It starts with an Indian geologist, Dr. Satnam Tsurutami [Jimy Mistry] alerting American geologist Dr. Adrian Helmsley [Chiwetal Ejiofor] of rising temperatures in the world’s deepest copper mine [handily already mined out]. This is tied into abnormally strong sun flares and sufficient neutrinos that they have a mutating effect… Well, you get the idea. Scientific technospeak sets up Helmsley’s warning to Carl Anheuser [Oliver Platt], an influential member of U.S. President Thomas Wilson’s [Danny Glover] team. Before you know it, the heads of the most powerful heads of state in the world have come to an agreement to find a way to ensure human survival after the apocalypse to come.
Though it’s a remake, The Taking of Pelham 123 has an intriguing pedigree. It’s written by Brian Helgeland [L.A. Confidential, Conspiracy Theory, and Mystic River among other things] and directed by Tony Scott [Top Gun, True Romance and Deja Vu – but also The Fan and Domino], whose career hasn’t been exactly hot of late. The Talking of Pelham 123 may make Scott an in demand director again and it certainly won’t hurt Helgeland’s career, either.
It doesn’t seem like a particularly bad day for Walter Garber [Denzel Washington]. He’s running a section of dispatch for the New York City subway and things are going smoothly. We know that’s going to change because we see a series of quick cuts with determined looking men boarding a particular train – one of them is Ryder [John Travolta]. An unexpected moment of violence puts their plan into action a bit early, but it goes smoothly and the determined men take control of the train.
Unlike The Da Vinci Code, I found the Angels & Demons novel to be impenetrable… maybe it was just my mood, but I saw the movie without having read the book. That may have been a positive for the movie.
Angels & Demons has a number of things going for it: it’s less convoluted than The Da Vinci Code, which means it’s less clunky, less herky-jerky; Tom Hanks has vastly more chemistry with Ayelet Zurer than he did with Audrey Tautou; the lack of a campy eccentric performance a la Sir Ian McKellan in the The Da Vinci Code is made up by several moments of genuine humor [though, unfortunately, no more wit], and Professor Robert Langdon [Tom Hanks] has foregone his hideous, slicked-back do and gone for a center part that makes him look like a middle-aged Reggie [see: Archie Comics], while, while still odd, is a vast improvement.
The idea of the Catholic Church being under attack by the long underground Illuminati allows for the same kind of mix of fact and fiction that made The Da Vinci Code relatively compelling despite its clunkiness. Placing this attack during the period immediately following the death of the pope is good as it catches the church at its most vulnerable.
The nature of the attack is such that there had to be someone inside the Vatican to make it happen which gives us an intriguing array of possible infiltrators. Is it the Pope’s Camerlengo, Father Patrick McKenna [Ewan McGregor], a youthful priest with a curious tie to the late pontiff; could it be Commander Richter [Stellan Skarsgard] head of the Swiss Guard, who controls the security for the Pope; might it be Cardinal Strauss [Armin Mueller-Stahl], an older Cardinal with great influence – but not one of the four most likely candidates to replace the late pontiff?
Because the threat includes the kidnapping of the four most likely candidates – and the destruction of Vatican City via the releasing of anti-matter, Langdon is joined in his assignment to find the missing cardinals and prevent the explosions by beautiful physicist Vittoria Vetra [Zurer].
Ron Howard’s pacing is much better and his transitions smoother in Angel & Demons – he clearly recognized that The Da Vinci Code was not his best work. Unfortunately, even with all the improvements in this production, it’s still not more than a reasonably solid entertainment that doesn’t really bear repeat viewings. Still it looks much better than its predecessor [Rome being an incredibly beautiful place] and the basic storytelling is decent enough. Which is to say that, unless there’s an audio commentary, I certainly wouldn’t rush out to buy the DVD.
Final Grade: B-
Seth Rogen may have used his action sequences in Pineapple Express to audition for his upcoming The Green Hornet, but despite action sequences choreographed for humor as well as thrills, his earnestness in them almost takes deflates the good-natured stoner buddy comedy that Pineapple Express really is.
Dale Denton [Rogen] is a process server who loves his job [mostly because of the costumes he uses to fake out his victims – and the time it affords for smoking up]. After a day of multiple disguises, he stops at his dealer’s place. There, Saul Silver [James Franco] hooks him up with some Pineapple Express – smoke so potent that you can high just smelling it! From there, Dale heads off for one last delivery before calling it a day – a summons for Ted Jones [the comically malevolent Gary Cole], the dealer who supplies Red [Danny McBride], Saul’s supplier. When Dale witnesses Ted and a policewoman [Rosie Perez] kill an Asian man, he freaks out and tosses his roach of PE – which in turn leads Ted to Saul, via Red and things go from easy flowing and happy, to omigawdomigawdomigawd! And I haven’t even mentioned Dale’s high school student girlfriend, yet…
If Harold and Kumar are the stoner Hope & Crosby, then Dale and Saul are the stoner Riggs and Murtagh. Director David Gordon Green somehow manages to takes Rogen and writing partner Evan Goldberg’s split personality script and makes it feel like a single piece. The action sequences ramp up the tension, but much of the choreography and stunt work have elements of humor to them that hold the film together despite Rogen’s dead serious approach to them. Fortunately, between the ridiculous action, Franco’s ability to just bliss out – even when under fire – and some way out bits with McBride’s Red, the goofily genial absurdity of the film is maintained.
Although Pineapple Express is the weakest of the productions from the Apatow Comedy Factory, it remains, largely, above the average because of its slightly hallucinogenic bromance and its integrity when it comes to maintaining its overall upbeat mood. And did I mention Danny McBride’s Red? Definitely one of the best parts of the flick…
Final Grade: B-
The trailers and clips released online for Hancock promise a superhero dramedy with an edge – and, for the first half of the film it delivers just that. Watching the drunken superhero get the bad guys while toting up millions of dollars in property damage is, at first, diverting and new. When he saves a PR whiz named Ray Embry [Jason Bateman], Bateman persuades him to change his image – first by doing jail time, second by treating people with more respect, and third by wearing a spiffy spandex outfit that looks like something out of the X-Men movies. Of course, being the rotten example that he is, before he can completely remake his image, Hancock develops the hots for Ray’s beautiful wife, Mary [Charlize Theron].
So far, so good. Hancock, in its first half, comes off as an effort to make a movie about the kind of hero that Marvel [Spider-Man, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk] does so well – the hero with superpowers and regular people’s problems. But now, we come to Hancock’s kryptonite. Like Superman, Green Lantern and so many classic superheroes, Hancock does, indeed, have a weakness – a weakness that’s telegraphed by several clues scattered through the first half of the film.
Therein lies the problem. After carefully setting up Hancock as one thing – a superhero – the revelation of his weakness changes everything, and not in the most sensible of ways. As I watched the clues develop, my first thought was, “oh, no. They wouldn’t…” Then, when it happened, I thought, “oh, no! They didn’t” – followed closely by, “golly-gosh-all-hemlock-gee-whiz-to-pieces! They did!” I won’t give the twist away, but I will say that, when you add up all the species of life and types of minerals there are on this planet, Hancock’s weakness is so hugely, disproportionately coincidental that, had it been used in a real comic book or graphic novel, the writer would’ve been laughed out of every comics shop in North America – just for starters!
As a result, the second half of Hancock is filled with mayhem of all sorts that, essentially, robs the film of the charm and wit that helped build up the first half. The shame of it all is that Smith, Bateman, and Theron give really good performances as the film disintegrates around them – and Peter Berg’s direction is precisely what it should be throughout. The problem with the script is that writers Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan seem to think that, because Hancock is a superhero movie, they can do anything they want. They’ve forgotten [if they ever even thought about it] that the best comics and graphic novels are set in universes that have rules – and adhere to them.
Sadly, the last half of Hancock, full of sound and fury as it is, totally undercuts the first half of the film’s effectiveness. In the end, Hancock may not be an average superhero, but his movie never reaches that level.
Final Grade: D+
While the political and historical ramifications are alluded to at end of the film, The Other Boleyn Girl is a lushly drawn period piece about two girls who are pimped out to the King of England by their father and uncle.