Tom Hanks contemplates the symbolism of cling film / image courtesy of Sony Pictures
Our weekly round-up of film reviews
It's almost not worth summarising Angels and Demons, the Da Vinci Code follow-up. You'll already have your opinions about it and nothing the critics can howl will change your mind. But the sheer amount of scorn poured on the film's head is amusing to delve into. Let's quickly run over the plot: Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) spends a night running around Rome attempting to avert the murder of four cardinals and a fiery inferno in the heart of the city, caused by some anti-matter (ha!) nicked from CERN. This time, the shadowy cult at the centre of the action is the Illuminati and they've handily provided a video with a series of clues for Langdon to solve. "That's good, or at least goodish, because it allows Langdon to go huffing and puffing from one church to the next, squeezing into secret passages and spouting off about pentagrams. He's like a tour guide who's just swallowed an Enid Blyton anthology" (Guardian, 2 stars). "A murky, dispiriting festival of pedantry... the pomposity of Angels and Demons is astonishing" seethes the Independent (1 star) and Empire reckons "none of this would matter if Ron Howard didn't direct at such an even, respectable plod - with time-outs for lectures" (2 stars). But the critics are fighting a losing battle: ultimately "the pernicious lure of Dan Brown's clunky prose and fiendishly convoluted plotting remains depressingly strong. This graceless and overwrought piece of storytelling will probably earn a Pope's ransom at the box office, despite its many flaws" concludes The Times (2 stars). (We reckon the film would probably make a great drinking game on DVD: drink each time Langdon solves a puzzle that's been foxing people for centuries, etc.)
Something that's been said a lot, but only because it's true: Charlie Kaufman is the most original mind working in cinema today. The writer of Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind makes his directorial debut with Synecdoche, New York, a film that's "either a masterpiece or a massively dysfunctional act of self-indulgence and self-laceration" (Guardian, 5 stars). Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a failing theatre director suddenly awarded a 'genius grant', which he uses to create a vast, improvised, unwatchable project that consumes years and lives. "Scriptwriters have their obsessions... For Charlie Kaufman, it's always been the knotty perplexity of the human brain" says Empire (5 stars) and he's created a film about the "monsters that lurk in the shadows of [his] psyche... disease, death, loneliness, creative frustration and the impermanence of our impact on the world around us" (Times, 4 stars). "It's a tough ask to make "monumentally sad" sound like a recommendation, which could make [this film] the hardest sell I'll ever give five stars to" says the Telegraph (5 stars). Synecdoche, New York will polarise audiences but, unlike Angels and Demons, the only way to know which camp you fall into will be to see it yourself.
Fighting is "Rocky without the great theme music, or the boxing gloves" (Independent, 2 stars). Channing Tatum plays a small-town boy in the big city with talent in them there fists. He's quickly inducted into the world of illegal bare-knuckle boxing - will he or won't he throw his big grudge match? It's a story that's been told many times before, but director Dito Montiel and writing partner Robert Munic "have managed to elevate this pedestrian material by suffusing it with a sensitivity for place and character that rarely gets anywhere near this sort of thing" (Guardian, 3 stars). The Telegraph (and others) complain of an obvious soundtrack but finds the film "gripping" (3 stars) while The Times (3 stars) watches Tatum give "a glimpse of the charisma that could make him a star and New York demonstrates yet again that there are few cities more cinematic".
Artist Anna Biller directs and appears as Barbi, a bored housefrau inducted into softcore counterculture, in Viva. The film is a homage to the Russ Meyer-style sex films of the 70s, period detail meticulously recreated. It certainly foxed the critics: "at first you think the film is so bad that someone must have made an awful mistake financing it. But then you realise that Biller has got everything right, from the wooden acting and unbelievably dreadful screenplay to the garishly appropriate decor, colour and costumes" says the Evening Standard (2 stars). Empire loves how it's "shot in blaring IronyVision" (4 stars), but the Guardian thinks "it's simply not funny" (2 stars). Meanwhile, The Times shudders that "paying ironic homage to bad cinema doesn't suddenly make it good" (2 stars).
The Guardian does a neat summation of French Film: "here we have a British romcom with one or two interesting things to say about relationships in that tricky late 30s/early 40s zone, but which has lumbered itself with a clumsy and unfunny framing device about French cinema that sucks a good deal of what sympathy you might feel for its characters" (2 stars). There's a cameo from Eric Cantona while the exquisite Hugh Bonneville plays your archetypal bloke, "looking for romantic insights in the bottom of a pint. The writing - unfunny, repetitive - is barely sitcom standard; the lighting is brutal; the performances desperate" savages The Times (1 star). The Evening Standard (2 stars) is a little kinder, "it is certainly watchable, and shrewder than the usual rom-com" but for the final word we go back to the Guardian: "the result is uneven: lurching from little-Englander spoofery to heartfelt emotionalising and back again - often in the same scene".
Next week: 12 bloody films at once, the biggest name of which is Night at the Museum 2.