Saturday, May 20, 2006
If boredom is a sin, let lightning strike ‘The Da Vinci Code’
Godzilla – Monster-sized Movies that can’t be ignored
Author Dan Brown’s best-selling thriller ‘The Da Vinci Code’ is everywhere: television, billboards, newspapers and anti-Da Vinci Code documentaries. The vast number of art house cinemas playing director Ron Howard’s ‘The Da Vinci Code’ may persuade serious-minded moviegoers to accept the big-budget crime thriller as the rare Hollywood blockbuster with adult characters, themes and a plot more serious than the average comic book.
The fact that ‘The Da Vinci Code’ claims the best opener of any recent movie thriller only heightens expectations.
A Louvre curator is found murdered, left naked in the position of Da Vinci’s Vitruvian figure inside the sprawling Paris museum. Occult symbols are carved into his bare chest. Called to the scene is symbols expert Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) to help French police decipher the clues. On hand to assist is a pretty police cryptographer, Sophie Neveu, (Audrey “Amélie” Tautou) who has a secret connection to the crime.
Their attempts to solve the murder turns into a Holy Grail quest throughout France and England in search of the 900-year-old religious cult, the Priory of Sion, and its secrets about Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene. It turns out to be a laborious journey.
Tom Hanks sports long slick hair in a failed attempt to play the dashing leading man. He’s out of sorts in ‘Da Vinci’, worlds away from the type of casual comic Joe he plays effortlessly.
Audrey “Amélie” Tautou is plenty pretty but surprisingly dull as Langdon’s girl Friday. Put together, they claim the sexual spark of a rock.
As British Sir Leigh Teabing, a Grail expert who joins the adventure, Ian McKellen brings the much-needed bluster and presence that Hanks lacks. McKellen’s ability puff out his chest and match up against the spectacular backdrops points out the differences between an actor who’s classically trained and someone who comes out of TV sitcoms, someone like Hanks.
Paul Bettany flashes a pasty white ass, a barbed “cilice” belt on this thigh and a cat o’ nine tails for whipping but little menace as Silas, the mad Albino monk on their trail.
Working with ‘A Beautiful Mind’ screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, Howard unloads plenty of flashbacks to the Crusades and Constantine without much explanation. Each crime-solving step unfolds with impressive detail but no tension. ‘The Da Vinci Code’ is plush, even by Hollywood standards. What’s missing are the Hitchcock touches, a dash of sex appeal, nail-biting excitement and boiling suspense worthy of the spectacular backdrops.
As is often the case with cultural phenomenon, the stories surrounding the movie are more interesting. The recent copyright infringement suit against Dan Brown and Random House has been resolved. Religious protesters rally against the film and its fictional blasphemy. Meanwhile, Tom Hanks and the rest of the ‘Da Vinci Code’ cast travel to the Cannes Film Festival on a specially painted Eurostar train.
Imagine the on-board chatter. Anything must be better than the dull movie.
Thursday, May 18, 2006
The Morning After Headache That’s Poseidon
Godzilla - Monster-sized Movies that can't be ignored
Read “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls”, Peter Biskind’s zesty celebration of ’70s cinema, until its book spine breaks but you’ll remain unconvinced that Hollywood’s golden age of mature moviemaking was free of turkeys.
‘The Poseidon Adventure’ rests atop the dream era trash heap, one of numerous disaster movies that have as much to say about ’70s moviegoers as any Al Pacino film.
Classic ’70s movies have resulted in misstep sequels; proof of just how difficult it is to recreate past glories. ‘The Two Jakes’ is something of a mess compared to ‘Chinatown’. ‘The Godfather Part III’ has half the emotional weight of ‘Godfather Parts 1 and II’.
A bad blockbuster like ‘The Poseidon Adventure’ is bound to result in something as lackluster as director Wolfgang Petersen’s noisy update ‘Poseidon’. The task of raising ‘Poseidon’ into something more than schlock is too much to ask any director, even a skilled entertainment maker like Petersen.
It’s New Year’s Eve and the party is underway in Poseidon’s giant ballroom. Kurt Russell, a meddling dad and onetime mayor of New York City, complains to his daughter (Emmy Rossum) about her revealing dress. Richard Dreyfus is an architect who wants to forget about a failed relationship by drinking lots of expensive wine. Josh Lucas is the handsome gambler who becomes the man of the hour once disaster strikes. Everyone dances well; sidestepping the countless hazards tossed their way. True dramatic performances would probably feel out of sync with the film’s fiery explosions.
‘Poseidon’ has an ocean’s worth of subplots but everything revolves around the big boat and the giant rogue wave that turns it upside-down. At night, with all its porthole lights blazing, the cruise ship looks stunning. Everything else about the movie, even the monster wave washing people out of the rooftop pool, leaves one with a sinking feeling. When action becomes this mechanical, it’s no longer any fun.
One unintended benefit of ‘Poseidon’ is its shattering of ideals about ’70s cinema as the perfect era. Just look at Kurt Russell, star of ’70s Disney comedies. Sure, there were amazing movies, serious fare far better than what hits theaters today. But they were surrounded by popular trash, like an epic about a sinking ocean liner. Of course it’s the trash that sticks around.
Monday, May 15, 2006
Must Mee Movie: Somersault
The type of discovery that makes independent films essential is actress Abbie Cornish, lead of the must-see movie ‘Somersault’. Cornish is dynamic and utterly convincing as Heidi, a sixteen-year-old Australian girl who uses her sexuality to meet other boys and build relationships. Fleeing home after being caught with her mother’s boyfriend, Heidi heads to the ski town of Lake Jindabyne, hoping to reconnect with a past acquaintance. While there, she meets Joe (Sam Worthington), the son of a local farmer. Heidi and Joe first hook up at a local bar out of mutual physical attraction but something more develops from their liaison. They are both unsure about themselves but together they might find answers.
‘Somersault’ is filmmaker Cate Shortland’s first feature after directing four short films and she shows a skill at melodrama worthy of Fassbinder. Worthington is complex and believable as Joe, someone who is as confused as Heidi and desperate for a firmer sense of self. Still, any limelight that falls upon 'Somersault' should go to the impressive Cornish. As Abbie, a flawed teenage girl desperate to be loved and to love herself, Cornish deserves the attention reserved for Hollywood starlets.
Somersault is a winner of 13 Australian Film Institute Awards. It is currently playing art house theaters across America courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.