TBT – The ‘Burbs (1989)

Bruce Dern, corey feldman, dark comedy, films, fucking weird, meh, review, silly, TBT, Tom Hanks

Without being too mean, my neighbours are weird. Well, the mother is super weird. She has this incredible obsession with her garden, which causes her to lose her mind every so often. At the end of October it was fucking windy as Storm Brian passed over the UK. Overnight the weather went mental and blew over a few of her plants. The wind didn’t really let up for the entire weekend but that didn’t stop my insane neighbour wrestling with her trees to get them to stand up. It was quite a sight. It’s not the first nor will it be the last time she goes on a crazy gardening rampage. She’s the kind of woman who, when you accidentally cut your hedge too short, will start having an emotional breakdown in the garden because she doesn’t like it. But, hey, we’ve all been there, right? Am I scared that one day her intense love of horticulture will lead to more violent pursuits? Sure. You might say I’m being paranoid but it’s probably got more to do with the fact that I’ve just watched The ‘Burbs. But you have never seen my neighbour. If you told me she had a big collection of bones hidden under her house then I probably wouldn’t be shocked.

I’m going to be honest with you, I’m not really feeling today’s TBT review so it’s gonna be brief. I watched The ‘Burbs because it had come up in a recent conversation and happened to be on Netflix. It was a perfectly enjoyable film. It’s an underrated 80s comedy thriller type thing with starring Tom Hanks, Carrie Fisher, Corey Feldman and Bruce Dern. I mean it’s probably not aged as well as other films from the 80s and the ending sort of loses its way but, for the most part, it does it’s job pretty well. The story is a simple one: a group of suburban neighbours begin to suspect that the new faimly on the block is up to no good. When they operate stranger machinery and dig up their garden late at night, a paranoid Ray (Tom Hanks) decides that his mysterious new neighbours are hiding secrets. Spurred on by the supposed disappearance of another resident of the street, Ray and his friends decide the family are murderers and head out to find the body. Obviously, chaos and hilarity ensues.

So the premise ends up being a fairly interesting and pretty understandable one. Especially in the days when people don’t really know their neighbours anymore. How do we really know what anyone is up to? It’s like on the news when people always say the man who turned out to be a serial killer was a quiet, seemingly normal man. It brings about a certain amount of humour and there are some great moments. It’s not one of Tom Hanks’ most memorable roles but it’s fine. Corey Feldman is perhaps the greatest member of the cast simply because he’s the one that gets to have the most fun.

My only real problem with this film is how far off course it goes. It’s got that 80s thing where it just gets excessively insane without ever really knowing what to do. As the film progresses things seem to get more away from the story and the ending just ends up being a little too weird. It’s kind of like the last few novels Stephen King has released: building up tension to a point where it just goes too batshit crazy to be scary. Although, The ‘Burbs isn’t trying to scare it’s audience, per se, but it does end up taking the parody of a horror film too far. There are better comedy horror films out there but The ‘Burbs has a certain amount of nostalgia to it. It’s definitely not the worst thing to come out of the 80s but there’s probably a good reason it hasn’t really stood the test of time.

TBT – The Da Vinci Code (2006)

controversial, dan brown, films, fucking stupid, history, Ian McKellen, meh, religion, reviews, TBT, Tom Hanks

Two of my favourite quotations from the film critic Roger Ebert concern The Da Vinci Code. The first is from his review of the film National Treasure:

I should read a potboiler like The Da Vinci Code every once in a while, just to remind myself that life is too short to read books like The Da Vinci Code.

The second from his review of Ron Howard’s adaptation of The Da Vinci Code:

They say The Da Vinci Code has sold more copies than any book since the Bible. Good thing it has a different ending.

Along with a love of cinema and a need to criticise it, Roger Ebert and I have something in common. We have both read and hated Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. In all honesty, I read the book after I had watched the film. I knew about Brown’s book, of course, but I had no interest in reading it. I watched the end of the film one evening and was intrigued enough to pick up a copy. Brown’s writing is horrible and his over-reliance on cliffhangers and their ridiculous solutions is just awful. I can see why people love it; it’s a mystery that is easy to read and, subsequently, makes people feel clever when they keep up with/solve it. It’s all just trite though. Brown made a name for himself thanks to a controversial and preposterous subject. He gained readers because of his short chapters that always end on a cliffhanger. It makes my blood boil. I swear, one Dan Brown chapter ends with the cliffhanger of what Robert Langdon will decide to have for breakfast. Over the years, I’ve had so many arguments with people about this book but I often find myself being slightly less harsh on the film. I’ve never thought it made much sense. Maybe Tom Hanks really is such a charming man that he can improve anything?

I mean, I’m under no real illusion that The Da Vinci Code is a good film. It has an utterly ridiculous narrative and doesn’t provide any depth. It’s basically a film of exposition where you sit and watch people solve riddles that nobody else has a chance of solving. Decent mysteries are supposed to allow you to keep up with, if not get ahead of, the characters on screen. With The Da Vinci Code you’re always, at least, one step behind. Thankfully, though, it doesn’t matter. Whilst Tom Hanks’s first outing as Robert Langdon sees him break almost illogical riddles at breakneck speed, The Da Vinci Code also gives us Audrey Tatou’s Sophie who constantly asks everyone on screen to explain it. Sophie, in this case, is the audience… except she also happens to be shit hot at solving these seemingly unsolvable mysteries when she needs to. What The Da Vinci Code boils down to, is a couple of hours watching Tom Hanks and co run through various European countries and spend hours sat around giving lectures on history and religious legends.

Yet, there is something about being adapted into a film that makes the narrative work better than in the book. On screen, the pace set by Dan Brown’s endless chain of cliffhangers and impossible escapes means that plot is always moving forward. Or at least always moving forward after we’ve spent the requisite amount of time watching a PowerPoint presentation or something first. Unlike reading the book, the film doesn’t really allow you to think too much. There is always something happening so you can’t really start asking yourself pesky questions like “why did that character not just make things simpler?” or “what are his motivations for doing this?” or “why does the ending essentially just make the entire film unnecessary?” Ron Howard has, quite cleverly, made a film that never allows you time to pick apart the glaringly obvious plot holes until after the credits, by which time you’ve already let yourself get carried off in the insanity on screen.

Which is, if I’m honest, what always happens. I can hardly say that I find The Da Vinci Code exciting. I’ve hardly ever been riveted by it. However, I can’t deny that, if it’s on, I find myself unable to look away. It’s the mentality that makes you look at a car crash as you drive past. The same one that means, despite my huge, burning hatred for it, makes me occasionally want to sit down to watch Mama Mia. Although, I suspect that’s more of a weird S&M fetish thing than this. Whilst the narrative doesn’t really interest me in anyway, I am always glued to the screen. It could very well just be Hollywood’s Mr Nice Guy, Tom Hanks, and his magnetic personality. Or it could just be that this film is so bad that it’s clawing its way back to good again. I don’t know.

I’ve never thought much of Dan Brown as a writer of novels but he is a writer who can construct an intriguing plot. Yes, it’s exactly the kind of stuff you’d find weird people in tin foil hats writing on a message board at 1 am but that doesn’t mean it’s not watchable. Dan Brown shouldn’t be a writer of books but he can make a fairly decent shit film. You won’t come out of this film having a changed view on religion or having a completely different opinion about society because that’s not the point. No matter how seriously this film takes itself. This film with drag you, kicking and screaming, into its nonsense world and, without letting you stop for breath, whisk you along with it before you realise what you’ve got yourself involved in. Maybe, once the credits roll, you’ll feel ashamed with yourself. That’s natural. What you can’t deny, no matter how much you might want to, is that, at the time, you were kind of happy to be on that ride.

TBT – Saving Private Ryan (1998)

films, gruesome, Matt Damon, reviews, Steven Spielberg, TBT, Tom Hanks, war, world war II

I’ve eaten so much food today and I really don’t know why. Well, that’s not strictly true. I did because I’m bored. I’m meant to be getting my life (aka my house) in order before I head back to work but it really doesn’t appeal. So instead, I’ve been lying down, stuffing my face and watching soldiers die horribly in Steven Spielberg’s 1990s epic war film. It’s been a while since I saw this film and have preferred to watch the version shown on the Adam and Joe Show. Yes, it may be played out with stuffed toys and not people but that doesn’t mean its not as good as the original. Still, after watching Dunkirk I decided it was time to rewatch Spielberg’s war epic. Saving Private Ryan was one of those films that changed the way war films were made. It inspired several directors and, according to Quentin Tarantino, inspired Inglorious Basterds. It was also, apparently, the first time that people realised that World War II was awful. The majority of things I hear people say about this film is along the lines of “it really brought home to me the reality of war”. As if, before 1998, there existed some people who thought World War II was a fucking picnic for everyone involved. Personally, I’ve never needed Steven Spielberg to paint me a vivid picture of what a real battle sequence might be like to know its somewhere I don’t want to be. I’ve never really thought to myself “I really wish I was alive in the 1940s because it seems like it might be fun”. Still, it’s good to know that this film helped some people get over the crazy notion that was is good.

If there’s one thing that Steven Spielberg can do it’s create a memorable visual. We all vividly remember the water glass from Jurassic Park, the girl in red from Schindler’s List and ET and Eliot flying in front of the moon. The one that sticks with most people, though? The opening of Saving Private Ryan. It’s the thing that so many people have referenced in relation to Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk because it is still considered to be the best interpretation of war ever created for the big screen. I’m not going to sit here and deny that the opening sequence isn’t great. It really is. It’s a horrific representation of what happened on Omaha beach in 1944 and it places the audience uncomfortably in the middle of the action. Even now, nearly 20 years later, this sequence still feels as gruesome and important as it did way back when.

However, the problem with these magnificent film moments is that people become blinded to the faults that come before and after. The sequence of the Normandy landings is regularly referred to as the film’s opening but it isn’t. No no. The film is patriotically bookended with some muted shots of an American flag flapping in the breeze as well as the overly sentimental prologue and epilogue showing an elderly Private Ryan visiting the graves of fallen soldiers. Had we opened in the midst of the D-Day sequence this film would have had an entirely different feel to it but, thanks to these brief moments, the film ends up feeling more like another attempt by Hollywood to bolster the myth that WWII was the good war and showcased the American spirit. It prevents the film from being the kind of critique of war that the first battle suggested it could be and, instead, turns into an American story of American heroes.

Spielberg’s film has been hailed as something of a masterpiece from the moment of its initial release and it’s easy to see why. The film is incredibly well made and the visuals are stunning. The battle sequences have still never been beaten in terms of realism and it more than adequately shows the waste of life that occurred in Europe. The main part of the narrative is intended to show us the ridiculous nature of war. We see a group of 8 men sent out on a mission to save the life of one soldier all because his mother had already lost 3 sons. It’s a sad story, obviously, but it is a preposterous notion. How can the army justify the lives of so many for the sake of 1? Every single man in the group agrees and, when all is said and done, don’t really give a shit about the life of Private James Ryan (Matt Damon). How can his mother’s suffering be more important than their own?

Still, this is war and they have to follow their Captain, John Miller’s (Tom Hanks), orders. So the group set off on their mission through Nazi occupied France. They lose men along the way and struggle to keep themselves going. But, somehow, they do. The hapless group find Private Ryan and a small group of soldiers defending a bridge. After a harrowing and spectacular opening sequence, Saving Private Ryan kind of loses its way during the main bulk of the narrative. Spielberg clearly tries to push his message about the futility of war but it kind of gets lost. Saving Private Ryan falls back into the Hollywood tradition of the Wild West movie. We see our band of heroes make their way through the landscape and heroically fighting the bad guys whenever they need. The script may make the occasional reference to the absurd nature of their assignment but there is an inescapable sense that what they are doing is both moral and brave.

I don’t hate Saving Private Ryan by any stretch of the imagination but, aside from the depictions of warfare, it doesn’t portray its message adequately enough. This film didn’t go far enough to blow the lid on the meaningless sacrifice that was made by the men who died in combat between 1939 and 1945. It is every war movie cliche rolled into one. It doesn’t directly say that war is heroic and the soldiers are fighting for their country but that is the message we are seeing. It glorifies the men on screen instead of adequately questioning the men in charge. When I reviewed War Horse for this blog I criticised Spielberg for sugaring the pill for his younger audience. He desensitised the audience by hiding the death with cutaways. Here he has no issue with showing us how deadly the war was for the people involved but what follows is sheer Hollywood. The story of a whole load of men dying so one mother can be slightly less sad.

Saving Private Ryan isn’t a bad film. It’s a very good film that showcases everything that has made Steven Spielberg as popular a director as he. It features strong performances from its cast and had a profound affect on the people who sat in movie theatres to watch it back in 1998. It’s a great film but is it a masterpiece? Or is it just a great 20 minute sequence surrounded by harmless Hollywood schmaltz?

Quick Review: The Circle (2017)

books, bullshit, Emma Watson, fucking awful, fucking weird, Netflix, review, Tom Hanks

6495a-img_9970As I said in my Sunday Rundown this week, I never finished The Circle by Dave Eggers. I bought it way back in 2014 and tried to read it a couple of years ago, I think. I never got very far with it. Yesterday I posted a picture on Instagram of Dave Egger’s novel The Circle after I’d watched the film adaptation on Netflix. It created a lot of discussions, which I absolutely loved, but one of the comments suggested I finish reading the book because it “has its finger on the pulse of our zeitgeist.” Maybe it’s just me but isn’t this the most disgusting statement you’ve ever heard? Finger on the pulse of our zeitgeist? It’s the kind of thing some awful contestant on The Apprentice would say in their audition tape. “Oh yes, Lord Sugar, I’ve got my finger on the pulse of our zeitgeist.” Bleurgh. It’s also, if you ask me, not actually true anymore. The Circle was released in 2013 when social media was still coming into its own. Everyone was on Facebook and Twitter but we hadn’t reached the pinnacle that we have now. Now anyone can “go live” whenever they want and talk about any old shit they want. That’s the problem with the internet age; we’re always surpassing our vision for the future before we even realise.


book haul, books, comic books, currently reading, Emma Watson, Harry Potter, J K Rowling, Marvel, Netflix, recently watched, Tom Hanks

So did everyone enjoy Harry Potter Week? I’m not sure I quite lived up to the quality of my previous Harry Potter rants (i.e. my post about what a creep Snape is, which I’m sure is the most accurate thing I’ll ever write) but I got a lot of things off my chest at least. Still, it was nice revisiting the series and reminding myself how much it meant to me. I think there are parts of the Harry Potter fandom that make it seem as though there is only one way to appreciate the series so I always felt like I wasn’t a real fan any more. Just because I don’t reread the books every few months or feel like they’re the best books ever written shouldn’t mean I can’t consider myself a fan. I think that’s a problem that is creeping into fandoms as a whole. It’s far too competitive and can be quite cruel. Nobody appreciates anything in the same way and that’s something to be celebrated. You can’t win being a fan of something. Why try? Just because you spend more or talk about something more doesn’t make you love it more. It’s a ridiculous notion. Anyway, before this turns into another rant I’d better get on with the rundown.

Just Finished

  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling
Finished rereading this in record time obviously. I mean I knew the story and it’s a book for little children. It’s been a while since I reread the whole book and, whilst I maintain that it’s still badly written, it still brought back the familiar joy that I got when I first read it. Guess I’m not as old and cynical as I like to think.

Finished listening to this finally. Probably going to discuss it further on Tuesday. So, hold onto your butts.
  • Slice of Life by Kurt Vonnegut (Kindle Edition)
A weird but interesting little short story I read after signing up to a free trial of Kindle Unlimited. Not one of the best Vonnegut tales you’ll ever read but still creepy and pretty cool. I’d recommend as a light quick read but don’t get too excited. 
  • Jessica Jones: Alias (Vol.1 and 2) by Brian Bendis (Kindle Edition)
Some more freebies thanks to Kindle Unlimited. I’ve been meaning to read these for years but never got round to it. I really enjoyed it but I will say that reading comic books on your Kindle is a most unpleasant experience. At least it was on my old Paperwhite. Maybe I need to upgrade?

  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2: Angela by Brian Bendis (Kindle Edition)
Another Kindle Unlimited. I’ve had the first volume of this run of Guardians for a while now and have always been interested in reading the 2nd. Angela is one my favourite characters these days but I’ve only really read her solo series and Neil Gaiman’s Marvel 1602 that feature her. I’m looking for any chance to get to know her better. 

Recently Purchased

I think I’ve finally done it. I think I’ve finally got through a week without buying a new book. I’m amazed at myself.

Recently Watched 
  • Netflix Binges: Comedy Bang Bang, Top of the Lake,
Started watching Comedy Bang Bang randomly the other day and I love it. It’s so fucking weird but definitely my sense of humour. I’m very wary that I’m coming to the end of the episodes on Netflix so don’t want to rush them too much. The other day a colleague of mine suggested that I watch Top of the Lake and, as apparently I have no self-will anymore, I went home and immediately started watching it. It’s really good so far and has a great cast. I love Elisabeth Moss and Peter Mullan anyway so it’s a treat to see them in this.
I tried to read Dave Eggers’ novel The Circle a while ago but I couldn’t finish it. I just got bored and kind of confused. So I wasn’t exactly thrilled by the news it was going to become a film and that was before Emma Watson was cast in the main role. It popped up on Netflix the other night so I thought I’d give it a go. Boy, I wish I hadn’t. I might try and do a quick review of it some time this week so watch this space.


book haul, books, dan brown, Man Booker, Tom Hanks

Those of you who also follow me on Instagram will be aware that I gave myself a little treat this week and finally bought the Lego The Force Awakens video game. As a fucking huge fan of pretty much all of the previous Lego games, I’ve wanted it ever since I knew it was coming out. However, I can never justify buying new games because they cost a shitload and I never have the time to play them enough. But I had a few vouchers to use up and ended up finding a copy for a reasonable price and I’m so glad I did. I’ve spent every spare second I have playing it and I love it. Playing as BB8 is the best thing in the game. It’s amazing. I realise that these games are for kids but they are so great. The characters look so good, the storyline is so loyal and the game play, except when it comes to flying/driving as it the problem with all these games, is so easy. It’s not the most difficult thing you’ll ever play but these games are rewarding in so many different ways. It’s the greatest purchase I’ve made all year. Although, it has meant my reading hasn’t vastly improved this week. I need to start dividing my time better.

Currently Reading

  • Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
After finishing my double weekend last week I had two days off work. Unfortunately, I woke up in fucking agony as my back got revenge on everything I’d put it through in the past few days. As such I could barely move and did nothing on Monday. It did give me the perfect excuse to relax in the bath reading this book. I only got a chapter or 2 down before the water got so cold I have to get out but it got me in the mood to read it again. It’s still a little slow going and not exactly living up to my expectations yet. I’m sure it’ll pick up though. I get the feeling things are about to kick off and the narrative will really move up a gear. I hope so because I’ve got loads more books that I’m really excited to read so I need to get this done. I’ll keep you posted.   

Recently Purchased
  • Multiple Choice by Alejandro Zambra
I’ve had this on my wishlist for a while now because it sounds fucking insane. It’s a book that is made up of several multiple choice questions. There are different sections with different objectives and readers are encouraged to pick the answer that they feel is best. From the small amount I’ve seen of the book it is as fantastic as it sounds. It’s profound, funny, political, silly and, surprising. It takes interactivity to a new level and shows you the flexibility of literature. I’m already obsessed and can’t wait to read and reread this book.

  • Losing It by Emma Rathbone
It’s getting to the end of 2016 and in preparation for my end of year review I’ve been revisiting my list of most anticipated novels of this year. Turns out I only got round to buying a handful and I actually read even fewer. So I’m desperately trying to mend my ways and am starting to track down all those books that I failed to buy. Starting with this one about a 26 year old who confronts her own lack of sexual activity by talking to her aunt who is also a virgin. It sounded interested when I heard about it last year and it still does now. It’ll probably also be an easier read than Eileen which is something I think I need right now.

  • Not Working by Lisa Owens

Another book from the list. This first appealed because it’s about a young woman who quits her job to find her true vocation before realising she has no idea what that it. It sounded all too familiar to the 28 year old that is having a shitty time finding a job she both wants to do and that wants her to do it. Again, I’m not expecting it to be too hard a read but it sounds like a good thing for me to read right now. I imagine it’ll be uplifting and full of more hope than I currently am.

  • Nicotine by Nell Zink
A final purchase from the list is the more literary one. I own the Mislaid/The Wallcreeper boxset but I never got round to reading them. It’s the usual thing. It seemed too intimidating and everyone’s been raving about Zink so it makes me wary to start it. I’m hoping this book will get me into the groove so I can go back and read those ones. Although, I suspect it will simply find a new home beside them on the shelf. I’m a terrible reader. 

Recently Watched
  • Inferno
I decided to watch the latest film that sees Tom Hanks play Professor Robert Langdon and, if you’re interested, my review is up on the blog.  
  • Angels and Demons
After watching Inferno I was in the mood for some more of Dan Brown’s trash so I watched my favourite of the trilogy. It happens to be the topic for my last TBT post as well.
  • The Grand Tour
I watched the first episode of Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond’s new Amazon TV show when it came out last week. I was a big fan of Top Gear when the trio hosted so I was excited to see what they could do without the BBC. Turns out it was pretty much the same but even more insane. They’re intention was obviously to show the BBC what they’re missing and they’ve done that thanks to Amazon’s fucking huge budget. This is probably only going to get bigger and better.

TBT – Angels and Demons (2009)

bullshit, dan brown, fucking awful, fucking stupid, TBT, Tom Hanks

It seems that I’m going through a bit of a Tom Hanks week this week. I can’t get away from the man. This week Michael Moore declared that he run for president in 2020; my Tuesday Review this week was his latest Robert Langdon film Inferno; and today my colleague told me she preferred younger Tom Hanks to younger Harrison Ford. Now, I’m not trying to criticise the man but there is no competition. Tom Hanks is Hollywood’s Mr Nice Guy but he’s hardly a fucking pin-up. Anyway, I decided to continue this trend by discussing another of the Dan Brown film trilogy. But which one to pick? A few weeks ago the Cinema Sins YouTube channel brought out a video describing everything that’s wrong with Angels and Demons and, weirdly, it made me want to watch it again. I’ve seen The Da Vinci Code a couple of times and it bored the shit out of me every times. As you may remember from Tuesday, Inferno hardly set my spirits alight so, by process of elimination, Angels and Demons had to be my favourite of the Robert Langdon trilogy. Although this probably has something to do with my love of Ewan McGregor and Stellan Skarsgård because you can hardly say that I love the film or the book. Still, I’m never one to ignore a craving so I spent last night reminding myself of what a travesty it really is.

Angels and Demons was the novel that introduced the world to Professor Robert Langdon but it was the second film to be released. Probably because it’s successor, The Da Vinci Code, had the greater social impact thanks to its subject matter. The Da Vinci Code was a slow moving and crazy thriller that hardly wowed critics so Angels and Demons needed to up its game. To be fair to Ron Howard, it did. However, adding more action is hardly akin to making improvements. As one reviewer pointed out, the first film consisted of Tom Hanks standing near paintings and explaining the plot whereas the second has Tom Hanks explaining the plot whilst running… because action. Still, at least it wasn’t boring. There is enough action, violence and explosions to ensure people stay awake. It does mean that, whatever meandering nonsense is also happening on screen, there is always something to engage with. Even if you ignore all of the other mcguffin, this film comes to down to the classic race against time to save innocent people from a killer.

However, for the purposes of this review, we can’t ignore all the other stuff. Angels and Demons may be a fairly decent action film but it shrouds itself in the same historical and religious mystery that The Da Vinci Code did. It’s still a completely nonsensical and sensationalist film that makes up for a lack of substance with nonsense and conspiracy theories. It plays on a base level and is far too occupied with creating drama than following logic. When Robert Langdon is asked to come to Venice he is faced with the task of tracking down the long hidden Path of Illumination that will lead him to a secret Illuminati lair. Along the way he must prevent the murder of the four Cardinals who are favourites to be elected as the new Pope and stop a vial of antimatter destroying Vatican City at midnight. You see?! It’s fucking insane.

Dan Brown is apparently incapable of writing a simple thriller which, if the recent spate of psychological thrillers to be released is anything to go by, apparently any idiot can put together. No, his head is too far up his own arse for him to realise that exploring religious history and creating intricate puzzles involving art isn’t adding anything to the whole story. It’s another of those stories that is fine if you just ignore everything about it but once you start to really think about it nothing makes sense. There are so many silly and implausible events in this film. It’s really irritating. People’s behaviour doesn’t make sense and there are so many moments where plans would have failed if people had acted naturally. It’s all so fucking convenient because, if this were real, it would be impossible.

The Dan Brown rule of thrillers clearly isn’t “simple is best”. He throws everything he has at it and leaves poor people like Ron Howard with nowhere to go when adapting it. Angels and Demons is nothing more than a cheap thriller that is elevated with its own pompous obsession with the Church and the secrets its hiding. To say it’s the best of the three films is like saying the imperius curse is the best of the Unforgivable Curses. Yes, its not quite as bad as straight up killing anyone but you wouldn’t recommend it to people. I just hope that the whole Dan Brown thing has come to an end now. He’s a low-rate writer that gained momentum because he pissed off Christians around the world. We gave him publicity and these shitty films are the price we all have to pay. Well done us.

Tuesday’s reviews – Inferno (2016)

bullshit, dan brown, films, fucking awful, review, thriller, Tom Hanks

Considering my general anger about the whole thriller genre it shouldn’t come as any surprise to you guys that I’m not a fan of Dan Brown. However, this dislike comes from a place much deeper than mere genre. It basically comes down to the fact that Brown is a fucking shit writer. Something that is even more worrying when you consider he used to be a creative writing professor. Still, it’s something that seem unwilling to admit. I have had several arguments with people over the years about why his books are so awful but Dan Brown’s fans are as stubborn as his books are dull. There’s no way around it, Dan Brown just doesn’t know how to write. He uses words in completely nonsensical ways; he’s incredibly repetitive; his dialogue is clumsy; he gets bogged down with insignificant details; and he’s incredibly repetitive. He’s a man who’s name should be Dan “tautology” Brown and who should really ask a creative writing professor what a real metaphor is. Not only is his writing bad but it’s incredibly simplistic in the midst of all the biblical/ literary history. I mean each chapter is about 2 pages long and each one ends on some kind of underwhelming cliffhanger. It’s fucking awful. However, desperately trying to find something positive to say, Dan Brown’s stories do make fairly adequate cinematic experiences. Once Ron Howard and co manage to remove all the bullshit and get down to the puzzle then it’s not quite as bad. I mean it’s not good but it’s not the worst thing I’ve ever seen. Plus, Tom Hanks is so fucking likeable that it’s easy to get swept away. So, despite the fact that I never bothered to read Inferno I was interested in how it would work on screen.

Inferno is the third attempt by director Ron Howard to bring Dan Brown’s character Robert Langdon to the big screen. This time we’ve moved away into the literary world because the novel was basically Brown’s way to show off how much he knows about Dante. Langdon (Tom Hanks) wakes up in Florence with a bullet wound in his head and no memory of the last few days. Thankfully, a kindly assassin soon turns up to remind him that he’s in the middle of some bad shit. With the help of his doctor, Sienna (Felicity Jones), Langdon figures out that he’s on the trail of a deadly plague that’s set to be released and wipe out half of the world’s population. It was produced by crazed billionaire geneticist, Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster), who believes that the only way to solve the population crises is to wipe out most of humanity and start again.

Following the clues that have been left, Langdon and Sienna follow a trail connected with Dante’s works and personal history. All the while the pair are being tracked by not one but two sinister organisation. The first is the World Health Organisation, headed up by Elizabeth Sinskey (Sidse Babett Knudsen), who, as it happens, used to bang old Robert back in the day. The second is the hilariously names private security firm The Consortium and their CEO Harry Sims ((Irrfan Khan)). It was the latter who sent the previously seen assassin, Vayentha (Ana Ularu), who is tasked with killing Langdon before he can track down the vial containing the virus.

If you’ve read any of Dan Brown’s books or seen any of the other adaptations then you won’t be shocked at what unfolds here. Brown’s stories are rather formulaic at this point. Someone dies in the opening, Langdon starts looking for clues and shows an insane awareness of all aspects of history and culture, and comes across many shady people and plenty of double-crossers.  The actual narrative is so absurd and outrageous that it’s best to pay as little attention to it as possible. I mean if you really start thinking about why people do things the way they do then you’ll fall into so many plotholes that you’ll make it all the way to China. Now I’m not saying that you can’t enjoy a thriller when it’s utterly stupid; God knows some of the best films I’ve ever seen are also the silliest. Still, Inferno is more than just a dumb thriller, it’s also one of the most pretentious and egotistical thriller you’ll have seen for a while. The main problem I have with Brown and his stories are that they think they are much more intellectual than they actually are. A thriller that’s as outrageously bad as this that also wastes so much time dissecting Dante’s Inferno is the ultimate oxymoron.

But it tries to keep its audience entertained despite this. There are more twists and turns than you really need and people change their allegiances so much it feels like an episode of Game of Thrones. There are plenty of action sequences along the way where the ever weary Langdon is expected to face off against men with guns, women with guns, and men with knives. Although, Howard really doesn’t seem to know how to deal with these action sequences and everything comes across as really confusing. The main attention is given to the more sedate aspects of the puzzle solving which means the film drags and gets pretty boring pretty quickly. By the end I was desperate for the virus to be released so it would kill everybody on screen and end my misery. In the Dan Brown tradition, Inferno is part awful thriller and part tedious lecture.

Cloud Atlas (2012)

Ben Wishaw, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, meh, review, Tom Hanks

Writing this blog only makes me realise just how little I’ve read of contemporary writers and I end up feeling like the biggest failure of a Literature graduate. Whilst I’m sat here with an insane amount of knowledge about novels of sensibility, I can’t even remember the last Man Booker Prize shortlisted novel I read. Thanks to some quick Wikipedia-ing I’ve discovered that it was the 2007 shortlisted On Chesil Beach(which is only because I adore Ian McEwan). I own a lot of the novels but just haven’t got round to reading them yet (not even The Sense of An Ending which is fucking tiny). I’m so ashamed. Given this fact, it will come as no shock to you that I have yet to read David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. However, I have enough of an awareness of the basic details surrounding its structure and content to understand why it was referred to as one the many, so-called, “unfilmable” novels. So it was always going to be a massive undertaking for Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski’s to create something worthy of the Richard and Judy Award winning novel.

It’s fairly difficult to summarise the plot of Cloud Atlas as the narrative is made up of several plotlines set across six different time periods. These short tales move us from the South Pacific in 1849, to the UK in the 1930s, followed by a quick stop in San Francisco in the 70s, then modern day England before finishing us off with two glimpses into the near future. The two directing teams divided these six narratives between themselves with the Wachowski’s taking the two futuristic plots and the earliest one; leaving Tykwer to work with the three ‘modern’ storylines. The effect of this split is interesting but a little jarring thanks to the contrast in styles. The Wachowski’s bring their usual focus on visuals and style which often feels in conflict with Tykwer’s championing of character and drama.
Of all the sections, it is the vision of the Korean future that is the most disappointing and that’s even before you consider implications of the awkward feeling you get from seeing make-up required to make British and American actors look more Korean. Taking inspiration from classic science-fiction such as Blade Runner, this CGI backdrop and uninspiring revolution plot have less humanity and emotion than the clone-workers it depicts.  
In fact, both of the later storylines fall short of their potential and the tale of a post-Fall tribe does get fairly tedious; despite seemingly being placed in the role of primary tale. No time is given to introducing the main characters and exploring their motivations. We see Zachry (Tom Hanks) conversing with an invisible-to-everyone-else figure but this is just left undeveloped. Unlike the Neo-Seoul section, where you could comfort yourself that time that could have been spent on character development was put into CGI, the post-Fall tribe has very little going for it expect an underused group of cannibals.
It is the 1936 narrative that is the most engaging: following a young musician (Ben Whishaw) as he attempts to make a name for himself. He does this by taking a job as … to struggling composer (Jim Broadbent). Whishaw and Broadbent are both incredible performers and really sell their roles as tortured artist and desperate wash-up.
Broadbent is next seen in the modern day tale included for a bit of light relief. Taking the tone and look of a classic Ealing comedy, publisher Timothy Cavendish finds himself on the run from a group of angry Irish men. Going to his brother (Tom Hanks) for help, he is double-crossed and shut away in a nursing home. I think Tykwer handles this section well enough but, as with the rest of the vignettes, there is an undeniable sense that everything we are watching is just aimless.
This is not a film to promote developed story or character but a film that celebrates wigs, prosthetics and make-up. In order to project the themes of destiny and soul mates, the fairly small main cast have been placed in multiple roles throughout the film. It is an interesting concept but there are some weak points within the cast that means, no matter how visually different they appear, many performers just don’t convince as their various personas. Tom Hanks, for example, plays a role in all six stories but it is almost impossible to see anyone other than Tom Hanks on screen. Whether he is covered with facial hair; wearing 70s glasses and a turtle neck; sporting a shaved head, goatee and diamond earring; or covered in futuristic tattoos, you can still only see Tom Hanks playing dress-up. Perhaps this is just one of the inevitable problems that would arise in such an ambitious mission.
After all, adapting David Mitchell’s literary masterpiece was never going to be an easy task and certain sacrifices and changes were going to have to be made to make it work on screen. The most obvious these can be seen within the overall structure and the way the different strands flow into one another. From what I can tell with my limited knowledge, one of the reasons that Cloud Atlas worked so well as a novel was down to its structure. The narrative set furthest into the future acted as the central piece and the other stories fell into two halves on either side of it. This means that each narrative leads into the next with the aid of discovered written accounts of the events. This helps to highlight one of Mitchell’s central themes: the interconnectivity that can occur through literature.
The directors chose to have the individual stories cutting back and forth seemingly at random. I have to admit that this works at certain points because it becomes even more obvious where events are mirrored in each story. However, this lack of definition ultimately just has the effect of making the linear structure much more confusing. You don’t stick with one plotline long enough to really get to grips with the events taking place. There is never enough time to get to know the characters and, therefore, connect with them. Any relationship or romantic feeling that develops just feels superficial because there is no time to explore it. Cloud Atlas relies on ambiguity to keep the plots moving and it is difficult to fully connect with a single strand let alone the whole tapestry. The endless cutting back and forth is, in a sense, blinding and the overall impact of each story is lessened. It just seems like a waste.
It was always going to be a fairly epic undertaking in adapting this novel but getting rid of the rigid structure has only made it more difficult. I imagine the decision was made because someone important decided that an audience wouldn’t be able to keep up with what was going on if there was any length of time between the start and conclusion of each tale. It is a ridiculous decision that, rather than making the film more accessible, often makes it harder to take in everything that is happening. Filmmakers need to stop believing that the majority of audiences are slobbering idiots who can’t follow a storyline unless their attention is constantly being grabbed by dramatic events and pretty colours.
I applaud the film-makers for taking on this task and I have to say that Cloud Atlas is certainly not the worst film ever made. It is a solid attempt at making a complicated literary vision work as a live-action adaptation. There just isn’t enough finesse on show here. Having three different directors working on six separate storylines just makes the overall film appear disjointed and unsteady. It is something that would have worked better in a more episodic form instead of trying to cram so many themes, characters and scenarios into one 172 minute long film. Unfortunately, this production was never going to live up to its extremely high expectations or sense of self-importance. What we have is a film that talks about big game but, when it comes down to it, has a great deal less to offer.