Joe's Movie Reviews

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.


Post a Comment

<< Home