The title says it all, really: Aussie Brickie Sam Worthington spends an entire movie stuck on a ledge, twenty-something floors up and on the outside of the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan. Elizabeth Banks is the cop who has to talk him down, Ed Harris the corrupt businessman that Sam’s trying to nab in the most unlikely of manners. And yet, given the static scenario of the title, it works, quite surprisingly – a kind of poor man’s Inside Man, but one that works nonetheless.
New York looks great from up on that ledge, and the Roosevelt – chosen because the producer shot the so-so chiller 1408 there, but perhaps more famous for Ralph Fiennes’ romcom (seriously!) Maid in Manhattan – gets some pretty enviable screen-time.
In Tower Heist, Ben Stiller plays Josh, the manager of one of those opulent Trump Towers-y residential buildings in New York. He prides himself on running a slick and efficient team (all star cast here) that attends to the pampered needs of others. One of those others, the owner of the penthouse suite, is a Bernie Madoff kind of weasel, who’s stolen billions – including, as it turns out, the pensions of all the workers in his building. Thus begins a slick, well-rounded crime caper, as the hapless good guys bumble about trying to steal their life savings from the safe that’s hidden somewhere on the top floor.
So far so good? Well, on paper, yes. Tea Leoni’s in it, love her. The cast is uniformly excellent (except that Jamaican accent – what?) And the New York locations – the tower is an amalgam of a number of actual Trump properties, the exteriors include the actual Trump Tower – are always good to see. Must’ve been fun coordinating a shoot around a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. But I have to say, the decision to veer away from an Oceans 11-style crime yarn and turn towards a group of blue collar folk gaining their revenge on a corrupt one percenter actually felt like a bit of a downer. Being reminded of just how many folks have been flattened by Wall Street misdeeds doesn’t encourage suspension of disbelief and engagement in lighthearted banter to be honest.
In Limitless, Bradley Cooper plays Eddie Morra, a grungy, feckless, kind-of-despicable no-hoper, whose life is completely transformed on consumption of a teensie leettle pill. Said pill is engineered to activate the bits of brain that normally go unused – that’s quite a bit of brain for Mr. Morra – thus turning Bradley from homeless-looking dude (incl. ghastly frizzy ponytail!) to the smokin’ hot King of Awesomeness we secretly know for certain that he is.
There are complications of course – there’s a plot involving a number of corrupt businessmen and their lawyers, a zippy Russian mobster (stand-out performance – the actor’s Welsh for God’s sake), some rather deadly side-effects and a sweet-faced girlfriend, but I can’t tell you too much about that. Because once Bradley’s cleaned himself up a bit and is working the hand-tailored Italian suits, I kind of lost interest in everything else. Actually, that’s unfair; I thought it was pretty entertaining, and it’s visually interesting too.
I caught Across the Universe on tv the other day. It’s the Julie Taymor-directed piece that flung Jim Sturgess into the spotlight, using Beatles songs to move the story forward. (Each of the six leads sing their little lungs out on screen – and jolly well too, it must be said.) At first this conceit struck me as a little bit formulaic and copy-catty – riding on the bandwagon of the whopping success of shows such as Glee and movies such as Mama Mia!- until I realised it was released in 2007 and thus predated both sing-a-long phenomenons by quite a bit. Without the cultural framework of the later productions though, I can see how this one falls flat(ish).
It’s the story of a chap called Jude who travels to the US to find his war-time father, and falls in with a wealthy drop-out called Max and his beautiful sister Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood – on top of everything, she even sings, dammit.) The storyboard of their lives is punctuated by Vietnam, the draft, hippy culture, the Detroit riots (not sure how that slipped in), and the anti-war movement – all to Beatles tracks rearranged and belted out anew.
Two iconic locations appear in the film: Liverpool’s famous Cavern Club ( a great pastiche at the opening of the film, highlighting the radical differences between Scouser Jude and the debutante Lucy) and Princeton, where Jude’s real Dad works as a janitor. Anyway, I must admit I mostly enjoyed it until it got a bit trippy and cartoony (a nod to Yellow Submarine?) and by then it had been too long and too irritating. You can see why Julie Taymor keeps getting the gigs though, even if she doesn’t quite pull it off.
The Adjustment Bureau takes on some pretty big themes; fate, faith, chance, luck – good and bad – predestination, God. None of that matters though, because all you want is for the damaged Matt Damon to find love and happiness with the effervescent Emily Blount….
Stubby Matt (no favours done by that ill-fitting suit) plays a youthful congressman who meets a woman, played by Emily (perhaps in her best form since The Devil Wears Prada) in the loos at the Vanderbilt, and suddenly sees a life for himself that doesn’t include aching loneliness and constant craving. Unfortunately this stunning realisation is the cue for the appearance of The Adjustment Bureau, a shadowy, secretive, all-knowing, all-powerful Gods-and-Angels kind of organisation that makes subtle adjustments in the fabric of time, to get people back on course. And of course, the particular course they want for Matt does not include Emily….
So thus begins what is really a romantic-sci-fi-adventure-thriller-chase movie that scampers in and around and under New York City. But again, none of that matters because the stuttering, unfolding relationship between Matt and Emily is so heart-felt and so compelling. Wait til the pivotal kiss in the tea room in Central Park: you’ll also want them to be together. For ever.
With it’s film New York City storyline, The Adjustment Bureau was shot on location – no Toronto stand-ins here – and it shows. You can virtually smell the place. Emanuel Levy – you really must read this chap if you want informed takes on movies and their locations – has the best stuff on the scope of physical sites used during the filming. And if, like me, you’re wondering where the actual Adjustment Bureau building is: Continue reading →
Without giving too much of the plot away, in Salt, Angelina plays a CIA agent who’s accused of being a Russian sleeper-spy and is forced to go on the run both to clear her name and to save her husband. It’s a serviceable little Philip Noyce thriller, not No Way Out – i.m.h.o one of the best movies of the 80s, yes even with Kevin Costner – or evenLittle Nikita. Think Paris Hilton meets MacGyver, and you’ve got the general gist. It’s kind of how we imagined the secret life of Anna Chapman before her monumental and laughable ineptitude was revealed. Anyway. It’s all fun enough.
So I guess it all boils down to whether or not you “get” Angelina – and, admittedly, I don’t. At all. Salt feels like the conjured, self-aware performance of someone of average talent who has made a pact with the Darkness in return for the fulfillment of her raging ambition. I am quite convinced in fact, that she sleeps in a coffin lined with pelts stripped from living Amur Leopards and I fear she dines by night on the blood and organs of orphans and street kids and other hapless-innocents-who-won’t-be-missed. I am also convinced we will never see her age, or even die, in our lifetime….
I’ve always thought that Jennifer Lopez was a kind of puertorriqueña Eva Peron. Behind that polished and fragrant exterior, I fear she’s grasping, focussed, ruthless, charmless, vindictive and utterly without mercy to those who stand in her way (or are foolish enough to paint her dressing room the wrong shade of white.) If you cross her, she’ll mow you down, kick your corpse and dump your cement-weighted body off the nearest pier without even breaking a nail. I reckon she has a temper that’d melt glass, and I believe Marc Anthony‘s so skeletal because she keeps him chained and subdued in the basement where she sucks out his life-spirit whenever she damn well feels like it. Yet all of this is in contrast to her undeniably quirky, kindly, funny screen image – the latest incarnation of which is on display in the quite sweet Back Up Plan.
In the film, La Lopeza plays a lonely, thirty-something singleton who goes the artificial insemination route, only to meet the man of her dreams in a yellow cab. It’s an implausible enough plot, stretched reeeeeaaaaaalllly thin, but it’s actually quite a nice movie, and Mad Jen and the Aussie lead are watchable enough to while away an hour or so.
Although the production did shoot in New York – Fifth Avenue along Central Park, at the Tribeca Farmer’s Market, on Park Avenue, along the brownstones of Greenwich Village, and at Gray’s Papaya (indeed, a real place) on Sixth Avenue – the bulk of the action was produced on a Californian studio backlot. A farm in the Santa Monica mountains doubled for Stan’s farm in Upstate New York and Pasadena’s Elks’ Lodge served as the interior of the grandmother’s Shady Brook Retirement Center.
There’s a lot you’ll see in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist that is somehow familiar. There are sweet and slightly awkward young adults, witty and erudite beyond their years. There’s romance, and fumbling. There’s a sound track – a very good sound track actually. And there’s a night-time location of bright lights and big noise and a city that never sleeps.
Yet hiding within the familiar clothes and propelled by the familiar story is a uniquely modern, thriving world of diversity. Norah is a Jewish girl in a Catholic school for instance, a fact that’s in fact portrayed as truly unremarkable. Nick by turn is the only straight member of a gay punk band. This does not mark him or his friends out for derision or personal violence – nor the grim traditional movie-fate of being sidelined as the sage sounding boards for the female lead. It does not mark them out for anything at all actually. The gross-out humour is perpetuated by one of the girls. This is all so unremarkable it’s noteworthy.
There were titters and guffaws in the Capetonian audience watching The Day the Earth Stood Stillwhen it realised that an interstellar body with enough speed and size to anihilate the entire planet was heading for a direct impact with Manhattan Island. All 23 square miles of it. So here’s another little tip for Hollywood’s cognoscienti; out here in the Rest of the World plc – where, incidentally, we make up more than a fraction of the revenues your product will score over the course its lifetime – we’re actually a little bored of seeing New York or Los Angeles getting blasted. It’s been done. To death.
Anyway. Fortunately – and without giving away too much of the plot – this particular incident is not at all happenstance. Aliens are coming, and they have a specific purpose; they want to save the dying Earth. Continue reading →
Often as a Film Commissioner, you have to explain to the custodians of some of the most beautiful landscapes on Earth exactly why they don’t get more enquiries from major international blockbusters looking to film in their remarkable natural locations. Usually I point out that movies rarely require the terrorists to take over the nature reserve – though I actually did see a film in which that happened recently, on the Action Channel and it wasn’t worth reporting here. I mention this only because I sat through Max Payne on Saturday night, and the locations department clearly sourced every single grim and grimy back alley and tenement block in Toronto to play out this video-game to movie cross-over.
Mark Wahlberg – in a rollneck sweater, so what exactly is the point? – plays Max Payne, another maverick New York cop who’s investigating the murders of his wife and child. It becomes clear that there’s a link to the nefarious pharmaceutical company where is wife had worked – they’ve been making a drug called Valkyr that boosts the morale of battlefield soldiers. Plot spoiler from here on in: It also makes them nuts. And murderous. And sweaty. Although for the life of me, I still can’t work out what ripped the Bond girl to pieces in the first reel.
Max Payne does look impressive; it’s Matrix meets Blade meets Constantine – very Gotham – but poor scripting, and incomprehensible plot and really, really bad acting (Beau Bridges, what were you thinking?) make Max Payne a mere cypher of all of the above.