Movie Reviews

Angels and Demons
Directed by Ron Howard
Review by Tony Sheppard
“Angels and Demons” is the second movie made from a Dan Brown book featuring the character of Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), following “The Da Vinci Code.” While the “Angels and Demons” novel appeared first, the films are being presented to audiences in the reverse order, with the stories sequentially switched. The events of the two novels are independent, but the change presented problems in making and marketing the film.

“The Da Vinci Code” is offensive to many Christians, and especially the Catholic Church. The Vatican was not supportive of the new film, according to director Ron Howard. The other problem with the notoriety of the first film is that the stories are extremely different in both tone and content. “Angels and Demons” is a fairly straightforward murder mystery that happens to be set in the Vatican during the time of the selection of a new Pope. If people are expecting another story that challenges basic church teachings, then they will either be pleasantly surprised or disappointed. If it’s offensive at all, it’s simply in treating the church and its traditions as a backdrop to murder and intrigue, which some may find crass. It’s actually quite respectful towards people of faith.

Langdon, a Harvard professor and expert in religious symbols, is called in by the Vatican to help solve a threat. He’s joined this time by the always-reliable Ewan MacGregor (as the Pope’s assistant, or ‘Camerlengo’), Stellan Skarsgard (as the commander of the Swiss Guard), and Armin Mueller-Stahl (as a senior cardinal). The film is as slick in its presentation as one might expect from Howard, Hanks, and colleagues. It’s entertaining in a shallow ‘whodunnit’ kind of way, but the story itself is really quite mundane and somewhat flawed.  

The setup involves a threat against the lives of several cardinals, with a series of hourly deadlines that determine their safety. This ought to be the story’s strongest asset—a plot that never lets up. However the film preserves the book’s tendency to pause between events. This is a story in which you’d expect Hanks’ character to end the day wearing the same shirt he got blood on several hours earlier, not to give him time between deadlines to stop, clean up, and change into fresh clothes, with enough extra time for MacGregor’s Camerlengo to compliment his appearance. Isn’t there a cardinal somewhere that needs saving!?

In short, if you’re looking for a well-produced but routine murder mystery with a Vatican setting, then “Angels and Demons” is a satisfying holy rollercoaster, albeit a graphically violent one. If you’re expecting religion-redefining controversy like that of “The Da Vinci Code,” then it’s likely to make you question your faith in Hollywood’s ability to make people question their faith.  

African Adventure 3D (Esquire IMAX)
Directed by Ben Stassen
Review by Malcolm Maclachlan
My girlfriend Joy and I have been trying for months to find the time to take her two kids, Conner and Sofia, to the IMAX theater downtown. So when better than Mothers’ Day to take in a double feature (not too much of a feat, since these documentaries are each about 40 minutes long)?

First we saw “Under the Sea 3D” (reviewed by our Tony Sheppard in a previous issue).  We’re all fans of the Richard Attenborough series like “Blue Planet” and “Planet Earth.” The narration here, by Jim Carrey, is a little lighter and less informative. But there are some spectacular 3D images of sea snakes, color-changing cuttlefish, and especially intricate sea dragons.

This one was Sofia’s favorite (and Joy’s), particularly because of the cuttlefish, which hunt by slowly sticking out an “Alien”-like tentacle, then quickly snatching and crushing its prey. Not typically what you’d think a ten year-old girl would be into—though she also liked the adorable Australian sea lions, as well as how the film made her think about global warming.

Conner and I both liked “African Adventure” a bit better. It follows the adventures of grizzled wildlife filmmaker Tim Liversedge and plucky zoologist Liesl Eichenberger in the Okavango Delta in Botswana. This is the largest river in the world to never reach the sea, instead flooding annually across a huge section of the Kalahari Desert.

We’re both suckers for all the 3D effects they used. One favorite was mounting a camera on one of the boats they used to navigate the maze of channels, then filming one reed after another flying up into your face. It really made you feel like you were there. Some of the other shots were equally predictable, and just as effective—for instance, there were lots of elephant trunks jumping off the screen so sharp you could see every wrinkle. Other scenes showed close-ups of lions or crocodiles, along with some spectacular slow-motion segments of hunting birds.

The Okavango is a spectacular environment, half desert and half swamp. Much of the film was concerned with the how-to of moving and filming in a region that demanded quick changes between trucks and boats—or even better, jeeps that almost double as boats. One of my favorite segments involved an airboat of the kind used in the swamps of Florida, which looked very cool zooming along in 3D.

The kids declared both movies “awesome.” More importantly, mom was happy. 

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