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Bones of a good tale

Often the best film adaptations of books are of either emotionally laden short stories such as Brokeback Mountain, or emotionally sparse novels such as No Country for Old Men. Sometimes there is just too much interwoven in an emotionally loaded, much-loved novel to bring onto the screen -- and unfortunately that is true of Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones.

Peter Jackson's version opens well, Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) is a normal teenager in the Seventies, unaware that as she watches her love interest, she is being watched by her creepy neighbour George Harvey (an almost unrecognisable Stanley Tucci). Then comes the montage of mundanity and impending horror that becomes the moment around which the story revolves: Harvey lays a trap, and kills her, and from elsewhere she watches the world she left behind fall apart. It doesn't dwell on the horror of Susie's murder, more on the horror of her loss.

Her father (Mark Wahlberg) needs to do something, her mother (Rachel Weisz) can't cope, her granny (Susan Sarandon) steps in, her sister (Rose McIvor) steps up. Wahlberg is a limited actor, Weisz isn't around that much, Sarandon is enjoyably (if at times too) louche but the film belongs to Ronan and Tucci. He is seriously creepy, she really does have great presence.

The CGI Dali-esque in-between world that Susie now inhabits, however, is not only unnecessary but takes from the story's real strength, its examination of the different ways people cope with the worst thing that can ever happen. Though the film doesn't do the book justice, there are great moments and it is a valiant attempt from someone who clearly has affection for the story.


The Lovely Bones opens on Friday

Crazy Heart

Cert 12A

I love Jeff Bridges. I'd happily watch him dry paint. Fortunately, Crazy Heart requires no such acts of devotion. Bridges plays Bad Blake, a 57-year-old country singer whose career now involves driving around the southern half of the US playing small bars and bowling alleys, with a fan base and an impressive back catalogue but nothing sparkling in the future. He's a 60-a-day man, eating burgers he washes down with bourbon, he has a penchant for Mexican porn and servicing the odd middle-aged groupie in motel rooms. And he's not too upset about it.

When Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal) comes to interview him, the only things he won't talk about are Johnny Sweet, the protege who outshone him (a tuneful turn by Colin Farrell), and kids. But he rather likes Jean Craddock. She nurses him when he breaks an ankle but is wary of his alcoholism, especially around her young son. Where she sees complications, he sees new beginnings, especially when things start picking up in his career as well.

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Relatively low budget ($7m) and made in less than a month, Crazy Heart saw a group of older guys get together and make a film of a book they liked. Bridges, Robert Duvall, T-Bone Burnett; producing, singing and acting. Their affection shows and the film, although thin on story, falls into none of the schmaltzy pitfalls that character-driven tales like this often do. Ultimately it's about finding peace, but it's never psychobabbly and often funny.

Bridges' fans should love this, for despite good turns by the rest of the cast, this is so much Bridges' movie it seems made for him, and his fourth Oscar nomination might see him finally get the statue.


Crazy Heart opens on Friday

The Wolfman

Cert 16

VALENTINE'S Day massacre, anyone? Apparently, we're all susceptible to making contact with our inner wolfman and being "pure of heart" or "saying our prayers at night" isn't necessarily going to keep the er... werewolf from the door.

Such is the fate risked by Benicio del Toro, aka Lawrence Talbot, in this blockbuster directed by Joe Johnston. The mysterious death of his brother has prompted Talbot's return to his family's stately pile, where this Victorian-era thespian is greeted as a "prodigal son" by his sinister father, Sir John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins), and as a knight in shining armour by his late brother's love interest, Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt).

Lawrence is soon smitten by Gwen's considerable charms, but not before he's been bitten by the same moor monster that made cutlets out of his brother.

Cue journey into the heart of gothic darkness as judicious use of CGI, a beautifully realised backdrop and an engaging story combine to create a package that's likely to keep spines tingling for the duration. Del Toro delivers as the conflicted monster while Blunt sparkles as the beauty intent on taming the beast. Hopkins also injects serious gravitas into proceedings as the venal paterfamilias.


The Wolfman is now showing

Percy Jackson & The Lightning Thief

Cert PG

Is Pottermania about to be replaced with Percy Power? That would seem to be the clear aspiration behind this star-studded fantasy adventure. Directed by Potter veteran Chris Columbus, and starring, among others, Pierce Brosnan and Uma Thurman, the story draws on Greek mythology to construct a captivating coming-of-age spectacular in a contemporary US setting.

Our first experience of Percy (Logan Lerman) finds him very much in hero-waiting-to-happen mode. Attention-deficit issues at school are compounded by the indignities visited on his loving mum (Catherine Keener) by a boorish stepdad.

Everything changes for Percy after a visit to a local museum leads to him discovering that he is the son of Poseidon (Kevin McKidd). Sadly, a falling-out on Mount Olympus between Zeus (Sean Bean) and Hades (Steve Coogan) has led to a price being put on his head. Cue a trans-continental race against time as Percy and his trusted demi-god protectors Grover (Brandon T Jackson) and warrior queen wannabe Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario) embark on an action-packed odyssey involving encounters with a memorable Medusa (Thurman), hydra-headed monsters and a psychedelic boat ride across the River Styx.

Accomplished story-telling, enthralling effects and top-notch performances create an enterprise that seems sure to score heavily with its targeted teen-and-under demographic. Jackson delivers some good comic moments as Percy's right-hand satyr as does Rosario Dawson as a smokin' hell-based Persephone. Lerman also excels in the central role. A star, and quite probably a franchise, are born.


Percy Jackson & The Lightning Thief is now showing

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