'Angels and Demons' delivers entertainment

No matter the efficacy of the core belief regarding the existence of a higher being or, for that matter, the presence of intelligent design in our universe, no institution is more intricately layered with ritual, ceremony and sacraments than organized religion, most especially the Roman Catholic church.

And if there is anything compelling about Dan Brown's novels (and the two subsequent movies), it's that Brown pulls back the curtain and offers up his view of the baroque workings of the church, adding intrigue and malevolent tension while taking literary license wherever it serves his purpose. No doubt, Brown can tell a good story with just enough scaffolding and research to create a strong sense of verisimilitude that can be gripping.

Brown's first book, set in the Vatican, was "Angels & Demons," followed by "The DaVinci Code." Ron Howard, producer and director of both films, shot them in reverse order, which is of no consequence since the two books are not connected in plot though both are grounded in the Machiavellian intrigue of the church and the Vatican, both anchored by a secret, lethal, underground organization called the Illuminati.

The much-anticipated film, "Angels & Demons,' stripped of its rococo garnish, is a straightforward, the-game-clock-is-ticking adventure story. As in "The DaVinci Code," Tom Hanks, as Robert Langdon, Ivy League professor and symbologist, dashes from pillar to post unraveling a cascade of signs and symbols, his explanations steeped in religious arcana.

Once again Langdon has a sidekick. This time it's Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer), a bioentanglement physicist (don't ask), who serves as his foil while they puzzle out a series of problems and dead cardinals. Vetra is beautiful, intelligent and accomplished, and Langdon, unmarried, presumably living alone in Boston in an ivory tower with cable, seems strangely oblivious to Vetra's charms. Both movies have an unexpected asexual quality to them. Of course, men and women can join forces without emotional entanglements and prevail over bad people doing bad things; however, this is Hollywood and it's rare that chemistry and sexual tension are so studiously avoided.

In short, both films are interesting; that they are preposterous, well, no matter. This is not about the veracity of the existence of the Illuminati, or whether Jesus was married and, consequently, has progeny walking among us. This is all about entertainment. And" Angels & Demons" does entertain.

Is Anyone There?

If you are a fan of those quintessentially English films that gather together a quirky, doddering cast of character actors and build a movie around them, well, take the time to view "Is Anyone There?" While not a particularly memorable script, it has its moments. And, of course, it has Michael Caine.

The narrative is carried by Caine, 76, who gives a remarkable performance as The Great Clarence, a recently retired magician who, with great reluctance, moves into Lark Hall, a seaside assisted-living home.

Angry, suicidal, he meets Edward (Bill Millner), a 10-year-old who cultivates a rather unhealthy, lurking obsession focused on what happens after a person dies. He all but follows the tenants around ready to hold a mirror up to their mouths. Perhaps it's because he has been raised in Lark Hall and therefore has been exposed to the inevitable and rolling mortality of its residents.

Edward and Clarence (who is slowly drifting into dementia) strike up an unexpected friendship that has a certain lighthearted charm. But their moments cannot rescue what is an essentially a dark and somewhat unfocused film. While Edward is more than curious about the afterlife, Clarence is consumed with regret for choices made in his life that cannot be undone. He is out of time and opportunity.

Of course, regret is a bag that is always packed. And the reality that what is done often cannot be undone is a harsh taskmaster. Clarence carries this truth, this profound remorse, and it seems to distract him from completely embracing Edward as well as those final days that are still available to him. And speaking of baggage, there is an unnecessary subplot that has Edward's father flirting with a young teenage housekeeper, thus risking all that he values.

What makes "Is Anyone Home?" worth seeing is Michael Caine. It's been far too many decades since he filled the screen with his career-making performance as Alfie Elkins; however, in the ensuing years he has only continued to burnish his talent and his ability to inhabit a character, as he so ably demonstrates with his portrayal of Clarence Parkinson.

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