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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Angels and Demons

Naturally when I see the words Angels & Demons my first thought does not turn to either the Dan Brown best-selling opus by that title or the newly adapted film of that same book starring Tom Hanks (Charlie Wilson's War). I tend to take words more literally. You say “Angels & Demons” to me and I immediately think of children, of course. I seldom meet one these days that I don’t think of as a demon, so I assume once they are dead they must be angels. Or at the very least they’re finally quiet and that seems angelic to me, especially in a movie theater. I’m sorry if it sounds terribly self-centered and mean-spirited to bring up the subject of dead babies, but it’s not like I’m making dead baby jokes. Still, I don’t want to be a hypocrite about it and act like I find the snot-nosed little loudmouths adorable because I don’t. In our society I might as well say I regularly enjoy anal sex with Osama Bin Laden as admit my aversion to the little nippers the way people react, but it is what it is.

The need to replicate myself or my husband into the over-polluted gene pool never existed the way it does in other women even though we did have
kids, but you can chalk that up to fate (and broken condoms) more than an unchecked desire to breed little duplicates of ourselves. I’d say my biological clock must have been made in China, but the Chinese seem to be doing a more than adequate job of their own cranking out babies right and left, so if my bio clock came from China it was definitely broken on arrival. Granted, we’ve were blessed with a lovely son and daughter during our marriage, so it isn’t as if I am against parenthood. When the kids are your own it’s a whole other story. Then it is a matter of smotherly love. My children were perfect from the womb on out and have never been less than stellar ~ and mannerly in movie theaters ~ ever since.

My son has grown up to be quite the scholar, maybe not quite so keen as smarty-pants Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) in
Angels & Demons, but I don’t think anyone in real life knows as much as Mr. Langdon apparently seems to know off the top of his head. I’ll bet even Ken Jennings, that guy who won every day for months on “Jeopardy,” couldn’t pull the things out of his ass-ets the way Robert does. For a guy who teaches Symbolism at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he appears to know every nook and cranny, every secret tunnel and every statuary, painting and book in Italy’s Vatican City and every bit of essential history about these things, including right where to find them.

At one point in the film he is granted access to the Vatican Archives, supposedly for the first time
after submitting many written and rejected requests over the course of several previous years, and yet as soon as he is let inside this massive (think Library of Congress big) collection of memorabilia, he heads straight for the exact volume he is looking for out of what appears to be millions of books. My brilliant son may be a genius blessed by God with looks, talent, and smarts, but even he would at least need to ask a librarian to point him in the right direction. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

So in spite of some of this sort of silliness, let me just say that I liked this ‘sort of’ sequel to The DaVinci Code
. I say ‘sort of’ because
Angels & Demons was actually written and published before The DaVinci Code, but Hollywood being Hollywood, director Ron “Opie” Howard (Frost/Nixon) made the sequel book into the first movie, and when it was an enormous success went back to what he thought was a “lesser” work and decided to make that into a sequel. Well, guess what? The “lesser” work is actually a whole lot more fun than its predecessor (or however you want to think about it).

Angels & Demons is more of a straight forward detective story than The DaVinci Code was, and it is (one can hope) less controversial. There are no suppositions about Jesus and his sex life or as much as a mention of Mary Magdalene in this one. As a matter of fact, I’m not sure Jesus even gets a shout-out. This movie is more about politics under the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica and a terrorist plot to disrupt the election of a new Pope after the recent death of a very popular pontiff. And what better way to spook a bunch of men in red dresses with lace on the sleeves than to shake them up with some scientific mumbo jumbo? Somebody swipes a tube full of antimatter (yeah, I know, so easy to do…eyes roll) from a laboratory in Switzerland and hides it in The Vatican somewhere and then sends the most complicated and obscurely worded video possible (that doesn’t even mention the antimatter threat) but still tells The Powers That Be to expect the merde to hit the fan by midnight of that same night.

Okay, so naturally Vatican Police Inspector Olivetti (Pierfrancesco Favino; The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian) immediately thinks to send a Vatican representative already in New York to fly to Boston to convince Langdon to come to Rome and then on to The Vatican to help decipher the real meaning of tape and help rescue the four Cardinals who have been kidnapped as a first step in this terrorist plot. I’m glad nobody is keeping a strict timetable of the day because this whole experience seems to stretch extraordinarily long considering the amount of time it takes for anyone to fly from New York to Boston, and then drive to Cambridge, find parking, track down the professor, give him the spiel, wait for him to shower and dress, then drive him back to the jet and fly from Boston to Rome and hook up with a helicopter to go to Vatican City and finally be introduced to the Inspector, who then has to take Langdon to the head of the Swiss Guard, the internal police responsible for security within the walls of the actual Vatican itself. It’s up to Commander Richter (Stellan Skarsgård; Mamma Mia!) to introduce Langdon to Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer; Vantage Point) and explain that she is a scientist whose research partner, a priest, was murdered the day before and that their antimatter was stolen and that maybe this all fits in somehow, and, oh, maybe it’s finally time to run that beautiful bean footage for the expert from America. Now, I don’t know at what time the boys at The Vatican got the video to start with, but it’s got to be at least a two hour process at the very least to get the liaison from NYC to Beantown and then to Harvard and it’s going to be another six hours or so to get to Rome. With the six hour time change, even if Langston got on the plane at 8:00 am his time, it would be 8:00 pm in Rome, which wouldn’t give him any time for all the chit-chat, research, or opportunity to meet the dead Pope’s sidekick, called the Camerlengo, Father Patrick McKenna (who, I’m sorry to say because I love him dearly, and he is one of my future ex-husbands, is played by Ewan McGregor; Deception, who could no more be celibate for a week than I could be silent for a day). Ewan McGregor as a priest? What next? Paris Hilton in a bio-pic as Mother Theresa?

Quicker than you can say “Who’s that old Nazi?” Armin Mueller-Stahl (The International) starts
grumbling around as Cardinal Strauss and looking guilty of something, which he usually is in other movies, so you can imagine it is only natural to expect him to be up to no good here too, especially when the other old birds start whispering that he should be drafted as the new Sovereign of the Roman Catholic Church. Well, whether he’s behind that plan or not (and I’m not saying), it’s Nikolaj Lie Kaas (Kandidaten) who makes for the cutest assassin this side of Wanted’s James McAvoy, and he’s the one with actual blood on his hands regardless of who he is working for.

Okay, so there’s no way in real time all of this high drama could happen in the time allotted ~ the bad guys have threatened to kill one of the Cardinals every hour from 8:00 pm through 11:00 pm and then vaporize all of Vatican City at Midnight ~ with an American professor flying in and solving
the case before everything goes boom (oh, like that’s a spoiler!), but the intricacies of the would-be mystery are so complex and layered within historical references (not all true, by the way), that it is hard not to be engaged in the story. Screenwriters David Koepp (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) and Akiva Goldsman (The DaVinci Code) keep the action zipping non-stop and the tension is steady despite the overwhelming grandeur of the backdrop that you’d think might otherwise be distracting.

If Hanks and Howard expect to reunite with a third installment of Professor Langdon’s adventures, they’re going to have a hard time topping
Angels & Demons, though I know Dan Brown has already finished a third book in the series, The Lost Symbol, due out on September 15, 2009. I’d bet right now that if you asked Brown, Howard or Hanks they’d tell you that The Found Symbol on Angels & Demons is simple enough. It’s: $, and there's nothing wrong with that either because here’s one adventure that is worth paying your $ to enjoy.

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