Retreat

Journalist Kate and her architect husband Martin have retreated to an isolated guest cottage on an uninhabited island off the British coast to heal from a traumatic miscarriage that’s clearly threatening to tear their marriage apart. Shortly though, the CB radio goes dead, and the generator explodes, leaving them completely cut off from the outside world. So when Jack, a young soldier, stumbles onto the property, his head streaming with blood, making wild claims about a deadly and incurable virus that has hit the mainland, they are completely at his mercy. Whether he’s telling the truth though, that’s the thing – or maybe he’s just a complete pyscho out to do them harm.

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Retreat reminded me of that old Aussie film Dead Calm – three isolated protagonists trapped in a claustrophobic circumstances, where one of them just might be a nutter. But it’s very well made, the tension rises inexcorably and the three -handed cast – Cillian Murphy, Jamie Bell, Thandie Newton – all bring far more to their roles than the script might have suggested to lesser actors. A surprisingly elegant score too. Although it’s not going to blow you away with originality, all in all, I thought it was a great little British film. Bravo, chaps.

PS. Although the aerial shots of the island are from the Outer Hebrides, everything else was filmed in on location in Gwynedd in Wales. And although it’s a listed building, you can actually stay in the Plas Llandecwyn house.

Inception

OK, so you gather I’ve been somewhat excited about Christopher Nolan’s new movie Inception. But does it live up to its hype? Answer: Yes. And no.

Yes, in that it’s a visually astounding piece of art – parts of Paris rolling up and over itself is a stand-out, and the gravity defying-bits you’ve seen in the trailers: mindblowingly awesome. But no, too, in that it’s hard enough for most filmmakers to weave one or two complex parallel plots together, but Nolan attempts five – a dream within a dream within a dream within a dream. Within a dream. Get it? That’s an awful lot to hold together, and to his credit he does just about manage it. But we spend so much time marvelling at the spectacular visuals of set-piece after set-piece, all the while trying to keep track of the intricacies of the plot, that there’s little chance to engage with any of the characters or their emotions. So: wondrous to watch but tedious too, both a masterpiece AND a clunker: how about that for alternate realities?

As for locations, Jerry Garrett again has a lot of interesting stuff, here on the ski resort that’s the penultimate dreamscape…..

The Fortress Mountain ski resort has fallen on hard times, since its use in the 1988 Winter Olympics in nearby Calgary. Alberta’s provincial government closed the resort in 2008 over unpaid taxes and other bills. By 2009, it had degenerated into just exactly the kind of seedy, forelorn, eerie aerie that Mr. Nolan loves to film (remember “Batman Begins”?). Set builders enhanced the area’s cement-gray buildings with an austere fortress of the mind (miniature models of it were what was later blown up)…..

28 Weeks Later

As if day-to-day reality wasn’t quite scary enough, a lot of South African literature focuses on the what-ifs? of a post-apocalyptic Azania. By that, I don’t mean post-nuclear apocalypse as it might normarily apply to you good folks in the rest of the world. I mean post-liberation, post-independence, post-ANC apocalypse. Time and again, books (though rarely movies, which rely on government funding) imagine a future South Africa as a horribly failed state where corpulent, corrupt, vicious officials casually oversee a weakened and disease-ravaged populace, and where unfettered crime and violence have driven white Africans either to flee to Australia or (for those without the European passports) to barren and arid farmsteads out in the waterless bush.

I wonder if my South African alertness to the potential that ordered little life may suddenly take a very different track means that I am particularly receptive to the chilling alternatives offered by Danny Boyle’s movies 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later. The first is set in the immediate aftermath of an outbreak of a plague-like cataclysm that turns its victims into soulless flesh-eaters that can chase you really really fast. The second – which I caught on tv the other night – takes place once the virus has been contained (with no one left to kill, the zombies starved – nice) and a mission, lead by the American military, has begun to repopulate Britain.

Both movies have remarkable, mesmerising images of a hastily-deserted London – Cillian Murphy’s solo walk through the deathly quiet streets of Westminster in 28 Days is a complete wondrous thrill to anyone who’s ever been nearly flattened by a big red bus, or (worse) by a gaggle of Italian language students in brightly-coloured backpacks. 28 Weeks Later though trumps even that imagery; beautiful, shiny, devastatingly, hauntingly empty, it films London a lot from the air (which adds to the queasy sense of dislocation.)

Says producer Allon Reich on the FilmLondon website: “The unique selling point with the 28 idea is London, it really is a character in the film. Without London, the film would be something else entirely.”

Locations include Canary Wharf (massively expanded since I lived in London), Charing Cross tube station, CityPoint, Greenwich foot tunnel, Hyde Park, Wembley Stadium, the Millennium Stadium, Parliament Square, and Shaftesbury Avenue – and it’sno mean feat that the film makers make this overcrowded megapolis seem entirely desolate. Incidentally, the escape from the cottage that opens the film was filmed at Stokers Farm, south of Rickmansworth; the waterway that Robert Carlyle’s character escapes along is actually the main line of the Grand Union Canal.

Like 28 Days, 28 Weeks Later works well – in parts. The zombies are rip-roaringly scary and the action is driven by a nerve-jarring soundtrack and the kind of grim lighting that makes you feel part of the action. Yet in this movie too, there’s that dumb child cliche again; the only two kids allowed back in Britain decide to break out of the secure compound (why?), unleashing the raging havoc all over again. It’s almost criminal that they’re the only two allowed to survive.