The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Friday, January 18, 2008

Cloverfield (2008)

It rocks. I love it, and was ready to see it again immediately. The best American giant monster movie in decades, it’s as simple as a rock, and brilliant in it’s basic idea: let’s see a city-destroying beastie through the eyes of the insignificant people running for their lives. Not the military. Not the President. Not the brilliant scientist working on an “oxygen destroyer.” Nope. What we have here is a bunch of Yuppies throwing a going-away party for a friend in downtown Manhattan when something bizarre and deadly happens.

Warning should be issued: if you have problems with motion sickness, stay away. If you have problems with the idea that some people are willing to accept danger to help those they love, stay away. Frankly, I’ve been saddened by the number of critics (mostly minor critics) who think it is “stupid” or “unbelievable” for the lead character to head into the city to rescue the woman he loves. Really? Either these people don’t know themselves as well as they think they do, or they aren’t the kinds of people I’d want as friends. There. I said it.

Yes, it plays with 9/11 imagery. If that offends you, stay away. Yes, it’s shot with hand-held video, the entire film supposedly consists of “found” footage shot by the very people running frantically for their lives in the midst of the utterly incomprehensible.

Another thing you want to know: the monster is fabulously bizarre and terrifying. At times it looks boneless, at other times like a titanic crustacean. Really, it reminds me of the stupendous beastie at the end of “The Mist” more than any other critter I’ve seen onscreen, but we don’t see much of it. Just enough. If you surrender to “Cloverfield” you’re in for a tense evening. I suspect it’s going to be a huge hit. Made for just 25 million, they’ll probably make their money back the first weekend. Wow. For Creature Feature lovers, this is Christmas a month late. An “A” if you like this kind of things. Otherwise, a “B”.
An interesting thing: Hillary has been talking about the Lewinski scandal, and her reaction. I kept hearing about how she discussed her “anguish” and so forth. I didn’t see the entire interview, just snips, but noticed something: in not a single clip did she talk about her feelings. There was no kinesthetic component at all. She talked about what she thought, and reckoned, and wondered what to do, and so forth. All “head stuff” with no heart at all.

And that can’t be true. Either I missed it, or her feelings have been so burned out that she can’t access them. My suspicion leans toward that unfortunate circumstance. My sense is that she killed her heart to feed her ambition—or perhaps her dreams for America. Sort of goes along with that cackling laugh: it sounds just a little like someone who can’t calibrate an emotional response, like a sociopath who practices his smile in a mirror. Disturbing. I really, really hope I’m wrong.


BlueNight said...

I have a theory. I think all those people complaining about motion sickness sat too close to the screen. I sat in the rear half of the theater, because I knew I didn't want blurry monster visuals in my peripheral vision; I wanted blurry monster visuals in the center of my field of vision. The monster visuals were not blurry at all, but I did reap the benefit of enjoying the film.

I ENJOYED the ridiculous heroics of Rob and Lily and Hudson. I LOVED Hud, and when Rob picked up the camera, all I could think was, "Hud was a better cameraman."

The 9/11 visuals are based on this one fact: we know what happens when a building comes down IRL. Dust everywhere. It also happens in demolition implosions, but they don't show very much of the cloud on the Discovery Channel because it gets boring after a while.

Interestingly, they didn't include the other thing I remember from 9/11 footage: the sound of a hundred thousand car alarms.

Anonymous said...

"[Hillary Clinton's laugh] sounds just a little like ... a sociopath who practices his smile in a mirror. Disturbing. I really, really hope I’m wrong."

Since that "sociopath" gestalt totally matches my impression of both of the Clintons, and since (thanks to the cosmological self-indulgence of the Republican Party) there's a splendid chance Hillary Rodham Clinton could be our next President, I truly hope you're wrong (and I'm wrong) too.

However, as Colin Powell once famously said ... "Hope is not a plan."

--Erich Schwarz

Dan Moran said...

Sounds like your Obama vote has solidified. :-)

I sat in the 3rd row. Dreadful motion sickness. I closed my eyes for a good bit of the 2nd half to keep it from getting worse.

Ending a little weak, though not unsurprising. I don't think I want to know the man who wouldn't go back for his girl, regardless of the danger. There are way worse things than dying.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Supposing that Hillary has burnt out her emotions, does this necessarily mean she'd be a bad President? I honestly don't know.

Steven Barnes said...

My guess: She hasn't burned out her emotions, but no longer shares them with outsiders. I'm sure she has close friends. NO, it doesn't mean she couldn't be a good president. It means I have real curiosity about who she is, on a deep, real level. It's possible she could be a superb president. I just want to have a sense of who she really is, and I can't quite read her. I certainly think she's brilliant, though.

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

"My guess: She hasn't burned out her emotions, but no longer shares them with outsiders."

That would be my guess, as well. I think she's learned the skill of suppressing the appearance of emotion, especially any emotion that could make her look weak - but doesn't have the very different acting skill of conveying emotions when it's to her advantage. I'm not surprised she would appear unemotional when discussing Lewinski - that's exactly the kind of topic where I think she'd want to keep her feelings close to her chest.

Lots of men are like that, actually, just fewer women.

Margo Anderson said...

She may not be showing her emotions now, but I don't doubt for a minute that she felt them at the time. I was going through my own discovery of my husband's infidelity when this story hit, and I remember watching her and her husband on TV when the bodies of the Marines came home. She kept staring at him, and all the pain and confusion and humilation I was feeling was mirrored in her face.

I'm still working on overcoming that experience, and my marriage isn't going to survive it. I can't even imagine how much more horrible it would be to have to go through the process with a million cameras pointed at her. If she needed to learn how not to let the pain show, I won't revile her for it.

I won't vote for her, either, but that's another story.

Kami said...

I've always had a tough time with Hillary because of her non-response to her husband's infidelity. I'm very glad Margo wrote a response because it helps soften that response. Yes, it would be very hard to go through something like that in front of millions of people. I tried, but couldn't comprehend that even at the time. It's completely outside my experience. At the same time, as first lady I felt she needed to do more than 'stand by her man.' Maybe that wasn't a political possibility. But as a woman, I desperately wanted her to make a stand that didn't swallow her up in her husband's shadow. Does that make sense? I'm not sure I'm expressing myself very well.

In any case, Obama shows real heart, at least from where I'm sitting. Strength *and* emotion. Maybe a woman can't afford that politically, because it may risk her male voters (emotional=weak woman) but in this case it costs her my vote, costed my vote even before she ran for President as I knew she would.

Yay for Obama, because I really want him to win. This may be the first in many, many years where I don't cast a protest vote for the libertarians. (I always did in the hopes that other parties than the two would be permitted to enter in a national debate--shame on everyone responsible for only allowing two candidates to debate!) I have such hope for Obama.

Steven Barnes said...

Really, I think that win lose or draw for Obama, as long as he runs a good campaign, it says a huge amount for America that they are responding to him as they are. I suspect that in private, Hillary was plenty emotional. I hope so, for her sake. I don't want to think she's broken, just private as hell.

Mike Ralls said...

OT, but I came across this today;

"This year, Mike Carey will become the first African-American to referee a Super Bowl."

I'm often surprised that there are still "firsts" like this to fill, but there you go.

Regarding Hilary and Sociopaths: It's a trait that is more common among Politicians than it is among the general public. I'm not saying she is one, just that I wouldn't be greatly surprised to find out that almost any politician has some tendencies. Around 1 - 2% of the general public are borderline cases and borderlines can disproportionately be found in positions of power, both public and private sectors. Two great books on the subject I would recommend are "Snakes in Suites: When Psychopaths Go To Work" and "Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed and My Sister Stole My Mother's Boyfriend"

Steven Barnes said...

That's an hysterical title.

Mike Ralls said...

It's a funny and heart breaking book at times. Besides the obvious troubles sociopaths cause normal people, I never thought I could feel sorry for sociopaths, but there were a couple of times in the book when I did. They don't process emotions like normal people do and this often really messes them up. My notes on the book can be found here if you or anyone else is interested;