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. Movies in Brief
(First quarter, 2008)

Cinema Signal:
Cloverfield
Horrifying us once again with the subjective camera technique of "The Blair Witch Project," screenwriter Drew Goddard and director Matt Reeves employ it for a major update. A very different setting, a 30 million dollar budget and a similar ad campaign pay off smartly with an appeal to the same demographic, this time adding CG effects that allow for Manhattan destruction by an alien monster and its brood. The scope alone makes it a major undertaking.

When Jason Hawkings (Mike Vogel) hands a camcorder to Hudson "Hud" Platt (T.J. Miller) to do a video of his brother Rob's (Michael Stahl-David) going away party, the footage, intended as a nostalgic playback for Rob whilst on his journey but now being played as a courtesy of a governmental agency as a telltale relic of an horrific event, the herkedy-jerkedy Hi-Def digital hand-held, often misframed journey begins. Hud's devotion to the task and particular focus on the gorgeous ladies in attendance, particularly toward the sultry Marlena Diamond, (Lizzy Caplan) results in an extended introductory sequence that reveals an emotional problem between party honoree Rob leaving town for a new job grade and his presumed girlfriend Beth McIntire (very hot Odette Yustman), who has unexplainingly shown up with another guy. At the first sounds of a bellowing nasty critter tearing the town apart, it then turns into a frantic 1st person recording of Rob, Beth, Marlena and Hud making their flight of survival through streets, bridges, subway tunnels and torn up buildings of NYC (mostly shot in L.A.).

Certainly, one contributant to the film's appeal is a cast that features singeingly hot ladies and young, handsome men -- standard formula for the horror film. That's what this hair-raising, top-of-the-genre scenario is, with our subjects trying to survive the relentless attack by an unknown gray monster the size of three King Kongs. The source of this swampy, supernatural creature is unknown but its resistance against military counterattack sustains the danger and allows for tensions from a variety of sources. In the end, it's a fascinatingly wrought experimental film that holds you in awe at what Reeves and his production crew was able to pull off on the dense island of Manhattan, which inspires more appreciation than a gut level sense of being involved.


DVD Specs:
SPECIAL FEATURES:
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Alternative Endings
  • Behind-the-scenes "Making of" Featurette
  • Commentary by Director Matt Reeves
  • Hidden Research into Case Designate Cloverfield
  • Outtakes
    Bluray Edition SPECIAL FEATURES:
  • Special Investigation Mode: Enhanced viewing with GPS Tracker, Creature Radar, Military Intelligence and more!
  • Document 01.18.08: "The Making of" in HD
  • Cloverfeld Visual Effects in HD
  • Saw it! It's Alive! It's HUGE! in HD
  • Clover Fun in HD
  • Deleted scenes and alternate endings in HD



    Cinema Signal:
    Paranoid Park
    Gus Van Sant's devotion to contemporary themes settles this time into the world of the average but devoted skateboarder as background to an untimely, unexpected death and a young man's dilemma arising from it.
    What is, essentially, very fine writing and editing serves the episodic concept with rather strong gripping power.

    One might also marvel at his seamless use of first-time actors who remain entirely natural all the way, in a behavioral range from comedic embarrassment, a spectrum of irony, to agonizingly dark tragedy. Of course, recorded dialogue is entirely false, but it's all so absorbing you tend not to question it. Kudos to all concerned.


    Cinema Signal:
    Undoing

    In a camera style designed to wow the festival and film school crowd, writer-director Chris Chan Lee puts together a story about a charismatic L.A. hoodlum who disappeared after the death of a friend and abandoning his girlfriend without a word. Now, returning to Koreatown, the scene of his deeds, he seeks to redeem himself, pay debts, and pick up relationships.

    But Sam ((Sung Kang) finds it's not so easily done. People have moved on. His old mentor Don (Tom Bower) isn't showing any great desire to take a part in his old pupil's new business and Vera (Kelly Hu), his lover, has gotten into emotional complications with her boss at the nightclub.

    Sam pulls off a scam with a local gang boss who welcomes Sam back as an criminal associate who is reliable and true to his word. With the money from the scam, Sam tries to pay off Vera's debts and his dead friend's father, with emotionally thorny results.

    Lee's message that redemption isn't bought with money is well expressed with a sympathetic lead in Kang and a solid supporting cast. His filmmaking style is far more confusing than necessary to establish his visual and editorial creds, but the story comes through and the 2006 production has found arthouse distribution in Los Angeles.


    Cinema Signal:
    Orthodox Stance

    Dmitriy Salita is a Russian immigrant, professional boxer and a religious Jew -- all of which makes him one unique hombre. The aptness of the title refers to the unlikelihood of all this in one individual and the hard stance he must take against the odds of making it all work with the necessary discipline and rejection of failure.

    In a lesser person, failure might come from the attempt to maintain incompatible demands. The orthodoxy that he practices is as absolute as the pounding he gives and takes in the ring. The fun of watching his go at both practices is not only his success at it, but his ability to also maintain a boyish, open personality that's richly appealing to the cultures in which he strives for perfection.

    Dmitriy literally casts aside any thought of compromise with a charming and unalterable conviction. He's a religious disciple of his Hasidic rabbi and a rapt student of his trainer and the sport -- equally rigorous in both camps. The documentary encompasses several years, tracing his discovery at an amateur gym in Brooklyn, development and rise on the circuit, the difficulties of getting fights along the way, personal maturation and increased strength, new trainers to bring his skills to a higher level, and an impressive score of wins. There are also new promoters and a ringside following that brings him to a title fight.

    You couldn't be faulted if you thought "Jewish Boxer" might be an oxymoron, but director Jason Hutt's devoted documentary introduces us to one powerhouse of an example.


    Feedback comment: Very well written; This review will influence me to recommend this reviewer; I've seen the movie and I agree with the review; Site rating: 10 ~~ Mikhail Salita
    [Ed. note: Mr. Salita, the boxer's brother, also appears in the film and we're delighted at his response to the review.]


    Cinema Signal:
    Beaufort

    Filmmaker Joseph Cedar, adapting the novel by Israeli TV programmer Ron Leshem, exposes grim realities of war and middle east politics to today's audiences. It's a military action seen through the eyes and hearts of a group of Israeli soldiers assigned to guard the Southern Lebanese fortress leading up to its evacuation.

    Still surrounded by the enemy, the unit of Israeli soldiers do their jobs and take their positions. As we get to know each man and the interrelationships among them, we see how they handle the threat, the boredom, and the tensions that rise as departure date nears and as their mountain position takes hits from increasingly deadly machine gun fire and artillery.

    It's pretty much a one note story that rests in large part on character variation for its prolonged effect, though Cedar's anti-war message and military technique content is appreciable and laudable. In its insularity and confining limits it could almost be done as a stage play. The men are well cast but no individual rises above the rest as far as star power is concerned, though the sensitive and empathetic leader is the center of our sympathy. The final act is harrowing in an immediate sense but gut-level involvement is elusive perhaps because of it being an historical event and the broad outcome is known. "Beaufort" is worthy of its nomination for Best Foreign Language Film for 2007, but I'd bet against it winning the Oscar.

    (P.S. It didn't. The category was won by "The Counterfeiters.")



    For more reviews, please use these links:
    Cinema Signals Master List
    Cinema Signals Alphabetical List
    Movies in Brief, 2007)
    Movies in Brief, 2008 2nd Quarter
    Movies in Brief, 2008 3rd Quarter
    Movies in Brief, 2008 4th Quarter

    Movies in Brief, 2009 1st Quarter

  • Reviews:
    Cloverfield
    Paranoid Park
    Undoing
    Orthodox Stance
    Beaufort

         ~~  Jules Brenner  
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