Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Angels & Demons

I thought The Da Vinci Code was moderately palatable. Nothing spectacular. Which is why I was surprised to see a sequel. The film made lots of money but just was not that good. Why someone chose to make a sequel is beyond my understanding. Angels & Demons was a waste of time. Of course, I watched it during an international I had nothing better to do.

Angels & Demonsis bad on many levels. Tom Hanks returns as Robert Langdon, who has been summoned to the Vatican to help solve the kidnapping of several Cardinals following the untimely death of the Pope. In a contrived and completely unbelievable turn of events, Langdon finds himself at the middle of a conspiracy within the Church. Langdon has a somewhat apostate view of church affairs so an intended irony exists in his effort to save the Institution while attempting to save the lives of thousands of residents and visitors to the Holy See (and surrounding area). The plot manages to squeeze and stretch reality with an impossible time line that often seems laughable. While solving Da Vinci Code-like riddles, Langdon manages to unravel the location where each Cardinal will be assassinated while trying to get ahead of the killer and solve the broader mystery. Langdon does not realize that he is a pawn who has been brought in to further the conspiracy.

This is where the plot really loses me. The plot relies heavily on Langdons ability to solve the mystery within an incredibly tight time line. There is also a scene where Langdon could easily have lost his life, in which case the broader plot could not have evolved properly and the entire elaborate set-up would have been for naught. There were other inconsistencies in the plot that just seemed to managing to get a helicopter on stand-by in the courtyard of the Vatican within minutes. Even a carefully orchestrated plot would fail to execute a time line so quickly and precisely...depending on such minute details as another individuals ability to string together riddles and solve them...just one minute one way or the other changes the outcome. Not likely.

The characters in Angels & Demons are woefully bad. The characters are flat and predictable. The stereotypes would probably create outrage in communities other than the Christian (Catholic) Church. I was shocked at how blatantly religious considerations were disregarded with complete impunity. I am not Catholic and was not offended by the film personally. But I could easily see how someone could find the material offensive. Not simply because of the conspiracy and behind the scenes politics demonstrated in the film, but by the treatment of several of the characters, who are one-dimensional caricatures. It seemed like some liberty may have also been taken with historical facts.

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Saturday, September 12, 2009


While searching for an interesting title to watch, I came across Intacto. The premise immediately captured my attention. Unfortunately, the concept was not executed as well as it could have been. Intacto exercises a premise where all people possess a certain amount of luck…most people very little. Those people are sort of pawns, whose photographs can be exploited to increase the power of those who possess them. Others possess a great deal of luck and can draw more luck from those around them. Whether they steal the luck of fellow passengers on a plummeting aircraft or inadvertently consume the luck of close family members in a fleeting moment of crisis. Either way, their ability to take the luck of persons less lucky makes the idea of luck more a commodity to be bartered away or taken with a touch rather than being a possession of the fickle wind of fate.

The idea of presenting luck in this manner is unique to me. I don’t recall having seen a storyline quite like this one. The plot was hard to follow at times, with subtlety being used to convey sometimes ambiguous ideas, which made things hard to follow. The pacing was seldom sluggish, but did bog down at times. The characters were well developed and interesting. The background on several characters was developed slowly, with biographies evolving during the course of the film. The rich and diverse characters, each with a gift that might be a curse, were believable within the context of the film. An undercurrent of love was threaded throughout the film leading to a theme that questioned which was stronger, luck or love. The ending was thoughtful, avoiding the easy path and allowing some interpretation.

I am unfamiliar with the work of Director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo and did not recognize the majority of the cast. The film sets seemed prop-ish at times, but was at its best when highlighting the rich architecture and gorgeous Spanish scenery. The film keeps viewers guessing a great deal, which was part of the films appeal. However, the sketchy nature of some of the exchanges was almost too cryptic. The themes were evident, but this is a film that needs to be watched over again to catch the minutia. Fresnadillo also co-wrote the film with Andres M. Koppel. The cast consisted of Leonaro Sbaraglia, Eusebio Poncela, Monica Lopez, Antonio Dechent, Max von Sydow (a face I recognized), Guillermo Toledo, Alber Ponte, Andrea San Vincente, Marisa Lull, Luis Mesonero, Jaime Losada and Susana Lazaro. The interaction of these players was convincing, even when I felt utterly confused, picking up the action piece by piece, where I could. Although sub-titled through a good portion of the film, the acting was convincing.

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Monday, September 7, 2009

Lions For Lambs

Lions For Lambs presents an overlapping drama that follows three story lines. The film attempts to challenge the conduct of the "War on Terror" through by tracking dialogue between a reporter and rising Senator, a Professor and a promising student, and two students who previously studied under the professor, who are involved in escalating operations in Afghanistan. The intertwining stories attempt to take an anti-war stance in a rather sophomoric plot that seems more preachy than touching. This film would have been more effective using a subtle message than to stand on a soapbox the way that this film manages to do. I watched it for entertainment...if I want a sermon, I can go to church for free.

There are several problems with the plot. The most glaring issue is the ending, which was both anti-climactic as well as boring. It seemed the writers used an unimaginative ending that was intended to be thought provoking in one aspect, and cliche in another. The ending left me wondering why I wasted 88 minutes on an unintelligent, unoriginal propaganda piece. The dialogue was okay at times, and utterly boring at others. The acting was shockingly bad. The major actors were upstaged by their unknown counterparts in this film. The segments that focused on the professor (Robert Redford) and his prize student (Andrew Garfield) felt more like an after school special than anything. However, Garfield was surprisingly likable and sharp in his role. The storyline between the Senator (Tom Cruise) and reporter (Meryl Streep) was a yawner...I've seen soap operas with more meat to them. Streep delivered on the emotional aspects surrounding her own inner turmoil, but the script left her with very little else to work with. The best segments surrounded the action in Afghanistan between friends (Michael Pena and Derek Luke). Although the special effects were laughable, the interaction between these two young actors was excellent. They were the bright spot in an otherwise forgettable film.

Lions For Lambs attempts to bring home the human side of the war through the soldiers fighting in Afghanistan. But Director Robert Redford and writer Matthew Michael Carnahan spent too much energy focused on the message and missed the opportunity to develop the action in Afghanistan. The two characters seemed genuine, with a back story that provided some depth to the characters, as well. The briefing room scene felt authentic and started to draw me in at the beginning of the film. But once the pair get on a helicopter, the opportunity seemed squandered. The action sequences were incredibly fake as was one characters decision to jump out of a helicopter in the middle of the mountains. No way. No how. The fact that he lands feet from his friend (and they both live) is even harder to swallow. The scenery for the rest of the action in Afghanistan seems like a bad Hollywood set. The low lighting was incapable of adding any realism to the scene. The ending of that segment was even harder to accept. Things just don't happen that way. The fact that Redford included induction notices for the two...when the draft hasn't been around for decades was another not-so-subtle attempt to engage in hyperbole.

The storyline involving Redford was preachy and a bit condescending. Although Redford's character (Professor Malley) claims to encourage free thinking and stimulate discussion (which was a major theme in this that it failed to observe)...his comments about the two soldiers in Afghanistan are a bit disturbing. Malley passes judgment on the two, summarizing their decision as a mistake...a wrong path chosen...and he accepts some of the "blame" for their decision. What is wrong with wanting to serve your country or make a decision to join the military. Many people would not consider that decision a "mistake," they would consider it patriotic or heroic. The judgmental language with no attempt at balance undermined the entire train of thought. The quality of the writing and video in this segment felt like an after school special. I disliked almost everything about that entire section of the movie.

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