Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Movie Review: The Da Vinci Code

U.S. Release Date: 5/19/06
Running Time: 2:29
Rated: PG-13 (Violence, profanity, brief nudity)
Cast: Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellan, Jean Reno, Paul Bettany, Alfred Molina

Director: Ron Howard
Producers: Dan Brown, Todd Hallowell
Screenplay: Akiva Goldsman, based on the novel by Dan Brown
Music: Hans Zimmer
Studio: Columbia Pictures

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For anyone who has not read Dan Brown’s popularized work of fiction, "The Da Vinci Code," the wild goosechase/Grail quest can be quite confusing and disorienting on screen. Yet, for anyone who has read the novel, the film will most likely play out as a second viewing of the already imagined initial reading. That is to say that, for the most part, all of the players – actors and director alike – succeed in producing a picture that does justice to the text which many have called a “nonstop page-turner.”

On the night that Jacques Sauniere (Jean-Pierre Marielle), curator of the famous Louvre Museum, is murdered, he leaves a string of ritualized clues behind. These clues are intended for his granddaughter, Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou) and religious symbologist, Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks). However, French police Captain Bezu Fache (Jean Reno) suspects Robert Langdon as Sauniere’s killer.

Meanwhile, the actual murderer – an albino named Silas (Paul Bettany), who serves Bishop Aringarosa (Alfred Molina) of the conservative sect Opus Dei – is on the prowl and longing for the very thing that Langdon is striving to reveal. Similarly, once Langdon turns to Holy Grail enthusiast, Lee Teabing (Sir Ian McKellan), more problems seem to arise. With every effort focused on evading the law and cracking the code, Langdon and Neveu are well on their way to uncovering what could be one of Christianity’s most shattering secrets.

Bettany, Molina, Reno, Tautou, Hanks, and most of all McKellan all gel as one of the most impressive ensemble casts of 2006 thus far. Moreover, when you tack on a high-caliber name like Ron Howard as director, you receive a film that is destined to reap the rewards and overcome its substantial budget and high expectations.

As a consequence of the majority’s predisposition to the plot, the story’s twists (if you could call them that) will surely not leave as strong of an impression as hoped for. Likewise, the film may appear to overstay its welcome, in terms of running-time—even though the movie is already an abridged version of the book.

Be that as it may, screenwriter Akiva Goldsman wisely places all of the necessities of the storyline into play and even adds a nice tidbit (about a well accident) that initially impairs, and then later renews, the protagonist.

The bottom line is: knowing what to expect from this “controversial” film is the ticket to appreciation. Then again, for some, any preconceived anticipation could result in an unfavorable opinion. Of course, this could be said for any book-to-motion-picture adaptation, but considering "The Da Vinci Code" is now the second best-selling book right behind "The Bible," more oomph can be applied to this statement.

Nonetheless, The Da Vinci Code fares well under the monikers of: thriller and summer blockbuster. Only the offended and the unaware possess the remote possibility of exiting the theater unsatisfied. In brief, The Da Vinci Code is as exhilarating and entertaining of an adaptation as anyone could ask for out of Dan Brown’s best-selling novel. (*** out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2006

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Movie Review: X-Men: The Last Stand

U.S. Release Date: 5/26/06
Running Time: 1:44
Rated: PG-13 (Violence, language, some sexual content)
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Famke Janssen, Anna Paquin, Shawn Ashmore, Kelsey Grammer, Rebecca Romijn, James Marsden, Aaron Stanford, Cameron Bright, Vinnie Jones, Ben Foster, Ellen Page, Josef Sommer

Director: Brett Ratner
Producer: Kevin Feige, Stan Lee, John Palermo
Screenplay: Simon Kinberg & Zak Penn
Music: John Powell
Studio: 20th Century Fox

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The third installment of the X-Men series is honorable, yet middling. When the film needs to be, it is heavy on action. Simultaneously, it is unnecessarily superfluous on storyline; too much time is allotted to debating the cure and exterminating key players, and not enough time is devoted to delving into each character’s backdrop. While X2 overshadowed the original, The Last Stand seems to be a sign (in both title and content) that the series is sputtering out.

Human scientists have discovered a breakthrough means to free the members of the mutant race, by suppressing their mutant genes. This then presents an ethical dilemma—therein, is the suppression a “cure,” or simply a way of eliminating the different? Both the X-Men and those who fall in line under the command of Magneto (Ian McKellen) consider the “cure” to be a threat to their powers and their individuality. Thus, a war is waged between the anti-cure activist mutants and humankind. Likewise, a battle of epic proportions begins between good and evil.

Meanwhile, in an attempt to depict the “Dark Phoenix” storyline, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) is resurrected only to change hands and use her unparalleled powers to side with Magneto. In an attempt to save her from harm, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Storm (Halle Berry), and Beast (Kelsey Grammer) lead the charge to save the day and search for a glimmer of the old Dr. Jean Grey within the Phoenix.

Unlike in X-Men and X2: X-Men United, this time Wolverine isn’t the standout center of attention, and oddly enough, Rogue (Anna Paquin) gets less screen time than the seemingly-inconsequential characters like Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), Colossus (Daniel Cudmore), and Angel (Warren Worthington III). Then again, with such a cumbersome star-studded cast, it is pretty difficult to divvy up the screen time equally. In fact, out of all the X-Men, it is Storm who seems to get the most face time. Berry’s portrayal of Storm is undoubtedly her best take on the character; her powers, personality, and emotions all surface like never before.

Overall, X-Men: The Last Stand is a pure popcorn flick that will keep comic-book fans satisfied. At the same time, the film feels unwisely all-inclusive and a tad too hurried in nature. Nonetheless, the highly-anticipated third chapter in the X-Men saga is a standard summer blockbuster—big on fun, action, and entertainment. Fans can only hope for X4 to soon follow—especially considering what is revealed after the credits roll. (**1/2 out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2006

Friday, May 26, 2006

Movie Review: Serendipity

U.S. Release Date: 10/5/01
Running Time: 1:31
Rated: PG-13 (Profanity, sexual situations)
Cast: John Cusack, Kate Beckinsale, Jeremy Piven, Molly Shannon, Eugene Levy, John Corbett, Bridget Moynahan

Director: Peter Chelsom
Producers: Peter Abrams, Robert L. Levy, Simon Fields
Screenplay: Marc Klein
Music: Alan Silvestri
Studio: Miramax Films

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“Fate sends us little signs, and it’s how we read the signs that determines whether we are happy or not.”

Serendipity: a word that can be defined as, “good luck in making unexpected and fortunate discoveries,” or as the film’s fine female lead calls them, “fortunate accidents.” Serendipity, the film version of this noun, is a delightful romantic-comedy that dually possesses a well-written script and enchants the hopeless romantic in us all. With its two charismatic leads and its charming, dreamy, and surprisingly hysterical fluff, Serendipity is a rom-com for the ages. Yet, with all of its spontaneous energy, it doesn’t quite measure up to the stature of When Harry Met Sally and its prime inspiration and synonym, Happenstance.

After stumbling upon one another while Christmas shopping for black cashmere gloves at Bloomingdale’s, Jonathan (John Cusack) and Sara (Kate Beckinsale) exchange interested glances and words. Both have a significant other, yet both are still longing for love and a soul mate. They share a drink, a skate in Rockefeller Center, and an incredible night together that is then left to chance.

A few years later, Jon is set to marry Haley (Bridget Moynahan), while Sara has accepted an engagement from Lars (John Corbett), an eccentric musician. Jon’s friend Dean (Jeremy Piven) and Sara’s friend Eve (Molly Shannon) attempt to convince Jon and Sara respectively that maybe – just maybe – once in a lifetime can happen twice.

Hats off to the casting crew for selecting Kate Beckinsale; she is an absolute pleasure to watch. Her charming smile, breathy exhales, and vivacious accent make her irresistible on-screen and the sweetest brunette to grace the big screen since Audrey Tautou in Amelie. Likewise, John Cusack plays the role of Jon with unexpected appeal. Much like Billy Crystal’s surprisingly effective turn in When Harry Met Sally, Cusack is able to convince the thirsty-for-romance audience that he can indeed play the part of a white knight.

In addition to its stellar leads, Serendipity packs a comedic punch that induces several quality belly laughs. The run-in with Eugene Levy, the fitting analogy to The Godfather Part II, and the inclusion of kid dressed in Satan garb all provide for entertaining comic releases in-between the sugary bits. Yet, with its euphoric climax – swirling snowflakes, superlative soundtrack, and all – Serendipity never falls short of possessing a tender heart specifically designed to unite its two star-crossed lovers. The film is flattering, delicate, and – for one who indulges in the romantic formula – it’s simpatico. (*** out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2006

Friday, May 12, 2006

Movie Review: United 93

U.S. Release Date: 4/28/06
Running Time: 1:48
Rated: R (Violence, profanity)
Cast: Cheyenne Jackson, David Alan Basche, Christian Clemenson, JJ Johnson, Polly Adams, Khalid Abdalla, Lewis Alsamari, Omar Berdouni, Jamie Harding, Ben Sliney

Director: Paul Greengrass
Screenplay: Paul Greengrass
Producer: Liza Chasin, Debra Hayward
Music: John Powell
Studio: Universal Pictures

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September 11th: a day when the citizens of the United States of America learned to fear for the worst. As the first plane hit the World Trade Center, feelings of bewilderment and accident washed over the country. Conversely, when the world watched the second plane slam into the South Tower on live television, emotions of alarm, apprehension, and terrorism swept the nation.

United 93 is a powerful film that rekindles all of these emotions in the deepest of ways. It gives you, the viewer, a firsthand retelling of the hijackings that occurred on that fateful day. In addition, it depicts how one set of passengers – aboard United Airlines Flight 93 – banded together in bravery, in an attempt to regain control and save not only their own lives, but also the lives of other innocent Americans.

The film takes place in real time—chronicling the two attacks on the WTC, the one on the Pentagon, and finally the crash of Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. It is presented from three main point-of-views: Air Traffic Control’s, the military’s, and the passengers’ of Flight 93.

To say that United 93 packs more of an emotional wallop than its TV counterpart (Flight 93) would be an inaccurate statement; both portray the events in an equally honorable and gripping manner. It’s just that United 93 does it more professionally and personally. While Flight 93 shows all of the ground contacts (friends, family, and 911) and their strife with talking to their loved ones for the last time, United 93 keeps you in the air, within the walls of the aircraft. It intensifies the urgency, increases the tension, and makes you feel like one of the passengers, and for that, it is all-the-more harrowing, emotional, and civil.

Director Paul Greengrass takes a documentary approach to the making of the film; in doing so, he creatively captures faith from both sides of the spectrum. In the film’s final sequence, as the passengers rush the cockpit, the prayers that were previously extended (to God/Allah) unite the victims and the terrorists (albeit the terrorists possess different mindsets) in struggle. With unflinching honesty, Greengrass is able to portray the tragic events in the most logical and authentic of manners.

United 93 is a valiant requiem to those who lost their lives on September 11th, most specifically those who were onboard United Flight 93. It is a testimony to the power of terrorist prevention and to the hearts of the deceased. Three planes hit their targets, but because of courage, Flight 93 fell short of its intended target—the U.S. Capitol. By no means, does United 93 fall short; it is dishearteningly sharp filmmaking that digs deep. (***1/2 out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2006