MOVIE BUFF-ET: 10 Cloverfield Lane is a taut, suspenseful crowd pleaser

Photo by Michele K. Short / Paramount Pictures

10 Cloverfield Lane will no doubt be remembered for it’s late-game marketing campaign, which took all but the most astute film observers by surprise, but the movie is not all style over substance. The film is a taut, suspenseful sci-fi/horror flick that should turn out to be a crowd pleaser.

The movie, the directorial debut of Dan Trachtenberg, is not a sequel to Cloverfield, the 2008 found-footage, giant monster movie, but like that film it does have that what’s-coming-next quality that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Divulging more of the plot than what the film’s trailer revealed would be a disservice to the potential audience. The less you know going in, the better off you are.

However, the basic setup finds Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) awakened chained to a wall after surviving a car wreck. Her captor Howard (John Goodman) tells her that he saved her life, and that they are sequestered in a bunker because a nuclear attack has rendered the outside world uninhabitable. John Gallagher Jr. plays Emmet, another character “saved” by Howard, who is not as skeptical of Howard.

How truthful Howard is and what’s actually going on outside become the key question. Winstead does fine work in the role of the confused, scared but clever captive, who is not willing to accept the circumstances as presented to her.

However, Goodman is stunningly affective, playing against his good-natured type. Howard will be a memorable character to genre-movie fans as time goes by, and as many strong character performances as Goodman has given in his career, this one could be his very best.

That’s saying a lot, but Goodman’s performance makes the movie worth the price of admission for me.


(PG) 1 hr., 48 min.


With bright colors, funny, familiar voices and anthropomorphic animals, the latest hit from Disney’s animation factory has all the trappings of any other funny-animal cartoon. However, Zootopia is not your average, ordinary funny bunny movie.

Oh, there are funny bunnies and funny foxes and incredibly funny sloths among the menagerie that populates the film, directed by Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush from Bush’s screenplay, but there’s nothing ordinary about the movie.

Zootopia is social commentary disguised as a buddy-cop story that was dyed like a colorful Easter egg. The movie has layers, delightful ones that become more and more delicious as you make your way through it. Just like an actual Easter egg, the film might be even more enjoyable for adults than kids.

The film’s theme is an empowering message of not letting anyone define you except for yourself. It’s delivered deftly and too the point, but Bush and his cohorts don’t bludgeon you with it.

It’s clear very early on that Judy Hopps, voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin (Once Upon a Time), isn’t your average bunny. Judy wants off the farm and has dreams of being the first bunny to become a police officer in Zootopia, a metropolis where predators and prey purportedly work in harmony, side by side.

Judy makes the force but is pushed into the corner by her superior Captain Bogo, intimidatingly voiced by Idris Elba (The Wire), who assigns her meter-maid duties despite the fact there are over a dozen unsolved assaults and missing-person cases hanging over the department’s head.

With the help of a sly, con-artist Nick, a fox voiced by Jason Bateman (Arrested Development), Judy discovers predators are going feral, a plot point which further opens the door for the film to examine themes of prejudice and the trap of profiling that most cultures fall into way too easily.

With all that said, you might be asking if this movie is appropriate for kids? The answer is absolutely because the subtext is delivered with a spoonful of sugar, to borrow a line from another Disney movie.

The jokes work amazingly well on all levels, and while the film doesn’t provide a song that will dominate pop culture like Frozen’s “Let it Go,” the characters are funny, affectionate and memorable.

With the police-station setup, the film is a franchise waiting to happen. We can expect several more trips to Zootopia in the future, and if the same craft and care are used in creating them, they will be welcomed.

Classic Corner

New In Local Theaters

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It’s March, and that means college hoops will be king for the next month as the NCAA works its way to naming a hardwood champion. The conference tournaments are being played now, and by this time next week, a fourth of the 68-team NCAA Tournament field will be pared away.

If like me, you are still mourning the abrupt end of the Razorbacks’ basketball season and need a hoops pick-me-up to have the courage to fill out those NCAA Tournament brackets, here’s a couple of films that should make you laugh.

Hoop Dreams, Hoosiers, and He Got Game are the top draft picks of basketball films, and movies like White Men Can’t Jump, Blue Chips, and Love and Basketball also have their fans. But, when I think of hardwood movies, two that always come to mind are the 1979 pictures The Fish That Saved Pittsburg and Fast Break. There are better basketball movies, but not funnier ones.

The Fish That Saved Pittsburg features one of the game’s all-time greats in Julius “Dr. J” Erving as the best player on a rag-tag professional basketball team that only gets its act together when its ball boy suggests that the team consult the Zodiac to find teammates compatible to play with Dr. J.

Erving is a Pisces, hence the fish in the title. When Stockard Channing enters the picture to become the squad’s spiritual guide, the team’s fortunes turn around.

O.K., it’s a dumb movie, but does it ever transport you back to the fast, free and funky 1970s. The highlight of the movie is a slow-motion montage of Erving throwing down balletic dunks.

Erving was one of the first truly high-flyers in the NBA, and his play elevated the game above the rim. It’s great to see him in his prime with that majestic Afro, even if it’s in a silly film. The movie also features Harlem Globetrotters great Meadowlark Lemon, Los Angeles Lakers star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Flip Wilson as the coach and daffy Jonathan Winters in a dual role.

Fast Break is not as flashy or funky as the previous film, but it’s just as funny. The film stars Gabe Kaplan of Welcome Back Kotter fame, as a New York deli manager with hoop dreams of becoming a college basketball coach.

When he finally gets his opportunity to guide at a small college team in Nevada, he enlists his old buddy Hustler, played by New York Nets great Bernard King, to help him rustle up some talent. Hilarity ensues as the duo convince misfits to join the team, and they embark on a scheme to coax a major college powerhouse to play their squad in a game that could bring legitimacy to Kaplan’s burgeoning program.