Source Code

There’s a bomb on a commuter train heading for Chicago. We know this because, in Source Code, we see it explode. And then we see it explode again. And again. And again. And each time, an army pilot Colter Stevens (doe-eyed Jake Gyllenhaal) who’s working for a secretive new military time-travel program, is sent back in eight minute chunks, to try and find the bomber and change the course of the future….

So it’s a doomsday-ish sci-fi thriller – think Twelve Monkeys meets Murder on the Orient Express – and Jake is really rather good in it. He is of course acted off the damn screen by the inestimable Vera Farmiga, who plays his cool but conflicted operator. We mostly see her seated, looking directly into camera, and the emotions flickering across her face are remarkably subtle and nuanced. Jeffrey Wright too is excellent as the slimy inventor of the Source Code. Michelle Monaghan as the sappy saccharine-sweet love interest, I frankly just don’t get. Anyway, Ms. Monahan aside, it’s worth taking out on dvd.

As for locations, well there’s only so much you can do with a railway carriage and the inside of a military lab. Without giving away too much of the plot, there is one image in Jake’s flashbacks that stand out: of the Cloud Gate in Chicago’s Millenium Park. Cloud Gate – known to locals as “The Bean”, for obvious but somewhat unimaginative reasons – is a public sculpture by British-Indian artist Anish Kapoor that looks like a giant shiny mirrored drop of liquid mercury. There’s a bit of an a-ha moment about this when the whole thing wraps.

Prince of Persia

In Prince of Persia, Jake Gyllenhaal pulls off the tremendous feat of becoming at once both more butch and more femme. Shot in Morocco, the plot revolves around a regicidal Royal who – eschewing more time-tested methods of removing his royal rivals (eg poison, gutting, beheading etc.) – devises a really outraegously convoluted plot whereby he’ll declare war on an innocent country, steal a magical dagger from a princess, and turn back time to a pivotal moment when (boo hoo!) he should have been the future king. Jake sets out to stop him.

So: Ben Kingsley, as the baddie, eats the furniture, and Ms. Fields once again revives her recurring role as an undercover English princess – though quite how she ends up in that desert beneath that duvet is beyond me. But it’s Prince-Charmingly-haired Jake who’s the most perplexing: doe eyed and recently buffed, very early on in the film, those Deliverance words sprang unbidden into my mind: “He got a real purdy mouth ain’t he?”

After that, I couldn’t really concentrate.

Nearly Nailed by Political Interference

In the greater scheme of things, how an interfering official in the State of South Carolina dealt with the filming of the new Jessica Biel, James Marsden, Jake Gyllenhaal movie Nailed is a lesson on how not to engage with the film industry.

In Nailed, Biel’s character Alice is a sweet, small-town waitress who gets a nail lodged in her head in an accident, and begins acting in an erratic and outrageous (read sexual) manner as a result. Uninsured, she heads to Washington to fight for better health care and ends up falling for a clueless new congressman (Gyllenhaal) who must summon the political courage to save her.


South Carolina was selected as the location for filming largely due to a competitive incentive programme driven by the South Carolina Film Commission. (The incentives are in the form of a cash rebate, paid to the production company within 30 days of final audit. How it differs from tax credit-based incentives is clarified here.) But according to Mattheus Mei at the Leonardo’s Notebook blog, the State’s unpopular Commerce Secretary, Joe Taylor, actually tried to block filming in the State, because he didn’t like the sexual content of the script. 

‘It actually took maneuvering around the Secretary and confronting the legislature directly that was crucial in landing the film in Columbia. It was so bad that last week the Senate apparently had to have a committee meeting calling members of the Film Commission, the Commerce Department and the film itself to count before it to discuss the film – including the Film’s Director.’

Now anyone who has worked at the intersection between government and film knows that there are a whole heap of objections (some valid, some entirely spurious) to the efficacy and applicability of incentives. And it really depends on the creativity of the sitting politicians to grasp – and manage appropriately – the economic potential thrown up by the film sector.

But as I discussed at the last AFCI Cineposium in New Mexico, there’s a little thing known as the Law of Unintented Consequences that always comes back to bite you: in this case, the self-important opinions of an (elected?) official.

Sadly, it looks like it’s adding up to a fairly lousy experience for the producers. Inspite of a production that involves at least two of the most beautiful people in film – AND features the luminescent Catherine Keener to boot – this hasn’t been an easy shoot.  Veteran actor James Caan apparently left the film set three weeks ago in a dispute with the director over the way his character should choke on a cookie (I kid you not) And then on Friday, the South Carolina State newspaper reported that The Screen Actors Guild had called all its members, including Gyllenhaal and Biel, on strike, after film producers did not keep enough money in accounts to pay actors. They’re back at work now, apparently, but my, I’m sure the producers will all have really fond memories of Columbia, SC……..

Good Taste is a Deadly Attribute

My second Made in Cape Town movie of the weekend was Rendition, the first Hollywood production of South African director Gavin Hood, who won a Best Foreign Language Oscar for Tsotsi. Cinematography was by another high flying South African, Dion Beebe.

“Rendition” refers to the ability of the CIA to detain anyone suspected of terrorist dealings, and then to squirrel them away to foreign countries where they can be interrogated (read: tortured) indefinitely, without the fuss and bother of things like, oh, law, or due process. As the subject matter for a movie, it’s obviously pressingly relevant in these days of covert internment, interrogation and torture, post 9-11.

In Rendition, an Egyptian-American is snatched on the way home from a conference, and his pregnant wife has to try to find out what’s happened to him. The film begins in South Africa, though unfortunately only a few fleeting moments take place in Cape Town, against the gorgeous backdrop of Table Mountain.

The bulk of the action alternates between Washington DC and an undisclosed Third World, Middle Eastern country – which for filmmakers these days means Morocco.

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