Our weekly roundup of film reviews returns, courtesy of James Bryan…
After its Statue of Liberty beheading sensation of a trailer, the internet-hyped Cloverfield finally arrives. For the uninitiated, the film follows a group of young hip New Yorkers whose loft party is rudely interrupted when a big scary monster decides to munch his (her?) way through Manhattan. The big idea is that it’s all shot as if captured on one of the characters video cameras. As everyone has noted, it’s Blair Witch meets Godzilla. Anthony Quinn in the Independent gives the film 3-stars:
It doesn't bother to ask where this monster has come from, or what its purpose might be; such questions would only slow it down. What the film focuses on is instant, visceral reaction – that sudden, helpless lurch of the senses as one tries to get to grips with horror.
It’s a clever conceit, making the action all the more real and terrifying particularly as the film stars complete unknowns. The approach obviously has huge echoes of 9/11. As Peter Bradshaw brilliantly puts it in his 3-star review:
It's sort of a 9/11 film, and sort of not. No one says the obvious out loud. Just as no one watches EastEnders on EastEnders, no one at any stage says: "Ohmigod, this is just like 9/11! I can't believe it! Everything about this just totally screams to me 9/11! Except that it's a terrifying sea-monster rather than al-Qaida! Why us? Why New York? We've only just finished the rebuilding and the psychic healing! Why in God's name must we endure this sort of thing here over and over again?”
Bradshaw also cynically notes the ability of Hud, the video camera guy, to always get fantastically framed shots and says, “If it were me, all you'd have would be a shot of my running legs, with a great big semi-circle of urine inching down my jeans.” James Christopher in the Times somehow managed to avoid all the advance internet hype before writing his 4-star review, “On Monday I thought Cloverfield was a brand of butter, or a mock-Tudor retirement home in South Wales.” However he is impressed, saying that the “apocalyptic chiller is a genuine scare,” and rounding out his review with:
The panic is exquisite. The unnerving novelty about Cloverfield is the quality of shock. Fantastic.
So for once this does seem that if the trailers blew you away then you’re likely to feel the same about the actual film. The creator J.J.Abrams, of Lost fame, has taken Godzilla and filtered it to the YouTube generation. Although be warned, 85 minutes of shaky jerky video camera movement on a big screen may be liable to induce nausea – some cinemas have taken to putting up warnings, although that’s probably just more hype.
Next up, Battle for Haditha.
Battle for Haditha is Nick Broomfield’s follow-up to his highly affecting Ghosts. Featuring non-actors, it’s an account of a US patrol under siege in Iraq and is shot in a highly realistic documentary style. Despite only giving the film 3-stars the Times is very glowing:
This is a hard watch full of terrific performances, and Broomfield at his questing best.
The Independent also gives the film 3-stars:
The script is occasionally didactic and clumsy, though the close-quarter filming and the impression of marines as young men bereft of discipline, leadership and moral discrimination are powerfully realised.
The Guardian goes with a more comprehensive 4-star review calling the film “gut-wrenching” and saying:
His film persuasively shows the marines themselves not as hateful murderers, but bored, excitable and very scared young guys driven to the edge by the intolerable daily burden of patrols in which they are sitting ducks.
James McAvoy has now reached a level of fame whereby this apparent stinker of a film, Penelope, made two years ago, gets a release in a desperate attempt to claw back some of its costs. It features Christina Ricci who has a pig’s snout for a nose (did someone actually think this would work?) with McAvoy seeing 'the beauty behind the snout' (Times, 2-stars). Bradshaw unleashes a 1-starer:
I can truthfully say that watching this abysmal fantasy-comedy is less rewarding than being slapped across the face with a large wet fish. In fact, as I staggered out afterwards, I went into a reverie about this superior, alternative reality: the shock, the impact, the rough, clammy swipe of the scaly skin.
The Independent also gives the film 1-star, “This is what a friend of mine would call a ‘gobber’ – so bad, it makes you want to spit.” Before concluding that the film is “just horrible.”
Things We Lost in the Fire is a “three-hanky sobfest that makes a song and dance about personal growth and ‘letting go’” according to the Independent (2-stars). It stars the normally-rubbish-despite-her-Oscar Halle Berry who loses her husband and turns to his drug addicted best friend, played by Benicio Del Toro. The Guardian also goes with 2-stars saying that it is, “super-saturated in sugar, carbs and fat - too rich for my blood, I admit, but Del Toro's performance is effective.” The Times goes one better with 3-stars saying that the stars, “bring such conviction to their roles that we barely question their actions.”
Over Her Dead Body takes its inspiration from Ghost and stars Eva ‘Desperate Housewives’ Longoria as a bride who gets killed on her wedding day by then returns in a ghostly form to sabotage her fiancée's new relationship. 1-star in the Independent, “dire slapstick and Longoria's misjudged turn as the undead meddler. Couldn't they have sent her to hell instead?” 2-stars for the Times saying that it is a, “harmless comedy that floats through one ear and out the other” and 2-stars in the Guardian, clinically dismissing it as “moderate”.
Next week, we’ve got some exceptional pedigree including There Will Be Blood that has critics salivating over as if it’s the best film since Citizen Kane. We also have whip-smart teen pregnancy comedy Juno and the film of the book, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.
By James Bryan