Angels & Demons

This is it. Dan Brown has won. The plot he instigated with the Da Vinci code book is finally bursting into horrible flower. This has shaken my deeply held faith in the goodness of God. I may never recover.

It’s not theological, you understand. Neither is it about Jesus having a wife or a son or anything like that. It’s in the success. Books, films, this bad, this lazy, this insulting to the intelligence of viewer or reader – that’s what shakes your faith. This isn’t as bad or as boring as the previous one. But it’s still utterly hopeless.

Don’t do it. Don’t see it. You’ll only hasten the end of days. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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Star Trek – Suspicous Minds

This is latest reboot of a well-worn franchise takes the Smallville approach – go back to the beginning, and let’s see how these characters got to the point which we have all grown over-familiar with. There is of course an inherent problem with this – real threat to the characters becomes hard to establish as in our heart of heart we all know they’ve got to survive.

So it is with J J ‘Lost & Alias’ Abrams Star Trek movie. The Starship Enterprise is under construction, the members of the crew we now know as cliches are very much in their formative years too. Kirk is born in a context of sacrifice and duty, leaving him scarred and angry which becomes the very reason for his enrollment in the Starfleet. His relationship with Spock is one of mistrust and suspicion. All the others are present and now-quite correct – there’s hints of the characters we think that we know them to be. Is that really the case, however,  or is Abrams going to take them in a radically new direction? It seems he’s given himself the option to do whatever he wants to do over the inevitable series to come, with a mind-bending piece of time travelling trickery. Convulted, but this is Star Trek. It’s carried off with it’s tongue just enough in the cheek, with a knowing wink to the audience.

All in all, this is exciting stuff. It starts with a pre-credit sequence worthy of Bond’s sci-fi cousin and never really lets up, even while investing the characters with heart and soul. And even while it pays homage to the orignal’s retro-chic, this is very much a reinvention of and for it’s time. If you grew up on the TV series you grew up with a diverse and integrated group burying their differences for a greater good. Here unity is forged in suspicion and opposition, doubt and guilt. These are broken & unworthy heroes, perfect where everything from scared texts to expenses claims are viewed with scarcely concealed suspicion. These are people both to follow and to doubt, to admire and yet to keep a log of character flaws which will enable us to tut ‘I told you say‘ at a future fall from grace.

Truly, the heroes the times deserve.

Wolverine – How to finally ruin a good thing

Well, that’s the end of that then. I like Hugh Jackman and I liked the first two X-Men films. They were exciting, well directed and involving – and they actually dealt with issues, in the spirit of the better Batman or Spiderman movies. Issues like identity, difference and alienation. The third X-Men installment was an awful mess, about not very much. Wolverine was an opportunity to get back to what made it all so good in the first place.

As you know by now, it deals with how Wolverine became Wolverine. Apart from a nicely put together trot through some of the key wars of the last 100 years at the beginning, there’s no imagination or surprise here. Overhead shot of anguished Wolverine holding the body of his dearly beloved? Check. Painful acquisition of blades in the hands under the oversight of dastardly mastermind? Check. Rubbish script? check.

It’s a waste, and unless a Christopher Nolan is bought in to reboot the franchise, this is creatively dead.

State Of Play

Another television to cinema transfer. And again it’s not rubbish. Whatever are we to to do?

State Of Play the television series was a masterpiece of confusion and paranoia, benefitting from the perfectly cast John Simm and Bill Nighy. For most of the series, the viewer had very little idea what was going on, and that was a good thing. You ended up as confused and scared as the central character, and you really went on the journey with him.

State Of Play the film has crossed the Atlantic and added the threat of blogging to traditional journalism and the war against terror to the mix. That’s fine, because this is a story that really needs to be of it’s time. The time constraints of cinema mean it’s hard to build up the same slow sense of utter panic; instead attention is wisely turned to the motivations of the people involved, and their difficulty in surfing the waves of a fast changing world – as it affects the professions of politics and journalism. The latter, of course, is the way most of consume the former, so this really is an important issue.

There’s a lot that’s good here. Director Kevin Macdonald  keeps the story moving well, as we know he’s so good at (see Touching The Void or The Last King Of Scotland). Helen Mirren is ideal as the newspaper’s editor; and Russell Crowe continues to manage that strange trick of being down-at-heel and magnetic at the same time. Even managing to remember most of the story before I went in, I was still basically compelled by the story and the people.

So it’s good stuff, but if there’s a disppointment it’s that the big issues are never really addressed. The context of arms and the war on terror is just scenery; the impact of new media on old is more of a soundtrack than a debate. This director managed to pull it off better in The Last King Of Scotland; maybe that was better written, and it certainly benefitted from having just the one central character. He became the imperfect prism through which the era and the wider issues were examined, as well as the means for telling the story. Here the attention is split between a handful of central characters, none of whom are really given enough depth or time to enable the issues to rise to the surface. The running time of a series makes multiple central figures easier to handle; here the effect is that there’s nothing to really focus on, no-one for the viewer to really empathise with.

In the end, though, this is still a really good thriller and one that deserves attention. It’s of it’s time, it’s compelling and the performances are very fine. All of these carry you through at enough speed not to be really bothered by the deficits.

Let The Right One In

This film arrived on a wave of critical adoration of the type that really made me sit up and take notice. It was frequently compared to Pan’s Labyrinth. That’s one of those rare films that both lives within a genre and yet utterly transcends it – it’s a dark fantasy/fairy-tale, but it’s all together more than that. It also happens to be one of my all time favourite films. I adore it.

So to hear Let The Right One In talked of in the same way by the same critics was a strong indicator that I needed to see this. It’s a Swedish film, about a teenagers and their parents. The twist is that one of the teenagers just happens to be a vampire. But this is no Buffy – it’s mood, beautifully shot and not a little existential. The performances are fine, and the story unfolds at a pleasingly languid pace, all the while hinting of all sorts of hidden motivations and history. There’s a deeply moving and rather horrifying act of sacrifice which will stay with you (in a good way) for a long time.

But it just doesn’t add up for me. Whereas Pan’s Labyrinth took was effectively a stock story and pointed to far greater truths, this film ambles around with a disappointing lack of direction. There’s also a last minute rescue that makes no narrative sense whatsoever, and only seems to exist to allow a happy, upbeat ending that’s totally at odds with the tone of all that’s gone before. It’s a shame, as on the surface there’s much to commend this; but I felt badly let down. Maybe I should never read another review, never allow another comparison into my head. But this could have been so much more, and clearly has an ambition to be that. Which makes it all the more disappointing.