Angels & Demons is the 2009 sequel to 2006's The Da Vinci Code, with Ron Howard returning as director. It stars Tom Hanks, reprising his role as Professor Robert Langdon, and also stars Ewan McGregor, Ayelet Zurer, and Stellan Skarsgard. It is also the first live-action sequel to star Tom Hanks.
The Roman Catholic Church mourns the sudden death of Pope Pius XVI, and the papal conclave prepares to elect a new pope. Four of the cardinals, each who is favorited to potentially become the next pope, are kidnapped by someone claiming to represent the Illuminati. The kidnapper threatens to kill each cardinal one by one, and then detonate a bomb that would destroy all of Vatican City. The Vatican calls upon Robert Langdon to help rescue the four cardinals and save Vatican City.
As I noted in my review of The Da Vinci Code, many of the plot points revolve around fictitious takes on ideas that are central to the Catholic faith. One example is the Holy Grail representing a woman and not a cup. Any educated Catholic can tell you this is simply not true.
Is this any different in Angels & Demons? Yes and no. First, the bomb that is used to potentially destroy Vatican City is composed of antimatter, which in reality, doesn't have quite the explosive results that the book and film indicate (I am no expert scientist, so I can't explain any major scientific details involved with how antimatter works). Secondly, Ron Howard seems to insist on cranking up the level of absurdity, and its glaringly obvious. It's appropriate to say The Da Vinci Code has high amounts of absurdity, but it seems much more prominent in Angels & Demons.
For starters, Robert Langdon seems to have taken the time in between The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons to masterfully craft his wizardry in code-cracking and puzzle-solving. Langdon asks a hefty amount of questions in the first film, and it sometimes takes him a little longer to find the next clue. This time, Langdon seems to go from check point to check point, and figure out what to do next with little to no hesitation. Either he's secretly a puzzle savant, or the Illuminati does a terrible job of covering their tracks. If that wasn't enough, the entire quest to rescue the cardinal and save Vatican City takes place over the course of around 5 hours. And these are not simple shoot-em-in-the-head murders by the kidnapper. The kidnapper attempts to murder each cardinal in a specialized way (I will refrain from spoiling what that is).
- The cinematography. One strength that Angels & Demons can flex is its cinematography. The many Churches we observe have wonderful artwork, and Vatican City makes for many gorgeous-looking overhead shots. If you're looking to tour somewhere abroad, I would highly recommend Vatican City as an option.
- Angels & Demons has a lot of creative potential. Sadly, neither Ron Howard nor screenwriters Akiva Goldsman and David Koepp are able to fully execute it. Tom Hanks is too easily able to uncover the mystery, and the Illuminati villain is far too one-dimensional to be convincing. All we learn is that our evil group despises the Catholic Church, and when they start doing bad stuff, the heroes will come to save the day.
Sadly, Angels & Demons fails to improve upon its predecessor, resulting in a dull and ridiculous mystery thriller that is sometimes far too predictable. The potential to be interesting and creative is there, but you'll ultimately find yourself pretty less than satisfied.
The Da Vinci Code is a 2006 mystery thriller film directed by Ron Howard and stars Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellan, and Jean Reno. The film is based on the best-selling 2003 novel by Dan Brown.
The movie was highly controversial (as was the book), receiving harsh criticism from the Roman Catholic Church, with many members encouraging others to boycott the film.
Tom Hanks plays Robert Langdon, a Harvard professor who teaches religious iconography and symbology. He becomes the primary suspect in the murder of Jacques Sauniere, whose body contains a strange cipher. Langdon escapes custody with the help of police cryptologist Sophie Neveu (Tautou), and the two become involved in a mysterious quest for the Holy Grail. Langdon and Neveu are also being pursued by French police captain Bezu Fache (Reno). The two later meet with Sir Leigh Teabing (McKellan), Langdon's long-time friend who explains to them the "truth" behind the Holy Grail.
It's one thing for a work of literature or film to parody and/or create satire of politics, the government, or religion. Monty Python's Life of Brian is a great example of religious satire which also happened to draw criticism from several religious groups. The issue with the Da Vinci Code is that it fails to use its material to provide a convincing commentary or argument, whether it'd be on Catholicism or religion in general. The film, instead, has the audacity to take several details that are quite central and vital to the Catholic faith, and spin them in a fictitious way that really adds up to a whole lot of nothing.
The Da Vinci Code claims that Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene were a married couple who produced a daughter named Sara. The film also claims that the Holy Grail is not a cup, but is actually Mary Magdalene herself. Anyone with at least decent knowledge of the Catholic faith knows neither of these statements are true. The next question someone might ask is, "What's the point?" Are these alterations to what Catholics believe just supposed to be a gimmick for creating a mystery thriller? Seven (1995) uses the seven deadly sins, also found in Catholicism, as a gimmick without any major alterations, and that resulted in a tense and exciting thriller.
- The pacing. It seems strange of me to compliment the pacing of a film that is regarded as dull and bloated with a nearly two and a half hour run time. Surprisingly though, the film does a commendable job of keeping things moving, not letting itself get too bogged down in one particular scene. Could some scenes have been cut out during editing? Sure. There is a minor twist midway through that really contributes nothing to the film overall, and there are several scenes of one of the villains whipping himself and also assaulting a nun, which provide little more than petty character development.
Still, Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou traverse their quest at a reasonable pace, and brief, but necessary moments of excitement are meshed in.
- Hans Zimmer's soundtrack. Mr. Zimmer brings his A-game, no matter the film. The haunting sounds of the opening theme grab your attention right away, and the music doesn't miss a beat, literally and figuratively.
- The uneven script/writing. Despite the pacing, Akiva Goldsman's script is almost all exposition. About 85 percent of Ian McKellan's dialogue is explaining theories and historical facts. Hanks and Tautou spend most of their time insisting on being as inquisitive as possible. Once one idea is understood and enough questions are answered, a new one springs up to take its place, and we have to get through another round of questions before we can move on. Everything may be easier to follow, but as a result, the writing squeezes out room for showing and expressing. How different would the Catholic faith be if Jesus, while being crucified, strictly explained or flat out say he came to die for our sins?
It may be highly controversial, but The Da Vinci Code does have some redeeming qualities as a mildly pleasing mystery thriller. Several of its key plot points are inaccurate and the script is one of almost pure exposition, but the pacing is reasonable enough that the film won't feel quite as long as its run time indicates. Tom Hanks has plenty of other, more acclaimed films to his name, but after you may view all those other said films, this is one that is eventually worth a look.
Recommend? Yes, but don't go out of your way to see it.
The Best Years of our Lives is a 1946 drama film directed by William Wyler and stars Dana Andrews, Frederic March, Teresa Wright, Myrna Loy, Virginia Mayo, and Harold Russell. The film won 7 Oscars which included Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay along with Best Picture.
Three men return home after serving in World War II. They are Fred Derry (Andrews), Homer Parrish (Russell), and Al Stephenson (March). Fred Derry is an Air Force Captain and bombardier who returns to his old job at a drugstore. Homer lost both of his hands aboard a sinking aircraft carrier. Al served as a platoon sergeant and returns to his old job as a bank loan officer. The three men struggle with readjusting to civilian life; Fred is married to a woman (Mayo) that he is not in love with, Homer struggles with now using hooks for his hands, and Al tries to re-engage with a family that grew up without him.
Anyone would probably tell you that the best years of their life was when they felt their life had reached a joyous climax that could never possibly be reached again. So how does that correspond to three men returning home from a lingering experience full of violence, bloodshed, and death (a.k.a war)? Initially, Fred, Homer, and Al believe they're living anything but the best years of their lives. They might be back within the warm comforts of their families and former domestic lifestyles, but trying to readjust is like trying to fit a round peg into a square hole.
Fred, Homer, and Al each come to have a sort of reawakening, finding ways to thrive and make the most out of what they do possess. Fred is dismayed by his wife and his job, but when he begins to fall for another woman, his happiness and passion for love is rekindled, as he now has something to strive for. Homer suffers greatly from having to use hooks for hands, but despite all his frustration, his fiancee Wilma never leaves his side. Al contemplates giving out a loan to a young Navy veteran, and later gives a speech to express his passion for the war veterans and all those who risked their lives.
These three men aren't morally scarred in the way the boys in All Quiet on the Western Front are, and their gratitude for returning safely home slowly transforms into happy and memorable experiences upon their civilian readjustment.
- The scene(s) where each men return home to their loved ones. If you've ever seen a video of someone who serves in the military returning home and surprising their family, it's a heartwarming scene that is bound to move even the most hardened of hearts. It's no exception in 1946 cinema, with hugs and embraces that give the film that feel-good mojo to energize it throughout.
- The balance between the three men. Fred, Homer, and Al are all given reasonable and equal screen time, with one not overshadowing any other. William Wyler carefully handles each of the trio, and the script provides deep and meaningful examinations into the new lives of each man, as well as how daunting the struggle is for all three. Each man has a different story and a different perspective, yet we sympathize with all three.
- The run-time. The Best Years of our Lives runs for 172 minutes (2 hours and 52 minutes), which is quite the bear for a casual viewer. While it's plenty of time to really explore all of the characters, the film gradually slows down about 2 hours in, and at this point, things might begin to feel monotonous. We can only watch our select group of characters interact for so long until we begin to realize that the plot is starting to lose steam. I feel a run-time around 135-140 minutes would've been very suitable.
Though the film is quite lengthy, The Best Years of our Lives is still a feel-good and heartwarming delight. It holds up quite well today, and most likely will hold up for years to come.
Recommend? Yes. Schedule time out of a day if you plan on seeing it.
You just can't win with drugs and alcohol
The Lost Weekend is a 1945 film noir directed by Billy Wilder and stars Ray Milland and Jane Wyman. The film is based on the 1944 novel of the same name by Charles. R. Jackson. It won four Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Don Birnam (Milland) is a writer preparing for a long weekend vacation with his brother, Wick (Phillip Terry). Don struggles mightily with a severe alcohol addiction, and his girlfriend, Helen (Wyman) does whatever she can to morally support him and help him stay on his feet. Don misses out on going on the vacation with Wick, and gives in to his addiction, causing him major grief and distress over the weekend.
Addictions can be a detrimental thing, whether it'd be a drug addiction, video game addiction, pornography addiction, the list goes on and on. To this day, there are many people out there that really indulge in addictions and have no self-control. That is why the story of Don Birnam and his abuse of alcohol is a story that still rings very true today.
Birnam will do whatever it takes to get alcohol, hiding bottles all over his apartment, and stealing money from others, including his own brother, to buy drinks at a local bar. There is one noteworthy shot where Birnam is sitting in a chair in his apartment and we see a full glass sitting on the table next to him. The camera zooms into the glass, as if to resemble Birnam fully submitting to his addiction. There are several shots later on where Birnam is walking down a street, and the background is blurry and slightly disoriented. These are shots to exemplify how Birnam is completely out of sorts, and his life is spiraling downward.
- Birnam's emotions and body language. Ray Milland makes Don Birnam into someone who is constantly agitated, as he is always trying to do whatever he can to acquire alcohol, and have nobody preventing him from doing so. He keeps demanding a bartender to pour him drinks, and he keeps insisting to Helen that he is broken and worthless. The slow, drunk walks truly show what a dumpster fire that Don Birnam has become. His grotesque, unshaven face and ruffled hair are physical signs of his unraveling. If you do not know how hard an addiction can be on someone, Mr. Birnam will give you a clear-cut display.
- The narrative exposition makes the plot feel uneven. The film progresses like normal until Birnam is in a bar and begins to talk about when he first met Helen. At this point, the movie begins to play out lengthy flashbacks, which creates some confusion as to when we can tell if we are in the past or the present. It's important to get relevant background information on our characters, but the line between Birnam's present-day alcoholism and what happened to him in the past begins to become blurry and unclear.
The Lost Weekend presents a solid and timeless example of the underlying dangers of not just alcohol, but addictions in general. Ray Milland's Don Birnam is a character whose struggles and lack of self-control are very heartfelt. It pains to me to say that I am certain there are many people out there who have their life in total shambles, much in the same way as Mr. Don Birnam.
Going My Way is a 1944 musical comedy-drama film directed by Leo McCarey and stars Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald. The film won 7 Academy Awards out of a total of 10 nominations, which included Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actor along with Best Picture.
Going My Way follows the youthful and upbeat priest, Father Charles O'Malley (Crosby), who is sent to St. Dominic's Church in New York to be the new assistant to the elderly Father Fitzgibbon (Fitzgerald). The Church is struggling with financial problems, and Fitzgibbon does not, initially, take kindly to O'Malley's recreational habits and attitude. O'Malley later befriends a group of boys who agree to be the church's new choir.
Going My Way is not one of those religious shove-it-down-your-throat films, despite taking place in a religious setting. The film is more so a sweet and joyous musical viewing with O'Malley claiming he wants to look upon, "the brighter side of religion." O'Malley's youth clashes with Fitzgibbon's elderly and conservative ways of thinking. O'Malley loves to golf, talk about baseball with the group of boys he befriends, and hops over a bush which Fitzgibbon attempts to do later on. Fitzgibbon is annoyed by the group of boys singing Three Blind Mice and attempts to get O'Malley removed from St. Dominic's. Eventually, Fitzgibbon warms up to O'Malley, and the two become good friends.
I suppose the film is trying to tell us to either take advantage and make the most of one's youth, or that the elderly should not look disdainfully on the young. But with that underlying theme aside, Going My Way finds its strength in its songs and the positive energy of Crosby.
- Bing Crosby's singing and overall performance. Crosby's beautiful baritone voice is a delight to listen to in an age where there was no Auto tune or technology to significantly alter the way we hear someone's singing voice (Rebecca Black, take note). All of his songs are set up well, and they never drone on too long. The icing on the cake is he is usually accompanied by the group of boys who provide their own voices to further complement Crosby's. You might find yourself wanting to sing along when they perform "Swinging on a Star." Not only is Crosby's voice a pleasure to listen to, but his overall performance is one that was very deserving of Best Actor. He is always in a cheerful mood and always know how to handle a difficult situation, such as dealing with two boys who steal a turkey. O'Malley's always positive attitude never becomes happy-go-lucky or overly sweet.
- Going My Way is a little bit lacking in the humor department. Several moments will make you chuckle, but the comedy aspect does not balance very well with the musical and dramatic aspects. Early on, O'Malley goes to retrieve a baseball from under a truck. He crawls under the truck, and you could probably guess that something is going to come by to make him wet or coat him in mud. A horse carriage comes by and causes O'Malley's clothes to become soaked. It's a supposedly humorous moment that isn't all that funny because you expect it to happen.
There aren't that many situations like the one I just described, but overall, the humor doesn't evoke more than a simple chuckle out of you. I am not asking for the film to be laugh-out-loud funny, but more clever humor would've blended together nicely with the songs and dramatic parts of the film.
Going My Way is a delightful musical experience featuring wonderful singing by Bing Crosby and the choir of boys. Some might say it's overly sweet, but it's difficult to resist the good mood the film will put you in at the end of the day.
It's Gone Girl, except...it's not
The Girl on the Train is a mystery thriller film based on the book of the same name by Paula Hawkins. The movie is directed by Tate Taylor and stars Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett, Luke Evans, and Lisa Kudrow.
Rachel Watson (Blunt), a troubled alcoholic who divorced her husband Tom after learning he was having an affair, rides a train to and from work everyday. She watches various people that go by her while riding on the train. Rachel is especially intrigued by Scott and Megan Hipwell, a seemingly made-for-each-other couple that live right by Rachel's old house. One day, Rachel notices something peculiar out of the train window, and shortly afterwards, Megan goes missing. Rachel tries to learn more about what she saw, while the authorities begin to suspect that Rachel is somehow involved.
I have not read the novel by Paula Hawkins, so I will not attempt to make any comparisons from the film to the book and vice versa. The way the film hypes itself is as a shocking murder mystery, filled with lies, cheating, and deception. You'd be disappointed to find out that in reality, The Girl on the Train rides along as a middling soap opera that happens to have some minor thrills sprinkled on top. Yes, there are lies, there is cheating, and there is some deception, but it's all at the expense of creating a dark love tale between several people, instead of examining deep and intriguing psychological disturbances. The men are not much more than lustful playboys, and the women get so emotionally overwhelmed that you might think you accidentally stumbled upon a spin-off General Hospital episode.
If this film is trying to be another Gone Girl, then it completely misses the mark when it comes to the psychology and motivations of its lead characters. In Gone Girl, Amy Dunne makes her husband's life a living hell, but it's not simply because she's a sociopath. She has a reasonable motivation, and she does abnormal things to herself to get what she really wants. Emily Blunt's Rachel just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and she can not afford to let her curiosity go unsatisfied. The only psychological trouble she really has is her inability to lay off the vodka and bourbon.
- Emily Blunt's Oscar-worthy performance. I am quite confident that Blunt will at least catch a glance from the Academy as they prepare the nominees for next year's Awards. Blunt terrifically presents Rachel as the drunken mess she really is. Her stumbling, drunk walks and corresponding slurred lines perfectly resemble how someone like Rachel Watson would walk and talk. Blunt is the glue that holds everything together, managing to prevent the film from being a total disaster.
- The use of flashbacks. Tate Taylor seemed to decide that the movie should play out as a series of flashbacks. Some of the flashbacks lead us to believe one thing is true, only for the same flashback to be re explored later, where we are told, "No no, THIS is what actually happened." Sometimes, we appear to be in the present watching Blunt or somebody else, and then the next moment we are projected into another flashback, abruptly going to a different part of the non-sequential story. I recall one instant where we had a flashback within a flashback (flashback-ception?). It's normal for a film to be told as one long flashback, but Girl on the Train insists on picking and choosing random parts of the story to show as flashbacks with little rhyme or reason.
- The anticlimactic twist. The supposed twist that comes in the third act of the film doesn't shock you the way the twists in The Usual Suspects or The Sixth Sense would. The best reaction it might get out of you is an "uh-huh." The film tries to play like a whodunit, but when you actually learn whodunit, you could probably see it coming from a mile away.
The Girl on the Train features a very memorable Emily Blunt performance, but the movie is too heavily melodramatic and quite lacking in the thrills and suspense. I won't deny that the book was "the thriller that shocked the world", but the film adaptation definitely does not deserve such a compliment.
Recommend? No, unless you've read the book
Deepwater Horizon is a biographical disaster film directed by Peter Berg, the director of Lone Survivor and Battleship, and stars Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, and Kate Hudson.
The film is a retelling of the disaster that took place on The Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig on April 20, 2010. An uncontrollable blowout causes a massive explosion that kills 11 people working on the rig. The blowout also began what was the largest oil spill in U.S. history. In the film, Mark Wahlberg plays Mike Williams, a worker on the Horizon who takes charge in helping everyone escape from the rig to safety.
Deepwater Horizon does something that disaster movies very rarely do; strike you with an emotional bullet that will leave you with little to no words as you exit the theater. The fact that this is a retelling of an actual disaster is what makes the film all the more impactful. Our actors all play real people that survived the explosion, but their character traits are not emphasized. The emotional depth lies in the magnitude of the disaster itself.
- The beginning of the disaster sequence. The entire second half of the film showcases all the surviving workers attempting to escape, but when the blowout begins is where the movie really snatches your attention. It starts when one of the workers notices oil leaking out of one of the pipes, and just seconds later, geysers of oil spring up, sending the workers flying in various directions. The now oil-painted workers desperately try to control the blowouts, but the situation quickly gets out of hand. The oil then continues to shoot up and begins to send gas throughout the giant tower, which triggers the giant explosion (there's a bunch of meticulous details involved with how it all works). I sat and was stunned watching all of this play out, as if I was watching a live recording of the actual event. The workers can't just run for their lives, and the blowout escalates so quickly that you can't help but watch and feel rattled.
- Mark Wahlberg. He handles his role quite well, and I suspect that Wahlberg was a little out of his comfort zone in this film. Wahlberg is no giant action star, but the way he was able to handle his character in the midst of an emotional and horrifying disaster has to be commended. He never panics, and bravely takes charge in helping several other men, including Kurt Russell's character, get to safety. Wahlberg also has a few humorous moments, one being when he is talking with one of his coworkers and suspects him of going into his office and messing with his things. He shows some OCD and asks, "Did you touch my stuff? You better not have touched my stuff!" He later goes into his office and rearranges some things that obviously were touched and moved, grumbling about it under his breath. Overall, Wahlberg presents a character we can get behind and show sympathy, knowing how desperately he wants to live and get home back to his wife and daughter, who fear for his life when they learn about the explosion.
- The movie annoyingly teases you as to when the blowout and explosion will take place. Some of the workers run a negative pressure test which doesn't result the way they hoped, and you would think, okay things are starting to go wrong, which must mean the actual disaster is right around the corner, when in reality, we still have to wait a little bit longer. Several times beforehand, we see shots of the seabed around the pipe underwater, and we see bubbles (okay I don't think they are actually bubbles, but that's what it looked like) begin to spring up, obviously hinting at the danger soon to come. The film also takes quite a while with its narrative exposition, and after long enough, you might begin to grow impatient.
The emotional impact of Deepwater Horizon is one rarely touched upon by disaster movies. Characterization is not of importance in the film, because it more so wants you to understand and feel the same grief and heartbreak that took place when the disaster happened back in 2010. The end credits features interviews with some of the actual survivors, as well as showing photos of the 11 men who lost their lives in the incident. There may be little to no words that come to your mind when you leave the theater. Deepwater Horizon is very much so one of the most heartfelt films of 2016.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: