Safe House

Action-thriller Safe House was originally set in Brazil. Famously, the producers were so impressed by the stand-in capability of Cape Town that the entire movie was relocated to South Africa, with the Mother City playing her gorgeous, beautiful self. Plot-wise, it stars teary-eyed Ryan Reynolds as a CIA operative stuck in a dead end job watching a safe house in Cape Town. Suddenly he’s playing host to one of the CIA’s most wanted fugitives – the lip-licky Denzel (who’s very assured here.) But the safe house has sprung a leak and the bad guys are circling….. and any more would be giving away the plot.

Now as a viewing experience, Safe House is somewhat fun – the whole theater was a-murmur with “spot the location.” But the problem, as I came to realize, is that few things eradicate the suspension of disbelief quicker than a total familiarity with the filming location. There were for instance a few things that ruined it for me:

1. a very energetic protest march, with WHITE PEOPLE!! (would so NEVER happen that it’s virtually a jump-the-shark moment in the film)

2. A packed soccer match at the notorious white elephant Greenpoint Stadium, which has been used like twice since the FIFA World Cup and

3. a metro station (remember, it was written for Brazil.) We’ve barely got public transport.

So while the first twenty minutes are pretty fantastic, and an opening car chase is as good as anything you’ve seen in the last few years, that road layout of that chase makes no geographic sense whatsoever. I wonder if this is how Angelenos feel all the time? Anyway, whilst I enjoyed it, I guess the lack of consistency finally sunk me. Worth a view, but still a bit disappointing. Well done Cape Town, tho.

Safe House

Consider me impressed. Safe House, the Lip-Licky-Denzel / Ryan Reynolds movie that screwed up traffic on Cape Town’s Western Boulevard over several weekends earlier this year looks like it was totally worth the disruption. Allegedly the producers had such a great experience filming in the Mother City, that they re-wrote the script allowing Cape Town to play Cape Town. And she looks great on film. Movie looks first rate too.

Unstoppable

Unstoppable rattles along like a runaway train…… No, wait! Unstoppable really is about a runaway train and the heroic efforts of lowly transportation workers to bring it to a halt, thwarted along the way by greedy corporate fatcats. So yes, it’s not a very complicated plot. And the main characters – lip-licky Denzel, glorious Rosario Dawson and dirty-old-man-crush of the moment Chris Pine – are so thinly sketched they’re all but transparent. But boy is it exciting, it looks great, moves fast, and the adrenalin just keeps you pumping.

For what’s essentially a road movie on tracks, Unstoppable uses a LOT of locations: Martins Ferry, Bellaire, Mingo Junction, Steubenville and Brewster in Ohio, and Pittsburgh, Emporium, Milesburg, Tyrone, Julian, Unionville, Port Matilda, Bradford, Monaca, Eldred, Turtlepoint, Port Allegany and Carnegie in Pennsylvania The elevated and elegantly curving bridge where the chemical tanks threaten to spill off into the oil terminus are actually in Bellaire, Ohio – a town that unusually brands itself a village rather than the more Americanly ambitious “city” (pop. 2108)

Another interesting thing I found out: we’re not always seeing the same train. Like some 40 ton quadruplets in a bad soap opera, the directors swapped in and out a number of identical trains hired from Canadian Pacific Railways. Sweet!

The Book of Eli

In The Book of Eli, Denzel Washington plays a mysterious stranger moving through a shattered post-apocalyptic landscape of dessicated ghost towns and cannibalistic marauders carrying the only surviving copy of the King James Bible. This magical book possesses the power to save mankind and must be protected at all costs. Think Pale Rider meets The Passion of The Christ meets Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

So The Book of Eli entertaining enough “in it’s own little mud-brown way” (as per Stephanie Zacharek’s scathing review in Salon.com) It tries hard, mostly using CGI on a studio set, to evocate of a particular nightmarish time and place, and its not without its dramatic tensions. Why quite so many hammy English character actors are out in the New Mexico desert, though, is not explained.

It’s also not explained what caused the war in the first place. My bet it would be blind, prescripitive, thoughtless adherence to – or rather wilful, selfish misinterpretation of – the good words written in that precious book. As Stephanie says: “The Book of Eli. Read it and weep.”