At the Cinema: May 2010

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2010)

Quirky, exciting, darkly comedic thriller about a New Orleans cop who gets deeper and deeper in to trouble with the police, rival criminal gangs, his girlfriend and his family in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Great performance by Cage. 4/5

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)

Rather flat adaptation of the long-running computer game franchise. Stop-start nature of the plot, slightly wimpy hero and gibberish storyline overcome the potential fun of the premise. 2/5

Robin Hood (2010)

Rather dry and dull re-telling of the origins of the Robin Hood legend. Uneven pacing and uninteresting characters make this a disappointing adaptation. 2/5

Four Lions (2010)

Dark comedy (or light tragi-comedy if you prefer) about a group of Muslim men in northern England who are desparate to join the ranks Al-Qaeda and the like, and so plot to launch a suicide bomb attack. Trouble is, they are not the most competent of terrorists, and their efforts to strike at the evil West are foiled by their own idiocy. Director Chris Morris (The Day Today) has crafted a film that is as funny as it is thought-provoking, as well as occasionally very moving. Performances are all pitched perfectly, while the film itself neatly avoids offending either Muslims or victims of terrorism. It simply shows the would-be attackers for what they are: real people, misguided and flawed, but people all the same. 4/5

Iron Man 2 (2010)

Slightly messy but still enjoyable sequel to 2008’s Iron Man, with Robert Downey Jr. returning to the role of Tony Stark, billionaire and not-so-secret superhero. This time, Stark faces two separate villains, Mickey Rourke as a Russian technical genius with a personal grudge against him, and Sam Rockwell’s businessman who is in competition for lucrative U.S. military contracts. Add to this the problem of Stark’s suit slowly poisoning him, problems with his business, and interest in his technology from covert governement agencies, and you have a very busy plate. The film does sag a bit in the middle, and feels a bit overly busy, but it remains fun all the way through. This is mostly down to Downey Jr, who fits the role of Stark perfectly, and whose energy and charisma keeps the story buzzing. Director Jon Favreau handles the action well, but crucially keeps the stuff inbetween engaging too. 3/5

Shooting Romania in England (and vice versa)

Whilst enjoying once again the numerous pleasures of Hammer’s atmospheric 1959 production of Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles (which regrettably never led to further Holmes adventures from the studio), I was struck by the irony of filming locations now and then. Hammer, restricted by comparatively small budgets, were forced to use local spots in and around Surrey to double for Dartmoor – and did a pretty good job of it. For their adaptations of Dracula and Frankenstein, overseas shooting in authentic Eastern or Middle European locations was obviously out of the question, and so for exterior shots they would find suitably menacing nearby woods. Everything else was done inside the studio, which, with the right director, could be just as atmospheric as the real thing, if not more so.

The irony of all this is that today the exact opposite takes place. In order to recreate Ye Olde England on the cheap, film productions are forced to go to those same Eastern European countries that were once prohibitively expensive. The BBC’s new Robin Hood series is one of many productions currently exploiting this economic route, and many Hollywood films have done the same. Eastern Europe seems to be the location of choice at the moment to film expensive productions, in order to keep costs down. I have noticed in particular that cheapo direct-to-dvd sequels, a seemingly ever-growing trend, have found this method to be the best way to deliver a reasonably good looking sequel on a tight budget. Mimic 3 (Romania) and Lake Placid 2 (Bulgaria) are just two that spring to mind, neither of which I have seen, I hasten to add (possibly a good thing).

Certainly for fans of these sequels, and presumably the studio bean-counters, the low-cost production economics of Eastern Europe are a godsend. We might never have had the dubious pleasure of watching Lake Placid 2 if the situation were otherwise. On the other hand, it saddens me to think that the BBC can’t find anywhere in England to film their new version of the Robin Hood legend at a reasonable cost. Is this really the case? Is it just economics, or is it perhaps that our country woodland is so sparse now that a suitable location couldn’t be found? Whatever the reason, if Robin Hood can’t be filmed in England, something’s not right.

But there we go, that’s life I suppose. What intrigues me now is that the Hammer studio is finally resurrected after lying dormant for over 30 years.  Their new production Beyond the Rave will be the first off the assembly line. And after that? Well, perhaps they will turn their attention to that staple of Hammer horror, the humble vampire. And this time, instead of Surrey doubling for Transylvania, it might be more economical to shoot the Carpathian Mountains on location…