Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Streamers hanging from the air vent? Portent of DOOM!!!

I don't know if it's a coincidence or not, but I noticed my productivity has lowered since I gave up caffeine. I used to start off an EFC writing session with a nice hot strong cup of java, but nowadays I just sleep a lot. But I'm not sleeping at the moment, so here I go.

Angels & Demons is based on Dan Brown's book of the same name, a prequel to Brown's other hit novel, The Da Vinci Code. I read both of them back-to-back last year in an attempt to finally catch up with the rest of the world. I remember liking Angels & Demons a lot more than Da Vinci, and sure enough, I feel the same way about the film adaptations.

So you have Tom Hanks' character Robert Langdon being called over to the Vatican during papal conclave to use his skills as a symbologist to help the local authorities save four kidnapped cardinals before they're executed, one every hour starting at 8pm. There's also this other pesky little problem of finding a stolen canister of powerful antimatter that is hidden somewhere in Vatican City and set to blow by midnight. Along for the ride is a scientist from the lab where the antimatter was stolen. Her name is Vittoria Vetra, she works for CERN, but more importantly, she's a hot piece of ass. As I recall from the book, her father was brutally murdered when the antimatter was stolen, but in this movie it's just some old dude she worked with who ends up getting done like Warden Smithers in Demolition Man.

That's one of the reasons I think this movie is a hell of a lot better than Da Vinci Code; the filmmakers put a lot less weight on making it as close to the book as possible and instead concentrated on just making the best movie they could make. Because the truth is that these books are simply fun page-turners, some cool shit to read on a plane or at the beach (two places where I've never read a book, by the way), but all the controversy with The Da Vinci Code ended up giving that book an aura of Seriousness and Importance it never should've fuckin' had. Unfortunately, this ended up infecting the filmmakers the first time out and what should've played as lean, mean and fast on the big screen instead came off as self-serious and ponderously paced.

But it seems this time Ron Howard and company got over that shit, they realized this ain't the fuckin' Holy Bible they're making a movie out of. Angels & Demons is a race-against-the-clock thriller and nothing more, because the filmmakers were merciless in what they took out of the book. They didn't fuck around this time, they dropped whole fuckin' characters, subplots, even what pretty much served as a catalyst for the whole story to begin with was taken out -- and it all works. It's almost as long as The Da Vinci Code but feels a hell of a lot faster. If you're a fan of the book, you might be kinda bummed at some of the stuff that was changed or didn't make it in the movie, but I guess that's what the book is for, you know?

It's also like the filmmakers didn't have much choice but to change quite a bit of the details anyway, because had they played it a lot closer to the source material, the audience might have picked up on the fact that there are a heck of a lot of similarities between both books and movies. There was a character in the Angels & Demons book called the Hassassin, and I guess one could argue that they watered down the motherfucker to some generic hired killer, but I think it was a change for the better. That character was a scary dude, and there was a lot of creepy shit about him that would have been awesome to see in a movie, but ultimately, he would've come off as the evil twin of that albino monk from The Da Vinci Code. And like I mentioned earlier, they took out the whole deal about the murdered CERN scientist being Vetra's father in Angels & Demons because that may have been a bit too close to Sophie Neveu's grandfather getting murdered at the beginning of Da Vinci. Also, they made this a sequel to the Da Vinci movie, rather than a prequel to the Da Vinci book, if that means anything.

I heard that they had to tone down a bit of the violence in this movie to get a PG-13, and I doubt that they'll ever release an unrated version, but in its current form it's pretty damn harsh for a not-R-rated flick. Quite a few motherfuckers die hard in Angels & Demons, and some of it got the audience I saw it with to gasp loudly a couple of times. There was one person in particular who was sitting behind me and I still haven't figured out two things:

1) Was this audience member genuinely freaked out or just overdoing it on purpose?

2) Was this audience member a man or woman?

The second part I ask because he/she had a peculiar sounding scream, and I haven't been able to figure out if a man or woman would make that kind of sound. I'm guessing that it was indeed a man and he was indeed scared, because that's the kind of goofy sounding scream only a man who was genuinely freaked out would make. Like, if I was walking down a dark alley (as I tend to do, for the sake of this example), and suddenly I was surrounded by flesh-eating zombies (hey, it could happen), that's probably the kind of scream I would make before they pounce on me and get all NOM NOM NOM on my fat ass. The loudest audience reaction, by the way, wasn't for an act of violence but for an act of vandalism/damage done to a book. That was pretty funny.

Something else I dug about this movie (and The Da Vinci Code, for that matter) was the lack of any kind of flirting or sexual tension or any of that We Have A Man and Woman Here, They Must Want To Fuck Eventually shit you usually have. Not that I'm against that, I like a good romance in a non-romantic movie but that shit has to feel earned, and more often than not, it isn't. Usually that bullshit feels shoehorned in, and I don't believe a bit of it. Even Dan Brown tried pulling that shit in the books and it felt fake. But I think Ron Howard and company decided that sometimes it doesn't matter if a guy runs into a beautiful baby who wants to party. I'm sure Langdon's all man and he'd like nothing better than to get it on with Amelie Poulain and Eric Bana's wife from Munich -- shit, I'd love that too -- but there's no time for love Dr. Jones, because there are more important things at stake, like finding out where the fuck the Holy Grail is or whether or not they can get to a church on time before some poor cardinal gets burned alive or keeping one step ahead of some killer albino or locating a canister of antimatter before that shit turns Vatican City into a smoking hole in the ground. We only got 4 minutes to save the world!

Tom Hanks is good here as usual, and I found it interesting the way his character was introduced. He's doing laps in a swimming pool, I guess as a reference to one of the books referring to Langdon as having a swimmer's body. But I think it's also a way for Hanks to show off his trim frame in a Speedo, showing us that while there was a brief period when he was getting kinda chubby, the motherfucker is now back in prime Turner & Hooch shape. Incidentally, he was sporting some Speedo-looking shit in Turner & Hooch as well. I think there was also a dog, I don't know. I was too busy hungrily enamored with Hanks' sweet ass.

I watched Angels & Demons at a theater offering digital projection, and it looked beautiful presented that way, but every once in a while there was some kind of quick split-second flicker of black that would throw me off and I'm sure it wasn't from the movie. This happened once before at another digital showing I went to once, it was for Once Upon a Time in Mexico, and that was even worse because the screen would go black for two or three seconds. I don't know what that was all about, but I guess that's sort of the digital equivalent of missing frames or scratches in a film print. Except when a film print does that, it actually adds character. When a digital print does it, I'm fucking annoyed.

Is that how it's going to be 30 years from now, when the Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez of the next generation decide to make their version of Grindhouse, calling it Multiplex and having it consist of 20 minutes of commercials and a trailer for some Matthew McConaughey-style romantic comedy, followed by only one feature presentation, and instead of scratches and jump cuts, we're going to get black-outs and pixelation, and the soundtrack will feature the sounds of cell phone conversations and the clickity-clacks of text messengers? I guess everyone will then rave and say it reminds them of a simpler time of moviegoing. I've seen the future, baby: it is murder.

Anyway, I liked Angels & Demons. The End.