Friday, 8 August 2008

The X-Files: I Want To Believe

I believe I wanted to like this movie, I truly did. Catching glimpses of the two main stars and creator/director Chris Carter at the London premiere two days beforehand added to the excitement, alas it turned out to be the most exciting and interesting thing related to the movie.
It starts promisingly enough. A female FBI agent is attacked in her house, and she fights back with a clawed utensil, leaving deep, distinctive cuts on her attacker’s face and hand, yet she disappears. We then see a team of FBI agents being lead across the snow, where they discover a severed arm with deep cuts in the hand.
The team is lead there by Father Joe, a paedophilic priest who claims to have visions relating to the woman’s disappearance. However, as the entire FBI is now sceptical about visions, they ask Scully to bring in Mulder to help with the case. Scully, now a full time doctor, is reluctant to get involved, as is the now reclusive Mulder, complete with obligatory hermit-like beard; yet while he finally gives in and goes back to the “darkness”, Scully adamantly keeps out of it.
While the movie is predominantly a dark and occasionally gruesome affair, there are some amusing moments, particularly a cheeky little joke about George Bush Junior.
Billy Connelly is decidedly creepy as the disgraced Father Joe, and his altercations with Gillian Anderson’s Scully are, performance-wise, the best scenes in the film. While the priest’s motives are mysterious, it does not stop his vague yet conveniently timed visions becoming strained and monotonous.
The movie also touches on controversial issues, such as stem cell research, and, through Father Joe and another priest hell-bent on making Scully’s job difficult; the Catholics come off less favourably than the Russian villain, played by Callum Keith Rennie.
There is a lot of character revelation and development in the movie, although surely there has been enough time to do that over nine series. Yet Anderson and David Duchovny slip so easily back into their most famous roles it is as if they had never stopped. Their performances were let down by a slow and unoriginal plot, and Carter’s direction seemed more made-for-TV than Hollywood material
While the extra-terrestrial theme in the latest Indiana Jones movie seemed out of place there, it would have been more than welcome in the X-Files. If you’re really desperate for a supernatural story with little green men, go for Indy.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

"First Daughter" by Eric Van Lustbader

Having been deprived of my annual fix of Jack Bauer chasing terrorists and fighting to stay alive against a backdrop of political and religious turmoil due to the Hollywood writers’ strike, Eric Van Lustbader’s latest novel, First Daughter, filled the void left by the absence of series seven of 24.
Edward Carson is about to be inaugurated as President of the United States, but only a month beforehand, his nineteen year old daughter is kidnapped. Carson seeks the aid of his old friend, Jack McClure, to find Alli; along with numerous other Secret Service and Cabinet departments.
McClure himself is struggling to cope with the death of his own daughter, Emma, and the subsequent separation from his wife. He also faces hostility and deprecation over his dyslexia from the head of the recovery operation, Hugh Garner. Despite his disability, it allows McClure to see the world and to see problems in different ways, and enables him to solve them remarkably quickly.
The story is tightly plotted, it twists and turns more frequently and more sharply than the River Thames, and there are cliffhangers aplenty. McClure’s past and present are woven skilfully together against events that reference and mirror those of the past eight years regarding American foreign policy and homeland security. If the character of the outgoing president is not a reflection of Bush Jnr I will devour the book again, literally.
As to the other characters, their development is every bit as crucial as the gripping story they inhabit. Their strengths, weaknesses and personas are brought out to air, giving the reader a well-rounded and detailed impression of them all.
Lustbader questions the place of religion within politics, and within society. A scene where the priest comforts Sharon McClure at the funeral of her only daughter by telling her that Emma’s death is part of God’s plan, was just one of many instances which exposed the futile and shallow reasons why God is almost lackadaisically blamed for or credited with everything from the death of a child to starting a war.
Parallels between 24 and the movie of Along Came A Spider aside, First Daughter is an exhilarating political thriller that cannot be put down until it has been read cover to cover. Not only will the pages be turned as quickly as the plot thickens, but perhaps even some sympathy for the first daughter may be aroused.
First Daughter also exemplifies why Eric Van Lustbader has taken over from Robert Ludlum at the helm of the Bourne series of novels. Although normally I am sceptical about authors writing as dead authors, this time I am going to have to make an exception.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Batman: The Dark Knight

I will admit right now: if I had been in charge of casting The Dark Knight, Heath Ledger would not have made my top one hundred shortlist for The Joker. I will also admit that would have been wrong, and that I seriously underestimated his acting talent. In the new Batman movie, no one could accuse him of being cast simply because of his pretty features and little else.
As well as some deliberately bad jokes, lots of subtle threatening and not so subtle shooting; his cruel yet sadistically comic performance did bring some humorous moments to an otherwise dark and frightening film. His ‘I want one of those’ expression on first seeing the Batmobile was both amusing, and mirrored by everyone else in the Odeon at Leicester Square.
The Joker is carrying out a series of bank robberies, and Batman is trying to foil him, along with the new District Attorney - a spot on performance by Aaron Eckhart - and Lieutenant James Gordon.
Yet with so much publicity given to the untimely death of Ledger, the other baddie was overlooked entirely. The special effects on Two-Face were awesome, although young children will wake up screaming for a month should they see it. Don’t be fooled by the 12A rating: The Dark Knight makes the first Spiderman movie look like The Incredibles.
To be honest I felt more sorry for Two-Face than The Joker, possibly because we see his allegiance switch to the dark side after a personal tragedy and an accident that leaves him horribly disfigured. The man he was, and the man he could have been, only emphasises the stark and sad contrast to what he becomes.
As for Batman, the line between his status as a hero or a vigilante becomes ever more blurred. It veers substantially towards the latter when Wayne installs software that allows him to listen in on phone conversations. Whenever Christian Bale spoke in the throaty, raspy voice he gives Batman, I felt as though my own throat was about to revert back to the pain it had plagued me with over the previous two days. Just stop talking and hit some bad guys.
Although Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman gave strong supporting acts, the only thing that was miscast was Gotham City. I’ve never been to Chicago, but even I could tell it was The Windy City; possibly to give Batman some warm air currents to glide on. Compared to the previous Gothams it seemed too light and untroubled.
Brothers Jonathan and Christopher Nolan turn what seems like a simple story of stopping the bad guy into a two and a half hour blockbuster. Although some scenes feel overlong or would not be missed, there are some impressive scene-setting shots; and a thrilling night-time chase through Gotham’s streets and tunnels is one of the action highlights.
Although the fantastical technology is not as advanced as that depicted in Iron Man, Bruce Wayne’s Lamborghini leaves Tony Stark’s Audi in the shade. There is sure to be a battle between the superhero movies of 2008, and it is going to be very close between them.