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May 22, 2006 - Image 10

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Michigan Daily Summer Weekly, 2006-05-22

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a

Monday
May 22, 2006
arts.michigandaily.com
artspage@michigandaily.com

ATe Simpan~aig

10

I

By Imran Syed
Daily Arts Writer
If you've had your head in the world lately,
you'll know that Dan Brown's book "The Da
Vinci Code" is, pretends to be or is accused
of being a lot of things.
But while it may be heret- The Da
ical (and certainly is a Vinci Code
work of fiction), for all At the Showcase
its calculated puzzles and and Quality 16
conniving villains, it's no Caamba
literary marvel, simply a
tight, fast-paced thriller.
This is the one thing Academy Award-win-
ning director Ron Howard's ("A Beautiful
Mind") new film version is not. So dark the
con of man indeed.
Howard's adaptation is a classic under-
achievement. Here we have beach reading
dressed up as a literary epic, lightening-
quick narratives bogged down by winding
explanations and needlessly elaborate flash-
backs, and a fantastically lurid plot mechani-
cally and unconvincingly blunted. But while
it does fail on many levels, Howard's film is
ultimately successful in doing the one thing
any summer blockbuster worth its weight in
ticket stubs had better do: entertain. Not a
moment elapses without tension and every
scene goes by engulfed in suspense.
A modern-day scavenger hunt of consider-
able historical consequence, "The Da Vinci
Code" centers on the approximately real-
time adventures of Robert Langdon (two-
time Academy Award-winner Tom Hanks)
and Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou, "Ame-
lie"). Langdon is a Harvard "symbologist"
who is in Paris to give a lecture on, well,
symbols, when he is abruptly intercepted by
the French police in connection with a mur-
der at the Louvre. Seemingly trapped in the
consequence of a crime he had nothing to do
with, Langdon is assisted by Neveu, a cryp-
tologist with the French police who harbors
seemingly endless secrets.
As Langdon and Neveau race through the

"Seriously Sophie, stop copying me."
B REAING D'CDE'
WATERED-DOWN STORYLINE AND PASSIVE PLOT
MAR ENTERTAINING BLOCKBUSTER

character he played and not allowing him-
self to be forced into a role already molded.
Given that Langdon was a living, breathing
character well before the film ever began
production, perhaps Hanks wasn't the best
choice in the first place, but there's no deny-
ing that Goldsman's uninspired, constricting
writing failed him.
The other characters, played by a superb
cast, seem similarly tied down. Tautou is
likable, but fails to shine or command. Her
relationship with Hanks is all-too artificial,
forced to absorb lines like "I've got to get to
a library, fast!" As Bishop Aringarosa and
Captain Fache, respectively, Alfred Molina
and Jean Reno are both strong, but still noth-
ing more than storyboard cutouts, rattling
off Goldsman's consistently banal and often
inconsequential dialogue.
But McKellen and Paul Bettany ("Fire-
wall") are somehow spared. McKellen uses his
special combination of British snobbery and
wisdom to create a character at once funny
yet introspective, heroic yet cowardly. Perhaps
it should be no surprise that he rose above
mediocre writing so easily, having been the
force that kept Peter Jackson's often-lagging
narrative in "The Lord of the Rings" witty
and believable. Bettany - who plays Silas, a
murderous monk and needless to say, the most
bizarre character in the film - gives his role
a hint of supreme tragedy, making Silas a vic-
tim of the schemes of bigger men, rather than
simply a homicidal lunatic.
Dan Brown's novel is a social phenom-
enon that has brought up questions about the
fine line between righteous questioning and
heresy and factually based fiction and fact.
Howard's film, though it is an entertaining,
middle-of-the-road blockbuster, is pressured
to shy away from that controversy and often
does so by recklessly hacking at the source
material rather than carefully trimming
around it. It's far from a failure but a disap-
pointment all around, bogged down by the
urge of everyone involved not to alienate any-
one. This is the fate of mainstream films that
raise even hints of controversy: the unfortu-
nate clash of creativity and reality.

4

4

4

night, solving puzzles the dead man intend-
ed them to find, the bizarre murder grows
evermore mysterious. Aided by an old Eng-
lishman named Sir Leigh Teabing (Sir Ian
McKellen, "The Lord of the Rings"), the pair
uncover an impossible plot, of which "the
greatest coverup in human history" is only
the beginning.
The film succeeds in creating an air of
indiscernible mystery and then of grand
revelation, but it does so far more tediously
than necessary. The biggest problem seems
not to be Howard's often-confused direction

or even Hanks's unexpectedly bland perfor-
mance, but the utter incoherence of Akiva
Goldsman's screenplay. Goldsman - who
won an Oscar for "A Beautiful Mind" and
also collaborated with Howard on last year's
critically acclaimed "Cinderella Man" -
appears mortally bound to Brown's words,
never taking the initiative to make the film
come alive, nor providing the actors the
space to do so on their own.
Never is this more true than for Lang-
don. Hanks's many great performances have
always been the result of him defining the

I

Super group Raconteurs under-achieve on latest

A& i

By Alexandra Jones
Daily Arts Writer

When it comes to the Raconteurs, don't
believe the hype:
Their debut, Bro- The
ken Boy Soldiers, isR teu
much more than a
Jack White vanity Broken Boy
project - its explor- Soldiers
atory collection of XL
styles and narratives
shows off a lot more than its most famous
member's talents.
Guitarists/songwriters Jack White and
Brendan Benson teamed up with fellow
Detroiters - Greenhornes bassist Jack
Lawrence and drummer Patrick Keeler.
Lawrence's expansive bass bumps and
Keeler's flawless grooves add a cohesive-
ness that many White Stripes aficiona-
dos might not know they're missing. But

the ensemble's effortless cohesion serves
mostly to showcase the continuum of
styles. Benson and White push and pull
between each other's strengths, coalescing
thematic moods and sonic tropes.
Although the Raconteurs have a ways
to go before their music can grow beyond
what's in Benson and White's respective
toolkits, this songwriting relationship
shows promise. Although it's by no means
close in quality, their first release bears a
striking parallel to the Beatles's pre-mas-
terwork masterwork Revolver. The rela-
tionship between the divergent styles of its
primary songwriters act as the structural
crux of the album - the product of the
musical alchemy between the dark,brood-
ing iconoclast and the sensitive songsmith
brings out something more than either
could do on his own.
That said, its single - "Steady, As
She Goes" - might not have been the
best choice to convey that all-for-one feel
that the band (White in particular) has

stressed in interviews. But it's impossible
to approach Broken Boy Soldiers without
our knowledge of White and Benson's
past songwriting acting as a benchmark
for their performance.
A great deal f the Raconteurs's appeal
lies in their ability to intrigue listeners with
their mercurial shifts in mood and texture.
The tracks on Broken Boy Soldiers range
from White's trademark cathartic crashes
to Benson's Beatles-esque harmonies and
delicate, muted keyboards that inject shots
of energy between darker, aggressive tone
and production. Rather than sounding dis-
junct, this lineup highlights the contrasts
that show up on this stylistic continuum.
But all songs are credited "Benson/
White" (another Lennon/McCartney par-
allel), and Benson's are some of the most
intriguing tracks on Broken Boy Soldiers.
The melancholy simplicity of "Together"
and "Hands" parallel Paul McCartney's
sweetly romantic contributions to Revolv-
er; add horns and boost the tempo of

"Yellow Sun" and the comparison goes
one step further. The bright, smooth har-
monies, one suspects, are also primarily
Benson's doing, although White's anxious
tone clusters still show up. The odd bit
about this pairing is that White's hoarse,
sometimes shrill singing voice doesn't
exactly fade anonymously into the back-
ground on tracks where Benson's charm-
ing tenor takes the lead.
One thing Benson, White, Lawrence
and Keeler have in common, apart from
their D-town origins, is the simple struc-
tures in which they work - complex
emotions conveyed in couplets over 4/4
time. They keep that simple structure and
binary love-song theme, but one gets the
feeling that they're dealing with more
grown-up issues here. "Intimate Secre-
tary" sneers at privilege ("I've got a girl
and she likes to shop / The other footlooks
like it won't drop"), and "Call It a Day"
quietly acknowledges that some relation-
ships are beyond saving.

White's recent experimentation on Get
Behind Me Satan has shown his poten-
tial as a budding musical auteur, and the
Raconteurs's melding of differing perso-
nas works to show White's promise for
future projects. But the album's closer, the
diabolical-yet-seductive blues dirge "Blue
Veins," doesn't show a compromise of
vision or a reliance. on old tropes. White
has already proven himself as one of the
most dynamic, innovative songwriters of
the last decade, but this new group has the
ability make its own unique mark.
The primary difficulty with Broken Boy
Soldiers lies in the fact that, for all the years
of preparatory jamming, the album doesn't
sound like anything close to the best this ,
group could turn out. While the band
is built around the idea of friends play-
ing music together, the Raconteurs might
benefit from a more formal vision of their
sound and thematic concepts.But whatever
they do next, Broken Boy Soldiers has set
the bar pretty high.

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