Joe's Movie Reviews

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Goodbye, I'm A-Leavin'

I have often had cause to doubt that substantial numbers of people are actually reading these reviews, especially since this blog is devoted primarily to reviews of new, first run releases and I see very, very few of them, as a result of which the posts are few and far between (and who follows a blog with such infrequent posts?). However, I did start writing reviews of the movies I see at second-run theatres on the Hubpages site a little over three months ago, a site which, among other things, allows you to track the number of page views, both for individual reviews and cumulatively. I must say I have been very surprised: in the first two and a half months there were 400 page views, and in the two weeks since then another 200 for a current total of 600. Obviously, people are seeing the reviews there (I post them much more frequently there, of course). So I have decided to move the reviews of the infrequent new releases that I see to that site as well. I can't CALL them "Secondhand Reviews" (my name for the second-run movie reviews) of course, but I'm sure I'll come up with some appropriate name for them. At any rate, if there IS anybody reading this, and you want to continue to read my occasional reviews of new releases, you can go to Http://
That's the first column I wrote there, with reviews of "Up", "Star Trek" and "Drag Me To Hell", but it also contains links to every other review I've written for Hubpages, as well as a link "Other Hubs By JBunce", which will let you navigate to everything else as well. If there is anyone out there, I hope to see you at Hubpages soon...

Friday, October 23, 2009

Capitalism: A Love Story

I'd imagine that very nearly everyone has already decided what to think about this movie just because it's made by Michael Moore. Either it's an evil, communist conspiracy designed to tear down everything that's great about this country, or else it's perfect and utterly beyond any kind of criticism. I'll try to approach it as just another movie and hope that readers will take it on the same terms, whatever their politics may be. I suppose my own politics will inevitably show through... it's in the nature of any review of a film like this, I suppose... but this is going to be a movie review, not a political rant.

In this movie, Moore takes as his subject something that he's addressed briefly in some of his other movies, particularly his first, "Roger And Me"... the capitalist system by which the country is run, what it used to be at one time and what it has since become, and what might possibly be done to set the country back on course to being what it used to be. Obviously, it's a topic that stirs up extremely fierce debate. Let's try to not tear each other's throats out about it and attempt to discuss it without too much violence.

Among the most common criticism of Moore is that he doesn't present any other point of view in his films but his own. This is something I've never worried about: Moore is making the movie equivalent of newspaper or TV editorials, the whole POINT of which is to present the maker's personal opinions. Do Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly give the other point of view? For that matter, did Ben Stein give a liberal point of view in that Moore-like documentary he starred in about a year ago? And on the liberal side, Al Gore didn't exactly give non-global-warming advocates equal time in "An Inconvenient Truth". I also approach a Moore movie perfectly willing to accept his assurances that he loves his country and BECAUSE of that wants to see it become the best it can be. To be frank, it's actually inspiring at times to see how dedicated he is to that cause.

There can hardly be any dispute, whatever you think of his arguments, that Moore knows how to make a politically oriented documentary very entertaining. The opening sequence of an old movie about the Roman Empire accompanied by a narrator describing the things that brought it to collapse, accompanied by lightning-quick clips of contemporary American life with very direct parallels to the narration is both hysterically funny and somewhat frightening. The clip from "Jesus Of Nazareth" with dubbed dialogue from Christ in which, for example, he refuses to heal a man, saying "I cannot be responsible for his pre-existing condition", gets across Moore's point about what Christ would REALLY have thought about the state of health care and the economy today more memorably that any talking head. And the George W. Bush speach about the soundness of our economy featuring background animation of the building he's speaking in collapsing around him while people run by screaming and on fire... a real stitch.

But Moore has a serious message to impart, and it's not all jokes. We see clear examples of how benevolent the capitalist system used to be in the thirties through the fifties, even into the sixties... providing good jobs at fair wages, paid vacations and safe working conditions, never (well, hardly ever) taking unfair advantage of the poor. A system truly deserving of being called the best in the world. But even though Moore has often been accused of fudging the facts in his documentaries by choosing to present the facts only in ways that bolster his arguments, it cannot be disputed that, for instance, the major Wall Street wizard he interviews really DID say that "Capitalism is more important than democracy". And the sheriff evicting families really DID remark about groups attempting to re-occupy foreclosed properties "If people are living in these houses, people who want to purchase them won't have any place to live". Companies with names like Mortgage Vulture really DO take pride in how many people they can put out of their homes without caring about whether they have any place to go. And most frigtheningly, companies really DO take out "Dead Peasant" insurance policies (that's really what they're called) on their employees, so that when an employee dies, the company can benefit to the tune of millions of dollars while their family struggles to make ends meet. As Moore remarks, "There's a REASON I can't, or shouldn't, take out a policy against your home burning down, because that gives me a vested interest in your home burning down". If even HALF of what Moore is telling us is true... and I find it diffifult to believe it isn't more than that... then something is definitely wrong and needs to be fixed.

And Moore absolutely DOES believe that's possible. In spite of the amazing number of people I've heard commenting about the gloom & doom of the movie's conclusion, it is in fact inspirational. We see employee-owned-and-operated companies providing their staff with full benefits while actually making a decent profit (for those who think Moore is completely against the idea of profit). We see people using the power of the vote to change their situation (and are reminded that the richest 1% still only has 1% of the vote, while the rest of us have the other 99). We see large groups of citizens who have decided they've had enough of greed dominating the course of the country and decided to do something about it. And for folks who are convinced that Moore is a depraved socialist who thinks every single rich person is the devil, we even see level-headed, sensible quotes from people like Warren Buffet ("It's class warfare, and my class it winning... but it shouldn't be."

"Capitalism: A Love Story" IS a story about love: a man who loves his country, and is afraid of the direction he sees it going in. But a man who has NOT given up on the possibility of it being able to be repaired. He closes the film with "I refuse to live in a nation like this... and I'm not moving." If you think there's nothing that NEEDS to be fixed, that statement will probably upset you. But if you believe in America and want to see it live up to all of its potential, then you can only hope that the arguments Moore makes in this film will be heard across party and liberal/conservative lines (I should point out that Democrats take it on the chin in this movie as much as Republicans), and as a result we will be able to change, if not the world, then our own little portion of it.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Ong-Bak 2: The Beginning

About 4 1/2 years ago, in the spring of 2005, one of the movies you simply couldn't escape hearing about on the internet was a Thai import called "Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior". The star (and director, co-writer, and practically everything else), Tony Jaa, was hailed as the next coming of Bruce Lee, and the film was supposed to be the start of a legend. As impressive a fighter as he was (and he most definitely was impressive), I found Jaa's film to be a bit lacking in a number of key areas. I thought that if he matured as a film maker he could really be something. (He's made a few films in the intervening years, but most of them haven't had much in the way of distribution in the U.S.). Now, we have what isn't exactly a sequel... or even a prequel, really (as such)... but close enough. And while Jaa isn't a world-class film maker yet, he's clearly made some promising steps in that direction.

The first "Ong-Bak" was a modern-day film, and when I heard that this one was set several hundred years in the past, I assumed it must be about an ancestor of Ong-Bak. Well, it sort of is (you'll have to see the movie to understand that "sort of"). Our hero is named Tien (played again by Jaa), introduced to us as a young boy of perhaps ten years old, trapped in the middle of a war in which an invading army is taking over his country and facing little if any obstruction from the official government. His family killed by the invading forces, Tien finds a new home with a band of outlaws who have been extremely impressed by his fighting prowess and offer to train him in weapons and martial arts. Taking up the offer, Tien grows to be a fierce, fighting leader determined to liberate his people.

Some necessary caveats: I totally understand and sympathize with people who have a low tolerance for violence... for the most part, unless it's really essential to the film, I'm not a real lover of violence either (he says, the day before he plans to see "Inglorious Basterds"). But let's face it, this is a martial arts movie, and really gentle souls should probably stay away. Also, genuine Asian martial arts films often have elements and plot twists that you would never in your life see in a similar American release, and which American audience might find difficult to handle. And this is a very genuine Asian film (complete with English subtitles). Just to let you know.

That established, I want to make it clear that Jaa has become an absolute master of martial arts, and the rather thin story and characterization in the first "Ong-Bak" have deepened: you really get to know who Tien and the other characters are. And Tien is not just a fighting machine: you get to know him as a basically gentle man, who loves his country and only wants to live there in peace with his family, and takes up fighting only to set things right (in this respect as well, he truly is the heir of Bruce Lee). When fighting isn't needed, he's more than willing to do things in a peaceful way, and a number of times demonstrates his deep sense of mercy. You don't often get characters this well-rounded in an action movie.

Okay, I've managed to write four paragraphs without going into detail about the action scenes, so here's what you've probably been waiting for: they're spectacular. How many times have you seen the old cliche of one man fighting a army of opponents who do him the courtesy of lining up to take him on one at a time? Not in "Ong-Bak II", where you often see Tien taking on four, five or more opponents at once. You even see him battling one opponent behind him with kicks from his LEFT foot while taking care of another foe in front of him with his RIGHT foot (leaving his arms free, of course, to take on enemies on both sides). And none of those fake Hollywood digital effects, either: what you see Jaa do, he's really doing. Even the stuff that seems to be humanly impossible. Small details are not ignored in the fight scenes, either, as in a shot where an enemy approaches Tien to begin a duel and as Tien approaches him with absolute Zen-like calm, the camera zooms in on a single bead of sweat rolling down his enemy's face (letting you know that he realizes full well what he's facing).

Now, I'm not saying that Tony Jaa is Zhang Yimou or Wong Kar-Wai (or even Jackie Chan as a film maker) quite yet. There are continuity errors, a character or two who suddenly acts in a way contradictory to how they've acted up to that point (because the script demands it), and some scenes that made me go "Hey, wait a minute... why did he do that when it would have made more sense for him to do that other thing?" But ultimately, when a film provides this much action and excitement, filmed as lavishly as this one (it must have had a large budget) and keeps you shaking your head in amazement thinking you couldn't have possibly seen the hero do what you thought he did, you're probably willing to let some things slide. Jaa is clearly getting better as a director (among MOST of his other many tasks on this film: it's hard to imagine him improving as a martial artist), and I'm sure later films will reflect this. In the meantime, he's given us a pretty amazing slice of action in "Ong-Bak II: The Beginning".

By the way, given the setting several hundred years in the past, you don't really need to have seen "Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior" in order to understand this movie. However, having seen it might make a few particular lines in the film's voiceover narration clearer to you, and give you a much different idea about how this movie actually turns out than audience members who haven't. In fact, I suspect some newcomers to Tony Jaa's movies might be rather confused, while those who've seen the first Ong-Bak will be going "Ahh, so THAT's the explanation!" (I wish I could be more explicit without giving away too much.) So it couldn't HURT to watch the first "Ong-Bak" before seeing this one, if you haven't already. It's not on the same level of quality, but Jaa is still an amazing fighter to watch. So why not?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Lessons To Learn

1. "No Impact Man".
We all know about the importance of minimizing our "carbon footprint", and many of us are doing everything we can to eliminate it completely. At least, we THINK we're doing everything we can. Once you see the example of Colin Beaven, you may have second thoughts about that.

Beaven is a New York writer who decided in 2006 to live a life style that would completely eliminate any environmental impact for one year. That means, among other things, no non-local food, no mechanized transportation, no electricity... essentially, completely eliminating the things that many contemporary folk would consider the basics of comfortable living. But there's more: as difficult as this would be under any circumstances, Beaven happens to live in the absolute center of technological living: Manhattan. AND he had a wife who's addicted to shopping and can't get through a day without her Starbuck's. AND they had a daughter who was just two years old. This movie documents their multiple struggles.

The commitment that Beaven shows to his difficult plan is, on the one hand, admirable (if not really possible to follow one hundred percent). On the other, there are times when his wife agonizes about the genuine hardships it's causing and Beaven responds with what appears to be a certain callousness: a shrug and a "of course it's difficult, but this is important", without any real indication that he's sympathizing with her. The film does show him expressing a few self-doubts from time to time, but these never connect with what anyone else is feeling, and I almost have to wonder if Beaven is throwing them in for the benefit of the camera (and remember the old expression about the very act of observing something changing the nature of the thing being observed).

But nonetheless, Beaven's motives aside, "No Impact Man" is not only a very well-made film, but there still is a lot to be learned from it. Beaven enters the project fully admitting that he won't be so extreme after the end of his year and that not everybody can or should follow his example precisely. The project was designed to try all possible avenues of reducing environmental impact to see which ones work and which don't, which should be followed and which should perhaps not. The movie does show us that a good many things that are extremely simple and easy can have an enormous impact: something as basic as no take-out food for a year can mean thousands fewer take-out containers in landfills, for instance... and that's not even mentioning no Starbuck's cups for a year. Even no mechanized transportation in the middle of Manhattan isn't as difficult at it may seem. Multiply this by thousands... or more... people following similar behaviour patterns and we really are talking about changing the world.

"No Impact Man" makes a good companion piece to books like "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and "Fast Food Nation" and the recent documentary "Food, Inc." All of those books/films show us what the problem consists of and hints at a few things that can be done about it. This film gets down to specifics and shows us what out own individual parts in solving the environmental crisis could be. And no, it's definitely not a dry, boring lecture. If Colin Beaven isn't necessarily a person you (or I) would want to be, he can at least show us a way to be the person WE would want to be. It opens locally at the Lagoon Theatre on Friday, October 2nd.

2. "The Burning Plain".
Guilliermo Arriaga is a master screenwriter from Mexico who has been involved in some very powerful films over the past decade such as "Amores Perros", "21 Grams", "Babel" and Tommy Lee Jones' directorial debut, "The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada". He has established himself as a movie equivalent of some of the great Latino writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jose Saramago, with a similar way of using just the right amount of melodrama and occasional touches of "magical realism", and in particular has become associated with what is now a genre unto itself: the film with multiple paralell storylines and characters that seems at first to be telling several different stories but eventually ties together into one. In "The Burning Plain", he finally makes his own directorial debut, and shows that he has learned well from the directors for whom he has provided scripts in the past.

A cafe owner lives an empty life of affairs with different men every week, not feeling any emotion, and physically scarring herself just so she can feel something. A married Mexican man becomes involved in an affair with a married Anglo woman that will result in tragedy and trauma for both them and their respective families. A similar relationship between Mexican and Anglo teenagers not only faces parental anger and disapproval, but possible obstacles because of of a dark secret that the girl won't talk about, but that has clearly devastated her. Yes, folks, love hurts. And in "The Burning Plain" (the title is explained in the very first scene), it hurts big time.

If you've seen more than just a few of these multiple-story films (and odds are you probably have), you know how they usually work and how they tie together. But you likely won't know how "The Burning Plain" ties together: several times I thought I had it figured out, but it kept surprising me. It all makes perfect sense after the fact, but you won't see it coming, and that alone earns it more than a few points from me. Arriaga cares for his characters (in this and all his films) and doesn't WANT them to suffer, but he knows that we often have to in order to "get over to the other side" and earn our redemption. In this movie he does shows us this in provocative, poweful ways in a story that often illustrates the Biblical concept of the sins of the fathers (and mothers) being visited upon the second and even third generations. AND how they can be overcome.

The cast is for the most part unknown (at least to me), but you'll remember their performances for a long time. It's like the movie is a hidden-camera documentary of real people's lives, not a bunch of actors playing roles. A few famous names appear: Charlize Theron co-stars as the restaurant owner, in a role that offers her one of her all-too-rare opportunities to actually act and show what a strong performer she can be when she isn't limited to being just eye candy. Kim Basinger plays the adulterous Anglo woman (where has she been in recent years?), and makes a surprisingly strong impact (I'll admit to not being her biggest fan in the past).
Some awards shows have awards specifically for "Best ensemble cast". "Bruning Plain" ought to have every one of those awards sewn up right now.

This is the kind of movie that I've often had trouble in the past convincing people to see: when I describe it I'll hear a lot of whining about "Oh, that sounds despressing,I don't want to see THAT!". As if a movie always has to make you feel good in a conventional way in order to be a good movie. Or as if a movie can't possibly make you feel good by showing characters never really struggling with their pain and trauma... seriously, how can you overcome it if you don't struggle with it? But for those with a bit of an open mind, "The Burning Plain" counts as a GENUINE feel-good movie: one that doesn't pretend that pain doesn't exist or that life is perfect, or that it's easy to overcome the burdens of a troubled past... but also one that shows that for those not afraid to tackle their demons head-on, they CAN be overcome and that while life will never be perfect, it can be worth living. Sounds to me like a good lesson to learn. It opens locally on Friday, September 24th at the Lagoon Theatre. Yes, that's going to be one busy theatre for fans of quality films.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

New Blog

For some time now I've dedicated this blog almost exclusively to reviews of movies I've seen as new, first run releases, though the majority of what I see is second run (with the occasional exception like "Angels & Demons" because of a request and "Day The Earth Stood Still" because it had been too long since I'd written a negative review). I finally decided it might be time to start a new blog specifically for reviews of the second-run titles. I've hesitated to do this for several reasons, not the least of them being that a movie that's been out long enough to get into the second run theatres has probably already been seen by about 3/4 of its potential audience. However, I suppose there are a large number of people who wait for the DVD, so maybe you can consider these to be DVD reviews (me, I've never owned a DVD player and never watched a movie that way). Anyhow, the new blog is called "Secondhand Reviews" and can be found at
It currently has one review posted there, for the newest animated film from Pixar, "Up". I'll probably be posting one for "Star Trek" later this week.

I do plan to continue using this space for reviews of the first-run films I see, but if you have any interest in my comments on the slightly older stuff (not that you should, at least not if you're in your right mind) you now have that option.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


A father and son deal with their strained relationship, while father also contends with his wife abandoning him and son deals with his long-term unemployment. A homeless man kills himself and is immediately sent back to be the guardian angel of a lonely widower. A repo man begins an extremely unlikely romance with a supermodel. And much more. And all of this in claymation. Yes, it's another one of those Altmanesque claymation extravaganzas. Can't they ever think of anything original?

This Australian effort is one of the most dazzling, amazing films of the year... the year technically being 2008, since it received a token screening late in the year at a couple of theatres to qualify for the animation Oscars, but not only didn't get nominated, but wasn't even able to receive distribution until now. There are those who contend that the more original a film is, the more difficult it is to get large numbers of people interested in it. "$9.99" would seem to go a long way towards proving their case.

The title refers to the price of a series of self-help book published by an Australian publishing company, books which the previously referenced son continues to pour over in search for the secret of life, happiness, and a real relationship with his dad, who seems perpetually disappointed that he didn't turn out to be the manly take-charge hardcase that he (dad) tried to teach him to be. But the son isn't by any means the only character in the film who has trouble finding security and happiness. The repo man, the supermodel (yes, this movie performs the seemingly impossible feat of giving us a supermodel who is intelligent, sympathetic and caring), the widower... each of them has seemingly all they could want, except a happy and fulfilled life. Even the angel is bitter and resentful at never having even gotten into heaven before being sent back to Earth.

But unless you get the wrong impression and imagine that this is nothing but a depressing story of lost hopes and dreams, I should point out that it also contains bigger laughs that just about any comedy of the past several years. In particular, Oscar-winner Geoffrey Rush as the angel is nothing short of hysterical, a snarky, sarcastic angel who's light-years away from the gentle, reflective angels of "Wings Of Desire" (when the widower gazes at his wings and exclaims in amazement "Are you an angel?", Rush snaps back "No, I'm a giant, talking pigeon!"). The fact is,
"$9.99" is filled with hilarious comedy, serious and even tragic drama, uplifting moments showing the connection and happiness that IS possible even when everything seems lost... in short, pretty close to everything that you run into in life. The film is, in fact, much more like real life than most live action movies. And when you consider that the entire cast is made of clay, and features a number of supernatural creatures (not just the angel) that's an especially remarkable achievement.

The film is based on a series of short stories by an Australian writer named Etgar Keret (which I have not read but am certainly going to look for now), and adapted by Keret and director Tatia Rosenthal. I'm guessing most audience members wouldn't have guessed that the pieces were all conceived separately, given how smoothly and seamlessly Keret and Rosenthal have woven them all together. Each individual element of the tapestry has considerable strength on their own, but the film becomes more than the sum of its parts when they're all added together.

For a brief while at the very beginning, I did have to wonder a question put in a thread on the IMDB message board for this film: "Why did it have to be made in claymation?" Certainly, the story COULD have been told in live action, or even in the more standard forms of animation. But there's something about claymation... the most obviously not immediately life-like form of animated film... that seems especially fitting here. The mystical, supernatural aspects of the story seem very down to earth and logical when you're watching them in a form of storytelling that makes everything seem not exactly of this world as we know it. And the extremely realistic human drama of other sections (particularly the father/son relationship, featuring an outstanding vocal performance by Anthony Lapaglia as the father) are given a certain element of magic that they could never have had if the story had been told any other way. In fact, "magic" is pretty much the word that best describes this movie as a whole. It's a marvelous story of the magic that we can find all around us if we know where to look and how to look in the right way... and the magic that can be found even in some of the most seemingly mundane situations. As such, it's so thoroughly un-Hollywood commercial that it probably won't get very wide distribution and won't last long where it does play. So when it opens soon at the Lagoon Theatre in Minneapolis... and hopefully somewhere near anyone reading this elsewhere... please go to see it. There just isn't enough magic in the movies these days to not support it when it comes around.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

By Request: Angels And Demons

Just a note to begin with: anyone who has read much of this blog in the past (and if you have, my sympathies) knows that I normally only review films I've seen first-run, and I see MOST movies SECOND-run... which is why there aren't more reviews here than there are. I've never really explained my reason for this, and there are actually two. (1) I've always figured that any movie that's been out long enough to get to the second run discount houses is something that a whole lot of people have already seen, and if you've already seen it, why would you want to read a review of it? And, (2) even if you haven't seen it, there've been so many reviews published by that point that the last thing you'd be interested in is another one, from me. However, I actually got a specific request for a review of "Angels & Demons" (which I saw yesterday at the Hopkins Theatre), and I thought I'd specify here that if, for some strange and twisted reason, anyone is interested in seeing a review here of some specific film that's been out for a while, maybe about to or already in second run... just ask and I'll be glad to do it. I take requests is basically what I'm saying. Of course, most art-house and indie films don't get to second run (which is why, sadly, I don't see as many as I'd like) and there are some movies (like, say, "Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past") that I not only haven't see but don't plan to see even at discount prices (and I could have yesterday, as it was also playing at the Hopkins). However, in most cases I should be able to accomodate most requests. And now, onward...
I tend to praise indie and somewhat experimental films on this blog more than the commercial, big-studio Hollywood stuff, but that shouldn't be taken to mean I can't enjoy a well-made commercial blockbuster... it's just that over the years there have gotten to be fewer and fewer of those. But I grew up (Hah! I grew up... that's a good one!) on commercial Hollywood movies, and it's still very satisfying when I'm (on occasion) able to find one as enjoyable as I did in my younger years. I found that to be the case with "The Davinci Code", and it happened again with the follow-up, "Angels And Demons" (if it can truly be called a follow-up, since the book was actually published first, though the movie turns it into a sequel).

It seems that the Illuminati, an ancient order of radical devotees of science that was persecuted by the early church, has returned for revenge. They've stolen a container of anti-matter, and kidnapped four of the Vatican Cardinals who were about to vote to elect the new Pope, planning to kill one each hour beginning at 8 p.m., then explode the anti-matter at midnight, destroying the Vatican and much of Rome. Symbology Professor Robert Langdon has been called in to decipher the ancient clues that will enable them to stop the plan.

Not exactly Shakespeare, right? Well, no, but so what? The critics I admire the most are people like Roger Ebert who can acknowledge a well-made film whether it's intellectual & artistic, or pure escapism. And Ron Howard is about as as good a director of commercial movies as Hollywood has got these days. He's done a fine job on both of his Dan Brown adaptations giving us fast-paced, well-acted thrillers that also give you a little to think about. That's certainly more than most directors of action movies seem to able to accomplish.

I found "Angels & Demons" to be perhaps just a LITTLE less thrilling than "The Davinci Code", as the passages of dialogue to clue the audience in on ancient texts they couldn't be expected to know about were somewhat more noticeable, and there wasn't really a standout supporting performance like Ian Mckellan's Sir Leigh Teabing in "Davinci", but even so, it's a quite enjoyable movie. It helps the story tremendously to have an actor in the lead who's believable as an action hero who might not be as brawny as most but is certainly brainier... with all due respect to Bruce Willis, it's hard to imagine him being as believable decoding ancient religious symbols as it is to watch Tom Hanks doing the same. And quality actors like Ewan Mcgregor and Armin Mueller-Stahl help to ensure a high level of performance overall. The novel is some 700 pages, but Howard manages to keep a surprising amount of the plot essentials... and even when he has to jettison some, he does so very creatively. For instance, a very prominent sub-plot from the book had to go from the movie for reasons of length, but that subplot featured the main suspect for most of the sinister goings-on. But Howard (and screenwriters David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman) was able to not only come up with another suspect from among the already existing characters, but also to work him into the plot in a way that makes it seem like this character had ALWAYS been the suspect.

And as far as the issue of the controversies about the film: well, I'll admit that I'm not Catholic (never have been), so maybe I'm not able to see things from the same perspective as that of True Catholic Believers. But it seems to me that this story ultimately has a very positive image of what faith can mean to the world, and of the church that is the public image of that faith. It comes out against unthinking extremism on the part of BOTH the church and the secular forces of science, but says that it's entirely possible for the two to work together towards the same goals as allies, and I don't see anything heretical or evil about that.

At this point, Ron Howard is one of the few Hollywood directors whose work I can reliably look forward to, whether he's doing something more serious like "Frost/Nixon", or more in the blockbuster mode, like his two Dan Brown films (and I could REALLY go on for ages about "Apollo 13"). If some other director winds up doing the film version of Dan Brown's upcoming third Langdon novel, "The Lost Symbol", I'd be a little worried about the result, but if Howard gets the job again (and with Hanks in the lead), I'll be waiting in line enthusiastically.