Posts Tagged ‘Damien Chazelle’

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10 Cloverfield Lane is a well-acted, tense thriller that unravels to reveal a true piece of shit.

My gripe is not with John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, or John Gallagher Jr.—the acting elevates the writing and makes this movie worth watching. If you enjoy the craft of acting, then you’re nearly guaranteed to be deeply engaged with these characters. However, the whole house of cards comes tumbling down during the odd, stilted third act that culminates with a ridiculous finale.

In hindsight, where 10 Cloverfield Lane really lost me was the name.

I am jealous of those who can watch 10 Cloverfield Lane as a standalone movie. To be clear, 10 Cloverfield Lane is not a standalone movie. Leading up to the release, J.J. Abrams said 10 Cloverfield Lane is a “blood relative” to Cloverfield—intentionally teasing a directly shared universe.

Cloverfield was and still is a very divisive movie. Most people hated the shaky camera and found footage gimmick. But I think it worked beautifully in the context of a monster destroying a major city. As an admitted fan of creature features, Cloverfield delivered a unique, enthralling adventure with a distinct creature wreaking havoc on New York City. While 10 Cloverfield Lane builds tension in a similar but different manner, the anticipation does not crescendo to a satisfactory conclusion.

When you slap Cloverfield on the title of your movie, you’re establishing a certain set of expectations. Of course, J.J. Abrams isn’t one for delivering on expectations. Everything the man has done is all setup and zero resolution. Without spoiling anything (yet), 10 Cloverfield Lane is right in line with the Abrams brand. I don’t mean to give J.J. too much responsibility since he was only the producer of Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane, but you can see the sequences that bear his direct influence.

Before I unload my personal problems with this movie, let me talk about the good things.

Howard Angry

There are plenty of good things about 10 Cloverfield Lane. John Goodman is legitimately great and he puts on a magnificent display as Howard—a doomsday prepper with deep paranoia and a potentially dark history. His character is enigmatic. You’re never quite sure what he’s doing or what motivates his actions. Howard’s doomsday bunker is a sizeable underground fortress that ends up providing shelter for Howard, Michelle (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and Emmett (played by John Gallagher Jr.)—although Emmett helped build the bunker, he was not an intended guest. After a car wreck under mysterious circumstances, Michelle woke up to find herself shackled in the bunker with no memory of what happened. As the audience, you have to put the pieces together as the events unfold.

I was captivated whenever John Goodman was on the screen. Howard isn’t exactly a likeable character, but there is an undeniable charm. You just have to ignore the gruff exterior and creepy, controlling personality. Mary Elizabeth Winstead holds her own as Michelle against Goodman’s gregarious presence. The relationship between Howard and Michelle is bizarre from the beginning. That absence of an explanation is a recurring theme in 10 Cloverfield Lane—and the Abrams brand, in general.

Don’t expect any explanations from this shared universe. You will only disappoint yourself.

You can expect some spoilers while I explain my contempt for this shameful marketing ploy.

Spoilers galore.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  Now enjoy some Good(man) dancing.

Good(man) Dancing

I was sold a false bill of goods. 10 Cloverfield Lane is all misdirection.

The setup is so enjoyable, which makes this so ultimately unsatisfying. The concept of a restricted narrative in an underground bunker is an interesting hook. With 10 Cloverfield Lane as the title, the most tantalizing hook for me was how this connects with Cloverfield.

Surprise: there is no direct correlation. Fucking “blood relative” of Cloverfield, my ass.

Cloverfield had no business being so incredibly entertaining. I think we can thank Matt Reeves for that. Maybe I love it a little too much because it was also my introduction to T.J. Miller and Lizzy Caplan. There were genuinely great, memorable moments in Cloverfield—in fact, innovative with that horrific night vision chase scene in the subway tunnels. The end wasn’t exactly gratifying, but I have come to terms with that. In time, I’ve almost appreciated the absence of explanation in that movie.

I cannot appreciate or mildly tolerate the intentional lie of titling this movie 10 Cloverfield Lane.

Initially, this movie started out as The Cellar. Dying a slow death in development hell, J.J. Abrams rescued the movie by slapping Cloverfield on the name to manufacture mystery. Fans of Cloverfield have been feverishly waiting for a sequel. It’s an embarrassing slap in the face to loosely tie this in with Cloverfield when it doesn’t really have any vital connection to the original movie.

Personally, this attempt to generate interest among a group of dedicated fans gloriously backfired because there is no connection—no Cloverfield monster or human-sized parasites. Not even a reference to the event. If a giant fucking monster destroyed New York City, I want to know how that would change the way people lived their lives. The largest city in the U.S. was attacked by a massive creature. In order to stop the devastation, the HAMMERDOWN protocol was initiated to bomb the monster into oblivion. During the credits, there was also a line suggesting the creature still survived.

iPhone

Since the events aren’t referenced, I’m not sure whether 10 Cloverfield Lane takes place before, during, or after Cloverfield. Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character owned the newest iPhone, which suggests this takes place after Cloverfield. If this indeed takes place after a monster destroyed New York City, then Howard isn’t a conspiracy nut for building a doomsday bunker. Cloverfield certainly invoked the emotion of the 9/11 and that aftermath has impacted our reality so it was ripe for exploration.

Not referencing or including the events of Cloverfield in 10 Cloverfield Lane is a stupefying decision.

None of this feels natural. This is very obviously two separate movies glued together.

You can tell what parts remained from The Cellar, and those original sequences are enthralling. When Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character finally escapes, the science-fiction elements felt so fabricated and out of leftfield. Instead of using the ready-made human-sized parasites from Cloverfield, there’s a mechanical worm-dog and some sort of weird flying creature with other similar types of ships.

It’s fucking aliens?! Aliens. Fucking hokey CGI bullshit. Some television shows have better effects.

The official story from Cloverfield was that the monster was awoken from the deep sea by a fallen satellite, which you get a glimpse of at the end of the movie. It wasn’t an alien monster—it was already here hidden in the ocean. Now, I guess it has been changed to an alien. Maybe this is a part of a coordinated alien attack. You still don’t know after this movie and you will never know.

It is an empty promise.

The most emphatic connection within 10 Cloverfield Lane is the reveal that Howard worked on satellites. If you happen to be familiar with the Cloverfield ARG (alternate reality game), you might recognize an envelope with the logo of Bold Futura—Howard’s employer, which is tied to a company involved in the events of Cloverfield. It’s not only disgraceful as false advertising. It is a disservice to this movie.

Cast

When you name the movie 10 Cloverfield Lane, you immediately add the expectation of science-fiction elements. Therefore, the payoff is not even a surprise. Instead, it feels fake and contrived. You can sense that it was tacked on purely to give it the illusion of a connection to Cloverfield—simply because there is a monster. The final shot shows the house’s mailbox (revealing the address), which is utterly pointless. None of these decisions make any rational sense and have no practical justification.

Rumors of a Twilight Zone-esque anthology series have already started swirling.

Fantastic, an anthology would allow J.J. Abrams to continue posing questions without any answers. I have had enough with the absence of explanation here. It’s not enough to have an interesting setup.

J.J. Abrams is a marketing maven. Nothing more, nothing less.

It’s impossible to judge 10 Cloverfield Lane as a standalone movie, but I sincerely wish I could manage to appreciate it by itself. Dan Trachtenberg showed impeccable vision in his directorial debut. The parts from The Cellar were worthy of 4-star consideration, but I cannot ignore nor forgive that awful ending.

Quite literally, this movie deserved a better treatment.

I wish the Cloverfield monster would just swallow this movie whole.

Cloverfield Monster

2 out of 5 stars

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Whiplash is the best movie of 2014. Just shut up about everything else. There was no other movie last year with the balls and intensity possessed and expressed by Whiplash. I consider myself fortunate to have watched Whiplash early when it came out in select theaters in October, but I didn’t want to review the movie until I could watch it again. It’s too good to let go. Whiplash doesn’t disappoint on repeat.

Sure it’s a cliché to say a movie starts with a bang, but Whiplash literally begins with Miles Teller’s character (Andrew Nieman) banging away on the drums. From the opening scene, the tempo of the movie is established. When your heart starts pounding with the rhythm of the drums, J.K. Simmons’ character (Terence Fletcher) walks in and immediately puts him through the wringer with an impromptu test before promptly exiting without any explanation. Let the psychological warfare ensue

Prepare to immerse yourself in a world where nothing is perfect. Whiplash delves into the dedication and passion necessary for the pursuit of being great. Not good. Great. One of the greatest of all-time.

While Whiplash’s focus on greatness is through the lens of drumming, understanding the quest is a universal. Whether the subject is art, music, science, sports, or anything else, the recipe always includes the same ingredients. Andrew is already internally motivated to achieve true greatness. But Fletcher is the teacher who wants to externally motivate him by pushing his buttons so he goes beyond his breaking point.

Drum Punch

Is it possible to achieve greatness on your own?

At this point, J.K. Simmons might sadly be more known by the general public as the Farmers Insurance guy. However, the man has been an incredibly versatile, talented character actor his entire career. With a diverse background, J.K. Simmons can pull off a technical performance in a theatrical play and he also has the chops to seamlessly transition on-screen from serious drama and absurd comedy. And he’s an accomplished voice actor. Whiplash probably won’t win Best Picture despite being the best movie, but J.K. Simmons at least deserves to run away with the Best Supporting Actor award.

If you were a fan of Oz on HBO, you’re familiar with J.K. Simmons as Vern Schillinger—the most evil and feared Nazi character ever created for television or film. As the aggressive and enigmatic conductor of Shaffer Music Academy’s competition jazz band, Terence Fletcher is basically Vern Schillinger minus all the Aryan Brotherhood and butt rape. Although not quite to R. Lee Ermey’s historic onslaught of insults in Full Metal Jacket, here’s a taste of what Fletcher dishes out to his young pupil:

“You are a worthless, friendless, faggot-lipped little piece of shit whose mommy left daddy when she figured out he wasn’t Eugene O’Neill, and who’s now weeping and slobbering all over my drum set like a fucking nine-year-old girl!”

The chemistry between J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller is electric and dynamic. It’s not hyperbole to claim it carries the movie. For the most part, Whiplash is boiled down to the interaction between these two characters and the overwhelming impact on Andrew Nieman. Miles Teller’s performance is impeccable, which should be expected by now. As the audience, you truly believe Andrew strives to be great because Miles Teller embodies that desperate, relentless pursuit. You can see it in his face, nothing else matters. It’s no surprise to learn that was actually Miles Teller’s blood on that drum set.

There Will Be Blood on Drums

In 2013, my favorite movie was The Spectacular Now—primarily due to Miles Teller. It’s another Miles Teller performance that makes Whiplash my favorite movie in 2014. Remember his name.

Along with amazing acting—seriously, even Paul fucking Reiser is good—the movie is also spot-on with its tempo. No slap is necessary, it is neither rushing nor dragging. That’s a credit to writer-director Damien Chazelle who uses a deft hand to delicately guide the narrative. Whiplash was a labor of love for Chazelle as it initially started out as a short—still starring Miles Teller—since he could not get funding for a full-length feature film. It all worked out. There is no version of this movie that could make it better.

Without both Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons performing their respective roles as Andrew Nieman and Terence Fletcher, Whiplash would not be anywhere near the same movie. As an intense character study, you need charismatic actors playing off one another to elevate the script to the next level.

Teller and Simmons

This interplay between two captivating characters is a shining example of what Jake Gyllenhaal was sorely lacking in Nightcrawler. If Whiplash was just J.K. Simmons acting like a sociopath abusing a bunch of faceless, no-name students without spines, then the movie would have been a complete bore and I would have snoozed through it despite the loud sounds. Thankfully, this is more than a character study.

Whiplash has everything you want in a movie—blood, sweat, and tears that begins with a bang and ends with an equally loud bang. You will feel physically uncomfortable and awkward at some moments. You will laugh maniacally and then feel bad for laugh so hard at some awfully cruel insults.

Embrace each scene and enjoy the best movie of last year—exceeding every lofty expectation. I wish I could carve out your eyes and experience Whiplash completely new like it was my first time again. I would congratulate Damien Chazelle on a phenomenal movie, but we all know how Fletcher feels about praise.

“There are no two words in the English language more harmful than good job.”

Good Job

5 out of 5 stars