Inferno(t) – a review

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In a follow-up to The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, Tom Hanks returns as famed symbologist Robert Langdon, the only man capable of solving the great riddles of today with clues left by our medieval artists and thinkers. In this case, it is the location of bioengineered microbes designed by mad billionaire Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster)—think Elon Musk with microscopes instead of rocket ships—to eradicate 95% of the world’s population.

And as the adventure starts, it appears that Langdon may be involved more directly in this mystery than even he thought possible. Along the way, he battles officials from the World Health Organization (WHO), zealous followers of the billionaire and the crafty dealings of a security firm.

As a fan of the previous two movies and puzzle-focused stories in general, I was looking forward to this latest installment. Hanks was back. Ron Howard was back as director. And Dan Brown, the novelist on whose books the movies are based, never tells a boring story.

Unfortunately, this latest venture simply does not live up to the mysteries developed in its predecessors. Simply put, the puzzle is missing and the action is merely serviceable.

To watch the trailer for this movie is to assume that the riddle of this story is wrapped up in Dante’s Divine Comedy, source of our Western vision of Hell. And, for about two minutes, it is.

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Dante couldn’t have predicted this new level of Hell

But unlike the earlier movies where clue was found buried in clue, each one linking together in an almost mystical way and tapping into the deep-seated paranoia of conspiracy freaks like me, here it was merely a token gesture. Dante’s masterpiece and the elements that followed it felt completely contrived, mere window decoration for the modern mystery that wasn’t much of a mystery.

And even the characters surrounding Langdon were largely throw-away, none showing the intricate twists and turns that kept you guessing throughout the earlier movies. In almost all cases, the functions of the characters were obvious from the outset (to explain more would be to serve spoilers).

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Tom Hanks and Felicity Jones spend a lot of time sight-seeing

And I think screenwriter David Koepp (Jurassic Park, Mission:Impossible, War of the Worlds, Angels & Demons) suspected as much as he littered the screen with small red herrings that suggested insights to the characters but never amounted to anything afterward.

One character, in fact, who appears vital from the story perspective effectively disappears from the story completely, factoring in no way into the ending of the story despite being involved in the precipitating events.

In the absence of medieval puzzles and ambiguously motivated characters, we are left with a barely passable action film that trots its merry way across the Mediterranean to the pretty unspectacular climax. Even the summary denouement is uninteresting and a bit saccharine.

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Entire screenplay written on back of Dante’s head

This is not a terrible movie, but I’m not sure I would even recommend it as an entry point to the Dan Brown pantheon, instead recommending you stick solely to the other two.

For me, Inferno never really got beyond a cold ember.

See also:

Tom Hanks returns as Robert Langdon in Inferno (Associated Press)

Say hello to the 10th circle of Hell (The Guardian)

A devil of a time making sense (Wall Street Journal)

The subway ride

I don’t actually know what the following is, other than: the beginning.

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The subway was crowded that morning. It was always crowded when it rained.

It was like no matter how far people had to travel, they were terrified of getting wet. It’s probably closer to the truth to say that most of them had lost several umbrellas in the windy corridors created by the city’s office towers. And yet, to a person, every man and woman carried a neatly folded umbrella, their multiple layers showing nary a single bead of dampness.

By the second station on my route to work, I had lapsed into my typical fog of who cares. At this stage in my life, work was just something I had to do to make money. I had long ago given up on any hope of finding fulfillment or happiness on the job, if only because the company had a strict no-dating policy. Without interoffice sex, my desk was just another place to sort papers.

It didn’t take long before the fog in my head was matched by a fog on the windows of the subway car. The body heat of the mingled strangers turned damp coats and hats into instant humidifiers, rain water mingling with sweat and post-shower damp to coat the walls and windows of the subway with rivulets of diluted deodorant, cologne and perfume. All we needed were a few handprints on the window and the subway car would have looked like the back seat of a sedan parked at a drive-in where the kids inside were doing everything but watching the movie.

I had managed to grab a seat that morning, an unexpected bonus for getting up a little earlier. Even living at the end of the line was no guarantee of finding any comfort in local transit. Too often, I spent my time staring down the tops of flat-chested teens too self-absorbed to give up a seat or leather-skinned grandmothers so desiccated they made your tear ducts hurt. That morning, however, I had managed a forward-facing seat. So people could look down my top and I got to stare right into their crotches.

It was a rough ride into town that morning. The constant start and stop of the train as it waited for the guy up ahead to get his shit together, and the tropical humidity that was slowly growing in my shorts made the decorated plywood seat under my ass that much more uncomfortable. Within 20 minutes, I found myself chafing like a newborn in a day-old diaper.

Tugging at my trouser legs to try and unbunch the material from my crotch, I felt something soft and dry against the back of my left hand. Looking over, I realized it was a leg.

A gorgeous leg. A leg that begged to be touched, but could just as easily crush your balls with the slightest twitch. A leg that worked out regularly, but had never seen a gym in its life. And standing right next to it was another leg, which also shimmered in the grey opalescence of flawless stockings.

Recognizing my transgression and not wanting to be rude, I moved up from the legs. Past the immaculate tweed skirt, the crisp peach blouse, the mottled brown scarf and up to the reddest smile I have ever seen in my life.

This red, I was certain, existed nowhere else in the world. This was a red created for one woman and set aside, the formula for this colour being instantly destroyed as it would appear flawed on anyone else.

I smiled at that red, those lips, and nodded slightly. It was an apology for the unintended intimacy. Words seemed out of place for some reason. The slight rise of her right cheek told me I had been forgiven.

Summoning everything I had in me, I tore my eyes away from that mouth and back to the zoo I called my ride into work.

The fog had definitely lifted from my morning, but it had been replaced with an equally numbing intoxication that I couldn’t handle. Although numbing probably wasn’t the right word, because there was damned little I wasn’t feeling at this moment.

I don’t know if it was 10 seconds or 10 minutes later when the subway jostled around a bend, but what I do know is that the leg found my hand this time. And as the curve of the tracks lingered, so too did the leg, sliding its silken fibers up and down the back of my hand until it began to pull the hairs out one by one.

As the train pulled back onto a straighter course, however, the leg stayed exactly where it had landed, determined to either erase every hair off the back of my hand or gain my attention. It was about to complete the first, but it was mission accomplished on the second.

(Image is property of owner and is used here without permission but a lot of inner dialogue.)

The Shoe – a short story

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The shoe just sat there in the middle of the platform, taunting Joanne. A slight wearing of the laces through the eyelets and a long black scuff mark to the left of the toe, the only signs that it didn’t just arrive there by some act of God. Whoever had owned the shoe hadn’t owned it for very long.

Joanne wondered if he or she was limping down a road somewhere or if the shoe’s partner was lying somewhere nearby, alone or perhaps still connected to a dormant leg.

Inserting a pencil into the shoe like she’d seen done on TV a thousand times, Joanne held the shoe in the light to get a closer look.

A sneaker. ASICs. White with blue stripes. Size 9½. The wear pattern uneven, more pronounced to the outer edge. The owner pronated. Or was it supernated? Joanne would look it up later.

“What do you think?”

William always asked the obvious questions.

Joanne did her best to replace the shoe exactly as she’d found it, before turning to face William.

At four foot two, William wasn’t very imposing, and the green baseball cap didn’t help, skewed slightly to the left on his head.

What William lacked as a brother, he more than made up for as an investigative assistant. Today was no exception as his pen sat poised above a tiny flip pad.

Joanne was the brains of the operation, while William provided the…penmanship. Brawn was still a few years into the future.

William wasn’t stupid. He played dumb way too well to be considered stupid. But he was frugal with his intelligence, saving it for answers shouted full volume at Alex Trebek. He had yet to get an answer right, but you had to admire his tenacity.

Joanne scrutinized William as she formulated her response.

“We’re looking for a man wearing one shoe,” she said slowly, giving William time to write. “A white ASICs with a blue stripe. New. If he’s not dead, he’ll walk with a limp.”

“How do you know it’s a man?” William asked, as he finished his notes.

“Because the shoe is too big for a boy,” Joanne responded with an unspoken “gawd”.

William wrote this down too. You never knew what would be important later.

“I meant, what if it—“

“I know what you meant,” Joanne snapped.

That was good enough for William.

“The shoe points East,” she added. It did. “Meaning he was waiting for a Westbound train.”

But whether he was travelling west or awaiting the arrival of someone from the east, she could not tell.

“He may also have owned a dog, because I detect the faintest odor of dog poo,” Joanne noted, wrinkling her nose even as she took another deep whiff.

“That’s probably me,” William offered, lifting his right foot forward to expose rivers of brown slurry coursing through the grooves of the shoe tread.

It was all too much for Joanne.

“You’re contaminating my crime scene,” she bleated. “Mo-o-om, William is contaminating my crime scene.”

“Get over here, both of you,” Mom replied. “The train is coming. And leave that shoe.”

She was right. The train was indeed pulling into the station. It would mean playing the odds, but Joanne was going to bet the man with one shoe was travelling west.

As the train stopped, Mom herded first William and then Joanne onto the train.

“Why do I smell dog dirt?” she asked, sniffing the air.

This must be where William learned that annoying habit.

Joanne ignored the question, immediately scanning the car for anything suspicious.

Typical commuters. Some talking quietly. Others immersed in a book. Still others faking sleep but clearly listening to music through ear buds. And all wearing two shoes, except…

There, at the other end of the car, was a man with only one shoe. A white ASICs with a blue stripe. Joanne couldn’t be sure from her vantage point, but everything screamed it was size 9½.

On the man’s other foot was…nothing.

Not even a foot. Or shin. The man only had one leg. Ingenious.

Joanne swatted at William to get his attention, but caught nothing but air. Mom had apparently taken him to the second level of the train car. Joanne was on her own.

Slowly, she slid into the first available seat that gave her an uninterrupted view of the man with one leg.

How he’d gotten off the earlier train and onto Joanne’s was something she still had to figure out, but clearly this was a cagey customer. She would have to watch him closely.

At least until Port Credit, when she, William and her Mom would get off the train to visit her grandmother.

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(Images are property of owners and are used here without permission, but please don’t tell Joanne.)

Anybody home?

The house was dark, which made Helen worry all the more. As long as she could remember, her neighbours kept at least one light on in the house.

“You never know when someone will show up for a visit,” Jackie would explain. “Would hate for them to think they’re not welcome.”

The funny thing was, Helen never saw any visitors at the Jarrols. Maybe that’s why the house always seemed to drip in melancholy.

Helen took the first step on to the porch, making sure not to lean on the railing that more than once abandoned poor Ned to the garden below. Jackie finally planted decorative cabbage just to cushion the blow.

Each step felt spongier than the next as Helen ascended. She wasn’t sure if it was the wood or her trepidation, the silence of the house growing more oppressive the closer she got.

Helen didn’t bother with the doorbell, it never worked, but instead rapped heavily on the door before turning the handle.

“It’s just Helen,” she called into the darkness, the weak light of blinded windows helping her make out the living room. “Jackie? Ned?”

Her words hung in the air, the warmth of her breath buoyant in a house unnaturally cold.

Helen hesitated at the door, afraid to proceed but worried about her neighbours. She really wished Sarah was with her right now, but she wouldn’t be home until tomorrow. Helen was on her own.

“Hello,” Jackie’s voice called from the kitchen.

“Jackie, it’s—“

“We’re not home right now, but if you leave a message, Neddy and I will get right back to you.”

Ned had long ago turned off the phone ringer because it always startled Jackie, who had a weak heart. Helen actually thought it was because Ned hated talking on the phone.

Helen searched the main floor, but the Jarrols were nowhere to be found. Upstairs it was.

As though pulling off a bandage, Helen vaulted the stairs to the second floor, but her hand froze as it came to rest on the bedroom door handle.

Knocking would have been respectful, but Helen just turned the knob and pushed. The door showed no resistance.

Jackie and Ned lay next to each other on the bed, eyes closed. Jackie was under the covers, hair bound in that all-too-familiar brown kerchief, while Ned was atop the covers.

Helen didn’t call out. She didn’t even check them. It was just like Ned to turn the heat off first. He wouldn’t do anything to hurt the potential resale value of the house.

Sign-natures

The Five Man Electrical Band missed the point when they wrote: Signs, Signs, Everywhere there’s signs. Blocking out the scenery. Breaking my mind.”

So much more than identifications or directive missives, signs can be amazing mystical things.

They can be unintentionally funny or provocative. They can hold hidden messages. They can bring wisdom.

Can’t you read the signs?

Star Gazer

I sit on my front step,

staring up at the sky,

and I see her face before mine.

The light of the waning moon

mingles with strands of her hair of pitch

and shines off the lock o’er her brow.

 

Her smiling eyes stare back at me

and myriad stars twinkle

in the moist dark pools.

I dive into this ocean,

the universe of my destiny,

to swim among creatures fantastical.

 

The warmth of her body

in the cool evening air

waves across me with its welcoming tide;

and the sweet aroma of her tropical breath

is a nectar upon which I feed;

A breath of life and love,

rejuvenating my soul.

 

The air is disturbed

by the rise and fall of her chest,

and scarf slides from her shoulder.

The colours of her garment

flicker briefly in the moon,

as its light passes through thin matter,

and the silence is broken

by the light shuffle of silk

against her satin flesh.

 

I grow drunk on her perfume;

I’m lightened by the joy of her smile,

and all the concerns of the day

melt with her touch.

She is my universe

and I shall never want.

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(Blue moon over Chilliwack, BC.)