Darke Reviews | 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

I owe you all an apology, I got home from London Has Fallen  last week and didn’t have the energy to write a review that night. The next day I still didn’t. The day after still no. I realized the movie was that mediocre that I had no energy to write it because I didn’t care enough. The action was ok. The effects were on the whole cheap. The tension was laughable. The acting, you don’t watch London Has Fallen for acting. You just watch it to see Gerard Butler kick butt – which he does. So there’s that.

Now during the Superbowl this year they revealed a trailer for a movie almost no one had heard of called 10 Cloverfield Lane. It’s rare in this day and age for a production to stay under the radar. Seeing the first trailer without any media hype a mere month and a half prior to the films release on something with names attached is even more unheard of. Then using the Cloverfield name in conjunction with J.J. Abrams automatically begins to conjures questions?

“Is it a sequel?”

“Is a prequel?”

“Is it tandem?”

“How is it related to the blockbuster first film?”

The producers then use that media buzz to let people talk about the movie – which is a smart play. They also spend their time answering all of those above questions “No it isn’t”. JJ has lied to us before (It’s not Khan) and cannot be trusted in that regard when it comes to a production. Why else call it Cloverfield when you have all the same names attached? “It’s a spiritual successor”, is a cheap answer. My feeling is that they wanted to created an anthology of movies around the “Cloverfield” conceit; which by it’s nature of real people in completely whacked out situations would wear thin. I mean the idea has merit once or twice, but to franchise the concept of Cloverfield can’t possibly work in the long term as a film series as you then need to spend time getting us to care (or not) about the characters then eventually have a reveal to the scale of their situation. Much like Shyamalan and his twists, when people come to expect them they spend the entire movie looking for the twist which then takes the wind out of it when it appears even if it is done intelligently.

400 words in and I haven’t discussed the movie I just watched. I’ve talked Hollywood, a movie I didn’t care to review to warn you to see or away from because it was that mediocre, JJ Abrams, and the concepts of how to build a franchise. I am really avoiding talking about the movie.

I didn’t like it. I wanted to. I really wanted to. I *like* the original Cloverfield. I didn’t get sick watching it. I liked the look of the monster. I cared about the characters and wanted to see Rob get to his girlfriend and them escape the monster. I wanted to see this and see how it ended.

I didn’t care here. The acting was fantastic. John Goodman was in full heavy mode and brought his impressive abilities to bear in a purely one dimensional role. He made it something more by using his physical presence and his acting to try to make it more than what was written. Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character of Michelle was engaging. She was smart, she was willful, and clever. I have liked her since Wolf Lake, Sky High, and thought her Ramona Flowers in Scott Pilgrim was on point. She didn’t do anything out of character, she didn’t turn into a “Final Girl” she just was. It worked and I liked her. John Gallagher Jr. as Emmet was a solid everyman. I went to school with people like him, I’ve worked with folks like him. The acting was FINE. It was Solid. It was Good.

What they had to work with sucked. There’s no twists. The tension doesn’t hold because they let you see some of the elements too early. They, being Matthew Stuecken (producer of GI Joe Rise of the Cobra and the Mummy 3), Josh Campbell (editor of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Van Helsing), and Damien Chazelle (writer of Whiplash) have invoked the three writer rule.  I lay blame on Dan Trachtenberg, in his big screen directorial debut, as well. They give you too much too soon of the wrong elements and it takes away from the movie. It breaks rather than builds the tension because you become certain of things and those things are only solidified rather than challenged when opportunity presented itself.

I verge into spoiler territory if I say more, and even though I dislike the film I need to keep to the rules.

If the intent here was to give novice writers and directors a chance to tell a story within the guardrails of a type of universe under the watchful eye of successful novices such as Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In) and Drew Goddard (The Martian, Cabin in the Woods), and Bryan Burk (Star Wars the Force Awakens), then I feel they failed. They succeeded in the attempt, but they failed in the guidance. I found nothing beyond the acting enjoyable here. The movie struck emotional chords in the performances, but gave nothing else for me to do with them. It was not well constructed or articulated.

If anything I would compare it to…hmm no. That would be a spoiler.

TL;DR?

Don’t see it. Expect more from your sci fi. Expect more from your movies. They need to try harder.

This was an attempt to do something original, for that I could praise it, but when we have things like The VVitch out there which also do original and do it better. We need to expect more.

Do I recommend it? No. Save your money.

 Will I buy it? No.

Next two weeks have a chance to give some enjoyment with Allegiant and Superman v Batman. Here’s hoping.

Darke Reviews | The Monuments Men (2014)

Been a few weeks since something came out I got to see, so thats the real reason for the delay here. This week is one of two movies for review, the other has more bite to it I hope. The Monuments Men tells a story I’ve not seen in film and certainly wasn’t told about in history class. It has quite a few things going for it in that regard. Telling a story from World War II that hasn’t before is actually quite hard these days. Let’s get into it shall we?

The story is adapted from a book by Robert Edsel titled “The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History”. It tells the story of the MFAA, Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives program, a sadly little known unit established in 1943 to protect the cultural property in war areas during World War II. The screen play was adapted by Clooney himself with character actor and sometimes collaborator Grant Heslov (True Lies, Good Night and Good Luck, Ides of March). The movie focuses on one small group of the department and their attempt to rescue some priceless and personal artifacts from the Nazi’s as the war comes to an end. They face resistance from Nazi’s, Russians, and even their own people as they try to protect something the military itself cared little about during the war. Is a piece of art worth a mans life?

Clooney also directs this film, which combined with the script leaves most of the blame on him where the film goes wrong. Which, sadly, is quite a few places. One of the key functions of story is a narrative arc, with a a rise and fall in events that drives the characters forward through some form of conflict. The movie fails in that basic element of story. Yes, events happen. Yes, there are beats of cliche with moments of sadness or levity, but there is really no dramatic tension.

I wish I could say that there was, but the film just delivers a series of moments losely connected to each other by the plot of trying to find pieces of lot art. Few of the moments have any real weight to them and the moments that do are glossed over in such a hollow way that it loses the intensity it should have. Some are told out a strong dramatic order so that when you should be going “Oh damn…” you are simply shaking your head sadly. Even the few deaths that occur among the members of the cast come across as cliche and something you’ve seen a dozen times before and because of that become little more than a beat that has no meaning.

It’s unfortunate that as the movie pulls together an amazing cast of comedic talent that could have delivered some of the most dramatic performances of their careers. John Goodman, Bill Murray are wasted. Clooney’s own sense of timing seems off as he was focused three ways on script, acting and directing. The only high point is the interactions between Blanchett and Damon. Blanchetts character actually has the most depth of any of them, with the only arc worth a damn.

All of that said, the movie has some very pretty moments and some beautiful art. Art that would have been lost if not for the real men and women of the MFAA. The statues, the paintings, the lives displayed and lost. For all its flaws, of which there are many, the movie does remind us of a dark time in history that is quickly losing its weight in our modern world.

TL;DR?

The Monuments Men is an ok film that tells a story that needed to be told; but as a film it nearly fails. It wants to tell a story bigger than its capable and in that the weaknesses become apparent.

If you were interested in seeing it, its worth a matinee pass at best. The art alone and the history is worth it.

Otherwise, give this one a pass this weekend and save your money for Valentines day, or some other day where you might need money.

This should be a busy week for reviews, so sit tight folks!!