The Iron Lady

I’m conflicted about Margaret Thatcher. As as fiscal conservative, I’m aware she made ludicrously hard economic decisions that radically and brutally overhauled socialist-style Britain, and made way for the prosperity (and greed) of the 90’s and naughties. As a social liberal however, I revile her repressive “Victorian values” – classist, sexist, homophobic – that set Britain back decades. I remember her name first as a very small boy when free milk was removed from Primary Schools to chants of “Thatcher, Thatcher, Milk Snatcher.” I remember her much later in life when friends were caught up in the Poll Tax Riots and returned home bruised and bloodied and trampled by police horses. I remember Section 28 most of all – an amendment which stated that a local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”. Pretended Family Relationship? Even then, it stuck in my craw.

I went to see The Iron Lady then, feeling queasy. I really, really didn’t want to end up feeling sympathetic to her – and I’m glad to say I did not. It’s an odd movie, more Docu-soap Love Story (Denis comes across as quite a card) than Political Melodrama, as a doddery, mentally enfeebled Thatcher looks back at her rise to (and fall from) power. It’s also a kind of tragi-comic Magical Realism of the South American kind (Denis appears frequently, though he’s been dead for years at the time of the telling) and that’s kind of ironic considering Thatcher’s greatest moment was a messy war over small islands with a South American ally. Of course, none of this really matters because this is just an All-Meryl, All-the-Time kind of show. And it’s true, the Oscars’ race should be handicapped; the woman is outstanding again here.

Julie and Julia

In Julie & Julia, Meryl Streep is joyful, resplendent, lovely as Julia Child, the woman who brought French cooking to servantless Americans. Amy Adams (sob!) is ghastly as Julie Powell, the grasping, strident, petty, whining, self-obsessed, miserable and really quite horrid (oh, ok, one day I’ll come down off the fence and tell you what I really thought about her….) housewife who blogged about her experience of cooking Julia’s recipes. Think Babette’s Feast meets Mommie Dearest. There’s a pivotal moment towards the end of the movie when we learn that Ms. Child thinks Ms. Powell’s efforts are disrespectful. We’re supposed to know, I think, from watching the movie that that’s not the case. Actually, in reality, the entire movie leads us to believe quite deeply that the Julie character is a kind of psycho bridezilla, and everything in Julie’s life is only about Julie, which does indeed come across like a slap in the face to the refined Julia.

I expect though that one of the benefits of being Meryl Streep is that you get to choose where you film, and in spite of the inimitable French-ness of the story line, most of the drama was actually shot in and around New York City and its boroughs. I thought Montreal, but no, aside from some establishing shots, New York it was. The ultimate rooftop celebration, where we finally get to kiss that narcissist Julie a less-than-fond farewell, shot at 12-17 38th Avenue, Queens, New York City.

Oh and one last gripe: what is it about filmmakers and food? In order to express the working man’s appreciation of fine cuisine, we’re subjected to scene after scene of him shovveling plate-loads of gunk into his slack-jawed mouth, whilst continuing lively conversation – like some marauding Viking who’s just sacked St. Bede’s. I have never seen Americans eat like this (and I was trapped in a waiting room at a Denver dog shelter during a Pit Bull amnesty where every man woman and child wore tats and a wife-beater and drank hard liquor from hipflasks so I’ve been around manners.) So why the celluloid sham? It’s off-putting. Just stop it.

The River Wild

I just read a remarkable book, Selling Your Father’s Bones, by a young British writer called Brian Schofield. It charts the onslaught waged by mega-corporations from London and Boston, against the “free” land and resources of the American West. Within mere decades the homelands of the Nez Perce and others were stripped of lumber and buffalo (and thus topsoil), poisoned by the arsenic used in mining, the rivers were dammed and the salmon runs destroyed. The book is brilliantly written; witty, insightful, utterly alive with scathing righteousness.

I mentioned this because The River Wild has been running on TV here – Meryl Streep does Action Woman. (Yes, there is nothing this woman cannot do.) It’s an action adventure thriller about a group of crooks who interrupt a family white water rafting holiday to make their getaway from a robbery and put everyone in dire peril. In part, the movie shot along the Kootenai River in Montana, lands I seem to recall that the Nez Perce passed through on their desperate flight to the Canadian border. Interestingly, this part of the river is on lands sacred to the Kootenai Indians who gave permission to film for the very first time on condition that the actual location, near Libby in the far northwest of the state, would not be revealed. The Libby website says drily of the river:

Libby Dam, completed in 1972, altered the river by controlling both the timing and volume of flow, as well as nutrient and sediment loading, affecting the aquatic ecosystem above and below the dam. Some species have thrived under these conditions, while others have suffered…..

If you’re one of those people who’s depressed about the demise of Pandora in Avatar, then you’ve really got to look no further than our own back yard.

Lions for Lambs

A zealous congressman launches a new military strategy designed to win the war in Afghanistan and details it to a lefty journalist. Two friends, soldiers involved in the operation, are caught behind enemy lines due to bad intel. Meanwhile, their former college professor tries to re-engage a promising but disillusioned student. These are the people and events of Lions for Lambs

The title refers (mistakenly) to a World War I quote about the brave sent to die by the capricious and the cowardly. In this Redford-directed, Cruise-produced and Redford-Cruise-Streep starring vehicle, the Lambs are clearly the vainglorious liars of the Republican party who dragged us all into a War on Terror without as much as a Gap Analysis to tell us where we were actually going and what we would do when we got there. This is a line of thinking that appeals to me immensely; sitting here at the far end of the planet, and not exactly plugged into to daily Security briefings at the Pentagon nor a particularly erudite student of military engagement, even I could have told you that Iraq had no wmds, that Saddam despised Bin Laden and there was (then) no Al Qaeda in Iraq, that the assault on the Taliban would be diverted and weakened by the opening of a second front, that incurious George is criminally responsible for the deaths of thousands of servicemen and women (let alone tens of thousands of Iraqis) and should be tried for his monumental incompetence and stupidity. There, I said it. And probably because of that, I quite enjoyed the film.

To be fair though, Lions for Lambs preaches (and I use that word advisedly – the film feels like a “message movie” adaptation of a couple of two hander plays written by someone trying to score political points) that we are all somehow responsible for the mess; the frat boy party animal for his cynical disengagement, the wizened hack for providing an unquestioning mouthpiece for the morally corrupt Bush regime, us, the audience, for sitting somewhere in between. Trouble is, as we’re being called to reconnect, we see the journalist quit, and once again we’re going in circles.

Lions for Lambs filmed mostly in California, with some establishing DC shots. The Afghan scenes played out in Rocky Peak Park in Simi Valley, CA – a popular hikers hang-out apparently.

Mamma Mia!

Yes, Mamma Mia! is cheezy. Yes, it’s uneven and it’s unlikely and, if you look at it dispassionately, it’s all ridiculously silly. But the thing is, you simply cannot watch it dispassionately……

Blame those damn catchy tunes. Blame the fact that absolutely everyone seems to be having an absolute blast (you know it’s daft when career vamp Christine Baranski plays one of the more subdued characters). Blame Meryl Streep for completely stealing the show (how can you not just grin when you watch her sixty-something frame joyously bouncing on her big old bed, singing Dancing Queen at the top of her lungs?) Julie Walters is just dotty. Pierce Brosnan sings! And Greece has itself another glorious destination marketing product that’ll have the tourists clamouring.

 

A lot of the action was shot on the island of Skopelos – including the remarkable Agios Ioannis Prodromos Monastery that served as the wedding chapel (I thought for a while it had to be a set; I just hoped it really was an actual place). The beach at Kastani, a tiny bay on the west coast bay served as the film’s main external location site. Says the UK Telegraph

The producers built a beach bar and jetty but removed them when they left. Swimming offshore, you look back on a bay so symmetrical it might be an amphitheatre, and so extravagantly green that it might have been painted by a set hand.

The whole production may have been a breathy, high-paced shambles, but who cares? I’m packing as I type.

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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