Beowulf (Robert Zemeckis):
Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich, Robin Wright Penn, Brendan Gleeson.
Running time: 114 minutes . . .
RAY Winstone has been reshaped into a towering, impossibly pec-ed Scandinavian warrior; Angelina Jolie has been given more curves.
Only with motion capture technology could this be possible. Beowulf is a mixed affair. The mediaeval English text stands the test as a classic story. It gives this film backbone: a timeless meditation on male vanity. The story tells of the warrior Beowulf, who comes to save the Danes from the torment of a monster. But his quest for immortality gives him more than he bargains for. Director Robert Zemeckis uses the technology to plant us in the middle of the melee: human heads and monster limbs fly around us. But watching this with 3-D glasses on felt like walking inside a computer game. The actors are recorded, put into a computer and redrawn as cartoon figures, but made to look as real as possible. The concept is to make the fantasy seamless with reality, and to give the director enormous control. But it is also pointless: when things look almost real, as opposed to cartoons, you start to look for real things . . . the small expressions on a face that denote emotion. Here the movement is lumpy and the faces are about as expressive as stone. It's moviemaking for gamers.
The Jane Austen Book Club (Robin Swicord):
Kathy Baker, Maria Bello, Emily Blunt, Amy Brenneman, Hugh Dancy.
Running time: 106 minutes . .
A GROUP of Californian female friends seek distraction from their unhappy lives by forming a book club . . . are all Jane Austen devotees. Each is thin disguise for stereotype: there's Amy Brenneman as a lost-but-finding-herself divorcee; Mario Bello who prefers dogs to men; Kathy Baker who has been around the block with about a gazillion marriages and Emily Blunt as a neurotic and frustrated French teacher. Hugh Dancy, wearing cycling shorts, provides eye candy. He joins their group with the plan of winning Bello's frosty dog breeder over. Month by month, the book club progresses into a self-help class, as they begin to recognise parts of their own lives in Austen's stories. It makes the worthy case that great art can help us with our problems, but with a lot of wish-fulfilment and double cream on top. It's adapted from the best-selling novel and is competently handled by director Robin Swicord. PL How About You (Anthony Byrne): Vanessa Redgrave, Brenda Fricker, Hayley Atwell, Joss Ackland, Orla Brady, Joan O'Hara.
Running time: 92 minutes . .
PRODUCER Noel Pearson has a shrewd eye for emerging talent.
Having launched Daniel DayLewis to stardom in My Left Foot he's now pulled off another coup with Hayley Atwell, a newcomer clearly on her way to stardom. She is put head-to-head with Vanessa Redgrave in a generation gap comedy set in a residential home where she's been left in charge over Christmas . . . by her uptight older sister Orla Brady . . . despite having no experience. Four grumpy old residents take out their frustration at having no family to go home to by making increasingly eccentric demands.
When kindness fails, she reverts to shock tactics, with surprising consequences. Adapted from a Maeve Binchy short story, this is an amiable ensemble piece from director Anthony Byrne, who showed his flair for musical cinema, Jacques Demy-style, with his innovative debut Short Order. Vanessa Redgrave as a former showgirl hanging on to a past perhaps less glamorous than she cares to admit gets to perform the title song 'How About You'. Brenda Fricker and Imelda Staunton are a couple of bickering sisters stuck with each other despite their differences, Joss Ackland provides unexpected romantic interest as a curmudgeonly judge forced off the bench by alcoholism, and there's a poignant cameo by the late Joan O'Hara, who sighs, "I never thought I'd end up in a place like this." How About Youmay be less than the sum of its parts but there's much to enjoy. Ciaran Carty