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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Cloverfield

I’m allergic to everything green except money. Oddly enough, I seem to repel money from coming near me, but attract the spores, seeds, pollen, and whatever else can be expelled from green living things. If a plant or tree is in heat within the tri-state area, I guarantee you I will be sneezing and cursing the fact that there is no Planned Parenthood for Plants out there. For this reason, when I heard that J.J. Abrams (of “Alias” and “Lost” fame) was making a movie called Cloverfield, I burst out in a pre-emptive seizure of uncontrollable sneezing that lasted more than three days. Why, I wondered, would anyone, much less a genius like Abrams, want to make a movie about a field of clover?

Naturally, as I sat amongst my epinephrine syringes and bottles of allergy pills, it slowly dawned on me that
Cloverfield was a cover name, like ‘talent’ is a word used to politely disguise what Courtney Love brings to the stage. I guessed I’d have to see for myself just what Cloverfield was covering up. Hopefully it wouldn’t be something quite as ghastly as what the euphemism ‘talent’ was hiding in reference to what spilled out of Ms. Love’s mouth.


Not that I should talk when it comes to things spilling from one’s mouth. When I was twelve, I was having a particularly horrid summer, allergy-speaking as it were, and it wasn’t helping that my geeky cousin Simone was having her Bat Mitzvah party out on Fire Island, in July, where her two Dads, my Uncle Myron and his “friend” (as we called same sex husbands in those days) Leonard had a beach house in The Pines. What this meant was that all of the pre-and budding-pubescent guests and their parents were forced to schlep from Manhattan, Connecticut, Westchester County or the Jersey Shore to
accommodate my cousin, the Jewish American Princess, on this, her special day. For me, it meant enduring the non-stop whining of my dead mother’s sister, Ceil, who brought me and my brother David to the Island the night before, so she could drop by her ex-husband’s beach house for an impromptu shrew-off with her replacement over the food, decorations, guest list, gifts, and whatever else occurred to her to kvetch about before her daughter’s trip to Temple in the morning. Meanwhile, I was overwhelmed by the foreign greenery that had found its way into my nasal passages, and whether clover, field, reed, or tree, there were many things at the beach that July weekend that were having sex besides the men in the three story glass structure next to our B&B.

By the next day, I was barely able to see what I wish I hadn’t the night before. My eyes were puffy and swollen and I alternated between gasping for air because my nose was plugged up tighter than Zac Efron’s publicist when asked about the Disney star’s sexual orientation, and then my nasal passages would be flowing like the falls at Niagara, seeming never to stop, and keep me sniffing like a relapsing coke whore in a basement full of white powder.

I don’t even remember the actual Bat Mitzvah ceremony I was so zonked out on
TheraFlu and a
weird combination of about four or five other over-the-counter cold medications, but by the time the party started, I do recall “Auntie” Leonard and Aunt Ceil having way too many cocktails and crying together about “their baby girl” as they sat together on the back steps of the deck, singing “Sunrise, Sunset” over and over. Uncle Myron tried to split them up and even tried to instigate a fight between the two former (and would be again) frenemies, but today they’d have none of it.

As for me? I was mostly trying to keep a low profile after an unfortunate accident involving me, a rip-roaring sneeze, and an untouched bowl of guacamole dip. It happened just as I was helping the Gucci-attired houseboy, Lance, bring various hors d’ouvres out onto the deck where brunch was being served. In my defense, I was going to replace the dip, I was, but before I could take it back into the kitchen, Craig Claiborne, then the Food Critic at The New York Times, flitted by and scooped a large dollop of the guac on a mini-tostada cracker. Was I about to tell Craig Claiborne he was downing a mixture of avocado, lemon juice, a little mayonnaise and more mucous and phlegm than was originally mentioned in the recipe or the last three throat cultures of the entire singing Osmond clan put together? I think not, and I proved my point all the more when three days later Claiborne declared in his column “Epstein-Loewenstein-Rabinowitz family sets the Bat Mitzvahs’ bar high this season ~ Fantabulous guacamole cries Olé to the taste buds!”

For weeks, Lance offered me bribes to tell him what I’d done to add such zest to what was otherwise just regular “store-bought” dip from Waldbaum’s. Even Claiborne
himself called Uncle Myron and Auntie Leonard and put pressure on them for the recipe, telling them ~ get this ~ that he was home sick with a terrible cold and the only thing in the whole world that could possibly make
him feel better was some more of “that maaah-ve-lous dip.” When Uncle Myron and Auntie Leonard told me that, I replied that the recipe was all “in my head,” which, technically, was not a complete lie. It just wasn’t telling the truth, but I doubt they’d want to know that, besides the disgusting reality, the only other secret ingredients which might have been responsible for this culinary creation were the after-tastes of Robitussin cough syrup and the Double Bubble strawberry-banana-flavored bubble gum, both of which I’d swallowed only minutes before my unexpected sloughing of snot into the unappetizing appetizer. I figured in this case it was better to extinguish reality altogether than tell the honest-to-God truth, which is a lot like movie-making, I suppose. In the movies, you can make whatever you want true, whether it makes sense or not.

In the case of
Cloverfield, J.J. Abrams christened his project with a title that would have people guessing for months as to what the movie was about without revealing a bit of his secret ingredients. And as it turned out, as delicious as the project is to watch, it doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense overall. Somebody obviously sneezed in the dip that was the logic behind the script, but if you can close your eyes to that, you’ll have a great time nonetheless. Just enjoy it while you’re in the moment, but don’t go back later and start asking too many questions or you’re liable to start finding your own little bits here and there you’d rather not dwell on lest it all start to taste a bit off.

I can report this: there are no clover fields to be found in Cloverfield, unless you consider a few brief camera shots of the grass in Central Park, but I’m pretty sure that isn’t really made up of clover so much as plain old everyday sod, so as I suspected all along, the title is a ruse. Sort of.
According to the movie,
Cloverfield is the military code name given to the tape found in Central Park which comprises the actual movie the audience ends up seeing. It’s a clever enough conceit and reeks a bit like the sort of thing one would expect to find on “Lost”. In this instance, instead of “Lost”s The Dharma Corporation, the quasi-military organization that isn’t helping our protagonists isn’t so quasi; it’s the actual military, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

I curled up in my always comfy love-seat with my always comfy perfect hubby at the
Essex Cinemas and for the first half-hour or so of Cloverfield I forgot this was supposed to be a scare-your-pants-off event. What we were treated to was the extended home movie of a going-away party for Rob Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David; tv’s “The Black Donnellys”), a 20-something yupster on his way to a corporate vice-presidency in Tokyo. From his trendy (and shockingly large) apartment in Chelsea, brother Jason (Mike Vogel; Poseidon) and his girlfriend Lily (Jessica Lucas; The Covenant) assembled a large gathering of the usual vacuous types one expects to see at such celebrations to say their “Bon Voyages.” Most of the revelers blended together and are interchangeable, almost impossible to tell apart, all the more obvious as friend Hud Platt (T.J. Miller; tv’s “Carpoolers”) documents as he solicits each for goodbye messages to Rob. Most don’t appear articulate enough to muster anything more profound than a mumbling “goodbye.” Either that or they admit that they barely know the guy but are there for the party.

It’s only when Rob’s recently split-with girlfriend Beth (Odette Yustman; tv’s “October Road”) arrives with a date that Hud’s taping gets interesting as it becomes obvious that Rob and Beth are far from over. And Hud does take his job of recording the party seriously, as he captures every raised word between the two on camera when not reminding just about anyone who will listen that it’s his job to do so as he’s been assigned the task of “documenting”; he is particularly intent on making this clear to the woman he most wants to impress, a very unimpressable Marlena (Lizzy Caplan; tv’s “The Class”).

Once all the relationships, semi-relationships, and would-be relationships are in
place, and things
seem to be going nowhere fast, then ~ Kablam! Think 9/11 intensity type of imagery as chaos comes hurtling down from an unknown source on the streets of Manhattan. Buildings crumble, dust rolls like a filthy brown sea down the streets, swallowing up everything in its path. In one spectacular moment, the partygoers barely miss being squashed by the decapitated head of the Statue of Liberty. It is as confusing to us as to them as to what is going on.

What is causing this mayhem? Where did it come from? Can it be stopped? Will anybody survive? Depending on your tolerance for non-answers or at least “not all of the answers” will no doubt determine your satisfaction with
Cloverfield. Written by “Lost” veteran Drew Goddard and directed by “Felicity” alumnus Matt Reeves, the film has a remarkable look (ostensibly shot entirely through the lens of the hand-held video camera Hud was operating at the party).

That was probably the one thing that bothered me more than anything else. I could suspend my disbelief long enough to buy the idea of a thirty-story high creature coming out of nowhere without any warning to wreak havoc on the city, but I couldn’t quite get past the fact that this camera continues to roll for eight to ten hours without interruption and the battery or the tape doesn’t once need changing. The filmmakers make it a point for one character to loot an electronics store while being taped as he looks in vain for the correct cell phone battery, yet not a peep from anyone in their group about the video camera. I don’t know what brand Hud’s packing, but, damn, it’s a whole lot better than my Sony camcorder, I’m just sayin’.

Other than this wee little quirk, though, and a few hundred others I won’t bring up here in case it spoils your enjoyment of the movie, I say go for the gusto and check out
Cloverfield. And you won’t even need to take your allergy meds first, though a little Dramamine might be in order.

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