The Cloverfield Paradox (2018)

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If you want to see Spaceman David Oyelowo bark through gritted teeth, “This dimension is eating us alive!” then Julius Onah's The Cloverfield Paradox is a movie for you. If you ironically enjoy B movies that shamelessly leverage dead children for unearned pathos, then this is a movie for you. If you're eager to consume the latest acquisition absorbed by Netflix's slowly advancing Media Blob, ejected in front of an unexpecting Super Bowl audience like a tray of stale Grandma wafers, then this is a film for you.

If you're even a little hopeful about the Cloverfield anthology franchise, then this is not a movie for you. The Cloverfield Paradox, despite starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Daniel Brühl, Oyelowo and an incredible, diverse roster of talented actors too numerous to list, is easily the worst film to be released under the J.J. Abrams-produced Cloverfield banner. The last entry, 10 Cloverfield Lane, was a surprisingly excellent Hitchcockian chamber piece; The Cloverfield Paradox plays like an undiscerning and ludicrous mashup of Alien, Sunshine, Event Horizon and the Philadelphia Experiment legend, with a glimmer of second-rate Tarkovsky thrown in. And yes, some loose connecting threads keep things vaguely in the Cloverfield universe (including the title sequence and a now-recurring cameo by Suzanne Cryer).

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Earth's energy resources will be depleted in five years, we learn, and unless a giant particle accelerator in space can be made operational and provide free energy, bad things will happen. The Earth timeline roughly resembles 2018 – everyone drives gas cars and uses iPhones – while the particle accelerator space station, seemingly from the distant future and appearing to cost roughly ninety-two trillion dollars, was somehow fast-tracked into orbit. “The Cloverfield Paradox” (as explained by Scientist Donal Logue) refers to a theory that experimenting with too much energy could rip the fabric of space-time, opening a portal for all kinds of kooky inter-dimensional mayhem.

It's almost not worth mentioning that, no, things don't go as planned on the space station. The inevitable inter-dimensional mayhem does provide a few light thrills (I'm thinking of the lazy eye and the severed arm), and The Cloverfield Paradox boasts decent production values overall, at least aboard the space station (that magnetic putty stuff is pretty neat). But it's also the kind of movie where a chilling roar is heard inside the walls, and characters decide the most sound action is to immediately remove a wall panel. Radio transmissions conveniently cut out just before the most crucial information. Et cetera. You can't fault the actors – all are doing their professional best with the material at hand, but it boggles the mind that so many outstanding talents would sign on for this sloppy mess of a script. The Cloverfield Paradox (previously titled God Particle) reportedly followed a circuitous path to reach Netflix, and whatever the details, the results certainly smell of too many cooks spoiling the 3D-printed broth.

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So far, the Cloverfield universe has given us a pretty solid film, a pretty great one and an undeniable dud – if the franchise can at least maintain this average over the long run, perhaps it's worthwhile. But it may take some time to evacuate the stale memory of The Cloverfield Paradox from the space vents of our minds.

Horrorvember Diary #4: The Gate (1987)

Horrorvember Diary #4: The Gate (1987)

Eleven-year-old me would have loved The Gate. But eleven-year-old me didn't watch horror movies.

The closest I got was the occasional illicit viewing of Tales from the Crypt on HBO, which certainly qualifies as horror and could be pretty great at times. But actual horror movies – the ones whose VHS boxes lined the shelves of the Horror section at Mr. Movies, the local video store – were not a part of my life.

Horrorvember Diary #3: Verónica (2017)

Horrorvember Diary #3: Verónica (2017)

Verónica had its Midwest premiere at the Cinepocalypse genre film festival, held at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago. The film's director, Paco Plaza, is mostly known for the solid [REC] series. Unlike those films, Verónica does not use the found-footage conceit, though it’s apparently (and dubiously) based on a real-world case documented by police in 1990s Madrid, Spain.

Horrorvember Diary #2: Hagazussa: A Heathen's Curse (2017)

Horrorvember Diary #2: Hagazussa: A Heathen's Curse (2017)

Not even the remote forests of the Austrian Alps could escape the Black Death. 

A young goatherd, Albrun, attempts to care for her plague-stricken mother during a harsh mountain winter, as superstitious local clans accuse them of heathenry. Two female goat farmers, living alone in a cabin in the Alps? In the Middle Ages, maybe this alone was enough to arouse suspicion of witchcraft.

Horrorvember Diary #1: The Hitcher (1986)

Horrorvember Diary #1: The Hitcher (1986)

I watched Robert Harmon’s The Hitcher by mistake. I saw something on TV when I was about 11 years old – a motorist spots a hitchhiker at the side of a rural highway at night. The hitchhiker, mostly hidden by shadow and rain, wears a trench coat and a hat, waving a briefcase over his head as if desperate for a ride. Not that you can really see his face, but as depicted, his features are sort of…absent.

Halloween Horror Diary #5: Black Sunday (1960)

Halloween Horror Diary #5: Black Sunday (1960)

1960 is an important year for horror. Four particular movies – Psycho, Peeping Tom, Eyes Without a Face, and Black Sunday – pushed boundaries into the modern age while also showing the legitimate artistic potential of horror. The other films tell contemporary stories, but Black Sunday enjoys a reputation as one of the greatest of all gothic vampire movies.

Halloween Horror Diary #3: Stephen King's Cat's Eye (1985)

Halloween Horror Diary #3: Stephen King's Cat's Eye (1985)

As anthology horror films go, Cat’s Eye is one of the more decent entries I’ve seen. None of the segments are fantastic, but unlike most anthologies, all offer something memorable and none can be called a dud. The stories (all penned by Stephen King) are connected by a wandering cat, which seems to have a strange, unexplained connection to a young girl played by Drew Barrymore – he sees her image in a department store mannequin, then in a TV commercial, beckoning him to find and help her. Barrymore is a sort of connecting thread herself, playing different roles in the first and last acts.

Halloween Horror Diary #2: House of Usher (1960)

Halloween Horror Diary #2: House of Usher (1960)

As the story goes, famed director and producer Roger Corman was tired of making disposable films on a laughable budget. During the 1950s he’d typically produced two black and white films at a time, to be shown as a double feature at grindhouse theatres. But when approached by American International Pictures to make a horror film, Corman had a proposal: maybe this time, he’d make one film, not two, on a decent budget, and it would be shot in color. It would be a real film, he promised, respectable enough to show in mainstream theatres.

Halloween Horror Diary #1: The Funhouse (1981)

Halloween Horror Diary #1: The Funhouse (1981)

The Funhouse, a little-remembered follow-up to Tobe Hooper’s influential horror masterpiece The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, stars Elizabeth Berridge (the future Constanze Mozart of Amadeus) as Amy Harper. Amy attends a local carnival with her boorish blind date and a few friends, and after seeing plenty of unseemly sights and smoking a few joints, the group decide to spend the night inside the titular funhouse. After they accidentally witness something terrible, a masked freak begins stalking and picking them off one by one.

Sixteen from 2016 + Missed Connections

Sixteen from 2016 + Missed Connections

Six Favorites

What's this, you say – no Top 10 list? That may be the standard way to take stock of the previous year's movies, for professional and amateur film writers alike, but I had trouble with that approach. I'm yet uncomfortable with making a declaration of the best movies of the year, but I can certainly single out favorites and others I strongly appreciate for various reasons, so I'm sticking with a unique formulation of six clear favorites + ten more great ones.

Elle

(Paul Verhoeven, 2016)

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A gray cat watches impassively as sickening sounds of assault are heard off-screen. An intruder flees, and it's clear Michèle (Isabelle Huppert) has been raped in her home. Michèle's immediate reaction is as affectless as her cat's gaze: she stands, momentarily collects herself and calmly sweeps up the shards of a broken vase. The police are not called.

The Russian Woodpecker (Chad Gracia, 2015)

The Russian Woodpecker (Chad Gracia, 2015)

In the late 1970's, the Russian Woodpecker plagued the world's radio waves. The Russian Woodpecker was a shortwave radio signal that sounded like a series of sharp taps – ten per second – and disrupted public broadcasts as well as communications of boats, airplanes and utilities worldwide. In the chill of the Cold War, people wondered if the Russian Woodpecker might be some insidious attempt at mind control, but the source of the signal was actually a huge Soviet radar array known as the Duga.