Fury

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Fury is a brutal, transfixing, visually impressive tale of a tank crew deep in hostile territory at the end of World War Two. There’s not much plot to speak of – the brave guys have to hold a strategic crossroads as their company is decimated around them is just about all there is to it – but the depiction of the visceral degradation of war (wet wool, mud, cordite, iron-y blood spatter) is haunting, and indeed breathtaking at times. What these men went through for our freedom is truly remarkable. Fury filmed in Oxfordshire using real tanks from the Bovington Tank Museum.

World War Z

World War Z, if you hadn’t heard, is a book that’s styled as an intellectual history of a massive, unprecedented global calamity which happens to involve zombies. Written by Max Brooks, it’s obviously not high art, but it is terrifically well written and the world it conjures is truly vivid and truly scary. So when the movie was announced, I was excited. But then came the naysaying reports – the bloated budget, the over-runs, the re-shoots, the clashes between Brad Pitt and director Marc Forster, Max Brooks distancing himself from the entire project. My heart sank. But then, and then….I went to see it.

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All I can tell you is that World War Z is a cracking film. It’s a thrilling ride (maybe a little gore-less for most zombie genre fans) that races headlong from country to country as the world caves in and Brad tries to reach the source of the infection. It’s NOTHING like the book, but the exposition is excellent, the cinematography is astounding, the sfx breath-taking, the speed, the zip, the tension, the pressure is just first rate. There’s no maudlin crap either, and no false sympathy engendered by a rescued dog or a lost girl. It’s just a relentless scramble to save the earth. This is how we like our disaster movies.

World War Z filmed Glasgow for Philadelphia and Malta for Jerusalem. It’s even got James Badge Dale. It’s literally a Must-See (yes, even in hated 3-D) and my movie-of-the-year so far.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

I don’t do death. I’ve spent my entire life blocking out the fact that death happens. But yesterday I learned that my most dearly beloved – the sweet and loyal and gentle Finley Dogchild – has a tumour the size of an orange growing between the muscles of her right thigh. It’s not going to kill her, but the effects of it are ageing her rapidly and quite alarmingly. She’s gone from running girl to little old lady before my eyes.

Under the circumstance, it was therefore probably unwise of me, to accept an invitation to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the CGI tale starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, featuring a man who ages and dies backwards. Born an arthritic little old man, the kindly Benjamin youthens (?) as he ages, a fact that somewhat understandably causes complications in his relationship with the beautiful ballerina Daisy. It’s going to end badly – and you’ve got 166 minutes to wait for it to happen.

Yes, Benjamin Button is a really long movie about death, and a lot of the scenes seem purely extraneous to the story itself. It’s beautifully made, with a richly realised period design that’s got a Moulin Rouge kind of feel to it. But while it is undoubtedly poignant, it ultimately feels soulless. I woke up this morning, feeling that somehow I’d be cheated.

Continue reading “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”

Burn After Reading

With Burn After Reading, the Coen Brothers channel Evelyn Waugh.

Gym bunny Chad and grasping Linda discover a cd rom on the floor of the changing rooms at the Hard Bodies Gym in Washington DC. When they realise it may contain highly sensitive CIA information, they proceed to try to flog it to the highest bidder. It’s actually the worthless novelised memoirs of Osborne Cox (Malkovitch), but the greed and misunderstandings set into motion an unstoppable series of tragi-comic events.

Set against the cruel infidelities, the blithe dismissiveness, the amoral ruthlessness, the stupidity, of the Washington DC / Georgetown “intelligence” set, Burn After Reading is by no means the Coen Brother’s best work. But like Waugh, the moment they make you laugh, they also make you gasp with shock and even horror. The innocent die quickly, the noxious escape unscathed. This is not a comfortable film. But it is funny.

Inspite of the strong Maryland / DC locations, Burn After Reading principally filmed in Brooklyn, so that the directors could remain close to their homes and families – another one of the myriad of frustrating influences that affect a of choice of production location, and over which no-one has any say.

Babel

Caught Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Babel on tv again last night – a beautiful, gut wrenching and entirely appalling exposition of the confusions and mistakes and misunderstandings that separate us. In light of the xenophobic wrath unfolding in Johannesburg right now, it’s a timely reminder of umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu – our humanity connects us, a person is a person through other persons. But then, Desmond Tutu is my hero.

Starring a toned-down Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, Babel features four stories that revolve around the central tale of an American couple on a vacation in Morocco. She is badly wounded when a bullet is fired through a tour bus window by a child playing with a gun. Meanwhile, back in America, the couple’s children travel into Mexico illegally with the family’s housekeeper, Amelia (Adriana Barraza), to attend her son’s wedding near Tijuana. They are accompanied by Amelia’s unstable nephew (Gael García Bernal). And far away in Tokyo, a deaf teenage girl named Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi) spins through the emotional upheavals of adolescence, disability and her mother’s suicide.

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Each place has its own aural and visual palette, and the fine cinematography distinctly captures the harsh light and dessicated landscapes of Morocco and the Mexican border, as well as the neon chaos of Tokyo. As the movie jumps from place to place and time to time, we learn that the narratives are intertwined and, inspite of the misunderstandings of language (the cast speak Spanish, Berber, Japanese and sign language, as well as English) that everyone is somehow linked.

There’s an interesting insight into the director’s choice of locations and the impact of those choices on the film via the production notes at Movie Grande.

A couple of things stand out for me. Talking of the experience of filming on the edge of the Sahara, Iñárritu says: “The heat was brutal and uncomfortable, but it’s precisely what this story is about. This was not only method acting but method execution.”

And at the other end of the spectrum, Tokyo -the only urban location – was rife with its own challenges. Says Iñárritu; “Things work slowly there and there’s no film commission to help you through. There’s no permission to shoot anything, so you are always escaping from the police at every corner. We had to be brave and work like a guerilla-style crew, ready to improvise, moving fast.”

And that’s why we need Film Commissions……