Cloverfield

Go see it. Five stars. I loved it.

New York gets whacked again, this time by some kind of alien assault. If you remember 9/11, this will look familiar.

The movie gives a picture of what it would look like if open conflict occurred in America. Could happen.

The movie harks back to many classics: Alien, War of the Worlds, Godzilla, Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake, others I haven’t thought of yet. There is definitely an H.P. Lovecraft element to it, as well. In its way it is a cinematic homage to the unhallowed but totally great B-List of Hollywood SF and disaster films.

Hollywood lost a fortune depicting the American Army as a bunch of rapists and war criminals. This movie shows the Army going straight on against some God-awful things from outer space (I suppose), with cold professionalism. The fantasy film is closer to the reality of what the Army does — put its life at risk to kill America’s enemies, whether human or alien.

The (main) monster was cool. Query: If tank main-gun rounds couldn’t put the thing away, maybe it is made of some kind of alien gelatin, like Cthulhu, and the shells just go throught it? Only directorial misstep: showing the monster too clearly. Better to have left it at glimpses.

The movie also has a good depiction of a metrosexual yuppie guy acting like a man amidst danger and destruction, when the chips are down. Nice to see that, too.

This movie says more things about America that are true than most of what is packaged as slice-of-life drama.

I hope it makes a fortune for the people who made it. I am sure it will do a raging business in the Middle East, where the sight of New York being blown-up is a proven crowd-pleaser, and the audiences can cheer for the monsters.

“Cry ‘God for Harry! England and Saint George!'”

London’s National Film Theatre, one of the most useful institutions in this city (when it does not fill its entire programme with gay and lesbian films from Outer Mongolia) is running a Lawrence Olivier season in August and September. Naturally, the four Shakesperian films are shown and “Henry V” has been given pride of place with a certain number of disclaimers by critics who, over the years, have had to acknowledge with pursed lips that, despite its heroism and emphasis on patriotism, the film is superb. Some of us might think that contrariwise, the heroism and patriotism add to the quality of the film but that is probably why we are not film critics.

Made during the war, with Olivier taking time out from his service with Fleet Air Arm, it does emphasise patriotic ideals, in particular ideals of England. As it happens, none of that was invented by the film-makers – the lines, the images, the concepts are there in Shakespeare’s play, which is what makes them so interesting.

Cinematically the film is mesmerizing, beginning and ending with a panorama shot of Elizabethan London, carefully recreated from contemporary prints. Famously, Olivier accepted and incorporated into the film the sheer theatricality of the play. We start with a raucous performance of “The Chronicle History of King Henry the Fift with His Battell Fought at Agincourt in France”, during which the Chorus, played by Leslie Banks, urges us to expand the play in our imagination to take in England and France, and opens out first into the Boar’s Head Inn, where Falstaff is dying, then the two courts, the armies and the battles themselves. William Walton’s music spreads through the film.

The opened up scenes are not particularly realistic though the battle and the sight of the dead afterwards affect one with melancholy about the horrors of war, no matter what modern critics might say. But it is all artificial, with scenery, costumes, group shots based quite clearly and enchantingly on late mediaeval miniatures. The film was shot in Technicolour, another thing the programme notes see fit to apologize for (it did seem amazing to those unsophisticated audiences in the forties, honest) and the artificial look of it adds to the splendour of the film and makes it a more consistent work of art than Kenneth Branagh’s “gritty and realistic” version made forty-odd years later. Of the two, it was Olivier who served in Fleet Air Arm, having returned to Britain in 1941 from Hollywood, and there have even been stories of him having been recruited into the Special Operations Executive (SOE) to build up support for Britain in the United States while it was still a neutral country.

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Silly movie swordfights

John Clements, a professional swordfighter, writes at THEFORCE.NET:

Moves that Look Cool are usually the Stupidest
One of the worst clichés of these fan films (and in professional films too, so don’t feel bad) is this ridiculous spinning around action. I’ve lost count of how many times Obi Wan has used this move so far in two films. Stop trying to spin around at every opportunity! I can’t tell you what a phenomenally useless move this overused cliché really is. Against a skilled opponent it’s virtually suicide. The move is ubiquitous in countless sword fights and each time it’s made to look like it has some value, but in reality, it’s about the most inane thing you could possibly do in a real sword fight. You gain nothing from it. No experienced fighter or fencer is going to intentionally turn his back, taking his eyes off his opponent while exposing his whole body in the process, just so he can turn himself around and bring his weapon back predictably from the other side. To what purpose? It’s not going to make you any more deceptive nor any quicker in your strike nor any better defended. It fools no one, adds no real power, and immensely delays your attack.
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…it’s silly and leaves you horrendously vulnerable. I cringe every time I see it in a sword fight scene.
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The more aware you are of the physicality of personal combat (that is, how the human body actually moves and how a weapon actually performs when fighting in earnest), the more dramatic opportunities you have at your creative disposal. The clear reason why Darth Maul looked so darn menacing as a fighter was the simple fact the performer was a real life martial artist, not an actor just faking it (even if it was often clear he was just doing classic kung fu staff moves). His obvious sense of personal space and balance as well as his firm and agile stances made the other actors look amateurish by comparison.

He concentrates on lightsaber fights, but that stupid spinning move is cropping up in any movie where swords ever make the briefest of appearances. My ‘suspension of disbelief’ comes down crashing down every time it does, making me very aware that I’m watching something made by very silly people. Bah!