Carrie

Just out of curiosity, we watched both Carrie movies, back to back. The first one has stood the test of time pretty well actually; Sissy Spacek is completely lovely and sympathetic and sweet, her mom is a nutter of the nth degree, and Nancy Allen as the bully is a complete cow.

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In comparison, the new Carrie – in spite of Julianne Moore’s mom getting a little more backstory – feels a bit unnecessary. Until you get to the Prom scene at the end, that is, when modern FX and the impressive Chloe Moretz both move into an upper gear that is both satisfying and spooky. Carrie 2 filmed in Toronto, but that’s sort of irrelevant.

Total Recall

First, an admission: I remember Total Recall, the Arnie version, from the first time round. I enjoyed it; I enjoyed Sharon Stone’s punch up, I enjoyed the bit where The Gubernator pulls a big electronic bug out of his nose, I enjoyed the clunkily-imagined (even for 1990) sci-fi future. But hey, I’m up for a remake every now and again, and it seems respectful somehow, to see how updated CGI can better-visualize Philip K Dick’s trippy imagination on screen. Unfortunately, this 2012 version, doesn’t quite do him justice….

In spite of gobsmacking, multi-level cityscapes, multiple moving parts, and pretty much non-stop action, the movie feels soulless. It gives us nothing to connect with – not Doug Quaid’s personal challenges, not the struggle of the grimly colonized against vile oppressive masters (lebensraum!), not gloriously wicked, subversive, sexy memories bought at Rekall. Instead, it feels dull, featureless and entirely too self-important for its own good. Kate Becknisale plays Robert Patrick as The Terminator 2, only runnier, Jessica Biel is lovely, and Colin Farrell…? Ah Colin Farrell, what can one say? I happen to think he’s an astoundingly handsome man, almost perfect (with his asymmetrical eyebrows and everything), and yet, yet, he does absolutely nothing for me. There’s a redeeming crack or two of likeability in there somewhere, but mostly he just comes across as a tosser. And when he beats up Bryan Cranston in the finale, it’s like watching someone unsavory laying into his dad.

For all the futuristic sets, Total Recall filmed mostly in and around Toronto. There’s behind-the-scenes stuff around road closures and bemused visitors here and here. One thing I would recommend though, is to swing by the faux-website for the Rekall business. I love this kind of thing, and it’s a tantalizing glimpse of how the movie might have challenged our imaginations instead of just putting them into neutral.

Red

Red stars Bruce Willis as a retired CIA spook – Retired Extremely Dangerous, geddit? – who’s trying to bland in (sic) to civilian life. The only thing that keeps him from killing himself from boredom and loneliness, basically, is his telephone relationship with his pension officer. So when his home is invaded by a black ops hit squad (SethEffriken hit squad, no less), he packs his guns and his fake passports (again, SethEffriken – what gives? I was beginning to sense a theme) and sets out to find out why. Or more precisely, why now? To do so he has to enlist the help of several other retired but bored old spy mates.

So what to tell you? Continue reading “Red”

Traitor

Traitor is a subdued little story about a Muslim soldier called Samir (Don Cheadle) who’s deep-deep-deep undercover as an explosives expert with a  ruthless terrorist cell. When his government handler – the only one who knows he’s one of the good guys – is shot dead, Samir must avoid being clapped in chains by the FBI, prevent an appallingly grandiose nation-wide atrocity AND not blow his cover with the wingnuts.

So, it’s an almost-really-good film. I call it “subdued” in my opening, because with all that malarkey going on, it’s not a tense or thrilling ride in the style of, say, a Bourne movie. Having said that, it’s not without interest either  – the insights into the workings of the terror cell itself are fascinating, chilling and considerably more thought-provoking than the usual. Traitor filmed in Toronto, Marseilles and Marrakech in Morocco, though none of the locations are particularly stand out. Ultimately the whole thing is held together by the excellent performances of Cheadle’s Samir, and Guy Pearce as the relentlessly dogged FBI agent – though there’s a schadenfreude-esque plot twist towards the end that is particularly satisfying. Worth a squizz.

Max Payne

Often as a Film Commissioner, you have to explain to the custodians of some of the most beautiful landscapes on Earth exactly why they don’t get more enquiries from major international blockbusters looking to film in their remarkable natural locations. Usually I point out that movies rarely require the terrorists to take over the nature reserve – though I actually did see a film in which that happened recently, on the Action Channel and it wasn’t worth reporting here. I  mention this only because I sat through Max Payne on Saturday night, and the locations department clearly sourced every single grim and grimy back alley and tenement block in Toronto to play out this video-game to movie cross-over.

Mark Wahlberg – in a rollneck sweater, so what exactly is the point? – plays Max Payne, another maverick New York cop who’s investigating the murders of his wife and child. It becomes clear that there’s a link to the nefarious pharmaceutical company where is wife had worked – they’ve been making a drug called Valkyr that boosts the morale of battlefield soldiers.  Plot spoiler from here on in: It also makes them nuts. And murderous. And sweaty. Although for the life of me, I still can’t work out what ripped the Bond girl to pieces in the first reel.

Max Payne does look impressive; it’s Matrix meets Blade meets Constantine – very Gotham – but poor scripting, and incomprehensible plot and really, really bad acting (Beau Bridges, what were you thinking?) make Max Payne a mere cypher of all of the above.

Charlie Bartlett

I find myself at that stage of life where I’m looking back a lot at the choices I made that brought me to this place. I’m still pissed, for instance, that I didn’t spend my twenties as a tennis pro, repeatedly winning the Australian Open – but that’s the bitter-sweet joy of retrospective dreaming; I gave up tennis when I was eleven. 

Anyway, as I sit here in an increasingly exclusionary and alienating South Africa, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it would have taken to have done things differently. More information? Maybe. An upbringing far away from the narrow-minded goose-stepping Army of Christian Youth at my rural boarding school? Possibly. The early demise of apartheid, Pinochet and Margaret Thatcher? Well, yes to all three (a long story.) But actually I’ll tell you what I really think would have made a difference growing up: GOOD ADVICE. If someone, anyone – though particularly one of my peers – had been able to provide me with decent insight and guidance about how my life could be, it would definitely have turned out very, very differently. 

I only take this somewhat maudlin tone because, after re-living my university years with Starter for 10, I was plunged back into the horror of my school days in the bright, sweet, entertaining comedy Charlie Bartlett.

Charlie – a phenomenally accomplished and if-there-is-justice-in-the-world, meteoric-career-launching performance by Anton Yelchin – is a wealthy whipper-snapper with too little parental oversight and an overwhelming need to be liked. Kicked out of his umpteenth private school for forging IDs, he’s sent to the local public school where he struggles to fit in. (Cringe!) Yet in spite of the odds stacked against him, he achieves local fame both by reassigning the drugs (too quickly) prescribed to him by an army of shrinks and really, just by listening and passing on good advice. As Charlie says:

Well duh dude, this place sucks. But I just worry that one day we’re gonna look back at high school and wish we’d done something different.
 

From a location point of view, it’s not a particularly interesting or nice looking film – though some commentators noted that it at least looked “lived in” – which is apparently unusual for teen movie sets. The majority of school scenes were shot on the campuses of Western Technical Commercial School and Ursula Franklin Academy in Toronto. The boys’ lavatory that is used as Charlie’s office is one of Western Technical Commercial School‘s. The student lounge from the movie was constructed specifically for the shooting of this movie. Charlie’s mansion home though has a long cinematic pedigree; Parkwood Estate in Oshawa has been featured in Billy Madison, Mrs. Winterbourne, Hollywoodland and the first of the X-Men movies. Parkwood is considered one of Canada’s finest and last remaining grand estates, with architectural, landscape and interior designs of the 1920’s and 1930’s.

A lot of the criticism of Charlie Bartlett comes from the fact that it isn’t Harold and Maude and it isn’t Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.  Well, yes, but that’s just being pissy. Anton Yelchin’s virtuoso performance – supported admirably by the whacky Hope Davis and Robert Downey Jnr channelling a drunk (who knew?!) – means that this should be ranked up there with the best of them.