the least. The audience really is immersed in the movie and the handheld filmmaking technique and you can't help but occassionally catch yourself leaning to one side or another to try to get a better view that doesn't actually change when you move. But, still, it leaves you longing to see more and know fully what's going on. The movie is ripe with questions that are never answered and never seems to give you any shred of the information you long for. But that's the burden of watching a film of "found footage": everything is linear and everything is told from a single perspective.

The film is only one hour and twenty-four minutes, but by the end you're aching for a release from the reeling, dizzying movement, which is a detrement to the film. Though it still feels satisfying, particularly in a day when I'm left to think that any film less than two hours in length is a rip-off at theatrical prices. This movie, though, deserves the big-screen treatment, as you can never tell how well it'll translate to the small screen; will it be easier to watch all the movement in miniature or will all detail be lost on even the biggest HDTV screens?

In the end, it may not be a great film, but it is something amazing and strange to watch and there's something impressive for everyone in the movie's making, if you can get past your motion sickness to find it.

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blueberry.jpgrating-3.0Blueberry, retitled Renegade in America, is the adaptation of a famous European comic about the Western adventures of a former Confederate who learns to abhor racism and travels the West, becoming involved with the Indian population and righting wrongs.

As the writer's family has disowned the film (the writer himself having died in the late 80's), you probably get a good idea as to how well the source material was maintained in this hallucinogenic pseudo-Western.

An interesting cast is trotted out and everyone does a fair job, but the main complaint for pretty much anyone that sees the fim is going to be its near-incomprehensibility. The film bears more resemblance to Altered States than the source material and its journey into shamanistic hallucinations derails any vague sense of plot the movie has.

But, oh, the visuals. Like star Vincent Cassel's previous French special effects film, Brotherhood Of The Wolf, there is a stunning visual beauty and tone to the film, but, in this case, the plot is a mishmash of slight elements and a third act of bizarre visual proportions. The lack of any gunplay or real action kind of strips it of any similarity to the Blueberry comic, instead filling the space with dream-like backstory of innocence lost and a revenge plot that never pays off the visceral capacity of any Western movie.

Cassel plays Blueberry himself (and does a good job of it, for what it is) and leads up a cast that actually delivers better performances than they usually do... Juliette Lewis, for example, manages to be not-terrible, despite a film career based on awful acting. Michael Madsen actually delivers a fairly strong performance as the film's villain, despite shoddy work in the past and phone-ins like Bloodrayne. With good cameos from Ernest Borgnine, Djimon Hounsou, Eddie Izzard, and Colm Meany, the film carries the weight of a strong cast and, with the beautiful visual tone of the movie, the film could easily have been a new vision of the Western. But the script didn't allow for this.

The plot is nothing more than an excuse to ramp up to a bizarre ending, fueled by drug-induced visions of snakes and centipedes, flimsily-based on a premise of revenge, loss, and a search for treasure.

While an intriguing film to watch and impressively made, the film is hamstrung by its own overindulgence.

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Reno 911!: Miami

reno_911_miami.jpgrating-3.5Ah, "Reno 911!" Ever the guilty pleasure, I can't get enough of the surreal near-improvised antics of the incompetent Reno Sherrif's Department officers, created and produced by former members of The State.

So, one might wonder, what really seperates this movie from yet another episode of the TV show? Well, to tell you the truth, not a whole lot. It's much more vulgar and features all the nudity and foul language you'd expect but don't see on the show. And there's the real bonus, I guess.

The plot is a bit more well-formed as well: on vacation in Miami for a police convention, the Reno Sherrifs find themselves locked out because of bad reservations and are the only police to not get infected by a mysterious chemical agent. Therefore, Lt. Dangle and his crew are left to cover a variety of Miami crime, all on their own, the last line of defense for the city.

It gives a good excuse for the "Reno 911!" crew to bring in regulars like Toby Huss, Nick Swardson, and Patton Oswalt, producer Danny DeVito, improv regulars like David Koechner and Paul Rudd, and even an oddball cameo by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. They do their normal thing and have an array of bizarre calls and vignettes, all revolving around the main plot of trying to hold together the city while the Feds attempt to find a cure for the poisoned and quarantined convention-goers and the culprit behind the attack.

If you've seen the show, you know what to expect from the film and the actors, as usual, deliver their silly brand of comedic hijinks. There are a few extras in the mix due to the large amount of time to work with, but the whole project shows a fun-loving spirit and a deep care about their pet project, transitioned from Comedy Central onto the big screen.

Sure, it's not much bigger in scope or scale than an assemblage of several "Reno 911!" episodes, but the movie has some good gimmicks, some great cameos and appearances, and makes for a good DVD (or eventual TV) viewing.

It's fun for those who are already fans or just want a dose of silly and surreal humor. Try it. You might find you like it.

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stardust.jpgrating-4.0I didn't expect much from a movie based on something Neil Gaiman wrote. Categorically, I'd have to say Gaiman has never done anything to impress me and my opinion of his writing is fairly low. Balancing this, I found Layer Cake to be an excellent movie and hoped that Matthew Vaughn wasn't already breaking away from a winning streak to toy with a stupid concept. I have been pleasantly surprised by Stardust.

The movie is mainly fluff, but it's fun fluff. The story revolves around a dying king felling a star from the heavens and sending his sons on a wild goose chase for the star and his missing amulet, a quest that is mirrored by that of a pack of witches and a young man trying to impress the girl that he wants to marry.

The star turns out to be a person and the young man tries to tote the woman back to his lady love, encountering no end of troubles along the way, including encounters with sky pirates, chases, witch attacks, and transmogrified goats.

The film is quite a bit of fun and will appeal to the more feminine viewers (such as my girlfriend), especially if they appreciate the story and humor more than the cliches and fact that you can kind of see where the movie is going. But it is satisfying, even if it is a bit sappy, and the amount of sheer fun wrapped up in the movie is enough to carry you through easily.

As for Vaughn's part as adapter and director, he manages to make the movie look lovely and feel like every idea is a good one, even if you have to question some of the stranger choices, such as casting that you might not expect. And that casting works fairly well. Even Claire Daines, who has something of a spotty record, does well enough and gets to show off her comedy chops. The cameos and supporting roles all work well and don't take away from the overall film, leaving the whole product satisfying, even if convention makes you feel like you've seen much of this before.

The film has been compared to a Princess Bride for a new era and this assertion isn't entirely faulty, though I wonder if the setpieces of this film will still stand up in 20 years the way that Bride's fairly simple stage play-like comedic scenes do.

Still, it's fun.

imdb   amazon

3:10 To Yuma (2007)

310_to_yuma.jpgrating-4.0I was delighted to find that the latest version of the Elmore Leonard story and a fairly close remake of the 1957 western was more in tune with its predecessors and did surprisingly little to majorly alter or completely rebuild the plot of the tale.

It is more or less the same: a poor rancher happens upon a stagecoach robbery and, witnessing it, goes into town to help capture the man responsible; once caught, he agrees to help bring the man to justice and transport him to the next train to prison in a nearby town. This basic plot is, of course, filled with complications as various things intrude upon the rancher's ability to get the man to the train, the titular 3:10 to Yuma.

In this iteration, Christian Bale plays the rancher and was an excellent choice, bringing a high level of emotion and character to the role. For his part, Russel Crowe does his best to meet up to the standard Glenn Ford set in the original film as the charismatic criminal leader of a cowboy gang and does surprisingly well in the role, adding a viciousness that he shifts into with ease to top off the charm that he bleeds out in every relaxed moment. Bale, for his part, also adds more meat to his role by taking the aged rancher of the original and turning him into a younger Civil War veteran with a missing leg, desperate to keep his family together.

Changes do abound, though mainly in the adding of detail throughout, as opposed to huge brushstrokes that would change the film entirely. For one, the bandits are vastly more vicious and the body count is massive in comparison the earlier film, to be expected from the 50's, but this film piles up the dead, murdering every character that isn't necessary to the plot. The gang that sets out to keep their boss from prison is also more bloody, different from the playfully evil group of the original, seething with anger and violence that even Crowe doesn't possess. Ben Foster, as Crowe's right-hand man does a particularly good job and plays it to the hilt with a murderous glee that harkens to other steel-eyed heavies like Jeff Fahey in Silverado and Michael Biehn in Tombstone.

The plot is filled out with a longer trip to get to the town of Contention to make the train, several characters losing their lives in events along the way, and various other plot conflicts and complications keeping it from the smooth and quick jaunt that the earlier film displayed. Also, the end sequence is somewhat unnecessarily ramped-up to make it even more improbable than previous.

The only issues the film has exist in the end of the film, where, first, Crowe's character turn seems more inexplicable given the lengths this version goes to in showing his violent nature, as opposed to Ford's more playfully villainous character, who seems more good-hearted than Crowe lets on to be. This mild confusion isn't nearly as uncomfortable as the change to the ending, a drastically more bleak and unhappy end to the affair that adds a spot of additional meaning, but at the cost of there being no happy conclusion for the film's audience, not a necessity but definitely nice to have after a film such as this. The playful end of the original is crushed in darkness and blood, which is not bad but very, very different.

The excellent lead cast is rounded out by wonderful actors like Peter Fonda, Alan Tudyk, and Gretchen Mol, even featuring a strange cameo by Luke Wilson. The direction itself, while not flashy, is just as strong and competent as the actors involved and the whole film works well and cohesively, though lacking the satisfaction of other Western tales.

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