<!--StartFragment--> <!--StartFragment--> <!--StartFragment--> ANGELS & DEMONS<br /><strong>Cert: 12A<br /></strong>THIS tediously dull follow up to the tediously dull Da Vinci Code was the highest-profile victim of the Hollywood writers’ strike last year, becoming substantially delayed as a result. However, it gives the impression of not having been written by professionals at all.<br /><br />Instead, the dialogue consists almost entirely of lumbering exposition. Time and again, characters explain arcane religious details and duff scientific concepts to each other in a manner so cumbersome that you wonder whether you aren’t watching a made-for-schools educational show. When Tom Hanks’s Professor Robert Langdon explains to a senior Vatican official that “preferiti” is the term used to refer to the four most favoured cardinals for the papacy, you half expect him to turn to the camera and wink.<br /><br />The story concerns a not-very-wild goose chase around the Vatican to prevent the evil ancient clan, The Illuminati, using “an extremely combustible substance called anti-matter” (as a scientist carefully explains to yet another cardinal) to blow most of Rome to kingdom come. The Pope has died, the crowds have gathered in St Peter’s Square while the cardinals go into Conclave to pick a successor, but the preferiti have been kidnapped in the night and anti-matter has gone missing from CERN.<br /><br />Naturally, those devious Illuminati, with only 300 years to hatch a flawless plan, have left a trail of symbols, inscriptions and signs to show what they’re up to, so Hank’s stuffed shirt professor is whisked over from Harvard to solve the puzzles. Joining him in the fight to save the Catholic Church is glamorous CERN scientist Dr Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer), Ewan McGregor’s Oirish priest, and a Vatican police force apparently consisting entirely of Hugo Boss models.<br /><br />Acres of portentous imagery from director Ron Howard, psychobabble about religion, science and god particles, Carmina Burana-style Dramatic Music and an explosion designed to resemble great Baroque paintings can’t save Angels & Demons from being utter cobblers of the most pedestrian kind. And Hanks look constipated throughout.<br /><br />SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK<br /><strong>Cert: 15<br /></strong>Charlie Kaufman, the writer behind such existentially strange films as Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, this time steps behind the camera in what seems a pretty clear attempt to create a Magnum Opus, summing up his worldview and obsessions. The result is something of a headache, if beautiful and affecting in places.<br /><br />Philip Seymour Hoffman is Caden Cotard, a stage director desperate to introduce something artistic and challenging at his local, suburban theatre. His marriage to his artist wife Adele (Catherine Keener) is on the rocks, his eight-year-old daughter Olive is terrified by the idea of blood in her veins, and Caden is beset by a catalogue of appalling physical conditions. He might be dying.<br /><br />From this set up, things unravel to a vertiginous degree. Adele and Olive disappear to Europe, and Caden embarks on a massive theatrical project in which actors play him and those around him, and eventually those around them. Years pass, time and reality seem to come loose from their moorings and the world tumbles into a dystopian nightmare.<br /><br />Kaufman’s vision and ambition is truly dizzying, but he’s overstretched himself here. There are funny, touching moments, scenes of desperate bathos, and an awful lot in between. But the longer it meanders, the more indulgent and wilful it seems, eventually becoming monotone I’ve no idea what the title means.