Twilight

With a 10 year old daughter about to take up permanent residence in our household, I guess I’d better (finally) get hip with teen culture. And what better way to understand teenage girls than the Twilight phenomenon?

Well, the plot is simple enough: girl meets boy, boy is good vampire, bad vampires try to eat girl. There you go.

Sadly, it’s less a shlocky vampire movie than the slow, schmalzy awakening of adolescent love and the white-faced vampires all look permanently startled rather than particularly menacing. They’re even vegetarians. It’s a bit like Blade, as made by the Hallmark Channel.

Already the books have made Forks, Washington the somewhat unlikely beneficiary of mass tourism by hysterical teenagers and their bemused parents – an opportunity shrewdly exploited by the local Chamber of Commerce. Lord knows what the movie will do. Some of the locations are listed at the metacafe site and at the movie’s own wiki site.

Quantum of Solace

Strangely enough, I wasn’t really looking forward to Quantum of Solace, the 22nd Bond offering. In South Africa, movie critics roundly labelled the movie as dull, muttering that the artsy German director couldn’t “do” action, and they hinted darkly that the demise in standards marked the end of the Bond franchise globally. 

So to be honest, I was really pleasantly surprised. I mean, it’s not an outstanding film, and some of the more talkative moments feel awkward and they’re poorly lit. But it’s still got a enough of the old Bond legacy (cars, girls, glamorous locations) to make it striking, whilst moving ahead with the newer, grittier, brawlier Bond of the Daniel Craig era.

Taking up the story immediately after the death of Vesper in the previous film, Bond starts hunting down the people responsible for her death. The journey takes him from Siena to Haiti (with Panama playing grubby stand-in), then to Austria and finally to the deserts of Bolivia, where the criminal mastermind – weedy, nasty Dominic Greene – is undertaking a cunning plan to monopolise scarce water supplies.

So it’s got Bond islands, and Bond car chases along mountain roads and it’s got Bond hotel rooms and Bond girls at champagne-swigging parties. The most striking location is perhaps Greene’s eco-hotel in the desert – which is actually the space-age workers’ quarters at the Paranal Observatory, high in the Atacama Desert, Chile. There’s more at The Times on how to travel like Bond, and Nubricks goes a step further with ideas on how to buy property in the various locations. No gadgets in this movie though.

Batman, The Dark Knight

OK, let me start by saying; 1) Heath Ledger is as good as the hype and 2) the latest three hour Batman movie isn’t – at least not quite.

Batman may have hoped to inspire goodness in mankind, but at the start of Christopher Nolan’s latest saga, it’s kind of backfired. Vigilantes and bad guys alike have taken to dressing up in tights and mouseketeer hats and are collectively confusing the hell out of the GPD (that’s Gotham Police Department to you). And worse still, the successful crack-down on organised crime has brought the city’s mobsters into the collective thrall of an appalling, a-moral, dysfunctional villain – Heath Ledger’s now-notorious Joker. Up against this anarchistic and chaotic force of un-nature is gloomy-two-shoes Batman and his cohorts – Bale, Caine, Oldman, Freeman again – joined by Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) a golden-boy District Attorney with really nice hair.

Batman, The Dark Knight looks great, and I was interested to read somewhere that 1995’s Heat was one of the inspirations for some of the Dark Knight’s relentless criminal set-pieces – it’s got the guns and that breathy sense of inexorable movement. And (plot spoilers from here on in) if it had all ended with the final show-down between Batman and the Joker, it would have been a truly well rounded movie-going experience. But Harvey Dent going bad? It just didn’t make sense. And on a separate but related whinge, am I the only one who thinks Maggie Gyllenhaal is hardly worth the bother of a run to Woolies, let alone a killing spree?   

Anyway, one thing I did admire about the movie was the refreshing up-dating of the aura of Gotham; no more dark and dirty alleys, but a grand, modern, thriving city. It’s Chicago that gets to play host to the production and according to Wikipedia, the movie generated $45 million in Chicago’s economy, creating thousands of jobs in the process. There’s a cute little website called Chicago.Everyblock that lists every location the movie used in the city and links it to a little map. Nice. And of course you can always check out Emmanuel Levy’s in depth comment.

Ever the art director, it was the Redhead who noticed that many of the movie’s locations looked out onto the same street, and as it turns out he was right (again, dammit) The IBM Building was the site of the Wayne Enterprises Boardroom, Harvey Dent’s office, the Mayor’s office and the Police Commissioner’s office. (And Di, Bruce’s bedroom was built separately on the 39th floor of Hotel 71 on East Wacker Drive……)

Having scouted extensively all over the world Chicago was ultimately chosen as the main location for Batman because director Christopher Nolan had a “truly remarkable” experience there filming Batman Begins – a great advert for the benefits that come from rolling out the carpet for filmmakers. Somehow though, I doubt he’ll be rushing back to Hong Kong. The shoot there was plagued by unhelpful city officials expressing concern over possible noise pollution and traffic. Like flipping an 18-wheeler on Chicago’s La Salle street wasn’t potentially problematic??? I guess it’s all about attitude.

At the end of the day, jurisdictions all need to consider: do you want an extra $45 million kicking around your economy or don’t you? (and that is NOT a trick question.) 

The Incredibly Adequate Hulk

As a kid, I remember not enjoying the tv series The Incredible Hulk because of the intense, weighty sadness of it all; a man who could never go home (complete with plinky soundtrack) was just too depressing for words. This 99 minute movie version is depressing for other reasons altogether. Inspite of the best efforts of Edward Norton, who is pretty good, I just didn’t care about it, him or the movie, one way or another.

The first problem is that the plot is paper thin: Hulk goes home, Mad Military person tries to stop him by creating another more pugnacious monster. That’s it. (And I’m not being flippant, that really is it.) Secondly, whilst the storyline is adequately padded out by really big explosions and rumbunctious, Transformers style clashes-of-giants, the main characters are all so fleetingly sketched that you just don’t really give a damn about any of them. Even the CGI Hulk is a bit yawny.  

The best part of the film is the first thirty odd minutes, in the incredible hillside favela of Tavares Bastos in Rio. Continue reading “The Incredibly Adequate Hulk”

Deathproof

Caught the uncut version of Tarantino’s Deathproof on DVD over the weekend. Actually a bit of a blast, faux-70’s styling with dodgy edits, scratchy film, wandering colour balance etc. Check out the dents on 1970 Dodge Challenger – they get less as the crashes get worse.

Deathproof features a deranged killer named Stuntman Mike – Kurt Russell – who stalks a group of young women as they spend their night in Austin, Texas, bar hopping, teasing boys, and getting trashed. Stuntman Mike proceeds to kill the girls by crashing into them head on with his death-proof muscle car. Of course, he walks away unharmed.

Months later in Tennesee, he targets another group of young women but this time, he picks the wrong targets (they’re in the film industry, so you must know….)

Deathproof

The first part of the movie is awash with Austin locations – there’s talk of The Dobie Theater, Guero’s, Lake LBJ. And the main action takes place in Austin’s real-life Texas Chili Parlor -although this venerable establishment is shown with a parking lot and a back porch (it doesn’t). Tarantino added these himself for his own fictional version of the restaraunt. The movie is (self) referential to a t – Abernathy, played by Rosario Dawson, mentions she had a thing for a director named Cecil Evans. Cecil Evans is the name of a transportation coordinator for films in Austin.

Atonement

Finally saw Atonement over the weekend. Hadn’t been until now, because I’m a noisy sobber, and I didn’t want to embarass myself with too much loud and protracted weeping. But: I’m glad I saw it. It’s a beautifully-made film, with a truly memorable score, great costumes and period locations that are recreated with vivid attention to detail.

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If you are in any way interested in the production design elements that result in such a lush production, check out Peter Bowen’s Design of History story at FilminFocus.com Of course, being a British film, Visit Britain does the “best supporting” honours superbly, with wonderful information on Atonement’s locations and how to visit them. One of the most memorable scenes – the chaotic, disorderly and frankly disgraceful evacuation of British forces from Dunkirk, France – was actually filmed in Redcar in the north of England.

But for a different take, also look at the Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council’s website for a glimpse of the real excitement, the enthusiasm, the willingness to cope with disruption, and of course the economic impacts of a major film.

Shirley Valentine

We have a pet hate in our family; the incessant and omnipresent Greek Tourism ad that tops and tails movie news on CNN. At 59 seconds, the (admittedly well-produced) spot seems longer than the snippet of film news it supports.

Now in comparison, last night we caught Shirley Valentine on tv. It’s a great little movie (Tom Conti’s accent notwithstanding) filmed in the village of Agios Ioannis on the island of Mykonos, and it effortlessly exudes the charm and simplicity of the Aegean. It simply makes you want to reinvent your life in the Greek sunshine. In fact, the movie (and stage play) have been so influential in positioning Greece as a lifestyle choice that “doing a Shirley Valentine” has entered the popular lexicon as an expression of escapism.

Oh My God, Can You Rent the Colosseum?!

For a Locations junkie, I took my own sweet time to get around to blogging about Jumper, the Hayden Christiansen / Samuel L Jackson sci fi pic about a young man who learns that he has the power of teleportation. Given his special skills, it’s unsurprising that the movie’s locations include Paris, China, Egypt, the Sahara, Toronto, New York, Michigan, Tokyo and Rome.

Most impressive of these, the Rome Film Commission granted rare access to film in the Colosseum for three days.

Jumper

The New York Times reports this film-making coup to have been made possible by Rome Mayor, Walter Veltroni, “an unabashed cinephile with a soft spot for Hollywood glitz. Mayor Veltroni dined with Tom Cruise & Katie Holmes on the eve of their Italian wedding, and was primarily responsible for creating the Rome Film Festival, which took place for the first time in October. On the business front, his administration has streamlined the process for getting filming permits, and authorizes more than 2,000 shoots in the city each year.”

To make Jumper happen, the crew was required to keep equipment off the ground by using harnesses and to rely only on natural light for filming the Colosseum’s scenes.