Sunday, February 03, 2008


Just got back from Rambo and Cloverfield. Should you go see them? Maybe. Rambo is a better movie than its two predecessors in the series, but not as good as First Blood. It's more realistic than either of the middle two, as well; no exploding arrows, for one thing, and the action is what you'd expect from badass mercenaries. They're good at what they do, but they don't run around with a machine gun in each hand blasting baddies. It's gritty and realistic about what's going on in Burma right now, too, and pretty graphic about it. I'm going to say that, if you're expecting a "Rambo movie", you won't be disappointed. And if a Rambo movie doesn't sound good, you should avoid it.

Cloverfield lives up to its premise, if you go in with the right assumptions about its premise. If you've seen the trailer, you know the entire movie is supposed to be footage found on a video camera recovered from the wreckage of Manhattan after a huge alien creature invades and destroys most of the city. This means the entire film is shaky handicam footage; if this'll give you a headache, skip the movie. The movie starts with a guy filming a going-away party for a friend, and it seems like this part of the film lasts for half an hour. I wasn't timing it, but it definitely lasted too long. I found myself thinking, "just get on with the alien invasion already!" [spoilers start here] I suppose they felt the need to develop characters a bit; fleeing an alien monster is less interesting than watching our heroes head towards the chaos for most of the movie to rescue a friend, and the producers felt they had to establish some relationships first. They were wrong; you can't really develop character in a hurry, so we the audience pretty much took it on faith anyway that the main character would risk his life and defy major odds to rescue the girl. We could've spent five minutes at the party and been fine with the characters and their motivations. I'm also amazed at how wussy the alien spider-things were. We saw a brief clip of them tearing through some army guys when they first appear, but our unarmed heroes manage to fend off a pack of them and survive. And I wasn't happy with the end; we finally get to see the big alien thing when it kills our camera operator. We're talking about a huge beast, a thing that crushes Army tanks underfoot with no effort. And it spends a few moments contemplating this one guy, standing by himself in a park, before it bites him, throws him around, and drops him. Yeah, that's efficient. I know why it was in the movie: they had to show us the creature so we could get a good look at it, after a movie filled with brief glimpses. I disagree -- we didn't need to see the creature in good light, against a clean backdrop. It didn't add anything. And, given that they spent a lot of the movie not showing us things, it also seemed a bit out of character for the filmmakers, to have a good chunk of documentary footage showcasing their monster. It's also in the premise of the film that the guys with the camera don't survive the movie; if the camera was found in wreckage, it's probable that the guys holding it were with it. Still, I was almost surprised that the main characters almost all die by the end, one or two at a time.

As a production, it's interesting watching a movie without a score. All of the music is what's playing on someone's boom box, or in an electronics store, or just the ambient sound for wherever the character with the camera is. It's also amazing how huge the crew is. The credits are as long as the credits for any other blockbuster movie, even though it looks like it was really shot with a handheld camera. I even saw a boom operator in the credits; not quite sure how that worked. I can't recall any shots that didn't have the handicam feel. Also a nice moment -- maybe the only really creepy moment in the film -- when they switched the camera to night-vision mode. (For another really creepy use of night vision, watch 28 Weeks Later.)

In the interest of embracing the comedy, here's the outgoing voicemail I recorded on my cell phone before I sat down in the theater: "You've reached the voice mail of Jeff Mountjoy, production coordinator for the Indianapolis Artsgarden [it's technically my work phone]. I've turned my phone off while I see Rambo on the big screen. Leave me a message, and I'll call you back as soon as I finish watching Sylvester Stallone demolish yet another Southeast Asian nation. Thank you." I had one missed call, no messages. I hope the call wasn't work-related.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I loved rambo. Haven't seen Cloverfield. Drew