Saturday, January 19, 2008

Movie Review: Cloverfield

Director: Matt Reeves

Writer: Drew Goddard

Starring: Michael Stahl, Odette Yusman, T.J. Miller.

Growing up, my mother always told us that whenever we left to go somewhere, whether it was a quick run to the grocery store or a drive up to a semester of college, that we say 'I love you' to one another. No matter what transpired moments before your departure, you never left angry. This is essentially the human angle of Cloverfield. Yes, just as it looks, it's a survivor/suspense flick, but it's the previously unstated love between two characters that drives the plot. It's simply about a man going to save someone he knows he loves, but never got the chance to say it.

In this peculiar genre, it's easy to have the characters be two-dimensional meals for what moviegoers are really paying to see - the marauding creature(s). For someone who is drawn to character-driven movies, I saw this as a weakness in the movie. However, for a survivor film, it does the best it can - the idea to cut between scenes of the attack on Manhattan and a carefree day trip to Coney Island (as the movie was designed to look like a recorded home video) gave enough background information on the characters for one to actually care about their well-being. While some may have found the going away party scene that took place before the Cloverfield monster reared it's ugly head boring, I felt it was completely appropriate and could possibly have been longer. While the personalties of many of the characters are barely apparent, Cloverfield does well considering the precedent for the category. Hud, the camera operator (Miller) adds a human element to the action scenes and is the source of comic relief.

The cast is by no means awe-inspiring in their portrayal - but it's accomplishment enough that they were believable enough to avoid making scenes laughable. Because the typical survival horror movie has such flat characters that typically run around until their deaths, they are great fodder for spoofs - think about how much 'Blair Witch Project' has been lampooned. Cloverfield appears to have avoided this pitfall. The dialog is relatively realistic - rather than having his protagonists spout inspiring soliloquies, Goddard is smart enough to keep things simple - The majority of the population WOULD say "Oh Shit, oh shit, what was that?" when confronted by a gigantic monster rather than something a John Knowles novella would end with.

On the note of realism, it's clear that producer J.J. Abrams and Director Matt Reeves tried to make the attack as immersive as possible. New Yorkers take pictures of the destruction with camera phones before fleeing and the possibility of another terrorist attack (if you listen closely) is mentioned. It's little subtleties like these that help Cloverfield avoid a cartoony feel that so many of it's kind fall victim to.

Perhaps what impressed me most was the pacing of the film. For as simple as the plot is (no spoilers), it's surprising to find that it lasted an entire hour and a half. Because the makers wanted to stick to the idea that the movie is footage captured on a digital camera, there are few breaks from the scenes of destruction (except for the occasional aforementioned Coney Island clips, which are no more than a minute long each), and there is no 'summing up' of the movie where the format is broken to take it from the traditional cinematic perspective. As soon as one sees the clawed Statue of Liberty head in the street, the movie doesn't stop. The hand held camera enhances the suspense - typically before a scare in a movie, the tension is built up before a sudden sound or sight startles the viewer, but in Cloverfield the constant jerking around of the video makes any moment readily available for a scare. Because you never know when you're going to get hit, the movie goes much faster.

Some may complain that the film reveals too little about the monster. I have concluded that minimal information about it's origin, reason for being on earth, or final outcome of the film is the same reason why the viewer only gets a few good looks at the monster - the moviegoer is better off trying to justify it on his own. If the writer was to include a scene summing up the attack, whether it was set before the footage or after, there would be no pleasing everyone. It takes a mature person to simply accept that some things in life go unsolved, and it is those who will be satisfied with Cloverfield once they walk out of the theater.

Final Verdict: 88/100 (Bro-tally Worth Seeing in Theaters)

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Movie Review: Juno

Director: Jason Reitman

Writer: Diablo Cody

Starring: Ellen Page, Jason Bateman, Jennfier Garner.

You'll notice in the 'Starring' category, I did not include Michael Cera or Rainn Wilson. This is because my burning hatred for the people that edit previews has intensified. If one were to go into Juno without knowing anything else, coming in with expectations put forth by previews, they would be disappointed with a lack of Michael Cera (who is in about 20 of the 96 minutes of the film), and Rainn Wilson (One scene). Fortunately, most Office and Superbad fanboys expecting to see the movie consist of mostly the aforementioned two's comedic talents would not be dissapointed.

First things first - This has widely been hailed as Ellen Page's coming out party. She does one hell of a job. Since the writer's strike, I have usually gone out of my way to give those who composed the script credit - and Diablo Cody certainly deserves it - but it is Page who brings the character to life with such effortlessness. Lines like "You should've gone to China, you know, 'cause I hear they give away babies like free iPods. You know, they pretty much just put them in those t-shirt guns and shoot them out at sporting events " could come off as incredibly stupid, but Page seemed meant to play the character. Juno MacGuff's smart-mouth nature may be treated as a novelty in many reviews, but in my eyes it seemed to be a natural part of the character. The most important part about Page's portrayal of the title character is that she is impossible not to like- anyone who has ever felt out of place can relate to the offbeat teen and truly feel for her.

Of course, this movie would not be nearly as great without the supporting cast. Aformentioned Rainn Wilson is a great sparkplug for the plot - he works in the convenience store where Juno buys her third and final pregnancy test, and sets the tone for the film as soon as he says "That ain't no etch-a-sketch. This is one doodle that can't be un-did, homeskillet." Michael Cera does what he does best in playing the confused, yet sweet kid that just wants whats best. He may be doomed to play some iteration of George Michael Bluth/Evan Goldberg for the rest of his career, but when he is so convincing, it's hard to argue against the typecasting. His chemistry with Ellen Page makes you care about what happens between the characters - it's a convoluted romance between misfits, but it's romance nonetheless. J.K. Simmons (who you may know most recently as J. Jonah Jameson from the Spiderman movies) plays a fantastic foil to the pregnant protagonist. Mac MacGuff is the gruff, yet affectionate father of Juno who not only provides insight on her character, but the occasional comic relief.

Perhaps the most important of the supporting cast is the married couple played by Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner. Not unlike other Fox Searchlight Picture Napoleon Dynamite, Juno fights aesthetic norms, favoring the quirky and unkempt - The Lorings (Bateman and Garner) are the antithesis of this style, and introduce the theme of perfection. The cinematography in introducing the Loring household brings viewers abruptly back to the idea of faultlessness; every room is impeccably organized and the couple is successful, attractive, and happy. Now, unlike every other freaking review out there, I will not wreck the rising action of the plot, but I will say Bateman and Garner are integral in the moral of the story - perfection is an illusion that merely blinds us from finding true happiness.

I can't say enough about writer Diablo Cody. It is a rare occurrence when a primarily heartwarming love story can make you laugh as hard as some of her one-liners had the audience doing. The newcomer, (Before Juno, she authored the book Candy Girl: A Year in The Life of An Unlikely Stripper) brings a freshness to moviegoers that would be a crime to ignore.

In short, I can't say much more than other critics have. Roger Ebert named Juno #1 on his Top 10 Best for 2007, and he knows a thing or two about quality movies. It is a truly endearing movie that most of the population can enjoy. After all, when "Thunder Cats Are GO!" is bellowed when the protagonist's water breaks, how can you not like it?

Final Verdict: 91/100 (Brah-some)

Portrait of A Blog

As I begin to write this post, I realize that this is an impulse blog. Before I define the term 'impulse blog', I must check to see if this is conquered territory

Impulse Blog isn't defined yet.

So far, so good.

I have, on many occasions, attempted to get a blog off the ground, and have failed in different degrees. The first of course, was back in the xanga days of yore, when fresh-faced high schoolers used the internet to chronicle their tumultuous school life, publicly smear rumors, and on special broccasions, debut bizarre poetry that may still embarrass them to this day.

Naturally, I was attracted to this online community. Rather than publicize anything personal, I decided to create the first spoof blog (at least that I had heard of), a parody of what I had read, with my good friend Brian as the creative vehicle:

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Currently Playing
Billy Joel - Greatest Hits Vol. 1-2
By Billy Joel
see related

I've had a busy day. No time for DDR.

It started at 7 AM. I, naturally, had been up for two hours, and was perfecting building playing card castles. Why, you ask? Because I'm going to be an engineer or architect. I need practice. Then, Jimmy came down, panicked. He told me he needed gummy bears. A lot of gummy bears. Now, normally I'm happy that he's home from college, but when he refuses to drive to costco for twenty pounds of gummy bears because of his fear of potholes on the interstate, I get a smidge peeved.

When I got home, he said I got the wrong kind. So I just took the car and drove away.

Three hours later, after touring the tristate area, I got back and he was gone. So then it was time to mow the lawn. Boy, do I love to mow the lawn. Just me, the tractor, and my 1st draft of my diary entry, on the open field.

Nobody commented on my lyrics to the American Studies song. I guess you need the piano accompaniment for the full effect.

Now I have to babysit justin. We're going to have a kareoke battle. He just might win.


Simple, but entertaining. The xanga lived on for about a year, increasing in oddity each post. Though the thought crosses my mind every three months or so, I have never fully committed to bring back BriWinslow, as it has lost it's charm. On one hand, it was great to have an outlet for my bizarre thoughts, and I do consider this my first foray into comedy writing, but the fact that I can't try to convince people that it REALLY is Brian writing these things now is slightly discouraging. I mean, I really had the whole blogring going for awhile.

Secondly, many have credited me with the spinoff xanga, MarEdward. Though I had a hand in it's genesis, I did not write it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Currently Listening
Weird Al Yankovic - Greatest Hits, Volume 1
By "Weird Al" Yankovic
see related

Sometimes i like to pretend i am zorro and run around the house. but i feel guilty about writing Zs everywhere so i only write them over sleeping peoples heads.

i like catching mosikeetoes too and putting them in a jar on my desk.

if you'd like too know i have been busy and currently i am about done counting the number of geommetrik shapes in my house.

Nick told one of his loud friends that he is superman, so he is a liar.

Personally, I find MarEdward to be funnier than BriWinslow. In just fashion, Brian wrote 'my' blog while I wrote 'his'. While I used self-aggrandizement and satire as my tools of the trade, Brian wielded non sequiter better.

Lastly, after being influenced by the fantastic Kissing Suzy Kolber, I tried to start an NFL blog of my own, Team Ron Mexico.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Pirate's Life for Jeff

If you ask me, the Buccaneers dodged a bullet when Jake Plummer decided to retire rather than challenge Chris Simms for the starting job in Tampa Bay.

The Bucs are now reportedly saddled with Philadelphia comeback sensation Jeff Garcia, who was rumored to go to the Oakland Raiders for this season. This is great news for both teams, as Garcia is coming of a high note in his once wilting career (almost leading the suprise division-champ Eagles to the NFC championship), and the Raiders would present the 37-year old former Pro Bowl Quarterback a myriad of problems.

Garcia is an emotional player, and the hunger he still has from his 6-2 run with the Eagles will make him a fierce competitor in Tampa Bay. The good news is, this is a win-win situation for the Bucs. Garcia will either push Chris Simms to his potential in training camp, making the young quarterback the franchise player he was always supposed to be, or he will be a great short-term solution for the Buccaneers by taking the reigns himself. If the former occurs, the Bucs will have both a great starting quarterback and a great backup.

With a rejuvenated offensive line and the possible acquisition of Calvin Johnson in the draft, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be a force to be reckoned with...

Not bad, especially that the now NFC South Champion Bucs are favored against the NY Giants in the Wild Card game this Sunday, but this post was an anomaly. I swayed between overconfident predictions and tongue-in-cheek joke posts, while consistently searching for the best pun headline. But there wasn't much to write about in the offseason, and when the season finally came, I was busy watching football.

So here I am. Starting the next chapter in the Blog-ble (Like 'Bible'!) according to me. Will this just be another book in the old testament, where people look for excuses to stone the gays? Or is this the new testament in my blogdom?

During the composition of this post, I have thought of what function my blog will serve. My friend Andrea, for example, has a blog she has used to expose the masses to her creative writing.
I read Gandalf, We're In Somalia whenever there is anything new. I could post creative writing of my own.

Another idea would mimic the template set out by Derrick Comedy member DC Pierson. Ham Fisted Theatrics is a melange of creative writing, personal entries, and cognitive leaks that I have taken to reading on a weekly basis. The idea of having to write creatively in a consistent manner (like DC's Story-Thons) is appealing, as well as the flexibility to write about what's going on in my life every once and awhile.

On top of that, My PR professor that impressed me last semester also has a blog. As a photojournalist, most of his entries are pictures. I'm not much of a photographer, but I do like his blog.

And here I am, at the end of my inaugural post, without a specific category for this blog. And it will stay that way. The problem with my past attempts at a consistent blog (all two of them) was the commitment to one genre. So enjoy the ride - A special brocassion is going to be whatever it needs to be at the time.