Monday, May 22, 2006

The Da Vinci Code - Movie Review

Disclaimers first. I haven't read the book. Neither am I an authority on Catholic theology/history. I view this movie simply as entertainment - a movie(or perhaps the writer) that cleverly conjoins well known (unrelated) facts to forward a conspiracy theory. The celebrated film critic Roger Ebert crystallizes the situation in his review: " DaVinci Code - the book is utterly preposterous, the movie is preposterously entertaining". Even Dan Brown says so: that is why the book is listed under the "fiction" section. So, the question that is most relevant to this review is: viewed as entertainment, how effective the movie is?

Viewed in this vein, most of the times, the movie oscillates between being moderately entertaining to reasonably entertaining, with a couple of 10 minute stretches that are certifiably boring. The story (wink! wink!) is, well..., wait..., uhhh... sorry, I cannot complete this sentence with a straight face. What if Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene were married? What if they had a child? What if their descendent(s) are still with us, today? What if the Catholic church (or a secret cell in it, actually) wants to keep this under wraps and will go to any extends, including directing a creepy looking priest, who is remarkably well built, and looks very close to what Paul Bettany will look like under silver blond hair, to terminate the last of these possible descendents? What if there are an equally zealous group, who are hell-bent on protecting this possible descendent? What if all of the above is true?

The movie starts with the murder of the a museum curator, who before dying, very conveniently, takes time to leave behind an elaborate coded message on the walls, annals and all possible surfaces of the Louvre, in Paris. His death brings the two principal characters together: Sophie, his granddaughter, and Prof. Robert Langdon, a Harvard symbologist, who happens to be in Paris to deliver a lecture. This sets into motion a cat and mouse (and sometimes a mouse turned cat, chasing former fellow mice) game, between the lead pair and all the evil forces that are inevitably unleashed. During this process the English channel is criss-crossed a few times, and you get a free tour of the landmarks on both sides of the channel. For a film that is filmed entirely in Europe, it somehow manages to be visually bland. If you want to see how visually pulsating a movie filmed in Europe could be, rent the DVD of "Munich", and enthrall yourself.

The first half-hour or so of the movie limps by, in spite of the incredulous things happening around, until Paul Bettany's priest literally dashes into the screen and injects a shot of adrenaline to the movie (and the audience). But, during this time period, there is enough Audery Tautou and Audery Tautou-stares on the screen to keep one (speaking for myself) engaged. She is the most effective of the actors in the movie, projecting the right amount of incredulity and awe. Tom Hanks, playing Langdon, is colossaly wasted, and comes close to being invisible. This is partly his fault, but mostly the credit for this goes to the screenwriter and the director. This is deeply unsettling for a Tom Hanks junkie like myself. Tom Hanks is one of the greatest actors of this generation. Whenever I watch his earlier work ( I have seen "You've Got Mail" at least 20 times), I am dumb struck by his effortless talent and spontaneity. But in his recent work ("The Terminal", "Ladykillers"), his performances are not that effective. These roles require enormous skill just to attempt them, which Hanks obviously has. But his recent acting is affected with a touch of self-conciosness that somehow undermines his performances. It is almost like his spectacular star status and the consciousness of his power in Hollywood is catching up with him. I look forward to the day, when he will make me eat my words.

Effective conspiracy theories know how to tread the thin line between "could-be-possible" and "definitely impossible". They throw enough facts and logic at us to make us question certain things without pulling the rug completely. In that aspect, this is a remarkably successful attempt. Though, to escape certain inevitable awkwardness, it answers a lot fewer questions than it poses. In the end, they track down the sole living descendent of the Christ-Magdalene union. At this point my mind kept wandering off to imagine what sort of monumental pressure (procreationaly speaking, that is) this descendent must be under. I already hear that they are going to make another Dan Brown novel "Angels and Demons" with Tom Hanks returning to update his role. So for the 60 million fans who bought "The Da Vinci Code", and the countless ones who freeloaded on them, keep your engines running.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Mission Impossible III - Movie Review

Summer is here. Take out your wallets (and handbags) and be ready to shell out some serious cash towards the coffers of Hollywood studios. MI-3 officially kicks starts the summer blockbuster season. Blockbusters- meaning that you are expected to leave your sense of logic at home and if possible shave off 10-20 points from your IQ score- for maximum results and enjoyment.

Lets get back to the movie. Like all returning secret agents, agent Ethan Hunt is happily living a normal life, after a self-imposed retirement. And like any self-respecting secret agent, he is of course having an unbelievably great relationship, and when the movie starts, the pair is just about announcing their engagement. Here is a question: How do you prove the alpha-male status of a near-superhero agent? Conventional wisdom dictates that the incredibly good looking hero have a steaming, incredibly romantic relationship with another incredibly good looking member of the opposite sex. Wrong answer. Pair him up with an obviously not-so-goodlooking-heroine and this is supposed to instantly humanize our hero and bestow a romantic-god-everyman status on him. This act of romantic magnanimity, is supposed to reinforce and elevate his alpha-male status.

Once again, I am digressing. This is the wrong approach to view a blockbuster. Now, seriously, lets get back to the movie. Agent Hunt is called back into action, after one of his prodigies is kidnapped. He inevitably tangles himself up with the bad guys, and serious mayhem ensues. The bad guys are really bad, the good guys are relentlessly good, and the heroine is insultingly insufferable. The action sequences are thrilling enough to carry the film and there are enough foreign locations and action set-peices and emotional turmoil in the movie to keep you engaged for two hours.

The bad guy here is Philip Seymour Hoffman. He gives a stunning performance, a performance with such merit, that I started questioning whether the movie deserves such a performance. I haven't seen such evil exude out of any villain. One look at him, you might want to turn in the opposite direction and start running. The movie is supported by a list of first-rate actors: Billy Crudup, Laurence Fishburne & Jonathan Rhys-Myers. The background score is used with delicious playfulness to incite the mood and suggest impending twists, without overexposing the already extremely famous theme music.

Such franchise films (like James Bond films) develop a template which is faithfully followed with enough variation to invite the viewers back to the theaters. Some components of the MI template: (i) rubber masks, which allows the hero and villains to switch identities instantly (this concept is stretched to the limits of human acceptance).(ii) self-destructing video-messages (iii) Tom Cruise suspended by a thin wire, almost hitting the floor (several times in this movie). This is a good action movie, certainly not in the top-tier of action films (like True Lies, The Rock and Face-Off). It could serve as an action appetizer for the impending summer blockbusters (Superman Returns and Pirates of Carribean 2).