Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal and Greed (2021)

happyaccThis new documentary on Netflix about Bob Ross is an illuminating and largely affectionate documentary – its best moments are those in which his son Steven and some of Bob Ross’ friends and colleagues talk about the artist’s life and career (it may actually be a surprise to many that Ross, whose art show “The Joy of Painting” always seems to be airing somewhere in the darkest corners of the cable-channel universe -its been airing again here on the BBC recently- actually died back in 1995). Ross was a charming, charismatic man who was able to make a real connection with audiences quite independent of his (substantial) artistic ability- its a talent as natural as his artistic prowess. The gentle innocence of his television show inevitably reminds one of the American children’s show “Mr Roger’s Neighbourhood” and its presenter Fred Rogers, recently immortalised in A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood, which featured Tom Hanks in the title role of a guy who like Ross seemed a genuinely ‘good’ person in a world where hero-figures usually falter and let us down. It also reminds me of the likes of Carl Sagan, who was able to connect with layman audiences not usually taken with science documentaries, in just the same way as Ross could enthral viewers usually not in the slightest bit interested in art. Presenters such as these seem natural and the connection with the viewer feels real, without artifice; we are caught up by their passion and share it.

But director Joshua Rofé’s Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed, as the title likely suggests, has something of a dark side. Thankfully this is, like Fred Rogers, one hero/inspirational figure who doesn’t let us down with a shadowy real-life tarnished by grubby real-world human weaknesses: its not a film targeted with tearing down the image of Bob Ross. No, that’s left for other people largely left unknown to us until now. So while it is heart-warming learning that Ross seemed a genuinely nice fellow, and seeing Ross’ life story and road to success, the documentary is also quite depressing when it shows what happened following the artists untimely death at the age of just 52.  The film alleges that his business partners acted quite legally but in morally dubious ways, ensuring they owned and profited from Ross’ likeness, brand and television show following Ross’ death, subsequently earning millions while Ross’ son apparently earned nothing, all clearly contrary to Ross’ own wishes. Its the dark side of the American Dream writ large and really quite distressing. The film also reveals that many people were afraid to speak on the film for fear of litigation, and its unfortunate (albeit possibly quite telling) that Ross’ business partners Annette and Walt Kowalski declined to appear and defend themselves (so inevitably damned in their absence, you might say). 

It all rather leaves a bitter taste in ones mouth. Its a very interesting film, and very pleasant when it describes Ross’ background and family life and his artistic pursuits leading to “The Joy of Painting” and its huge success, but its only likely to leave his fans (of which there are still obviously very many) feeling that a great injustice has occurred, albeit quite legal and above board (oh, justice in America is so very noir). Its unfortunate that something as sweetly innocent and joyous as Ross’ television show, which ran for eleven years and over four hundred episodes, will now always be blighted by the shadow of the story behind it.

I don’t know, maybe its perfectly symptomatic of the American Dream that a nice feel-good story like Bob Ross and his “The Joy of Painting” becomes tarnished by greed and corruption: money the root of all evil, yet again. All I know is that I went to bed feeling angry and frustrated: sometimes the bad guys win.

The ‘Burbs again

burbsLast night I returned to Joe Dante country, that cinematic landscape that shines so brightly from decades past. More specifically, I returned to The ‘Burbs, his 1989 movie that landed (and disappeared) to little fanfare. I remember going to the cinema one afternoon and quite loving it- especially, as I remember, the Jerry Goldsmith score that took a few years to eventually get released (and I got the revised Deluxe Varese edition a few years after that). I can understand why the film didn’t find an audience- its a little too arch, perhaps too subversive, to find traction with general audiences, although I’m certain its stock has raised and it has found an increasingly positive reception over the years since. Its certainly not perfect but all the same, I find so much good in it that I find myself retuning to it often. The cast is terrific, littered with geek favourites with nods to genre trivia. Its actually peculiar how some of this stuff just gets weirder with age- even the innocent casting of Tom Hanks, as when the moment lands in the film of Tom’s character waking up to the opening of preschool tv show  Mister Roger’s Neighbourhood – Hanks having starred in a biopic of Fred Rogers (A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood) some thirty years later. Carrie Fisher, rest her soul, looks so incredibly young and beautiful – still close to how she looked in the original Star Wars films, its like watching Princess Leia in a bedroom and like her appearance in The Blues Brothers a reminder of when her appearance in any film could get men of a certain age ridiculously excited. Living with Carrie Fisher in the ‘burbs sounds a little like heaven to some of us (I know the reality was likely a hell of a lot different to the picture Dante paints here, but hey, that’s the magic of movies).

I was reminded, watching the documentary that is included with Arrow’s excellent Blu-ray edition, that The ‘Burbs was originally envisaged as a spoof of Hitchcock films, particularly Rear Window. That’s one of those weird movie factoids that can instantly surprise but also make perfect sense when you consider it. Anyway, I see that as the perfect nudge to get me watching the 4K UHD  of Rear Window that came out in last year’s Hitchcock 4K boxset tonight. Sometimes one film just leads to another….

News of the World (2020)

news1There is an argument here regards expectations, and the talent behind a project skewing them- initially seeing the names Paul Greengrass, Tom Hanks and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, I expected something new, some fresh angle on that hoary old genre of the Western. New of the World, it turns out, is more of an affectionate nod to the Westerns of old – which is no bad thing, certainly, but it did take me a little while to re-adjust to. There is one sequence in the films episodic narrative in which three bad guys threaten our hero and the child that is his ward and it feels like a descent into cliché, the lead thug and his silent companions coming out of nowhere and so obviously up to no good its like they have flags on their backs. Its very black and white, and lacking any nuance at all, really, and possibly that sequence is my real issue with what is otherwise a pleasant and entertaining film.

One has the feeling that Tom Hanks could play these roles in his sleep, and that he has to make very little effort these days other than just turn up on-set, which may well be doing him a disservice. He just seems to fit these kinds of roles like a glove, as if the character is written specifically for him alone, which is patently not the case here as the film is based upon a book, but that sense of familiarity and ‘coasting’ remains. I suppose its simply that he just so very good at playing parts such as this, some kind of blurring of screen personas settled over decades of roles and films, in which real-life nice guy Hanks and on-screen good-guy Hanks are one and the same. Here he plays Civil War veteran Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, who wanders the Western landscapes travelling from town to town reading passages from newspapers to townsfolk who are too poor and busy to read or unable to read the news of the bigger world that lies beyond their immediate daily concerns and small worlds. A chance encounter during one of his journeys leaves him taking a 10-year-old girl, Johanna (Helena Zengel), across Texas to her aunt and uncle. Johanna had been ‘rescued’ from a Kiowa tribe that had murdered her parents and family some six years prior, and is caught between two worlds, having forgotten her original German-settler heritage and adopted the traditions and language of the native-American tribe that had ‘adopted’ her. Now having neither, she is lost and confused, something that is mirrored in Kidd’s own sense of nomadic disenfranchisement and haunted past; references to his old life pre-Civil War and photograph of a wife that he looks at longingly. Both characters are ungrounded by events in their past and through each other have to find their new places in the world.

Young German actress Zengel is absolutely wonderful, and its her character and performance which largely lifts the film to a higher level. It may well be that the sense of Hanks in his ‘comfort-zone’ is largely because he is allowing Zengel to shine and steal the scenes they share- that he is in ‘supporting actor’ mode here contrary to the billing of the film. This is clearly a creative decision deliberately shared by Hanks and Greengrass and its exactly what saves the film and lends it a definite emotional weight that pays off at the conclusion (which is surely inevitable from the start of the film).

New of the World is possibly one of those films that won’t shake the foundations of the cinematic world by offering anything particularly new but may over time become something of a… not ‘classic’ by any means, but its an effective film, albeit it suffers from having such a largely familiar narrative. I can’t say I was disappointed by the film – its clearly exactly what it is intended to be and not every film can stretch the boundaries of its chosen genre. That being said, while it could actually become tiresome if every film DID shake things up, its a little underwhelming to watch a film that feels quite this comfortable throughout, as if it does not feel the need to really stretch itself at all.  Is it cynical of me to note the time of year this film has been released (I think it got a very limited theatrical release in the States in December), and it being such a non-controversial film so very close to Awards season?

We need A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood more than ever

abIts quite possible indeed that we need A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood now more than ever, for patently obvious reasons considering everything going on in the world, and what I’ll get to in the last paragraph of this post. Its a shame its not a classic life-affirming film in the same way that Frank Capra’s Its a Wonderful Life is, and likely won’t be remembered for as long or as warmly as that genuinely Great film, but that’s like complaining that a good film isn’t a great film- if all films were great, as in ‘Great’ with a capital ‘G’ then there wouldn’t be any special films, would there? Indeed, I can almost imagine Tom Hank’s playing Fred Rogers smiling and saying, “not all films can be ‘Great’, and that’s good, because not everybody can be ‘Great’, we can just be ‘Good’, and that’s okay, we just have to try to be as good as we can be.” 

Listen to me a second, its like the Fred Rogers persona is infecting my blog. What is this strange spell this film works over us? Well, maybe its not the film itself, maybe its more its subject matter, a genuine hero for many Americans who grew up with Fred Roger’s (‘Mister Rogers’ to his viewers) gentle children’s programme that ran on American television for many years. Its just wonderfully refreshing, frankly, that the film never found any bones hiding in the cupboard. While I imagine that Rogers himself would never describe himself as perfect, he seems that way- if only because he seems to have been genuine. And that’s so rare. Here is a guy who seemed to live a simple life of purpose, scandal-free, someone who lived up to the myth, the hype (‘hype’ is the wrong word exactly, but you know what I mean). In that sense, the casting of Tom Hanks is particularly perfect, considering his own rather wholesome reputation, as if just his face layers the film with additional authenticity.

I live in the UK, and I have no idea how many entertainers in America have had their reputations crushed by later scandals and revelations , but here in the UK we’ve had more than our fair share- my own generation, in particular, has had more than a few of the entertainers, the people who were entrusted in our living rooms with their family programmes and children’s programmes here in the UK, particularly of the 1970s, turn out to have been genuine monsters. So much so that, watching a film like A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is almost something that makes us nervous, and so relieved, really, that by the end, it turns out some heroes are really heroes. And some people are really genuinely good if only for goodness sake. While the cynic in me roars at lines like that I have to accept that its nice to have something to believe in, that people can indeed be good- I just wonder when such sentiments became old-fashioned and rare.

Its seems so very odd and ill-timed, that this very week when I watched this film, our BBC here in the UK announced it is making a drama series biopic of one of the BBC’s homegrown monsters, Jimmy Saville, which won’t in any way be as life-affirming and pleasant as this Tom Hanks flick. Think something more akin to The Exorcist and The Shining to get some idea of the tone I’m expecting the BBC to take with that one, as opposed to the quite fluffy Capra-like feel that this film justly has. Different kind of childhood heroes, clearly, even if the times were largely the same (Mister Roger’s Neighborhood ran between 1968- 2001, while over here the BBC were broadcasting TV and radio programmes featuring paedophiles and other horrible people). I think the BBC is wrong to be making that drama – and indeed if it has to be made, I think the BBC is the wrong broadcaster to make it. Be that as it may, the news struck me as being particularly unfortunate being received in the same week as I saw this film.


Sully (2016)

sully.jpgIt seems to me, particularly with films such as this, that Tom Hanks is our modern-day equivalent of James Stewart- an actor whose onscreen persona is one of moral integrity and doing the right thing. I don’t think we have screen icons like there used to be in the grand old days of Tinseltown (empty and false as they might have been in reality), but Hanks seems to buck that – the cynic in me rather suspects it might just be Hank’s crafty choice of projects/collaborators, or maybe his publicity team, but the other part of me just thinks he’s a genuinely nice guy which reflects on his roles.

I still think he would make a fantastic Bond villain, if only for the shock of casting him against type.

Anyway, I often thought about the great James Stewart whilst watching this film- had this been made back in his day it would have been the perfect role for him. As it is, it’s perfect for Hanks, and possibly the easiest piece of casting for any movie project this decade.

I’ve obviously come to this film rather late, but I must confess it was much better than I had expected, which had been a dry, by-the-numbers account of Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger’s heroic aversion of an air disaster. I well remember the events of January 15, 2009, when a US Airways flight was struck by a flock of birds soon after takeoff from New York’s LaGuardia Airport. With both engines destroyed, the stricken plane’s veteran pilot glided the stricken plane onto the surface of the Hudson River, the first-ever successful water landing of a jet airliner, and saved the lives of all 155 passengers and crew.

It would have been easy to just introduce some of the passengers back-stories, and that of the crew, prior to the flight and then let the events unfold like any other disaster movie (indeed like those old Airport movies of the 1970s). But the film wasn’t the simple retelling of those events that I had expected, as I didn’t really know the full story; instead the film focuses on the days afterwards and the air investigation into the near-disaster, which threatened to lay the blame on Sully and end his career as a passenger pilot- completely at odds with both the public perception of him as a hero and the idolization of the press who loved the ‘feel-good’ story. As the film’s narrative of the investigation progresses we see the graphic account of the fateful flight I’d expected, but broken into sections/perspectives as its framed by the investigation and scenes of Sully trying to come to terms with the traumatic event.

Commendably the film, directed by Clint Eastwood, doesn’t idolize Sully, but rather portrays him as a guy doing his job in extreme circumstances and somehow coming through. Sully certainly seems a reluctant hero overtaken by events. It is, no doubt, still a feel-good story but it’s grounded with some drama and surprising twists. Much better, and more balanced/complex, than I had expected. Nice one.

Saving Mr Banks (2013)

mr banks

This film has been languishing at the bottom of the digital pile in my Tivo since Christmas 2016 when it originally aired on the BBC. Why exactly it has taken so long for me to finally get around to watching it is quite beyond me, and there’s still a few more films sitting in that digital pile. Well, there you go- something else to concern myself about; not just a pile of physical-format films on disc that I have yet to see, I now have films waiting in my Tivo to be seen. As well as those films on my Amazon Prime watchlist. My world, it seems, is full of content waiting to be watched.  It almost makes me yearn for the old days of three tv channels, no video recorders and lots of time free for reading and everything else that ‘normal’ lives were concerned with.

Televisions used to be mono, 4:3 and black and white. Now they are large widescreen stereo monsters that sit there demanding your time. Our eyes endlessly drawn to them, bewitched by them as if by some arcane spell. So many channels. So many films/discs//apps… on my Amazon fire-stick the other night I discovered some kind of ‘fireplace tv’ thing, a seasonal offering that was a single hour-long shot of a log-fire burning. I actually watched it for something like twenty minutes before I realised I was going mad.

None of which has anything to do with Saving Mr Banks, which I finally go around to watching having allowed it to sit in my Tivo over a year. And what do you know, I feel a bit of a fool having waited so long, because this was an utterly charming, warm and witty movie that I really enjoyed.

I do have a confession to make- the only Mary Poppins I have ever seen was General Leia doing her magical spaceflight in The Last Jedi. Other than a few clips many years ago on the old Disneytime holiday specials that the BBC used to air at Easter etc, I have never seen anything of Mary Poppins, certainly not the whole film, and I have no idea what the original story is. So maybe I was at some disadvantage watching Saving Mr Banks, which is ostensibly the story of how Walt Disney convinced author P L Travers to allow him to make the movie Mary Poppins.

Like, I suspect, the Netflix drama The Crown, this film is a work of fiction masquerading as fact, or at the very least, a dramatic work in which the line between fiction and fact is dimly blurred.  Tom Hanks is a very genial, very charming Walt Disney and Emma Thompson a suitably cantankerous P L Travers albeit rather beautiful and charming.There it is again- the word ‘charming’: it’s as if the poster for the film should have read ‘Walt Disney presents Saving Mr Banks: Charming! Charming! Charming!’

But it is. And maybe there is more truth to the film than my old cynical soul would have me believe. Is it possible that all this actually happened and that there is far more to the original Mary Poppins story and movie than anyone would have believed? Maybe the simple truth is that it doesn’t matter. Saving Mr Banks, true story or Disney myth, is a great heartwarming (bypass that bloody word ‘charming’ for once)  movie that is elegantly written and directed and really has a pretty great cast in top form.  I could have looked it all up on the internet and discovered the truth of it, but really, I don’t care. Saving Mr Banks was really quite good. And ultimately, that’s all that really matters.

Besides, adult fairy tales, which is, I suspect, what this film really is, can be fact or fiction, it doesn’t have to mean anything or be validated by truth. It’s a damn fine story, regardless, and films could do with more of those, I think.

Now then, what else is lurking within my Tivo…?

Inferno (2016)

inf12016.82: Inferno (Cinema)

Inferno benefits, at the very least, by having a fairly reliable race-against-time plot to ensure the pace never really lets up enough that anyone really has time to consider how daft everything is. The problem only arises afterwards when you think back and consider how implausible it all is and how it starts to collapse into all of its the plot-holes when given any thought.

In that sense of course its no different than the previous two films, but I guess on the plus side, Inferno lacks the pomposity and self-seriousness that weighed them down- I don’t really think Inferno takes itself at all seriously at any time during its breezy two hours. Indeed, compared to The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, Inferno feels decidedly lightweight. For the first time, I think the film-makers have cottoned on to how daft and badly written the Dan Brown books really are and have delivered a film the books deserve. Its a b-movie that knows its a b-movie.

The stakes are certainly higher this time around- the fate of the whole world hangs in the balance here. Billionaire nut-job Betrand Zobrist (Ben Foster, probably too good for this film, like pretty much everyone else in it, to be honest) is convinced that he can save the world by killing half the human population with a plague he has designed- the Inferno virus. He sets the deadly virus in a bomb in a bag (seen any unattended bags just laying around lately?) and then goes on the run so the Good Guys of the World Health Organisation can’t catch him and torture the bombs location out of him. Why on earth, having got virus and bomb all ready, that he doesn’t just trigger the damn thing and be done with it escapes my understanding. Anyway, he throws himself off a tower and dies. Somewhere a deadly bomb is going to go off and launch a plague that will kill billions. It could be anywhere.

So as usual with Dan Brown’s stuff, the daftness is launched almost immediately. The bomb is going to go off at a certain time and to ensure that it all goes to plan Zobrist has left elaborate clues based on Dante’s vision of Hell so that his girlfriend can ensure that the bomb will indeed go off. I mean, what? The same clues that can ensure the good guys can find the bomb and ensure it doesn’t go off? What? The same clues that ensure that some bad guys can get the bomb and sell it to the highest maniac bidder? What?

inf3.jpgIt feels that this film is just a few years too late (it is, after all, some seven years since the second film). Tom Hanks is dependable as ever but even he looks tired and disinterested this time around. The one genuine plus point for this film is Felicity Jones as his doctor, who just happens to be a huge superfan since her childhood of Robert Langdon’s books on symbols (what?) and elects to assist Langdon as he launches into his quest to unravel Zobrist’s clues by visiting museums and messing up historical facts. Jones is earnest in her role and seems to be having some fun with it all, as is Irrfan Khan who leads a shadowy organisation that despots and Bond villains hire to hide conspiracies (you know, the guys who hide the truth about who killed JFK and who was really behind 9/11- you’ll find them in Yellow Pages or something). There’s a few twists and good guys turning out to be bad and a few bad guys gaining a conscience (well killing a few billion people mist be bad for business, after all). Its a Dan Brown movie.

Even Hans Zimmer’s score, ditching the high strings and religious choirs of the previous films in favour of noisy electronic muzak, betrays a lack of effort that seems to run through the film- at least the last two films had decent scores that raised their profile; this noise is hardly music at all.

I haven’t read the book, but my wife has and it was her fault we watched this at the cinema (well, that and a cinema voucher for her birthday), and it has to be said she was more disappointed by the film than I (like I had any expectations to disappoint, aha). It turns out that the film-makers changed the ending from that of the book, which had a rather more downbeat conclusion. I must say after she told me about it, I had to agree that the books ending would at least have offered an unusual twist on what viewers may have expected at the start (I mean, we all know how these things are going to turn out, don’t we?). Perhaps that would have been a saving grace for such a lightweight film, having a darker conclusion than one might expect. Hollywood does like its moral high ground though, doesn’t it, and the good guys always win, even if we are past caring at this point.

A Hologram For The King (2016)

holgm22016.79: A Hologram For The King (Amazon VOD)

A Hologram For The King is a midlife crisis story, and your mileage for it might depend on your affinity for Tom Hanks and feel-good endings. I really enjoyed it, which rather surprised the old cynic in me. Part of it is likely down to the casting of Tom Hanks- his onscreen persona, defined over so many years now, leads you to have an instant liking for any character he plays in a film (I still say he’d make the most shocking and great Bond villain someday). You are almost predisposed to root for his character in this film from the very start.

The start, too, features the films highlight- a sequence in which Tom Hanks’ character, American salesman Alan Clay, appears in a mock-pop video singing Talking Heads’ Once In A Lifetime, the visuals and lyrics succinctly summarising his characters midlife crisis. Its unfortunate the film never surpasses that arresting first sequence.

A middle-aged failing businessman, recently divorced and unable to pay for his daughters college fees, Clay is in the figurative Last Chance Saloon on a business trip to Saudi Arabia to sell his bosses IT project (involving the holograms of the title) to the king. Naturally the film is about the crises he faces (amongst other things, he has a nasty lump in his back which may prove cancerous) and the strange characters and situations he encounters in this foreign land, while reminiscing about his own life and failures. “Do you ever feel you might have done it differently?” he asks himself and others. His doubts are reinforced by his own fathers rather scathing opinion of him ( a great, if rather brutally short, cameo from Tom Skerritt), and there is a sense that the failing here is not just of Clay but of the American Dream itself, with the American Empire suffering from Globalisation and the transfer of Economic power and wealth to Asia and the East. There is a sense of a Changing Of The Guard, of a transient world, and Clay is a little figure caught in it, as are we all.

So its very much a film of its time. Its interesting though to compare it to The Swimmer, in which Burt Lancaster’s Ned Merrill has suffered his own midlife meltdown following a divorce and subsequent career failure. The Swimmer is a much darker and fulfilling affair, lacking any real redemption for its protagonist. A Hologram For The King in comparison feels much more lightweight and rather suffers for having a happy ending almost out of left-field, in the form of a romance with his doctor and a fresh career opportunity in Saudi. A Hologram For The King gets away with it because, well, we all root for Tom, he’s a nice guy after all, and the film is, well, always lightweight and fairly comic.But its a vindication for Clay that feels a little too Hollywood, knowing how grimly some people suffer  on the wrong end of the American Dream. A Hologram For The King feels fluffy, whereas The Swimmer feels ‘real’, with something genuine to say about the 1960s America it was made in. I’m not sure, ultimately, what A Hologram For The King is really  saying or how that will resonate over the decades, but it is pleasant enough and is carried by Hank’s genuine charm.

Diabolical Angels

ad1Angels & Demons (2009),  Blu-ray

Hmm. What exactly was this film about, exactly? Some Irish priest who wants to usurp the Catholic church for Reasons Unknown and become the Pope by stealth, murder and intrigue? Or was it about some scientific discovery regards the ‘God Particle’ and how its existence proves and/or disproves the existence of God? Or is it about an assassin hired to kill four cardinals in elaborate fashion on the hour every hour as a distraction from a massive bomb nuking most of Rome and the heads of the Catholic Church? I ask because I think its all of the above, but I’m not entirely certain. Whatever it is, it finally collapses into complete farce with the bad-boy priest seizing control of a convenient helicopter and flying the bomb into the heavens in an act of saintly sacrifice, only to conveniently parachute down from the massive explosion and certain Popedom, until hero Robert Langdon discovers a handy secret camera confirming the imminent Pope is really a James Bond villain in the wrong movie.

Yes its the elaborately nonsensical sequel to The Da Vinci Code (although the book is actually a prequel as it was written first, but… well, never mind)and like that film this is a fiendishly staged and competently structured thriller that eventually unravels under the weight of an increasingly preposterous plot. Until its final twenty minutes it might even be a better movie, as its race-against-time story does have some measure of tension and mystery until everything is finally revealed to be shockingly stupid.

Its the fascinating thing about the Dan Brown books, their popularity and that of the films- its like  everyone’s Dirty Secret. They are utter tosh and we know it, but we read them and the films become some kind of Modern Event, complete with major star actors, major  league director (Ron Howard) and talented crew behind the scenes (the visual effects are convincing and spectacular). The films are made with such sincerity and conviction its almost heartbreaking when you realise the crass stupidity of it all.

In the end, although this film has its fans I do think the first film is the superior of the two (the ending with the helicopter is just a step too far for me, although the book is actually even dafter as I recall). The conspiracy behind The Da Vinci Code is just too seductive and enjoyable compared to this films strange arc of Catholic politics and fiendish murders. I’m still not certain if these films are just silly fun or horribly insulting.

Something’s missing in the code…

davinci1The Da Vinci Code (2006) (Blu-ray)

With Inferno coming to the cinema next week, it seemed timely to revisit the earlier films in the franchise, so to make a start I dug out my old blu-ray of The Da Vinci Code.

Okay, guilty admission time: I quite enjoyed the Dan Brown book, and have a soft spot for the film. I remember reading the book on a summer holiday, thinking it was a great (albeit daft) page -turner surely destined to be a movie (in a similar fashion when reading The Martian years later).Of course the success of the book inevitably had the Hollywood big boys attention and what might have been a successful minor film turned into a triple-A talent blockbuster starring no less than Tom Hanks in the lead with Ron Howard directing.

Now, regular readers of this blog will know  I have my issues with Ron Howard- he’s a competent director with some box-office hits behind him, but his films are generally functional, well-crafted but lacking any personal ‘voice’ and thats true of The Da Vinci Code too. It tells its story and technically its competent, but it never gets under the skin of the characters or what makes the central conceit of the story so beguiling; it isn’t based on the book or a commentary on the book, it simply is the book.

Its a standard thriller/page-turner/potboiler and feels rather soulless. Its as lazily presented as the book is lazily written, full of both interesting and preposterous ideas, tantalising possibilities and gaping plot-holes, all swept up in a driving rush to the finale (the whole point of the hot pursuit and relentless pace of the film is simply to stop the audience having time or opportunity to think too much about what they are seeing).

Its a Hitchcock thriller by way of art history notes/conspiracy angst and religious dogma- Stanley Kubrick might have added some personal commentary or examination of what exactly attracted people to the wild fancies of this book, and what that might tell us of Western Civilization in a new millennium. Howard though, is no Kubrick, he’s a director with a job to do; to simply put the book onscreen, which he manages admirably. I would have liked a bit more but it’s likely unfair to criticize Howard for doing his job. Its doubly unfair of me to compare Howard to Kubrick too.

The film does have an above-average Hans Zimmer score though, which is something, but even that feels fairly routine -there’s no humour in the score at all, something which might have enlivened the film a little. The whole thing is deadpan and serious, treating the story with a reverence that is almost confounding. Not once does Hanks give the audience a wink that he knows it’s all daft hokum. Instead the film threatens to collapse under the weight of all that reverence and rigidity to a book that doesn’t really deserve it, or is able to support it.

That said, there is an old-school, Hitchcock thriller feel to the film that is rather endearing, and it’s certainly a change from all the CGI-dominated superhero heroics dominating Hollywood today, so yeah, despite my misgivings, I do have a soft spot for it. One of those guilty pleasures I guess. And nothing with Tom Hanks in can be all bad.