Tag Archives: Review

Acts of the Assassins

Acts of the Asassins cover
Acts of the Assassins

The close associates of a dead insurgent leader start meeting grizzly deaths.

Doubts arise as to whether the insurgent himself is really dead. His diminishing band of companions proclaim not. Bizarrely they believe he came back from the dead.

Disgraced secret policeman Cassius Gallio knows this is impossible. He was in charge of the crucifixion of Jesus – he saw the radical agitator die before his eyes. True, the body was stolen from a tomb but the guards were inexperienced and open to offers. Still he suffered for the embarrassing outcome – busted back down to uniform and posted to the wilds of Moldova.

Now, though with one phone call he’s on a plane back to Jerusalem – the case is reopened, and with it the chance to save himself and possibly the Roman Empire as well.

Even from that short description it’s obvious that Richard Beard’s book is different. A Roman Empire with phones? And planes? The Twelve Apostles as part of a murder mystery? Roman Imperial FBI with Glock pistols?

The premise is intriguing and the setting and background as creative as it is mind-bending and unsettling.

Plotwise the story is a little weak but the concept and context is so inventive that you keep reading to learn more of this odd and unique story world, and of course to find out what happens to the characters in this strange parallel universe.

Not a book that you might ever re-read but one that has enough elements of interest to hold the reader the first time around, and when the end is reached it’s hard not to find satisfaction freighted with relief.

 

X-Men: Days of Future Past

The main characters of X-Men: Days of Future Past in front of the US Capitol Building in Washington

 

Albert Einstein would be shocked or ecstatic at how the principles of time, space, matter and movement are upended in X-Men: Days of Future Past. Sports stadiums are wrenched from the earth and fly through the air, dimensions are crossed so quickly that the blink of an eye is like the passing of an age, and – giving the film its premise – time travel is not only possible but necessary.

Anyone who hasn’t seen the previous films in the series will be a little bit at sea initially but there is enough back story artfully included to soon get a bearing on the storyline. We begin in 2023, when the world, marshalled by Dr Bolivar Trask [Peter Drinklage], has declared war on those who are different, the mutants. Invincible, impervious machines, the Sentinels, hunt down survivors where ever they are to be found.

The only solution is for old foes, and older friends, Professor Charles Xavier [Patrick Stewart] and Eric Lehnsherr (aka Magneto) [Ian McKellen] to work together and change the past. Kitty Pryde [Ellen Page] can send the consciousness of a person back in time to occupy their earlier bodily selves – provided they can withstand the physical trauma involved. Step forward the near indestructible Logan (aka Wolverine) [Hugh Jackman].

He wakes up in an interesting not to say compromising and very funny situation in 1973, an old head on young shoulders. Acclimatising, like the viewer, to the vintage glories of seventies style and colour, the rest of the film follows his efforts to find the younger versions of Xavier (James McAvoy) and Eric/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and convince them of what the future holds and what they need to do about it.

If all went straightforwardly of course we wouldn’t have much of a story, suspense or spectacular scenes. Needless to say then a cosy little chat over biccies and tea won’t sort things out, and we’re soon watching an elaborate prison break to spring Magneto – a sequence that incidentally contains one of the funniest scenes in the whole film.

With the gang all assembled and briefed, the hunt is on for Raven/Mystique [Jennifer Lawrence] who is the key to all that transpires in the future.  To produce a new reality they have to find her. All the while back in 2023 the last refuge of the mutants, including Xavier, Magneto, Pryde and Wolverine, is under fierce assault by legions of Sentinels. Will Wolverine succeed in 1973? Or will the machines complete the annihilation before he can?

It’s a testament to the success of the film – and the assemblage of acting talent on show – that the audience in the cinema where I was stayed glued to their seats all the way through, and tensed ever more on the edge of those seats as the resolution of events approached.

Mixing the fun, including some great one liners, with the serious and artfully blending in real life characters – Richard Nixon turns up at a crucial stage of the plot, complete with a knowing nod to tape recorders – X-Men: Days of Future Past has an emotional depth not always or even often seen in films of this type. A spectacle with substance.

PS.

Almost all of the audience stayed in their seats when the credits started rolling, which puzzled me somewhat. Obviously I was in the presence of informed fans. That or I’m a bit dopey. Or both. Anyway, those who stay till the very end will see a fleeting glimpse of the next instalment in the series: X-Men: Apocalypse.

Sabotage – One of the Strangest Films I’ve Ever Seen

Sabotage - Not a typical Arnie movie by a long shot
Sabotage – Not a typical Arnie movie by a long shot

I had an hour or so to kill today within striking distance of a cinema so I took a chance on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s new film, Sabotage.

Hours later I’m at a loss as to how to describe it. It’s not bad, not great, just…..strange.

First off it’s not a typical Arnie movie. Rated 16s in Ireland, it’s very graphically gory at regular intervals. Pools of blood, piles of body organs, bullets ripping through flesh. Plus a little nudity and robust language. Far from run-of-the-mill fare for Schwarzenegger.

Equally he’s joined in the cast by other big name actors – Mireille Enos, Olivia Williams, Sam Worthington and Terence Howard. Josh Holloway, Harold Perrineau Jr., Martin Donovan and Max Martini will be familiar faces from TV. So, not a one man band star vehicle, again unusual.

The storyline centres John ‘Breacher’ Wharton (Schwarzenegger), leading a rough and ready ultra macho ragtag band of DEA agents carrying out special operations against major drug smugglers. During one raid $10 million goes missing; Breacher and team are suspended. The rest of the film resolves what happened to the money – and who’s systematically slaughtering members of the team one by one by ever more inventively gruesome means.

Scene after scene of blood and gore should be distinctly uncomfortable to watch – for me especially since I have an unfortunate tendency to get woozy when the red stuff flows. But here lies the problem with the film: we never really get engaged enough to care much what happens. Nor do any of the characters on screen react with much shock or horror, or anything near what might be expected in the situations in which they find themselves. Resigned and fatalistic veterans they may be, but if the characters don’t care about themselves, why should we?

Which oddly is not to say the that the film is boring. Sabotage manages to hold the attention, but the viewer remains at a distance, a casual observer always conscious of being on the outside looking in. You never become involved enough to have any strong feelings, let alone engrossed enough to be fearful or anxious. Given the oceans of blood, no-holds barred violence and legions of painful deaths on display this ironically works to the film’s advantage.

For an action/crime film with a high quota of murders, it has little tension or suspense. Despite the presence of talented actors (and Arnold), we learn little about any of the characters, their past or what makes them tick. Despite numerous references to the team being ‘a family’ and loud pledges to ‘take a bullet for them’ nothing on screen convinces or explains why this might be so. The script is basic and minimalist, to the point of parody in places. Some lines exist solely to mark Arnie out from the herd. They add nothing and often seem badly out of place, as do many scenes that could well be from an entirely different version of the story. Indeed at times it seems the film was edited from a number of diverging storylines that took alternative approaches, and the finished version ultimately fails to reconcile the differences and patch the joins smoothly.

Overall, the tone varies from comedy scenes in the early section of the film to dark and dour. On a few occasions the director has thrown in some sporadic experimentation, using unusual camera angles and views – a perspective looking from the barrel of a gun as it fires, or toward it; one scene where present action and flashback are blended together so as to mislead the viewer, others where they merely feature alongside one another. No consistency in approach or application, just a few irregular and erratic moments. It’s almost like everybody involved lost interest at some point or had somewhere else they needed to be.

Mireille Enos has the strongest and most memorable performance, followed closely by Olivia Williams. Arnold plays Arnold like only Arnold can, his Austrian accent as impervious to softening as the Alps are to weather.

For the novelty value, worth a look.