Thursday, January 31, 2008

LA Diary Day 4 - CLOVERFIELD - cinema verite my ass

No LA Diary on Day 3 - the closest I got to the flicks was dinner in the excellent restau. Blue Velvet. But on Day 4 a somewhat ill-advised trip to Mann's Chinese Theater at Hollywood & Highlands. Ill-advised because we turned up half way through the Clinton-Obama debate live from the Kodak theater which is part of the same complex. The mall was filled with anti-war protestors, a dog on a skateboard, and a good handful of outside broadcast TV trucks. There were also a scary amount of tooled-up rozzers* as well as two bedraggled musicians vainly trying to whip up some attention atop a Rock the Vote van. Among this motley crew were a goodly number of ordinary shoppers and voters standing in front of the large outdoor screen watching the debate live and cheering every soundbite. They were cheering on the possibility of change. They were standing amid the dying embers of a failed administration, a disastrous war in Iraq, fear of foreclosure, unemployment and uninsured illness. The Fear and Loathing was upon us.

In such a sickly political environment, horror and disaster movies have historically thrived. They allow us humble movie-goers to face our fears, embodied in randomised acts of terror and impotent protection agencies. CLOVERFIELD is a perfect exemplar of this. A big beastie stomps through Manhattan, knocking the head off the Statue of Liberty, chewing up Brooklyn Bridge and generally indulging in Godzilla-like craziness. The film-makers don't attempt to explain how the beastie came into being - and they wisely choose to show it only fleetingly. They do, however, skirt very close to the line in echoing iconic and disturbing 9/11 imagery. In an early scene, New Yorkers are seen stumbling through wreckage, white with plaster dust, scraps of paper tossed by the wind. Later, a heroine will be trapped in twin towers. Note that as daring as the film-makers are in echoing 9/11, the beastie remains considerate enough of studio financing schedules to terrorise beautiful people. Despite this, you have to give credit to the film-makers for spending some time to let us get to know the protagonists and to believe that they care enough about each other to risk danger to come to each other's aid.

CLOVERFIELD works fine as a post 9/11 update of the Godzilla story. Producer JJ Abrams and director Matt Reeves create a real sense of menace and fear if not outright scares. But the movie has a flaw: it gave me motion sickness
. Now I get that director Matt Reeves was going for a gonzo hand-held reportage look. It's a laudable aim. But all this crap about "authenticity" and "credibility" is under-cut by his America's Next Top Model casting decisions. So, dear film-makers, cut the pretentious filming style already. Make a great movie that feels authentic and credible by all means. Cast people who look real, use a grungy shooting style, but you don't actually need to make me ill.

CLOVERFIELD is on release in the US, Australia, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Russia, Singapore, Thailand, the Netherlands, Peru, Portugal, South Korea, Estonia, Iceland, Latvia, the Philippines, Germany, Israel and Canada. It opens in Bulgaria, Denmark, Italy, Mexico, Poland, Spain, the UK, Belgium, France, Argentina, Brazil, Norway, Sweden, Hungary and Finland in February. It opens in Turkey on March 21st and in Japan on April 5th.
*Giuseppe from EC2 asks, via e-mail, what "rozzers" are. They are policeman, but the implication is, corrupt policeman. Also known as The Fuzz, Pigs, The Filth and The Sweeney.

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