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The Spirit

Young cop Denny Colt (Gabriel Macht) arises from the grave in the form of The Spirit.  Now an undying hero thirsty for justice in his home town of Central City, he finds a formidable foe in The Octopus (Samuel L Jackson).  Determined to obtain a mystical treasure chest from sinister agent Sand Saref (Eva Mendes), The Octopus gives little thought to the destruction he wreaks.  Masked and suited as any tasteful avenger should be, The Spirit eagerly dives head first to correct the wrongs evil doers gladly partake in.
Based on Will Eisner’s popular 1940’s newspaper comic strip, The Spirit sees the directorial debut of fellow comic fantasy alumni Frank Miller.  Famed as the creator of Sin City, 300 and others, Miller’s unique visuals appear to be a perfect match for Eisner’s quirky character.  Although visually similar to Sin City’s pulp noir style, that’s the only good thing that can be said of this peculiar hybrid of story-telling techniques.  Miller makes the classic mistake of confusing the rich optical palette of comic books and movies at the expense of delivering a clearly defined tale. 
Where style and form are easy to use within an outlandish hand drawn panel, film is a medium where explanations are needed in providing character background.  The Spirit has none of that with scant care given in presenting a reason for its protagonists’ motivations.  Asking audiences to simply accept characters at face value is a fatal error with any empathy thrown away during its confused narrative.  The use of various genre styles also  jar as hardcore action makes way for mediocre attempts at slapstick comedy.  Miller gamely endeavours to pull these elements together to no avail resulting in a messy quagmire from which events never recover. 
Filled with stilted dialogue, the continued earnestness of the characters seems rather old fashioned.  Maybe we’ve become used to darker role-models, as The Spirit is a very square hero in a grittier world.  This isn’t any fault of Gabriel Macht who plays him, it’s his ongoing righteousness that becomes rather tiresome.  The only actor seemingly having a good time is Samuel L Jackson who once again hams it up for all its worth with a totally bizarre performance. 
The Spirit is a pretty terrible film made even worse at the knowledge the ingredients were there for an interesting movie.  In the hands of a first time director clearly out of his depth, it proves that even geniuses of the page can falter in their journey to celluloid.
Rating out of 10:  1

Valkyrie

Throughout history many ruthless leaders have mixed patriotism and idealism for their own needs.  During Adolf Hitler’s reign, his call for nationalistic pride masked his own horrible agenda.  Set in 1944 Valkyrie documents the last of 15 attempts on his life by supposedly loyal German soldiers ashamed of their country’s blackened name.  Their ensuing treacherous actions revealed that even the Nazi swastika couldn’t disguise their nobly heroic intent.
Sustaining numerous physical injuries during yet another heated battle, decorated German soldier Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) has had enough.  Tired of an endless war and the damage to his country’s reputation he decides to join a covert group plotting the assassination of the Fuhrer.  Aided by a band of high ranking officials, Claus’s leadership qualities surface as the military tactician leaves nothing to chance.  Putting their lives and families at risk, the fine line between caution and recklessness nearly wavers in their fight against a seemingly invincible tyrant.
Whilst the spectacle of American and English actors portraying hardened Germans soldiers is almost comically ironic, Director Bryan Singer manages to expertly steer proceedings away from a ‘how Tom Cruise won the war’ scenario.  Examining issues of loyalty and principle, this history lesson benefits from Singer’s flair for outstanding visuals integrating with a true ripping yarn.  Although one’s pre-existing knowledge of subsequent events does deflate its impact somewhat, he cleverly maintains an overall element of suspense with the scheme’s planning and execution providing the main source of audience engagement.
Stauffenberg’s reliance on his comrade’s specialist abilities nicely mirrors Hitler’s own dependence on his own men. You are never quite sure which soldier will suddenly turn against their allies providing plenty of tense moments.  The cast do a generally fine job although it’s a little difficult to fully imagine very British actors like Terence Stamp and Kenneth Branagh as hard bitten Nazis.  This is perhaps Valkyrie’s weakest point as their very British personas are never truly erased despite their best efforts. 
Entertaining and educating audiences can be problematic as many similarly themed movies have discovered.  Valkyrie succeeds in spite of its occasional blemishes proving that an enemy’s villainous attire can hide the most unlikely of heroes.
Rating out of 10: 7