Angels & Demons. Seen Tuesday evening May 19, 2009 at the AMC Empire, screen 6. 3.5 Slithy Toads
So I'm sitting at home on a Sunday night with The Firm on as background noise; it's a TNT Free Movie On Demand, and hearing that Dave Grusin score...
It inspires me to write about movies.
Up is Wall-E redux. It starts out with some wonderful stuff that nobody but Pixar does in an animated film, a music-and-pictures sequence that tells the life story of the lead character from youth to old age, for richer and poorer and sickness and health with the woman he meets at a young age, marries, and eventually survives. There's another very nice scene not long thereafter when he snaps at the pressure of a development going up around the house he's holding on to, providing an opportunity for evil developer to get his way.
[where is Gene Hackman. I just hear his voice in The Firm and wish he were ageless.]
So if you've read anything about Up, you kind of know what happens. The house floats away on a sea of balloons, there's a boy-scout-like boy stowed away, and they go to South American and have an adventure.
Sadly, all of the inspiration in the movie must have been left behind when the house lifted off, because there ain't a darned thing in the South Africa section that really makes any sense. You've got a valuable bird, but why? Dogs that talk, but why? The old explorer the lead-as-boy once idolized is still alive even though he's got to be fifteen or twenty years older, and he's the dog master and bird hunter, but why? So to me, Up ends up having the same second act troubles that seriously deflated Wall-E for me. All that effort to start up the concept for a story, all the creativity and genius, but I don't think anyone knew what to do leading off from the idea.
At their best, these movies show Pixar doing animation for adults that's serious and refreshing and at the same time accessible, and I'd rather see Pixar trying to do something than see the Dreamworks Animation formula being trotted out once more. But to be honest, Pixar's starting to get credit like French films, just for being French or being Pixar.
The quality of the animation is often excellent.
The best part of the movie is the music by Michael Giacchino. Jerry Goldsmith is gone. John Barry and John Williams aren't gone but also aren't working much any more. I've been wondering if there's anyone who might lay the claim to being a real go-to guy for film music. There's this temptation for me to say its James Newton Howard who has some excellent work in Defiance and The Village, but I can't to that far in his favor. Well, after listing to his work on both Star Trek and Up, I think we've found it, that his name is Michael Giacchino, and that it's a good thing maybe Lost is ending because perhaps if his work on that show is over he'll find time to do more movie music. The score in Up is wonderful. Yes, Giacchino is channeling Randy Newman something big, but there are worse things to do. His music helps make the wordless sequences sing. Great job.
Angels and Demons is this summer's Wanted, or perhaps the closest thing I've seen to the movie equivalent of Simon R. Green. Like Wanted, it's not "great" movie-making, but it's just a helluva lot of fun. I was rapt from beginning to end, never checking my watch for a 2+ hour movie (not even tempted until very near the end, and I said "no, it's close to the end, let it ride..."), enjoying myself thoroughly for the duration. I'd mention Simon R. Green because Simon is a writer I've represented for 20 years whose work is often wonderful (and to give a plug, I think the book Daemons Are Forever which comes out in paperback this week may be the best book he's ever written with the prior Man With The Golden Torc very close behind) but whom I can't use as a good how to example. Simon's sheer energy and verve and voice and all allow him to get away with being very "tell-y" sometimes when writers are supposed to show, not tell. It's kind of like that with Angels and Demons. You really shouldn't have Tom Hanks running around Rome stopping constantly to give little lessons in art history, geography, theology, and more. You totally shouldn't. But yet he does, and the movie's all the more endearing for enthusiastically charging ahead to do things you're not supposed to do.
This is better than DaVinci Code. The formula might be the same, but the geography and time scale of Angels and Demons are much more compressed, so there's a ticking clock vibrancy that was lacking in the earlier move. A lot of fun, Angels and Demons is, and the summer's off to a blessed good start to have it and Star Trek bringing joy and life and fun to the multiplex.
And I want to give some special mention to Ron Howard. I haven't seen all of his movies, and some like Night Shift I really should have. But The Grinch is the only Ron Howard movie in a long career that I wouldn't want to see. Ron Howard hasn't made a great all-time classic movie like Martin Scorcese with Goodfellas, but neither has Howard made a turd like The Last Temptation of Christ. Apollo 13 might be his best movie, and it was fun in Angels and Demons for me to see Howard channeling his inner Apollo 13 in the CERN sequences. In Backdraft he almost pulled off the feat of making a good movie from a decidedly bad script. He's made many different types of movies in many different genres and usually made them entertainingly.