Monsters and murderers take over box office

In our last issue, The Signal previewed the three films we thought would break through at the box office over Winter break. With our picks ranging from J.J. Abrams’ next-generation monster movie to the long-awaited revival of the Tim Burton-Johnny Depp director/actor duo to the allegedly lovable story of Dewey Cox, film fans had a wealth of genres to choose from. But did these big-hype flicks hit their marks after the credits rolled?

4 out of 5 stars

Many have speculated whether or not director J. J. Abrams’ top-secret monster film would live up to the hype it generated. Told through the perspective of a hand-held camcorder, “Cloverfield” is less an actual movie and more a first-hand account of the chaos that took place when an unknown creature began rampaging through New York City.

With Godzilla on the tip of everyone’s tongue when word of “Cloverfield” first hit the Internet, many were instantly eager to draw comparisons. However, they must be viewed as two completely different styles. With the shaky and possibly nauseating perspective in which the movie was filmed (think “The Blair Witch Project”), the audience is no longer an outside witness to the terror, but is thrown into the viewpoint of the unlucky people dodging the attack of the skyscraper-sized monster.

Not surprisingly, the first time the monster is shown in all its much-anticipated glory, audiences will be left gaping, but some of the most unsettling moments come from what is not shown, like when the camera is convulsively thrust about while the cast runs through the hectic streets of the city, or when they’re wandering through the pitch-black darkness of the subway tunnels as the creature’s roar can be heard ever so faintly above ground.

Of course, as with any film that takes a risk like the one “Cloverfield” does, many will be quick to criticize the film for its lack of detail, unexplained title and deviation from a standard plot structure, but I feel that the true beauty of the film is that it isn’t designed to be a movie. It isn’t meant to explain and conclude like every other film out in theaters. It’s something that must be experienced.

If you’re looking for a standard monster movie you will probably be disappointed. But if you’re of an open mind and are willing to insert yourself into the first-person terror of the film, then there is nothing else quite like “Cloverfield.”

– Josh Page, Staff Writer

“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”
5 out of 5 stars

With the release of the blockbusters “Hairspray” and “Across the Universe,” movie-musicals have recently only been composed of brightly painted sets, shimmy and shaking dance moves, heart-warming love stories and happy endings.

Leave it to director Tim Burton to disrupt the harmony of this prosperous genre with his brilliant macabre style. And quite fittingly, the musical he has chosen to bless with his distinct flair is the dark and twisted “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street” by Stephen Sondheim.

The story follows the torturous life of a barber who, after 15 years of falsely accused exile, returns to his home in London. Upon learning of the disappearance of his wife and child at the hands of the very judge who sent him away, a razor-edged bloodbath quickly ensues. With the title role being played by Johnny Depp (of course, it’s a Burton movie) and the beautiful and captivating Helena Bonham Carter playing Todd’s accomplice, Burton has successfully taken the melancholy atmosphere of the stage show and captured it on the big screen.

The film is so well done that it was just awarded the Best Picture (musical or comedy) Golden Globe, with Depp also winning Best Actor.

The story is dramatic, yet slightly comical in its absurdity, the actors sing better than you’d expect (Carter will make you both laugh and mourn in her rendition of “The Worst Pies In London”), and with a few surprises, like the unexpected casting of Sacha Baron Cohen as Todd’s arch-rival barber, this flick is a feast of both gore and heartbreak. And when Johnny Depp guarantees his unsuspecting victims “the closest shave you’ll ever know,” you can’t help but feel a little sick, but too embedded in the story to look away.

– Josh Page, Staff Writer

“Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story”
2.5 out of 5 stars

Attention Judd Apatow: You can’t win them all. After striking gold with films like “Superbad” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” the acclaimed director/producer finally created a dud with “Walk Hard.”

The 96-minute run time of this flick seems to be its ultimate downfall, as the audience sees Dewey Cox obtain rock stardom before they even have a chance to get warm in their seats.

While the free-wheeling, random nature of this film provides some nonsensical but amusing encounters (a cartoon Dewey experiencing a bad LSD trip with the Beatles and later on, the real Dewey racing through a city street high on PCP claiming he is Zeus while flipping police cars over), it also takes away from what made Apatow’s previous movies so great: interesting, well-developed characters.

Sure, Dewey is Dewey and Don Cheadle’s drug-addicted drummer is entertaining whenever his repetitive gag is called upon for a punchline, but none of the side characters are on par with McLovin, or the guys from SmartTech.

Dewey Cox is a hit-or-miss comedy, but while the movie is sporadically entertaining, funny and even sweet, it will go down as a blemish on the career of one of this decade’s best comedy scribes.

– James Queally, Arts & Entertainment Editor