Inferno (2016)

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Humanity is the disease, inferno is the cure. The second sequel to The Da Vinci Code begins horribly. By which I mean it looks like one of those cheapo knockoffs you see on The Horror Channel in the wee small hours (and otherwise). A lecturer (Ben Foster) throws himself off a tower after being chased. Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks, returning for the third entry in the series) wakes up in a hospital being tended by a doctor with an enormous overbite (Felicity Jones) – frightening in itself. She tells him he’s been shot while he has terrible hallucinations with blood pouring in torrents and people with faces back to front (you can see how that might happen given the company and a presumed brain injury). He’s lost his memory and has no idea how he’s wound up in Italy. Then some woman pretending to be police murders another doctor and the pair make away from the gunfire with some difficulty given he’s hooked up to IVs all over the shop. He’s been given a painting that depicts The Inferno but his copy contains elements that don’t belong in the original. And so we set off on a chase around the Uffizi and then we’re off to Istanbul and a rather interesting ending in a cave with shades of The Man Who Knew Too Much with some visits to the World Health Organisation in between. The visual palette is awful. It looks just like a brown below-par giallo. There is nothing to indicate that this is any good but its place in the Dan Brown symbology behemoth is typically humourless (despite the presence of the hilarious Paul Ritter) and unimaginative – let’s face it, we’re in Florence with a doctor called Sienna, which would indicate a left/right brain issue and not just Langdon’s. And so it goes. The lecturer though is revealed to be a billionaire keen to solve a global issue. We can all read the legal judgments on where Mr Brown got his stories:  I’ve read Lewis Perdue’s novels so I’ve a pretty good idea. However this is tampering with Dante. I know David Koepp is the rather gifted screenwriter entrusted with the book (and I must put my cards on the table and admit I’ve not read this one) and he’s not responsible for the choices of director Ron Howard (him again) or any aesthetic decisions. Hey – it’s an action thriller with Tom Hanks (paired again with Sidse Babett Knudsen after their desert romp …) and the world overpopulation problem. If you can find those old rose-tinted spectacles (literally) you might quite enjoy some of the incendiary scenes and a somewhat tantalising villain. And some running. Ho. Hum.

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From Russia with Love (1963)

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It seems like an opportune time to revisit Cold War cinema, since winter is coming round again in the political world, as they (sort of) say in Game of Thrones. Guns, gals, trains, violence, it all seems like simpler times in this tale of James Bond (Sean Connery) going after a cryptography machine before SPECTRE gets hold of it. Naturally SPECTRE want revenge for Bond killing Dr No. Do keep up. There’s high jinks in Istanbul, murder on the Orient Express and sexy time with Daniela Bianchi who makes for a very convincing conflicted action heroine and a great title song sung by Matt Monro. Every inch of tension is squeezed out of Fleming’s second novel, adapted by Johanna Harwood and written by Richard Maibaum and superbly directed by Terence Young (himself not totally unfamiliar with the world of action, serving as a tank commander in WW2). Lotte Lenya is unforgettable as the sadistic Lesbian killer with those kinky shoes. It was edited by Peter Hunt, who went on to direct many afficionados’ fave, OHMSS. This was the second in the series, when Bond was great.

 

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

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For a book to not merely survive but to come intact and unbesmirched out of a screen adaptation once is great good fortune;  to do so twice is little short of miraculous. Yet this is what has happened with John Le Carre’s great, resonant spy novel which exposed the dull, continuous procedural processes underlying the killing machine of British intelligence. The late Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan did a fine job of whittling back the story, even if some of the agents didn’t get the kind of coverage in terms of the narrative that the 1979 BBC series was able to luxuriate in telling. Crucially, they understand that much of this is about storytelling itself and the nature of perspective. Tomas Alfredson, the Swedish director, had form in adaptations. Let the Right One In (2008) seemed like a superb, inventive vampire story beneath the flat shooting style – until one reads the novel, which is essentially a screenplay template that was altered just two jots (the child abuse theme; and a scene at the swimming pool was altered  in the timeline) in its adaptation. (So much for auteurism!) However here he comes into his own. Each shot choice, every aesthetic decision, every scene, is immersive.  It is a great woozy 70s experience, with Hoyte Van Hoytema’s cinematography perfectly capturing the very brown-ness of the era in London, and Maria Djurkovic’s production design stunningly accurate. The performances are pitch perfect. Gary Oldman had a tough call to make as Smiley but if you’re not fetishistic about Alec Guinness he is a wonderful casting choice (and got an Academy Award nomination); and of the vast and interesting ensemble Benedict Cumberbatch is a fabulous, swaggering Peter Guillam, inhabiting him like a predatory male model. He looks so very different to all those other bland grey men. The scene when he ditches his gay lover is shot behind a rain-spattered window, the sound dulled down, and it is unbearably moving. Smiley’s Lady Anne is never seen fully, just in profile, as she cheats on her beleaguered husband over and over again. The green painted walls, the telephones, the music. It’s all ready and waiting. For paper addicts, this is a feast for the eyes –  notes, files, archives … Glorious!! This is simply brilliant cinema, to be watched over and over. Superb.