No god but God by Reza Aslan

No god but GodNo god but God: The origins, evolution, and future of Islam (Updated Edition, 2011) by Reza Aslan

No god but God is a beautifully written and thoughtfully presented look at Islam. Reza Aslan uses wonderful prose to take the reader on a journey through the tumultuous history of Islam from the Revelation of Mohammed through the development of the various philosophies, interpretations and schools of law to the modern world.

I have been fascinated by the religions of world for some time and I enjoy learning about their development and varied cultural voices. In the mid 1990's I read a translation of the Quran and found it to a exquisitely written text presenting an egalitarian, community based faith. It made me wonder how it was that this text and the society we see presented to us were related as there seemed to me a chasm between the faith and the society. No god but God helped clear this up.

What was surprising in reading this book was the level of detail and references that were used to create what feels to be a very balanced and objective approach to understanding this religion which I wasn't expecting. I think I have become jaded by a number of books being slanted toward extreme perspectives (positive and negative) that I did not expect to find a reasonable, well articulated discussion on a topic as divisive as religion and religious history.

Several times in the book Reza presents the history (sometimes conflicting versions) as understood, followed by arguments made by previous scholars from both extremes then presents further information to clarify the issues before presenting a reasonable resolution. This makes for a compelling narrative that kept me gripped to the book, going back to read each chapter again as I progressed.

If you have ever been interested in Islam, or have wanted to gain a greater insight into the supposed 'Clash of Civilisations' that permeates the media whenever Islam is discussed, this book is an excellent resource and a pleasure to read. It is a positive discussion, aiming not to tell you what is right or wrong, but to educate so that the reader can make an informed opinion on Islam.


Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

star trek into darkness-HD

Star Trek Into Darkness is the follow-up to 2009's Star Trek by JJ Abrahms. Star Trek has a long and storied history with numerous incarnations including 5 television series, an animated series, 12 movies, video games, hundreds of novels and short stories, and comic books over it's 47 year history. It is a long running franchise that is both highly regarded and dismissed. Until 2009 there seemed to be 2 camps that Star trek fell into, those that liked it and those that didn't because it was either too camp or philosophical.

That changed in 2009 with JJ Abrahms dropping most of the philosophy in favour of increasing the pace with action and adventure. This was not a bad thing as the decrease in density brought in a greater audience.

Abrahm's used an old Star trek trope for his reboot but with a new twist – An event occurs that sends time askew and the crew of the Enterprise must right the event to return time to normal, only in 2009 they did not and a new timeline was born. The wonderful thing with the specific style of reboot Abrahm's and his team brought was that it allowed them to draw upon the entirety of the Star Trek canon and tell new stories with old concepts, characters and species with a fresh voice.

Into Darkness brings our characters into peril by pitting the Enterprise's crew against John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch - BBC's Sherlock). Added to the mix is Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller - Robocop, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, Dexter) providing a stern authoritative figure. These two actors are vocally impressive and stand apart from the Enterprise crew, Cumberbatch for his resonating voice and his rather unique head (sharp lines on an oval skull that somehow appears weirdly soft), Weller for the deep throated bass and the wonderful articulation of his lines (I sometimes think that Weller could sit there and speak gibberish and I wouldn't care).

The film draws from a great many Star Trek stories that fans of franchise will find homages throughout, the variety of which will have fans creating very long lists and debating the specifics for ages. It also reintroduces the Klingons providing an updated look to the species and their technology. The new look includes the (now) traditional forehead ridges but updates the warrior races armour, adornments and ship designs.

I saw the film in 3D, and while it doesn't need it, there are some excellent uses of the format – Engineering and the warp core, and the space battles. The 3D was done post production rather than native and feels a great deal smoother than some other 3D films, and probably the biggest kudos I can give the 3D is that it doesn't feel like decopage.

This film will garner a range of positive and negative reviews. The positive will be for the effects and grandiosity of the action. The negative will go on and on about how the plot is derivitave, filled with holes, out of character, or any of number of such things that naysayers always say, especially in regard to a big budget blockbuster (I think Hollywood leaves themselves open to a lot of abuse by labelling anything 'Big Budget' or 'Blockbuster', don't you?). To all of those people I say, why bother going to see it if you don't want to enjoy it?

Personally I found the film to be a great romp and a had fun watching. The set pieces are great, the action well put together, the plot as over the top as the first film if not more so, and while it has its flaws overall it was more entertaining than not.

The hardest thing it seems for the (re)viewer to do these days is to distance yourself from other recent films, to stop comparing what you are watching now to what you watched last week or ten years ago and try and take the present on its own merits. This is especially hard to do with fans of the source material as anything previously done is oft lauded above its merit simply because it was there first. I mentioned in a previous film review that it is hard to create something truly new and that it all comes down to the delivery. A story you've seen a dozen times before can be made fresh again if the delivery is just right. Star Trek falls into that category, unlike other recent films (cough, cough... Die Hard 5 cough).

It was worth the price of entry and I rather look forward to seeing it again in the comfort of my own home.

7 out of 10.

Evil Dead (2013)


The Evil Dead is a remake/revisitation of the 1981 horror classic written and directed by Sam Raimi. The original film was a low budget (USD$90,000) supernatural horror that received excellent reviews in spite of the films rating (X in the US). The Evil Dead is widely regarded as one the seminal horror films of the 1980's and, while looking dated, that is more to do with the age and quality of the technology used than with with the quality of the storytelling, and still holds an audience today due to the (then) audacious camera work and black humour. The film spawned two sequels (each progressively more humourous), computer games, comic books and even a musical. The film's protagonist Ash Williams has become a cult icon, played by Bruce Campbell who has become a cult actor,

Here is the trailer for the original film:

The original film, and the sequels, are much loved and have a cult status few other franchises (let alone horror properties) possess which makes it an extremely risky remake in an era where remakes are generally looked upon with disgust and scorn. The Friday the 13th remake was an OK attempt to reconcile the various versions of that franchise into a singularly recognisable whole but failed to achieve anything close to the scares, slaughter or entertainment of the original. The Nightmare on Elm Street remake missed the mark by for the same reasons. A remake of something much loved faces the chance of even greater scorn than these other 80's franchises that had been great but not at all consistent through their many sequels.

Another thing that stands against the film is that horror audiences have come to accept different styles of horror film as the flavour of choice, films such as the Saw and Paranormal Activity franchises (the first of these films I rather enjoyed but couldn't make it through the sequel enough to go any further with the franchises), and while the original is loved for it's horror the sequels are remembered and revered for their black humour. There seems to me to be a predilection in modern horror toward torture that I don't enjoy or towards the found footage format with sub par scares (The last ones of each style that really stand out as excellent are Funny Games and REC). I have also found few characters in the last decade of horror movies that I like enough to watch them be killed let alone attempt to survive.
The film also has to contend with the excellent 2011 release of Cabin in the Woods by Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon which wonderfully pulls apart the this particular corner of the genre to delightful result.
So it begs the question, where should Evil Dead fall? Should it adhere to the modern horror sensibility of horrible characters torturing each other and being tortured for 2 hours? She it be a black comedy with horror elements? Does the film need Bruce Campbell in order to appease fans and gain an audience? Does it need to distance itself as far from the original as possible and make it on it's own merits? Should it be a shot for shot remake with modern technology? Does it need to self-aware or naïve?
Below is the trailer for the remake, which is easily the most intense horror movie trailer I've seen in a while:

Evil Dead (2013) takes the full blown horror movie route much like the original, although devoid of the black humour. It is a beast unto itself whilst also revelling in revisiting the 30 year old film.

There are a few nods to the original including a similar cabin for our little drama and a rusted out Oldsmobile (the same model as used in Sam Raimi's films), Fede Alvarez also used the same visual movement of the 'Evil' travelling through the woods with a very similar (same?) sound as the original.
The opening of the film sets the tone of all that is to follow and allows for the orginal trilogy to still exist chronologically, a approach I feel that is for the better allowing a broader tapestry to play with in the future.
Evil Dead uses a drug intervention for Mia as raison d'etre for being out in the woods, isolated from the big bad city to ensure they can get their friend clean. This also helps with the characters finding Mia's ramblings a little unbelievable and thus allow for some incredibly violent things to happen rather than just leave before its too late. The plot isn't a new one, and that's perfectly fine because in this day and age because when the jaded audience has seen it all before it must come down to the delivery. The actors carry the script well, but the true masters of this delivery lie with the Fede Alvarez and crew.
This is the first feature length film for director Fede Alvarez, and it is an excellent debut. The crew assembled to support this first time director do their job very well, each unit bringing a variety of experience and talent that is well used. The film is visually stunning for the genre with the cinematography containing a great balance of perspective shots, skewing or angling the camera just enough to add to your visual unease. The palette is very well used and the lighting of certain scenes perfect, allowing for an intense atmospheric experience. The film is extremely violent and the imagery brutal and presented up close and personal, but the real impact comes from the entrancing use of sound. Even when you know what you are about to see the audio takes you further into discomfort than you would expect. This is a testament to the Director and his crew for producing and blening the images with such a engrossing soundtrack that gets under your skin.
I consider myself pretty experienced when it comes to movies, and I've seen my fair share of them, so I can be pretty harsh with my reviewing. The Evil Dead is an excellent horror movie filled with excellently grotesque visuals and is one of the best new horror films I've seen in a long time, and it is definitely one of the best modern revisits/remakes of a horror film. It keeps enough of what Evil Dead fans want without coming across as too derivative, respecting the source material, and adding to the mythology. It has also brought a new director to Hollywood and I very much look forward to what Fede Alvarez does next (I'm rather hoping to see if he is capable of doing something other than a gore filled horror movie). The Evil Dead compliments the original 1981 horror in a way very remakes could. It does not eclipse the original but can stand on its own or together with.

Evil Dead needs to be watched in the dark with the sound turned all the way up.
This is a 8 out of 10 blood soaked ride (7 if you are a not a fan of the first films and leave without watching the entire credits sequence). 


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