Okay, maybe it’s not the greatest of all time. It may very well be the worst, but it’s the one you’re reading now so you can decide how ironic the title is. I’m a movie freak (a movie super-freak actually). I’m such a movie freak that a few months ago I did the unthinkable: I packed up all of my belongings and moved them west from Chicago to Los Angeles. I know, unheard of right? But films have been a big part of my life and for a film junkie there is no better town to live in.
There’s a quote from Lawrence Kasdan’s underrated film, “Grand Canyon” in which the character of Davis (a film producer played Steve Martin) imparts these words of advice to a friend: “That’s part of your problem: you haven’t seen enough movies. All of life’s riddles are answered in the movies.” I’ve always taken those words to heart (probably to a fault).
In this column I’ll provide many unsolicited opinions, you’ll just have to deal with it. There’ll be reviews, commentary, observations, and whatever else they get away with (hopefully I won’t have to resort to hard core nudity). So as they say in the business, on with the show.
Director: Matt Reeves
“Cloverfield” is a high-concept movie which claims to be simply an unedited tape found in the area that used to be known as Central Park. And we know it’s a used tape because it begins with footage a month prior to the events that apparently wiped out Central Park, a simple morning between young Manhattenites Rob and Beth. Cut to (or rather the tape jumps to) one month later and it’s Rob’s going away party. We learn Rob and Beth have broken up and he’s been promoted to a new job in Japan. His best friend Hud begrudgingly takes on the task of recording testimonials from Rob’s friends. A clever device that enables us to be introduced to most of the main characters before a 200 foot creature quite literally crashes the party. From then on, it’s a survival story as we follow these young 20-somethings as they try to escape the island of Manhattan (a task that is much harder than “I Am Legend” would lead you to believe).
The Cloverfield Monster. Maybe.
The execution of the concept is a little too slick. We’re lead to believe that the footage is presented to us unedited and if this was really the case, the in-camera editing is way too convenient. Plus, at several points during the film, the tape “cuts back” to Rob & Beth’s date on Coney Island. And the events take place over 7 hours, yet there is only one tape lasting 84 minutes. In the midst of a monster attack on New York City, Hud manages to capture every key dramatic moment. But hey, it’s a movie about yuppies trying to survive a monster attack, these are the least of the logistical problems.
The movie is genuinely entertaining, gripping, and the effects are nothing short of jaw-dropping. The script is smart and the characters are likeable. I particularly enjoyed the party scene at the beginning (which would’ve been an entertaining film if itself it weren’t for the monster attack and all.) And I liked how they never explain what the monster is or why it came to wreak havoc (it doesn’t really matter). “Cloverfield” is never boring and the concept does make the events seem more personable than any other monster attack in cinema history.
THE BUCKET LIST
Director: Rob Reiner
Auto mechanic Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman) has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, but has the good fortunate to be roomed with the hospital’s owner Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson). Edward has lived a selfish, greedy life but rooming with Carter and facing his own death makes him become quick friends and when Edward learns of Carter’s “Bucket List” he encourages Carter to accompany on a once in a lifetime (and as it so happens last of a lifetime) trip around the world to see and do everything they wanted to do in their lives before kicking the bucket.
“We’re too talented for this shit.”
The Bucket List is the cutest movie about death I’ve ever seen. And therein lies the problem because it lacks the depth and sadness that a film dealing with terminal illness should carry. Morgan Freeman is rock solid (as always), but always seems to be running away from his problems rather than dealing with them. Jack Nicholson is entertaining but a bit of a goof. Their trip doesn’t reveal any great truths about life and death, but rather plays like a travelogue show you’d see on The Discovery Channel (though I suspect such a show would deal with more human insight). There are some genuinely funny moments in the film, but again it’s too cute for its own good.
Speaking of lists, and this may seem odd seeing as how this is my first column, here are my top 10 favorite films of 2007.
1. No Country For Old Men - As close to perfect as any film has been in recent memory (though I still have a few issues with the third act, they’re minor quibbles at best.) And Javier Bardem’s Anton is perhaps the most terrifying and cold-blooded villain in recent film history.
2. Juno – In a year that seemed to be dominated by fantastic male performances, Ellen Page’s effort in this film’s title role was as good if not better than any of them. This is a rare film that manages to balance honest humor, sharp dialogue, and heart. We need more of these.
3. Gone Baby Gone – A brilliant debut by Ben Affleck and terrific performance by his brother Casey Affleck. A lot has been said about it’s gritty, realistic depiction of Boston, but I appreciated the overall tone of the film, which in my opinion is the hardest thing for a director to pull off and Affleck did a phenomenal job.
4. There Will Be Blood – A great film anchored by an iconic performance by Daniel Day-Lewis, old-fashioned direction by Paul Thomas Anderson (who remembers that this guy directed “Boogie Nights”?) and a mesmerizing original score from Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood. It’s perhaps a bit too long, but it does have my favorite last line in any movie this year.
5. Charlie Wilson’s War – It’s great to see Aaron Sorkin back writing screenplays, though the script may be a little too glib for its own good. A highly entertaining film. Tom Hanks and Phillip Seymour Hoffman had fantastic chemistry.
6. 3:10 to Yuma – One of my favorite trends of 2007 was the return of the Westerns and the remake of “3:10 to Yuma” pulled off the rare achievement of being better than the original, anchored largely by an incredible performance by Russell Crowe as one of cinema’s bad guys you like to root for.
7. 300 – Visually the most impressive film of the year also the most ass-kickiest (see now if I had an editor, he would’ve flagged that word). This is the film I hoped Gladiator would’ve been.
8. Ratatouille – I went into this film with low expectations. I know, it’s Brad Bird and it’s Pixar, but it’s also a film about a rat in Paris who can cook. But I should’ve known better as it has a lot of heart, great voice performances, and features incredible animation (Pixar still produces far and away the best computer animation out there). And Anton Ego’s solemn monologue about criticism was particularly memorable.
9. The Kingdom – Some may dub it “CSI: Saudi Arabia”, but I thought it was the best political thriller of the year. The first and last 20 minutes of this film were absolutely fantastic. I know, that’s only 40 minutes, but they were really that good and the bits in the middle weren’t half bad either.
10. Michael Clayton – Another strong directorial debut this year, this one from Tony Gilroy (writer of this film along with the Bourne films). Who knew he had this in him? Anchored by a strong cast, George Clooney continues to show a knack for finding the right projects for him, something which more actors should take note.
I also really enjoyed “Live Free or Die Hard” (in a very weak summer for so-called blockbusters, this was one that really delivered), “Knocked Up”, “The Bourne Ultimatum”, “Sicko”, “Seraphim Falls” (another great and overlooked Western this year), “Hot Fuzz”, “Waitress” (outstanding performance from Keri Russell and a heartbreaking reminder of Adrienne Shelly’s tragic death), “American Gangster”, and “The Savages”.
A few films that I did not see that may very well have made this list include: “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”, “Once”, “Rescue Dawn”, “In The Valley of Elah”, “Into The Wild”, and “I’m Not There”. Give me a break, I just started. I’ll get to them eventually.
Anyway, that’s all I’ve got for a first swing. I hope you dug it and I hope you continue checking back in with this inappropriately named column.
All the best.
-Brett Deacon continues to plug away in Los Angeles despite having the foresight to arrive in the middle of the Writer’s Strike. He spends his ample free time ducking deadlines, spending way too much time in line waiting for In-N-Out burgers, and trying to remember where he left his Thomas Guide.
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