The Happening (US-India, 2008)

The end of the world as we know it?

Like Cloverfield (two posts ago) The Happening is an obvious disquisition on the west’s ‘war on terror’ intermingled with the ongoing climatic disaster. The opening half is terrific, a mixture of stunning imagery (the builders falling off buildings) and portentous threat. However, it’s difficult to deliver on such a set up as this – maybe aliens would have worked (but they didn’t in Signs).

The film’s also further evidence that the emerging economy of India is going to compete with Hollywood on its own ground. However, this looks like – is – a Hollywood movie, so whether we’ll see any difference from the patriarchal-liberal consensus that ‘infects’ most US movies is debatable.

Cloverfield (US, 2008)

American liberty has lost its head.

It’s taken 10 years for Blair Witch (1999) to get a proper sequel. Whilst Cloverfield is not as effective as its predecessor, it is a fascinating take on a (western) world at war on terror. It’s not just the camcorder aesthetic that is so effective, much of what is happening is left ‘unsaid’. Or, rather, requires us to draw on other films to fill in the gaps. This isn’t simply postmodern referentiality; we don’t know, for instance, what happens to Marlena but the Alien splatter reference suggests it ain’t good. This also links to a piece of ‘thrown away’ dialogue: ‘they are trying to drag me away’. Putting the Alien ref together with the dialogue suggests that humans are being used to gestate there creatures; and you can only work this out through the references. The film will make sense without knowledge of these films, but it is interesting to see a movie built explicity on its generic inheritance.

The Korean film The Host (Gwoemul, 2006) is also an important antecedant, as is 28 Days Later (UK, 2002).

The film portrays American post-9/11 vulnerability: there’s terrible things out there with no explanation for what’s happening. In doing so it offers a picture of a paranoid mindset that’s turning inward rather trying to understand what’s going on (I saw a trailer for the forthcoming The Mist yesterday – looks very similar).

In the Valley of Elah (US, 2007)

The number of ‘Iraq’ films coming out of Hollywood is quite astonishing, especially as only the gung-ho Green Berets was produced during the Vietnam war. Unsurprisingly these are not doing well at the box office; even the action based The Kingdom. There are not many nations that would queue up to see themselves criticised. However, it is crucially important that a mirror is held up to America as they tromp thoughtlessly about the world. And the fact that these are American films does show that many in America are not insensitive to the destruction wreaked by their military.

Whilst Charley Wilson’s War was confused, Elah knows exactly what’s it’s saying and I can think of few films that have such a devastating final shot. The rest of it is great too; brilliantly performances and generally well paced. My only criticism is that Vietnam is, via Lee Jones’ vet, held up as something honourable; or maybe that’s just in contrast with Iraq.

I thought Crash, Haggis’ previous film as director, was great; this may be even better.

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Charley Wilson’s War (US, 2007)

To say this mess is confusing is an understatement. It ranges from a condemnation of America’s lack of reconstruction of Iraq to a celebration of childlike Mujahideen in Afghanistan. Presumably the latter is such a retro-representation of 3rd world peasants that it’s meant to be satire; read it as you will.

Even if we take the film as a critique of US intervention it still fails to cohere. The script seems to pretend its one-liners are satiric and all the performances are off-key as if they didn’t know what tone to strike.

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