Movies watched: 10 Cloverfield Lane, Chinatown
Where watched: AMC Southcenter 16, home
Elapsed time: 103 minutes, 131 minutes
Total cumulative time: 9 hours, 17 minutes
When my friend Reggie asked if I wanted to see 10 Cloverfield Lane, I was hesitant. I never saw Cloverfield, and I knew they were at least obliquely related. (Cloverfield is one of those movies that sat in my Netflix queue for years. It would slowly move up, then down again as more interesting things supplanted its position. I realized at some point that there was always going to be something I wanted to watch more). But the trailer looked intriguing, and at least it wasn’t that handheld, found footage crap which was another turn off for me with Cloverfield. Plus, John Goodman. Then I saw it was 90% positive on Rotten Tomatoes, and that was enough.
This movie does have a lot of things going for it, most of which I can’t discuss without ruining plot points. It does involve three people holed up in a survivalist’s bunker, from what may or may not be some kind of attack. An attack from whom, or what, I won’t mention. The set-up is excellent; the viewer knows only what Michelle (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead) knows. On a visceral level, the movie works. There are some great suspenseful moments, and some twists you probably won’t see coming. John Goodman is solidly creepy, and John Gallagher is entertaining, although his dialogue has some inconsistencies (which is the screenwriter’s fault, not his).
There are certain parts of the story that don’t really hold up to close scrutiny, but i won’t fault the movie too much for that, because it really doesn’t give you time to stop and ponder. If you saw Cloverfield, then you know it involved aliens, and I’m sure you’re wondering if this film goes there. I’m not going to give anything away. If you like a good thriller, that might make you jump in your seat a couple of times, then give it a try.
Side note: we were at the theater early, and this couple came and sat to my immediate left, with one empty seat between. At the time, there was nobody else in our row, and the row in front was empty. I was a little surprised they chose to sit so close, and even more surprised when the dude began spitting his chew into a little cup. I’m sure guys must chew tobacco at the movies, I’ve just never witnessed it before. He had his own little supply of Dixie cups in his pocket which he proceeded to spit in for the duration of the film. Charming.
Speaking of charming, here is an image from Chinatown. One of Jack Nicholson’s great monologues, where he tells Faye Dunaway “I damn near lost my nose. And I like it. I like breathing through it.” I’m not sure if screenwriter Robert Towne was writing specifically for Nicholson, but I can’t imagine any other actor in 1974 delivering Jake Gittes’ dialogue as well as Jack does. Townes’ screenplay is exceptionally well written. Did you ever ask yourself why the movie is called Chinatown? The movie does not take place in Chinatown, except for the last scene. The movie is not about Chinatown at all, at least not on the surface. This is a movie of layers. It is about a murder mystery, and infidelity. It is about water and power, and the making of Los Angeles, and it is about Chinatown. Chinatown is mentioned three times, in three different conversations that Nicholson’s character has with others, and each give us a little information about what happened there in the past. Robert Towne said that Chinatown is a metaphor for the futility of good intentions. I assume he was talking about the place and the movie.
Roman Polanski’s direction is fantastic, and his technical team great too. He had to replace both the cinematographer and the composer during production. Normally making changes midstream spells disaster, but the cinematography in this movie is exquisite, even more so on blu-ray. And Jerry Goldsmith’s score is the stuff of legend; brought in at the last minute, he wrote and composed the score in nine days, and the result is astonishing. Once you hear that opening cue for trumpet, you’ll never forget it.
Jack Nicholson was at his peak here, so effortless its kinda scary. I was never a big fan of Faye Dunaway, and I’m not quite sure why. She is a good actress, but there is an emotional distance that keeps me from connecting. Of course this role requires a distance, and she has that gut wrenching scene (you know the one) which levels both Nicholson and the audience. The supporting actors are great in this movie too, especially Burt Young, best known for the Rocky movies, and John Hillerman, best known for “Magnum, P.I.” And John Huston, best known for being John Huston. Who could ever forget that gravelly voice, and the way he continually mis-pronounces Nicholson’s name as “Mr. Gits” is a great touch.
This movie was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, with Towne being the only winner, for best original screenplay. That was the year Godfather II cleaned up at the Oscars, although would you believe The Towering Inferno won best cinematography and editing over this film? Chinatown is one of the greatest examples of American film noir, and one of the best movies of the 70’s. The ending is brutal and unforgiving, but it couldn’t end any other way. After all, its Chinatown.
(Footnote: I watched this movie on Saturday 3/12/16. After watching, I was doing some research, and discovered that the St. Francis Dam in California broke on this same day, in 1928. That dam’s failure, which resulted in the deaths of over 600 people, is referenced briefly in Chinatown. The character of Hollis Mulwray is modeled after William Mulholland, who lost his job and much of his good reputation after that dam’s failure. It also is no understatement to say that Mulholland’s aqueduct built Los Angeles. He just had to steal a little water to make it happen),