Saturday, January 26, 2008

Operation [Uncle Phil from The Fresh Prince]

Good Morning all.

The title of this post may confuse those of you who were not present at the 0030 screening of "Cloverfield". The simple explanation is that Uncle Phil (more specifically, a radiocative, mutated Uncle Phil) was my prediction for what the monster ie "Subject: Cloverfield" in the film was going to be. Suffice to say that I was incorrect, however, I shall continue to refer to the creature as Uncle Phil so as to not give too much away.


Rob is a company Vice-Chairman who resides in a fashinable loft in Manhattan but is set to start a new life in Japan. Naturally Robs' friends and Brother wan't him to have a farewell to remember so they organise a leaving party at the aforementioned loft complete with fully stocked bar, disco lighting and Robs' best friend Hud filming the whole thing as a leaving present.

With the set-up concluded, the plot can begin to thicken. Rob seems especially interested in one party guest in particular, Beth. It transpires that the pair have feelings for each other, but neither of them quite knows how to act knowing that Robs' future seems to lie in Japan. Rob and Beth fight. Beth goes home. We, the audience share a personal moment of exposition with Rob and his friends, we bond with them, then the "earthquake" hits. Only that was no earthquake. A better, if still shaky, view from the roof reveals a huge explosion and the first, long-distance shots of Uncle Phil crashing the party. If this were another version of Manhattan, the Ghostbusters would have been promptly called and everyone could have sat down, had a cup of tea and thought about re-evaluating some of their life choices. However, this film is firmly rooted (at least its human element) in reality and so explosions lead to debris, debris leads to panic and panic gives way to legging it as fast as possible in the opposite direction.

"Running you say? That doesn't sound like an awfully interesting film concept". But stop. Running away just wouldn't do. What about all that Beth related set-up. Cue Robs' cellphone ringing. Apparently Beth is trapped and bleeding. It's dashing heroics time, but all filmed in a way that for anyone seated even remotely near the front of a cinema auditorium may cause bouts of uncontrollable vomiting (also epileptics take note: Reel 4 is quite "flashy").

So, skipping ahead. After lots of pretty effects shots and not so pretty deaths, Beth is rescued. Now we can proceed to escaping New York. With no sign of Snake Pliskin and Uncle Phil still on the rampage, this was always gonna be tough.

Do the friends make it out alive? Will Uncle Phil be vanquished? Why do I sudennly want a can of Mountain Dew and a new Nokia? These are questions that I shall let you answer for yourselves. Uncle Phil is waiting.

Technical Notes:

Cinematography: The look of this film is absolutely amazing. Far from being distracting, I found the hand-held, amateurish style of shooting to be immersive. It made it that much easier to not only feel the terror of everyone in shot, but to bond with the characters. This could be described as a chase movie, a monster movie or a sci-fi movie, but I would much rather think of it as a series of intimate character portraits that happen to be divided by gunfire, explosions and a rampaging Uncle Phil from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Editing: After the screening I heard some people say "that must have been the easiest film in the world to edit". I must disagree. Although the footage being shown is "as found" and the transition from scene to scene and reel to reel is accomplished by means of a simple cut with the addition of a moment of static (as if to imply the camera has been turned off at one point and back on again later) , there is much subtler editing at work. Scenes covering long runs through the New York streets are handled excellently, so much so that cuts are seamless and barely noticable. This almost invisible but incredibly effective editing is probably one of the main factors that contributes to the somewhat lean 85 minute running time of Cloverfield. The film rushes by at an alarming rate, never giving you a chance to get bored or ask questions.

CGI: Practically flawless. From images of a burning New York City to the images of Uncle Phil himslef (although his screen-time is only around 10 minutes in total...and you have to wait for the money shot), nothing feels out of place. Characters, locations and sets all blend seamlessly into one and other. The attention to detail is astounding; portions of scenes that are only on screen for a matter of seconds and "events" that are occuring on the periphery look like they have been given the same meticulous treatment as the more obvious or in-your-face effects. Coupled with the dynamic style of shooting Cloverfield accomplishes a level of realism not often seen in "monster" movies no matter how large the budget.

Screenplay: I don't have much to say about the screenplay other than it works. The witing is understated and avoids the cliches of men suddenly finding their macho side or the oft-used ample-breasted, screaming blonde. It genuinely does feel like the audience is watching a home-movie, just not one that could be sent into "You've Been Framed" even taking the amount of people that fall over in the film into consideration.

Sound: Six tracks of digital sound have been used to their maximum effect. We see a bunch of people standing, open-mouthed, all looking to their left and suddenly a monstrous roar will blast forth from all of the speakers on the left hand side of the auditorium and then echo behind the screen and then to the right as if the audience were surrounded by the skyscrapers of New York City. It's an unsettling effect that made me feel on edge and somewhat enclosed. Brilliant.

In Conclusion:

A monster film in which the monster is not the main attraction. I know that this will dissapoint some, but I found that the focus on the human aspect of the film made the the tragedy and loss of the story that much more effective and poignant. Any film that works on this kind of scale and manages to retain such a personal atmosphere deserves to be rewarded with your ticket money. Several scenes did literally make my jaw drop. Talks are already underway to make a second installment. Using the same techniques a second time around could never feel as fresh and exciting. So what can Matt Reeves and JJ Abrams do to draw in the audiences a second time around? I sit in anticipation.

***** (Five Stars)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

An odd week for entertainment news.

Well here I am again, somewhat later than I promised back on the 16th. Although I am at fault, that is not to say that you were not forewarned about my general state of apathy when it comes to finding the correct level of focus required for writing. Indeed, I bumped into a couple of friends this afternoon and shared with them my belief that I am not cut out to be a writer, in a professional sense at least. So here I am, Dan McDowell, 23, apathetic part-time blogger.

To the news:

Heath Ledger found dead at 28

This news still hasn't sunk in to its fullest extent and still feels a little unreal. I keep wanting to believe that this is all a huge, if very sick, publicity stunt for "Ther Dark Knight", but I realise that this can not be the case. I am sure that most of you will be keeping abreast of the details of this story through the media so I won't bother going into details about the case. All I will say is that we have lost an actor who was truly beginning to show the extent of his talent and versatility. He will be missed.

Oscar Doubts

Following the farce that was The Golden Globes "ceremony", speculation over the format of the 2008 Academy Awards is rife. Despite reassurances from awards organisers that the show will go ahead as planned on February 24th, very little is being said as to whether expectant film fans will be treated to the usual three-hoiur extravaganza.

The Writers Guild of America have stated that they intend to picket the event unless a settlement can be agreed to by all parties involved. The sister union to the WGA, The Screen Actors Guild, have taken a stance of solidarity by saying that none of its members would cross a picket line. So the immediate future for this usually star-studded event remains in doubt.

In the 80 year history of The Academy Awards, the show has only been postponed three times; once in 1938 due to flooding, once in 1961 after the assasination of Martin Luther King Jr and finally in 1981 after an attempt on the life of then President Ronald Reagan. Even the writers strike of 1988 failed to put a stop to what has become the biggest event in showbusiness.

Negotiations are continuing, however, most Hollywood insiders are predicting that we may see a much scaled-down version of the Oscar ceremony this year. The Academy can apply to the WGA for a waiver in order for it to use union writers during the strike.This may be the only saving grace for the show, but time is running out. Previous years have seen teams of upto 20 writers preparing for the event anything upto six weeks in advance. The Academy have set a rather ambiguous cut-off point of "late February" at which point their also ambiguous "contingency plan" will take effect.

Torchwood Still Gay!

The second episode of series two of this BBC show heralded a return to form after a rather shaky start to its second series (and first non-repeat run on terrestrial TV).

Whereas the first episode was altogether forgettable despite an unmissable performance from James Marsters (otherwise known as Spike from Buffy), episode two once again shows that BBC writers are able to remember the shows brief and not turn the whole thing into an American-fronted, Cardiff-based, special-effects filled pantomime.

Ignoring the oft-used conceit of sleeper-agents (and rip-off's of War of the Worlds -- "they're already here" anyone???) taking the forefront, this episode was genuinely well written. Gone are the days of Russel T Davies seeing exactly how far he can push the themes of sex and violence with a wild disregard for pertinence to plotting or characterisation. Don't get me wrong, this episode is at times turned red with blood and blue with language, however, it was never over the top and it never felt like it was there purely because of the post-watershed air time.

Yes! There are still an awful lot of references to Jack and his penchant for a nice bit of man-love every now and again, but once again this has been toned down in favour of plot and actual useful dialogue. I especially liked the message of this episode that love can conquer all, unless, of course, you have an alien device implanted in your arm which causes you to go "a bit Terminator 2" on your loved one by stabbing him with the blade that has just extended out of your arm.

It's nice to see that contemporary science fiction is sticking to its roots and still has a message, even if finding that message involves guns, sex and Welsh mines full of nuclear warheads.

Thank you and goodnight.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Myspace seems to be dying on its arse, so I finally decided to get with the 21st century and start a proper blog of my own.

Stay tuned for reviews of "AvP:R" and "Sweeny Todd", coming after I have finished cooking the curry I am making for dinner.