Cambridge Film Festival 2009 Day 4

It seemed as though we had barely arrived, but it was already our last day, and no late night ones as we had a 5h drive ahead of us and then work in the morning :(. Oh well, not long to Leeds..

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (US) (site/wiki)

A sort of yang to the ying of Creation, this documentary by nasal-voiced Ben Stein has been picking up a notorious reputation wherever it has been shown. It's premise seems fair enough: that the academics and scientists who support Evolutionary theory are so inflexible in their opinions that nothing from the ID school of thought can be of any use, and that anyone who dares publish anything even mentioning ID/Creationism within their hallowed halls will be immediately 'expelled'. To start with, Stein interviews several individuals from university and scientific establishments who were given short shrift for such mentions, which as most would agree on both sides, is a bit harsh. However, it's at this point (once the skeptical viewer has been brought onside) that it lets its hair down a little and the credibility begins to slip.

Moving from unfair dismissal cases, it attempts coyly to distinguish between ID and creationism, with Stein playing a not particularly active devils advocate and never answering the question about what the difference really is. Then, a number of 'scientific experts' put in various claims that Darwin's theories are 'full of holes', without ever giving so much as one example about what those holes are. Even a couple of keywords the viewer could use to do some background reading on after the film would have sufficed, but nothing was said.

One major claim was that in Darwin's time, cellular research was in its infancy, and from this a giant leap is made by saying because we now have much more insight into the workings at a sub-cellular level, evolutionary theory falls apart. Quite why it should not be applicable within a cell is never explained, although we do get a minutes worth of pretty computer graphics.

Then he moved, (with appropriate brooding music) towards igniting the passions of the American right, using the same tactics employed by the rabid republicans in the current US healthcare debate - general talk of eroding freedoms were illustrated with old stock footage of.. Stalin, Marx, Russian soldiers holding back crowds of people, mixed with strategic insertion of words such as 'socialist', 'freedom' and 'patriotism' and the like to whatever was the topic on screen at the time. A little shimmy into how Darwin's theories promoted Nazism and Eugenics, coupled with some nicely trimmed footage of Dawkins et al when they were at their most antagonised (and thus arrogant) selves, and a finish off back at the start telling us how we must be open to all possibilities, not just the ones rammed down our throats.

Obviously given my leanings, I was never going to come out of this film with a new opinion of the world, but its snide underhandedness made Creation look all that much better as both entertainment and education. It's thus fair to say I was less than impressed with Expelled; Stein did as many others have done when they realise their side of the argument has no credible evidence to back it up - rely on smoke and mirrors, straw men and just enough half truth to encourage the viewer to make up their own minds, in the direction the director wants them to go. I encourage those from both sides of the argument to go see it, especially if they can get someone from the other camp to go with them at the time. 5/10

From Russia with Love (UK) (wiki)

A nice, simple Bond film to end with. This is constantly in the top few of most Bond fan lists for best film adaptation of the novels, where Connery's Bond does battle with the forces of SPECTRE on one side, and the amusingly-titled Soviet SMERSH operation on the other. SPECTRE agents Kronstein (strategic chess player) and Rosa Klebb (Ex-SMERSH operative and early lesbian film icon with a nice line in poison tipped daggers in her shoes) execute a plot to get the British Secret Service and SMERSH to squabble over a copy of the much desired Lektor device (an Enigma-style cryptographic unit) and while they kill each other off, SPECTRE takes it off their hands using burly beefhead Red Grant who silently pursues the various players picking them off as the hunt for the Lektor progresses.

As it is an early Bond film, there is far less reliance on the gadgets, improbable villains and car chases that dogged the later films, or the campness brought in with the Moore/Brosnan years, although there is more than the usual amount of female objectification, especially during the first third. What is left is a reasonably straight crime caper set in a number of beautiful locations around Istanbul and Venice, including a tense segment aboard the Belgrade to Zagreb train, and it is the close-quarters combat here, and subsequent escape from the country for Bond and Russian counterpart Tatiana that forms the best part of the film. It's just a shame that the quality of the film print wasn't up to scratch, it had clearly been passed through those reels a lot of times, but it was nice to see it on the big screen. 7/10

Another year over for Cambridge. It was lovely, and at the time of writing, it's still on; so if you have some free time on your hands this weekend and you live quite close, you could do a lot worse than catch it's closing nights.

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