The East

The East is an uncomfortable little film; it reminded me of the (superior) Martha Marcy Mae Marlene, not quite in the same league, but interesting and creepy nonetheless.

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Brit Marling (who co-wrote the film) plays Sarah, a private security operative who goes underground to spy on an eco-terror group called The East. These guys live communally, completely off the grid, emerging only occasionally for the highly public and edge-of-deadly humiliation of big oil / chemical / pharma executives. So you’re dealing with the “will-she-won’t-she be unmasked”, and “will-they-won’t-they be uncovered”, and “will-they-won’t-they actually kill anyone” trifecta, played out amongst people we’ll never really understand. And thus the movie tracks Sarah’s gradual engagement with the group’s philosophy, if not their motives, and her increasing attachment to the group’s enigmatic leader (Alexander Skarsgard – so kind of understandable.) So, although it’s not a consistently brilliant film, it’s queasy-making throughout and well worth a watch. Set in DC, The East actually filmed in Shreveport, Louisiana.

Olympus Has Fallen

I enjoyed Olympus Has Fallen. It’s like Die Hard for the Now Generation, with the White House staring as Nakatomi Towers, and Korean terrorists playing Alan Rickman. Now Gerard Butler ain’t no Bruce Willis, and Radha Mitchell is wasted as Bonnie Bedelia (and she NEVER gets to punch a reporter) but it all goes down as planned, no big surprises, but no big failures either. The action scenes, particularly the assault on the Presidential residence, is very well done indeed (there’s a LOT of death and destruction) and the stakes are high enough for it to be engaging and ludicrous enough for it to be fun.

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Olympus Has Fallen actually filmed in Louisiana.

Shark Night

Remember the perplexing Colombiana and my incredulity at the preposterousness of “murder by shark”? Well, Shark Night is much much worse. It’s like Deliverance meets Scream meets Deep Blue Sea, with hicks setting sharks on co-eds. Oh. Did I just give away the entire plot? Don’t worry, you’ll thank me later.

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Shark Night filmed in Louisiana, quite obviously for the financial incentives. Because otherwise the holiday playground is all dirty sand and murky water (I kept expecting the water/jet-skiers to hit submerged logs) and it doesn’t look anything like the kind of place you’d want to hang out – even without the sharks. Sara Paxton, we need to talk.

Django Unchained

LP Hartley’s 1953 novel “The Go-between” was set in north Norfolk, in the secluded country homes and villages where I grew up. Yet, the Victorian landscapes of the novel weren’t really a place I recognised. Understandably. Hartley famously began the novel: “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”

And this is how I’ve decided I shall approach Django Unchained, Tarantino’s latest, quite excellent opus. This will allow me to think my way through the big issues at stake – racism, slavery, guilt, redemption, power and powerlessness, simmering residual anger, sexual violence – as well as the deliberate portrayal of these themes within the framework of a blaxploitation-style Spaghetti Western that’s written and directed by a white guy, without getting too stuck on finding a singular interpretation or understanding of it all.

I thought it was brilliantly, beautifully filmed in awesomely art-directed locations, and there wasn’t a single performance out of kilter. Samuel L Jackson gives the first performance I’ve seen him give in a long, long, long time that isn’t phoned in – he’s electrifying – Leonardo as the bad guy is completely mesmerising, and Waltz and Jamie Foxx deserve whatever accolades come their way. So: it’s not easy viewing given the themes and the violence and the language, but the past is, after all, another country, and I’ll do the heavy lifting on this later.

Django Unchained filmed the upland winter scenes in Wyoming – on a private ranch location in Jackson, with additional scenes in Grand Teton National Park and on the National Elk Refuge, according to Wyoming Tourism. The plantation scenes were shot in Louisiana on the Evergreen Plantation, a National Historic Landmark from 1832, on Louisiana Highway 18 near Wallace, Louisiana. Due to it’s historical significance, the plantation is on the first 26 featured sites on the Louisiana African American Heritage Trail.

Pitch Perfect

I’ll make no secret of it: Pitch Perfect made me laugh like a drain from start to finish. It’s the (formulaic, post-Glee) tale of the world-weary Becca, a musical mash-up college first year, who unwillingly joins an all-girl a capella group as part of a bargain with her Dad.

But while the plot my be obvious, the exposition is just fantastic. Elizabeth Banks and Rebel Wilson are so funny, their one-liners and their timing so perfect – and they fire them out so quickly – it’s hard to know if they’re scripted or riotously ad lib. Anna Kendrick as Becca is brilliant – a winning sweetness and joy emerging from under her rock hard carapace – and I couldn’t take my eyes off Brittany Snow. Though set at the fictional Barden College, it filmed at Louisiana State University. And it would just not be fair to end without the singing. Lovely.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

From the reviews, and all the Facebook feedback, I’d been really looking forward to seeing Beasts of The Southern Wild, with expectations that it would make for some breath-taking, whimsical, challenging, magic-realistic cinema.

First, the business end of the post, beginning with the plot. Well, there isn’t one really. A child is being raised by her sick single father in a poor bayou community that’s inundated by a levee-breaking storm. The waters rise and recede, the poor continue a life that’s “other”. Some big pigs appear. And that’s about it. Then there’s the locations: the fictional island of the Bathtub (or “Isle de Charles Doucet”) is a creative amalgam of several isolated, independent and threatened fishing communities in Lousiana’s Terrebonne Parish, though it was actually filmed in the Terrebonne Parish town Montegut. And then the star: Quvenzhane Wallis, aged 7 at the time of filming, is so astoundingly – and I mean jaw-droppingly – good, that it’s actually hard to believe she’s acting. She’s fantastic.

Which brings me to the big question: why did I find it so….bemusing, and ultimately unsatisfying? Well, maybe (I’m not an Earthdance/AfrikaBurn kind of guy), the freedom that comes with living on the edge isn’t that attractive to me, particularly if it means rolling around in my own detritus? Maybe too, all that poverty and junk and mud (a short hop from the townships) is all a bit too close to home? It’s hard to suspend belief when you know there are thousands living like that just around the corner. Maybe I just don’t like pushy kids (and the downside of Quevenzhane’s stand-out performance is that you end up dismissing it as “not acting.”) I just didn’t see much “joy” in the film, anywhere. Anyway, I feel like I’m letting the side down really, but I didn’t love this at all. Sorry.

Secretariat

Secretariat is a little film about a huge (and flippin’ phenomenal) horse. In movies of this ilk, we’re used to a lot more “drama”: the horse has to have a breakdown, the jockey has to break his leg, the central relationship has to divorce because of the principle character’s commitment to his/her equine.

In Secretariat, we have none of the above, except the journey of a strong-willed Denver housewife who inherits a horse; the biggest hurdle to success is a mouth ulcer. So it lacks a really powerful punch. But it’s got Diane Lane, as opposed to, say, one of the Fanning sisters, and it’s got some thrilling racing reconstructions, and it’s got that damn horse. Screw the spoiler alerts and I’ll tell you he wins. By miles. I challenge you not to be at least a little bit moved.

Although set in Virginia and Colorado, the film was actually shot on location in Kentucky for three weeks – Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, and Keeneland Racetrack in Lexington, before moving to Louisiana to reproduce the Triple Crown infields at Evangeline Downs in Carencro.

Battle Los Angeles

I am well-known amongst my friends for loving movies where aliens blow shit up. In Battle: Los Angeles, the aliens are more destructive than most. They land off the coast of Santa Monica (and twenty other world cities – shocker!) in preparation for a simultaneous attack. And a small group of soldiers from disparate backgrounds are left to rescue a handful of civilians and save the day. Think Independence Day lite. There’s even a mother ship that controls the drones, so it’s hardly original. In fact there are enough holes in the plot to drive a humvee through. On the plus side though, the battle scenes are frenetic and pretty thrilling, and the whole thing is ultimately saved from irrelevance by the ruggedly handsome Aaron Eckhart, who is sympathetic, compelling, and (how do I say this?) vigorous. If California hadn’t gone all Prop-8-Hate-State, I’d probably marry him or something.

Actually, the tragedy of Battle: Los Angeles is that it filmed in Louisiana. I had coffee today with a great lady from the Location Managers Guild of America, who was telling me how production in this town has basically been eviscerated. Sounds like there are more movies filming in Cape Town today than there are in Hollywood.