Lots of Running Around Historical Sites

Da Vinci Code

A very popular and controversial book by Dan Brown.  The movie starred Tom Hanks as Professor Robert Langdon, a symbologist [fictional career] at Harvard.  Sir Ian McKellan (Gandalf and older Magneto, amongst other roles in his illustrious career) appears as Sir Leigh Teabing.  Alfred Molina (the bad guy in the live-action Sorcerer’s Apprentice, briefly appeared in Prince of Persia, he voiced bad guy Viggo Grimborne in the How To Train Your Dragon series Race to the Edge [love the show, we will definitely cover it down the road]; but he’s most notable as Doc Ock in Spider-Man 2…and may be reprising the role in the upcoming Tom Holland Spider-Man movie) pops in as a bishop.  And the talented Paul Bettany (Dr. Stephen Maturin in Master and Commander, Geoffrey Chauce in A Knight’s Tale, Jarvis/Vision in the MCU, Dryden Vos in Solo: A Star Wars Story, and Lord Melbourne in The Young Victoria) is once again naked at some point as Silas.  The film is also directed by Ron Howard (who has directed Tom Hanks in these movies as well as Splash and Apollo 13).

Angels and Demons was the book’s prequel, but the film’s sequel since they didn’t know if Da Vinci Code would be successful [there are further books in the series, including The Lost Symbol (which I have read) and Inferno, which I just started reading [not nearly as engaging at the moment as Once Upon a Time or Librarians] and unaware they made into a film as well…I shall have to investigate].  Hanks returns as Langdon, joined by Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi, Lumiere in the live-action Beauty and the Beast [where McKellan was Cogsworth], as well as appearing in Miss Potter, Moulin Rouge, and Down with Love) as Camerlengo Patrick McKenna [he was Italian in the book; they changed him to Irish because McGregor is certainly not Italian].  Stellan Skarsgård (Bootstrap Bill Turner in Pirates of the Caribbean, Bill in Mamma Mia, Captain Tupolev in The Hunt for Red October, and he even appears in the MCU as Eric Selvig) is Commander Richter.  If the Inspector looks familiar, he was General Glozelle in Prince Caspian.  (And yes, Alfred Molina provides the opening voiceover).

Da Vinci Code opens with an old man’s death inside the Louvre, Silas searching for answers.  Robert Langdon is called in because of the strange markings…and the police believe him to be a suspect.  He’s helped out by Sophie, who turns out to be the curator’s granddaughter.  Langdon was supposed to meet with the curator, but the man never showed.  Invisible ink at the crime scene reads “O Draconian devil, O lame saint,” and the Fibonacci sequence out of order.  If you rearrange the letters, it spells out Leonardo da Vinci, Mona Lisa.  There are painted the words “so dark the con of man,” leading to Madonna of the Rocks where a cross topped with the Fleur de Lis is found.  Langdon and Sophie follow the clues, after distracting the police.

Langdon goes on to tell Sophie about the Priory of Scion, that worked against the church because it guards the secret of God’s power on Earth.  Opposing the Priory is another secret society, Opus Dei (to which Silas belongs).  Langdon claims that the Templar Knights were the military arm of the Priory, and that the reason for the Crusades were to find an artifact.  They did, but then the church turned on them and killed them.  Langdon tells Sophie they are searching for the Holy Grail.  The key leads to a Swiss bank with a long term safety deposit box.  Inside the box is a wooden box topped with a rose, supposedly the symbol for the Holy Grail.  But the police are onto Sophie and Robert, though they escape thanks to the manager because of a “safe passage clause” that came with the deposit box.  Except he turns on them once they’re safe and tries to kill them.  Robert manages to knock him out and they drive to an old friend of his who is a Grail historian, Leigh Teabing.

Inside the rose box is a cryptex, designed by da Vinci.  A five letter word will open the cryptex, but if it is forced, the secret map inside will be destroyed.  Teabing lets Robert and Sophie in after they have answered three questions.  He then explains that the Holy Grail is not a cup, but instead is a woman.  The bloodline of Jesus Christ; he married Mary Magdalene, but that was not the image that the Church wanted of their Savior, so they hid the secret [I must admit, McKellan pulls off academic speech rather well].

Silas has been after this secret as well and has made his way to Teabing’s house and attacks.  Leigh and Sophie take him down after he knocks Robert out.  Leigh determines they need to head for England now.  They find a clue beneath the rose in the box; they must find a knight interred in London, overseen by a Pope.  They first head to Temple Church, but the knights are effigies, not tombs.  Silas pops back up and kidnaps Leigh.  Sophie and Robert make a run for it and Robert finally deduces that “A. Pope” means Alexander Pope, who oversaw Newton’s funeral (because Newton’s work on gravity angered the church, supposedly). 

We discover that Leigh has been playing both sides of the game.  He is the voice of the “Teacher” that has been instructing Opus Dei.  He sends cops to kill Silas, who accidentally shoots his bishop mentor while trying to escape.  The bishop was also the one who planted the idea with the French police that Langdon was responsible.  Leigh catches up to Sophie and Robert at Westminster Abbey, where they’re trying to figure out what orb is missing from Newton’s tomb.  That orb will be the five letter word they need to unlock the cryptex.  Leigh admits he will do anything to find the Grail.  When he threatens to shoot Sophie, Robert works out the clue.  He then throws the cryptex to Leigh, who crashes to the ground, breaking the cryptex.  The police arrive then and arrest Leigh.

But Robert had worked out the clue: apple.  The scroll inside points Sophie and him to ancient Roslyn, where the tomb of Mary Magdalene lies under starry sky.  Their next stop is Roslyn Chapel in Scotland (supposedly built by the Templars [it was built by the Sinclair family in the fifteenth century]).  The couple ventures into the basement where there are carvings of stars and they find a secret door down further.  But there is no sarcophagus. There is research, detailing the bloodline and Robert finally makes the connection; Sophie was not the curator’s actual granddaughter.  The curator was the Grand Master of the Priory of Scion and he took Sophie in when the rest of her family were killed.  He trained and guarded her; for she is the descendant of Mary Magdalene [yes, the Sinclairs are descendants of the Saint-Clairs of Normandy, France…which Saint-Clair is actually a place name, so not really “the oldest family in France”].

They meet more of the Priory, who will protect Sophie.  Robert advises that she could reveal her secret to the world, but would the living descendent of Jesus Christ destroy or renew faith?  Back in Paris, Robert mulls over the Rose Line, which is a trail that runs through Paris.  He follows it and finds one over the Louvre, where the bottom of the glass pyramid meets a mirrored sculpture.  We’re shown that deep below that lies the actual sarcophagus, beneath the starry sky of Paris.

Angels and Demons begins with a Pope’s death and the ceremonial events that follow.  At the same time, the collider in Cern creates anti-matter for the first time in a large enough quantity to be studied.  Then one of the canisters is stolen.  The Vatican Police visit Robert Langdon at Harvard, requesting his help because it appears that the Illuminati have resurfaced.  He wrote a book on the subject and his recent involvement with the church (meaning the Da Vinci Code) have recommended him to their service.  The Inspector is pleased for Langdon to help, but Commander Ritcher doesn’t trust him.  The four favored Cardinals have been kidnapped and are threatened to be executed once an hour, by the Illuminati.  The Illuminati are a secret society made up by scientists who were persecuted by the church for their radical thinking.

Robert teams up with Vittoria, the lead scientist on the antimatter that was stolen and is now shown to be beneath Vatican City somewhere, where thousands have gathered to find out who will be named the new Pope.  It’s now a race around Rome to discover where the Cardinals are hidden, which may lead to the secret Illuminati church.  First, Robert needs access to the Vatican archives in order to find the first clue, hidden in Galileo’s journals.  Robert is granted access by Patrick; he holds some authority now since he was the Pope’s chamberlain.  (It is an exciting dash around Rome, but hard to write out.)

Robert manages to rescue the last Cardinal; they are too late to save the others each time they get to the marker.  He begins to suspect Commander Ritcher and is almost proven correct when Ritcher is discovered threatening Patrick.  Patrick has the final brand on his chest from the Illuminati.  It is also discovered that the previous Pope was poisoned, but now they have an idea where the antimatter is located.  Patrick agrees to take a helicopter up and let it detonate in the air, rather than below ground.  It seems like Patrick is the hero.

Until Robert has a hunch.  He finds security footage showing Ritcher confronting Patrick.  It was Patrick who arranged for the antimatter to be stolen because he feels that the church is going soft by embracing science.  If he resurrected the Illuminati, it would unite Christianity and bring faith back to the forefront.  Robert and Vittoria go to the head Cardinals and show them the footage.  Instead of them electing Patrick, he is to be arrested, though he burns himself alive before he can be handcuffed.  Instead, the Cardinals elect the final preferred Cardinal, who takes the name Luke, signaling that the world needs faith and science.  In thanks to Robert, he allows Robert to access the archives in order to finish his book, on the condition that in his will, the works are gifted back to the Vatican.

I first read Da Vinci Code for a project in high school; I recall the teacher not wholly agreeing with my assessment on the book, though we did go as a class to see the film when it released.  My friend, who was strongly religious, whispered disagreement with the film during the show.  It has also been proven after the release of his books, that statements Dan Brown makes as “fact” are inaccurate.

My take?  These are exciting and interesting books, a good page-turner.  The movies are also fantastic action-adventure films, but yes, a bit controversial.  I made the remark to a teacher once that I prefer the “Indiana Jones version of the Holy Grail.”  And really, da Vinci and Arthurian legends have little in common; they’re from different cultures, one born in Italy, the other with a strong basis in Britain with influences from France…yeah, you can thank the French for the love triangle.  But because a lot of history is unknown since records are hard to find for some things,  conspiracies are born to explain what we don’t know.  I do recommend both the books and movies as a good time, just don’t take them at face value.

Up Next: The best action-adventure movies, Indiana Jones

A Difference in Dinner Jackets

Casino Royale

Daniel Craig’s premiere as the latest James Bond (he’s appeared in The Golden Compass and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider) and he had the support of all the previous Bonds when he took over the role.  Eva Green (the recent Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, which looks peculiar; Morgan in the brief Camelot TV series, and she was Sibylla in Kingdom of Heaven opposite Orlando Bloom) appears alongside him as Vesper Lynd.  Mads Mikkelsen (a magnificent actor who has been Galen Erso in Rogue One, Kaecilius in Doctor Strange, Rochefort in the most recent Three Musketeers film with Orlando Bloom, Tristan in the King Arthur film with Ioan Gruffudd and Keira Knightley)  is the villainous Le Chiffre.  Dame Judi Dench returns as M; and if her assistant appears familiar, it’s Tobias Menzies (most famous now as Frank and Black Jack Randall in Outlander; he’s also been Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh in The Crown and Edmure Tully in Game of Thrones).

This was a reboot of the Bond franchise, which I was not aware of when I first watched the movie, causing me some confusion (particularly when they retain Judi Dench as M, though she is awesome), and a bit of a prequel.  The film starts in black and white, in Prague.  Bond has not yet gained his double-0 status, as the mysterious man points out; it requires two kills.  Well, Bond has already taken care of one of the man’s henchmen, then puts a bullet in his head, cutting off his response.  The opening credits confirm his upgrade in status and is one of the few openings that does not feature naked women.  Next, we’re in Uganda where a warlord gives a European man his money to finance his terroristic operations.  Bond’s on his next mission in Madagascar and a rookie agent causes the mission to go sideways so Bond has to chase his prey though the city, a la parkour at times.  He follows him onto an embassy then causes an explosion at the end, but he gets the guy’s cell phone.  And is caught on camera, causing M to sit through meetings with bureaucrats.  She misses the Cold War right about now.

She discovers Bond in her home, where he’s been using her computer and access to research where the dead guy’s message originated.  M and Bond have a discussion about his recent actions; he violated the one absolute rule of international relations by going into the embassy.  Perhaps she promoted him too early.  Well, 00’s are known to have a short life expectancy.  What M needs is a man who can put aside his ego and get the job done; any thug with a gun can kill.  Arrogance and self awareness rarely go hand in hand.  (She refers to Bond as a blunt instrument, which Miranda Frost brought up n Die Another Day).  For now, Bond is to stick his head in the sand and ponder his future.

Which he does, by going to Nassau in the Bahamas, to the Ocean Club, where the phone call originated.  Bond discovers his target and seduces his wife in order to follow him.  He takes him out, but the clue has left already and Bond has a new target.  Who tries to blow up a prototype large airplane, but Bond prevents it (causing destruction along the way).  M flies down to the Bahamas to officially give Bond the case to go after Le Chiffre.  The villain gambles with his client’s money, investing in stocks that he’ll make sure go under; he lost a lot of money betting on the prototype plane blowing up – something similar had apparently happened in conjunction with 9/11.  To make up his money, he is hosting a large poker tournament at the Casino Royale in Montenegro with a $10 million buy in.  Bond’s mission is to capture Le Chiffre, alive.  They need his information.  Bond is apparently the best poker player in MI6, and the outfit him with a tracking chip.

On the way to Montenegro [which is gorgeous], Bond meets Vesper Lynd, who remarks to Bond “I’m the money.”  “Every penny of it,” he quips back (a play on the character-not-appearing-in-this-film, Moneypenny).  They read each other’s backgrounds and snark at each other, which is rather humorous.  Vesper will keep a close eye on the money, but she has also observed Bond’s remarkable backside.  Bond receives his new car, stocked with gadgets (sadly, no Q in sight), his back story with Vesper, and a contact: Mathis.  There is a rather humorous scene where Bond gives Vesper a show-stopping dress and she in turns gives him a tailored tux instead of a dinner jacket.

The poker game begins (which I will not explain the intricacies of, because I do not understand them).  Bond creates his signature cocktail.  When a break comes four hours in, the angry Ugandans from the beginning come after Le Chiffre; they stumble on to Bond and Vesper and Bond dispatches them.  Vesper is shaken, but they must continue.  Bond cleans up and later comforts Vesper in the shower (a sensual scene, not a sexual one).  In the game, Bond follows Le Chiffre with putting all in, then loses the hand.  Vesper believes his ego got in the way, so won’t authorize the buy in.  Bond is upset and goes after Le Chiffre with a table knife, until another player stops him; a CIA agent.  The U.S. wants Le Chiffre too and the agent is not nearly as good at poker as Bond; he will give Bond the money if Bond will win so the U.S. can go after Le Chiffre.

Le Chiffre’s girlfriend sends Bond a poisoned drink [why she’s loyal to the guy who almost got her killed, I don’t know, she’s an idiot].  Bond stumbles out of the game to his car to call MI6 for help; they talk him through an injection and a defibrillator to keep his heart going, but the lead comes unattached.  He passes out, but Vesper comes in the nick of time to help.  And he goes back in to finish the game.  He goes all in again, but it pays off this time, literally.  Bond wins over $100 million.  He treats himself and Vesper to a nice dinner.  He gets concerned when Vesper leaves and races after her to discover she’s being kidnapped.  There is a brief car chase before Bond’s beautiful Aston Martin flips like it’s in Nascar.  He and Vesper are captured by Le Chiffre, who wants the account number and password between the couple so he can claim the money.  He tortures Bond, who is tied naked to a chair (this guy cannot catch a break!  He’s been beaten up like half a dozen times so far).  By now, Bond suspects Mathis and Le Chiffre even hints that Mathis is working for him.  Bond hears gunshots and a man comes in to shoot Le Chiffre.  Vesper and Bond are left alive, but Bond must recover from his injuries. 

Two men drag Mathis away and Vesper and Bond fall in love (it’s rather sweet and the scenery is utterly breathtaking).  Bond is so in love with Vesper, he is willing to quit MI6 and sail around the world with her.  He sends M a resignation e-mail and their first stop is Italy.  Come morning, Vesper must leave their bed to withdraw money from the bank.  M calls Bond and he realizes that Vesper is stealing the money; it’s never been deposited into the British Treasury.  He races after her and discovers her handing over a briefcase to a man.  There is a final shootout in an old Italian building that Bond causes to sink.  The bad guys are all killed, but Vesper is locked in the old elevator.  Even after she’s betrayed him, Bond still tries to rescue her.  She lets herself drown, hoping that Bond will let himself rise to the surface.  He manages to bring her body up, but she’s already dead.  The same man in the suit who shot Le Chiffre takes the suitcase with the money.

M calls Bond again; Vesper was being blackmailed for the money, her boyfriend was being held hostage.  She remarks “sometimes we’re so focused on our enemies, that we forget to watch our friends” [I would say they should have learned that from Die Another Day, but in this continuity, that hasn’t happened yet.  Which could mean they should have learned by Die Another Day.  However, it is touching to see how compassionate M is being, without being overt about it].  And Bond has learned his lesson, don’t trust anyone.  Even though Vesper has been proven guilty, it doesn’t prove Mathis innocent.  Vesper has left one final thing for Bond: her cell phone with the final message: Mr. White, and a phone number.  Bond tracks down Mr. White and shoots his leg.  The final line: “the name is Bond.  James Bond.”  And cue the Bond theme.  Bond is back!

This Bond is a bit rougher, maybe demonstrating as a prequel that Bond hasn’t refined his polish yet to the spy we all love.  It’s full of action, but I think we see great depths in Daniel Craig.  He plays cards coolly, flirts with Vesper, and is not at all afraid to get his hands dirty.  A good first outing.

Up Next: Quantum of Solace

Well, he did return the car…in relatively one piece

Tomorrow Never Dies

The second Pierce Brosnan Bond film.  Features Jonathan Pryce as Elliott Carver (yeah, a bit disconcerting to watch this after seeing him as Governor Swann in Pirates of the Caribbean).  Julian Fellowes (yep, the creator of Downton Abbey) makes an appearance as well, and if the admiral later in the film looks familiar, that is Michael Byrne (he appears as Merlin in The Mists of Avalon and Treville in The Musketeer, as well as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade).

The opening takes place at an arms bazaar on the Russian border, the British intelligence office looking in.  Of course, the military wants to just bomb it and be done, but M urges caution; there is more intelligence to be gleaned.  Well, the admiralty fires a missile anyway and orders MI6’s agent, Bond, to get out of there.  Oh wait, there’s a very dangerous nuclear torpedo on site that you don’t want blown up.  Bond does his job, disrupts the bazaar, blows things up, and flies the plane out of there in the nick of time.

The main plot starts with a British ship in the South China Sea.  Two Chinese MiGs fly by and warn that the ship is in Chinese water.  According to the ship’s navigation, they’re in international water.  What neither side knows is that at Carver Media headquarters, the whole mess is being directed by Carver.  In the water he has a stealth ship that drills into the British ship and then fires missiles at the Chinese, all to start an international incident.  He also has an encoder that has managed to scramble the British signal and they were actually in the wrong area.  Elliot Carver’s plan is simply to become the head of the largest media conglomeration and he’ll do that by writing tomorrow’s headlines today.  And by instigating the disasters and then he’ll have exclusive coverage.

Bond is sent to investigate; M suggests pumping his old fling, Paris for information, because Paris is now married to Elliott Carver.  He has forty-eight hours to discover the truth before the fleet moves in.  Carver suspects Bond of something and his little stooge is listening in and discovers that Paris knows Bond.  So he sends his wife after Bond.  She of course succumbs to Bond’s charm again even though they both fight it.  Bond doesn’t want to put her in danger, but Paris knows what kind of man her husband is and gives Bond the information he needs.  Bond offers to protect her, but she declines.  Carver sends a “doctor” to his wife anyway.

After Bond infiltrates Carver’s office, he steals back the encoder and meets Chinese intelligence agent, Wai Lin.  When Bond returns to his room, he discovers Paris dead and the assassin waiting for him.  The “doctor” [is it just me, or is he a little clichéd?] is a professional and sits his victim down to talk to him first.  Bond still overpowers him and escapes, leading to an expert car chase in the parking garage.  Bond gets to use the remote control that Q created (very cool).  He then meets up with the Americans near the South China Sea to return their encoder and they discover that it sent the British ship off course.  Bond elects to HALO jump into Vietnamese territory and dive down to the wreck for further investigation.  There, he encounters Wai Lin again and they discover that one of the ship’s missiles is missing. Once the pair surfaces, they’re taken by Carver’s men and he goes into his villainous monologue.  He intends for his associate to torture and kill them.  Of course, Wai Lin and Bond work together and escape, leading to a rather hilarious motorbike chase while the pair is handcuffed and have to negotiate how they sit on and steer the bike.

After destroying a marketplace, Wai Lin is determined to finish the mission on her own, but Bond follows her.  Good thing, because Carver has sent more local men.  Now, Wai Lin takes them out on her on (super cool) and Bond just gets to knock out the last guy holding a gun.  Wai Lin agrees to work with a “decadent, corrupt Western agent,” and they both agree to get their governments talking to each other to stop the debacle.  They just have to figure out where Carver’s stealth boat is hidden.  The two agents sneak on and start setting bombs, but they’re quickly discovered.  Wai Lin is captured and Bond makes it look like he’s dead, so he can continue to sneak about.  Carver’s plan to further the explosive situation is to fire the British missile into China and then China will retaliate and thus the British fleet with retaliate further.

And how do you expect it to end?  Wai Lin gets free and stops the stealth ship; they’ve managed to get word to both militaries to be on the lookout for a stealth ship.  Bond causes an explosion that makes the ship a target and the Brits start firing.  Bond uses the drill on Carver, then rescues Wai Lin, after he takes on Carver’s last man and sets the missile to explode (complete with witty one liner: “I owe you an unpleasant death, Mr. Bond”).  HUGE fireball!  And Bond gets a little more time “undercover” with Wai Lin.

Carver is just an ego maniac.  He admits he likes an audience to his plans.  He quotes Hearst: “you provide the pictures, I will provide the war,” and takes that as his goal in life.  I spend most of the film wanting Bond to punch him in the face.  The film also shows its age a bit; the Internet is burgeoning, GPS is new, techno babble that most people don’t understand.  Now, I find the storyline a little dull; but it is also still completely plausible.  That kind of situation is still possible today.  Pierce as Bond is charming and suave and I enjoy seeing the tender side of him; he cares about the women he encounters.  I appreciate that Wai Lin holds her own, but her character seems sort of thrown in.

Next Time: The World is Not Enough