MOVIE BUFF-ET: Inferno turns up heat on Da Vinci Code series

Photo: Jonathan Prime / Sony Pictures

Despite the talents of Ron Howard behind the camera and Tom Hanks in front of it, the duo failed to fully capture the mystery and suspense of Dan Brown’s novels The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons.

Like the books, both films were convoluted, but unlike the bestsellers, the films were tepid and bordering on tedious. The series had been disappointing, and I only recently noticed Howard and Hanks were teaming up for a third try at successfully adapting the adventures of Professor Robert Langdon to the big screen. Frankly, if Inferno had opened on a busier weekend, I probably would have skipped it entirely based on the blandness of the previous two films in the series.

New In Local Theaters

  • Inferno (PG-13) 2 hr. 2 min.
    (AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle)
    » Watch trailer
  • Harry and Snowman (NR) 1 hr. 24 min.
    (Malco Rogers Towne)
    » Watch trailer

Had I skipped Inferno, I would have missed out on a solid thriller that features more twists and turns than the Pig Trails (Arkansas Highway 23). Fans of Brown’s novel will likely be taken by surprise, too, as the film deviates from the original story in several ways that I rather enjoyed, but won’t spoil.

The movie opens with Langdon awakening in a hospital bed with a gunshot wound to his head and a case of amnesia. When an assassin disguised as an Italian police officer attempts to kill him, Langdon and his attending doctor Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) go on the lam.

Slowly Langdon begins to shake his grogginess, and he and Brooks, a child prodigy who had been familiar with his books since her youth, began to piece together why Langdon is being chased by the police, an assassin and representatives of the U.S. consulate.

The first clue is a miniature image projector, which Langdon found in his suit coat. He did not remember why he had it, but it projected a doctored image of Botticelli’s painting Map of Hell, created from the descriptions of the underworld found in Dante’s Inferno.

Clues in the image lead the pair to the work of billionaire geneticist Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster) who developed a Bubonic plague-like virus that his confederates are going release upon the world. The virus is designed to thin the herd by a half, thus alleviating the Earth’s growing population crisis. The idea is to save the world by releasing hell on Earth.

From there an action-packed race is on from Italy to Istanbul as the protagonists seek to sink Zobrist’s plan.

Hanks’ everyman appeal is on full display as the confused Langdon struggles to use his mind despite being only able to remember snippets of information. Jones is a more than capable sidekick, who is hiding an agenda of her own. Howard deftly throws curves at his heroes and the audience in Hitchcockian fashion. The first two acts of the film have a distinct North by Northwest flavor.

By no means is Inferno the best of Howard and Hanks’ seven onscreen collaborations, but it does breath new energy into a series that seemed tired upon arrival a decade ago.

Grade: B

Tyler Perry’s Boo! A Madea Halloween

Photo: Daniel McFadden / Lionsgate

I typically enjoy Tyler Perry’s work, and Halloween’s one of my favorite times of the year. When I saw the movie poster for Boo! A Madea Halloween, I admittedly smiled and took not of the opening date.

However, whatever excitement I had for the movie, quickly turned to disappointment and finally resentment while watching this unfunny mess.

The plot centers around Perry’s defiant, high-school-age daughter Tiffany sneaking off to a frat’s Halloween party with some friends, while Madea and three of her cronies were supposed to be watching her. Of course Madea crashes that party, and from there stale humor ensues.

The movie is all trick with absolutely no treat.

(PG-13) 1 hr. 43 min.
Grade: D-

Classic Corner

Some movies define their genres, while others transcend them. I think one can easily argue that Halloween does both for the slasher film category.

Though Halloween was made on a shoestring budget of $300,000, it grossed nearly $170 million when released in 1978, and, as a property it remains nearly as popular today as it has ever been with ardent horror movie fans.

Like Frankenstein and Dracula before him, Michael Myers has become a cinematic boogey man of the first order, and his popularity no doubt influenced the creation of other big-screen fright masters like Jason Vorhees from the Friday the 13th films and Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Director John Carpenter, who also composed and performed the film’s chilling score, succeeded in making Myers an instant horror icon by deftly shooting scenes of the film from the killer’s perspective. While that is now a horror cliché, Carpenter was the first to do it, and what an effect it had.

Carpenter paid its respects to director Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece Psycho with the movie, but Myers, while less realistic than Hitchcock’s Norman Bates, is a more intimidating predator because Carpenter reveals less about him than Hitchcock did Bates. Myers seems to be a nearly unstoppable force of nature, while Bates winds up being nearly as pathetic as he is chilling at that psycho’s end.

Unlike the scores of slasher films that followed in Halloween’s wake, Carpenter relied on suspense rather than gore and violence to propel his film, and that white-knuckled suspense he created is what holds Halloween above more graphic films that desensitize the viewer by continually upping the ante on the violence.

Just as Myers became a pattern for slashers, Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode became a fright-film icon as Carpenter’s last girl, or last victim, who survives the attack. Curtis, whose mother Janet Leigh starred in Psycho, masterfully depicts both the fight and the flight instincts as she battles for her life against the brutal and unrelenting Myers. Carpenter wisely made her the audience’s on-screen surrogate. The film successfully put the viewer into Laurie shoes, allowing them to vicariously feel the character’s terror through her performance.

What more could one want from a horror movie?

The Nightmare Before Christmas
Is the Nightmare Before Christmas a Halloween or a Christmas movie?

That’s a tough question that every film fan has to answer for themselves. I personally think of it as the perfect bridge between the two seasons. It’s a great way to bid a fond farewell to the frightful fun of Halloween, while welcoming the oncoming rush of Christmas, which has already crept its way into retail stores far and wide.

The 1993 stop-motion animated film, conceived and produced by Tim Burton and directed by Henry Selick, is a creepy feast for the eyes and ears as Halloweentown’s pumpkin king Jack Skellington becomes bored with his holiday and kidnaps Santa Claus in an attempt usurp his.

Burton’s designs and Selick’s animation are superb, creating a fantastically fun but macabre world, and Danny Elfman’s score and singing voice of Jack are a perfect fit with the director and producer’s vision for the film.

The movie is a perfect way to cap off a night of trick or treating for young and old.