UK Cinema Releases: Friday 15th May 2009

UK Cinema Releases 15-05-09


Angels and Demons (Sony Pictures): The sequel to The Da Vinci Code sees Tom Hanks return as Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon and he has to solve a plot by the Illuminati, who are threatening to destroy Vatican City with stolen antimatter during a papal conclave. Directed by Ron Howard, it is only slightly less dull than the first film and the supporting cast (featuring Ayelet ZurerEwan McGregor and Stellan Skarsgård) do their best with wafer thin characters. 

An expensive waste of a talented cast and crew, servicing the Hollywood machine with a film that will almost certainly be amongst the top 5 grossers of the year. Perhaps Dan Brown’s next book could be about a conspiracy involving why so many people lap up these turgid books and films. However, despite the bad reviews this film is going to get, Sony can expect to make almost as much money as the Vatican this month, which is really saying something. [Nationwide / Cert 12A]

Fighting (Universal): An action film directed by Dito Montiel, about a young ticket scalper introduced to the world of underground street fighting. It stars Channing TatumTerrence HowardLuis GuzmánBrian J. WhiteFlaco Navaja and Strikeforce Middleweight Champion Cung Le. 

Universal might be bracing themselves for everyone else to go and see Angels and Demons but a question that most UK audiences with be asking this weekend is who the hell is Channing Tatum? [Empire Leicester Square & Nationwide / Cert 12A / Previews 13 & 14 May]

Synecdoche, New York (Revolver Entertainment): The directorial debut of Charlie Kaufman (who wrote Being John MalkovichAdaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) centres around a theatre director named Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who starts to re-evaluate life after both his health and marriage break down. He then devises an enormous theatre project inside a life size replica of New York city that reflects and imitates his own life. 

What follows is a strange and often baffling movie, complete with the kind of motifs that are peppered throughout Kaufman’s scripts. But despite the oddities and the Chinese-box narrative, this is a film overflowing with invention and ideas. It explores the big issues of life and death but also examines the nature of art and performance – a lot of the film, once it goes inside the warehouse, is a mind-boggling meditation on our lives as a performance. 

Imagine The Truman Show rewritten by Samuel Beckett and directed by Luis Buñuel and you’ll get some idea of what Kaufman is aiming for here. Much of the film hinges on Seymour Hoffman’s outstanding central performance in which he conveys the vulnerability and determination of a man obsessed with doing something worthwhile before he dies. The makeup for the characters supervised by Mike Marino is also first rate, creating a believable ageing process whilst the sets are also excellent, even if some of the CGI isn’t always 100% convincing. 

The supporting cast was also impressive: Catherine KeenerMichelle WilliamsSamantha MortonEmily WatsonHope DavisTom Noonan and Dianne Weist all contribute fine performances and fit nicely into the overall tone of the piece. Although the world Kaufman creates will alienate some viewers, it slowly becomes a haunting meditation on how humans age and die. 

As the film moves towards resolution it becomes surprisingly moving with some of the deeper themes slowly, but powerfully, rising to the surface. This means that although it will have it’s admirers (of which I certainly include myself) it is likely to prove too esoteric for mass consumption as it has a downbeat tone despite the comic touches.  [Curzon Soho, Odeon Covent Gdn., Barbican & Key Cities / Cert 15]

N.B. The first word of the title is pronounced “Syn-ECK-duh-kee”.



French Film (Vertigo Films): A comedy about how French and English cultures differ in their attitudes on relationships. It is directed by Jackie Oudney and stars Hugh BonnevilleAnne-Marie Duff and Eric Cantona. [Apollo Piccadilly Circus & Key Cities / Cert 15]

Viva (Nouveaux Pictures): Two suburban couples experiment with sex, drugs and bohemia in early 1970’s Los Angeles. Directed by and starring Anna Biller. [ICA Cinema]

UK cinema releases for May 2009
UK DVD releases for this week (W/C Monday 11th May)

Cinema Thoughts

Angels & Dullness

Tom Hanks in Angels & Demons

Although this sequel to The Da Vinci Code isn’t quite as as bad as that 2006 turkey, it is still a plodding big budget disappointment.

Angels & Demons will still make an enormous amount of money, but given the A-list talent involved you could be forgiven for wondering why such a high profile blockbuster is so criminally boring.

For those not familiar with the best selling books by Dan Brown, they involve a Harvard symbologist named Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks).

In The Da Vinci Code (2006) he had to investigate a conspiracy involving the Catholic church and here he is called in to solve a plot by the Illuminati, who are threatening to destroy Vatican City with stolen antimatter during a papal conclave.

On the surface these movies actually sound like hokey fun, but the reality is that they involve a lot of walking and talking in dark places, clunky expository dialogue and a lack of any genuine suspense.

The premise of this film is slightly more appealing in that it is essentially a ticking time bomb scenario.

Almost from the beginning Langdon has to solve the mystery of where four kidnapped priests are before stopping anti-matter from blowing up the Vatican.

But none of this potential excitement really comes off on the big screen.

Given that pulpy novels like Jaws and The Godfather have been made into highly entertaining movies, why has Dan Brown’s bestseller not made a similar transition.

My theory is that it was written from the start to be clunky and obvious – literary anti-matter if you will – and even the skills of David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman (two of Hollywood’s highest paid screenwriters) could not translate it into something even remotely engaging.

Despite having a narrative crammed with riddles and mysteries, they are sacrificed quickly in order to get to the next chase upon where more is revealed and so on and so on.

This leads to a film that is the equivalent of a dog chasing it’s own tail whilst stuck on an out of control carousel – lots of energy and excitement that ultimately leads to a rather pointless spectacle.

Like most big Hollywood productions it does have some impressive technical aspects, most notably the recreation of the Vatican on studio sound stages that is mixed almost seamlessly with nocturnal Rome.

The cast play their one-dimensional roles fairly straight: Hanks is slightly more agreeable here than in the last film; Ayelet Zurer makes a plausible CERN physicist; Ewan McGregor is just OK as the Camerlengo in charge before the new pontiff is elected (although he does have a coup,e of bad lines); whilst veterans like Stellan Skarsgård and Armin Mueller-Stahl add a bit of spice whilst the story plods along.

When you consider the enormous popular appeal of The Da Vinci Code novel and film, it is worth asking what audiences actually see in them.

Part of it could be that a large chunk of religious believers (especially Catholics) get a guilty kick out of seeing a conspiracy about the Catholic church (an organisation ripe for intrigue) and toying with the idea that it all could be true. Even when – or maybe because? – Brown’s material is clearly nonsensical.

Then there are the audiences who just love the film equivalent of an airport novel, where plot rules everything and characters, theme and craft are mere pawns to serve it.

It will no doubt mean that this will be one of the highest grossing films of the year, but in years to come people will be perplexed about why such a dull film could be so popular.

Amusing TV

Tom Hanks on Jonathan Ross

Tom Hanks was recently on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross, talking about Angels and Demons.

> Tom Hanks at the IMDb
> Angels and Demons official website