Set in the scary, chaotic aftermath of the Iranian revolution and the storming of the American embassy in Tehran, Argo sees six embassy workers take a gap and escape into the madness of the streets. Terrified and under very real threat of death, they seek sanctuary in the Canadian embassy like so many Anne Franks, as the Revolutionary Guard go house to house killing spies and counter-revolutionaries and anyone connected with the Shah. They are perilously exposed, and the CIA urgently needs a plan to get them out. But what? With the usual cover stories unavailable, they conjure up a fake identity for the team that so implausible, so ridiculous, it just might work. They’ll create a fake film crew for a fake film company making a fake sci-fi film – complete with ads in Variety – and they’ll smuggle the Americans out under the guise of a poorly-timed location scouting trip….


The result is really a fantastic, edge-of-the-seat thriller. Another appalling Ameri-centric re-writing of actual history of course (sorry Brits and Kiwis, and also you Canucks, the Yanks are the only game in town in this re-telling) but, what the hell – it’s really a fantastic cinematic experience from start to finish. Argo filmed in California, actually – even the tense scenes in the embassy compound as its invaded by the mob were filmed at the Veteran’s Administration north of Los Angeles. External scenes were shot in Istanbul. Emanuel Levy has good stuff as usual.

But here’s a strange thing; for a movie that relies on a location scout for its basic plot point, it’s kind of unforgivable that the film’s own location professionals are ignored in the closing credits. I think that’s even more uncool than slagging off the Brits….

The Mentalist

Now that we’re a little more house-bound, and unable to pop out to movies on a whim, I’m having to settle for watching television. In South Africa, that’s a frustrating enterprise at best, and there have already been a couple of Stop-Starts – or rather Start-Stops. Fringe was one that had potential then lost my interest. Sanctuary was another; I hardly lasted an episode. (what was that woman from Stargate doing with the bad accent and the worse wig?)

One of the better ones though, and one which continues to peak my curiousity, is The Mentalist. Starring Aussie Simon Baker, the series tracks a division of the California Bureau of Investigations as it works on high-profile murder cases. Baker plays the Mentalist of the title, a consultant to the Bureau who uses mental dexterity, powers of observation, hypnosis and suggestion to get unwilling suspects to spill the beans. Croaky-voiced Robin Tunney, who’s fab (but sadly burdened with too much story-propelling dialogue) is his exasperated boss.

Continue reading “The Mentalist”

Iron Man (again)

Based upon Marvel’s iconic Super Hero, Iron Man tells the story of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), a billionaire industrialist and genius inventor who is kidnapped by the Bad Guys and forced to build a devastating weapon for them. Instead, Tony builds a high-tech suit of armour and escapes captivity. Upon his return home, Tony comes to terms with his wastrel past. When he uncovers a nefarious plot with global implications, he dons his powerful armour and vows to protect the world as Iron Man.

My thoughts? I haven’t enjoyed a Superhero movie this much since, well, since ever. It just goes to show what really great actors can do with a witty script under the guidance of a director (Jon Favreau) who’s actually thought about his material. Downey, who I’ve always thought a bit flaky, is truly excellent, and Terence Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeff Bridges all turn in superb supporting stints. Bridges (who admittedly has the best material to work with) does a tour-de-force nasty Bull Daddy, that should have leathermen everywhere very, very excited. He’s even got the cigar!

Iron Man movie was shot in California – a conscious decision by the director to avoid yet another New York location. Production was based in the former Hughes Company soundstages in Playa Vista, California. (Hughes was apparently one of the inspirations for Tony Stark.)


 Wikipedia reports:

Filming began on March 12, 2007, with the first few weeks spent on Stark’s captivity in Afghanistan. The cave where Stark is imprisoned was a 200m long set, which was built with movable forks in the caverns to allow greater freedom for the film’s crew. Production designer J. Michael Riva saw footage of a Taliban fighter in Afghanistan, and saw the cold breath as he spoke: realizing remote caves are actually very cold, Riva placed an air conditioning system in the set. He also sought Downey’s advice about make-shift objects in prison, such as a sock being used to make tea. All this created greater authenticity.

Stark’s capture was filmed at Lone Pine, California, and other exterior scenes set in Afghanistan were actually filmed at Olancha Sand Dunes, also in California. A lot of the military stuff was shot on location at Edwards Airforce Base, of which Favreau said: “This is the best back lot you could ever have. Every angle you shoot is authentic: desert, dry lake beds, hangars.”

There’s also a fun story on how the military received the production at Edwards team stars in ‘Iron Man’ superhero on the Air Force’s own website.

 So much for Runaway Production.