The Whistleblower

The Whistleblower is completely fucked up. I don’t mean that in a good way. Filmed in Romania, it stars Rachel Weisz as a police officer in a private security company hired by the UN after the war in Bosnia Herzegovina. It’s largely a lawless environment, and the men she has to work with are casual purveyors of misogyny and violence. Thus as part of her duties, Weisz uncovers a hideously brutal, vicious sex trafficking ring that is fuelled and financed by her fellow UN police officers.


The Whistleblower is a true a story, so it’s literally god-smacking to realise that all UN personnel in Bosnia all had diplomatic immunity, – so when she notifies her superiors of her findings, she’s immediately fired and repatriated. It’s all just fucked up, fucked up and depressing and ultimately I couldn’t watch it to the end. I’m glad I tried though; man’s utter inhumanity is sometimes a sight to behold.

Oz the Great and Powerful

Oz the Great and Powerful is set about 20 years before Dorothy gets whisked away to the magical kingdom by the tornado – so it’s kind of an “Oz origins” story. It tells how the “wizard” – actually a ridiculously crass, greedy and utterly ineffectual conman called Oscar Diggs – arrives in Oz and finds himself in the middle of a supremacy struggle between three witches of very different personalities (Good, Bad, Middling.)

Oz is truly sumptuous to look at – magical, actually – with magnificent SFX. The plot might be wafer-thin, but it cracks along at a fun pace nevertheless, and I quite enjoyed it – tho admittedly without being blown away. It can’t have been easy creating this magical world within the strict constraints set by Warner Bros’ lawyers – everything from the ruby slippers to Theodora’s big green chin were copyrighted and could not be used to recreate the Oz ambience.

Oz filmed in Michigan, courtesy of the State’s (then-) welcoming incentive programme, at the newly built Raleigh Studios there (a venue that swiftly defaulted on its $18 million government loan once the State’s incentive programme was cut back.) Also, I must just add, I think it’s no small irony that James Franco plays Oscar Diggs (or Oz). Franco is obviously one of Hollywood’s own biggest wizards himself, a chameleonic trickster of varying degrees of brilliance or awfulness, who’s somehow persuaded the great and good of Hollywood that he should be heading up this kind of $200 million movie.

Bourne Legacy

The Bourne Legacy is something of a slow burn. It takes its time to build up the back story – which is that the appearance of Jason Bourne in Manhattan in the third part of the series has prompted a complete termination of the Treadstone Project and all of the agents operating within it. That includes Aaron Cross, a twitchy, drug-addled, souped-up agent who’s making his way back from a mission in Alaska. His story intertwines with that of a doctor of dubious moral compass, played by Rachel Weisz, who is caught in the meltdown and on the run for her life.

So is it any good. Well, yes, it is actually. I’d hesitate to say its as brilliant as Bournes 1-3, which I loved, but when it gets going, it’s pretty fantastic. A motorbike chase through Manila, and a set piece at a house in upstate New York are particularly edge-of-seat. I enjoyed it. Jeremy Renner is brilliant too.

The movie is unsurprisingly location-heavy, but in spite of that, it was mostly shot over twelve weeks at the Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens, New York. That included the interiors of the beautiful old house where Rachel Weisz’s character lives; the actual house – with a staggeringly beautiful staircase across whom all manner of people get shot – is the Dr. Oliver Bronson House in Hudson, New York, which was unable to accommodate the weight of equipment and crew. Even the scenes set in the “SteriPacific” factory in Manila were actually filmed in the New York Times printing plant in Queens.

There are some stand out international locations; Manila, as mentioned above, and several Seoul, South Korean scenes too, including train scenes at Ogeum Station on Seoul Subway Line 3 and nearby areas in Seocho-daero 77-Gil, Seocho-gu and Gangnam-gu. Oh, and before you go booking your adventure holiday to Alaska, the Kananaskis Country region of Alberta, Canada was used for stand-in.


Set in 4th Century Alexandria, Agora tells the true tale of the woman Hypatia, a world-renowned astronomer, philosopher and teacher, who’s existence is shattered by the rising tide of religious animosity between Christian, Pagan and Jew. The rise of the monotheistic cults also marks the rise of mysogyny, and Hypatia – whose advanced thinking took twelve centuries before it was even closely replicated – is ultimately destroyable because she’s a woman.

It’s absolutely staggeringly realised, on sets physically built on the island of Malta (see this Times of Malta article on the local impacts) rather than relying on CGI -and this has the effect of making every part of the action seem very immediate and very real. The scenes shot from high above, watching mobs of people charge angrily about, are particularly breathtaking. And it’s well acted too, though with Rachel Weisz – who would seem to defy any Hollywood norm of beauty yet is completely, compellingly, intelligently beautiful – as Hypatia, how could it be otherwise? Continue reading “Agora”

Braca Blum

Braca Blum – that’s Brothers Bloom in Serbian, if you really must know. A stylised con-com (confidence trick comedy), Bloom isn’t, to be honest, the kind of movie I’d normally rush out to see. But since it was made here in Serbia, and was premiering in Belgrade during the week – with the aimiable director Rian Johnson doing all sorts of hoop-jumping and glad-handing on behalf of our project – I thought I’d make the effort. And I really quite enjoyed it.

Orphans Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) and Bloom (Adrian Brody) have been con artists since their childhood. Stephen, the podgy elder, designs the cons like an accomplished novelist. But emo younger brother Bloom yearns instead for an “unscripted life”.  Of course, the brothers must have “one last con”, the mark of which is a charmingly nutty New Jersey heiress, Penelope (Weisz). As things move from Jersey to Prague to Mexico and finally Russia (Serbia, Serbia, Romania, Montenegro, Prague, Serbia, Serbia), Bloom seems to discover real happiness in a romance with Penelope. But is it love, or is it a con?

I’ve gotten to the stage that every movie I watch, I’m checking out the locations and working out the backflips that would’ve been needed to shoot there. The film takes place in a sort of “everytime” but in fairly specific spaces. I therefore thought that Serbia did stand-in rather well. Interestingly though, Milica thought the Serbian locations distracting. I guess I’m reminded of my excoriating response to attempts to recreate England in Romania……