#80 - The Freakmaker

Dedicated To
Jack Cardiff
1914 - 2009

Added 5/19/9

If it’s Tuesday, it must be your Electric Theatre! Welcome back, brothers and sisters. Let’s jump into the fire with this week’s event picture and another Tales From The Queue recommendation that’s well worth your time.


Angels & Demons

The Da Vinci Code is the first and only time I have ever seen a movie while halfway through reading the novel it’s based on. It made for an interesting experience, particularly in regards to my opinion of the book. I thought Dan Brown’s work was a mildly compelling puzzle with enough intrigue that I kept reading long after Brown’s clumsy writing style would ordinarily have made me hurl the book across the room in disgust. The movie was exactly how I thought it would be and after I saw that it ended exactly how I figured it would, I had no interest in finishing the book. (For the record, I did finish it since I was on a plane and it was the only book I had.) After that experience, I decided I had had enough of Dan Brown unless it was in movie form. The Da Vinci Code basically read like a movie treatment anyway, so I figured I wouldn’t be missing much.

Sure enough, Angels & Demons held very few surprises. Tom Hanks is back as Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, recruited by the Vatican when the Illuminati resurface after centuries to disrupt the papal conclave. Not only have they kidnapped the four cardinals who are frontrunners to wear the Pope’s big hat, they’ve squirreled away some anti-matter which threatens to destroy the Vatican at midnight. Something to do with science destroying religion, although it seems like there would be plenty of easier, more controllable ways to blow up the Vatican that are equally scientific. Anyway, Langdon teams up with physicist Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer) to track down the ancient path of the Illuminati and hopefully save the cardinals and the city.

Angels & Demons has a few things going for it. The hunt for hidden clues is good fun and director Ron Howard stages a few horrific scenes of violence with surprising gruesomeness. Hanks is once again reliable and efficient as Langdon, squeezing in a couple more moments of dry humor than he did in the first entry. Zurer is an attractive and capable sidekick. The supporting cast is filled with actors like Stellan Skarsgård and Armin Mueller-Stahl and it’s always a pleasure to see them in anything. But the movie also has some major problems, not the least of which is it’s designed for audiences with no long-term memory whatsoever. Information is repeated verbatim over and over and over again, sometimes less than five minutes after we heard it the last time. Why did the lights just go out? Oh yeah, because the Camerlengo (Ewan McGregor) had the idea to systematically cut power to various parts of the city in an effort to track down the bomb. But wait, why did they go out this time? Hmmm…maybe because the Camerlengo had the idea to systematically cut power to various parts of the city in an effort to track down the bomb? Ya think? Oh, right. OK, got it. Hey, the lights went out again! What gives? Oh, for cryin’ out loud…

Even more annoying, the movie makes a big deal out of its five-hour timeline and the fact that something bad is going to happen every hour on the hour. Yet in spite of all this, there is no sense of urgency until we’re more than halfway through. It takes Langdon about two and a half hours to realize that he doesn’t have a lot of time here. Instead, he takes his time in the Vatican Archives, pontificating about Galileo and the Illumanti. I expect a certain amount of this type of thing but not when the clock’s ticking. Finally, the story itself ends up making precious little sense. I don’t know how much of this is due to Dan Brown’s bad writing or the screenplay adapted by David Koepp and perennially bad screenwriter Akiva Goldsman. But by the end of the picture, I was utterly confused as to what the bad guy’s ultimate plan really was. I had no trouble figuring out who the culprit would end up being but did he want to destroy the Vatican? Take it over? The more the movie tries to explain these things, the worse it gets, finally self-destructing in a finale even more ludicrous than The Da Vinci Code’s revelations.

Despite all this, I still think Robert Langdon is an intriguing character and I have no problem with movies and stories that explore hidden meanings in art and architecture. I’m also a sucker for movies that exploit religious iconography and ritual, especially Catholicism. If Ron Howard, Tom Hanks and crew want to tackle a Langdon adventure that isn’t based on a novel, I’d be open to checking it out. They can even bring Dan Brown along as a consultant if they want. Just keep him away from a typewriter. (* *)


Wendy And Lucy

Like a lot of independent movies these days, Wendy And Lucy received high praise but extremely limited theatrical distribution when it was released last year. Now that it’s available on DVD, it’s worth seeking out. Michelle Williams stars as Wendy, a young woman who’s left her Indiana home heading to Alaska for a new start with her dog, Lucy. She makes it as far as Oregon before things start to fall apart. First, her car breaks down. Next, she’s arrested for shoplifting while Lucy is tied up outside a grocery store. When she finally gets back, Lucy is gone. With her tiny nest egg running out, Wendy has to try to fix her car, find her dog and get back on the road.

Directed by Kelly Reichardt and adapted by Reichardt and Jon Raymond from a short story by Raymond, Wendy And Lucy is a minimalist character study with more real humanity packed into its 80 minutes than most movies hope to achieve. Williams is heart-wrenching as Wendy. With spare dialogue and few glimpses into her past, we grow to understand why she’s living this way, maybe not in specifics but definitely the impulses that compel her. Wendy is independent, resourceful and used to being dealt a bad hand but determined not to give up without a fight. Along the way, she encounters characters drawn just as realistically as Wendy herself, including Will Patton as a mechanic and Will Oldham as another drifter. My favorite character is the security guard played by Wally Dalton. He’s sympathetic to Wendy’s plight but he offers friendship and help in small, realistic ways, not movie ways like taking her in off the street or fixing her car. Dalton shows us a whole world in this character with just a few scenes.

Wendy And Lucy is a small, perfectly realized gem of a movie. The journey it takes you on is sad, lonely and unforgettable. It’s a welcome reminder that stories about the relationship between humans and animals can carry a lot more weight than Marley & Me. (* * * ½)

Thanks to Robert Krehbiel for this week’s TFTQ recommendation. Remember, if you’ve run across a movie that’s in danger of falling through the cracks, drop me a line and help get the word out!

Your pal,