Cloverfield, Live Free or Die Hard, Wristcutters: A Love Story and more Reviewed

When Patrick Fugit (Almost Famous) commits suicide over a break-up, he ends up in a bizarro-world purgatory which is just like the living world – but exponentially suckier. It’s impossible to smile or experience any real happiness but that doesn’t keep him from befriending Shannyn Sossamon (whom I haven’t drooled over since Rules of Attraction). When he’s informed that his ex has done herself in too he teams up with Sossamon and netherworld pal, a cranky Russian rocker, in classic road-movie style. Fugit is looking for his girlfriend and Sossamon is looking for whomever is in charge so she can plead her case. (She accidentally OD’d — not an intentional suicide). Considering the subject matter WALS is surprisingly sweet, funny — even marginally romantic. Tom Waits has a significant role and Arrested Development‘s Will Arnett has a brief funny appearance as a Jones-style cult leader who’s responsible for dragging his followers into pergutory with him via mass suicide. Don’t be put off by the subject matter and end up missing this soft-spoken, played-straight comedy.

Though undeserving of its Internet buzz, Cloverfield is entertaining enough and probably what 1998’s unforgivably bad Godzilla should have been. A giant monster comes ashore and begins demolishing Manhattan during a good-bye party for one of the young primaries. A cast of relative unknowns gab their way through the slow-moving first half hour (at said party), meant to introduce their characters as likeable twenty-somethings. But it fails in that regard because I didn’t really like any of them enough to care if they live or die. The whole thing is shot on digital video by “the characters” to give the feel of real-time action. It kinda works — but of course, the primary flaw with this strategy is who the hell is going to continue shooting footage when the shit really hits the fan? The monster looks better than I’d expected and the effects are…well, effective. I particularly liked the mini-monsters pouring off the main monster. (Godzilla 98 attempted something similar but only succeeded in refilming the raptor attack from Jurrasic Park). Racheting up some of the action’s plausability would probably have made it a stronger movie, but rational or not, there’s enough panic in the streets to strike that 9/11 chord in you, elevating the tension and suspense — even if attempts at true horror fail. That said, the real Godzilla still might want to call his lawyer.

From the sub-genre I like to call the What-else-could-possibly-go-wrong movie, LGtP is a slight but consistently funny prison comedy. Will Arnett plays the son of a judge who’s responsible for the incarceration of Dax Shepard. When Arnett lands himself in the clink Shepard makes it his job to construct the most painful prison experience possible for his naive and overprivelaged new cellmate. There are some clever twists but all of the prison comedy cliches (see: flamboyantly gay big bad black guy. Oh the hilarity.) are trotted out as if they weren’t mortally beaten horses. Most of the laughs are generated by Arnett’s distressed mugging. This was directed by Bob Odenkirk of HBO’s Mr. Show with Bob and David.

The third sequel in the Die Hard franchise is the best without a doubt and the closest in spirit to the superior original. Bruce Willis’ John McClane is circumstantially paired with hacker, Justin “Mac guy” Long, to stop a virtual terrorist (Timothy Olyphant) hellbent on creating chaos by pulling the plug on everything that keeps our proud nation chugging forward. After orhestrating the world’s biggest traffic jam (by turning all lights green at once), and crippling the stockmarket, the east coast’s major utility services are next unless McClane can find a way to stop him.  Naturally plausibility takes a hike about ten minutes in but that’s the way things go in this series. The scope of LFoDH is far broader than even Die Hard with Avengence, straining beyond state lines — and while the “city on fire” machinations are the same as in that sequel, it certainly feels like there’s a lot more at risk here and as a story arc it’s surprisingly effective. In a “post-9/11 world” everyone can relate to the fear of the rational world crumbling. Olyphant makes a decidedly menacing villain — probably the most sinister of the series — and that his plot is an act of venomous revenge makes his character even more dastardly. McClane has evidently graduated, with this outing, to being an indestructable superhero — which doesn’t allow for much suspense, but the over-the-top set pieces pay off anyway. The buddy-cop-style relationship between Long and Willis, while lacking any real chemistry, is passable and less cloying than it might have been. As McClane’s daughter, the perfectly adorable (and capable) Mary Elizabeth Winstead is wasted, though she’s still given significantly more to do than past pic peril-bait, Bonnie Bedelia. And natch, Willis is never more endearing or entertaining as when he’s playing McClane. An 18-wheeler goes head to head with a fighter jet in one of the silliest action sequences in movie history. Though spectacular and impressive considering it’s almost certainly 80% digitally rendered, it also signals that LFoDH has flown wildly off the tracks and things wind down to a dissappointingly flat conclusion. Despite that, some meteor-sized gaps in logic (car chases on streets that should be clogged with abandoned vehicles), and a two-hour-and-fifteen-minute running time (!), LFoDH is briskly paced and engaging enough to be a new fave over-the-top actioner. Maggie Q (who?) is a smoking hot kung-fu co-villain who carries the movie’s best fight sequence. Kevin Smith has a moderately funny small roll as a tubby fanboy (who’s acting?) superhacker.

A textbook case of Roger Corman frugality — VttPP is made up of about 75% recycled footage from a 1962’s Russian sci-fi movie. It’s cut together with newly filmed footage of Basil (Sherlock Holmes) Rathbone and Faith Domergue (This Island Earth) on cheap sets, communicating, via radio, with the Russian movie’s characters(!). There’s actually a significant bit of artistry involved with the way this is all put together and the effects in the scenes from the source material are amazingly good for the era. The story is simple enough: two space crews travel to Venus (“with an atmoshere so similar to our own”) where they face killer plants, lizard men, etc. There’s a pretty useless robot named John and some laughable “underwater” scenes, but otherwise the effects are convincingly otherworldly. In the wrap-around scenes Rathbone practically reads from his script while Domergue appears to be acting under the influence of valium. Unbelievably — Corman would recycle the Russian footage AGAIN three years later in a version featuring Mamie Van Doren that’s directed by Peter Bogdanovich (under psuedonymn)!

Yet another recycling of the relatively impressive Russian sci-fi movie, Planet of Storms — this time narrated and directed by Peter Bogdanovich with appearances by a sadly long-in-the-tooth Mamie Van Doren (worshipping a pterodactyl God with other bathing beauties all dolled-up in clam-shell bras and glittery hip-huggers!). The story is the same in this third go-round — astronauts go to Venus. Fight monsters. Find proof of life. Leave Venus. Watching VtoPoPW back-to-back with Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet (a feat not recommended for b-movie amateurs), makes for an interesting case study in inventive editing and bargain-basement production. VthPP fares better (in which the humanoid Venusians are only eluded too, rather than manifesting as telepathic mermaids) but either makes for fascinating (if sometimes confounding) b-movie viewing.

~ by Number5ive on July 14, 2008.

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