Thursday, April 24, 2008

Artifacts in the Rubble

We sat down to a fine dinner of monkey brains (actually, they were little rolls of flounder stuffed with crabmeat, which were just delicious, but they did look like brains) and watched "Cloverfield". The Spouse and Child had seen it in the theaters, because they are into action adventure movies about monsters that smash stuff. Left to my own devices, I would have wanted to watch something with Colin Firth in it. But sometimes, in a family, you go along with what the others want to keep the peace. I figured I'd be entertained by the food and wine and if I really hated it, I could always leave.

While the monster genre is not high on my list of favs, I must tell you that I found "Cloverfield" to be absolutely compelling. ("What's that mean?" asked The Child. "It means you want to keep watching". "Oh. Good. That means you like it"). Now from what I've been told, the film was pretty much universally panned by the critics. Movie goers got sea sick in the theaters. It certainly isn't to everyone's taste but it worked for me.

The premise is simple. Dude has a video camera and starts recording snippets of his day. His girlfriend asks him to tape testimonials "like at a wedding" from all the beautiful, hip, young Manhattanites that will be at a surprise going away party for his brother. Dude hands the job off to a friend, who more or less does his job as the party unfolds and relational intrigues are opened up. The camera work is realistically jostling and jumpy. If that bugs you from the beginning, you might as well stop watching. This is a whole new take on the concept of cinema verite. In a real way, the camera is the star.

Something bad happens, an explosion of some kind perhaps. We see buildings collapsing, fires, lights going out, people running into the streets screaming. Cue the B movie action figures! In fact, as The Spouse pointed out, this is your classic bad-thing-unleashed-on-the-city movie as seen through the eyes of the bit players. You see glimpses of the monster but you don't have the perspective of the military or the scientists or politicians who are figuring out what it is and how to take it down. Instead you see the reality of the situation literally through the eyes of those on whom the horror is being unleashed. It's a pretty brilliant concept.

According to The Spouse, some of the criticism of the film was pretty stupid. "The camera was too jumpy...it should have been on a tripod". I repeat, the whole point of the movie is that some guy, who happens to have a camera, is recording a disaster as it happens. "Well, that's not realistic". Hello? I would refer you to the two French film-makers who happened to be making a documentary about the NYFD when 9/11 happened. Don't tell me that if you were in downtown Manhattan and the head of the Statue of Liberty came crashing down into the street that you wouldn't whip out your camera phone. 'Course you would. Assuming, you know, that you weren't unfortunate enough to be under the head. Another complaint was that no camera battery would last that long. The movie has a run time of 85 minutes. My video camera battery lasts at least 2 hours. No, for my money, the only totally unbelievable bit was that one female character ran around in heels for most of the film. That bugged me.

Some of the images of the film are horribly disturbing. This is a monster movie, after all. The film does a fine job of creating and maintaining tension and surprise, while also doing a very realistic job of exploring the crazy mixture of feeling and reaction that people in such a situation would experience. People are brave and fearful, funny and annoyed, broken and believable. Do you need to exercise a measure of suspended disbelief? Sure. A monster is attacking New York. But I also have to agree with The Spouse with his contention that just as the Godzilla movies operated as a metaphor for the nuclear age, "Cloverfield" works as a metaphor for the age of terrorism. New York has been stomped on by big creepy things throughout the history of movies but in this case the connection with 9/11 is impossible to ignore, at least in a couple of poignant scenes. Whether this was strictly intended or simply the consequence of living in a post 9/11 world is impossible to say.

While the story of the film may be over the top, the performances, mostly by unknowns, is not. It's a story about the people thrust into a terrifying situation. There is a scene where our heroes are running through a smashed up apartment...there are still photos on the walls, vases on a shelf...the artifacts of normal life glaring through the ongoing chaos. I found it a powerful image. This is the sort of film that makes you wonder how you would react in such a situation, easier to do because the characters react in such completely human and believable ways. Would I have the courage to try and rescue a friend in such a situation? I don't know. Although I'm pretty clear that I'd lose the Manolos and jack some one's tennis shoes.

I told The Spouse that the ending was going to determine how many Koihead it got. It wasn't, strictly speaking, the ending I hoped for but it was also much more realistic than what would have satisfied me. "Cloverfield" is one of those movies that you're either going to love or hate. For my part, I pretty much loved it.

The Film Czarina gives "Cloverfield"
out of 5 Koihead.

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8 Comments:

Blogger sageweb opined...

I got sick just watching the trailer in the theater. But I am a big baby like that. My brother loved it.
And just to let you know...I hate it when I watch a movie and the chick in the movie has high heels on all the time. So Phony, the only people I know that can wear heels that long are drag queens.

April 24, 2008 12:16 PM  
Blogger sfoofie opined...

Lorraine, seriously. Get out of my brain!!! I watched this movie a couple of weeks ago and thought the exact same things you were thinking!! I kept yelling at the monitor: "TAKE OFF YOUR SHOES" and "Why won't she find some shoes to steal off somebody" and "Please ask them for a pair of better shoes to walk around in RUBBLE"
N was annoyed I kept talking about her shoes :-)

April 24, 2008 1:48 PM  
Blogger Auld Hat opined...

You know, I forget how excellent you are at doing movie reviews.
Great post and one that actually makes me want to see a movie I had completely written off.

April 24, 2008 3:04 PM  
Blogger Lorraine opined...

Aww, ya big baby, Sage. Love you anyway.

(removes heels and crawls out of Sfoofie's head)

Why, that's terribly nice of you, Ms. Hat. I think you would find it enjoyable. Provided you take your Dramamine first.

April 24, 2008 3:10 PM  
Blogger rosemary opined...

Hum, the wiggle factor might bother me and I usually don't like the scifi/scary type of movie....but....Steve strong armed me into watching I Am Legend and liked it...so I might suggest this one. Thank you esteemed queen koihead with a tiara for the review.

April 24, 2008 4:43 PM  
Blogger Lorraine opined...

The wiggle factor is formidable, Rosie, so that could be an issue. But if Steve likes that genre, it's worth a shot.

April 24, 2008 7:05 PM  
Blogger Kimberly Ann opined...

The high heels bugged me more than the jiggling. Hubby thinks there is a sequel coming and he's usually right about these things.

April 25, 2008 8:12 AM  
Blogger D.A. opined...

This comment needs to be prefaced with an apology. I'm sorry I haven't responded to any of your posts in ages. I have read most of them - honest! - but I've only recently been able to resume all my post-spring-break routines, one of which is checking out your blog during my lunch break and leaving a comment.

Anyway, Cloverfield...

Yes, I saw it here at the cinema when it came out and although I'm not a monster movie buff either, I thought it provided an hour and a half of fairly diverting entertainment. Yes, it was well put together, but I suppose, ultimately, I found it forgettable.

And as for plot quibbles, my main one was that I couldn't quite bring myself to believe that the main characters would decide to go back and rescue someone in the face of, literally, thousands and thousands of people desperately trying to escape to safety. But I'm a cynic.

April 28, 2008 4:40 AM  

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