icons-02 icons-01 MM Logo Instagram kickstarter-support FILM FREEWAY LOGO

blog

Movie news, reviews, features and more thoughts coming soon...

By midlandsmovies, May 16 2016 11:37AM

After a brilliant trip to the Italian cities of Pisa, Venice and Florence in 2013 (click link) I was itching to get back to the land of perfect pizza with a trip to their capital city of Rome.


For a full album of photos to accompany this blog please click here


Leaving on my birthday May 3rd, the city itself has a rich history of cinema – both as a location, a studio system and a place to film a wide variety of movies throughout history. With my walking boots on (a mere 15km was tracked on a running app on just my first day) I was looking forward to exploring the beautiful city streets without too much planning but also not missing the major sights.


It is with these tourist sites that I will begin with. A city of immense faith and religion, the focal point is the Vatican (technically its own separate state) and has appeared in numerous films over the years. It is destroyed in the cataclysmic 2012 and that CGI model was “borrowed” by Ron Howard and the makers of Angels and Demons. Adapted from the Dan Brown novel – it’s a literary prequel but they made it a sequel for the film – Angels and Demons follows symbologist Robert Langdon (a strangely coiffed Tom Hanks) investigating the secret Illuminati sect. Whilst speaking of St. Peter’s Basilica, it shows up in Mission: Impossible III – another “chase” film where the team successfully infiltrates Vatican City to capture a villain.


A pulp piece of nonsense, the novel has its word-play charms for a holiday read but the film wisely ditches The Da Vinci Code’s literal adaptation and puts Hanks in an on-the-run adventure more akin to the National Treasure movies. Criss-crossing Rome, the death of the Pope sees a number of cardinals kidnapped and tortured throughout the city with Hanks and company using codes to track down their mysterious disappearance as a dark-matter bomb ticks down. Yes, that serious. I therefore tried to find at least some of the monuments for the "Path of Illumination," which are marked by statues of angels in locations relevant to the four elements.


The first cardinal (“Earth”) is held at the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo which was part of a lovely piazza in the north east of the city whilst the second location of Saint Peter's Square was truly one of the great views of Europe to behold. This cardinal represented “air” and I found one of the markers on the floor near one of the city’s many obelisks. For “fire”, Langdon ends up at Santa Maria della Vittoria where I found the statue of ‘The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa’which depicts an angel with a burning spear before the final cardinal is saved at Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers. The fountain also appears in The Talented Mr. Ripley.


Each church was an amazing building with ancient architecture, art and history and are enjoyable even for the atheist holidaymaker like myself. The Illuminati's lair turns out to Castel Sant'Angelo (a towerin cylindrical building commissioned by Emperor Hadrian and later used by popes as a fortress) and the movie ends in and around the Vatican as the real villain is uncovered.


Rome is a city of wonderful old buildings, streets and many (many) staircases. There’s also lots of fountains of which a tour guide said were all drinkable (I didn’t try) and none is more famous than The Trevi Fountain – seen in Fellini’s iconic La Dolce Vita. There cannot be a film fan alive who doesn’t know Anita Ekberg’s frolics in the fountain and after a recent restoration the huge structure looked great during the day and even better at night.


With only 4 full days, I attempted to get to as many places as I could but I wanted to savour one of the things I’ve been wanting to experience for years. Since I can remember I’ve dreamed of seeing Rome’s Colosseum in the afternoon sun. Maybe a cliché but the ancient building (seen reconstructed in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator) has been of interest since my school days and when I finally saw it I was not disappointed. Its looming presence over Rome’s historic area (the Forum is close by) was a joy both outside and inside. The building’s current state, where the floor has been excavated to show underground cells below, is seen in the 2008 film Jumper. A guilty pleasure of mine, Jumper sees Hayden Christensen (remember him?) using superpowers to teleport around the world and a particular action scene has him fighting alongside Jamie Bell in the ancient ruins.


Also filmed at the Colosseum was Bruce Lee’s The Way of the Dragon, the 1972 Hong Kong martial arts action film where the climax is held at the location in a fight against b-movie legend Chuck Norris.


Parts of Rome are also seen in the truly awful (watched once, never again) Ocean's Twelve and returning to The Talented Mr. Ripley, The ‘Vesuvio’ nightclub, supposedly in Naples is actually the Caffè Latino in Rome. Confusingly, the ‘Rome’ opera house, where Ripley poses as Dickie, is the Teatro San Carlo in Naples!


When Ripley returns after Dickie’s murder he surveys the ruins of the Forum from Capitoline Hill. From here you can view the monumental sculptures of the Capitoline Museum and Piazza del Campidoglio. Ripley then stays in an apartment which was filmed in the 14th century Palazzo Taverna on Via di Monte and the terrace café he meets friends is Cafe Dinelli at the foot of the Spanish Steps. Unfortunately for me the Spanish Steps were closed for refurbishment but this was the only restoration work at the main attractions and gave me a good excuse, if I even needed it, to return again in the future.


Also of note, the most unlikely of films can use Rome for its historic look as well. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure uses the Greek-inspired architecture to create the ‘Athens’ of 410BC which is mostly the white marble Victor Emmanuel II Monument (Il Vittoriano), on Piazza Venetia.


More recently, James Bond visits the city in Spectre (2015) where he is chased by henchman, Mr. Hinx. Their car chase around the narrow alleys of Rome was of particular relevance when I had to constantly move out of the way of vehicles driving down cobbled walkways. What I thought were tiny protected pedestrianized alleys, only just wide enough for a small group of walking tourists, were actually busy thoroughfares. I didn’t just have to I step out of the way for scooters and Smart cars, but large lorries and vans actually made their way through smaller and smaller roads, giving you a beep if you failed to spot them. Bond’s car chase continues down the Tiber River – a beautiful city waterway (“waterway to have a good time”) that snakes through the centre.


Obviously no trip to Rome could not mention the 1953 romantic comedy Roman Holiday. Gregory Peck plays a reporter and Audrey Hepburn a royal princess out to see Rome by herself. Hepburn won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance as did the screenplay (written by a then-blacklisted Dalton Trumbo). Shot at the Cinecittà studios and on location around Rome it features the Spanish Steps, the 19th century Palazzo Brancaccio and that infamous ending was filmed in the Sala Grande Galleria in the Palazzo Colonna. One of the film’s most unforgettable locations must be the Mouth of Truth (Bocca della Verita) which can be found in the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Piazza Bocca della Verita.


1966 Spaghetti western The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was a truly international effort with co-production split between companies in Italy, Spain, West Germany, and the United States. The filming began at the Cinecittà studio in Rome including the opening scene between Eastwood and Wallach but the production soon moved on to Spain which doubled for the south-western United States,.


Other films from the city? Strangely, Super Fly T.N.T. (1973), a blaxploitation flick directed, starring, and co-written by Ron O'Neal was shot in Rome whilst “Conan” spin-off Red Sonja (1985) was shot on location in Celano, the Abruzzo region and in the Stabilimenti Cinematografici Pontini studios nearby to Rome. In order to create the mid 19th Century sets that Scorsese envisioned for Gangs of New York, that production was filmed at the large Cinecittà Studio and designer Dante Ferretti recreated over a mile of historic New York buildings.


In Guy Ritchie’s 2015 The Man from U.N.C.L.E. various locations throughout Italy were used including Kuryakin and Teller's first outing as a couple which was shot below the Spanish Steps as well as at the Grand Hotel Plaza, in Via del Corso and in the gardens of ancient Theater of Marcellus.


Finally Chevy Chase’s Griswald family also take a trip to Rome in 80s comedy National Lampoon's European Vacation. Watch their Italian clothes shopping trip here which ends with Rusty Griswald (a euphemism to look up on Urban Dictionary if there ever was one) exiting the store looking like a cross between Shakespeare’s Benvolio and a renaissance version of Rufus from Bill and Ted.


An absolute marvel of a city, there have been hundreds more films, both from Hollywood and Italian productions filmed in the city and nearby locations. From the horror of Argento to the obvious Roman epics the city has an attraction like no other. Despite its romantic inspirations, Rome has lent itself to Westerns, blaxploitation, martial arts, comedy, action and much more in a history steeped in passion and pizzazz. Oh, and pizza.


Midlands Movies

By midlandsmovies, Nov 15 2015 07:09PM

Aside from the Midlands area, when I go on vacation I love to visit local attractions and nothing gives me more pleasure than going to see places that are featured in famous movies. With my previous holiday blogs covering Madrid, Italy and California I was very excited to be heading back to the good ol’ USA for a trip to New York, Chicago and the surrounding area.


For all the movie photos from the USA please click here


I landed at JFK airport tired but excited on October 29th (the day after our Shaun of the Dead screening) and, still drained from that late night, I put my lack of energy to one side to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the Big Apple. This was my third visit in as many years so I had seen some of the most famous destinations before, but I always get a flush of excitement when I see some of the icons of this big city. On my first full day there I walked around Manhattan for over 6 hours catching all kinds of sights and with the November weather being unusually mild, I even managed to spend some time in my t-shirt as the sun beat down.


I was staying with my good friend at an apartment on Wall Street which immediately linked to my favourite film of 2014, The Wolf of Wall Street starring Leonardo Di Caprio, whilst later as I was walking around I even spotted a Steve Madden shop – the real–life shoe company that DiCaprio’s fraudulent banker floats on the stock exchange. Speaking of which, just 200 yards up the road was the real life stock exchange which Bane (Tom Hardy) terrorises in The Dark Knight Rises (2012). Nolan’s Batman franchise was a running theme of the trip as the second half would be spent in The Windy City, Chicago, where much more of those movies were filmed. Rises also contains shots of “Gotham’s” bridges collapsing which have been clearly influenced by the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges of New York city as Bane and his gang attempt to cut the citizens off from the rest of the world.


On my walkabout I also came across the fire station from Ghostbusters (1984) as well the Museum of the Native American which was the location of the painting of Vigo for that film’s sequel. After an accident in the building which resulted in me cutting my head, it seemed that the museum still has some bad vibes. Has anyone checked for a river of slime underneath again?



Up at the other end of the island, Central Park was where the Tavern on the Green was situated (67 Central Park West) which was used when Louis Tully (a demon-dog avoiding Rick Moranis) cried for help in Ghostbusters. Just across from that is Dana’s (Sigourney Weaver) apartment building – referred to as “spook central” – where the final battle against Mr. Stay Puft occurs. Still at Central Park is the bridge the protagonists hide under from Cloverfield (2008) whilst nearer Grand Central Terminal is the Chrysler building, both of which appear in the film as well.


Further downtown is the iconic Flat Iron Building (used as the Daily Bugle’s headquarters in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy) whilst the second film also includes the fantastic action sequence where Spider-Man battles Doctor Octopus on an elevated train. In fact, NYC does not have an elevated train track passing through its skyscrapers so the filmmakers used digital footage of Chicago’s “L” train to get the shots they needed.


After my brief stay in the city that never sleeps, I headed east to meet friends nearer Chicago. Quieter and with a more relaxed atmosphere, my friends lived in Aurora which you may know as the home-town of Wayne and Garth from American comedy Wayne’s World (1992) and its sequel. The city of lights provides the backdrop for their rock antics although much of both films were actually shot in and around Los Angeles – which Myers alludes to again in a fourth wall joke from Austin Powers.


From Aurora, I took a trip up to Woodstock, Illinois - Del Preston: “It rained all morning, and then it cleared up in the afternoon. And that's it... I almost remembered something else, but it's gone”. Actually not the location of the infamous 60s musical love festival but this Woodstock was the small town used in Groundhog Day (1993).


The town’s central square double’s as Gobbler’s Knob which hosts the groundhog ceremony before Bill Murray’s grouchy weather man begins to repeat the same day over and over. As his depression sets in, Murray’s worn out character attempts to commit suicide – one death is from the town’s clock tower – but continues to wake up unharmed back in his hotel bedroom each morning.


The bandstand in the square hosts the main festivities but is also the backdrop for the first snowfall dance between Murray and Andie MacDowell. As we walked around the picturesque town we saw the infamous corner where Murray steps in a puddle trying to avoid Ned Ryerson – who has a burger named after him in a local bar (Bing!) – as well as the cinema where he takes a date dressed up as Clint Eastwood.


Woodstock also played host to the film Trains, Planes & Automobiles (1987) where Steve Martin and John Candy are stopped for speeding in a burned-out car and then the pair are picked up by a truck outside the old courthouse (now the Old Courthouse Arts Center) as well as its more famous doubling as the town of ‘Punxsutawney’.


This lovely town proved to be a calm highlight of my trip between two big cities but it wasn’t too long before I was in my room at the Red Roof Inn in downtown Chicago. The city has been on my ‘must-go’ list for an age and I was thrilled to finally be in this cinematic city. As mentioned before the city’s bridges and industrial ambience was perfect for its stand-in as Gotham. From ‘the narrows’ in Batman Begins (2005) to the Tumbler heading under Lower Wacker Drive (the underground road system), the city’s pier also was the location of the Joker’s hostage heist on the two tourist boats.



Moving to The Dark Knight (2008), me and my friends had drinks and food at the iconic Berghoff Bar which is an historical 100-year old watering hole. This was the location of the scene where Jim Gordon and his team arrest Maroni whilst the nearby Chicago Theatre was used when Harvey attempts to see ballet with Rachel, but is unable to do so after Bruce Wayne takes the entire company on a sunny cruise. Lastly, the unfinished (at the time) Trump Tower was where the final battle took place twixt Batman and the Joker at the film’s climax.


Their earlier bust-up in the street with the BatPod and a big-rig truck occurs at South LaSalle Street with the Chicago Board of Trade Building in the background (which was also the HQ of ‘Wayne Enterprises’ in Batman Begins).




That street is also famous for its appearance in The Untouchables (1987, Brian De Palma) whose fictionalised version of Elliott Ness’s struggles with Al Capone utilised a wide range of Chicago locales. Recreating the Prohibition Era, the movie mostly drops historical accuracy for cops and robbers entertainment. The police HQ is the Rookery Building on South La Salle whilst Costner’s Ness first meets Sean Connery’s “Irish” beat-cop Malone on the pedestrian deck of the Michigan Avenue Bridge. The Federal Reserve is also on the same street whist mid-town’s Cultural Center is where De Niro’s Capone pleads his innocence to the media.





The film’s most famous sequence is at the end where a shoot out at the city’s Union Station paid homage to Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin and is also used at the climax of Man of Steel (2013) for the showdown between Superman and General Zod.




Another film which hugely uses Chicago’s many distinct locations is the 80s High School classic Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986). The John Hughes teen comedy has the title character skipping school for an educational and fun day out in the Windy City with his girlfriend Sloane and his put-upon pal Cameron.


The film has many unique local settings including when the friends pass the Flamingo, a huge red structure created by noted American artist Alexander Calder. This 53-foot tall stabile is located in the Federal Plaza in front of the Kluczynski Federal Building and is not far from the Art Institute of Chicago which hosts the city’s impressive art collection. In the film, the trio are fascinated by some legendary pieces including the Portrait of Balzac by Auguste Rodin, Picasso paintings, Marc Chagall’s America Windows and (most famously) A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte – an 1884 pointillism work by Georges Seurat.


The film also includes trips to Wrigley Field (home of the city’s Cubs baseball team) and Ferris crashing the annual Von Steuben Day Parade on a float for a musical sequence. The last place I visited from this film was up at the Sears Tower's skydeck (now the Willis Tower) which gives unparalleled 360 degree views of the city from the 103rd floor. Don’t go up if you have vertigo but if you’re feeling brave then take a seat in one of the all-glass boxes which allow visitors to look through the glass floor to the street 1,353 feet (412 m) below!


The final picture in the Art Institute that I recognised was Francis Bacon’s “Figure with Meat” which was the painting Jack Nicholson’s Joker asked Bob the Goon not to destroy in the museum scene in Tim Burton’s Batman (1989). Another Batman link!


Outside the Institute is Millennium Park which holds Cloud Gate – a public sculpture by Indian-born British artist Anish Kapoor. It is locally nicknamed The Bean because of its shape and weighs 110 short tons and is used in the film The Break Up (2006) but most will have seen the silver/metallic structure in Duncan’s Jones’ Source Code (2011).



So what else do we have? Well, the gritty streets of the city can be viewed in The Fugitive (1993) as Harrison Ford’s Dr. Richard Kimble goes on the run after being accused of murdering his wife. Ford rides (and fights) on the “L” train whilst he also visits City Hall which doubles as a prison in his second encounter between himself and Tommy Lee Jones’ U.S. Marshall.


There were sadly many other movie locations that I didn’t get to experience in my tight schedule. From The Blues Brothers, High Fidelity, Adventures in Babysitting, While You Were Sleeping and Public Enemies Chicago’s grimy streets have been used from genres involving gangsters and superheroes to comedy and drama and will no doubt continue to provide the backdrop for independent and Hollywood films for many years to come. If you get the chance to visit any of these locations then both tourists and die-hard movie fans will absolutely be overjoyed and thrilled by the amazing places (both old and new) that these awesome sites serve up.


Midlands Movies Mike

RSS Feed twitter