The Films of Matt Reeves
Cloverfield (January 17/08)
With its distinctly queasy visual sensibilities and a cast comprised primarily of unknowns (the one notable exception being genre staple Chris Mulkey, who makes a brief appearance as a gruff military man), Cloverfield is a sporadically effective yet undeniably uneven piece of work that clearly would've benefited from a little less excitement surrounding its release (ie the film ultimately can't quite live up to the hype). Set over the course of one very long night, Cloverfield follows a group of friends (including Michael Stahl-David's Rob, Odette Yustman's Beth, and Lizzy Caplan's Marlena) as they attempt to avoid a monstrous creature rampaging through New York City. The film's central gimmick - it's been shot entirely from the point of view of the characters - certainly lends the proceedings a palpable you-are-there quality, yet the almost unreasonably shaky camerawork becomes tedious almost immediately and (worse still) ensures that it's often difficult to discern exactly what's going on (the fate of at least one character remains a mystery because of it, for example). And while it's impossible to deny the effectiveness of several monster-centric sequences, there's little doubt that the movie fares exceedingly poorly in terms of developing its human characters (this is particularly problematic during quieter moments, as the film essentially morphs into a second-rate young-adult melodrama that'd be more at home on the CW). By the time everything's said and done, Cloverfield simply isn't able to overcome its low-rent visuals - as one generally can't help but wish the film had been shot in a more straight-forward, flat-out traditional manner (it might've been nice to get a decent look at the monster, for one thing).
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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (August 18/14)
A solid followup to Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes picks up about a decade after the events of the first film and details the exploits of (and eventual strife between) apes and humans. Director Matt Reeves does a superb job of setting Dawn of the Planet of the Apes apart from most of its summertime blockbuster brethren, with the filmmaker's subdued sensibilities ensuring that the movie, for the most part, unfolds at a refreshingly laid-back pace - which, in turn, paves the way for an impressive amount of character development. The latter is undoubtedly heightened by a raft of better-than-average performances, with series newcomers Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, and Keri Russell more than holding their own opposite Andy Serkis' commanding, towering performance as central ape Caesar. And although the movie is at its best when focused on the engrossing interactions between the simian characters - this is especially true of virtually everything involving Caesar's rivalry with Toby Kebbell's vicious Koba - Dawn of the Planet of the Apes contains a handful of impressively captivating action-oriented sequences, with the effectiveness of such moments heightened by Reeves' old-school visual choices (ie no shaky-cam!) There's little doubt, however, that Reeves ultimately does press his luck in terms of the movie's running time, as the film occasionally seems to be moving a little too slowly for its own good - with the underwhelming nature of a third-act battle only perpetuating the erratic atmosphere. Fortunately, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes recovers for an exciting climactic battle between Caesar and Koba - which finally confirms the movie's place as both a stellar sequel and an above-average blockbuster.
War for the Planet of the Apes (August 19/17)
The best of the new Planet of the Apes movies, War for the Planet of the Apes follows Andy Serkis' Caesar as he embarks on a campaign of revenge against a vicious military commander known only as the Colonel (Woody Harrelson). The degree to which War for the Planet of the Apes instantly captures the viewer's attention is quite impressive, to say the least, as filmmaker Matt Reeves delivers an absorbing opening stretch that's rife with engrossing, surprisingly brutal sequences and set pieces - with scripters Reeves and Mark Bomback effectively (and smartly) focusing their energies primarily on Caesar's quest for vengeance. (The other apes are, as a consequence and for the most part, virtually interchangeable.) The pared-down storyline often seems at odds with the incongruously epic running time, however, and it's worth noting that there is, as a result, a wheel-spinning feel to certain portions of the midsection (eg some of the stuff at Harrelson's compound ultimately seems a little superfluous and repetitive). And yet there's little doubt that War for the Planet of the Apes builds to a third act that's nothing short of captivating, with the inevitable battle between the apes and the Colonel's men possessing a far more gripping and uncompromising vibe than one might've anticipated - which, when coupled with the emotional resonance of the ending, confirms the movie's place as a seriously solid capper to a progressively accomplished trilogy.