Cloverfield: New York Appetizers

Year Released: 2008
Directed by: Matt Reeves
Starring: Michael Stahl-David, Mike Vogel, Odette Yustman, Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, T.J. Miller
(PG-13, 85 min.)

"A little nonsense now and then is treasured by the best of men." Phil Donahue

With all the pretentious chits strutting their stuff in anticipation of the Oscars, this little tart of a film doesn’t offer anything but a good time, some cheap thrills, and a refreshing change of pace. If you have some tolerance for vertigo inducing camera work and actually enjoy being scared out of your wits, then this is the flick for you.

For a time after the horrible events of 9-11, New York City was as sacrosanct as an invalid recovering from a malignancy in front of whom the C word was never used. It is probably a barometer of the relative safety we now, -- I fear unrealistically -- feel that the Big Apple can’t seem to catch any breaks as of late. It is, cinematically, at least, open season on New York.

First of all, Jodie Foster returns us to the dark days of vigilante justice in a city teaming with malicious creeps in The Brave One, while the plucky Will Smith (I Am Legend) is the last man standing in a Manhattan crawling with blood sucking zombies. Enchanted has city manholes belching forth a beautiful princess and her prince charming, but the evil queen as well, who easily morphs into a glittering dragon terrifying us again atop the Empire State Building, like an enraged King Kong without the soft brown eyes. 

This time the city is at the mercy of a huge, green reptilian beast that sheds vicious parasitic lice like a million malicious mini me’s tag teaming its savage host in mindless destruction. What sets this monster flick apart, though, is the way it is told – up close and personal through the very shaky lens of a digital video cam. -- a horror flick for the You Tube generation.

It has the same immediacy and urgency of Orson Welles’ infamous War of the Worlds broadcast, even if we are ticket paying victims instead of frightened housewives trembling in front our kitchen radios. It is a documentary as such, once you accept the ascendancy of citizen journalists, this one, Hud, not being he brightest bulb in the box.

The set up for the story involves the vapid and rather clichéd lives of a group of twenty-somethings giving a going away party for Rob (Michael Stahl-David), who is about to leave for a new job in Japan. (Is that perhaps a subtle allusion to the great hulking Godzilla franchise that hovers over Cloverfield like an ancestral portrait?) Following the Peter Principle to a T, the one selected to film the video scrapbook of the event is none other than ham handed Hud (T.J.Miller), as awkward with the camera as he is with the ladies, though it is certainly not from want of trying. While the insipid conversation he captures has about half the depth of junior high homeroom titter, it does lull us into a soporific state so necessary to the shock value of horror genre. And I might even venture to say, that the very ordinary quality of the characters instead of detracting from our pleasure, actually adds to it. 

We all know the horror standards – the young square jawed scientist and his slim assistant hiding her beauty behind a pair of glasses, the ambitious opportunist hoping to cash in on the new found horror, the unscrupulous guide or his counterpart, the honest one that tries to warn the group away from unseen perils. Well, they are certainly not in this film, and it is fresher for that.

Also gone is that omniscient point of view, the wide camera angles that give us a panoramic portrait of the monster and the scope it its destruction. Instead, we are the rats in the cage, fleeing from what is initially unknown and barely glimpsed, and when it is, only fleetingly. Thus, we are invited into the claustrophobic panic, leering aghast at the severed head of lady liberty that drops like a bomb onto the street below, and rushing blindly out of the city.

It is an adrenaline rush, pure and simple, not a whit concerned with the what and why for’s, or tactics to defeat the beast and save the world. Cloverfieldis a fox-eyed version of the hunt, terrifying and thrilling, with a heart in the mouth desperation and an outcome almost as inevitable.

—Kathy Borich

Film-Loving Foodie

Rob’s going away party in Cloverfield lures us into just the sort of relaxed, felling good stupor that sets us up perfectly for the chaos that ensues. So, kick back, pretend you are part of the twenty-something crowd again, and enjoy the great hors d'oeuvres.

Fell free to enhance the mood with your own music, though. Let’s face it. Each of us has a musical taste that is almost as distinctive as our DNA. I’ll be having cracker number 7 with a little Dylan and Sinatra on the side.

New York Appetizers

Here is a collection of party foods that are as easy to eat as they are to make. Each can be produced in 20 minutes or less. Many can be served at room temperature. And none require a plate. (Few people can juggle plate, wineglass and fork successfully, let alone gracefully.)

Most of these recipes are beyond minimalist: they never do in two steps what can be done in one, and they need no embellishment. As you scan these recipes for ideas, mostly think this: The ones you find most appealing are the ones your guests will like. Choose a few, spend an hour or two in the kitchen, and you’ll be in great shape.

On Bread or Crackers 

  1. Red peppers and anchovies: Drizzle piquillos or other roasted red peppers with olive oil, and top with a good anchovy fillet. A caper or two on each is not amiss.
  2. Top rye flatbread with thin slices of crisp apple and pickled plain or schmaltz herring (not herring in cream sauce).
  3. Sear skirt steak to medium-rare, not more than 8 minutes. Cut into chunks 1/2-inch to 1 inch, first with the grain, then against it. Spread bread with coarse mustard and/or butter. Top with steak and coarse salt.
  4. Toss high-quality crab meat with minced shallots, a little tarragon or a lot of parsley and/or basil, and enough mayonnaise to bind. Also good on lettuce leaves.
  5. Mash together best-quality tuna, minced anchovies, minced garlic, chopped oil-cured olives and olive oil as necessary.
  6. New York comfort food: Spread cream cheese or crème fraîche on small bagels or bagel chips; black bread is also terrific. Top with sturgeon, sable or lox.
  7. Slice soft goat cheese and brush with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and chopped herbs, then with bread crumbs. Bake at 350 degrees until soft, about 10 minutes, and serve hot.
  8. Might not be the new ketchup, but great stuff: purée skinned roasted peppers or piquillos with some of their liquid, salt and olive oil. Serve alone or with other foods — a piece of cheese, even.
  9. Top buttered bread with shaved country ham, prosciutto or regular deli ham and bread-and-butter pickles.
  10. Chop shrimp fine, then sauté in a minimum of oil, or poach quickly and drain. Mix premade pesto with mayonnaise so that it is gluey. Combine cooled shrimp with sufficient pesto to bind; chill.

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