The Hobbit Effect in Australia

Due for release in November of this Year, Baz Luhrmann’s latest opus Australia is set in north of that country just before World War II. It revolves around an English aristocrat (Nicole Kidman) who inherits a cattle station the size of a small European nation. When rival cattle barons plot to annex her land, she joins forces with a stock-man (Hugh Jackman channelling Crocodile Dundee?) to drive her cattle to market across the country’s most unforgiving territory, arriving in Darwin just as the Japanese airforce begins its bombing attack…..

Noting that following the release of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, tourism numbers to New Zealand were roughly double those visiting Australia during the same period, the Sydney Morning Herald quite rightly trumpets the exciting news that:

Tourism chiefs are to unveil a deal between the film’s distributor, 20th Century Fox, its director, Baz Luhrmann and the federal tourism body, Tourism Australia, at a tourism conference in Perth today.

The goal, apparently, is to use the movie to switch the tourism focus back to the harsh but beauteous wilderness that makes up the vast interior of the country. (My quip about Hugh Jackman as Crocodile Dundee was actually semi-serious; the 1985 Paul Hogan movie almost singlehandedly reimagined Australia, Australians and the Australian bush in the global conscience, and it significantly boosted tourism to the vast Outback.) The SMH article notes some of the plans to develop movie tourism around this movie. 

One idea is recruiting travel agents to pitch to travellers the idea of following in the footsteps of the film’s stars, experience the scenery themselves and, perhaps a little of the romance as well.

Well, of course.

So kudos to the Aussies for actually planning this before time, rather than functioning with the “if you build, it they will come” mentality of a lot of jurisdictions.

PS And check out this cute You Tube link to see the genuine excitement of residents of a small rural town when Hollywood rocks up…..

The Departed: Art Meets Life

Martin Scorsese’s excellent The Departed was on TV the other night. Set in Boston, the violent tale revolves around a gangster (played smarmy by local boy Matt Damon) who infiltrates the police department and a cop (aced flat and hard by Leonardo DiCaprio) who infiltrates the gangs. When it becomes clear that there’s a mole in each of the organisations, there’s a frantic, bloody race to unveil the culprits.  

Boston has recently played location for a slate of top end movies – The Verdict, Good Will Hunting and Mystic River to name but a few. And as the Boston Movie Tours company notes, in this movie “There are some awesome Boston shots and the movie bleeds Boston.”

And in a case of art meeting life, the 2005 Boston Movie Tours black-and-red brochure apparently made it into a scene in the movie; you can apparently glimpse it on the counter behind Vera Farmiga as she’s moving in to Matt Damon’s apartment (in fact the top floor of Suffolk University Law at 120 Tremont Street, Boston.)

I love that.

Notting Hill

It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years since Julia Roberts graced the streets of London in Notting Hill. It was on TV again over the weekend: a “what happens” when a megastar meets and falls in love with quite a normal chap. Even if the chap is floppy Hugh Grant.

What happens when a normal city neighbourhood meets the might and madness of Hollywood is another story altogether.

Although there were discussions about building a huge set of Portobello Road, the decision was ultimately to go for authenticity. Sue Quinn, the film’s location manager said: “We wanted to capture the real flavour of Notting Hill, which meant filming in the most densely-populated areas, the main area being where William’s bookshop was situated.”

The Portobello Road c/o Notting Hill

But exactly how do you persuade neighbours to close off a major urban resource for six weeks of filming, without really pissing them off? Quinn’s team ended up writing letters to thousands of people in the area, promising that they would donate to each person’s favourite charity. Close to bribery this may be, but over two hundred different charities benefited from the approach.

And it worked. Last year, a report commissioned by the UK Film Council and its partners titled ‘Stately Attraction – How Film and Television Programmes Promote Tourism in the UK’, the Notting Hill movie gave international prominence to an area of London relatively unknown outside the city, provoking “a huge and lasting influx of tourists searching for the famous ‘blue door’ and the travel bookshop.”

Of course, with location filming, nothing is quite plain sailing. By October 2007, the UK Independent was reporting that Notting Hill residents (evidently entirely smug at the astronomical house prices they can now command) rebelled against filming in their area. Citing the “absolute havoc” that Notting Hill movie inspired, a councillor claimed:

“There is not one day in the week now when people who live and work around Portobello Road have any peace and quiet. There are hordes of people all the time. Fridays and Saturdays are unbelievable and on Sundays there are always crowds parading around still looking for that blue door which was sold to America years ago.”

Pieces of Dan in Real Life

Anyone whining about the lack of success of the South African film industry need only to look at a movie like Pieces of April to understand what we’re doing wrong. Written and directed by Peter Hedges, April is a small, personal film, well told.  It stars Katie Holmes (post-Dawson and pre-Tom and therefore appealing) as an estranged daughter struggling to prepare a Thanksgiving meal for her dying mother and the rest of her dysfunctional family. A good portion takes place in the Lower East Side tenement block where April resides. It is a very human movie, full of sadness, good humour, wry insights and cracking one liners. The script is excellent and the performances are first rate; Patricia Clarkson was nominated for just about every award out there for her role as April’s dying mother. And there is Politics too; one of the most memorable scenes is when April’s black boyfriend (Derek Luke) goes out to what you’re set up to believe is a drug deal, only to realise that he’s actually gone to rent a suit to impress his girlfriend’s parents. See; Politics with a big P but without the trowel. Great script, great acting, small cast, few locations; South African film makers – never ever slow to wag a lecturely finger or bludgeon the audience with Issues – could learn a lot from this.

Anyway, I really only mention April because we caught Dan in Real Life at the cinema on Monday – a movie also co-written and directed by Hedges. Dan stars Steve Carrell and Juliette Binoche, and it has similar underlying themes to Hedges’ previous work; finding love, finding yourself, facing death and accepting the importance of family (however screwy, daft and inappropriate they may be.) Hedges also uses similar constructs including a central location where the family gathers – in this case a rambling timber-panelled home on Conanicut Island in the state of Rhode Island.

Like Louisiana, Rhode Island has a pretty aggressive and successful Film Incentive programme, and that’s why you’ll increasingly see RI locations appearing on screens before you. Dan was filmed in in the cities of Newport, East Greenwich, Jamestown, Westerly and Providence, with key scenes at Providence’s Seven Stars Bakery and the Point Judith Lighthouse in Narragansett.

However, the main focus is the family home (a monstrously ugly pile called “Riven Rock” located on West Bay View Drive in Jamestown) where the chaotic Burns clan gather en masse for bonding activitiesthat include family aerobics, family crossword puzzle races, family American football and family talent shows. I think we were supposed to learn from all this that the family unit, though it may be loopy, is warm and familiar and always supportive. Personally, if I’d been thrust into the midst of that zoo, I’d probably be considering doing a Jeremy Bamber.

The Other Boleyn Girl

I’ve mentioned before that I’m something of a Tudor history buff; I didn’t perhaps mention why. I grew up in a remote part of rural England, in a small village that happened to be near the birthplace of the infamous Anne Boleyn. Anne is the first historical figure I ever really became aware of, and my entire childhood was steeped in stories about this glamorous, grasping woman who rose above her station, married a King, and suffered the tragic consequences of her social climbing. (Anne is a perpetual reminder of what it means to be British: class matters, you’re a whore even if you don’t sleep around, we’ll loathe you for your uppitiness but root for you for 500 years as long as you’re the underdog.) So Anne Boleyn has been with me since childhood, a kind of wayward sister, a symbol of all the immutable, closed-minded, stultifying things I always hated about the old country.

So it was with anticipation that I went to see The Other Boleyn Girl the other evening. I had of course read Philippa Gregory’s book (there’s a fascinating insight into her historical research on her website), and being completely in love with Natalie Portman, I was really looking forward to the movie. But what can I say? Three days later and Anne Boleyn is still with me, but the film – the film was something of a disappointment. 

For the “show – don’t tell” constructs of film making, it was always going to be difficult to turn Anne’s sister Mary – famous only for being a dim, passive pawn – into the lead figure of any movie. Scarlett Johansson does a good job, but ultimately, Mary is only ever going to be the other Boleyn girl in this story. This has always been about Anne, and Natalie Portman is great. But she’s ultimately let down by a script that attempts History 101, in scenes shot with too few extras and too few costume changes, and with raggedy, fast-paced editing that makes the film feel like a first draft.

Even the Kent locations don’t ring true; although the Tudor homes of Penshurst Place and Knole Park feature significantly, they always feel like sets, and the execution scene (kudos for the glum and unusual ending for a Hollywood movie) is played out at Dover Castle, rather than in the Tower of London, where Anne was actually killed and dumped in an unmarked grave. It kind of feels disrespectful. 

Fortunately, Visit Britain again shows that movie tourism does not need actual locations to generate visitor numbers – it can simply be “inspired by”……..

Continue reading “The Other Boleyn Girl”

Friday Night Lights

OK, so it’s been hectic and there’s not been a lot of time for movie watching. Instead, I did see the first couple of episodes of Holly Hunter’s first foray into TV, the oddly bi-polar Saving Grace. It’s part Walker, Texas Ranger, part Touched by an Angel. Though the drunk and wayward cop thing has been done to death elsewhere, it’s entertaining enough. The religious stuff, by contrast, is horrible, horrible, horrible. Fortunately I’d tivo-ed it, so I could fast forward through the crap bits – which is basically whenever the guy with wings appears. It’s set in Texas, though – which is really the reason for this post.

I came across this fantastic review by Sara Mosle on, of the high school football drama, Friday Night Lights. It’s set in the fictional West Texas town of Dillon, and based on Pulitzer Prize-winning author H.G. “Buzz” Bissinger’s book about small-town Texas life.  Now, FNL is a show I haven’t ever seen, haven’t ever wanted to see, mainly because, American Football is not really big news anywhere other than, say, America, and too much “U-S-A, U-S-A” sporting testosterone makes me nauseous. But it would seem as if I’ve misjudged FNL…..  Says Mosle:

Friday Night Lights is….Texas as it’s seldom been seen—which is to say, as it really is. Virtually no one in Dillon wears a cowboy hat, and certainly no one under 30 does. The show has yet to show a single character on a horse. The only person depicted as remotely connected to an oil well is a businessman from Los Angeles, briefly passing through, representing faraway interests…..

….Hand-held cameras follow actors around on location, as they go about what appears to be their actual lives—to the gas station, to the grocery store, to the local diner, into one another’s homes. The cameras even ride in the car, like passengers, staring out at the passing scenery.

The show shoots in and around Austin, using city locations rather than sets, in order to build authenticity. (though this was a close call; filming nearly moved to New Mexico when much-hoped-for Texas film incentives were initially not forthcoming.)

If only for the realistic portrayal of modern America, I really think I must check this series out…..

Little did he know……

In Stranger than Fiction, Will Ferrell plays Harold, an anal IRS agent who begins hearing a voice in his head, narrating his life. But then the narrator – a distinguished author with writer’s block – Emma Thompson, says: “Little did he know that this simple seemingly innocuous act would result in his imminent death……”

I’d noticed the movie at the video store on numerous occasions and chosen not to select it. I’m not sure why not; in a film starring both Ferrell and Thompson, perhaps I feared that the clown be cancelled by the thesp, or vice versa? Too cerebral for Ferrell, too downbeat for Thompson? Whatever; I was wrong, wrong, wrong. Stranger Than Fiction turned out to be a clever, intriguing and often moving comedy that is full of warm characters and some quirky but genuine insights into the human condition.

It is also an incredibly stylish film, in the broadest possible sense. You can’t help be struck by the locations, production design, and visual effects, but here the use of locations to define the characters is particularly detailed. 


Continue reading “Little did he know……”

Interminable 10000 BC

OK, so even my regional loyalty can be pushed to its limits.

Citing nothing more than the fact that it had been shot in Namibia as rationale, (it was the biggest budgeted film ever to have shot in southern Africa, employing hundreds of African cast and crew members in the process), I forced Christopher sit through the interminable 10000BC over the weekend.

Director Roland Emmerlich is famous for end of the world movies like Independence Day and the Day After Tomorrow – movies that consider the end of mankind in a sort of no-plot-big-explosion kind of way. Here he attempts to paint the other side of the picture; mankind’s fragile beginnings.

In a brief plot summary, boy loves girl, girl is stolen by nasty (Arab?) slavers, boy unites all the tribes of Earth to rescue girl. (releasing slaves is apparently entirely incidental to his motivation.) The action teeters from spectacular mountains (New Zealand) to spectacular jungle (Thailand) to spectacular desert (Namibia), locations that are populated by scary, flesh-eating ostriches, some cool mammothy things and Africans wearing a variety of hats.

In fairness, I should say I was impressed by the work of the art department; sets, costume, styling, hair and make up were all extremely detailed. It’s just that they made absolutely no sense. But on the whole, there’s no point even beginning to discuss the anachronisms, the bizarre Russian accents, the eyeliner – and I’ve seen better sabre-tooth tigers in National Geographic documentaries.

As a movie, 10000BC reminded me of many other movies – Apocalytpo is one – but more than anything it has the same clunky dialogue, the same hokey-inspirational faux history, the same bad hair as the truly stupefyingly dreadful Battlefield Earth. Only 10000BC doesn’t have John Travolta so it’s much, much worse.

It’s not just me; 10000BC was panned by the critics

However, if you’ve ever wondered how Film sets remain operational in these electricity-starved times, here’s a link to a story at the Filmmakers’ Directory.