I guess when you’re Steven Soderbergh, you’ve got your pick of A-listers prepared to do bit parts in your films. And I guess you also get to pretty much choose where you’re going to shoot. And I guess, therefore, when you’re Steven Soderbergh, and a script like Contagion lands in front of you, you get to bring together your game team of cast and locations in perfect harmony.

Well, yes, that’s true enough, in principle. And it’s also true that – unlike some unfocussed, heart-stringy Roland Emmerich block buster – Soderbergh takes the high road with the story line. He treats it dead seriously that a working Mom returns from a business trip to China trailing a disease in her wake that’s both airborne and transmitted by touch. The ensuing pandemic ultimately takes out several million people whilst Scientists struggle try to isolate a cure and the woman’s surviving husband attempts to fend for his surviving child.

So I found the sociological parts of the story really fascinating – yes, even the close ups that remind us ickily of the gazillion objects we carelessly touch each day. But in spite of the excellent cast and the glorious range of places he puts them (Illinois did stand in for Minnesota), it just fails to connect on any visceral level. Perhaps that’s apt: in a movie where human contact can be fatal we are held at a very safe distance from the characters. So: Contagion? Good, but not, sadly, great.

Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2. Hm. Where to start? Wasn’t it Dorothy Parker who said: “If you’ve nothing good to say about anyone, come sit by me…”

So in light of the above: considering IM1 was such a blast, IM2 felt strangely like an altogether smaller film. The wealthy playboy’s mega-birthday bash for instance seemed to involve about twenty extras and a dj playing tunes from an ipod under the stairs. Sam Rockwell’s still got fake tan on his hands. Samuel L Jackson phones in his performance. Mickey Rourke (below) is seriously scary in a way that has absolutely nothing to do with the movie. Terence Howard is missed missed missed. Need I go on?  Oh, and that waster Robert Downey Junior is so far back on my Naughty List, it’s gonna be coal for him for Christmas.

Oh, I guess I should come down off that fence and tell you what I really thought of it, right? It’s crap. And I mean that in a nice way.

The stand-out location is Monte Carlo, during the Monaco Grand Prix. That’s exciting enough. There’s some nice behind-the-scenes footage here.a

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.