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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

'Da Vinci Code' movie falls flat

Too many action-killing talky bits bring controversial thriller to a dead stop

PLOT: An American prof specializing in religious symbols and a French cop with overlapping talents combine to solve an ancient mystery about the Holy Grail, all the while on the run from cops, criminals and religious fanatics.

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Too much Opie, not enough opus: Ron Howard's film version of The Da Vinci Code tumbles into the depths of mediocrity, where best-selling books go to die.

The odds were against success. Bringing Dan Brown's Christian conspiracy novel to the screen was a daunting task, and not just because it has sold more than 40 million copies. The convoluted, 2,000-year-old tale of secrets, lies and heinous bloodshed in the aftermath of Jesus Christ's life defied a cinematic treatment. Too much info, too much chin-wag, not enough motion for a picture.

So it was preordained that Howard, a journeyman filmmaker who once played the beguiling Opie on the Andy Griffith Show, should fail to reach greatness on this journey. And he found no inventive ways to elude his fate.

There are some terrific passages in the film, mostly Hitchcockian action sequences and the quick tempo interactions of the French police. This is especially true when the superb Jean Reno is on screen as the Paris detective and religious zealot Bezu Fache (fache means cross; Bezu is a French town where the Knights Templar built a fortress). But these kinetic scenes are not enough.

The film bogs down in its explain-everything scenes and the flashbacks (in distressed film stock to ensure you know it's the past) to show us literally in images what is said in words. That takes us back to the time of Jesus, to the Crusades, or simply to Audrey Tautou's 20th century childhood.

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Tom Hanks as the Harvard professor Robert Langdon, Tautou as the French police cryptologist Sophie Neveu, and Ian McKellen as the rich Holy Grail enthusiast Sir Leigh Teabing (played with a delicious flamboyance that is too little too late), are most guilty.

That is, if you don't count the role played by Paul Bettany. He is the freak albino assassin who kills as if in a horror movie and then retreats to his cell to self-flagellate in the most brutal method possible. He spouts Latin babble and murders in the name of God -- a thankless role.

Each of the others is required by the script, and by their characters, to spend endless minutes regurgitating the so-called "factual" elements of Brown's book as it pertains to secret societies, despots in the Roman Catholic Church and the "truth" about Christ's marriage to Mary Magdalene.

We won't tell people who have not read the Brown book (and there are some, despite the gigantic sales) what these facts and truths are, but suffice it to say that though they are supposed to be momentous, they come across in the film as deflated bits of religious mythology.

Readers of the book claim the film, which was adapted to the screen by Akiva Goldsman (Howard's collaborator on Cinderella Man), hews fairly closely to the spirit of Brown's creation. But, as a film alone, it stands on wobbly legs.

One of the problems is that everything is so damnably obvious. It is no big trick to figure out who in the cast is trustworthy, or who the villains are. So there is no emotional jolt when each fictional truth is revealed.

I am emphasizing "fictional truth" because this is a movie based on a book that claims authority in the presentation of many historical facts, but is often nonsense. Provocative, occasionally thought-provoking nonsense, but not fact.

It is not a sin to see the movie. It is a sin to believe that fictional movies present historical truths.

It is a greater sin that Howard lacks the panache and skill as a filmmaker to glide over laughable dialogue and preposterous myths to concentrate on the good stuff -- like solving the riddles, decoding the mysteries -- that does make The Da Vinci Code so appealing as a story.

BOTTOM LINE: Go if you must, especially if you're curious, but do not expect a flawless thriller or real religious history. While there are engaging passages, especially in the action, this hybrid film is clumsy and finally dull.

*Review by BRUCE KIRKLAND - Toronto Sun


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Monday, May 22, 2006


Pixar/Disney's Animated Car Movie


After taking moviegoers magically into the realm of toys, bugs, monsters, fish, and superheroes, the masterful storytellers and technical wizards at Pixar Animation Studios ('The Incredibles,' 'Finding Nemo,' 'Monsters, Inc.'), and Academy Award®-winning director John Lasseter ('Toy Story,' 'Toy Story 2,' 'A Bug's Life'), hit the road with a fast-paced comedy adventure set inside the world of cars. Lightning McQueen (voice of OWEN WILSON), a hotshot rookie race car driven to succeed, discovers that life is about the journey, not the finish line, when he finds himself unexpectedly detoured in the sleepy Route 66 town of Radiator Springs.

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On route across the country to the big Piston Cup Championship in California to compete against two seasoned pros, McQueen gets to know the town's offbeat characters –including Sally (a snazzy 2002 Porsche voiced by BONNIE HUNT), Doc Hudson (a 1951 Hudson Hornet with a mysterious past, voiced by PAUL NEWMAN), and Mater (a rusty but trusty tow truck voiced by LARRY THE CABLE GUY) – who help him realize that there are more important things than trophies, fame and sponsorship. The all-star vocal cast also includes free-wheeling performances by racing legend Richard Petty and. Fueled with plenty of humor, action, heartfelt drama, and amazing new technical feats, CARS is a high octane delight for moviegoers of all ages.

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Great for kids!

"Cars," the seventh animated feature to be created by Pixar Animation Studios and released by Walt Disney Pictures, is a high octane adventure comedy that features a wide assortment of cars as characters who get their kicks on Route 66. In addition to Paul Newman, the voice cast includes NASCAR legend Richard Petty, as well as Owen Wilson ("Shanghai Knights," "The Royal Tenenbaums"), Bonnie Hunt ("Monsters, Inc."), and Dan Whitney (Bravo's "Larry the Cable Guy"). "Cars" is being produced by Darla K. Anderson ("A Bug's Life," "Monsters, Inc.

Pixar's Lasseter added, "Paul Newman is an acting and racing legend. He is one of the greatest actors of all time, and his love and close association with automobiles makes him the perfect choice for our film. I can't wait to see him beat his own record at Daytona and he'll have a lot fans here at Pixar cheering him on."

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Dick Cook, chairman of The Walt Disney Studios, said, "It's always a great pleasure working with the incredible team at Pixar. 'Cars' is going to deliver just what audiences have come to expect from them -- great storytelling, cutting edge animation, and superb acting from the animated characters and the actors who play them. Having Paul Newman and Richard Petty providing voices is inspired casting and will add to the fun. All of us at Disney are also excited to be co-sponsoring Paul's car at Daytona and know that he'll do us proud."



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