Phil on Film Index

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Review - Be Kind Rewind

Michel Gondry's new film Be Kind Rewind sums up all of this filmmaker's brilliance and limitations in one frustrating package. The picture's subject matter offers ample opportunity for the director to play with his determinedly lo-fi aesthetic, but it also exposes his weaknesses as a storyteller, and his inability to mould his light-headed adventures into a coherent whole. Be Kind Rewind is the name of a dilapidated video store – yes, that's right, a video store – in Passaic, New Jersey whose sole claim to fame is that it may have been the birthplace of jazz legend Fats Waller. That's what Mr Fletcher (Danny Glover) tells people anyway, and he has instilled a love of Waller's music in his both live-in employee Mike (Mos Def, appealingly low-key as ever) and Mike's reckless best friend Jerry (Jack Black, not quite so low-key), but the store is under threat, with town planners hoping to renovate the area. If Mr Fletcher can't raise $60,000 before the end of the month then his store will face closure, so the last thing he needs is a magnetised Jerry (don't ask) erasing every VHS in his shop.

Mike and Jerry's decision to reshoot the missing films themselves allows Gondry to display all of the childlike creativity that has characterised his career as a director of music videos and feature films. Gondry is a cinematic alchemist who can spin gold from the most rudimentary materials, and the first hour of Be Kind Rewind sees him at his best. There's a fantastic sight gag early on involving camouflage suits which, like the best of Gondry's work, is so simple and yet so ingenious; and as Mike and Jerry race around town haphazardly shooting scenes from Ghostbusters (the film requested by their most loyal customer, a spaced-out Mia Farrow), their enthusiasm and commitment to the cause seems to exemplify the director's belief in what cinema should be. In this age of slick, flawless visual effects, Gondry's adherence to trickery based in clever camerawork and editing is refreshing and often breathtaking – last year's The Science of Sleep had some gorgeous moments – so the tale of two nobodies trying to recreate blockbuster movies on a tiny scale is right up his street. I loved the way Mike and Jerry overcame the problem of filming a daytime scene at night, or the use of pizzas as pools of blood under a body, or their method for staging a birth scene; at times such as these, Be Kind Rewind simply dazzles with its boundless creative energy.

Those of us watching Be Kind Rewind aren't the only ones dazzled by the pair's efforts, though, and soon the whole community is queuing up outside the door demanding "Sweded" versions of their favourite films. They hire a pretty local girl (Melonie Diaz, adorable) to help with kissing scenes, and when their customers prove willing to pay for these more personal versions of mainstream hits, their productions gradually grow more ambitious. In a great tracking shot, Gondry follows the actors from one remake to another – When We Were Kings, 2001: A Space Oddyssey, Men in Black, King Kong – and the mind boggles at some of the titles that run down the sides of the screen during this sequence (I'm not sure I want to imagine a "Sweded" version of Last Tango in Paris or Gummo). This is all great stuff – it's fresh, funny and gleefully silly – but in Be Kind Rewind's second half, Gondry allows the narrative to run away from him.

The shadow of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind continues to hang over Michel Gondry's career. That wonderful 2004 film allied Gondry's idiosyncratic direction to a heartfelt, thrillingly inventive screenplay from Charlie Kaufman, and Kaufman's emotionally resonant script seemed to have an anchoring effect on the director. Such weight wasn't present in Gondry's flimsy follow-up The Science of Sleep, and Be Kind Rewind – for all of its pleasing traits – doesn't have enough going on to fill out its running time, with the pacing becoming increasingly poor as the film progresses uncertainly. Sigourney Weaver turns up as a lawyer charged with enforcing copyright laws, and then the film focuses on Mike and Jerry's attempt to film a Fats Waller tribute documentary, although "focuses" is perhaps too strong a word to use in relation to this picture's plotting, with threads being picked up and dropped in a random fashion. While that might just be a simple by-product of the anarchic, freewheeling style Gondry's going for, it leaves the film feeling horribly disjointed, and its grip on my attention had almost evaporated by the close.
Be Kind Rewind is a film full of heart; in fact, it seems to have nothing but heart, and if you can fully engage with it on that gut level – overlooking its myriad problems – then you'll probably have fun with it. The climax pulls together elements from Cinema Paradiso, It's a Wonderful Life, and Gondry's own documentary Dave Chappelle's Block Party; it's a celebration of community spirit and the unifying power of cinema, but it comes off with no impact because Gondry hasn't properly set down the groundwork for this finale, and the closing scenes also feel oddly truncated. Both Be Kind Rewind and The Science of Sleep seem to suggest that Gondry is at his best when bringing his unique aesthetic to bear on other writers' material; and while scripts like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind are pretty hard to come by, one hopes Gondry does find a screenplay capable of keep his imagination grounded in reality, and imposing some discipline on his work. Michel Gondry is one of the most naturally brilliant directors in cinema, but all of his whimsy and magic counts for nothing if he can't tell a story in a satisfying way.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The 2008 Academy Awards - Review

It's Sunday, it's 1am, and I've spent the past hour watching various celebrities walking up and down a red carpet repeatedly being asked the odd question "who are you wearing?" (disappointingly, nobody appears to have taken the Björk approach to red carpet attire, although Tilda Swinton's bin bag is perhaps an unwise choice). Yes, it's Oscar night, and for the next four hours or so I'll be documenting the winners and losers from the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles as the American film industry celebrates the year's greatest achievements. Of course, most of the time the genuinely great achievements in a given year have little or nothing to do with The Oscars, and at first glance the 2008 ceremony appears to be no exception, with wonderful films such as
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford being ignored in the major categories, and films like the masterpiece 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and Zodiac being completed overlooked. But wait – there is hope! This year's set of nominations really does contain films that deserve to be mentioned among the year's best, with the likes of No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood leading the charge for Oscar glory. So, with the writers' strike finally settled, here we go, with the 80th Annual Academy Awards. Jon Stewart is your host, and I'm struggling to stay awake.

1.30am – The night begins with a dreadful CGI sequence that mixes iconic images from movies past and present, and then Jon Stewart appears onstage for an opening monologue which, predictably, leans heavily on the strike. He decries the amount of violent pictures nominated before adding "thank God for teen pregnancy!", and he says Hillary Clinton thought Away From Her – a film about a woman forgetting her own husband – was "the feel good movie of the year". Stewart then mentions Diablo Cody needing to take a pay cut as she moved from being a stripper to a screenwriter, and in reference to the upcoming election he warns "the only time you see a black man or a woman as president an asteroid is about to hit the Statue of Liberty". He's on good form, but the laughs appear to be a bit thin on the ground; maybe that's down to the appalling acoustics, though.

1.42am – Best Costume Design
My Prediction – Atonement
My Choice – Sweeney Todd

Jennifer Garner is the first presenter, and she looks very classy indeed. She's handing out the Costume Design Oscar, which I think might go to
Atonement purely on the strength of that green dress. But no! The voters have been swayed once more by those big Elizabethan frocks, and Alexandra Byrne wins for Elizabeth: The Golden Age. Her speech is fantastically short and to the point – well played that woman!

1.47am – Oh George, don't you look dapper this evening! Clooney saunters on stage to present an amusing montage of classic Oscar moments. There are plenty of "what were they thinking?" moments on show, but the effect is slightly ruined by having Celine Dion wailing like a dying cat over the top of it.

1.52am – Best Animated Film
My Prediction – Ratatouille
My Choice – Ratatouille

Anne Hathaway and Steve Carrell are together here, with the theme from
Get Smart playing in the background (hmmm....are these guys promoting something?). Carrell fakes a funny panic attack, and then announces Ratatouille as the winner, surprising precisely nobody. Brad Bird has a nice anecdote up his sleeve, but he struggles to thank everyone in the allotted time and faffs a bit at the end.

1.56am – Best Makeup
My Prediction – La Vie en rose
My Choice – You know, it would be quite funny if Norbit won an Oscar.....

An amazingly nervous-looking Katherine Heigl presents this award to
La Vie en rose, the only genuine contender in this category. The two recipients are very gracious and in the audience Marion Cotillard seems close to tears already. Keep it together girl, you need to save those precious tears for your own big moment!

1.59am – The first nominated song from Enchanted Happy Working Song – is performed by Amy Adams. That film has three ditties nominated, so Adams will be a busy girl tonight. It seems like the kind of song that probably worked better on the screen than in isolation.

2.06am – Best Visual Effects
My Prediction – Transformers
My Choice – Transformers

Why does this category only ever look at the big blockbusters? Aren't the genuinely beautiful effects from
Sunshine worth a nomination here – particularly as they were achieved on a fraction of the budget – while the effects work in Zodiac was sensational precisely because it was so invisible. Instead, we've got three of 2007's loudest and stupidest films in contention once again; but never mind, because here comes The Rock! Actually, he prefers to be called Dwayne Johnson these days (who prefers to be called Dwayne?). Anyway, he opens the envelope, and the winner is.....The Golden Compass? Blimey, that's a dodgy call.

2.10am – Best Art Direction
My Prediction – There Will Be Blood
My Choice – Sweeney Todd

A pregnant Cate Blanchett hands this award to the great Dante Ferreti and Francesca Lo Schiavo for
Sweeney Todd. Between them they say "thank you" about 27 times in 30 seconds.

2.15am – Best Supporting Actor
My Prediction – Javier Bardem
My Choice – Casey Affleck

Now then, this is where it gets serious. The first acting award of the night is presented by Jennifer Hudson and, unsurprisingly,
Javier Bardem's indelible psychopath is the winner. He thanks the Coens "for putting one of the most horrible haircuts in history on his head", and then he sends a message to his mother in Spanish, the words flying out of his mouth at a hundred miles an hour. Few will argue with this award, Bardem has created an iconic character who will live on through the ages, and it's the first award of the night for one of the major contenders.

2.23am – Jon makes another writers' strike gag, suggesting the whole show might have consisted of just montages if it had carried on.

2.24am – Keri Russell introduces the song Raise it Up from her movie August Rush. Sadly, the song isn't performed by Robin Williams (did I mean to say sadly there? Actually, that should probably read "thank Christ the song isn't performed by Robin Williams "). It's a mediocre entry, mostly sung by a young black girl with a fine voice.

2.28am – Best Live Action Short
My Prediction – ?
My Choice – Well, The Tonto Woman is based on an Elmore Leonard story, so that's good enough for me.

Owen Wilson is here and, thankfully, he's looking well. He awards the Oscar to
Le Mozart des Pickpockets, and Philippe Pollet-Villard has just enough English to get through his speech, before finishing with a flourish in French.

2.31am – Best Animated Short
My Prediction – Hmmmm.......
My Choice – One of the above.

Jerry Seinfeld's character from
Bee Movie introduces a montage of bee-related movie scenes, and then announces Peter & the Wolf as the winner. British pair Suzie Templeton and Hugh Welchman collect their Oscars with modesty and good grace.

2.35am – Best Supporting Actress
My Prediction – Cate Blanchett
My Choice – Tilda Swinton

This is the tightest category of the night, and young Saoirse Ronan is the only one I'd rule out at this late stage. Alan Arkin is on hand to do his presenting stuff, and the winner is......
Tilda Swinton! That's a fantastic result. She give a funny, slightly nutty acceptance speech, making fun of Clooney and dedicating the award to her agent. That dress still looks wrong, though.

2.44am – Poor old Jessica Alba reveals that she was forced – sorry, I mean "honoured" – to host this year's technical awards earlier in the week. That's no way to treat a pregnant lady!

2.46am – Best Adapted Screenplay
My Prediction – No Country for Old Men
My Choice – The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Josh Brolin and James McAvoy are the odd couple presenting this award. Josh Brolin does a bad Jack Nicholson impersonation, which gets a typically comical reaction from the man himself (do they have a camera trained on him throughout the night?), and then McAvoy calls the names of
Joel and Ethan Coen! A big boost for No Country's Best Picture hopes. Joel speaks first and then Ethan seems a little tongue-tied, or maybe he's just saving himself for later in the evening.

2.49am – an explanation of the Academy's voting system.

2.52am – A young lady called Miley Cyrus (Google informs me that she plays somebody called Hannah Montana on TV) introduces Enchanted's second nominee, That's How You Know. It's a weird, and not very good, song.

3.00am – Jon muses on the amount of pregnant actresses around these days:"Angelina couldn't be with us tonight, it's tough to get 17 babysitters on Oscar night".

3.02am – Best Sound Editing
My Prediction – The Bourne Ultimatum
My Choice – There Will Be Blood

Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill – looking like identical twins – introduce this award, and the winner is
The Bourne Ultimatum. Karen Baker Landers and Per Hallberg are halfway through their speech when the picture suddenly cuts elsewhere, so I can't report on what they said.

3.05am – Best Sound Mixing
My Prediction – No Country for Old Men
My Choice – No Country for Old Men

Hill and Rogen are still on stage, although now they're pretending to be Halle Berry and Judi Dench. This award is for Sound Mixing – which, as any fool knows, is a completely different award to Sound Editing – but they ignore that reasoning and give it to exactly the same film!
The Bourne Ultimatum wins again, but it's hard to focus on the winners' speeches because I was distracted by the remarkable similarity between Hill and Rogen. Couldn't they have at least worn different spectacles?

3.08am – Best Actress
My Prediction – Marion Cotillard
My Choice – I'd really, really love to see Laura Linney win this, but I'll be happy with Christie or Cotillard.

This is another really tight race, and it's too close to call between the two main contenders. Last year's Best Actor Forest Whitaker has the results in his hand, and when he opens the envelope he ends all of the speculation by announcing the name of
Marion Cotillard for her superb performance in La Vie en rose. "You rocked my life!" she tells director Olivier Dahan and she follows that with "Thank you life! Thank you love! It is true that there are angels in this city!" She seems genuinely overwhelmed and she just manages to keep her tears under control. A lovely speech and one of the evening's highlights.

3.18am – Colin Farrell slips onto the stage as he introduces Falling Slowly from Once. Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová perform the song, which will hopefully be earning them an Oscar later in the evening.

3.23am – Jack Nicholson, The Oscars wouldn't be The Oscars without him. He introduces a montage of every Best Picture winner. The list from around 1994 onwards is pretty damn depressing.

3.28am – Best Editing
My Prediction – No Country for Old Men
My Choice – The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

I remember the Coens saying a few years ago that if "Roderick Jaynes" won an Oscar they would send Albert Finney up in a wig to collect. Alas, Mr Finney is nowhere to be seen as Renee Zellwegger squints at her envelope and announces yet another award for
The Bourne Ultimatum. Christopher Rouse thanks everybody in the usual manner.

3.31am – Honorary Oscar
Nicole Kidman announces a special award for 98 year-old production designer Robert Boyle who, as a montage reminds us, has worked on some pretty cool films, including both
The Birds and North by Northwest with Hitchcock. Incidentally, I hate the applause that always arises from audiences at events like this whenever somebody's age is announced; it's so condescending. Applaud him for his achievements, sure, but not simply for the fact that he's still alive at a grand old age. Boyle gives a nice speech, thanking Don Siegel, Norman Jewison and, of course, Hitch himself.

3.42am – Best Foreign Language Film
My Prediction – Oh, I don't know. Let's say, Beaufort
My Choice – Some film that's nowhere near as powerful as 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.

Yeah, I'm still pissed off at the exclusion of Christian Mungiu's extraordinary film, but it's time to forget about that as Penélope Cruz opens to envelope and reads out the name of
The Counterfeiters. This was the only nominee I've seen, and it's a decent picture, but it's really nothing special, and the very idea that it's a better picture than 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days makes a mockery of the whole category. Yeah, I'm still pissed off....

3.45am – The third, and thankfully final, song from Enchanted. The songs in this category all presumably worked a hell of a lot better on screen than they have done on the Oscar stage.

3.49am – Best Original Song
My Prediction – Falling Slowly from Once
My Choice – Come on the Irish! (and the Czechs, of course)

John Travolta dances on stage (can't he just walk on like everyone else?) to present this award. Will the three
Enchanted songs cancel each other out as Dreamgirls did last year? Maybe they did, because Falling Slowly has won! The zero-budget Irish film from last year has won big at the Oscars, would you believe it? Glen makes an excitable, rambling speech and Markéta is played off by the band before she can say anything. Still, an extraordinary story for them both.

3.57am – Ah, well played Jon. He brings Markéta out to make the acceptance speech which she was prevented from doing initially.

3.58am – Best Cinematography
My Prediction – The Assassination of That Guy by the Other Guy.
My Choice – Roger Deakins all the way.

Cameron Diaz has a few problems pronouncing the word cinematography, but she gets over it and presents the award to
Robert Elswit for There Will be Blood. He's a worthy winner and he pays suitable tribute to all of those involved in the production, from Jack Fisk to Daniel Day-Lewis; but you've got to feel sorry for Roger Deakins. The guy really should have about six Oscars to his name by now.

4.02am – In Memorium
A montage of those who passed away in the previous 12 months. Unless I missed it, they seem to have overlooked the death of Brad Renfro.

4.08am – Best Original Score
My Prediction – Atonement
My Choice – Ratatouille

Jesus, these are lame nominations. The only one I can really remember is
Atonement and that's because it mostly consisted of a typewriter clacking away. Without The Assassination of Jesse James or There Will Be Blood (eliminated on some ridiculous technicality), this category is a pale shadow of what it might have been. Still, Atonement's Dario Marianelli seems happy enough as he collects the Oscar from Amy Adams, giving a nicely low-key and gracious speech, but Nick Cave and Johnny Greenwood's work towers over anything in this field.

4.12am – Best Documentary Short
My Prediction – Er..........
My Choice – Um.............

Well, this is odd. Tom Hanks comes on to introduce a group of soldiers out in Baghdad, and they introduce the nominations live by satellite before announcing the winner, which is
Freeheld, by Cynthia Wade and Vanessa Roth. Their speech is tearful and passionate.

4.15am – Best Documentary Feature
My Prediction – No End in Sight
My Choice – I've only seen Sicko, but that really isn't good enough to win.

Tom Hanks is still with us, this time to present the Best Documentary Feature Oscar. The winner is
Taxi to the Dark Side by Alex Gibney and Eva Orner, and Gibney's speech is rousing. "Let's hope we can turn this country around, move away from the dark side and enter the light", he says.

4.21am – On Sky's coverage the idiotic Claudia Winkleman is suggesting to the panel that Atonement's Best Original Score victory might mean it can win Best Picture. The panel are shaking their heads in disagreement, or perhaps they're shaking their heads in sad wonder that Winkleman has been asked back after last year.

4.23am – Best Original Screenplay
My Prediction – Juno
My Choice – Anything but Juno, honest to blog.

Harrison Ford drawls in a monotone fashion through his intro, before opening the envelope. Alas, the
Juno backlash wasn't enough to stop Diablo Cody's God-awful screenplay winning this award against a couple of infinitely more well-crafted screenplays. Yeah, she seems like a nice enough woman, and she starts to cry just before the end of her speech; but my goodness, that script was torturous.

4.29am – Best Actor
My Choice"I DRINK IT UP!"

We're into the home stretch now, people. Stay with me! With only three awards to go, it's time for one of the most predictable categories of the night, with Daniel Day-Lewis having this one under wraps for months. Helen Mirren opens the envelope and the winner is....
VIGGO MORTENSEN!!!!!!! Nah, I'm just kidding. Daniel Day-Lewis wins his second Oscar for one of the best screen performances you'll see anywhere. "That's the closest I'll ever get to a knighthood" he says after kissing Mirren, and then he gives a nice, heartfelt speech in which he thanks everyone who has helped him get to this stage. It was a hell of a strong category this year, with every performance an Oscar-worthy one, but Daniel drank their milkshake.

4.40am – Best Director
My Prediction – The Coen Brothers
My Choice – PT Anderson

Martin Scorsese is back after his long overdue triumph last year to present the penultimate award.
The Coen Brothers take it, and who can say they don't deserve it? "I don't have a lot to add to what I said earlier. Thank you" Ethan says, before Joel offers a (slightly) more expansive speech. They walk off stage clutching their Oscars, but they might be called back in just a few minutes.....

4.45am – Best Picture
My PredictionNo Country for Old Men or There Will Be Blood
My Choice – Um....No Country for Old Men or There Will Be Blood. They're both really great.

So here it is, the final award of the night with two magnificent pictures going head-to-head. After the last award, it comes as little surprise when Denzel announces
No Country for Old Men as the best film of the year. Scott Rudin makes a fine acceptance speech which provides a pretty good Oscar show with a fitting end. Personally, I might have a slight preference for There Will Be Blood, but at the end of the day does it really matter which one came out on top? In a year when the Best Picture race comes down to a straight fight between The Coen Brothers and PT Anderson, surely we're all winners.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Review - Rambo

Oh Sly, why did you have to go and make another
Rambo film? After scoring an unexpected hit with last year's Rocky Balboa, Sylvester Stallone has obviously decided that there's still more mileage to be squeezed from the cinematic icons of a bygone era, but this ghastly film – the fourth in the series – only succeeds in pissing away all of the goodwill his surprisingly tender boxing film built up. Twenty years after we last saw Vietnam veteran John Rambo in action, the starkly titled Rambo opens in pretty much the same way the previous one did – with John Rambo alone, disillusioned, and having renounced the violence of his past. He is now in Thailand, and he scrapes a living capturing deadly snakes which he later sells in the village. As ever, he's a surly and monosyllabic figure, and when a group of missionaries ask him to take them into Burma where they hope to provide much-needed humanitarian aid, he tells them they're wasting their time. They tell him they're trying to change the world – "Fuck the world" Rambo replies.

Of course, Rambo is eventually swayed by the pleas of pretty missionary Sarah (Julie Benz, useless), and he reluctantly takes them upriver; but when they are captured and imprisoned by Burmese troops, old John is forced to forge a machete, have a flurry of flashbacks to the earlier films, and join a rag-tag band of mercenaries (including cast-offs from
Casualty and Coronation Street) in a daring rescue mission. It's easy to forget now that 1982's First Blood, the picture which introduced John Rambo to the world, is a modest and surprisingly compelling affair, with only one fatality occurring as the drama played out on a recognisably human scale. It's a world away from the ludicrous action favoured in the lesser sequels – Rambo II and III – films that took on the proportions of a live-action cartoon, as the previously tortured Vietnam vet and his rippling torso single-handedly defeated whole armies. This fourth, completely redundant Rambo film is another one from the "ludicrous cartoon" side of the franchise; in fact, the film most closely resembles a video game, with heads exploding and bodies being mowed down by an unending supply of bullets everywhere you look, and the whole ugly business proceeds without any hint of weight or consequence.

Stallone's direction of these sequences is frequently choppy, making it hard to ascertain who exactly is doing what to whom, and often all we can see is one pulverised body after another. Perhaps the most troubling aspect of
Rambo – beyond the lame dialogue, stilted acting and shabby plotting – is the astonishing levels of violence. During the course of this 90-minute film, people get blown up, limbs get severed, heads get sliced off, throats get ripped out, one man gets eaten by pigs, women get raped and children get bayoneted. The film boasts a hit rate of 2.5 deaths per minutes, and we see every one of them in all their dubious glory. That's not the film's ugliest element, though; Stallone's incredibly offensive depiction of the picture's Asian contingent takes that honour. Aside from the cackling hordes we see indulging in the most violent massacres imaginable, Stallone also shows us that the chief villain is a sadistic pervert who preys on young boys, while the pivotal rescue sequence takes place as some hundred-strong group of Burmese soldiers indulge in a mass-rape of five terrified dancing girls. It's jaw-dropping in its tastelessness.

Stallone has stated in interviews that he wanted to expose audiences to the true horror of the atrocities being committed in Burma, and that's a fair enough intention, but you can't have it both ways, and the seriousness of
Rambo's subject matter is undermined by Stallone's handling of it. The film opens in a sombre fashion with news reports and documentary footage from the region, but soon Stallone is employing all of the usual overblown action movie tricks in his direction. We get people running away from fireballs, a burning village reflected in the sunglasses of a smirking baddie, and at one point Rambo seems to detonate a nuclear device in the middle of the jungle (although I'm not sure how) and then outruns the explosion; but when set against this context, such ludicrous and gory action feels inappropriate at best and pornographic at worst.

Rambo climaxes in a numbing orgy of violence, with even the missionary who earlier decried all forms of violence finding time to beat a man to death with a rock (this is what's known as a "character arc", you see). It's hard to know how Stallone could have gone so far wrong with this picture after hitting just the right note with Rocky Balboa, but I think it ultimately comes down to the fact that John Rambo simply doesn't inspire anything like the kind of affection that Rocky does. As Balboa, Stallone brought a sensitivity and charm to his underdog character, but here he's just a silent brute, grunting and glowering his way through a wretched picture. "You can drop the thousand-yard stare" one character tells him, "I've seen it all before and I'm not impressed"; I couldn't have put it better myself.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Review - All the Boys Love Mandy Lane

As soon as we first lay eyes on the title character in All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, we can see she's something special. In the opening scene, Mandy (played by the fetching Amber Heard) strides down a high school corridor, the camera caressing her body, while every male student in the vicinity is transfixed by her beauty. All the boys do indeed love Mandy Lane – or at least, all the boys are driven half-crazed by lust in her presence – but as yet nobody has managed to win her heart. One unfortunate soul even lost his life in an ill-advised attempt to impress the object of his desire, a nasty incident that drove a wedge between Mandy and her onetime best friend Emmett (Michael Welch). Still, Mandy's admirers remain unwavering in their attempts to crack this tough nut, and when she agrees to join some friends for a weekend at an isolated ranch, the male members of the group feel that this is their chance. Buoyed by alcohol and drugs, they all make a play for Mandy, but as the night draws on they gradually become aware of a figure lurking outside the house, somebody who is willing to kill the competition in order to have Mandy Lane all to himself.

That's right, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is a teen slasher movie, a term which has almost become a pejorative one given the risible nature of these pictures in recent years. It would be unfair to lump Jonathan Levine's feature debut in with the likes of Wrong Turn, or House of Wax, though, because this feels like a film made with more care and attention than most, and the filmmakers appear to understand the value of tension and measured pacing instead of simply serving up the shocks. Much of the opening hour unfolds at a surprisingly languid pace, allowing us to spend some time with the characters before they are despatched; and while the film's major players do fit the archetypes for this kind of film – there's a smooth one, a nerdy one, an airhead one – they are all solidly played and first-time screenwriter Jacob Forman shows a knack for developing plausible group dynamics. The teenagers in All the Boys Love Mandy Lane are primarily driven by hormones and pride, and the opening half of the picture tends to focus on the sexual tension and petty games of one-upmanship between various characters.

Of course, the killing must eventually start, and when the bodies do start turning up Levine and Forman make no attempt to conceal the identity of the culprit (it won't be a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention anyway). So the film's hold on its audience ultimately rests more on the way Levine handles the stock situations his narrative throws up, and even if two murders in particular were a tad unpleasant for my taste, he mostly shies away from the explicit sadism of recent horror pictures in favour of developing a nicely sustained sense of dread. Throughout all of this, Amber Heard provides the film with a magnetic central figure – simultaneously inviting and rebuffing male attention as the enigmatic Mandy. She's a real find, and the whole picture has a similar sense of discovery about it; the striking, 70's-style aesthetic and lack of ironic detachment making it feel like a throwback to an earlier era of horror filmmaking, quite apart from this post-Scream age.

It's not my intention with this review to make All the Boys Love Mandy Lane sound like anything more than it is – the filmmakers have hardly reinvented the wheel, and a late, unconvincing twist almost derails the whole show – but the film does merit praise for the simple things it has managed to do right. All the Boys Love Mandy Lane has been made with some intelligence, some class, and a solid directorial vision – slight praise, you might think, but it's still enough to make a film which is way above average for the genre.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Review - The Italian (Italianetz)

Despite its title,
The Italian is not a story about an Italian character, and it is not set in Italy. Andrei Kravchuk's film – made in 2005 but only reaching these shores now – is actually a Russian tale, with the bulk of its opening half taking place in a shabby orphanage based in the middle of nowhere. This is where six year-old Vanya (Kolya Spiridonov) resides, along with other abandoned children of various ages, and a flurry of excitement explodes through the building's otherwise dingy halls whenever prospective parents appear, strangers arriving with the promise of a better life. The picture opens with a couple from Italy travelling towards the orphanage to find a child, and after examining the cream of the crop – as selected by the imposing 'Madame' (Mariya Kuznetsova) – they fall for the angelic Vanya, promising to return in a few months to complete the required paperwork.

This development earns Vanya the nickname "The Italian", and it also earns him the envy of his fellow orphans, each of whom wants nothing more than family of their own, but Vanya himself is a little unsettled by his good fortune. When a distraught mother turns up out of the blue, demanding to see the child she left there years previously, Vanya starts wondering about his own mother, and whether it's likely that she might come back to claim him one day? If there is a chance of being reunited with his natural mother, then surely the last place he'd want to be is in another country, no matter how nice life might be in Italy. So Vanya, resourceful little tyke that he is, decides to track down the woman himself, and this is where things start to get a bit silly.

Vanya persuades a kind-hearted teenage prostitute (Polina Vorobieva) to teach him how to read, a skill he picks up with remarkable ease, and then he's running around the place like a tiny Russian Jason Bourne, stealing his personal files and embarking on a perilous trek home, with "Madame" and her gormless sidekick in pursuit. The subsequent plot puts Vanya in all kinds of potentially perilous situations, but the level of danger we'd expect to feel as we watch an innocent orphan being chased through Russian backstreets never accrues. Kravchuk lets the film fall into a repetitive pattern; every few minutes Vanya will meet a stranger who is either benevolent or malevolent, and they will either endanger him or help him on his way. The whole film is given a chocolate-box coating by the rich visuals provided by Aleksandr Burov (Aleksandr Sokurov's regular cinematographer), and an absolutely ghastly score by Alexander Kneiffel, and these layers of aesthetic sweetness soften the film's edges.
The Italian retreats from anything resembling genuine hardship or threat in favour of playing safe and pushing the picture towards the mainstream – it's little wonder the film was Russia's official entry for last year's Oscars.

Two things kept me watching
The Italian when every instinct was telling me that it wasn't going to get any better. One factor in the picture's favour is the central performance from Spiridonov, who's appealingly cute while also being blessed with a toughness of spirit that makes it hard not to warm to him. It's a display which is worthy of joining the likes of Kolya Burlyayev, Aleksei Kravchenko and Ivan Dobronravov among the ranks of great Russian child performances. The only other hook which maintained my flagging interest in The Italian was a nagging question about Vanya's mother, and whether she would actually want to be reunited with the child she gave away years previously. Was our little hero's quest a futile one? Had he blown his chance of a happy life in Italy in the ill-conceived pursuit of a pipe dream? As far as I could see, that was pretty much the sole source of the film's tension, but I needn't have wondered; Kravchuk goes straight for the tear ducts in the film's final minutes, closing with a happy, soft-focus finale which is deeply underwhelming. The Italian is apparently based on a true story, but when subjected to this sort of treatment it can't help feeling anything other than resoundingly false.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Review - There Will Be Blood

From the four features he had directed to date, we already knew that Paul Thomas Anderson was a filmmaker with a rare talent, but I doubt anyone expected him to produce a film like There Will Be Blood. Actually, I doubt we could have foreseen a film like this coming from any of the directors currently working in American cinema. Anderson has always displayed a confidence and ambition beyond most of his contemporaries, but this is something else entirely; a devastatingly brilliant turn-of-the-century epic which is a world away from the eccentric, LA-set ensemble dramas with which he made his name, or his wilfully idiosyncratic last film, 2002's Punch-Drunk Love. While I was watching There Will Be Blood unfold in front of me – my mouth agape, my eyes widening in disbelief – I couldn't help bringing to mind the work of directors such as Kubrick, Altman, Malick, Leone, Cimino, Ford and Welles. But while many young directors seem happy to reference the past masters without bringing anything fresh to the table, Anderson takes these influences on board and fuses them with his own deeply personal vision, creating something that is uniquely his. Now he has this masterpiece under his belt, it may be time to start mentioning the name of Paul Thomas Anderson alongside that pantheon of greats.

There Will Be Blood – freely adapted by Anderson from Upton Sinclair's novel Oil! – defies audience expectations from the start, opening with an haunting, dialogue-free 15-minute sequence in which we watch oil prospector Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) foraging for silver at the bottom of a deep mine. It is 1898, and he is working alone; and all we can hear during this stretch of film is the sound of Plainview's breath, the sound of his pickaxe striking rock, and the eerie, dissonant chords of Johnny Greenwood's music. As Plainview climbs a makeshift ladder down into the mine, a rung breaks, sending him crashing to the bottom of the pit and breaking his leg. He gasps and moans in the darkness, but he has found the silver he is looking for, and with almost superhuman strength and determination, he drags himself out of the hole, and slowly pulls his broken body towards the town where he can stake his claim.

That kind of single-mindedness will stand Plainview in good stead as he expands his business over the following decade. After a brief chapter set in 1902 – in which we once again experience the ever-present danger of death and injury this work entailed – the main thrust of
There Will Be Blood's narrative begins in 1911, when Plainview is now earning good money from oil and looking for new territories to exploit. He is approached by a mysterious young stranger named Paul Sunday (Paul Dano), who alerts him to the oil lying under his family's ranch in Little Boston, California, and Plainview follows this lead, arriving at the Sunday ranch with his adopted son HW (Dillon Freasier) in tow. HW, whom Daniel took as his own following the death of the boy's father in a drilling mishap, is important to the oilman's presentation of himself as a family man, an image he offers to local farmers when persuading them to sign away their land. Daniel buys the rights to the Sunday ranch, and his team starts digging, but a festering resentment begins to develop between him and Eli Sunday (Dano again), a fervent young preacher who wants to extract as much money as possible from Plainview to revitalise his small church. The church lies across from the enormous oil derrick Plainview's men construct – two temples standing as monuments to different gods.

Many viewers will undoubtedly look at the central themes of
There Will Be Blood – religion, capitalism and the pursuit of oil – and be keen to draw some contemporary resonance from the picture, but I don't think any kind of straightforward political allegory is Anderson's prime intention. As in all of his previous films, There Will Be Blood is largely interested in exploring the notion of family, and testing the ties that bind. Daniel Plainview is a Godless, sexless and frequently drunken character driven by his lust for wealth and power, and our only glimpses of his humanity come through his relationship with his de facto son and the long-lost brother (Kevin J O'Connor) who suddenly appears after Daniel's success makes the headlines. As these bonds eventually weaken and snap, Daniel closes himself off against the world, becoming a monstrous figure filled with hatred. "I look at people and I see nothing worth liking", he admits, "I want to make enough money to get away from everyone"; and he ultimately achieves that dubious goal, secluding himself in a grand, empty mansion, bitter and alone.

As Plainview, Daniel Day-Lewis is in practically every single scene of this 158-minute film, and his performance burns with a ferocity that is astonishing to behold. Anderson is intentionally sketchy on Plainview's background, so our understanding of the man comes primarily through Day-Lewis' performance; an act of total, obsessive immersion in which every gesture and detail is telling. In a way, one is reminded of the actor's Bill the Butcher from
Gangs of New York, but this embodiment feels lived-in and complete in a way that one didn't and – crucially – Anderson doesn't allow the rest of the picture to be lopsided by the titanic nature of this central turn. Paul Dano proves to be a surprisingly effective adversary for Day-Lewis, his beatific appearance occasionally disrupted by electrifying eruptions of religious hysteria. One of my favourite scenes in the picture sees both of these actors going head-to-head, as Plainview undergoes a forced onstage baptism and Eli delights in this opportunity to humiliate his foe. The scene is funny at first, but the tone gradually shifts, and Daniel's repeated cries of "I've abandoned my boy!" manage to pierce the heart. As Daniel says to Eli, "It was a hell of a goddamn show".

In any film that would be a standout sequence, but in
There Will Be Blood there are dozens of scenes which left me slack-jawed in amazement. Anderson just keeps topping himself, from the sheer audacity of his 2001-like opening reel to the extraordinary set-piece – one of the most exhilarating slices of filmmaking I've ever seen – in which an explosive discovery of oil at Plainview's derrick coincides with a tragic accident involving HW. The sequence builds to a dizzying pitch that pinned me to my seat, the experience intensified by the thrusting, jagged edges of Johnny Greenwood's magnificent score, and it ends on the touching image of Daniel cradling his injured son, both of them covered in oil. That's what sets Paul Thomas Anderson apart from the other directors of his generation; he is a born filmmaker who is constantly going for broke, but first and foremost he is a director who is completely engaged with the emotions of his story. There Will Be Blood is technically flawless (Robert Elswit's cinematography is superb) and stunningly detailed, but unlike some epics it really manages to hit the viewer square in the guts.

And then there's that climax, a sudden gearshift which may well prove to be as divisive as
Magnolia's plague of frogs. The film's final scenes take place in 1927, with a bitter and booze-sodden Daniel Plainview stalking the halls of his empty home, and he is visited by two figures from the past – his grown-up son (Russell Harvard) and Eli Sunday, the preacher having fallen on hard times. In these confrontations, the tension and violence which has been simmering for the preceding two hours suddenly gushes to the surface like a geyser, finally making good on the promise of the title. Some of the exchanges between Daniel and Eli are darkly comic, and Day-Lewis' theatrical delivery of his dialogue walks the borderline of camp excess ("I. Drink. Your. Milkshake – sluurrrpp – I drink it up!"); but it is utterly riveting to watch, and this kind of insanity is really the only way Anderson could have brought his enthralling story to a suitable close. The astonishing climax reaffirms There Will Be Blood's status as a completely unique vision, a film whose ambition and execution dwarfs 90% of what American cinema has produced in the past decade. It is an intimate character study painted on a massive canvas, and I can't wait to experience its hurricane force once again; to absorb more of its mesmerising sights and sounds, and to drill down even further into the inky blackness of Daniel Plainview's soul.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Review - The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Le scaphandre et le papillon)

Few films have ever managed to place the audience inside a character's head as effectively as The Diving Bell and The Butterfly. The subject of Julian Schnabel's film hardly screams cinematic potential, telling as it does the tragic story of Jean-Dominique Bauby's near-total paralysis, but Schnabel has used the visual language of cinema to bring us as close as possible to an understanding of this experience from the patient's own unique perspective. In 1995, Jean-Dominique Bauby (played here by Mathieu Amalric), the 43 year-old editor of French magazine Elle, suffered a stroke and spent twenty days in a coma. When he finally awoke, he discovered he had been afflicted with a rare condition called Locked-in Syndrome, essentially making him a prisoner inside his own skin. Bauby could hear, see and think as before, but he could no longer speak or move his limbs, and the only muscle still under his control was his left eyelid. This was his sole method of communication, and through a painstaking process of blinking out words to be transcribed by an assistant, Jean-Dominique Bauby produced the memoir from which this film has been superbly adapted, a book that was published to widespread acclaim just two days before his death.

The opening moments of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly are challenging and tense. Our view is obscured by bleached and blurry camerawork, with indistinct figures moving across the screen and leaning their faces in close. These scenes, with the clarity of image heightening and fading from shot to shot, are Schnabel's approximation of Bauby's introduction to his post-stroke life. Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (working miracles throughout) places the camera where the central character's head should be, allowing us to only view what he could see from his restricted state, and the film's visuals gradually settle as Bauby's eyes become accustomed to the light of the outside world. For about half-hour, this is how we experience The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Schnabel places us right there inside Bauby's head – we hear his heartbeat, his heavy breathing and the thoughts he cannot give voice to – and the sense of claustrophobia this approach creates is almost stifling; but it's also an ingenious conceit which pays handsome dividends.

Sometimes a film employs a novel visual style which ultimately proves to be a meaningless gimmick – see current release Cloverfield, or rather don't, for evidence of that – but in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, our empathy with Bauby is deepened by the intimacy Schnabel allows us. We experience Bauby's new life as he comes to terms with it himself; sharing the indignity of being washed like a child, the frustration of being unable to communicate with people just inches away, or the horror of seeing his atrophied right eye being sewn shut to prevent infection. Eventually, we do see Bauby from the outside, our first sight of him occurring when he catches his own reflection in a window. "God, who's that?" he exclaims, shocked by his distorted features; "I look like something out of a vat of formaldehyde".

What would it be like to see an entire film from this perspective? It would probably be unwatchable, and after that discombobulating opening third, Schnabel and screenwriter Ronald Harwood wisely open the picture out, staging scenes from outside Bauby's point of view and including flashbacks to the character's previous life as a charismatic womaniser. As Bauby is portrayed by Mathieu Amalric, this is good news, for he is an actor whose best performances – such as in Arnaud Desplechin's Kings and Queen – have been defined by his lively physicality and charm, and in these interludes he develops a fuller sense of Bauby's character. We see him as a gregarious, vain playboy, enjoying the fruits of his successful life, and neglecting the needs of his estranged wife (Emmanuelle Seigner) and children in the process, but the most effective scene is one in which Bauby visits his 92 year-old father (Max von Sydow) and helps him shave in a sequence shot with remarkable tenderness. In his own way, Bauby's father knows what it is to be trapped, he is unable to leave the apartment in his frail state, and one late scene broke my heart: when he calls the hospital to speak with his son, but is unable to find the right words. Von Sydow's reaction to the realisation that he will never again hear his son's voice is unbearably moving, and this great actor has rarely been so powerful in a role which amounts to just a few minutes of screen time.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly has the ability to affect the viewer like that, and it touched me deeply at frequent intervals, but the film never lapses into sentimentality. It's a tough, honest and true picture, and whenever the film enters territory which might be considered maudlin or hackneyed, Schnabel takes us off on one of Bauby's internal flights of fancy, in which he imagines himself skiing again, or enjoying a sumptuous meal with his assistant (Anne Consigny), or even picturing himself as Marlon Brando. "I can imagine anything I want", Bauby muses, but this desire to make the most of his current state only occurs after a long and difficult journey. When his nurse Henriette (the wonderful Marie-Josée Croze) first comes to Bauby with the alphabet-blinking system he'll use to communicate, one of the earliest phrases he spells out is "I want to die", but his gradual acceptance of this method and his decision to embrace the possibilities it presents is inspiring. The frequent sight of Henriette going through the alphabet one letter at a time and stopping to jot down Bauby's choice every time he blinks could easily have grown tedious, but Schnabel turns it into a fascinating and hypnotic ritual (helped in no small part by the soothing tone of Croze's delivery).
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly has flashes of welcome humour, such as the immobile Bauby groaning "it's not fair!" as a beautiful speech therapist (Olatz López Garmendia) demonstrates tongue exercises right in front of his face, or the visit of a friend (Isaach De Bankolé) who keeps forgetting to watch Bauby's eye as he reads from the alphabet card. But the most impressive aspect of Schnabel's handling of this story is the film's emotional dexterity; it plunges us deep into the world of this unfortunate man, allowing us to feel his outrage and self-pity, and then it sweeps us along as Bauby learns to find a new sense of life beyond the confines of his own body. This is the third film Schnabel has made – after 1996's Basquiat and 2000's Before Night Falls – but it is the first time he has employed his own sense of artistry to really give us experience worlds apart from the standard true-life tale. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a film about a man suffering from an unimaginable disability and a premature death, but it's also one of the year's most uplifting and exhilarating cinematic experiences. Julian Schnabel has tackled Jean-Dominique Bauby's story with the honesty and imagination it deserves, and in doing so he has set his movie free.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Review - Cloverfield

The monster that lays waste to New York in Cloverfield arrives suddenly, without warning or explanation, but the movie itself has been a long time coming. It first popped up on our radars last summer when a short teaser trailer played in cinemas before Transformers, showing us a lively party being interrupted by something like an earthquake, and when the intrepid partygoers ventured outside to investigate they were met by a huge explosion on the horizon and the Statue of Liberty's head rolling their way. We weren't given much more information than that – not even a title – just the name of JJ Abrams and a release date, but this secretive approach proved to be stunningly effective, sparking widespread speculation and debate on the internet, and fanning the flames of anticipation for a film which wasn't going to hit the screens for another six months.
Cloverfield retains that air of mystery early on, forgoing traditional credits to open with an official-looking government statement, advising us that the footage we're about to see was "discovered in the area formerly known as Central Park". This footage has all been shot through the lens of a single (remarkably resilient) video camera, belonging to Rob (Michael Stahl-David), and the initial scenes follow him and Beth (Odette Yustman) as they spend a sunny April day together in New York, completely oblivious to the trouble that lies ahead. The tape abruptly cuts to May 22nd, and it is now in the possession of Jason (Mike Vogel) and Lily (Jessica Lucas) as they plan a party for the Japan-bound Rob. By the time the party is in full swing, the camera has found its way into the hands of Hud (TJ Miller), and he'll be our guide throughout the extraordinary events which are about to unfold.

When I first felt the loud rumble that announces the creature's presence, it came as a relief, as the opening party/introduction scenes had already outstayed their welcome. Most of this early section consists of the annoying Hud wandering around asking the uniformly affluent and photogenic guests to record a farewell message for Rob, while the rest of it is concerned with the tension between Rob and Beth after their one-night stand weeks earlier. Thankfully, a giant monster tearing its way through Manhattan eventually occupies everyone's attention, and while most New Yorkers decide to follow the army's advice and flee the area as soon as possible, Rob decides to head into the danger zone instead, to rescue Beth who has found herself trapped in her apartment after leaving the party in a sulk. He is accompanied by Lily, Marlena (Lizzy Caplan) and Hud, who is still wielding that camera, determined to record every step of their perilous journey.

In everything that has been written about Cloverfield during the past few months, the name of JJ Abrams has been so prominent you'd be forgiven for thinking that this is a one-man show. In fact, he only has a producer's credit on the film, instead hiring Drew Goddard (a TV writer making his first feature) to come up with the script, and it has been directed by Matt Reeves, whose last film was the 1996 David Schwimmer comedy The Pallbearer. Despite their relative inexperience in this medium, Cloverfield is, in many respects, a very well-made picture. The art direction and visual effects are outstanding, and the film's greatest achievement is the way it creates a palpable sense of panic amid the crowd scenes and paints a convincing picture of a city being destroyed piece by piece – although it might be a little too convincing for some. Cloverfield draws heavily on the sights and sounds which we naturally associate with 9/11; plumes of smoke and dust billowing down the narrow New York streets, buildings collapsing on themselves, crowds of bloody and dazed people staggering away from the wreckage like lost souls. Remember those days when images of the World Trade Centre were digitally erased from New York-based movies? It wasn't all that long ago, but here we have a monster movie deliberately playing on those emotions. Time heals all wounds, it seems.

Throughout all of this mayhem, Hud keeps on filming. Cloverfield may be intended as a sly commentary on the way people feel an instant urge to reach for the cameras when any major disaster occurs, and when the Statue of Liberty's head falls out of the sky in this film, a number of bystanders pull out their mobile phones in an almost Pavlovian reaction to record this unbelievable sight. "People need to see this!" Hud exclaims at one point, when his determination to capture everything on camera is questioned, but the filmmakers' rigorous devotion to this "found footage" aesthetic is an approach which gradually reveals itself to be flawed in fundamental ways. Cloverfield's camerawork is sometimes effective, often giving just us tantalising glimpses of the monster (its one leering close-up is the moment it starts to look fake), and there's a neat running motif in the way the footage jumps back to the video of Rob and Beth in happier times whenever Hud's recording is interrupted. However, one of the film's chief gimmicks – and believe me, it has plenty – is the fact that we only know as much about the situation as the central characters do, and this state of affairs imposes strict limitations on the narrative. Cloverfield ultimately boils down to one long chase through various streets, subway tunnels and buildings, and even at a ridiculously skimpy running time (around 70-odd minutes, not counting the very long end credits) it feels thinly stretched in places. The handheld look of the thing also grows wearisome after a fashion, and it's frequently infuriating. With so much of Cloverfield involving the characters simply running from one place to another, Hud's camera jumps and jerks around incessantly (when Rob and Hud wandered into an electronics store I was praying they'd come out with a tripod), and it often feels like this attempt to give the film a faux-vérité feel has been badly overdone.

"It's about moments, man" – that's what James is saying when the monster first strikes, and Cloverfield is a film made up of individual moments. Some of these moments are impressive – I especially liked the leaning tower – and there's a stretch in the middle of the picture when Reeves generates a consistent level of suspense, but despite its attempt to create a more intimate sort of blockbuster experience, the film never really got under my skin. The acting from the unknown cast is pretty fair, but aside from Hud (loud and prone to gaffes) and Marlena (glum and sarcastic), their characters are blandly drawn and extremely forgettable. Perhaps this is why their predicament carries no resonance, we haven't really gotten to know these people despite all of the setting-up scenes at the start, and the only reaction Cloverfield provokes is a visceral rather than emotional one.

So when you look past the hype and the publicity capaign, what is Cloverfield? It's an uneven and shallow picture which draws heavily on Godzilla and The Blair Witch Project (and others; one subway sequence explicitly references both 28 Days Later and Aliens) while portraying itself as some kind of brand-new take on blockbuster cinema. If you're looking for a truly great monster movie – a film driven by compelling characters, beautifully staged action sequences, and astute political shading – then you need to see Bong Joon-ho's marvellous The Host, a piece of filmmaking which instantly puts this effort into perspective. Cloverfield gets sillier and less relevant as it progresses, its tenuous grasp on reality finally slipping with a frankly stupid helicopter crash and a final post-credits hint at a possible sequel. Yes, Cloverfield is ultimately just another blockbuster – don't be fooled by the slightly different packaging.