TBT – The Da Vinci Code (2006)

controversial, dan brown, films, fucking stupid, history, Ian McKellen, meh, religion, reviews, TBT, Tom Hanks

Two of my favourite quotations from the film critic Roger Ebert concern The Da Vinci Code. The first is from his review of the film National Treasure:

I should read a potboiler like The Da Vinci Code every once in a while, just to remind myself that life is too short to read books like The Da Vinci Code.

The second from his review of Ron Howard’s adaptation of The Da Vinci Code:

They say The Da Vinci Code has sold more copies than any book since the Bible. Good thing it has a different ending.

Along with a love of cinema and a need to criticise it, Roger Ebert and I have something in common. We have both read and hated Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. In all honesty, I read the book after I had watched the film. I knew about Brown’s book, of course, but I had no interest in reading it. I watched the end of the film one evening and was intrigued enough to pick up a copy. Brown’s writing is horrible and his over-reliance on cliffhangers and their ridiculous solutions is just awful. I can see why people love it; it’s a mystery that is easy to read and, subsequently, makes people feel clever when they keep up with/solve it. It’s all just trite though. Brown made a name for himself thanks to a controversial and preposterous subject. He gained readers because of his short chapters that always end on a cliffhanger. It makes my blood boil. I swear, one Dan Brown chapter ends with the cliffhanger of what Robert Langdon will decide to have for breakfast. Over the years, I’ve had so many arguments with people about this book but I often find myself being slightly less harsh on the film. I’ve never thought it made much sense. Maybe Tom Hanks really is such a charming man that he can improve anything?

I mean, I’m under no real illusion that The Da Vinci Code is a good film. It has an utterly ridiculous narrative and doesn’t provide any depth. It’s basically a film of exposition where you sit and watch people solve riddles that nobody else has a chance of solving. Decent mysteries are supposed to allow you to keep up with, if not get ahead of, the characters on screen. With The Da Vinci Code you’re always, at least, one step behind. Thankfully, though, it doesn’t matter. Whilst Tom Hanks’s first outing as Robert Langdon sees him break almost illogical riddles at breakneck speed, The Da Vinci Code also gives us Audrey Tatou’s Sophie who constantly asks everyone on screen to explain it. Sophie, in this case, is the audience… except she also happens to be shit hot at solving these seemingly unsolvable mysteries when she needs to. What The Da Vinci Code boils down to, is a couple of hours watching Tom Hanks and co run through various European countries and spend hours sat around giving lectures on history and religious legends.

Yet, there is something about being adapted into a film that makes the narrative work better than in the book. On screen, the pace set by Dan Brown’s endless chain of cliffhangers and impossible escapes means that plot is always moving forward. Or at least always moving forward after we’ve spent the requisite amount of time watching a PowerPoint presentation or something first. Unlike reading the book, the film doesn’t really allow you to think too much. There is always something happening so you can’t really start asking yourself pesky questions like “why did that character not just make things simpler?” or “what are his motivations for doing this?” or “why does the ending essentially just make the entire film unnecessary?” Ron Howard has, quite cleverly, made a film that never allows you time to pick apart the glaringly obvious plot holes until after the credits, by which time you’ve already let yourself get carried off in the insanity on screen.

Which is, if I’m honest, what always happens. I can hardly say that I find The Da Vinci Code exciting. I’ve hardly ever been riveted by it. However, I can’t deny that, if it’s on, I find myself unable to look away. It’s the mentality that makes you look at a car crash as you drive past. The same one that means, despite my huge, burning hatred for it, makes me occasionally want to sit down to watch Mama Mia. Although, I suspect that’s more of a weird S&M fetish thing than this. Whilst the narrative doesn’t really interest me in anyway, I am always glued to the screen. It could very well just be Hollywood’s Mr Nice Guy, Tom Hanks, and his magnetic personality. Or it could just be that this film is so bad that it’s clawing its way back to good again. I don’t know.

I’ve never thought much of Dan Brown as a writer of novels but he is a writer who can construct an intriguing plot. Yes, it’s exactly the kind of stuff you’d find weird people in tin foil hats writing on a message board at 1 am but that doesn’t mean it’s not watchable. Dan Brown shouldn’t be a writer of books but he can make a fairly decent shit film. You won’t come out of this film having a changed view on religion or having a completely different opinion about society because that’s not the point. No matter how seriously this film takes itself. This film with drag you, kicking and screaming, into its nonsense world and, without letting you stop for breath, whisk you along with it before you realise what you’ve got yourself involved in. Maybe, once the credits roll, you’ll feel ashamed with yourself. That’s natural. What you can’t deny, no matter how much you might want to, is that, at the time, you were kind of happy to be on that ride.

Tuesday’s Reviews – The 7th Function of Language by Laurent Binet

books, dan brown, fucking funny, fucking weird, literary theory, Paris, reviews

There’s a Terry Eagleton quotation that I’ve always adored from the opening paragraph to his book After Theory. I’ve always enjoyed his writing and think he’s incredibly funny and accessible. I once met him at university and was such a ridiculous fangirl about it. I genuinely said something along the lines of “I’ve read loads of your books”. It was super cringe and, understandably, he didn’t spent too much time talking to me. I’ve never got over the embarrassment of this moment. Anyway, the aforementioned quotation really sums up everything I love about him. The opening to the books discusses the forefathers of literary criticism and the fact that nobody has been able to live up to them.

Fate pushed Roland Barthes under a Parisian laundry van, and afflicted Michel Foucault with Aids. It dispatched Lacan, Williams and Bourdieu, and banished Louis Althusser to a psychiatric hospital for the murder of his wife. It seemed that God was not a structuralist.

That final line is honestly one of the greatest literary joke I’ve ever heard. This quotation has the added benefit of teaching me that Roland Barthes was killed by being run over by a laundry van, which is a fact that caused me to be incredibly excited about Laurent Binet’s follow-up to his hit debut novel HHhH. It seems that everyone who has reviewed 7th Function has referred to his previous novel but, as I’ve not read it yet, I won’t be doing the same. I also won’t be mentioning the fact that, according to my weekly rundowns, I started reading this book way way way back at the end May. Meaning I’ve had this book on the go for about 3 months. That slump really did hit me big.

Recently, somebody on Instagram asked me if I would recommend this book because she was thinking about reading it. In my answer I tried to sum up the narrative but found it really difficult. It’s part whoddunit, part history novel, and part study of semiotics. Laurent Binet, who enjoyed mixing history with fiction in his novel HHhH has once again blurred the lines between reality and fiction. Binet takes the event of Roland Barthes death and asks the question “who killed him and why?” Now, you’d be forgiven for being a bit confused here as it is well known that nobody killed Barthes. In fact, he was accidentally knocked over by a laundry van in Paris whilst crossing the Rue des Ecoles. However, Binet isn’t interested in the pesky matter of “the truth” in 7th Function. In fact, he openly has one of his main characters regularly question whether or not he is actually just a character in a novel.

In the narrative, the author takes the historical occurrence that is Roland Barthes’ death and creates an alternate reality of the events that surrounded it. He suggests that, instead of being accidentally killed, the theorist was murdered because of a document he was carrying. This single document could have changed the landscape of linguistics forever as it is suspected to have been Russian linguist, Roman Jakobson’s, secret seventh function of language. The novel suggests that Jakoson had discovered mode of communication gave the speaker complete control over their audience. Urged into action by the French Prime Minister, Jacques Bayard, a French detective, sets out to investigate the writer’s death and discovers a world of secret societies, political scheming and a hell of a lot of sex. It’s an interesting premise that, as you’ve just seen, is a little hard to explain. Really, the best way that I have found to describe it is “the kind of book The DaVinci Code wishes it could have been”. It takes the general conspiracy theories that fuelled Dan Brown’s potboiler but elevates it by invoking the world of literary theory and philosophy.

I think one of the reasons that it took me so long to finish the book is that it’s so heavy on detail. There are moments when theories are explained and the historical context is set up. I really enjoyed these moments and, if I’m honest, the opening of this book explained the practicalities of semiotics much better than my University literary theory and criticism course ever did. However, I did find myself being able to read less of the book at a time and needed to have a break reading something a bit lighter. It’s an intense and serious read that, if you’re in the right frame of mind, is incredibly rewarding. Especially with the issues that it raises that have a resonance in today’s world. Whole sections of the narrative discuss the power of words to persuade and convince people. It raises questions about the implications of being able to get people to do what you want simply by using the right words. In these turbulent political times, all over the world, it feels very relevant and important.
At the same time, 7th Function is a very fun novel. It’s a post-modern and very self-aware novel that never takes itself or its premise too seriously. It satirises that era of French society and, in a very Midnight in Paris kind of way, it opens to the door to the past. You can’t help but enjoy every moment that Binet name drops a famous theorist and then places them into very nonacademic situations. As someone who wrote an essay about Michel Foucault’s History of Madness, it was a bit disconcerting to have him popping up regularly getting blowjobs from male prostitutes. Disconcerting but still fun. In a way, 7th Function is the perfect blending of highbrow and lowbrow content. On the one hand, it has a lot to say about the history of literary theory, French society and the basics of reality. On the other, it’s just kind of silly and weird narrative.
Ultimately, though, 7th Function is just a great book. It is well written and the potentially gimmicky blending of reality with fiction is handled well. The research that went into this book was is so good and is so carefully interwoven with the made-up parts of the story that it’s sometimes difficult to tell one from the other. There are also moments of incredible drama and fantastic action sequences. We see a very exciting car chase as our heroes escape from a group of Bulgarian assassins. What I love most about 7th Function is that Binet, in the midst of his reverence for the writing of these past French heroes, never loses sight of his main purpose: to entertain. This is a very dense and challenging read but it always maintains its sense of fun and accessibility. It is easy to read and get lost within the narrative. It may have taken me 3 fucking months to finish this but I’m incredibly glad that I did. One day, when I’ve finally read HHhH, I’ll go back to this book and give it the time and attention that it really deserves.


book haul, books, dan brown, Man Booker, Tom Hanks

Those of you who also follow me on Instagram will be aware that I gave myself a little treat this week and finally bought the Lego The Force Awakens video game. As a fucking huge fan of pretty much all of the previous Lego games, I’ve wanted it ever since I knew it was coming out. However, I can never justify buying new games because they cost a shitload and I never have the time to play them enough. But I had a few vouchers to use up and ended up finding a copy for a reasonable price and I’m so glad I did. I’ve spent every spare second I have playing it and I love it. Playing as BB8 is the best thing in the game. It’s amazing. I realise that these games are for kids but they are so great. The characters look so good, the storyline is so loyal and the game play, except when it comes to flying/driving as it the problem with all these games, is so easy. It’s not the most difficult thing you’ll ever play but these games are rewarding in so many different ways. It’s the greatest purchase I’ve made all year. Although, it has meant my reading hasn’t vastly improved this week. I need to start dividing my time better.

Currently Reading

  • Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
After finishing my double weekend last week I had two days off work. Unfortunately, I woke up in fucking agony as my back got revenge on everything I’d put it through in the past few days. As such I could barely move and did nothing on Monday. It did give me the perfect excuse to relax in the bath reading this book. I only got a chapter or 2 down before the water got so cold I have to get out but it got me in the mood to read it again. It’s still a little slow going and not exactly living up to my expectations yet. I’m sure it’ll pick up though. I get the feeling things are about to kick off and the narrative will really move up a gear. I hope so because I’ve got loads more books that I’m really excited to read so I need to get this done. I’ll keep you posted.   

Recently Purchased
  • Multiple Choice by Alejandro Zambra
I’ve had this on my wishlist for a while now because it sounds fucking insane. It’s a book that is made up of several multiple choice questions. There are different sections with different objectives and readers are encouraged to pick the answer that they feel is best. From the small amount I’ve seen of the book it is as fantastic as it sounds. It’s profound, funny, political, silly and, surprising. It takes interactivity to a new level and shows you the flexibility of literature. I’m already obsessed and can’t wait to read and reread this book.

  • Losing It by Emma Rathbone
It’s getting to the end of 2016 and in preparation for my end of year review I’ve been revisiting my list of most anticipated novels of this year. Turns out I only got round to buying a handful and I actually read even fewer. So I’m desperately trying to mend my ways and am starting to track down all those books that I failed to buy. Starting with this one about a 26 year old who confronts her own lack of sexual activity by talking to her aunt who is also a virgin. It sounded interested when I heard about it last year and it still does now. It’ll probably also be an easier read than Eileen which is something I think I need right now.

  • Not Working by Lisa Owens

Another book from the list. This first appealed because it’s about a young woman who quits her job to find her true vocation before realising she has no idea what that it. It sounded all too familiar to the 28 year old that is having a shitty time finding a job she both wants to do and that wants her to do it. Again, I’m not expecting it to be too hard a read but it sounds like a good thing for me to read right now. I imagine it’ll be uplifting and full of more hope than I currently am.

  • Nicotine by Nell Zink
A final purchase from the list is the more literary one. I own the Mislaid/The Wallcreeper boxset but I never got round to reading them. It’s the usual thing. It seemed too intimidating and everyone’s been raving about Zink so it makes me wary to start it. I’m hoping this book will get me into the groove so I can go back and read those ones. Although, I suspect it will simply find a new home beside them on the shelf. I’m a terrible reader. 

Recently Watched
  • Inferno
I decided to watch the latest film that sees Tom Hanks play Professor Robert Langdon and, if you’re interested, my review is up on the blog.  
  • Angels and Demons
After watching Inferno I was in the mood for some more of Dan Brown’s trash so I watched my favourite of the trilogy. It happens to be the topic for my last TBT post as well.
  • The Grand Tour
I watched the first episode of Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond’s new Amazon TV show when it came out last week. I was a big fan of Top Gear when the trio hosted so I was excited to see what they could do without the BBC. Turns out it was pretty much the same but even more insane. They’re intention was obviously to show the BBC what they’re missing and they’ve done that thanks to Amazon’s fucking huge budget. This is probably only going to get bigger and better.

TBT – Angels and Demons (2009)

bullshit, dan brown, fucking awful, fucking stupid, TBT, Tom Hanks

It seems that I’m going through a bit of a Tom Hanks week this week. I can’t get away from the man. This week Michael Moore declared that he run for president in 2020; my Tuesday Review this week was his latest Robert Langdon film Inferno; and today my colleague told me she preferred younger Tom Hanks to younger Harrison Ford. Now, I’m not trying to criticise the man but there is no competition. Tom Hanks is Hollywood’s Mr Nice Guy but he’s hardly a fucking pin-up. Anyway, I decided to continue this trend by discussing another of the Dan Brown film trilogy. But which one to pick? A few weeks ago the Cinema Sins YouTube channel brought out a video describing everything that’s wrong with Angels and Demons and, weirdly, it made me want to watch it again. I’ve seen The Da Vinci Code a couple of times and it bored the shit out of me every times. As you may remember from Tuesday, Inferno hardly set my spirits alight so, by process of elimination, Angels and Demons had to be my favourite of the Robert Langdon trilogy. Although this probably has something to do with my love of Ewan McGregor and Stellan Skarsgård because you can hardly say that I love the film or the book. Still, I’m never one to ignore a craving so I spent last night reminding myself of what a travesty it really is.

Angels and Demons was the novel that introduced the world to Professor Robert Langdon but it was the second film to be released. Probably because it’s successor, The Da Vinci Code, had the greater social impact thanks to its subject matter. The Da Vinci Code was a slow moving and crazy thriller that hardly wowed critics so Angels and Demons needed to up its game. To be fair to Ron Howard, it did. However, adding more action is hardly akin to making improvements. As one reviewer pointed out, the first film consisted of Tom Hanks standing near paintings and explaining the plot whereas the second has Tom Hanks explaining the plot whilst running… because action. Still, at least it wasn’t boring. There is enough action, violence and explosions to ensure people stay awake. It does mean that, whatever meandering nonsense is also happening on screen, there is always something to engage with. Even if you ignore all of the other mcguffin, this film comes to down to the classic race against time to save innocent people from a killer.

However, for the purposes of this review, we can’t ignore all the other stuff. Angels and Demons may be a fairly decent action film but it shrouds itself in the same historical and religious mystery that The Da Vinci Code did. It’s still a completely nonsensical and sensationalist film that makes up for a lack of substance with nonsense and conspiracy theories. It plays on a base level and is far too occupied with creating drama than following logic. When Robert Langdon is asked to come to Venice he is faced with the task of tracking down the long hidden Path of Illumination that will lead him to a secret Illuminati lair. Along the way he must prevent the murder of the four Cardinals who are favourites to be elected as the new Pope and stop a vial of antimatter destroying Vatican City at midnight. You see?! It’s fucking insane.

Dan Brown is apparently incapable of writing a simple thriller which, if the recent spate of psychological thrillers to be released is anything to go by, apparently any idiot can put together. No, his head is too far up his own arse for him to realise that exploring religious history and creating intricate puzzles involving art isn’t adding anything to the whole story. It’s another of those stories that is fine if you just ignore everything about it but once you start to really think about it nothing makes sense. There are so many silly and implausible events in this film. It’s really irritating. People’s behaviour doesn’t make sense and there are so many moments where plans would have failed if people had acted naturally. It’s all so fucking convenient because, if this were real, it would be impossible.

The Dan Brown rule of thrillers clearly isn’t “simple is best”. He throws everything he has at it and leaves poor people like Ron Howard with nowhere to go when adapting it. Angels and Demons is nothing more than a cheap thriller that is elevated with its own pompous obsession with the Church and the secrets its hiding. To say it’s the best of the three films is like saying the imperius curse is the best of the Unforgivable Curses. Yes, its not quite as bad as straight up killing anyone but you wouldn’t recommend it to people. I just hope that the whole Dan Brown thing has come to an end now. He’s a low-rate writer that gained momentum because he pissed off Christians around the world. We gave him publicity and these shitty films are the price we all have to pay. Well done us.

Tuesday’s reviews – Inferno (2016)

bullshit, dan brown, films, fucking awful, review, thriller, Tom Hanks

Considering my general anger about the whole thriller genre it shouldn’t come as any surprise to you guys that I’m not a fan of Dan Brown. However, this dislike comes from a place much deeper than mere genre. It basically comes down to the fact that Brown is a fucking shit writer. Something that is even more worrying when you consider he used to be a creative writing professor. Still, it’s something that seem unwilling to admit. I have had several arguments with people over the years about why his books are so awful but Dan Brown’s fans are as stubborn as his books are dull. There’s no way around it, Dan Brown just doesn’t know how to write. He uses words in completely nonsensical ways; he’s incredibly repetitive; his dialogue is clumsy; he gets bogged down with insignificant details; and he’s incredibly repetitive. He’s a man who’s name should be Dan “tautology” Brown and who should really ask a creative writing professor what a real metaphor is. Not only is his writing bad but it’s incredibly simplistic in the midst of all the biblical/ literary history. I mean each chapter is about 2 pages long and each one ends on some kind of underwhelming cliffhanger. It’s fucking awful. However, desperately trying to find something positive to say, Dan Brown’s stories do make fairly adequate cinematic experiences. Once Ron Howard and co manage to remove all the bullshit and get down to the puzzle then it’s not quite as bad. I mean it’s not good but it’s not the worst thing I’ve ever seen. Plus, Tom Hanks is so fucking likeable that it’s easy to get swept away. So, despite the fact that I never bothered to read Inferno I was interested in how it would work on screen.

Inferno is the third attempt by director Ron Howard to bring Dan Brown’s character Robert Langdon to the big screen. This time we’ve moved away into the literary world because the novel was basically Brown’s way to show off how much he knows about Dante. Langdon (Tom Hanks) wakes up in Florence with a bullet wound in his head and no memory of the last few days. Thankfully, a kindly assassin soon turns up to remind him that he’s in the middle of some bad shit. With the help of his doctor, Sienna (Felicity Jones), Langdon figures out that he’s on the trail of a deadly plague that’s set to be released and wipe out half of the world’s population. It was produced by crazed billionaire geneticist, Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster), who believes that the only way to solve the population crises is to wipe out most of humanity and start again.

Following the clues that have been left, Langdon and Sienna follow a trail connected with Dante’s works and personal history. All the while the pair are being tracked by not one but two sinister organisation. The first is the World Health Organisation, headed up by Elizabeth Sinskey (Sidse Babett Knudsen), who, as it happens, used to bang old Robert back in the day. The second is the hilariously names private security firm The Consortium and their CEO Harry Sims ((Irrfan Khan)). It was the latter who sent the previously seen assassin, Vayentha (Ana Ularu), who is tasked with killing Langdon before he can track down the vial containing the virus.

If you’ve read any of Dan Brown’s books or seen any of the other adaptations then you won’t be shocked at what unfolds here. Brown’s stories are rather formulaic at this point. Someone dies in the opening, Langdon starts looking for clues and shows an insane awareness of all aspects of history and culture, and comes across many shady people and plenty of double-crossers.  The actual narrative is so absurd and outrageous that it’s best to pay as little attention to it as possible. I mean if you really start thinking about why people do things the way they do then you’ll fall into so many plotholes that you’ll make it all the way to China. Now I’m not saying that you can’t enjoy a thriller when it’s utterly stupid; God knows some of the best films I’ve ever seen are also the silliest. Still, Inferno is more than just a dumb thriller, it’s also one of the most pretentious and egotistical thriller you’ll have seen for a while. The main problem I have with Brown and his stories are that they think they are much more intellectual than they actually are. A thriller that’s as outrageously bad as this that also wastes so much time dissecting Dante’s Inferno is the ultimate oxymoron.

But it tries to keep its audience entertained despite this. There are more twists and turns than you really need and people change their allegiances so much it feels like an episode of Game of Thrones. There are plenty of action sequences along the way where the ever weary Langdon is expected to face off against men with guns, women with guns, and men with knives. Although, Howard really doesn’t seem to know how to deal with these action sequences and everything comes across as really confusing. The main attention is given to the more sedate aspects of the puzzle solving which means the film drags and gets pretty boring pretty quickly. By the end I was desperate for the virus to be released so it would kill everybody on screen and end my misery. In the Dan Brown tradition, Inferno is part awful thriller and part tedious lecture.