Friday, January 18, 2008

January Throws a Curveball

New at Since Last Week:

It was another slow January week in Critic Land. There were three screenings scheduled for this week—one was Mad Money, which I’d already seen (yech!), one was cancelled due to bad weather, and the other was Cloverfield.

For months, Cloverfield has been one of those movies that frequently popped up in pre-screening conversations (along with the most anticipated movie of the year, Midnight Meat Train). Ever since that brilliant teaser showed up before Transformers last summer, there’s been a steady stream of Cloverfield buzz. But the closer we got to the release date, the more skeptical we were.

First of all, we’re talking about a January release here. It’s just one of those unspoken rules that you don’t release anything of value in January (thus…Mad Money and First Sunday). As I’ve mentioned before, January is not a good month to be a film critic. Just to emphasize my point, at the beginning of this week, my average January grade was somewhere between a D and a D+.

Secondly, Cloverfield was filmed using hand-held cameras. Now, I realize that the quality of hand-held cameras has gone way up since I was a kid. That’s great and all. But until someone figures out how to use hand-held cameras in a way that doesn’t make me sick, I’m going to be a little skeptical here. I still haven’t gotten over the nausea I suffered while watching The Blair Witch Project—and just hearing the name “Paul Greengrass” makes my head start spinning.

Then there were the rumors. Some suggested that the whole thing was just some kind of a cheap ploy—that it would somehow tie into Lost (since the screenwriter, Drew Goddard, is also one of the writers of Lost). There were all kinds of ideas floating around—and none of them made me all that eager to see the movie. Mostly, I was just curious.

Since the screening was going to be on campus, the usual gang of misfits decided to meet for happy hour on Wednesday before the screening. It was a tough call, really: would drinking before a shaky movie make it better or worse? As it turned out, I was too drugged on Wednesday to drink anyway. I wasn’t quite sure of the dangers of mixing booze and DayQuil, so I chose to refrain.

Despite the fact that I already made it through my post-holiday illness, I somehow managed to pick up another one. I’m going to blame it on Neil, who was sick for about three weeks (which means that he missed seeing things like, oh, Mad Money). But we went to a hockey game over the weekend (Go Jackets!), and I think I might have caught his SARS in the midst of all the screaming and cheering and the plotting for total world domination. Fortunately, though, the SARS was kind to me, and it didn’t come out in full force until Monday night. That gave me Monday morning to head into the studio and record this year’s It’s Movie Time awards season special (which airs a week from today).

But anyway…back to Wednesday…. After dinner, we all headed over to the theater. They had already started letting the public in, but, fortunately, Matt was the rep of the evening, and Matt knew to save a whole bunch of seats for press. And that’s why we love Matt.

But enough about Matt. Let’s talk Cloverfield.

Now, I’m not going to lie to you. Cloverfield is a shaky movie. Even if you have a strong stomach, you will most likely feel dizzy—and perhaps a little bit sick. I, however, didn’t. Perhaps it has something to do with the mix of DayQuil and Pepsi that I consumed before the movie, but I’m thinking it was mostly because I was prepared. I knew it was coming. I knew it was going to be bad. I knew there was a chance I’d end up throwing up in my brand new COCFA Mafia stocking cap. So I planned ahead.

The beginning of Cloverfield is just about the characters. It tells their story and follows them around while they hang out together and throw a surprise going-away party for Rob (Michael Stahl-David), who’s moving to Japan. The whole thing is shot like a home movie—shakes and all. But there isn’t really anything critical going on here—not much that you really need to see. So that’s when I closed my eyes. I watched every once in a while—so I could see who the characters were and what was going on—but I knew that I didn’t necessarily have to watch the guy with the camera wander around the apartment and film people’s limbs. I could hear what was going on, so I knew when to pay attention. If there was a conversation, I’d watch. But for the other stuff, I just closed my eyes. Had I not done that, I’m pretty sure I would have been sick before the really cool stuff started. Instead, I was free to watch those shaky monster shots—and I felt fine.

And, as it turns out, I was highly impressed by Cloverfield. Yeah, it’s shaky—and that’s definitely something I could do without. I’d much prefer to be able to watch the entire movie and know that I’m not going to get sick. But the idea is so good that I’ll let it go. It’s so creative and so clever that I couldn’t help but like it. In fact, the more I thought about it the next day, the more impressed I was. Cloverfield is, without a doubt, the best movie of the year so far. Gimmicky, yes. But still pretty cool.

Go figure—a January movie that’s actually pretty good. Huh.

Next week is another slow week. Looks like I’ll have another one-screening week—followed by our group outing on Friday morning to see Rambo, since it’s not going to be screened for press (Hmmm…a January release, and they’re not showing it to press? Can’t be a good sign.). Until things pick up a bit next month, I’ll be camped out on the couch, catching up on DVDs. Maybe I’ll even watch a few more of those screeners that I didn’t get to see in December….

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