Inferno

Director: Ron Howard (2016) BBFC cert: 12A

Hellfire and brimstone are as nothing to the purgatory of watching Tom Hanks stumble about Italy as the bible bothering super sleuth, Robert Langdon.

Returning for his third outing in the role, it’s an apocalyptic adventure every bit as preposterous as the previous ones, The Da Vinci Code (2006) and Angels And Demons (2009). Possibly even more so.

A mad scientist considers the human race to be a virus and so has plans to release a disease which will wipe out half the planet’s population.

Langdon begins the film in a state of amnesia like a geriatric Jason Bourne. After that the film plays out like a James Bond adventure from the late Roger Moore era.

Ineffectual henchmen wander sumptuous locations while a powerful covert organisation patrols the globe in a supertanker. Sadly missing the daft innuendo, knowing camp and reassuring winks to the audience, you’ll be praying for the halcyon days when Moore’s eyebrows would go off half cocked.

It’s a divinely ridiculous mashup of pedestrian shoot-outs and discussion of the renaissance poet Dante, whose death mask is missing from a museum. Langdon is the number one suspect and together with his doctor he must evade the authorities and save the world.

Dr. Sienna Brooks is played by young Felicity Jones and thankfully her character has a grand-daughterly relationship with Langdon. Fortunately our hero’s love interest is more age appropriate and is played with grace by glamourous Danish actress, Sidse Babett Knudsen.

There are visions of hell on earth, conspiracies abound, priceless art is destroyed and Langdon has time for a nice cup of coffee. Director Ron Howard gives the film as much energy as possible and astonishingly everyone involved keeps a straight face.

Don’t worry if you miss this apocalypse, no doubt Brown will be back with another one soon.

@ChrisHunneysett

 

 

True Story

Director: Rupert Goold (2015)

Identity theft, serial killing and untrustworthy journalism make for a mire of mendacity in this chilly courtroom thriller.

It’s based on the memoir of Mike Finkel (Jonah Hill), a former New York Times journalist who was sacked for fabricating a story.

He receives a phone call asking for an opinion on homicide suspect Christian Longo (James Franco) who has been caught in Mexico using Finkel’s identity.

Longo is charged with murdering his wife and three daughters and faces the death penalty. As grisly details of the deaths emerge, he paints his family as a victim of harsh economic circumstance.

Sensing a book deal and career resurrection, Finkel interviews Longo in prison and a curious relationship develops based on questionable motives.

Longo is evasive about what happened and emphasises his ordinariness. Finkel equates his own lies to be crimes of a similar magnitude to those of the accused.

Spending a lot of time rubbing his eyes in front of a laptop in a lonely hotel room, Finkel is under pressure from the police, his publisher and his girlfriend Jill (Felicity Jones).

Hill, Franco and Jones have each been nominated for an Oscar. Hill in Moneyball (2011) and Wolf of Wall Street (2013). Franco in 127 Hours (2010) and Jones for A Theory Of Everything (2014).

Hill and Franco previously starred together in weak apocalypse comedy This Is The End (2013).

Principal photography on True Story began way back in March 2013 and it was released in the US in April 2015.

With Jones’ Oscar nomination announced in mid-January 2015, it’s tempting to imagine the producers threw in every useable piece of footage they possessed of her to capitalise on her resultant higher profile.

In any case her character Jill spends most of her scenes alone or not interacting with her fellow performers, such as in a courtroom scene where she simply stands and stares.

At other times she plays piano runs in the woods, immerses herself in work and takes baths. It all accentuates her isolation but has no bearing at all on the plot.

Jones and Hill’s characters have little screen time and she has no purpose other than to make Finkel seem a more rounded personality.

Without her – even with her – Finkel is self-absorbed, humourless, arrogant and professionally flawed. We wonder what attracted each to the other and why she stays with him.

It’s not the first film to dramatise a journalist’s attempts to exploit a prisoner for their own ends. Truman Capote’s book In Cold Blood (pub. 1966) provided a basis for Capote (2005) and Infamous (2006).

A mournful soundtrack, muted colours, studied editing and a measured pace allows for a focus on strong performances.

But it’s difficult to place your sympathy on either of the wholly unreliable storytellers.

The Theory of Everything

Director: James Marsh

This tasteful, tear-ridden and terribly British biopic of scientist Stephen Hawking is sadly uneven.

Despite some Oscar worthy acting this brief history of his life is too thinly stretched with the latter half not matching the emotional power of the first.

 Prodigiously clever student Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) is at Cambridge University; cycling and studying for his PhD.

He meets the arty, angelic Jane (Felicity Jones) and they enjoy a picture postcard courtship amid the dreaming spires.

It’s an impressively physical performance by Eddie Redmayne and Jones is as excellent as always, great support is offered by David Thewlis as kindly don Dennis and Harry Lloyd as Hawking’s best friend Brian.

His growing clumsiness leads to a collapse and in hospital he is diagnosed with motor neurone disease.

While his mind stays sharp he will lose control of his muscles which will gradually waste away through lack of use.

He is given two years to live.

Moving you to tears with the sort of stiff upper-lip that built the British Empire, Jane refuses Stephen’s requests to leave.

They marry and as walking sticks give way to wheelchairs, his scientific career goes supernova.

Jane is poorly served; transforming abruptly from loving wife to challenged carer, signalling a sea change in their relationship.

However science and the story’s emotional momentum is abandoned for soap opera as the focus moves to marital infidelity and his growing international celebrity.

Meanwhile although we’re left to wonder how years after his terminal diagnosis Hawking is still alive at 72 as the careless script, happy to ponder the scale of the universe, never alludes to that particular mystery.

Nor are we close to knowing whether he’ll ever establish his unified theory of life, the universe and everything.

If only it had ended in physics not platitudes this could have been one of the films of the year.

★★★☆☆