Trance

Simon (McAvoy), an art dealer, is embroiled in a plot by Franck (Vincent Cassel) to steal a famous Goya painting. During the crime though, a blow to the head gives Simon serious amnesia, and he is taken to a therapist (Rosario Dawson) who’ll use hypnosis to get him to remember a very important detail….

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With snazzy designer London locations (that look like purpose built sets) and characters that are difficult to connect with, Trance is (as the Economist puts it) “a fast, cheap, aggressively trashy scrap of pulp fiction. From the outset, it never threatens to be anything more than a slick, noirish B-movie.” I watched the first hour thinking “Who cares?” Luckily by the last bit, I was engaged, and I left the picture feeling more satisfied than the opening parts might otherwise have suggested. Stick with it, that’s what I say.

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.

Slumdog Millionaire

We finally got to see the location movie of the year – Slumdog Millionaire last night. Shot on location in the megaslums of Mumbai (there’s a great story about python wrangling along the train tracks at Hollywood Reporter), the film is choc-a-bloc with rich, pungent, vibrant, colourful, teeming, tumultuous images of that massive city – each of them sparking familiar sights and sounds – and smells – from the few times I’ve been there.

The movie progresses in series of flash-backs. Jamal, who’s been orphaned early due to religious violence, ends up as a contestant on India’s Who Wants to be a Millionaire to try to find his lost love, Latika. Although he has a basic education, he amazingly seems to know all the answers and the show’s unctuous host calls in the heavy handed cops….

But is Slumdog a good movie? Well that depends….. It doesn’t fall into the trap of trying to be a “worthy” movie – though it introduces the audience to a whole host of jaw-dropping social injustices. And it doesn’t succumb to being just light entertainment – see comment above. It even has flaws; the caricature Westerners were horribly jarring in a movie where it was otherwise always possible for an outsider to suspend disbelief. And I’ve written elsewhere about the questionable slum tourism that Slumdog has spawned.

But those really are minor complaints in a movie that is a much greater sum of its effervescent, noisy, loving parts. Brit teen Dev Patel is first rate as Jamal; Freida Pinto is drop dead gorgeous. The score is noteworthy too. So, personally, I thought Slumdog Millionaire was a great film-going experience, and I felt rewarded by having seen it. That doesn’t happen so much these days.

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.