Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Da Vinci Code

All things considered, they probably did as well as they could in telescoping an expansive novel into a feature film (always a tricky and mostly thankless task…one wonders how the massive Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is going to fare next year.) It’s certainly not a great movie…neither director Ron Howard nor star Tom Hanks need to clear any space on their awards shelves for their work here…but, if you just suspend disbelief and go with it, it’s a somewhat entertaining (if sometimes poorly paced) movie.

That said, one of the drawbacks of the movie is that it lacks the energy and sense of wonder and discovery of Dan Brown’s novel. The book is, at its core, a combination of a potboiler thriller and a detective story that keeps you reading despite some occasionally mundane prose and some preposterous suppositions. The movie’s characters spend an inordinate amount of time pulling answers out of thin air and ponderously explaining plot points (though, to be fair, some of the flashbacks accompanying some of these soliloquies are stylishly filmed.)

The movie touches on most of the book’s major plot points…rewriting some stuff (because that’s what Hollywood guys do) for reasons that escape me…but it sacrifices character development (and some continuity rhythm) to do so. People who’ve read the book can fill in the blanks when it comes to character motivations. People who haven’t can enjoy it as a mildly engaging treasure hunt of a film. In fact it might be a more satisfying movie going experience for those who haven’t read the book since some of the big “reveals” might actually surprise them rather than coloring the way they look at characters as soon as they appear on screen.

Howard tried to walk the fine line between telling the story and skirting the controversy of its main plot points…near the end Hanks is twice given lines aimed at the audience saying, truthfully enough I suppose, that what’s important is “what you believe”…and more or less (and for better or for worse) he succeeds in that.

Friday, May 19, 2006

A Random Pop Culture List

The 50 Best Film Adaptation of Books... least as chosen by Great Britain’s Book Marketing Society (personally I would have included Truman Capote's In Cold Blood and Richard Condon's The Manchurian Candidate...but that's just me.) The best film adaptation will be chosen by a poll of British book buyers online and in bookstores and announced in June.

The English Patient Michael Ondaatje
Goodfellas Nicholas Pileggi
The Vanishing Tim Krabbe
Lord Of The Flies William Golding
Remains Of The Day Kazuo Ishiguro
Close Range (Brokeback Mountain) Annie Proulx
Empire Of The Sun JG Ballard
Schindler's Ark (filmed as Schindler's List) Thomas Keneally
The Spy Who Came In From The Cold John le Carré
Different Seasons (Shawshank Redemption) Stephen King
American Psycho Bret Easton Ellis
Jaws Peter Benchley
Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? (filmed as Blade Runner) Philip K Dick
The Maltese Falcon Dashiell Hammett
The Hound Of The Baskervilles Arthur Conan Doyle
Heart Of Darkness (filmed as Apocalypse Now) Joseph Conrad

Oliver Twist Charles Dickens
Pride And Prejudice Jane Austen
Tess Of The D'Urbervilles Thomas Hardy
The Jungle Book Rudyard Kipling
Les Liaisons Dangereuses (filmed as Dangerous Liaisons) Choderlos de Laclos
1984 George Orwell
Alice In Wonderland Lewis Carroll
A Clockwork Orange Anthony Burgess
A Kestrel For A Knave (filmed as Kes) Barry Hines
Breakfast At Tiffany's Truman Capote
Get Shorty Elmore Leonard

Goldfinger Ian Fleming
Lolita Vladimir Nabokov
One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest Ken Kesey
Day Of The Triffids John Wyndham
The Outsiders S E Hinton
The Railway Children E Nesbit
Watership Down Richard Adams
Charlie And The Chocolate Factory Roald Dahl
Orlando Virginia Woolf
The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie Muriel Spark
Brighton Rock Graham Greene
Catch-22 Joseph Heller
Doctor Zhivago Boris Pasternak
Fight Club Chuck Palahniuk
The French Lieutenant's Woman John Fowles
LA Confidential James Ellroy
The Godfather Mario Puzo
The Talented Mr Ripley Patricia Highsmith
To Kill A Mockingbird Harper Lee
Trainspotting Irvine Welsh
Sin City Frank Miller
Rebecca Daphne Du Maurier
Devil In A Blue Dress Walter Mosley

Thursday, May 18, 2006


Paul Simon’s last couple of studio CDs…Songs from the Capeman and You’re the One…were decidedly uneven affairs…certainly not on a par with great Simon collections like Graceland and Still Crazy After All These Years. Surprise doesn’t belong in that lofty company either…but it is a step in the right direction.

Simon is in fine voice and some of the tunes…especially the gently-acerbic post 9-11 rumination “How Can You Live in the Northeast?”, the gospel-tinged “Wartime Prayers” (featuring piano by Herbie Hancock and backing vocals by the Jessy Dixon Singers), the jaunty and witty “Outrageous”, and the lilting parental ode “Fathers and Daughters” awkward.

And Simon’s distinctive style is cushioned here by lush electronica touches by Brian Eno (who is credited with creating the “sonic landscape” and with playing “electronics”.) Simon hasn’t turned in a Talking Heads album or anything like that…most of Eno’s touches are back in the mix beneath the guitars, drums, and basses…but there is a pleasing lushness to the proceedings.

Surprise is not a great album but it is a good one and for longtime Simon fans like myself it’s a nice little addition to his catalog…one that will probably grow more even pleasing with repeated listenings.

Monday, May 15, 2006

NBC Fall Schedule

NBC is the first network to announce their schedule for the 2006-07 season. Among the shows not returning from the current season are The West Wing, Will & Grace, Joey, Surface, Teachers, Conviction, E-Ring, and Four Kings.

Mondays will kick off with the hit game show Deal or No Deal. Following at 9 will be Heroes, a sprawling new series about a genetics professor investigating the fact that people with superhuman abilities live among us, with Medium returning in the 10 PM slot.

Tuesdays begins with Friday Night Lights, a family drama based on the book about High School football of the same name. Then comes Kidnapped (among those in the large ensemble cast are Jeremy Sisto, Delroy Lindo, Dana Delany, and Timothy Hutton), a serial thriller revolving around the kidnapping of the son of a wealthy New York couple followed by the returning Law & Order: SVU.

Wednesday is bracketed by two returning shows: The Biggest Loser at 8 and the long-running Law & Order (with “exciting” cast changes) at 10. In between will be two new sitcoms: 20 Good Years, an Odd Couple-type show revolving around two aging men who come to realize that life doesn’t last forever (leaving them…wait for it…about 20 good years) starring the potentially grand team of John (3rd Rock from the Sun) Lithgow and Jeffrey (Arrested Development) Tambor…and 30 Rock, one of two NBC shows revolving behind the behind-the-scenes action at a late night comedy/variety show with Saturday Night Live vets Tina Fey and Tracy Morgan along with Alec Baldwin.

NBC’s once powerhouse “Must See TV” Thursday tries to get back up to speed with yet another revamp. The first hour will showcase the comedies My Name is Earl and The Office. At 9, the other show about the behind-the-scenes goings on at a late night comedy, West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin’s Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, will do battle with CBS’ might CSI. The hour-long drama will feature an ensemble cast led by Matthew (Friends) Perry and Bradley (West Wing) Whitford. ER will anchor the 10 PM spot with new shows through a December cliffhanger when it will give way to The Black Donnelleys, a crime drama about four Irish brothers in organized crime. ER will return after The Black Donnelleys finishes its run.

Friday will start with a second edition of Deal or No Deal followed by Las Vegas and, relocating from Sundays, Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

Saturday will begin with the newsmagazine Dateline and then continue with rebroadcasts of episodes of drama series at 9 and 10.

Sundays will feature the new Sunday Night Football primetime game anchored by Al Michaels and John Madden. The games will be preceded by Football Night in America, a studio pre-game show featuring Bob Costas, Cris Collingsworth, and Jerome Bettis. After the football season is over, Simon Cowell’s America’s Got Talent (hosted by Regis Philbin) will take over the 8 PM slot followed by The Apprentice (with Donald Trump taking his new search to Los Angeles) and Raines, a quirky police drama starring Jeff Goldblum.

Scrubs and Crossing Jordan have also been renewed and will be plugged into the schedule as other series fail.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Best and Worst Autograph Givers

According its 14th annual survey, Autograph Collector magazine (who knew such a thing existed? But then I don't care about autographs so I'm not part of their target audience:-) named Johnny Depp (above) is the most accommodating celebrity when it comes to signing autographs (Depp led the 2005 list as well.) Cameron Diaz (below) is, according to them, the worst in that regard (instead of just saying "no" supposedly Ms. Diaz lectures autograph hounds about how dumb trying to collect autographs is.)

Following Depp on the list of the 10 best autograph signers of '06 are: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Al Pacino, Tom Cruise, Angelina Jolie, Elijah Wood, Brittany Murphy, Jack Nicholson, and Clint Eastwood.

Joining Diaz on the autograph Scrooge list are: Bruce Willis, Demi Moore, Tobey Maguire, Alan Alda, Halle Berry, Winona Ryder, Teri Hatcher, Joaquin Phoenix, and Russell Crowe. (And they are all, of course, completely free not to sign their names over and over if they don't wish to.)

The complete list will appear in the June issue of Autograph Collector.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Pop Culture News and Notes

A British court ruled against The Beatles in their suit against Apple Computer (which they filed to prevent Apple from using the apple-shaped logo on their iTunes site; the Beatles contend that they had a 1991 agreement with Apple that prevented the computer giant from using the logo, which they claim was too similar to the Beatles’ own Apple Records logo, on music-related enterprises.) Apple Corps…which was founded by the Beatles in 1968 and which is still owned by Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, John Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono, and the estate of George Harrison…is most likely going to appeal. For its part, Apple Computer hopes to reach some kind of amicable accommodation with the Beatles that might include iTunes finally having the music of the Fab Four, which is not legally available as online downloads, for sale.

* * *

Mission: Impossible 3 opened with comparatively soft numbers despite (or maybe because of) the incessant promo tour Mr. Cruise and his big wide grin embarked on last week. $48 million in domestic box office is still a lot of money but it probably disappoints the producers and the studio anyway since that is about $10 million less than Mission: Impossible 2 did during its opening weekend back in 2000. It gets worse when you factor in rising ticket prices between 2000 and now because the estimated number of people who went to see MI3 during its first weekend was more than 3 million less than those who queued up for MI2’s debut. There’s no reason to cry for Tom or the studio since it’s likely that MI3’s overseas take (where couch jumping and wild-eyed rants about postpartum depression may not have the same impact) will help them all make mountains of dough just the same.

* * *

Axl Rose has reportedly said that the oft-delayed new Guns ‘n’ Roses disc, Chinese Democracy, will be released sometime this fall. The record has been talked about for just about a decade now so Axl will just have to forgive us if we don’t hold our breath in anticipation that this thing will actually drop this year…