Another media weekend

Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven was an ambitious film which had, for me, a hugely compelling premise, atmosphere to spare, and lots of visual flair from this most visual of directors. On the other hand, it was weak in characterization and lopsided, with a heavy, drawn-out exposition and rushed middle and final acts. But after seeing the recently-released director’s cut, I need to completely revise my opinion. With 3-plus hours in which to breathe, the movie assumes the epic scope lamely aspired to by its shorter version, fed by moments and touches of color which fill in the world around the plot. Most notable is an entire arc involving Sibylla and her son — a character completely absent from the theatrical cut — which give her actions in the second half, previously an inexplicable mess, real pathos and motivation. If you have a taste for contemplative medieval epics (and yes, despite the huge action sequences, it is in the end a meditation on the madness of holy war), you probably owe it to yourself to give this movie a try. Please, though, stick to the director’s cut!

Also somehow ended up seeing Aeon Flux. Ahem. Not much else to say, except it’s worth noting that Martin Csokas cleans up really well (cf. Kingdom of Heaven).

The Da Vinci Code? Perhaps unsurprisingly (but only to my friends, who think I can’t shut up about how much I hate Dan Brown), I saw that one too. It’s better than the novel, if only for the fact that the most annoying character of all — the narrator — has been wholly removed. The cast is quite good, transcending the material and raising it to the level of pleasant diversion. I’m still loath to say I thought it was a good movie, though was pleased to note that they fixed up the most unbelievable moment in the story so I won’t have to complain about it anymore.

Beside that, SIFF is now in full swing. I haven’t even looked at the listings yet! I am so off my game*.

Anyone want to see any movies with me?

* seriously, I haven’t even seen X3 yet. I’m so scared that Brett Ratner will ruin everything. Someone reassure me, please!


Pork buns

[9 Chatham Square]

Okay, totally ignore this entry unless you want to know the secret location of the world’s yummiest Chinese baked pork buns. They’re so good — sweet, soft, filled with a perfect mix of roast pork and caramelized onions. I’ve been grabbing them greedily on my New York visits for years but until now never bothered to get the actual address down so that I could share with others.

So! It’s Chatham Restaurant at 9 Chatham Square, which is Bowery near its intersection with Mott Street in Chinatown. You can’t miss it, it’s the big red awning near the Subway sub shop. Remember, they’re baked — not steamed — so we’re talking doughy rather than fluffy, but trust me on this. You won’t be sorry.

I admit it, I finished Angels & Demons on the plane ride home. It was a light read and it did confirm one thing: that Dan Brown’s writing style improved considerably between this and its sequel. Still, that’s not saying a whole lot. We’re talking huge swaths that read like bad fan fiction:

The Hassassin smirked. He had been awake all night, but sleep was the last thing on his mind. Sleep was for the weak. He was a warrior like his ancestors before him, and his people never slept once a battle had begun. This battle had most definitely begun, and he had been given the honor of spilling first blood.

The writing’s worse, but the story is somewhat better, at least until it all falls apart in the endgame. I enjoyed the fact that we’re finding our heroes looking for answers at an honest-to-goodness library when the doomsday clock is ticking — though it makes me long for an adventure book starring a librarian rather than a “professor of religious symbology,” whatever that means.

I think I’m Dan Browned out for the rest of my life. Jessamyn told me over the weekend that Deception Point was actually a fun read, but it will have to wait. I need to read things where the words are beautiful, at least for awhile.


The Da Vinci Code

Finished The Da Vinci Code a few minutes ago, and not a minute too soon. Reading it was like listening to a know-it-all explaining the story of a Jerry Bruckheimer film without a time limit. Consider:

“… Langdon noted with uneasiness that these particular cloisters lived up to their Latin ties to the word claustrophobic.”

Do you know anyone who talks like this all the time? Do you like to spend time with this person? There are whole pages of discussions of things like the golden ratio and fibonacci sequences that come off as masturbatory. Plot twists and puzzle solutions are condescendingly telegraphed with marquee lights pages ahead of time as if reaffirming the idea that Langdon (and by extension, Dan Brown) is just that much smarter than the reader.

Still, I’ve no-one to blame but myself. Despite the silly plot and tone I still stayed up late and finished the whole thing, if only to witness unbelievable moments such as three supposed Da Vinci scholars staring at a “code” of clearly-reversed cursive lettering and not recognizing what was going on. That’s not all of it, however — I guess I’m a bit of a sheep after all.

Summary? Let’s just say that it was about as entertaining as National Treasure with three times the time investment.

It’s possible that I’m just feeling annoyed at a book that has yet to be released in paperback after two years in print. I doubt it, though. Thank goodness for the library — where I also picked up some Mishima as a palate cleanser.

In other news, I’ve had that poppy cover of “Pure Imagination” (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) from the Mastercard commercial stuck in my head all evening, which kicked off a brief google search to find out how I might get ahold of it in a more on-demand format. Phooey on Wikipedia for making it so easy to find bad news.

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