Main Cast: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones
Director: Ron Howard
Normy and I arrived at the Dolby Theater incredibly late for the Oscar ceremony due to a run of exceedingly bad luck over the last day or so – delays in disembarking from our yacht, an epic traffic jam on the 405 Freeway, an Uber driver who confused Pasadena with Pacoima. When we clambered out of our Uber, and sent Ms. Michele on her merry way, we found the red carpet deserted as everyone had already gone in for the ceremony. We ran up to the main doors where we were turned away by a Cro-Magnon security guard who did not seem to recognize two of the best-known faces from Hollywood’s classic period. What do they teach them at the Academy these days? He seemed to think we were some sort of interlopers, rather than honored guests and, in all our earlier confusion, I had left my handbag with my AMPAS ID in the Uber. I am not one to be deterred so Normy and I marched off to the back of the building where we found a little door just off the loading dock that was propped open so the technicians could take their union smoke breaks. We slipped in and I found a little service staircase that took me up to stage level. Normy lagged behind, bargaining with a very nice young man about the loan of a tuxedo as he was still in a rather unfortunate pair of Madras plaid Bermuda shorts.
Fortunately, I hit the stage deck just in time to make the cue for my surprise entrance to present the Best Picture Award. I raced over to the table and grabbed the big red envelope emblazoned Best Picture and headed into the wings. Unfortunately, just then, the heel of my yellow satin Manolo got caught in a stray piece of cable and, before I knew it, I was being hoisted up into the flies by my left leg. During my ascent, in an attempt to rescue myself, I grabbed at the prop table and the rest of the envelopes cascaded to the floor. Some officious PA picked an envelope up and handed it to a couple of desiccated mummies in formal wear (who need to order Lesterene brand Artichoke and Hummus super moisturizer stat). I learned later they were supposed to be Bonnie and Clyde but without a Tommy gun, who could tell? They headed onto the stage to the strains of what should have been my entrance music. Dangling thirty-five feet in the air above their heads, I attempted to attract their attention and let them know they had the wrong envelope but alas, even my High C was not carrying through the black velvet teasers and we all know the debacle that came next as it made international news. Fortunately, my name was kept out of the papers.
While hanging in a rather undignified position with yellow chenille tenting over my face and my hairdo rapidly becoming a hair don’t, and thank god for all the squats my tap therapist, Lulu Pigg has had me doing or I could possibly have been seriously injured, I decided that I had entered the fourth circle of hell. This reminded me of the film Inferno, which I had recently seen on DVD but had not yet had a chance to write about and so I decided to relax mind and body by composing a review and dictating it to my iPhone for later publication. (I had tried dropping a few buttons on the stage below to attract attention but no one had the intelligence to look up and I was unwilling to drop my phone from such a height only to have some officious person clear it off the stage as a discarded prop.
Inferno is the third film in the rather improbable series of semiotic thrillers based on the novels of Dan Brown about professor Robert Langdon. All three have been directed by Ron Howard with the first (The DaVinci Code) being written by Akiva Goldsman who was joined by David Koepp for the second (Angels and Demons). Mr. Koepp alone is responsible for this installment. Inferno opens in Florence, home of Dante whose Divine Comedy created the traditional view of hell, later illustrated by Botticelli in one of his famous paintings. This painting forms a major plot thread in the film so a brief review of Renaissance masters prior to viewing the film can be helpful. A number of other artistic masterpieces of the period also pop up as the story moves along. In a truly incomprehensible opening fifteen minutes, we are introduced to an eccentric virologist, Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster) who is chased by refugees from a 007 film until he does a back flip with a triple gainer off the Bargello tower. Cut to Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) disoriented in a Florence emergency room having hallucinations straight out of Dante and Botticelli and escaping an assassin from the Rosa Klebb school of evil women (Ana Ularu) with the help of a sympathetic ER physician (Felicity Jones). Once they can stop for breath after careening through the old city (much lovely sightseeing on the way), they discover that Langdon is in possession of some odd visual clues that lead them on a treasure hunt of sorts through artistic masterworks of Florence to the roof and crypts of St. Mark’s in Venice and eventually to the Hagia Sophia and cisterns of Istanbul. The lovely 1950s style travelogue photography keeps getting interrupted by our heroes being alternately chased and abetted by various sleuth types including Omar Sy and Iffran Khan while everyone tries to prevent the release of a virus which might wipe out a significant portion of the population. Apparently, Zobrist thought himself all four horsemen of the apocalypse rolled into one.
The first rule of film or stage storytelling is let your audience know within the first fifteen minutes what your themes, storytelling style and rules of engagement are. If you hook them quickly, they’ll follow you anywhere. It took me about half an hour to figure out what was going on in Inferno so by the time I caught up with the film, I had completely lost interest. I stayed with it until the bitter end as I had nothing better to do. In retrospect, I should have hit eject and done something more edifying with my valuable time such as alphabetizing the spice drawer. The film suffers from the fact that Dan Brown’s novels aren’t terribly cinematic. The intricate puzzles of the page just don’t translate terribly well to film. The DaVinci Code was a pretentious bore which only came to life when Ian Mckellen was on screen. It wasn’t helped by Tom Hanks’ risible hair style which made him look like the funny man at the end of the block your mother warned you about. Angels and Demons was a much better film with clearer storytelling and a supporting performance by Ewan McGregor which held the film together. Hanks’ hair had also morphed into something less painful to view. Inferno has a double whammy against it. The storytelling is obtuse so it becomes boring and none of the supporting cast has figured out how to inject any life into their scenes.
What remains is some gorgeous photography of fabled tourist sights. (It must have cost the producers a fortune to shut down some of these areas for the day to shoot their chase scenes). Some fun use of renaissance art to create treasure hunt type clues. Some interesting bringing to life of Botticelli’s vision of Dante’s Inferno. Outside of that, pop in a James Bond film. The pacing is better, the stunts are more fun and the plots make more sense (and that’s saying a lot…) There may be a decent film to be made of Dan Brown’s exploration of Catholic dogma and historical happenstance, but Ron Howard and David Koepp are not the people to bring it to the screen. As for Tom Hanks, he may be the protagonist but he looks like he’s more interested in the check he’s going to receive than in giving anything that resembles a performance. Maybe that’s the real issue. Robert Langdon, as a character, is just dull.
Defenestration. Faraday pointer. IV hemorrhage. Gratuitous flaming feet. Missing death mask. Famous bronze horses. Crypt double cross. Canceled concert. Cistern wading. Multiple stabbings. Crashing through ceiling.
photo by Oxfordian Kissuth