Cloverfield

January 24, 2008 at 1:09 pm | Posted in Media | 15 Comments

A friend’s 16-year-old brother recently called Cloverfield the best movie he has ever seen, which of course is not true for me, but I can certainly see where he is coming from. It is refreshing for a film that is as hyped, as slickly marketed, as talked about, and that opens as big as Cloverfield did to not end up a disappointing work devoid of all merit beyond being a pop cultural phenomena. It is a visceral and exciting bit of filmmaking that leverages the culture of young Americans (youtube, melodrama, the angst and confusion of post-9/11 life) to tell a monster-eats-Manhattan story in a fresh way. The films verite style works really well and does not feel gimmicky or contrived but rather genuinely increases the tension and creepiness of the story. It certainly is one of the better examples of 1st person perspective working in cinema that I can think of. I’ve also heard the film called a “one trick pony,” and to be fair it does feel that way at times but when the trick works as well as the obfuscating camera-work in Cloverfield does how many more tricks do you need? But there are a few others up Cloverfield’s sleeves, perhaps not tricks as much as conventions and gotchyas, be enough to keep you huddled in your seat and ready to jump.

The films flaws, first in mind being the horror-film stupid characters, were down-played enough to not impact my enjoyment of the legitimate scares which come, more often than not, through the films reference to one of the most horrifying moments of our real lives. I speak, of course, of 9/11. Not including the Hollywood pictures about 9-11, none of which I have seen, Cloverfield deals with the horror and anxiety of the attacks more directly and better than any film in recent memory. I can only imagine the impact it has on the teenaged populace that the film was marketed so heavily towards. My friend’s brother was 8 or 9 when the towers fell. Certainly old enough to realize that a momentous evens had occurred that would change his life, but I don’t know how much understanding a 9-year-old could have as to why zealots flew planes into our buildings or how exactly things were going to change. Hell, it is hard enough for adults to understand, as the war in Iraq will attest to. Then to spend nearly half your life living in “post 9-11 society” only to be confronted by a monster movie that frames that tragedy in a way that is both cinematically novel, as well as in your own generation’s visual language (again: DV, Youtube, etc,) must have been extremely powerful. And clearly it has resonated very strongly with the teens that I’ve talked to about it.

And that is obviously the true strength of the film. Not the ‘cheep’ scares, rare gory moment (though those were all extremely effective,) or even impressive VFX monster but the perspective it offers on such a culturally significant event. Monster Movies have always been about our fears as any Essay on Godzilla will tell you. It is important to note that Cloverfield doesn’t “play off” of 9-11 or “subconsciously evoke” it, as I’ve read in other review, but rather trades in the fears, horror, insecurity and confusion of 9-11. While the monsters origins are clearly stated in Godzilla, the ‘whys and hows’ of the giant and horrible monster that rises from the sea in Cloverfield are hardly touched on, and frankly don’t really matter. It is the destruction and sorrow left in its wake that is important. A direct reflection of our paranoia that amorphous and poorly defined terrorists could strike anywhere, at anytime, using any one of a number of horrible weapons that the media shows us at every opportunity. This allusion to the millennium’s defining event is Cloverfield’s greatest strength and what will set it apart from the scads of monster blockbusters that will inevitably get produced once the WGA strike ends, as well as the best reason to go out and see it.

March 7, 2007 at 5:54 pm | Posted in John Likes, Media | 2 Comments

Portishead live February 2007

Shitty video of an awesome impromptu Portishead performance at a club in February, their first performance together since the Tsumani relief show.

Quickie Thoughts on Zodiac

March 7, 2007 at 1:25 pm | Posted in Media | 2 Comments

Jules and I caught a showing of David Fincher’s Zodiac over the weekend, and, like Julie says, we had high expectations and it still managed to blow us away. I walked out of the theater thinking about the film and haven’t really stopped since. It has been catching a lot of flak from critics for being too long without a satisfactory resolution. I think that both of those claims are unfounded. It is long, (it runs for just over 160 minutes,) but it never FEELS long. From the first gunshot fired by the Zodiac in the prologue I was hooked; swept up in the films panic and obsession and desperation. The film’s energy and impact, and its greatest strength, comes from its unconventional structure. It is really a great film that goes so far above what we are used to seeing from Hollywood these days. I’d love to write a detailed review, but I really need to see it a 2nd time before I could do it justice. Fincher really stepped-up his game and focused on storytelling and characters above his personal style. A must-see, and you’d do good to see it in the theaters.

Yeah, what he said

February 12, 2007 at 4:57 pm | Posted in John Likes, Media | Leave a comment

John likes Gonzo Journalism. John Likes Chefs. So obviously John Likes the king of Gonzo-Chefs Anthoney Bourdain. You’ve seen him eat a still-beating cobra heart, and cheered at his vitriol when he speaks of all that is unholy in American consumer-culture cuisine. Now, in a guest-blogging spot at ruhlman.com, see him tear-down FoodTV. He has lots of mean and hurtful things to say about all those big-headed Chef-bots on the network that so profoundly blew its promise of teaching American’s how to COOK. My favorite tidbit is what he has to say about the ghastly Rachel Ray:

“Complain all you want. It’s like railing against the pounding surf. She only grows stronger and more powerful. Her ear-shattering tones louder and louder.”

Heed what the man says, he know what he is talking about, and he has nothing but good-things to say about Geek-fav TV Chef Alton Brown. It is too bad that the two of them are on different sides of the food-on-tv divide, because a savvy EP could put together a fantastic “go somewhere and eat stuff” show featuring AB and AB.

How Stoked Am I?

February 6, 2007 at 3:22 pm | Posted in Media | 1 Comment

William Gibson, my long-time favorite living author (points for who knows my favorite zombie author,) has a new novel coming out for my birthday! Well, August 7th actually, but who ‘s counting. I dunno what it is about, nor do I really care, but it sounds like he is sticking with the present-day setting of his last, Pattern Recognition. That is just fine by me.

As it is no secret that I’m a huge Gibson fan, I often get asked which book to read by him and my answer is usually “it depends….” and then I launch into a lengthy discussion of the relative strengths of his novels and what the best entry point is. In a nutshell: I break his work into 4 categories:

      The Sprawl Trilogy (Nuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive) is the origonal work, and many believe the popular-genesis of the Cyberpunk movement/genre. Nuromancer (the first in the loosely connected series) is groundbreaking, mindblowing, and really neat but it is also raw, immature, and lacks the craftsmanship of his later work (though these are reasons that I really love it. You can FEEL Gibson’s youthful exuberance in the urgency of the text.) This is the best starting-point if you’re a fan of the Cyberpunk ethos and want to see where a lot of it came from.

      The Bridge Trilogy (Virtual Light, Idoru, and All Tomorrow’s Parties) are much more mature works. They are set in a (more) near-future, post-earthquake Bay Area and deals with the emergence of a society-altering technology. Like the more “core” cyberpunk of his earlier works it set in a markedly distopian world populated by roughly-hewn and gritty characters, however it has a markedly more optimistic tone and is more forgiving than the darker first trilogy. This is the best entry point if you want Sci-Fi, but are not particularly interested in the genesis of the Cyberpunk movement. The Bridge trilogy features richer characters and better writing, and is still plenty shiny and Sci-Fi. I’m partial to Virtual Light especially.

      Gibson’s post-scifi work is currently comprised of his last novel: Pattern Recognition; which, I would assume, will be joined by Spook Country upon publication. Pattern Recognition is set in present day, post 9/11 world and is tough to sum-up. On the surface you have a prodigy freelance ad-(wo)man/coolhunter who’s unique talent (an allergy to sucky marketing) gets her on the shit-list of a powerful and connected ad executive. Add in the mysterious disappearance of her father in the neighborhood of Ground Zero, the even more mysterious and alluring viral web-video akin (and presage to) Loneygirl13, and the prerequisite cool/weird technology and jet-setting locals (Russia, London, New York, and some Asian metropolis to name a few) and you’ve got a pretty intense and layered “techno thriller.” This is certainly his most accomplished work, and a great starting point if you are leery of Sci-Fi, if you wished Dan Brown’s books were about more than just the mystery, or if you just want a truly “smart” thriller.

      Fill Up Your Queue

      February 1, 2007 at 5:39 pm | Posted in Media | Leave a comment

      A brief, off-the-top-of-my-head, list of movies you may have missed from last year that you should add to your queue:

      • Jarhead (by no means the 2nd coming of Apocalypse Now. Not even Platoon. But still worth the watch and oh-so-relevant.)
      • Inside Man (Spike Lee’s (!) understated heist mystery featuring a weird performance by Jodi Foster and a stand out one from Clive Owen)
      • A Scanner Darkly (mind-fuck-o-rama + awesome visuals +RDJ, WH, and KR = awesome.)
      • Narc (An amazing cop-drama in the vien of the French Connection with Ray Liota’s best role since Henry Hill. Not to be missed.)

      And that’s all I got for right now…

      Breaking News: New The Shins Album Is Very Good.

      January 30, 2007 at 5:01 pm | Posted in Media | Leave a comment

      It took about 4 or 5 listens before it sunk in, but now I just can’t stop listening to the new album from The Shins: “Wincing the Night Away.” I’m working on a more detailed review, but suffice to say it is, in a lot of ways, their finest album. It is certainly their most well-crafted and well-produced sounding work.

      I’ve also been listening to “The Good, The Bad, and The Queen” which is the newest project from Damon Albarn and DJ Danger Mouse. Good stuff on this disk too. Like a more pop-y and yet more political Gorillaz taking a vacation in the Caribbean and getting rained on. That would make sense if you’ve heard it. Not as earth-moving as “Deamon Days,” but still worth a listen.

      And don’t think I’ve forgotten about highlighting the best of ’06… That is still to come.

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