Thursday, July 06, 2006

Recent first-run stuff: The Da Vinci Code, Lady Vengeance, Nacho Libre

Very briefly: In Montreal now, about to go pick up my press pass so that I can see The Descent and Seven Swords tonight. The hotel looks nicer than the one I stayed in last year, but there only seems to be one working outlet, which is hugely annoying.

The Da Vinci Code

* * (out of four)
Seen 29 May 2006 at AMC Boston Common #11 (First-run)

The trouble with The Da Vinci Code, at least as a movie, isn't that it advances a theory that could rub the religious the wrong way. After all, if a person's faith can't handle a hypothetical scenario in a work of fiction, then it's probably not doing them a lot of good. The problem is that said idea is all the movie has, and the process of finding it out isn't terribly exciting.

It opens with Dr. Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), an internationally renowned expert in the field of symbolic anthropology or something like that being called to a crime scene in the Louvre to help decode a set of cryptic markings found near a body. As he does so, though, Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), a detective with the French equivalent of the FBI, informs him that he's not considered an expert, but a suspect. The murdered man was her grandfather, and she thinks the detective in charge, Bezu Fache (Jean Reno), is barking up the wrong tree, so she helps him escape and follow the clue to the real killer - Silas (Paul Bettany), an albino religious zealot. But who is he an agent for?

Read the rest at HBS.

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (Chinjeolhan geumjassi)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 10 June 2006 at Landmark Kendall Square #2 (First-run)

Though the English-language title of Park Chan-wook's most recent feature most explicitly references the first entry in his so-called "revenge trilogy", Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, and it quotes an important line from that film, it's the parallels with Oldboy that may leap out the most vividly - the lengthy period of imprisonment, the elaborate plan, the pain of not knowing a lost child. Heck, when the time to inflict some pain comes, one character chooses the hammer as his weapon of choice. It's not quite as flashy as Oldboy, but that's to its benefit - there's nothing smirk-worthy in its ending to keep it from hitting like a ton of bricks.

Thirteen years ago, Lee Geum-ja (Lee Young-ae) didn't seem like the type to murder a six-year-old boy; indeed, one of her fellow prisoners would later say that she shined with the light of goodness. But she confessed, and was convicted. Inside, she earned the admiration of a Christian preacher (Kim Byeong-ok) for her devotion to God, a baker (Oh Dal-su) for her ability to make delicious pastries from substandard ingredients, and her fellow prisoners for taking unpleasant jobs like caring for an elderly North Korean spy. When she is released at the age of thirty-two, she takes a job at the baker's shop but turns her back on the church; she also tracks down the inmates released before her and presses them into service in her plan for revenge on Mr. Baek (Choi Min-sik), the man she holds responsible for losing everything that matters to her.

Read the rest at HBS

Nacho Libre

* * * (out of four)
Seen 17 June 2006 at AMC Fenway #13 (First-run)

Nacho Libre has no use for subtlety. It stars Jack Black and is produced by Nickelodeon Pictures, and neither Black nor Nick is especially noted for forgoing the obvious joke for something more sophisticated when the obvious thing can be observed to work. In other words, people will occasionally pass some gas in this movie, but if you can get over thinking you're too good for a fart joke, you'll probably laugh at it.

Ignacio, nicknamed "Nacho" (Jack Black), has lived his entire life in an orphanage - first as a child following the death of his parents, then as the most lowly and least respected friar on staff. For nearly as long, he has been a fan of luchadors, the masked wrestlers who are immensely popular in his part of Mexico. After a new nun, Sister Encarnarcion (Ana de la Reguera) comes to the rectory and stirs dormant emotions within him, he forms a tag-team with Esqueleto (Hector Jiminez), the skinny pauper who had previously stolen the orphans' day-old tortilla chips. Soon, though, even if the money for being jobbers is good, they begin to hunger for respect, which can only be gained by defeating Ramses (Cesar Gonzales), the country's most popular and most feared competitor.

Read the rest at HBS.

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