"I feel dizzy," a character says, midway through Cloverfield. Join the club. The cliche of calling a bad movie unwatchable literally applies to director Matt Reeves's digital proof that some movies are nothing but hype. Cloverfield is physically unwatchable. Its deliberately amateur, palsied photography can't hold up to a theatrical-size presentation. Besides disinterest, the only feeling it incites is wanting to throw up.
Presented as a government evidence tape (as if 73 minutes of unedited raw footage would ever find theatrical distribution) affords Cloverfield its one good idea: The monster is seen only in hurried glances. The 9/11 parallels in the ground-level civilian account of the alien destruction of New York City haven't the frightening resonance they did when Spielberg took the same approach in War of the Worlds. Cloverfield's first-person, barf-cam gimmick can't disguise the film's flimsiness. Even the manufactured "iconic" image of a decapitated Statue of Liberty just repackages the familiar Lady Liberty violations in Planet of the Apes, Ghostbusters II, The Day After Tomorrow and the Escape From New York poster. Reeves's inability to express anything about contemporary American fears or life results in a complete lack of tension.
The mockumentary approach works better in Redacted. Brian De Palma's Iraq War drama disappoints by stepping so far from the director's technical strengths, but its obsessions hold interest. It helps that the character filming his movie isn't---as in Cloverfield---the most inept doofus to ever pick up a camera. De Palma combines this soldier's footage with dramatizations of a French war doc, streaming internet video, surveillance camera tapes and news reports. The multi-sided media onslaught not only serves as commentary on the public's inability to get the single truth, but also on a culture where all human pain is documented for later consumption.
Calling the movie anti-soldier misses the despair with which De Palma depicts the troops' situation. In Redacted, soldiers are surrounded by death and hatred. A couple of bad apples lose it, and a crime is committed. A mirror to De Palma's Casualties of War, Redacted is about the struggle to do what's right within a system that's willing to let corruption slide. If De Palma understands the immorality of watching others suffer in movies and YouTube clips, he also knows that images can sometimes build our compassion. When a soldier in Redacted laments the awful pictures that he'll never get out of his head, he's connected to the filmmaker's previous scarred heroes. Redacted is better the more closely you pay attention to it, with disconnecting scenes building to an impressionistic meaning.
The problem is that the director's gift for orchestrated melodrama translates into a theatrical staginess when he's trying to mimic real life. This is still easier to swallow than Cloverfield striving for a verite approach, while ensuring its leads are Gap models. Following the kind of white-bread party where the DJ thinks it's appropriate to play Parliament and Sean Kingston back-to-back, Reeves and writer Drew Goddard (of Lost and some of the better latter-day Buffy episodes) make it clear they're not treating their characters as defined people.
The only hope in this motion-sickness nightmare is for the monster to hurry up and eat these trust-fund kids. Preferably taking the camera operator first.