Films of 2008

Friday, 26 December 2008

I’m running through my travel lists for 2008, we started with 10 interesting hotels, moved on to music highlights and then the views out the window  from my favourite flights. Next it was cars & drives and then museums, galleries & exhibitions followed by photographs, books and then other transport. Today it’s movies.

El Questro
The El Questro resort is in the heart of the Kimberley region where Australia is set.

In Australia the travel film of 2008 would have to be Australia (Baz Luhrmann, Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, etc) and since Maureen works with Australia’s Northern Territory Tourist Commission we got invited to a preview of the movie in Sydney. OK, it’s a big schmalzy, long (two hours 40 minutes) epic, which works hard at covering every base and pulling every heartstring. And of course it’s over the top, look who directed it! Sure it’s had some lousy reviews, but I loved it. After all Germaine Greer dissed it, my view is that anything Germaine Greer dislikes I’ll probably like.

Let’s divide the rest of the year’s at least vaguely travel-related movies into travel movies, location movies, movies to fast forward through and then some others.

Travel Movies
Some movies really do travel and if they work make you want to go there. Like Woody Allen’s latest Vicky Cristina Barcelona. You could ‘lick the screen’ one review said and the film is fast and fun, I particularly liked the cheesy voice over which tracks the whole film. And any film which features Penelope Cruz in madwoman mode has to be worth watching.

Location Movies
Some movies conjure up their location and their period, like:

London in the 1970sThe Bank Job takes a real bank robbery and speculates why it was subsequently hushed up. The bank in question was on Baker St, London and the robbery took place in September 1971. I lived a stone’s throw from the bank at the time. The movie speculation is the gang was after money, but the safe deposit boxes also included compromising photographs of assorted members of the British upper class involved in Max Mosley style activities (which brings in one group of nasties, the establishment ones, in pursuit of the hapless robbers), records of payments made to bent cops (which puts the bent cops on the trail) and more.

London today – The Mike Leigh film Happy Go Lucky captures South London quite nicely although the heroine’s unfailingly happy go lucky attitude could drive anybody crazy, quite apart from her racist, up tight driving instructor.

New York in the 1970sMan on Wire is a delight, Philippe Petit, French ‘wirewalker’ conducts highly illegal strolls between the towers of Notre Dame, then across the Sydney Harbour Bridge and finally, in 1974, between the twin towers of the World Trade Centre. A carefully planned and delightful stunt and a very nice film.

New York todayThe Visitor, is a quiet and moving little movie, featuring illegal immigrants, heavy handed government treatment, an academic in hibernation since his wife died (although his academic career seems to have gone into hibernation well before) who wakes up when he comes up against the residency realities of a Syrian-Senegalese couple.

Washington DC todayBurn After Reading, OK it’s lightweight, but the Coen brothers are always interesting and if we need to have our CIA prejudices confirmed then this will do the job.

Colombia over many years – The movie of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera, features the same male star as Vicky Cristina and rambles very photogenically around Colombia and in particular Cartagena, which I visited in 2008.

Movies to Fast Forward Through
I know that any comedies aimed at the lower echelons of the teen years will be (for me) a disaster, but some you feel obliged to try and watch because of their travel connection. So I fast forwarded through Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantánamo Bay which is totally lightweight/totally gross out and totally stupid.

Hawaii is the destination for Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which may be aimed at a teenage audience, but apart from the screwing around, language and bits of nudity reads more like the intended audience is mental age 8 than 18.

Don’t Mess with the Zohan, which I watched for any Israeli-Palestine insights it might contain, does at least take a couple of amusing pot shots at Mel Gibson. My son Kieran, who has spent time with Israeli backpackers, thought it captured them pretty well.

This is England is a slice of Thatcher wasteland England in the aftermath of the Falklands War and a young kid, whose father was killed in the Falklands, falls in with a bunch of skinheads, some of them reasonable guys (and girls), some of them non-entities, some of them nasy pieces of work. And so it goes.

Other Movies
Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis is a black & white cartoon take on modern Iran, in fact it’s a pretty straightforward history lesson on modern Iran, but interesting, sympathetic and well done for all that.

The Band’s Visit follows an Egyptian police band which goes to Israel to make an appearance at an Arab art centre, but through a misunderstanding ends up in the wrong town where they get more-or-less looked after by the local Israeli population. Slow moving and rather nice.

During a food festival in Melbourne we watched The Big Night (New York), a film set in an Italian restaurant and the courses we were served matched the food in the film. Then we saw La Dolce Vita (Rome) where the cameraman Paparazzo, was the source of the word paparazzi.

Five Favourite Movies about Cities
Finally I was asked to nominate ‘5 Favourite Movies about Cities’ for the FilmInFocus website. I came up with some less obvious ones (London, Paris, New York have been done to death):

The Year of Living Dangerously – Jakarta – even though none of it was filmed in Indonesia (I think the Philippines stood in), it still captured the hot-tropical-nights flavour of Indonesia with the possibility of somebody running amok (it’s an Indonesian word) always in the background.

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome – Coober Pedy – whether the Australian opal mining outback town with its underground houses qualifies as a ‘city’ might be a spoiler, but this Mad Max episode certainly got some of that mad, bad and dangerous-to-know atmosphere of the place.

Blade Runner – Los Angeles – OK LA has been filmed to death, but this is a different LA, one where it rains all the time, much of it looks like the back blocks of somewhere in Bangkok or Osaka and yet befinned Detroit iron can still make a cameo appearance behind the flying cop cars.

The Lives of Others – Berlin – I missed pre-wende (the ‘turning point’ or ‘change’ as Germans refer to when the wall came down) Berlin, but I’ve heard so many tales about the old East and West Berlin from German friends in Berlin that it’s become one of my favourite cities. This film captures the creepy feeling of the old Stasi-plagued Berlin. Then try Goodbye Lenin for the new city.

The Russian War Memorial
The Russian War Memorial in Berlin

Arabian Nights – Isfahan – ‘Isfahan is half the world,’ the Iranians like to claim and in a film that is as much travelog as drama Pier Paolo Pasolini could convince you it’s true. This is a film that absolutely makes you want to go places – Ethiopia and the Yemen as well as Iran.