Under the Skin

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In Under the Skin, Scarlett Johansson is an otherworldly, not-quite-human alien disguised as a voluptuous young woman who’s out scouring the streets of Glasgow for vulnerable and isolated young men to hunt and kill. She’s enabled in this task by a stern male alien in motorbike leathers, who begins to hunt her when she starts sympathising with her human cohorts.

Under the Skin is quite a slow film, but it’s clever. I really really loved the fact that the alien lands in flippin Scotland, so no-one could understand the accents, let alone a bloodsucking flesh-eater from outerspace. The incomprehensible cacophony just adds to Scarlett’s other-ness. I also absolutely loved the visuals depicting exactly what happens to the victims once Scarlett’s trapped them in her evil lair: awesome sci-fi. On the negative side, I didn’t like the director’s decision to use a lot of amateur performers filmed with hidden cameras; it makes the dialogue jolty and wooden, and I didn’t think it did justice to the script. On the whole though, I found Under the Skin compelling and worth a watch. One thing’s for sure: Mizz Johansson is not afraid to be far far away from Hollywood glamour.

World War Z

World War Z, if you hadn’t heard, is a book that’s styled as an intellectual history of a massive, unprecedented global calamity which happens to involve zombies. Written by Max Brooks, it’s obviously not high art, but it is terrifically well written and the world it conjures is truly vivid and truly scary. So when the movie was announced, I was excited. But then came the naysaying reports – the bloated budget, the over-runs, the re-shoots, the clashes between Brad Pitt and director Marc Forster, Max Brooks distancing himself from the entire project. My heart sank. But then, and then….I went to see it.

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All I can tell you is that World War Z is a cracking film. It’s a thrilling ride (maybe a little gore-less for most zombie genre fans) that races headlong from country to country as the world caves in and Brad tries to reach the source of the infection. It’s NOTHING like the book, but the exposition is excellent, the cinematography is astounding, the sfx breath-taking, the speed, the zip, the tension, the pressure is just first rate. There’s no maudlin crap either, and no false sympathy engendered by a rescued dog or a lost girl. It’s just a relentless scramble to save the earth. This is how we like our disaster movies.

World War Z filmed Glasgow for Philadelphia and Malta for Jerusalem. It’s even got James Badge Dale. It’s literally a Must-See (yes, even in hated 3-D) and my movie-of-the-year so far.

Cloud Atlas

Although Cloud Atlas polarised the critics, I’m going to say simply that I thought it an astonishing, moving and utterly unforgettable film. I watched it twice, in somewhat quick succession, and the second viewing was even better than the first. Don’t get me wrong, the six interweaving tales of how reincarnated souls move through the centuries and find redemption is not necessarily an easy watch – you have to pay pretty close attention to what’s going on, the tonal shifts between the episodes can be jarring, and the racial, tribal and gender-hopping is somewhat off-putting. But it somehow rises above the limitations of its assorted chaotic parts to become one of the most memorable film experiences that I can remember.

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The soundtrack in particular is literally gobsmacking – I’ll be buying that – and I thought Ben Whishaw’s turn as the amoral 30’s composer was stand-out. Locations wise, the island scenes were shot on Majorca in the Balearics – in the World Heritage site of the Serra de Tramuntana mountains, at Sa Calobra and near Formentor. Another quirk: the San Francisco scenes shot in Glasgow. Oh indeed, everything IS connected.

Doomsday

A couple of years ago, in the middle of the night, we were woken by the sounds of shouting in the streets outside our loft. Sounded unnervingly like a riot – which would be unusual but not entirely unheard of in South Africa, after all. It turned out to be a movie production, featuring people dressed like punk rockers attacking a large vehicle, right on the steps of elegant City Hall. (You’d think that South African producers would be a bit more fastidious about neighbour notification – I remember a few years back a movie filming a gun battle, at night, in the middle of gang-land, and they hadn’t notified anyone. Gang members came running…..)

It turns out the movie that woke me was Doomsday, a post-apocalyptic thriller starring Rhona Mitra. It’s  something of a bit of a dog’s breakfast of a film – Mad Max meets Braveheart meets 28 Days Later. In short, it’s 30-odd years after a devastating Scottish plague, and the country’s been isolated ever since by its cynical southern neighbours. As a result, half the surviving population has gone feral, the remainder, medieval. And now a small team of scientists are sent in to find out what’s what…..

It’s completely inconsistent (cannibals in the midst of a massive herd of cattle) but all entertaining enough. (same director, Neil Marshall who made The Descent and Dog Soldiers, so not a surprise.) Rhona Mitra was good too. I thought the producers did very well to seamlessly merge the South African scenes with the Scottish ones; it was difficult to tell the difference. Wikipedia interestingly has the best stuff on how that was achieved.