Need for Speed

need-for-speed-paul4

Need for Speed. I kept asking myself “why”? What possible need did making this movie fulfil? It’s got fabulous cars that go very fast and crash a lot. There’s a plot, of sorts, about a dead mate and righting wrongs. There are some seriously B grade actors doing their thing. But other than that? Zilch, zippo, niks, nada. You’re likely to have more fun with the Playstation game to which it is albeit tenuously connected. There are some nifty locations on this cross-country caper though – the Bonneville salt flats in Utah, and the Moab Desert stand out, with the final scene in the what-must-be iconic Point Arena Lighthouse in California. So: good looking but utterly unengaging.

John Carter

OK, so I’ll let you into a little secret: I really enjoyed John Carter. Yes, there’s little of a plot to be seen. And yes, I question the sense of dividing two warring parties only by the colour of their cloaks and then having all the battle scenes take place at night. And yes, Taylor Kitsch has grey skin and looks like he’s stumbled in off the set of a Twilight movie. And yes again, I’m always terribly nervous that Jar Jar Binks might appear whenever there’s a bipedal alien sidekick to be had. BUT, but….

…..John Carter of Mars – all $250 million plus production budget – is a spectacular visual romp, and it’s most entertaining. Think Star Wars meets Flash Gordon. A lot filmed in studio, but one of the more memorable scenes, where the heroes travel up a river of spiritual significance, took place at the atmospheric Lake Powell in Utah.

I’m not going to say more except – don’t listen to the critics, just go see it.

Frozen

Late in the day, two extremely cute boys, and some arbitrary chick scam a free pass on a chairlift at a ski resort. Through a cruel twist of fate, the lift stops with them dangling high above the snow, and then the lights go off, and the temperature drops, and the resort staff go home – not just for the night, mind, but for the week. What would you do? With the drop? The hungry wolf pack? The frostbite? That whining girl?

Frozen doesn’t, as it has been billed, “do for skiing what Jaws did for swimming.” But still, it all sort of works. Did I mention the extremely cute boys? There. That’s my last word on the matter. Frozen filmed in Snowbasin, Utah, the oldest continuously operating ski resort in the US, and one of the main venues of the Utah Winter Olypiad. Fact sheet here.

127 Hours

Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours movie about Aron Ralston, that selfish fool who fell down a canyon and had to chop off his own hand with a pen-knife, is horrible-horrible-horrible – so much so that it’s almost unwatchable in places.

Yet it’s also quite brilliant. James Franco is absolutely spot on as the spoilt, thoughtless, resourceful Ralston and he completely carries the film; it’s got to have been hard turning one man’s solitary ordeal in a confined space into 90 minutes of big screen cinema, but Boyle and Franco manage it – via flash backs and dreams, hallucinations and nifty survival techniques – with panache. And the pace – again bear in mind that this is about a man who’s virtually immobile – moves along with balletic briskness. It may be viscerally unpleasant but it’s really worth seeing.

You’ve gathered I’m not much of an outdoorsy person myself – mostly because I’m both lazy and a huge wuss – but Bluejohn Canyon in Utah’s Canyon Country looks spectacularly beautiful (if spectacularly unforgiving.) The Telegraph has a really good piece on it here. And with Trek America you can even hike there yourself.

Galaxy Quest

A lot was made of the fact that Galaxy Quest – the 1999 movie starring a shirtless Tim Allen, a pneumatic Sigourney Weaver and a host of other huge stars in early roles – managed to spoof Star Trek fans but simultaneously honour them. Which is true. This is, after all, the story of a group of hapless has-been actors in a defunct sci-fi show forced to literally live their old roles in order to help a threatened alien race, only to be saved by the most ardent of Trekkie fans. However, not enough (in my mind, at least) was made of the fact that this is a genuinely exciting movie and genuinely funny to boot – with cracking one-liners that still make you laugh out loud. (“Quick, before they kill Guy…” – see? still laughing. Oh well, you probably had to be there.)

Most of the filming took place in the studio in Culver City, with one notable exception: a plot point sees our reluctant heroes land on a red planet of wierd, phallus-y, mushroom-y, rocks, where balls of metal are harvested by a gang of evil munchkins. This in fact is the aptly-named Goblin Valley State Park in Utah. Wow.

Andromeda Strain

Plot spoilers ahead, but basically mankind has sent a deadly, intelligent virus back from the future, and only a rare bacteria found on the ocean floor can destroy it. A group of elite scientists are whisked into a basement to try to make a plan, whilst the evil military-industrial complex plots to retain the virus for future use…….

OK, so I get that the plot of the Andromeda Strain mini-series has mutated somewhat scarily from its original. I’m just not entirely sure that’s a bad thing; when Michael Crichton wrote the book in 1969, the CDC had just built its very first bio-containment lab, so it was all new and exciting. 40 years later, not so much. So I think a facelift was long overdue. And whilst it’s certainly a tad convoluted and shall we say stretchy, it works well enough as a stand-alone.

I’m trying to find out which Canadian cow town played stand in for Piedmont, Utah. I’ll let you know if I find out.