Wednesday, May 27, 2009



  • Released Internationally on 27/08/08
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 27/05/09

In a nutshell

In the same vein as the recent Body of Lies, The Kingdom and Syriana, this film offers yet another view into the war on terrorism, by focusing on a handful of individuals and incidents which are clearly an important part of the global picture. The difference here is the positive light shed upon Islam, and the clear message that it is individuals who are the enemies and heroes in this war, not entire religions or nations.

What lies beneath

Samir Horn is a complex character. A devout Muslim, half Sudanese and half-American, he was educated and trained in the USA, and seems to be motivated by the memory of looking on helplessly as his father was killed in a car bomb. After the explosive prologue we first meet the adult Samir as he trades weapons in Yemen, and ends up in a local jail with poor prospects of getting out. Given a lifeline by the FBI, he calmly refuses to cooperate, but eventually manages to get out anyway. Never falling off their suspect list, his involvement in the ensuing terror attacks is often uncertain, and both the FBI and the audience are left guessing what sort of rage lies beneath his cool exterior.

Who’s in it?

The story was originally conceived by Steve Martin, who besides his prolific acting career has also contributed his writing skills to many of his projects including Roxanne, Bowfinger and the recent Pink Panther sequels. He also adapted his own novel, Shopgirl for the screen, and this time around the film owes much to him due to the clever concept of a main character that could easily fit in on either side. His co-writer, Jeffrey Nachmanoff (who also wrote The Day After Tomorrow) got promoted to director during the course of the film’s production, and he delivers the goods with a snappy, engaging and character-driven film. Don Cheadle (Crash, Hotel Rwanda) stars as Samir Horn, and proves to be a handful for the pair of FBI agents portrayed by Guy Pearce (Memento, L.A. Confidential) and Neal McDonough (Desperate Housewives, Flags of our Fathers). His friend and ally in the terrorism underground is Omar (Said Taghmaoui - The Kite Runner, Three Kings) whilst his contact on the other side seems to be Jeff Daniels (The Hours, Good Night and Good Luck).

“The Truth is complicated”

Much like the above-mentioned Body of Lies, a convincing element of the plot is the mixing of scenes from the streets of the Middle East and from the offices of the US with scenes which we outsiders can recognise from the news, thus suggesting a possible back-story for certain events of this decade. And although this particular angle of the story might be a flight of fancy, it tries and often succeeds to skirt around the usual negative image of Islam related to these incidents. Samir’s religious convictions seem to be at odds with his actions, but as events unfold we start to understand whether he is indeed a holy man, or an extremist. But even when his role becomes clearer, the film reserves a few twists for the end and manages to remain entertaining until the credits roll.


Trailer: (High-res QuickTime)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Angels & Demons

Angels and Demons


  • Released Internationally on 13/05/09
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 20/05/09


In a nutshell

Despite all the interest in the wonderful novel The Da Vinci Code back in 2003-2006, many readers, including yours truly, felt that the author’s previous book, Angels and Demons, was more of a satisfying read. The two shared a lot in common besides their main character – they were both heavy on symbolism and both combined the thrill of a chase or mystery with a detailed look into the history and workings of the Catholic Church. But Demons stands out as an impressively exciting story, and is quite ‘unputdownable’ as a book. So it comes as no surprise that after the huge success of the big screen version of Code, we now have its sister story to enjoy.

Cardinals & countdowns

The film opens with the ceremonies surrounding the death of the pope, which are all the more striking since we witnessed similar footage on countless TV channels only a few years ago. His trusted advisor and right-hand man, the Camerlengo, takes temporary charge until the conclave elects a new pope. But an ancient foe of the Catholic Church, the Illuminati society, appears to have resurfaced, kidnapping the four main contenders to the papacy and hiding an explosive device somewhere within the Vatican. Professor Robert Langdon, the symbology expert, is brought in to help find the cardinals and save the Catholic Church from near annihilation in one fell swoop.

Checkpoints & chases

Within a few scenes of starting, it is made clear that unless the kidnappers are foiled, most of the Vatican, including its foremost leaders, will be flattened at the stroke of midnight. As with Da Vinci Code, the events of the film are set within a single day, or in this case mostly within a single evening. This guarantees a breakneck pace for the entire film, and makes it easy for director Ron Howard to deliver a non-stop adrenaline ride. He skilfully managed to make even an interview exciting in last year’s Frost/Nixon, but this time author Dan Brown has done most of the work for him. If anything, some parts may be too rushed, with Langdon conveniently deciphering all the clues within seconds of reaching each step of the puzzle. The ending, which might have been a bit too over-the-top in the novel, actually works better on screen, as do most of the other minor changes made from novel to script.

Violins & vistas

Adding to the urgency of the plot is the wonderful score by A-list composer Hans Zimmer, who further develops the beautiful themes developed in the Da Vinci Code score but also adds frantic action music that is not too distant from his score for last summer’s Dark Knight. The few moments of respite in the film are gorgeously scored with variations of heavenly choir, piano or most notably violin solos by the acclaimed Joshua Bell. They provide perfect accompaniment to the sweeping shots of Rome, the Vatican, and the works of art therein. It’s a huge credit to the digital effects wizards that many scenes of the Vatican are practically indistinguishable from real footage, despite the filmmakers not being allowed to film within the tiny state’s walls.

Atheists & clergy

Ewan McGregor (Moulin Rouge, Star Wars, Trainspotting) is brilliantly cast as the mourning, devout camerlengo, and Tom Hanks naturally returns as Langdon. Stellan Skarsgård (Mamma Mia, Pirates of the Caribbean) is the sceptical and dubious head of the Swiss Guard, Commander Richter, and Armin Mueller-Stahl is chilling and unmoveable as Cardinal Strauss, the head of the college of cardinals, in a role that is often uncomfortably reminiscent of his recent role in Eastern Promises. Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer (Munich) is Vittoria Vetra, the CERN scientist who partners Langdon on his pursuit and is the expert on the explosive matter threatening the Vatican walls.

Science & religion

As expected, the eternal debate about science and religion features prominently in both the dialogue and the action. The Camerlengo and Langdon represent the two extreme sides of the debate, and their discussion early on is balanced and well-scripted. Despite all the religious sentiment surrounding the release of these two films, this story is ultimately quite balanced, with Cardinal Strauss providing a thoughtful coda to the proceedings. But in the end, it’s primarily a great suspense and mystery story, which is very well-told.




Trailers: (High-res QuickTime)


(below – a montage of scenes from the film set to sublime new music by Hans Zimmer)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Star Trek


  • Released Internationally on 08/05/09
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 13/05/09

In a nutshell

Batman began, Bond went to the casino, and now it’s the trekkies who get a much needed ‘reboot’. The long-running franchise, which so far has spawned six TV series and eleven feature films, had been flailing recently in both the critical and box-office departments, but this well-thought-out and much-needed kiss of life should ensure that it sticks around for a while and reaches new heights.

The Star Trek voyage

Back in 1966 a certain Gene Roddenberry created the fictional Star Trek universe for a TV series, which gave audiences the first look at the now classic images such as the starship Enterprise, Spock’s pointy ears, and the ship’s multinational crew decked out in tight, coloured outfits with the Star Trek logo on the left side of their chest. Spurred on by the huge financial success of Star Wars and other sci-fi films in the late 70s, the cast made it to the big screen in 1979 for the first feature film. The following string of films and TV series had varying settings, casts and levels of entertainment. The last film, Star Trek Nemesis opened with a whimper in 2002, and was met with a generally poor response.

Enter J.J. Abrams

The man entrusted with revitalising the franchise was J.J. Abrams, who has gone from relative obscurity to a responsibility like this in less than ten years. The man who gave us the TV series Felicity, Alias and Lost as well as the films Mission: Impossible- III and Cloverfield brought on board his previous collaborators writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (M:I-III, Transformers), producer Damon Lindehof (Lost) and composer Michael Giacchino (Lost, Ratatouille, The Incredibles). Together they seem to have done their homework well, and crafted a film that pays the utmost respect to the franchise’s history and principles whilst looking and sounding completely fresh and re-energised. And most importantly, they have somehow managed to come up with a plot that fits in amongst the other feature films, but which can be viewed and completely enjoyed by someone who thinks Star Trek is some sort of astronomy-club outing.

The next generation

A key element in this film, and one which generated much interest amongst fans during the past years was the cast. Bright new faces had to be brought onboard the Enterprise, but they had to be recognisable as the much-loved staple characters of the series. This is one of the areas where this film excels. The plot covers the time when the crew of the flagship are just out of academy training, and shows how through a series of events they came together to take charge of the starship and earn their wings. The young cast is instantly likeable, and does a great job adding their own stamp to the classic roles. Newcomer Chris Pine ups the aggro in the iconic role of Captain Kirk, made famous by William Shatner, whilst Zachary Quinto (from TV’s Heroes) alters his hairdo, ears and eyebrows to slip comfortably into the role of Spock. The original Spock himself, veteran actor Leonard Nimoy has an extended cameo as an older Spock, and he brings elegance and legacy to the proceedings. Karl Urban (The Lord of the Rings) is the ship’s medical officer Bones McCoy, Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead) adds a touch of comedy as Scotty, John Cho (the ‘milf’ guy from American Pie) is Sulu, Anton Yelchin (Alpha Dog) is Chekov, and Zoe Saldana (The Terminal) provides a much-needed feminine touch as Uhura. Not so likeable and cuddly, and virtually unrecognizable, is Eric Bana (Munich, Troy) as the bad guy, Captain Nero, who’s part of the Romulan race and who is very patient and very unforgiving. Rounding off the stellar cast are minor roles for Bruce Greenwood (Double Jeopardy, Thirteen Days), Winona Ryder (Edward Scissorhands, Little Women) and Ben Cross (Chariots of Fire), the latter two as Spock’s parents.

Summer is here

Setting aside for a moment all the franchise connotations and obligations, the film works wonderfully on its own steam, and is the first truly satisfying blockbuster of the summer. Never letting down its pace, the film manages to balance superb action and effects with the all-important character development, which is no mean feat considering the amount of characters we’re introduced to, and given some back-story about. As mentioned, the crew are likeable, and it’s a joy to see them slowly fit into their roles and nervously take control of the Enterprise. The sobering elements about painful personal histories and, in one scene, genocide, are countered by a constant flow of witty dialogue and playfulness, which keep the film from taking itself too seriously.

Live long, and probably prosper

Whether you have a life-size replica of Spock in your bedroom, or whether this is your first dip into the trekkies universe, this film has an undeniable fun feel to it, and should therefore manage to win over hordes of new fans rather than lose any. The plot seems a bit too convoluted at times, but it was necessary in order to be able to present this fresh start without ignoring all the predecessors. The young cast don’t show any inkling of stage-fright, and one hopes we’ll get to see more of their journeys in the coming summers.


Trailer: (High-res Quicktime)