Monday, May 22, 2006

Cracking the "Code"

I'm happy to announce that Ron Howard's adaptation of "The Da Vinci Code" isn't nearly as bad as some of the critics made it sound (*** out of four). Oh, it's not that I disagree with what many of them had to say about the film: it is, after all, slow-paced, long, and not nearly as fun as it could have been. That said, it is fun to watch the litarary mystery visualized; the locations are exciting, and the acting is satisfactory (though a sleepwalking Tom Hanks has never been so forgettable, greasy hair notwithstanding...).

What I felt like was missing from the movie, though, was one of the book's greatest strengths: the code itself. As with the adaptations of many beloved novels, the screenplay seems so determined to fit in all the important locations and plot developments, it forgets to emphasize the mystery itself--Da Vinci and his paintings feel woefully underused in the movie, even though they played a major role (maybe the BEST role) in the book. This becomes apparent about 90 minutes into the movie, when Teabing (the spirited Ian McKellen) gives Robert and Sophie a Reader's Digest version of the grail lore using Da Vinci's "The Last Supper" as an example. Suddenly we realize what has been missing: the clues from the paintings that made the whole preposterous mystery so much fun. Although I thought the book was sometimes a little too dense with history, I think the movie could have benefitted from a little more--easier said than done, I realize. (Thank goodness I never have to adapt a bestselling novel to the screen!)

Oh, fans of the book won't be too upset--Dan Brown gave the movie his thumbs up and so do I; I'd rather have a movie that is too faithful to its source than one that completely ignores it. The movie is at times a little graphic--don't really know how you can sugar-coat a murderous, masochistic, albino monk (who by the way, isn't shy about showing his albino-bum to the be warned!). Not a bad way to spend two and a half hours, but you might be able to read the book in just as much time. Or you can just rent "National Treasure," and spend your time trying to decide whose hair looks more unnatural: Tom Hanks' or Nicholas Cage's (although I'm no fan of Tom Hanks' current hair, at least it's REAL hair...).

One final question: why does Paul Bettany's albino get to wear a cloth in the trailer (, but the movie has him naked? I'm guessing it was an issue where they filmed the scene both ways, and will use the clothed version for TV and airline viewings...doesn't really make sense to me, but that's my guess. One of these days I'll discuss the how this issue relates to the MPAA and Hollywood, but for now we'll settle on discussing the naked albino.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

"Mission: Impossible III"; Summer Box Office

  • "Mission: Impossible III"--I'm so happy to report that the circus freak that we know as Tom Cruise doesn't ruin this summer's first (and hopefully not last) big thrill ride. Under the capable direction of J.J. Abrams (co-creator of TV's current greatest show, "Lost"), the third installment of this franchise is injected with some life after a nearly franchise-ending "Mission: Impossible II." From the very beginning, the pace is quick, the acting is convincing and engaging (even from Mr. Cuckoo-Ca-Cruise), and it never slows down. The action scenes are terrific, and the plot is passable (not without its holes, but the story is secondary anyway). It's just what you want out of a summer movie, and a promising start to 2006's big summer season. (*** out of four).

In other news, I've been dying to get around to making some predictions as to the box office winners this summer. I'm basing these guesses on nothing more than my impressions of this summer's movies, but here goes:

  • The two biggest movies of the summer will be "Superman Returns" and "Pirates 2." That's a risky prediction because the biggest movie usually comes out in May, but I think these two will be huge, and will be fighting for upwards of $275 million. Captain Jack may just prove mighter than the Man of Steel...
  • I think "X3: The Last Stand" (what a dumb name) will probably fill in the third spot, with $230 million. Comic book fans are loving this summer.
  • Look for "The Da Vinci Code" to last throughout the summer, and probably end up with $200 million. Should endure beyond opening weekend (despite what Stephen King thinks) because it appeals to adults, who have a longer attention span than teenage boys.
  • "Mission: Impossible III" will end up with around $180 million--not bad for a third entry in a franchise, but lower than last year's "War of the Worlds" and the previous two "Mission" movies.
  • "Poseidon" could open decently, but will probably taper off with a final gross of around $150 million. Special effects only go so far without engaging characters...
  • Other probable $100 million hits: Adam Sandler's "Click," Vaughniston in "The Break-Up," Dreamworks' "Over the Hedge."
  • Possible disappointments: As much as I love Pixar, I fear that their car-heavy "Cars" will fall short of expectations--probably somewhere near $150 million (small by Pixar standards). Additionally, I smell stinkers with the tired "Garfield" and "Fast and the Furious" franchises.
  • Finally, the phenom that is "Snakes on a Plane": Even though internet chatters are loving the campy title and premise, it was only last year that "Anacondas" flopped at the box office--are airborne human-eating snakes that much more entertaining than Amazon human-eating snakes? I predict this will disappoint with less than $80 million--not bad for a cheap horror flick, but poor when compared to the amount of buzz it has received.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

New trailers for "Superman Returns," "Pirates 2," "Casino Royale"

Here are links for trailers to a couple of this summer's most anticipated movies, "Superman Returns" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest." The third link is to the new James Bond remake (or should I say James Blonde), "Casino Royale."

I've never graded movie trailers before, but I think tonight is a good time ot pull out the red pencil...personally, the trailer for "Superman" looks good and interesting (*** out of four), but can't keep from being giddy about some more "Pirates" mischief (**** out of four). Although I think James Bond in general has become a little bland and predictable, there are a few things about this new trailer which show a bit of promise (including more backstory about Bond), so we'll see (**1/2 out of four). What do you think? And what movies are you most excited about?

Monday, May 01, 2006

"Memoirs of a Geisha," "The Sentinel"

I saw two mediocre movies over the past couple weeks, so without further ado, here are my thoughts:

  • "Memoirs of a Geisha"--Probably the prettiest movie I've seen in a long time. The movie displayed its budget in every sparkly, glossy shot, and definitely deserved the Oscar love it got for costumes, cinematography, and art direction. I also have a soft spot for John Williams, whose emotional score was another of this films delights. That said, the acting, script, and direction just didn't live up to the pretty surroundings. The life of a geisha is clearly an interesting one, but this film's main character, Chiyo (played by the beautiful but Englishly-challenged Ziyi Zhang, from "Crouching Tiger..."), was difficult to feel for. I think the biggest mistake was asking actors who aren't proficient in English to try and emote using words that they clearly didn't understand--we watched half the movie in subtitles just to tell what was being said! In the end, we felt relatively little for poor Chiyo, and for an epic like this, you need a strong character to care about. Not bad, but definitely not as good as it is pretty. (** out of four)
  • "The Sentinel"--You'd think that pairing Michael Douglas and Jack Ba--I mean Kiefer Sutherland--together would have paid off in an entertaining battle for the loudest line-readings. Unfortunately, they're trapped in a surprisingly muddled and plot-hole ridden thriller, which wastes a lot of good talent. It makes me wonder a bit what Sutherland and his costars (Eva Longoria, Kim Basinger) were thinking when they read the script, since none of them has much to do other than stand around and wonder what Michael Douglas' character is up to. The pacing is inconsistent, the plot is incoherent, and the conclusion is ridiculous. With the exception of a few good chases and a cast that does its best, this was a real letdown. Watch "24" if you want to see an engaging political thriller. (** out of four)