REVIEW: Inferno

30 10 2016

Dan Brown’s historically-inspired adventure tales have never felt more like a “National Treasure” movie than in Ron Howard’s adaptation of his most recent Robert Langdon tale, “Inferno.” What might pass as labyrinthine on the page proves laborious on the screen as the story runs in two opposite directions at once to cover 600 pages in 2 hours.

On the one hand, Langdon (Tom Hanks) tries to piece together two days he seems to have forgotten – during which time he went from Cambridge, MA to Florence, took a priceless artifact from the Uffizi and suffered massive head trauma. He lacks the luxury to sit down and calmly place all the puzzle pieces together, however, as a consortium of Italian police, World Health Organization officials, and corporate interests track him down. Langdon unwittingly possesses information from Ben Foster’s Bertrand Zobrist, a recently deceased billionaire who took Thomas Malthus a little too seriously and gives morbid TED Talk-style lectures about the grave dangers of overpopulation.

If it sounds like “Inferno” has one too many plates for Howard to keep spinning, that’s because it does. Screenwriter David Koepp ensures that none are ever dropped, which is a pretty remarkable feat, though plenty come close to breaking with all the character reversals upon which Brown insists. (Seriously, he makes the “Now You See Me” series look like a model of restraint in this regard.) There are worse things to watch than Hanks’ Langdon on the run with Felicity Jones’ Dr. Sienna Brooks, a child prodigy and early Langdon fan. Yet there are plenty better things as well, especially given the page-turning quality that Brown’s books possess. “Contagion,” but as a glorified chase movie, feels like settling for less. B-2stars

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REVIEW: In the Heart of the Sea

1 05 2016

“Do the stories only exist to make us respect the seas?” This utterance from Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) kicks off “In the Heart of the Sea,” a two-hour riff on the inspiration of Moby Dick by Ron Howard.  The film shot in the fall of 2013, began test screening in the summer of 2014 for a planned release in spring of 2015 – only to be pushed back for a late winter 2015 opening. In those two years to tinker with the raw materials, apparently no one thought it was worth saving the project from playing like a book report run through an Instagram filter.

These kind of high intensity, high prestige dramas are normally prime territory for Ron Howard, whom I affectionately dubbed the king of the “Sunday afternoon on TNT movie” upon the release of “Rush” in 2013. He has dabbled in bringing other decades and centuries to life before, each time bringing a sense of specificity and thematic relevance. “In the Heart of the Sea,” on the other hand, feels synthetic through and through. The effect of shooting on a backlot or in front of a green-screen seeps into every frame of the film, constantly highlighting the artifice underlining this human survival drama.

As if that were not enough, the film suffers from many other predictable flaws that have become a common refrain. The nearly 30 minutes of exposition – a full quarter of the film – bog down “In the Heart of the Sea” from the get-go. When it finally does leave the port, screenwriter Charles Leavitt never commits to making the journey primarily a visual effects spectacle about the hunt for the whale or a survival drama. The two coexist unsteadily in the finished film.

Chris Hemsworth, too, proves ill-equipped to correct the course with his performance. His stardom essentially stems from the hammer with which Marvel equips him and the magazine headlines that followed. As of yet, Hemsworth has yet to really pass muster as a serious leading man. Hopefully audiences will soon see acting chops the size of his biceps. C / 2stars