3-10 to Yuma

One of the shows I caught a couple of times in LA was How the States got their Shapes on the History Channel – a light though entertaining unpacking of the expansion of America (which incidentally filmed its reenactments in Cape Town….) It’s kind of obvious, but I hadn’t thought of it before – but before the advent of the railroads, State borders were lined up along the courses of rivers. Once railroads changed the way the continent was crossed, rivers became irrelevant, and hence, the further west you go, the straighter the borders become. Anyway, I’m digressing only slightly, because the coming of the railroads is one of the underlying themes of my final installment of American history – Christian Bale and Russell Crowe in the Western 3-10 to Yuma.

Bale plays an impoverished farmer about to be punted off his land to make way for the railroad, who volunteers to escort a wanted criminal (Crowe) across country to catch the train of the title. It’s a rollicking good yarn – great story, great acting, well told – and though I’d seen it before several years back, it was still fresh and interesting. Another reason I enjoyed it though was the New Mexico locations. Both the towns of Bisbee and Contention were built from scratch in the New Mexico Desert – and I was lucky enough to visit The Bonanza Creek Ranch where Bisbee was built (and remains) during the AFCI’s Cineposium in 2007.

The Next Three Days

After the runaway train drama Unstoppable, it’s back to Pittsburgh for me, for the latest Russell Crowe vehicle, The Next Three Days. Chopsy old Russ plays a dowdy, lumpy lit professor at a community college whose firecracker wife (Elizabeth Banks! Love!) is thrown in jail for a murder she may or may not have committed, and who has by now exhausted all chance of appeal. The prof, increasingly rumpled and downtrodden by his experience, realises that he has no choice but to break her out of prison and spend the rest of their lives on the run. The remainder of the movie thus follows a somewhat plodding chart as he delves into the criminal underworld to acquire the tools for the breakout – becoming en route something of the person he would never want to be – and ultimately springs his beloved from the clinker.

As I said, the main location is Pittsburgh – a startling 382 scenes were filmed in the city, and the action and even the characters are kind of steeped in Steeler lore. Unsurprisingly for a jailbreak feature, a large portion of the movie takes place in the city’s Allegheny County Jail – something that required “months of conversations and weeks of preparations” to pull off.

But is it a good film? Yes, undoubtably, but not, I’m sad to say, a really great one: it’s well cast, well written, well acted and is beautifully realised in a grainy, bleached, grim kind of way. But as thrillers go, it really only heats up to reflect the action-packed trailer towards the end of the second hour. That’s a little too long to wait.

The Next Three Days

Oh oh oh: I really heart Elizabeth Banks. She should be a mega-star by now. And though I admit to being much less fond of Mr. Crowe, I do like his (recent, less self-indulgent) choice of films. And this latest – The Next Three Days – looks ten-points-you-win-the-Opel-Monza.

Robin Hood

Robin Hood was by far and away my favourite childhood hero: the gang of mates hanging out in the woods far away from adult supervision, singing lewd ballads, cooking bangers over an open fire, the being super cool with the bows and arrows business, and making a living beating the crap out of the King’s men. And all the time wearing a fetching green: bonus!

So I eagerly awaited this latest rendering of the Robin Fable – this time by master revisioner, Ridley Scott. Think of it as “Robin Begins”, a reimagining the whole “before Robin Hood was Robin Hood” thing – (which I guess kind of misses the point of bothering retelling a much loved story? I refer to Tim Burton’s Alice as a yet more criminal version of this trend.)

I won’t even bother explaining the plot. Not that it’s unengaging, it’s just frakkin convoluted. But it’s Ridley Scott – and (grudgingly) Russell Crowe – and they still hold it all together in a compelling and really rather enjoyable way. The battle scenes are brutal, the detailed portrait of Medieval life is remarkable, the cast is stalwart and universally fine. If you’re wanting japes-ing, wisecracking, thigh-slapping Merry Men, watch Bad Boys. But otherwise sit down, shut up and hang on. Continue reading “Robin Hood”

State of Play

I’m not, generally speaking, a huge fan of politicians. My encounters with them – real or fictional – always leave me feeling a little bit tainted by all the spin and hypocrisy. State of Play, then, (starring portly Russell Crowe and flobby Ben Affleck) buys neatly into all of my wildly pre-conceived notions of political conspiracy and personal sleaze: hence I loved it.

Based on an old Beeb mini-series, the movie is a taut thriller about a curmudgeonly reporter who tries to protect his college roommate. That roommate now happens to be a congressman who’s heading a committee uncovering massive graft – and who happens also to be screwing his secretary. Twists, turns & thrills aplenty are driven relentlessly forward by a truly stellar cast (Rachel McAdam stands out).

And as the charmin’ly genteel southern home of all that Vice and Corruption, Washington DC is almost a character in itself. Even the Watergate Building plays a part. I found myself wanting to visit – which, given my opening gambit of this post, seems almost perverse.

Body of Lies

Body of Lies is a strange film that’s handicapped to a degree by the fact that its two towering leads – diCaprio and Crowe – conduct most of their interactions telephonically.

DiCaprio plays Roger Ferris, a CIA operative in Iraq who’s distinguished from his fellow countrymen by actually liking the Middle East and Middle Easterners generally. But in spite of his fervour and relative decency, Ferris is continually undermined by his boss (Russell Crowe), a lard-ass cynic who observes and controls Ferris’ every move via real-time images from a high altitude spyplane. This way he also fucks up Ferris’ more sensitive relationships – budding girlfriend, Jordanian spy chief, Arab stoolpigeon, that kind of thing. The plot such as it is revolves around attempts to lure out a shady Bin Laden-ish recluse, mostly by prodding his ego via the creation of a fake rival terror outfit. Frankly they could have made a really good hour-and-a-half movie about that subplot alone.

Continue reading “Body of Lies”