American Hustle

How, oh how, does a film like American Hustle get to be an Oscar contender? Yes, it’s big and it’s brash and yes, it’s emotionally manipulative, but jeez it’s a mess of a film, and I’m not even sure it has a plot. Conman Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale, with a paunch and a comb-over) and conwoman Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams, lovely) cut a deal with FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper in curlers) to scam other small time criminals in return for clemency. However, Irving’s loose-cannon wife Rosalyn (Lawrence) threatens to derail the entire plan….

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So: it filmed in New Jersey. It’s authentically styled. It tries very hard to be zany. It’s absolutely meaningless. It’s like Pain and Gain (a movie so bad I didn’t bother to review), a period piece – all sound and fury signifying nothing – that distinguishes itself by hair-styles and sound-tracks. Style over substance, style over substance. And again, I have to say this: Jennifer Lawrence is completely and utterly miscast in a role that she’s 15 years too young for. Yes, she’s brilliant here but she’s just too young. It must be a Hollywood Insider thing. It’s like The Emperor’s New Clothes, and I’m the only one saying it out loud. Boring.

The Dark Knight Rises

I enjoyed Batman Begins but I absolutely loved Batman Returns; I still think it’s one of the best action-thrillers ever. And having seen a conversation with Christopher Nolan and his wife Emma Thomas at the Produced By Conference this June (did you know they made their first film for $6000 only in 1997….) I was looking forward to The Dark Knight Rises. And what a film it turned out to be. I can’t really explain the plot, but I can tell you it’s the most amazing, disturbing, discombobulating piece of theater. And I don’t just mean that it’s a flawless artwork – though it absolutely is. Every scene is meticulously rich in detail. It’s the political dimensions to the film that are so thought-provoking – the anarchy, the random, vicious violence, the one percenters on trial and chucked into the streets or arbitrarily judged and executed by a braying mob. No, not a fun ride at all. But brilliant nonetheless.

Of course from a locations point of view, Gotham City is New York City and it looks great here – even though a lot of the actual filming took place in Pennsylvania, California, London and elsewhere. Wayne Hall is Wollaton Hall in Nottinghamshire in the UK, prompting the BBC to predict massive tourism increase to the property.

I should add: Anne Hathaway as Catwoman is just outstanding. Outstanding. It’ll change your opinion of her. Joseph Gordon-Levitt too. Outstanding. Only downside: Tom Hardy. It’s like Sean Connery meets Darth Vader.

3-10 to Yuma

One of the shows I caught a couple of times in LA was How the States got their Shapes on the History Channel – a light though entertaining unpacking of the expansion of America (which incidentally filmed its reenactments in Cape Town….) It’s kind of obvious, but I hadn’t thought of it before – but before the advent of the railroads, State borders were lined up along the courses of rivers. Once railroads changed the way the continent was crossed, rivers became irrelevant, and hence, the further west you go, the straighter the borders become. Anyway, I’m digressing only slightly, because the coming of the railroads is one of the underlying themes of my final installment of American history – Christian Bale and Russell Crowe in the Western 3-10 to Yuma.

Bale plays an impoverished farmer about to be punted off his land to make way for the railroad, who volunteers to escort a wanted criminal (Crowe) across country to catch the train of the title. It’s a rollicking good yarn – great story, great acting, well told – and though I’d seen it before several years back, it was still fresh and interesting. Another reason I enjoyed it though was the New Mexico locations. Both the towns of Bisbee and Contention were built from scratch in the New Mexico Desert – and I was lucky enough to visit The Bonanza Creek Ranch where Bisbee was built (and remains) during the AFCI’s Cineposium in 2007.

Terminator Salvation

Three movies and a tv series later – all of which, remember, were about actually stopping Skynet and the nuclear war – and the Robots of Terminator Salvation have indeed taken over the world. The grown-up John Connor, method-acted into snarly oblivion by the increasingly unpleasant Christian Bale, is now some sort of post-apocalyptic messiah, coordinating the surviving humans against the all-knowing, and unstoppable robotic onslaught. Well, sort of.

SciFi is, I think, meant to include Science as well as Fiction – things have to be at least vaguely sensible. And this isn’t. For instance, whilst the robots are apparently able to pick up enemy movement at will, they miss the rebel base entirely and they completely fail to react to the torching of a whole forest by Connor and his crowd. Can anyone say “heat seeking missile”?

And whilst Sam Worthington looks pretty (and he certainly picks up a lot of the slack for the odiously one-dimensional Bale) what exactly is he there for? To raise questions about the blurring distinctions between man and machine? Perhaps. Because while the movie raises those questions, it doesn’t get around to answering them. All Very Perplexing.

For what it’s worth, Terminator Salvation filmed in New Mexico.  New Mexico Magazine offers advice on day trips to the locations in the film. And in case there was any doubt about how filming can involve the whole community, here’s a story about how two dogs from the local doggie day care won featured extras roles…..

Batman, The Dark Knight

OK, let me start by saying; 1) Heath Ledger is as good as the hype and 2) the latest three hour Batman movie isn’t – at least not quite.

Batman may have hoped to inspire goodness in mankind, but at the start of Christopher Nolan’s latest saga, it’s kind of backfired. Vigilantes and bad guys alike have taken to dressing up in tights and mouseketeer hats and are collectively confusing the hell out of the GPD (that’s Gotham Police Department to you). And worse still, the successful crack-down on organised crime has brought the city’s mobsters into the collective thrall of an appalling, a-moral, dysfunctional villain – Heath Ledger’s now-notorious Joker. Up against this anarchistic and chaotic force of un-nature is gloomy-two-shoes Batman and his cohorts – Bale, Caine, Oldman, Freeman again – joined by Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) a golden-boy District Attorney with really nice hair.

Batman, The Dark Knight looks great, and I was interested to read somewhere that 1995’s Heat was one of the inspirations for some of the Dark Knight’s relentless criminal set-pieces – it’s got the guns and that breathy sense of inexorable movement. And (plot spoilers from here on in) if it had all ended with the final show-down between Batman and the Joker, it would have been a truly well rounded movie-going experience. But Harvey Dent going bad? It just didn’t make sense. And on a separate but related whinge, am I the only one who thinks Maggie Gyllenhaal is hardly worth the bother of a run to Woolies, let alone a killing spree?   

Anyway, one thing I did admire about the movie was the refreshing up-dating of the aura of Gotham; no more dark and dirty alleys, but a grand, modern, thriving city. It’s Chicago that gets to play host to the production and according to Wikipedia, the movie generated $45 million in Chicago’s economy, creating thousands of jobs in the process. There’s a cute little website called Chicago.Everyblock that lists every location the movie used in the city and links it to a little map. Nice. And of course you can always check out Emmanuel Levy’s in depth comment.

Ever the art director, it was the Redhead who noticed that many of the movie’s locations looked out onto the same street, and as it turns out he was right (again, dammit) The IBM Building was the site of the Wayne Enterprises Boardroom, Harvey Dent’s office, the Mayor’s office and the Police Commissioner’s office. (And Di, Bruce’s bedroom was built separately on the 39th floor of Hotel 71 on East Wacker Drive……)

Having scouted extensively all over the world Chicago was ultimately chosen as the main location for Batman because director Christopher Nolan had a “truly remarkable” experience there filming Batman Begins – a great advert for the benefits that come from rolling out the carpet for filmmakers. Somehow though, I doubt he’ll be rushing back to Hong Kong. The shoot there was plagued by unhelpful city officials expressing concern over possible noise pollution and traffic. Like flipping an 18-wheeler on Chicago’s La Salle street wasn’t potentially problematic??? I guess it’s all about attitude.

At the end of the day, jurisdictions all need to consider: do you want an extra $45 million kicking around your economy or don’t you? (and that is NOT a trick question.) 

Cry the Beloved Colorado

Having watched it again last night, I’ve decided that The Prestige is a very good movie.

Beginning in turn-of-the-century London, it tells of two young magicians who set out to carve their own paths to fame. Angier (Hugh Jackman) is a consummate entertainer, while the rough-edged Borden (Christian Bale with a truly horrible accent) is a magical genius without the pizazz to showcase his artistry. They start out as friends but following a tragedy become sworn enemies, each intent on outdoing the other. Trick by trick, show by show, their competitive lust even takes them to Colorado, where they co-opt the fantastical new powers of electricity and scientific brilliance of inventor Nikola Tesla…..

And here I divert to the point of my irritable missive today. Unlike my previous entry, there’s kudos due to Christopher Nolan since he did in fact shoot The Prestige in Colorado for a couple of day – on the Georgetown Railway loop (amongst other places.) I assume he did this for authenticity, since most movies with Colorado settings generally end up being shot in Canada. I can rattle off several: As Good as it Gets, Alien v. Predator II, Blades of Glory, Catch and Release, the entire series of Stargate SG1 to name but a few. 

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