Blue Jasmine

If Cate Blanchett doesn’t win tonight’s Oscar for her performance in Blue Jasmine, I shall be gobsmacked. She gives a completely remarkable, sustained, emotionally rollercoastered tour de force performance as Jasmine, a New York socialite who finds herself in hard times after the suicide of her husband (a licentious Madoff-style crook of monumentally shitty proportions.)

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Left cuckolded, bankrupt and mentally fragile, she travels to San Francisco to stay with her estranged sister, one of Madoff’s early victims. But these are the last days of her illusions of grandeur, and they are about to come crashing dowm. It’s a great film, almost solely due to Blanchett’s brilliance (though Sally Hemmings as her rather more downmarket sister is great too.) But Blanchett? Brilliant. Setting aside my complete dislike of the utterly sleazy filmmaker, this is one for the record books. Location wise, there’s not a tangible sense of place as there often is in Woody Allen movies, though there’s some sight-seeing around and about the city.

The Good German

Steven Soderberg goes all Casablanca on us, with a black and white, forties-style film noir, The Good German. George Clooney plays Jake Geismar, a war correspondent in Potsdam, Germany, for the Post Armistice conference held by the victorious Allies. It starts as a murder mystery, when his venal, vicious snotrag of a driver is pulled out of a river, but it switches into something altogether more intriguing: the search for the sole witness to the war crimes of a Nazi Scientist. The Americans want the Scientist for their own rocket programme, but they can’t have him if he’s uncloaked as a bad German…..

So, though it falls far short of being a thriller, The Good German is nevertheless a solid yarn that’s not only well told and well acted, but is finely crafted with the tools of Forties’ Hollywood. It shot largely on sound stages in LA, but a lot of the footage is actual Russian archive that’s been spliced into the whole.

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.

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Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Ok, now that the movie’s finally out, it’s probably finally safe to talk about this…..

Although Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull features all sorts of Cold War triple agent spy-jinks and McCarthy-esque witch-hunts for hidden Reds, it would appear that most feared were those who might have tried to steal the movie’s secrets. The final credits even include a Confidentiality Co-ordinator, for heaven’s sake.

But check out this story from the New Haven Independent from May 2007 on the planned filming of the motorbike chase through the university, and you’ve basically got an entire run-down of what audiences would see on screen two years later. It’s bizarre. But it is actually a fairly typical Film Commission dilemma; oh so often, enthusiastic local journalists overwhelmed by the big stars and the Hollywood machine suddenly in their backyard, blurt out significant plot spoilers to the local community at time of filming. It’s even problematic with tv commercials, and it’s made so much worse when it’s the Film Commission that has facilitated the introduction. 

Bearing in mind that bit-part actor Tyler Nelson was sued for revealing a couple of Indie plotlines to his hometown newspaper, Oklahoma’s Edmond Sun, I’m surprised Lucasfilm didn’t jump on this one like, well…..Bad Guys.

 

Anyway, is the movie any good? Well, it certainly means to be; it’s light hearted, quick witted, self-referential fun. On the plus side, Shia Laboeuf is snake-hipped (Yes, he IS Indie’s kid)and Cate Blanchett is curiously sympathetic for a baddie, and the action leaps from location to location with typical gusto (New Mexico and Hawaii, as well as Conneticut). On the minus – though it doesn’t ever try to hide the fact that it’s nineteen years since Indie’s last outing – the producers chose to surround him with a lot of really OLD people, it’s kind of odd. Maybe youth wasn’t actually the target demographic?? 

At the bottom of it, the plot is pretty thin too. Basically, Indiana is asked to help a colleague in distress who has apparently found El Dorado, the fabled Amazonian City of Gold. He’s chased there by a Russian psychic with Louise Brooks hair, several angry natives and some extremely hungry ants. And that’s about it. Oh, and did I mention the aliens?  

Still, there’s always the theme tune; I challenge you NOT to be humming it on the way out of the theatre.

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……