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Friday, April 4, 2008

NEW YORK UNDER ATTACK . . . AGAIN

'Cloverfield'

Bin Laden was bad enough, but now this


An old gripe of Woody Allen was that America hated New York ("The rest of the country looks upon New York like we're leftwing, communist, Jewish, homosexual pornographers!" he rails in "Annie Hall"). For most of his life he had stuck staunchly by his city, showing the rest of America just what "leftwing pornographers" could accomplish, until he couldn't stand it anymore and left for London.

Cloverfield Rating: (4 out of 5)
Star Star Star Star Star
Cloverfield
The Statue of Liberty loses its head

Director: Matt Reeves
Running time: 84 minutes
Language: English
Opens April 5, 2008
[See Japan Times movie listing]

My guess is that he just couldn't take the hatred. Movie after movie got its kicks out of destroying New York ("Independence Day," "Godzilla," even "Ghostbusters"), each deploying the latest and coolest in special effects to enhance the trauma.

True, until quite recently there was a post-9/11 tenderness and healing factor in New York-based films ("World Trade Center" immediately leaps to mind, though "War of the Worlds" was an exception). But, cinematically, it looks like the statute of limitations on lambasting New York is officially up. "Cloverfield" is upon us.

"Cloverfield" is an absolutely brilliant piece of something (as the tag line appropriately goes: "Some thing has found us") that's probably not film-related. It's shot throughout on a digital video recorder held by someone who could be suffering from cocaine withdrawal, has just gone through a breakup or is scared and running for his life. Actually, all three apply at some point or another, and then simultaneously. The visuals are jolty, murky and brain-cell jittering. The dialogue is often moronic, but that's likely to happen when people are in danger of being chomped to pieces. The special effects, however, are like, hey man, mind-blowing! Put them all together and what you have is something so riveting the 84 minutes seems over way too soon, like a traumatic but addictive roller-coaster ride. "Cloverfield" subscribes to the "Blair Witch" school of thought that telling a story is not really the point — getting the audience's adrenal levels up to max is.

Whether the crassness and inherent primitiveness of the endeavor is cinematically worthwhile doesn't matter much. It works, it disturbs, it thrusts an iron fist right into the innards and churns. Scary doesn't begin to describe what "Cloverfield" is.

And it does it all in New York. The opening scenes are of a yuppie party in a nice East Village address; smoothie exec Rob (Michael Stahl-David) is leaving for a cushy VP job in Tokyo (yeah go ahead, just dump another of those guys right onto our heads!) and his friends are giving him a sendoff in a raucous, beer- and champagne-drenched style.

Rob has issues with Beth (Odette Yustman), with whom he spent a romantic night and subsequent day in Coney Island about a month ago. But he never called after that, which understandably left Beth a little tense, especially now that she's showing up with a new boyfriend.

Rob's best friend Hud (T.J. Miller) is recording the event with Rob's video camera, but he's actually taping over that Coney Island date, recorded lovingly by Rob, a camera-happy jerk who had even shot Beth's blissfully sleeping face the morning after they made love. The footage, when recovered later by the U.S. military (with an explanatory footnote that states: "in a site formerly known as Central Park") eerily echoes city life in a better time as it emphasizes the horror of what came next.

And all too soon, the party is literally ripped to shreds by a reptilian, tail-lashing monster whose staple diet consists of screaming, running New Yorkers. Hud and Rob, together with some others, take to the streets — which are packed with panic-stricken people — on a journey to reach Beth, who had left the party early, and has presumably returned to her apartment in Central Park West (an undertaking that's a major hassle under normal circumstances). It should be noted that hatred of New York is propounded in a large part by New York real estate, or to be more specific, the people who can afford it. Combined, Rob and Beth's monthly rents would feed an entire village in Bangladesh, as well as provide medical care, schooling and shoes for the kids.

Anyway, back to the monster. The obvious comparison is Godzilla, though compared to this fetid, ferocious beast, Japan's homegrown creation seems quaintly inadequate, even fastidious. "Cloverfield" gives no explanation or theories as to what this thing is or could be, and there are no heroes that go out there clad in a fashionably torn white tank top and cargo pants.

There's just mayhem and destruction and Hud's inexpert maneuverings with the video camera (could the guy have whiplash?). In what has got to be one of the most unsubtely iconic scenes in the monster genre, the head of the Statue of Liberty comes rolling down the street like a French Revolution royal after the guillotine. A huge crowd gasp and moan at the sight, then they whip out their cell phones and click on the cameras.

If only director Matt Reeves and writer Drew Goddard had shot a scene of them looting the Apple Store on 14th Street and barricading themselves in the basement level, to download and then update their blogs. Take that, you snake-thing you.



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