We review the latest releases to try as the holy month draws to an end and the weather starts cooling off
Angels & Demons
2/5 Dir Ron Howard US (TBA) Faith is the guiding principle behind Ron Howard’s second adaptation of a Dan Brown bestseller. Faith that this will match the US$750 million worldwide gross of The Da Vinci Code. On this occasion, crisis hits the Vatican after the death of the Pope and the election of a new leader for the world’s billion Catholics. Four cardinals have been kidnapped, and worse still, a stashed-away vial of ultra-combustible anti-matter (stolen from the CERN labs in Switzerland) threatens to blow half of Rome to kingdom come. Enter Tom Hanks’s exposition-spouting symbologist to explain the historical basis and present implications of this attack from the self-styled ‘Illuminati’– men of Renaissance learning who went underground centuries ago after the Vatican moved against them, and are using modern technology to hit back.
The conflict between religion and science gestures towards thematic substance, but the film, unsurprisingly, takes a conciliatory line to give both sides of the argument their due. With only hours before the Vatican goes ka-boom! the story is pacy enough, despite the cast – Ewan McGregor’s peachy papal insider, grumpy Vatican security chief Stellan Skarsgård – needing to explain the plot every five minutes, while a miscast Hanks traces a string of conveniently planted clues and the clock ticks away. The re-creation of St Peter’s and the Sistine Chapel on the Hollywood backlot is a production achievement, yet the movie’s about as exciting as looking over someone’s shoulder while they finish a crossword. Trevor Johnston Dhs85 at Virgin Megastore
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
4/5 Dir Woody Allen Spain (TBA) Watching Woody Allen’s annual offering is a kind of ritual, like a trip to the dentist – and over the past decade, the pain level has been alarmingly high. From the quaintness of the DreamWorks period (Anything Else, in which Jason Biggs was in therapy with a ‘strict Freudian’) to Allen’s supposed rejuvenation in London (the fusty Match Point, with a view of class that began moldering sometime around the publication of Bleak House), the movies have offered little evidence that the once-great director lives in the Information Age, much less reads his own reviews.
So to say Vicky Cristina Barcelona is Allen’s best film in 12 years is faint praise. (That just suggests it doesn’t make you want to crawl under your seat in shame). But there it is: the pacing, the timing, the jokes. Unlike any of the British films, this story of two Americans in Barcelona – soon-to-be-married Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and free-spirited Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) – makes tourism part of its subject, and the Europhilia becomes a source of humour. The two women enjoy flings with an impossibly smooth Spanish artist (Javier Bardem, whose comic poise in seducing them should be studied and replicated), his own situation complicated by feelings for his nutty ex (Penelope Cruz, who has a personal triumph here). As usual, Allen belabours an obvious theme – passion versus satisfaction – but for a change, even the peripheral material, like the scenes involving Bardem’s spiteful poet father, has real bite. Minor Allen, the movie is nevertheless cause for hope for those who insist on returning every year. Ben Kenigsberg Dhs85 at Virgin Megastore