Monthly Archives: May 2004

True Crime

After the sudden death of a colleague, grizzled reporter Steve Everett (Clint Eastwood) finds himself having to do a story on a death-row convicted murderer Frank Beachum (Isaiah Washington) before he is executed at midnight. His nose for a story tells him that the man is innocent, but can he prove it in the space of twelve hours? There’s a lot about this film that works well: the prison warden and guards are not stereotypes, and are played with honesty and compassion; the scenes showing Beachum saying goodbye to his wife and daughter are heart-rending and free of mawkishness; Denis Leary even does an intense yet restrained portrayal of Everett’s frustrated and betrayed editor. However, the film’s race against time is clichéd, the climax is predictable, and the epilogue is trite. And all throughout, I couldn’t help but think that Eastwood was too old for the role of Everett. Still, it’s a strong film, and an emotional plea in opposition to the death penalty.

Ken MacLeod – Newton’s Wake

Newton’s Wake is a mixture of free-wheeling space opera, a solid science-fictional exploration of living as a human in a post-human universe, and a traditional MacLeod political microcosm of clashing libertarian, communist, and cornucopian ideals. Each of the three strands is resolved adequately on its own, but I had been hoping they would all come together for a final unified punch. Without it, the space-operatic side of the tale lacked an explosive climax, and the political exposition was weakened by being ultimately irrelevant to the resolution. The post-human, post-singularity world was the most interesting part of the book, but a third of the story wasn’t enough to do it justice. An interesting but ultimately unsatisfying read.

Van Helsing

There’s good rubbish, and there’s bad rubbish. Van Helsing is good rubbish. Simple plot, simple dialogue, simple acting, but packed to the rafters with pure action. In a way it reminded me of Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle: there’s no traditional three-act structure, or even a natural progression from introduction, through exploration, to resolution. It’s just a two-hour sequence of five minute scenes, each with its own CGI-filled, action-fuelled set-piece. There’s never time for your attention to wander into things like character motivation, or even simple common sense. By the time you start wondering why he doesn’t just…oh look! Something shiny!

The Haunted Mansion

The balance between scariness and comedy isn’t quite right here, and I think it’s down to Eddie Murphy. Is this a star (ahem?) vehicle–a showcase for his talents as a family film entertainer, or is it a vehicle for ghostly special effects and gentle, PG-style jumpy horror? The story is simple, and the plot twists are obvious, so the film really has to stand or fall on its atmospherics, and how well its build-up of tension is punctuated by jokes. Unfortunately, it falls.

The Tailor Of Panama

Interesting character-based spy story. In his portrayal of MI6 agent Andy Osnard, Pierce Brosnan takes his James Bond character, stuffs him full of self-assured arrogance and strips him bare of sympathy. This reckless, slimy egoist is exiled to Panama for past indiscretions. There, he twists the arm of tailor Harry Pendel (Geoffrey Rush), a man with a tenuous link to Panama’s top politicians, a secret in his past, and mounting debts. Pendel is also an accomplished liar and fantasist, and just as Osnard perverts Pendel’s tales for his own ends, so does Pendel try to play Osnard for all he can get. It’s a game of intelligence chicken that goes wrong. Eventually the deceptions spiral out of control, and the stakes escalate beyond either of their control. This may sound a bit grim, but it’s a surprisingly humorous and at times very touching film.

Sarah McLachlan – Afterglow

In my opinion, Sarah McLachlan is at her best with her mid-tempo material. On this album, there are four songs that I like a lot: “Fallen”, “World on Fire”, “Stupid”, and “Train Wreck”. Sarah’s piano and Ashwin Sood’s gentle drumming come together in a beautiful melodic blend. Unfortunately, the rest of the album didn’t move me at all. It’s slow, deliberately un-catchy, and too absorbed with its own emotional outpourings. On the one hand, any album with more than three decent tracks is above average in my mind. On the other, Sarah McLachlan can do so much better. Afterglow has little of the creativity so evident on Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, and it lacks the slick focus and drive of Surfacing. So only three stars here.

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

This would have been almost enjoyable tosh, if it hadn’t been for the incompetent ending. I’m quite willing to watch an hour and a half of plot-, tension-, and character-free eye candy, but for goodness’ sake, if you’re going to set the climax in a massive underground orrery where time itself is fragmenting into glowing bubbles of cool special effects, at least have the decency to kill the bad guy in a blaze of high-budget CGI-rendered glory. You can’t just kick him in the nuts and leave him for dead as an earthquake shakes the place apart. That’s just not right.