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

F.I.L.M. of the Week (June 30, 2016)

30 06 2016

Mood IndigoMichel Gondry’s name is among the rarefied few that can serve as an indicator of sophisticated whimsy and off-center delights. Be that in his seriocomic collaboration with Charlie Kaufman with “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” or even working within the Hollywood machine to produce a film adaptation of “The Green Hornet,” he puts an indelible stamp on anything he touches.

Yet even though Gondry made a film that many experts consider among the best of the 21st century, his film “Mood Indigo” hit a bit of snag in the United States. Despite opening in the director’s native country in April 2013, the film took another 15 months to wash up ashore here. And when it did, courtesy of Drafthouse Films, roughly 35 minutes did not make the voyage over.

Normally, I would not complain about a movie getting shorter; many auteur-driven projects could use some fat-trimming. But I would (and likely will) sign up for more of “Mood Indigo.” The film is a playground for the imagination staged within the confines of a beautiful, touching love story. Think of this “F.I.L.M. of the Week” as what might spring from the meeting of the minds between Jacques Tati and the Pixar brain trust.

This is a world where the fancy-free Colin (Romain Duris) can occupy his time trying to make the perfect “pianocktail” – a drink made and refined by how finely he can play the tunes on a grandiose piano set. Where he can float over the city of Paris in a cloud-like Ferris Wheel booth with the girl that catches his eye, Chloé (fittingly played by Audrey Tautou of the charming “Amélie“). As their tragic love story progresses, Gondry never wastes a moment to take our breath away. Virtually every frame is packed with some kind of gadget, gizmo or trick that reminds us of the ingenuity behind the film. Perhaps others could have told this tale of star-crossed lovers, but I remain unconvinced that anyone could make it more of a marvel than Gondry.


14 11 2015

BurntBradley Cooper is among the most interesting American actors working today, so it’s a shame that he chose such an uninteresting project like “Burnt” at perhaps the apex of his stardom. For the man who was a crucial part in powering the first non-tentpole film to the top of the yearly box office since 1998, such a conventional tale told with little panache cannot help but disappoint.

That’s not to say that “Burnt” is empty of any merit or entertainment, though. In fact, it plays at around the same register as “Aloha,” Cooper’s unfairly savaged starring vehicle from earlier in 2015. John Wells’ film and Steven Knight’s script produce modest results from a modest effort, where Cameron Crowe went all out only to wind up with a mixed bag of failures and successes. Either way, the fact that Bradley Cooper can emerge from these two movies untarnished by their narrative struggles further attests to his place in the pantheon of his generation’s finest actors.

Perhaps someone could psychoanalyze Bradley Cooper to determine what keeps bringing him back to these stories of redemption. In 2005, he starred in an ill-fated TV comedy called “Kitchen Confidential” as a star chef seeking a comeback after personal issues put his career in jeopardy. In 2012, he changed the way most audiences in “Silver Linings Playbook” as Pat Solitano, a bipolar man seeking to put his life back together after a meltdown gets him institutionalized.

Four Oscar nominations later, in 2015, Cooper still seems to feel some need to prove himself through the character of Adam Jones in “Burnt,” a chef seeking a coveted third Michelin star in London after drug and alcohol abuse wrecked his last restaurant. (Sound familiar?) Jones is loud, brash and kind of a nightmare to handle. But he swaggers about with such authority that a crack team of cooks with global roots lines up to endure his abuse and work with him.

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