10 Cloverfield Lane

March 14, 2016 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr.
Directed by: Dan Trachtenberg (debut)
Written by: Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash”) Josh Campbell (“4 Minute Mile”), Matthew Stuecken (debut),

Back in 2007, a trailer was attached to the first “Transformers” movie that caught the attention and curiosity of moviegoers everywhere. It featured a party filmed handheld style that was violently interrupted with giant explosions and terror. It ended with the head of the statue of liberty rolling down a New York street. It also ended with no title card, and only a release date for when it would come to theaters. It became one of the top searched trends on the internet and eventually, more details would come to light on the JJ Abrams-produced “Cloverfield,” an inventive found-footage monster movie that helped kickstart a style that has, for better or worse, become a major trend in Hollywood.

Abrams, being a lover of all things mysterious, pulled another trick when another Michael Bay movie (“13 Hours”) had a mysterious trailer attached to it. This time, it had a title: “10 Cloverfield Lane.” Absent from anyone’s radar, the movie was set to come out in mere months. With few plot details known, the time has finally come to see if first, the movie has anything to do with its name sake and second, if its any good.

After being involved in a car crash, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes up chained in an underground bunker. Brought back by doomsday prepper Howard (John Goodman), she is told that the air is contaminated and nobody above is alive. As she becomes closer to another person in the bunker, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), they begin to realize that Howard may be more dangerous and crazy than they think. As they band together to try to find a way out, Howard does whatever necessary to keep them there.

The biggest draw to “10 Cloverfield Lane” is the performance of Goodman. It’s a little hammy and on the nose at times, but it’s still an unsettling and weird performance. Winstead is good for her part, getting to show some physical prowess as well as acting chops. The screenplay, however, does not allow for any meaty character moments to happen. We find Winstead’s Michelle on the run, but we don’t know and never find out why. We see Howard has a checkered family past but we don’t know and never find out why.

In fact, as the proceedings move along, it becomes abundantly clear that direct Dan Trachtenberg and company have no intention of answering any of the questions that they posed. Beyond the narrative, it becomes really difficult for any character study to be done when the audience is only aware of very surface level things. The film flirts with taking its most interesting character in Howard and shedding some light on his truth. It pulls the rug, however, and nothing becomes resolved. The result feels like a complete bait and switch, and perhaps worse, the creation of tension only for the sake of tone and not serving any narrative purpose.

That doesn’t mean the film is totally devoid of tension. There’s actually a lot of intense scenes of near escape or trying to figure out one another. It’s almost a prolonged chess game, only, at times, slow moving and filled with annoying red herrings. Without divulging spoilers, the plot takes a twist in its final act that is completely inexplicable. It feels pasted on, as if we are watching the beginning of an entirely new movie. It’s a shame that instead of exploring characters further and adding nuance to the story, the film decides to go in an even bigger “wtf” direction than what we have seen so far.

Fans of “Cloverfield” may find themselves let down that “10 Cloverfield Lane” has virtually nothing to do with the 2008 film. But after you crack through the potential disappointment of expectations vs. reality, “10 Cloverfield Lane” boils down to a lot of manufactured mood, repetitive MacGyver’ing from Winstead’s character, and an unsatisfying narrative.

Short Term 12

September 20, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr., Kaitlyn Dever
Directed by: Destin Cretton (“I Am Not a Hipster”)
Written by: Destin Cretton (“I Am Not a Hipster”)

If all films were as affecting and emotionally authentic as director/writer Destin Cretton’s dramatic indie masterpiece “Short Term 12,” the moviemaking industry would be a better place. Cretton, in only his second feature film of his career (his first was last year’s scarcely seen “I Am Not a Hipster”), has crafted what is easily one of the best films of 2013. Deeply moving and featuring extraordinary performances by both first-time and established actors, “Short Term 12” is one of those honest and intimate scripts that come out of nowhere to say something memorable and meaningful.

Based on Cretton’s 2008 short film of the same name, “Short Term 12” follows the internal workings of a temporary group home for at-risk youth and the teenagers and staff that form the organization. Supervising the day staff is Grace (Brie Larson), a 20-something young woman who is the heartbeat of the program and knows how to interact with even the most troubled kids. Her extremely kindhearted live-in boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher Jr.) also works at the facility. He, too, understands how sensitive their jobs are, since he was raised by loving foster parents.

When a new client, Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), joins the group, Grace is forced to revisit some of the incidents in her dark past that she has bottled up for years. But with all her attention paid to the kids who need her guidance (Marcus has anger issues and is turning 18, which means he has to leave the program; Sammy is a sweetheart who has emotional meltdowns), there is little time for Grace to confront her own situation head on.

With Grace at the center of his narrative, Cretton has created a genuine protagonist, with deep-seated flaws and an unmatchable devotion for her responsibilities with the kids. Larson is wonderful and the fully-realized character Cretton has written for her is one that few actresses come across in their entire career. Cretton doesn’t stop there, however. Along with his leads, including the perfectly cast Dever, he also handles each of the young personalities as if they were starring in their own movie. Actors like Alex Calloway (Sammy) and Keith Stanfield (Marcus) might have limited screen time (and in Calloway’s case, few words to say), but they’re presence is extremely compelling. In one particular scene, Marcus shares with Mason lyrics to a hip-hop song he has written. In the three minutes it takes him to perform it, Cretton hooks you if he hasn’t already.

Brimming with tenderness, humor, sadness and hope, moviegoers who enjoy rich, character-driven stories need to seek out “Short Term 12” as soon as possible. Far from the melodramatic fare this could’ve turned out to be, Cretton proves to be an impressive storyteller early on. Here’s to hoping the independent film industry has him for a good amount of time before larger studios start throwing money at him. With his talent, it’s bound to happen sooner than later.