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Review – 10 Cloverfield Lane (15) [2016]

10 Cloverfield Lane - title banner

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Dan Trachtenberg

Cast:

  • John Goodman – The Big Labowski, Red State, The Artist, Argo, Going Under
  • Mary Elizabeth Winstead – Black Christmas, Scott Pilgrim vs The World, Die Hard 5, So It Goes
  • John Gallagher Jr. – Jonah Hex, Margaret, The Newsroom, Hush

Music Composer:

  • Bear McCreary – Knights of Badassdom, The Forest, The Boy, The Walking Dead, Mayhem

2008’s Cloverfield was a torturous watch. It was an alleged horror film in the found footage genre. It centred round some vain and irritating young adults, running around and screaming through New York City, trying to avoid being killed by a Godzilla-like monster and his small killer minions.

Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) looking for reception upon waking up to find herself locked in a bunker with her leg in a brace.

Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) looking for reception upon waking up to find herself locked in a bunker with her leg in a brace.

Well, fast forward eight years and we have a (sort of) sequel in the form of 10 Cloverfield Lane (even though it has little to do with the original movie other than in title). The film begins with Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) leaving her fiancée. She is driving at night when her car is smashed into and sent tumbling. She wakes up to find herself in a bunker with her leg in a brace.

Howard (John Goodman) claims to have saved her. Yet, when Michelle asks to leave, Howard states that she can’t. He says that aliens have invaded the planet and that if she goes outside, she will die. Michelle does not believe him. She wants to get out and suspects that Howard has ulterior motives for keeping her down in the bunker…

10 Cloverfield Lane is a terrifying and tense film. Like with Room, the premise for 10 Cloverfield Lane is entirely realistic. Anyone could be involved in a horrific car crash and wake up to find themselves having been abducted by someone claiming to be their saviour. One can empathise with the claustrophobic predicament that befalls our main protagonist, Michelle, and we understand her motives and her fears implicitly.

Howard (John Goodman) staring at Michelle, warning her not to go into his room or to push her luck.

Howard (John Goodman) staring at Michelle, warning her not to go into his room or to push her luck.

It helps that Michelle is a fully round, three-dimensional character. She is deeply flawed and has behaved in illogical ways (as she elucidates upon during the film), but uses her intelligence to deal with the horrifying situation she finds herself in. It is entirely believable and one must praise Mary Elizabeth Winstead for playing the role so well.

Equally, one must praise John Goodman. Normally, he plays funny roles akin to Baloo, the big cuddly bear from The Jungle Book. But here he is frightening, more akin to the grizzly bear that attacked Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant. Part of the reason Goodman is so scary is because he is usually so funny. Laughter and fear are not emotionally far apart and one feels just how close they are throughout 10 Cloverfield Lane. But, during the film, one wonders (along with our protagonist) if Goodman/Howard is right: have aliens taken over Earth, as he claims? Or is Howard just a mad psychopath who enjoys abducting people, with a penchant for young-looking girls? The latter question adds a chilling quality to the film.

For all of this, director Dan Trachtenberg must be commended. This is his debut feature film and he has put together a really good piece of work. His directing is really decent (note: he does not adopt the shaky camera of the first film) and it will be interesting to see what he does next.

Howard believes that there is a traitor among them, so brings out some highly corrosive substance to tacitly threaten Michelle and another captive, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr).

Howard believes that there is a traitor among them, so brings out some highly corrosive substance to tacitly threaten Michelle and another captive, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr).

In saying that, 10 Cloverfield Lane is not without faults. One, Michelle has a chance to escape (as is shown in the trailer) but chooses to stay in the bunker (presumably, otherwise the film’s 103-minute run time would have been halved). And, two, the ending is problematical. It makes complete sense in the context of the Cloverfield series, but it poses some very awkward and dangerous questions. (Alas, I cannot go into detail about this as it would spoil the last scenes.)

All-in-all, 10 Cloverfield Lane is an unnerving and truly terrifying film. Its premise is utterly plausible and the claustrophobic nature of the setting ramps up the tension. The acting is also really good, not least from Mary Elizabeth Winstead and the unusually frightening John Goodman. Yes, 10 Cloverfield Lane has its issues, particularly the ending. But as far as debut features go, Dan Trachtenberg has made a really impressive introduction to directing. In the main, his film is the epitome of what a horror movie should be like to experience.

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Review – The Artist (PG) [2012]

Star Rating: 5/5

In recent years, Hollywood has been dominated by films with colossal amounts of special effects, outrageous action scenes, and sequels to entertain viewers. Quality acting (the very factor that enables actors to win the prestigious awards) has seemingly become secondary to the aforementioned features for movies. Refreshingly, the French drama, The Artist, in outstanding fashion, illustrates that audiences can still be wooed by a relic of the past: a silent movie.

George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) and Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) dancing together for a film. The two actors have great chemistry on set.

The Artist is set in Hollywood between the late 1920s and the early 1930s. It is about George Valentin (Jean Dujardin – OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies, OSS 117: Lost In Rio, The Wolf of Wall Street), a man who has starred in many silent films throughout his acting career. Now though, George is being told by his boss, Al Zimmer (John Goodman – Pope Joan, Red State, 10 Cloverfield Lane), that the times are changing and that cinema audiences want dialogue and fresh faces. (‘Fresh meat’ as Zimmer calls it.)

The fresh faces include an upcoming young, pretty woman called Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo – A Knight’s Tale, Prey, The Scapegoat), who had been randomly photographed with George. Rapidly, she is replacing him. Between her and the Wall Street Crash of October 1929, George’s world is rapidly falling apart. He has to adapt to the times, something he’s loathe to do, or he faces the axe.

The Artist’s plot is straightforward and surprisingly easy to follow. Despite the lack of dialogue, one always understands the situation. The performances from the cast throughout the movie are brilliant. Jean Dujardin plays magnificently as the proud and stubborn actor, who is unwilling to be pragmatic. Bérénice Bejo is superb as the ambitious young actress. John Goodman plays well as the ruthless boss, who realises that public opinion has changed. Penelope Ann Miller (Kindergarten Cop, Blonde Ambition, Saving Lincoln) performs commendably as George’s trophy wife, who has no desire to be with a man whose best years are seemingly behind him. James Cromwell (The Green Mile, 24: Day 6, Still) does a fine job of being George’s loyal valet. And George’s dog, which is linked to him seemingly telepathically, adds a cute, sentimental aspect to the storyline.

Clifton (James Cromwell), looking concerned for his master, George.

But the brilliance of the acting is very different from other exceptional performances, such as Colin Firth’s in The King’s Speech or Christian Bale’s in The Fighter. Remarkably, using body language and emotion, the actors stunningly demonstrate that words are not necessarily needed to portray human relationships and circumstances. Director Michel Hazanavicius (OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies, OSS 117: Lost In Rio, The Players) does occasionally use bubbles of words to explain the context, which help, but they’re infrequent and hardly worth a mention.

If anything, it is not the words on the screen that aids the audience, but the music. The score greatly aids viewers to empathise with the characters. The 1920s-style music may not be like the enchanting scores of The Lord of the Rings or Inception, but it always captures the mood of the characters in The Artist. Whenever their temperament changes, so does the music to enhance the scene.

The magnitude of the acting and the music are more noteworthy considering that The Artist is a small budget film, which has close to no special effects and action. It is such a wonderful contrast to the (hideous) amount of computer generated images (CGI) and explosions used in most blockbusters today, such as Transformers III and Captain America. Consequently, The Artist feels cleaner and is more pleasant to watch. (Indeed, The Artist almost makes one want to beg Hollywood to fund more movies with fewer special effects and loud bangs.)

Doris (Penelope Ann Miller), George’s wife, disgusted with her husband for being photographed in the papers with a younger, more beautiful woman than herself.

Similarly, the movie has no breathtaking landscapes to charm viewers, like in The Way Back or True Grit. The Artist though captures its era magnificently, from the clothes the characters wear; to their hairstyles (Bérénice Bejo looks strikingly similar to Marion Cotillard in Midnight In Paris); to their cars; to their cameras; to the interior designs of their houses (which have some resemblance to the First-Class rooms and halls in the sunken Titanic). One could perhaps criticise the film for not depicting the Great Depression of the 1930s adequately. Yet, this was not the purpose of the film either, so one should not blame the director on this matter.

On the whole, The Artist is a work of art. It brings us back to pure cinema and makes viewers realise that when a film has acting of such phenomenal quality, then dialogue, special effects and action are not absolutely necessary to make an entertaining and dazzling film.

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