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Wadrick's Celluloid Dungeon

Burn After Reading (2008) • Cloverfield (2008) • The Strangers (2008)

Burn After Reading (2008) Poster Art
Burn After Reading (2008)
George Clooney, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton & Brad Pitt.
Written & Directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen.

For the last twenty-five years, the Coen Brothers have created some of the most unique films in American cinema history. From Blood Simple to No Country For Old Men, the Coens have consistently displayed highly individual techniques and superior writing. Burn After Reading is another addition to their long line of quality work with crazy performances from all involved. On the surface, not much happens in this short and sweet black comedy, but at it’s deepest it is a brilliant study of the power of perception. When the financial records of a former intelligence analyst fall into the hands of a pair of nitwits, they mistakenly assume the numbers and codes are of extreme national security importance. When their blackmail of the analyst goes awry, they decide to sell the ‘secrets’ to the Russians, setting off a string of events that involves multiple fools and horses. This is one of those films that depends on the viewer’s ability to conform to its’ style from the outset – those unaccustomed to the Brothers’ work may find themselves floundering in the material, just like the characters in the film itself.

Cloverfield (2008) Poster Art
Cloverfield (2008)
Michael Stahl-David, TJ Miller, Jessica Lucas, Odette Yustman & Lizzy Caplan.
Written by Drew Goddard.
Directed by Matt Reeves.

I love a good ‘creature feature’, but the decent one’s are few and far between. In an update of the classic Godzilla-style monster rampage, Cloverfield is an original and entertaining take on the creature flick. Seen through the lens of the video camera of one of the characters, the film begins simply enough, introducing us to its cast via a farewell surprise party. Amid the drama of the party, an event occurs. Something is happening in Manhattan – and it is not entirely clear what the hell is going on. Until we catch sight of a massive creature tearing up the city that appears to be ejecting smaller creatures from it’s body into the streets. The military arrives, but soon find that their asses are gonna get kicked hard. From there, we follow the actions of a small group of characters attempting to flee the path of destruction. This is the best faux-documentary film since the granddaddy of this sub-genre The Blair Witch Project. Whilst the handheld camera technique may annoy some viewers, it is handled deftly, presenting an incredibly intense and believable (fictional) record of events.

The Strangers (2008) Poster Art
The Strangers (2008)
Liv Tyler, Scott Speedman, Gemma Ward, Kip Weeks, Laura Margolis, Glenn Howerton.
Written & Directed by Bryan Bertino.

A young couple arrive at a remote country house in the middle of the night following a wedding reception. There is tension between them – he has proposed and she has rejected him. The tension escalates when it becomes apparent that there are some nefarious masked dudes outside stalking them. This moody, well-shot film was marketed as being based on a true story, but this is simply not the case, prompting one to ask if it’s a story that is worth telling. What purpose does a film such as this serve? It could hardly be described as entertainment and borders on voyeurism. For the recent surge in films of this nature (ie; Hostel) present a sadistic approach to what is considered ‘entertainment’. Unlike the similar Vacancy, The Strangers leaves a bad taste in the mouth due to the visceral representation of its cruelty and lack of morality.


Wadrick Jones' Film Rating Chart.

(Wadrick Jones is a freelance writer for GritFX and will post weekly thirty second film reviews on this blog.)


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  1. I agree with you about the Blair Witchiness of Cloverfield, but I thought it was borderline unbearable. I cracked jokes through the entire movie.

    Burn After Reading was pretty good. The one scene where Clooney finds Pitt and then something unexpected happens made the whole movie worthwhile for me. Although the cheeky humor of the Cohen brothers was a lot funnier in O Brother, this movie made me feel a little sad and lonely. The characters were all so desperate and misguided.

    What do you think about Wes Anderson movies Wadrick? I think Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, Royal Tenebaums, The Life Aquatic, and Darjeeling Limited could use a group review. I would be interested to read what you think about them.

    Posted by Bill Donovan | January 12, 2009, 1:21 am
  2. Hi Bill…
    heh, heh – I can see how you would find Cloverfield unbearable – I’m just a sucker for monster movies so my opinion is biased.

    I agree that the characters in Burn were all rather desperate and misguided, but that’s also the kind of thing that makes a black comedy funny. That’s why it’s ‘black’. They didn’t know they were misguided. This film was akin to Fargo in many ways – some of the characters in that could also be described as desperate and misguided, and that film was hilariously ‘black’.

    Wes Anderson – love the guy. Can’t say I’ve enjoyed all of his films, but I will always check out his work. The way in which he frames some scenes are almost as though he is taking a photograph. He takes the term ‘motion picture’ to a whole new level.

    For me, Tenenbaums was classic. Adore that film. And I thought Darjeeling was greatness too. But, unlike many, Rushmore and Life Aquatic left me a bit cold – not that they were bad films by any means. I won’t comment on Bottle Rocket because I haven’t seen that in a very long time. (Might check it out again.)

    Catch ya later.

    Posted by Wadrick Jones | January 12, 2009, 6:15 am
  3. good conversation :)

    Thanks W, it’s good to hear your opinions. I have read every one of the reviews since i started reading GritFx.

    Posted by Bill Donovan | January 13, 2009, 10:14 am
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