Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Am I not supposed to have what I want? What I need? What am I supposed to do?

No 411 – Spiderman 2

Director – Sam Raimi.

Disclaimer – I wrote all my notes and then I put my notes in a bag and then my friend went home with the bag and now I don’t got my notes or nuffink.

So yeah….

There is a moment in Spiderman 2 which gets me excited. The great scientist Otto Octavious has been experimenting with something which is either a precious ore called Tritium or an ore called PreciousTritium (I just can’t tell.... every one says Precious Tritium…). The experiment has backfired. Giant robot tentaclaws have fused into his spine. Bugger.

Doctors begin to operate, trying to prise the wires from the connections they’ve made in the Scientist’s nervous system. The claws flicker to life and all hell breaks loose. It is here that one thing becomes evident. Sam Raimi should be making lighting fast, visceral horror. The claws are such a clear homage to his Evil Dead days. We have POV shots which echo the insane skateboard mounted shots of his first film, we even have a chainsaw…. and there isn’t usually much need for one of those in a operating theatre.

However, Spiderman 2 is most definitely not a dark and visceral horror. It is a solid case of ‘more of the same’ with some nice little touches. The first touch being the wonderful Alfred Molina as Doc Ock. Again, we have a victim who is being manipulated by an external force. Here it is the slightly bonkers explanation that his ‘helping hands’ have overpowered his brain and taken control of him.

Doc Ock is not insane in the same way as the Green Goblin and Molina gets some surprisingly powerful moments as he acts against a series of CGI clamps.

The rest of the film remains fairly similar.

J K Simmons is still the best thing in the franchise – even though at one point he gets mopey…. However, thankfully, it lasts less than a scene before he is yelling out ridiculous demands again.

Tobey Maguire remains quite unexciting as Parker.

MJ is possibly duller than she was – however, it seems she has stopped wearing a bra. Kirsten Dunst’s nipples are often the most prominent part of a scene.

We even have the exact same set up for the final act. Villain dangles MJ off of an object and puts some other people in peril. Spidey saves the people.

The people all have a wonderful ‘We’re on your side Spiderman’ moment that is meant to be all heart-warming. But instead just makes you feel a little bit sick.

The main thread running throughout the film is the idea of identity. This is the film in which Spidey repeatedly fails to keep his identity secret and where Parker struggles with HIS identity (is he Parker or is he Spidey)… Whilst it is fun to watch Spiderman fall off things, I’m mostly annoyed by this development as it moves Aunt May from ‘annoying boring character who is mostly in the background’ to ‘annoying boring character who is pivotal to the plot and forever giving long long boring speeches about shit….’.

We also get the first glimpse of Peter Parker’s weird little strutty dance-walk he does when he is feeling good.

Of course, it isn’t a patch on the bollocks of Spiderman 3…. But it is a taste of things to come.

You do too much - college, a job, all this time with me... You're not Superman, you know.

No 437 – Spiderman

Director – Sam Raimi

Spiderman. Spiderman. Does whatever a spider can.

Ah Spiderman – a film which manages to flirt with greatness but also have a violent sexual relationship with being really really cheesy.

The thing is that cheesy kind of suits the story of Peter Parker. He isn’t the bleak dark reality of Nolan’s batman – he lives in the same (Marvel) world as Tony Stark. Bright, brash and stupid with a wisecracking hero zipping about. From the first tinkles of Danny Elfman’s marvellous score (not his best work, but all is work can surely be classed as ‘samey but magical to listen to’) we know we’re in a cartoon world – we’re here for a laugh.

The film does help create some wonderful moments. Once Parker has been bit by the genetic super spider we open a world full of great touches. There is the simple – yet brilliant – way that Parker’s new found Spidey Senses work – showing his reactions by slowing everything down, there is the humour in Spidey’s wisecracks (here, more than either of the sequels he is the sarcastic hero from the cartoons and comics), there are the wonderful supporting roles.

Ah the supporting roles, and the cameos. Let us start with the Spidey stalwart… Mr Bruce Campbell. His cameos stay funny throughout the trilogy, but I think he seems most at ease. Cocky, garish and decked in Gold, he swaggers and plays the crowd like a poor man’s Elvis. And Campbell plays Elvis exceedingly well.

Then we have Willem Dafoe as Norman Osmond aka The Green Goblin. I love how Raimi’s villains have to struggle with duality. They aren’t evil; they’re always overcome by some for of destructive influence. Here it is the super soldier serum which unleashes one of the greatest ‘crazy faces’ I have ever seen.

Dafoe plays the Green Goblin with an obvious relish. He is a cackling OTT panto villain. He isn’t grounded in reality, he’s not anywhere near it. But, for that very reason, he is an absolute delight to watch. The second best thing in the film.

As the Spiderman trilogy is made roughly 62% more enjoyable by three massive Js. Written in letters which tower over New York. J JONAH JAMESON.

Hell yes.

J K Simmons’ portrayal of the Daily Bugle’s editor in chief is one of the most perfect things ever put to celluloid. He is brash, he is angry, he is absolutely ridiculous. There are times when he makes Dafoe look restrained. He is exhaustingly good fun.

But this is important. We need an exciting villain and a bonkers minor character. We need them to keep the energy up. Because, alas, Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst don’t play Peter Parker or MJ as the most exciting people in the world. They’re a bit mopey. A bit quiet. A bit insecure. A lot dull.

I spent my time waiting for Parker to don the mask and become a crap CGI Spiderman swinging through the city…. As at least that is something to watch.

Meanwhile, Mary Jane’s big contribution to the film (besides that award winning kiss) is to dangle off of a bridge as the Green Goblin gives his ultimatum – Save the girl or Save the carriage of children.

Ah, Spidey’s choice.

Of course Meryl Streep never had web slinging powers or it could have all turned out differently.

Spidey saves them both, and the film’s cutest most cringiest moment happens.

Spiderman was released shortly after 9/11 – which meant this original teaser trailer was scrapped pretty promptl

Shame, as it’s cool.

But it does mean that the film lapses into cringe-worthy patriotism as the citizens throw litter at the Green Goblin in a “You mess with Spiderman, you mess with New York” moment.

This theme echoes throughout the film until the final shot where Spidey leaps triumphantly in front of a slowly billowing American flag.

Spiderman – FUCK YEAH!

Thursday, 7 October 2010

I sense great fear in you, Skywalker. You have hate. You have anger. But you don't use them.

No 330 - Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Director - George Lucas

Episode 3 is the prequel which finally (at times) looks like Star Wars. Episodes 1 and 2 are all taking place in the grand old palaces of Naboo or the super busy super-city of a Coruscant - places which are massively different from the general aesthetic of the original trilogy. However, after the scroll of episode 3, we get to see the old school Star Destroyers back in action. We're beginning with an inter-galactic dog fight and it all feels like star wars.
And yet, what Lucas has managed to do is take the basic designs of Star Wars and use CGI to make it feel wrong. Lets start out with that initial dog fight.

The action is big and dramatic, but there is so much CGI thrown into the sequence that it just becomes a bit of a mess and difficult to follow.
But CGI is a bit of a curse for the film. Everything has been replaced with CGI. Every single shot has CGI in it.
Let IMDB put it into context with some of their hot trivia.
All shots of C-3PO had the entire green screen set reflecting in his shiny gold armor, so digital effects artists in post-production had to digitally repaint C-3PO's armor frame by frame to remove any traces of the set

Seems a bit ridiculous.....
But then, it becomes a lot worse when you realise how all of the characters have been replaced with CGI.
R2D2 is replaced with CGI at times and given so many cool new functions you have to wonder why he never uses them in the future. In fact R2D2 in the time of the Empire is a bit rubbish when compared to the bells and whistles of R2D2 during the time of the senate....
Christopher Lee's Count Dooku is replaced with CGI to give him mad ninja skills during fight scenes - which seems lazy and disrespectful to the grand master that is Lee
Yoda has been entirely replaced with CGI. For everything. Maybe it is the warm fuzz of nostalgia but I find CGI Yoda quite cold and depressing compared to the puppet, and of course it removes any opportunity for Frank Oz's excellent performance.

It seems that George Lucas' unlimited budget has allowed him to think that CGI is the answer to everything. The film suffers from too much CGI.... but the film really suffers from a character who is very much real. Who is, in fact, integral to the series. Hayden Christensen. He is a really bad actor and considering he is supposed to portray the turmoil and downfall of Darth Vader he manages to cheapen 6 films.
Hayden Christensen's portrayal of evil is entirely down to how furrowed his brow is, not only that but the entire fall to evil takes about 30 seconds. At the beginning of a scene he is mourning his attack on Mace Windu (I'll get to this in a sec) but by the end of the scene he is killing children in cold blood. THERE IS NO ARC! It is just BAM! I'm a Baddie! And even after he's got all burnt up, and John Williams' music swells, and the mask goes down, and the first wheezing breath raises the hairs on your arms.... he still manages to fuck it up. Fuck up Darth Vader as a character. Forever.....
I fucking hate you....

I also fucking hate you for killing off Mace Windu in such a weak way.
I hate you for wiping C3PO's memory at the end of the film in order to messily tie up the loose ends.

And yet, there are two defining moments which save the film from being infuriating. Firstly, the Jedi death montage of Order 66 is the Prequel trilogy's closest point to the darkness of Empire. It is bleak, it is emotional, it is gloriously hopeless.
And finally.... the final scenes. We're inside of a ship and we're back in the stark white 70's sci fi interiors. The final separation of the twins and the final moment as Obi Wan passes Luke to Owen and Beru may be the best bit of the entire prequel trilogy. The last shot of Owen and Beru feels exactly like the original trilogy. The strain of the original theme kicks in and I have a wonderful smile on my face.

In the final seconds of the film, Lucas has made me forgive almost everything that went before.

Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering

No 449 - Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Director - George Lucas

This may be controversial, but you know what?

Whilst there are some massive MASSIVE flaws with the film (which I'll discuss in a bit) - there are some really exciting bits. Lets focus on the positive shall we. Firstly, there is something which I've omitted from my previous Star Wars blogs - John Williams' excellent score. It is always a dramatic highlight of every film, underpinning the action with a real sense of drama and excitement. When it comes to the new trilogy, the score has been dramatically improved. I mean, cast your ear holes over at the frankly amazing 'Duel of the Fates' which acts as Darth Maul's theme. It is a frankly epic and terrific piece of music. John Williams is an amazing composer (it is such lazy blogging to continuously point to another person's blog.... but still).

In fact, besides John Williams score, Darth Maul is probably the saving grace of the first film, his growly voice and his domineering presence just ripples through the film and lifts it above the problems which are littered throughout. Incidentally, whats happened to Ray Park? He's vanished off the map a bit hasn't he? His fight scenes are really exciting, and inject action into the film - and he has a duel ended lightsaber, which is pretty fucking cool! Who wouldn't want one.

The film's biggest crime is that for large amounts of time it is quite boring, and that's mainly down to the code of the protagonists. Jedis are boring. The reason that the original trilogy works is that Luke doesn't know how a Jedi should act, Vader and the Emperor are evil and Yoda has gone a bit nuts. It is only Obi Wan who plays the wise sage and he is only fleetingly in the series. With the prequels we have a series of films entirely populated by wise and emotionless sages. It means we have a phenomenal cast of people speaking in a gentle monotone and not showing any emotion. Ewan McGregor, Liam Neeson, even Samuel L Jackson spends the film sitting and nodding sagely. SAMUEL L JACKSON?!

So, naturally you welcome the moments of action in the film which lift the tedium of politics, and jedis, and borderline racist aliens. The lightsaber fights are one part of it, but the pod race is another example of dramatic tension and pacing. It shows that Lucas can still shoot big action set pieces. He just chooses not to.
There are two other things of note within the pod race sequence. Firstly, CGI Jabba has none of the presence or icky slimy realness of his puppet self and what is Warwick Davies doing as an extra?

So, I find the dullness of Episode 1 a great crime, but there are also the two grievances which are frequently raised by the fanboys. Firstly the retconning. The fact that by introducing Midi-chlorians, Lucas manages to cheapen the idea of The Force to nothing but a biological oddity. But also, his inclusion of C3PO and R2D2 is actually detrimental to the series. Obi Wan spends an entire trilogy having massive adventures with the droids, and then come ep 4 he states that he's never seen them before. Yeah, they're only robots but you'd still remember them from all your big adventures.

Finally though. We have the Gungans. And I refused to believe that they were as bad as I remembered them being. However, after 30 seconds of Jar Jar lowering the quality of the film i wanted to just kill him. His arrival comes along with jokes about farts and poo and slapstick and the most annoying voice since Chris Tucker in the Fifth Element.

Even Brian Blessed can't save the Gungans.... and he is almost pure undiluted awesomeness.


I forgot something.
Basically you can get a whole better idea of The Phantom Menace by watching this instead:

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

One thing remains. Vader. You must confront Vader. Then, only then, a Jedi will you be. And confront him you will.

No 91 - Star Wars Episode VI - Return of the Jedi
Director - Richard Marquand

So, we come to the last of the original trilogy and whilst this film is a lot cuddlier and less bleak than the middle film, it holds a special place in my heart because of 3 freaking awesome monsters in three teeny tiny roles.
And so.... ladies and gentleman... may I introduce:

In fact, this film has a really impressive overall monster count. From the grandiose of Jabba's palace (and, in fact Jabba himself is a spectacular puppet) to the cute little Ewoks - this is the film where we begin to really see the extended alien life, in a way that hasn't been seen since the cantina in A New Hope.
The film also revisits Yoda, who is awesome, and who gets to have a truly powerful emotional scene. It is testament to Frank Oz's fabulous skills that he can create such a wonderful performance from a tiny puppet.

But there are some flaws in the film too, some pretty massive niggles that pestered me throughout the film - and the first one is to do with a character who has appeared in every single Star Wars film. Return of the Jedi is the film where C3PO becomes rubbish. He is clumsy, he falls over multiple times, he knocks things over. He is the closest this film has to Jar Jar Binks.... but, what makes no sense is.... C3PO IS A ROBOT! Why would you deliberately program a robot to have no spacial awareness and be a clumsy tit.

The other flaw is linked to the Ewoks, but not the Ewoks themselves - I was young enough not to be jaded when I first watched Jedi and I still quite like the cutesy little teddy bears. Anyway, Warwick Davies plays Wicket, so you have to love them. It is the law.

However, I do find it really weird that the Empire's armour can't stand up against the Ewoks and their sticks and stones. If Empire armour can withstand blaster shots, they should be able to withstand being hit by a tree.


But the film's triumphs come through the dark side. This is the film where we finally see Ian McDiarmid playing the Emperor with delicious OTT gusto - and he is a bloody excellent villain. But this is the film where Darth Vader shines. Or, to be more precise, where Anakin Skywalker shines. Because, after two films of being the cold and emotionless general, Darth has his moment of recompense, he has a full arc. It is this moment - where he betrays the Emperor and removes his helmet for his dying breath - which negates the whole point of the prequel trilogy. By providing a back story, you lose the initial mystique of Vader, and the power of his rebellion is sort of lessened. It is the cheapening of Vader that I think is the prequel's greatest crime.
More so than the retconning. After all, even Jedi had retconning. Just read Ben Kenobi's convoluted explanation about how he didn't lie when he said that Anakin had been killed by Vader:
Your father... was seduced by the Dark Side of the Force. He ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and *became* Darth Vader. When that happened, the good man who was your father was destroyed. So what I told you was true... from a certain point of view.

Clutching. At. Straws.

But, as Jedi draws to the end, I remember why I have sat through 3 films with bad quality sound and picture. It was so that I could see Sebastian Shaw play Anakin. Because the one thing worse than having your role cut out of a film is having your role cut out of the film AFTER IT WAS RELEASED and replaced with Hayden fucking Christensen.

Try not. Do... or do not. There is no try

No 3 - Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Director - Irvin Kersher

What is it that makes this film so awesome? It is the film where George Lucas fully understands his vision and wisely puts it into the hands of a better director. Where the cast feel more comfortable with their roles and perform them fantastically. It is a film which is wonderfully wonderfully bleak.

A New Hope is a great film and introduces ideas such as the Jedi and the lightsaber (the buzzing sound of lightsabers will always make me geekily excited) - however it isn't Empire that the full idea of the Jedi is realised. We first hear and see the Emperor (Grand Moff Tarkin having mysteriously vanished) and we begin to learn some of the other powers of the force. The audience, like Luke, is guided through this new world by Yoda. Possibly one of the greatest mentors ever put to film.

So, not only is the world richer in theology, it also becomes far richer in location. A New Hope is mainly spent inside ships or buildings, with a couple of dabbles into the desert world of Tatooine. With Empire we get instantly plunged into the ice worlds of Hoth, where we escape and hide in the swampy world of Dagoba and finally we get an entire city floating in the sky. There is no question about it, this film is expanding the Star Wars universe to make a far more exciting canvas. We also get far busier environments. From more droids in the backgrounds (always good to see a gonk) to some more excellent puppet work in creating monsters. The Tauntaun, for one being particularly impressive - and inspiration for one of the greatest pieces of merch ever.

Though, my favourite new 'monster' in Empire will always be Yoda. Lucas got outside help from the Henson company for the character and you can see the work of Jim Henson printed all over it. This is only enriched by the wonderful performance (both vocal and through puppeteering) that is given by Frank Oz. I bloody love Frank Oz.

However, Empire's biggest triumph is in the final act, giving us so many moments to scratch our heads over. From the massive plot twisting revelation (which I won't mention.... just on the off chance) to the massive down beat ending. It is an act which is littered with huge defining moments, but also beautiful smaller moments. Leia's declaration of love to Han and his reply is brilliant and is a perfect distillation of their characters.

And so as the film ends, all downbeat, I don't even mind that the story isn't concluded - thus showing that the middle film in a trilogy doesn't always really piss me off, as long as it is done correctly - let the main story of the film finish, and set up the third. Don't just end mid story.

Now. Lets go rescue Han.

The Jedi are extinct, their fire has gone out of the universe. You, my friend, are all that's left of their religion

No 22 - Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
Director - George Lucas

I had a serious ponder as to what order to watch the Star Wars films. Should it be 1,3,4,5,6 or 4,5,6,1,3 (2 didn't make it into the list.....) - in the end I chose to pick with the order they were released, and I'm glad I did.
I promise not to moan too much about the re-issue, and the constant fuckery that George Lucas does with these films (The Incredible Suit did it much better here), but what I will complain about is that if I wanted to watch the original film I had to trawl through the special features to find it. Also, the film was exactly as it was in the 70's, which meant that it had had no digital remastering. So I ended up watching a copy with worse sound and picture than my old VHS copies. But it was worth it not to get all the bullshit added stuff.

Don't get me wrong - I can see the appeal of making the lightsabers slicker, or making the explosions better, or making the battles more epic.... it is when you use CGI to pad out scenes with unnecessary showing off.... or CHANGE THE FILM ITSELF! that is becomes unforgivable.

Anyway, whine over.... lets talk about the film.

The first thing that caught my attention upon this viewing (and which I found interesting as I'd never noticed it before) was how faceless the opening sequence is. there are only a few fleeting humans, normally busy firing blasters or being shot. Even our first glimpse of Leia is pretty fleeting.
Instead, we get R2D2 and C3PO (both pretty expressionless) being chased by stormtroopers and their leader Darth Vader (again, pretty expressionless). They escape and are immediately ambushed by the Jawas.
So, Kudos to Lucas for managing to make entertaining and fully formed characters from nothing but movements and atmosphere. In fact throughout the serious, many of the characters that people love don't really speak at all. Showing that you don't NEED dialogue to create an emotional attachment. Just look at Chewbacca.


My dad's friend Stephen is a costume historian who works in a lot of films. When he was in his early days on the job.... he helped KNIT CHEWBACCA!
That is pretty much the coolest thing I have ever fucking heard.

So amongst our galaxy of non-human entities, we have our human leads. This is not attempting to be a clever film, and so the characters are little more than stock characters, almost straight out of medieval or Arthurian tales. We have Luke: The Naive farm hand with aspirations to be a knight. Ben Kenobi: The wise and powerful mentor. Han: The cocky matinee hero and Leia the damsel in distress. However she does a lot more than merely look pretty (Carrie Fisher is stunning in these films - incidentally, she is a really very funny woman) - here she has more courage and derring do than any of the men and she creates a love triangle which is severely weighted on Han's side (after all, their sparring of wits is far more romantic than Luke's puppydog eyes), even before you learn about the family tree.

There doesn't seem to be much need to discuss the actual ins and outs of Star Wars as you've either seen it, or you never plan to see it.
However let me leave you with a fabulous link and an odd little question.

LINK - As I watch the stormtroopers milling about, my mind naturally turns to the Little Stormys. And if you aren't regularly watching those little scamps, you are missing out.

QUESTION - As this film is before the idea of the Emperor, and before Lucas had really ironed out a lot of his world (after all Vader is referred to as Darth.... as if Darth is his first name) - let me ask... is Vader working for Grand Moff Tarkin? Whats going on?

Friday, 1 October 2010

You're living the American Dream. You really bought into it, didn't you? You've been this other guy, almost as long as you've been yourself

No 448 - A History of Violence
Director - David Cronenberg

At first glance, this film could be seen as 'Viggo Mortensen goes Bourne' as a man has his life shattered when he realises he is very good at killing people, that it is second nature. However, where Bourne is all about the action, the mystery, the suspense.... A History of Violence is all about the drama and the repercussions. This is not a world where you can incapacitate someone with a newspaper and just walk away. Here, there are repercussions.
The film begins by showing 2 things. Firstly, that Viggo's Tom Stall is a blessed man. He lives in a wonderfully happy community, he has children which get on with each other and a sexy wife who dresses as a cheerleader for his delectation (incidentally.... I can't think of many films which actually show cunnilingus... so fair play to Cronenberg). It is all very happy and it is all very quiet. However, the second thing that the beginning of the film shows us is that evil men exist. The film actually starts by following two vicious killers and showing the bloody repercussions of their actions.
It is when they attempt to rob Tom, and he fights back, that the Bourne similarities come into play, but also where the film gets more interesting.

You see, if you were looking at the trailer, you might assume that the film is about a man who realises he is a killer and who is then followed by a one eyed hoodlum (Ed Harris on wonderfully terrifying form) trying to get him back into organised crime. And whilst this is PART of the film, it certainly isn't the main drive of the film.
This is a film about how people react to Tom's actions. How Tom reacts, how the town reacts, how criminals around the country react. But most importantly, it is a film about how Tom's family react to his actions. How they go from him being a hero to him being a terror. How Tom's history may be (as the title implies) more violent than previously thought.

The film may have this idea of trust and truth at its heart but is still a Cronenberg film, so it is interplayed with some very visceral and graphic violence. All in all it makes a fascinating and very real feeling film.
Though, after recently watching The Road, and seeing a stair-based sex scene in A History of Violence, I've realised something about serious actor Viggo Mortensen:

Though, I think Lord of the Rings might be safe....

Nice one, Dad. Good speech. Well done. But I think you'll have to go now so we can eat our breakfast

No 229 – Dogme 1: Festen (The Celebration)
Director – Thomas Vinterberg

I am excited. As the little certificate comes up I am finally going to do something I have never done. I am FINALLY going to watch a Dogme film. The first Dogme film.

So we begin with a family getting back together for their dad’s birthday. Back to the hotel that they grew up in. Even before I knew what was going down I could tell that the family was on edge. Everyone is angry and snapping at one another. Some of this is explained by the recent suicide of one of their siblings…. But more is explained later. The father seems particularly tense and Michael, the youngest son, is shown to be an absolute bastard. Over the course of the film he will showcase such delightful character traits as massive anger, domestic abuse, general violence, racism and generally being a cunt. Luckily, he does sort of redeem himself. Or at least he finds peace to a degree.

There are reasons that everyone is tense. This is a family with some pretty dark secrets. And…. As the birthday party begins (and can I just add that the Danish Happy Birthday song is way way better than out poxy version) Christian, the family’s oldest son, decides to bring a few of these secrets out in a toast.

Christian’s revelations are the crux of the film and were a brilliant surprise. So if you haven’t seen it and you want it to be a surprise just know this. It is immense and shit goes down.

Now you can stop reading the blog.

Because I’m going to discuss.
Right, so its rape. Christian and his (now dead) twin sister were ritualistically raped by their father as kids. I had to put this spoiler in because I couldn’t discuss my greatest issue without it…
The film begins by questioning whether these allegations are true. Gradually throughout the film you learn more information and the full story becomes clear. But, regardless of whether the allegations are true…. They have been said. They are out in the open. And yet, THE PARTY STILL CONTINUES.

If I went to a party where someone was continually and in detail accusing the party host of being a paedophilic rapist, I wouldn’t continue the party. I’d be freaked out. I’d probably want some kind of police action.
But not so in this film. Christian finishes his speech and there is an awkward silence which then just leads to another speech and the party continues. Christian’s attempts get more and more drastic and the repercussions from other family members get more and more violent, ending up with Michael and 2 uncles dragging Christian into the woods, kicking him in, and tying him to a tree.
Yet throughout all of this the party continues. Food and wine are still imbibed and there are still games and dancing. That’s pretty weird. Hell, even when the father confesses (with the cruellest and most incredible line ever: “My talentless offspring, it was all you were good for”) it doesn’t stop the festivities.

It is once the party does end, and the children get together and have their cathartic moments. Whether it is Michael attacking his father and telling him to never go near his kids, or whether it is Christian finding love with the staff (scandal), it all goes back to equilibrium.
And whilst the hotel will never be visited by any of the party guests and whilst he will be alone and despised for ever, the father still comes off surprisingly lightly for someone who committed such a vile and despicable deed.

I suppose it is that that left me the most perturbed, the fact that the group goes back to normal so easily. Oh, and that the music in the end credits is also used in ‘A Dog Like You’ by Misty’s Big Adventure.

Okay, just to be clear here, our options are: die here, die in the tunnels, or die in the streets. That pretty much it?

No 394 – Cloverfield
Director – Matt Reeves

Ah I remember the day so well. The mystery. The concern. The general air of chaos. The day that the Cloverfield teaser trailer was released.

This is a film that was an internet rarity. A film which hadn’t existed on any radar until they had enough footage to release a trailer. It was a film that took everyone by surprise. It was going to be EPIC.

….and it is good. Don’t get me wrong. In fact, as I dissect the film in this blog, I’m going to discuss the dozens of little bits which make this film exciting and dynamic and different. It is just that despite some wonderful touches and some inspired ideas, Cloverfield leaves me cold. I just don’t think it is as good as the sum of its parts. But the parts are pretty fucking tasty.

This is a film about a monster invasion, told through the eyes of the civilians. It helps to create some amazing moments. Arguments in the streets are violently interrupted by the army – turning the screen into a mess of screams and smoke. Night vision mode revealing the man-sized creepy insect monsters in the subway tunnels. The violent beheading of the Statue of Liberty which was seen in the first attention grabbing trailer.
What are good about these epic set pieces are the little details. The fact that we’re watching them from within a group of terrified normal folk. We aren’t the army, or the kick ass agent/superhero/cop bought out of retirement. We aren’t the detached camera floating above and finding the best angle as the players act for our amusement. We’re in the thick of it and we’re jostling and bustling.

This same attention to detail is there in the few occasional quiet moments amongst the screams and blood and running. I was particularly impressed with the inspired simplicity and the effectiveness of a shot, where as the camera is dropped it constantly refocuses, not knowing whether to focus on the grass in the foreground or the face in the background. For a few brief seconds all you hear is the whirr of the camera, a strange moment of calm, until it is picked up again and the chaos begins.

There are many more great little moments but I don’t just want to sit there listing them all, so let’s focus on the film’s real star. The Cloverfield monster. I love that freaky beast. I love that nothing really explains its arrival (although there is a small clue in the background of the last shot) and I love that throughout the film we just get the occasional glimpse of the monster. Be it a screaming head looming through the rubble or a claw smashing into a building, or the few rare moments where they can watch a TV and see the news helicopter overhead shots.
This builds an enigma around the monster, and it becomes far more terrifying – after all nothing is as frightening as the depths of our imaginations. So, when the action moves to more open spaces and we see the monster in its entirety, it does feel like a let down. I can see why Matt Reeves did it; he wants to show off his otherwise top secret creations…. But still….. Meh….

It is the culmination of these little flaws which tar the film. Whether it is them busting their load and showing the full monster or whether it is that Hud, our guide and camera man, is the most annoying gimp of a human ever. A man who has to reiterate everything that happens and litter it with ‘Totallies’. He ruins every moment by giving his stupid pointless opinion. What a twat.
But actually, he is more than just annoying – he puts in the final important flaw of the film. A flaw which is directly linked to what makes this film special. The flaw of ‘found footage’. There are moments in this film that don’t make sense in the Found Footage camp. There are little things (if you are spreading gossip about your best friend, would you leave the camera on when the tape your filming is his going away gift?) and there are big things (after a while you’re going to say ‘fuck all this filming’ – as your friends and your home are destroyed around you, you’re going to ditch the camera and just run) that challenge your suspension of disbelief.
Paranormal Activity’s static camera shows that you can do realistic Found Footage and make it effective. Cloverfield occasionally seems to push its luck a bit.

Which leaves me with my final two points.
1) Cloverfield is short. Like really really short. The whole thing comes to about 81 minutes, but about 11 of those minutes are credits. So we’re talking about a film which is shorter than a lot of TV shows out there. At least the credit music is suitably epic. Check out Roar!
2) Watching shaky-cam Found Footage on a Virgin Pendolino is possibly the wobbliest thing you can do ever. Seriously vomit inducing.