Sunday, May 21, 2006

DaVinci Code -- Meh at Best

If you've read the book, there's no point in seeing the movie. If you have not read the book, go spend your $7.50 on a copy of the book, read it, and then don't see the movie.

Dan Brown's DaVinci Code was a cliffhanger, a pageturner, and can't-put-it-down-er. I distinctly remember thinking, "Wow, this book reads just like a movie." Turns out that when you try to turn an eight-hour experience that reads like a movie into a two-hour movie that... uh.. watches like a movie, you run into some problems.

For me, one of the most pleasurable parts of the book was seeing the puzzle come together. Though it's basically impossible to discover the solution yourself before the characters do, at least you get the chance to think about it. You can even STOP READING (imagine that!) and try your hand at decoding an anagram. In the film, however, each riddle is solved in a jiffy:

So dark the con of man.... hmmm.... maybe it's an anagram...'nads' 'scone'...nope... I GOT IT! 'MADONNA ON THE ROCKS!'"

There are so many puzzles and plot points to cover, and so little time, that each conflict has to be resolved almost immediately. The result is a disappointing lack of suspense.

Screen minutes were obviously at a premium, but Ron Howard still found time to bombard us with graphic violence. Why spend so many minutes zooming in on Silas (the albino monk) mortifying himself with whips and barbs, as blood oozes down his thigh? Or Fache beating the air traffic controller, then kicking him repeatedly while he's on the floor... why not one threatening shove, and then move on to the next plot point?

The scene that reveals the Teacher's identity deserves specific mention for being one of the Greatest Heavy-Handed Moments in Narrative Cinema. The camera is fixed on Teabing's butler, who is clearly having a conversation with the Teacher, saying things like, "we got 'em good, boss" etc etc. The teacher is never on camera, and you can't hear him responding to anything the butler says. Then, as the butler lays poisoned and dying, the camera desperately tries to create suspense by slowly panning up from the Teacher's feet to his face, to reveal that he is none other than Teabing. The whole scene is in wierd slow-shutter, the angles are amateurish. I found myself wishing it would all be over soon, for Ron Howard's sake.

As far as the religious content goes, I really got tired of the sign of the cross juxtaposed with brutal violence over and over again. Ok, I get it -- Silas is devoted to Opus Dei and he's also crazy. Now stop it. If you need to kill time, give Tom Hanks some more unnatural-sounding lines or something. Stop alienating your audience.

Friday, May 12, 2006

The movie I walked out of and the movie I walked into

United 93 is "not a good date movie", I had been told. Nonetheless, one night Jamie and I found ourselves on a date at the Savoy 16, romantically sharing a gigantor-size popcorn bucket, sitting in those awkward theater chairs that kinda recline but only if you're applying steady pressure on them with your torso, watching Hollywood trivia and waiting for "the September 11th movie" to begin.

The film opens with the five hijackers quietly murmuring Arabic prayers in their hotel rooms. I hoped for subtitles -- they might have shed some light on what was going through the minds of these men. There were none, however; either the film wasn't concerned with giving depth to its characters, or maybe subtitles are considered "desecration" of the Qu'ran.

The scene moves to the airport, where more characters are introduced. The camera work is jerky and gives the appearance of being unmotivated -- As I watched, I felt like a regular airport traveler, just looking around. It flashes from one average Joe talking on his cell phone to another guy reading the paper. Occasionally it shows a terrorist trying to be nonchalant as he nervously bides his time.

From the very first scene, I couldn't help thinking about the film's inevitable, tragic conclusion. By the time the passengers were boarding the plane, I was overcome by this feeling. OK, I thought. I've spent a good 20 minutes here, essentially watching a giant ticking time bomb. So what's next? I'll watch another hour or so, thinking about how all these people are going to die, and then they'll die.

That thought did not appeal to me. What would be the point? And so we got up and left. It was the first movie I've ever left early because of its content. I wasn't learning anything or gaining some new perspective, and I certainly wasn't getting any entertainment value from the film.

And so we walked right out, and right into Thank You for Smoking next door. We missed the first 10 minutes or so, but still got a big kick out of this movie.

It's the story of a smooth-talking tobacco lobbyist who is constantly in the spotlight and under fire, and who consistently utters his most brilliant (and chuckle-worthy) lines when trying to explain the moral justification of his job to his young, admiring son.

Every criminal deserves a fair trial and a lawyer, right? Well, I'm like the lawyer for Big Tobacco!

There's plenty of fun here -- the movie is almost entirely tongue-in-cheek, and plenty witty. It's certainly a better date movie than that other one.