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Beauty and the Beasts

BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD Drama/Fantasy. Starring Quvenzhane Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly. Directed by Benh Zeitlin. Cert 15A

The imagination and uncertainty of childhood drives this magical and mysterious piece of work. Set in a bayou community in Louisiana called 'the Bathtub', Beasts of the Southern Wild initially tricks the viewer into thinking that they're perhaps watching some kind of surreal, off-kilter documentary about people living below the poverty line, a 60 Minutes special about America's forgotten underclass, until the gears gradually click into place and the enchantment begins.

At the core of the movie is a remark-able performance from eight-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis as Hushpuppy, a near-feral girl living with her father Wink (Dwight Henry) in a collection of ramshackle shacks on the Mississippi Delta.

Alcoholic and clearly troubled and ailing, Wink's apparent offhandedness, if not outright hostility, towards his daughter reveals itself to be a toughening-up process for her future survival, particularly when an apocalyptic storm all but submerges the region. This Katrina-like terror is brilliantly realised by director Benh Zeitlin and, in the aftermath of the devastation, Hushpuppy and Wink drift, quite literally, through what was once home. It's here that the film's pull really begins to assert itself, the oddness making sense when you realise that what we're watching are traumatic events being seen from the perspective of a child trying to make sense of her now-shattered surroundings.

Elements of Huckleberry Finn, Where the Wild Things Are, Bridge to Terabithia and The Night of the Hunter echo throughout, with the spell only being broken briefly when Hushpuppy finds herself faced with the stark reality of life beyond the Bathtub, as she and her fellow survivors are forcibly removed to a post-hurricane relief centre.

Quvenzhane Wallis is outstanding in the central role of a child using her imagination to cope with change and loss, and the film is a wondrous piece of work.

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frankenweenie Animation. Featuring the voices of Catherine O'Hara, Martin Short and Charlie Tahan. Directed by Tim Burton. Cert PG

After the self-indulgent disaster that was Dark Shadows, Tim Burton returns to a shelved short he made in 1984 and delivers his best work in more than a decade. With Frankenweenie, we have a glorious black-and-white, stop-motion animation which pays homage to classic horror movies of the 1930s, yet also stands by itself on every level.

The central character here is 10 year-old Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan), a very bright but shy youngster who's obsessed with science and film-making and devoted to his pet bull terrier Sparky, who stars in his recreations of sci-fi and monster movies. When Sparky is killed in a road accident, Victor adapts an experiment conducted by his science teacher and resurrects his faithful hound, setting in motion a chain of events which has near-disastrous results.

Funny and lovingly made, Frankenweenie looks gorgeous and fairly skips along for its 86-minute running-time, never once feeling like a short that's been stretched beyond its natural lifespan. A joy from start to finish.

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GINGER & ROSA Drama. Starring Elle Fanning, Alice Englert, Christina Hendricks, Annette Bening. Directed by Sally Potter. Cert 15A

Set against the backdrop of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, this coming-of-age drama features fine performances from the ever-impressive Elle Fanning and newcomer Alice Englert as the title characters, friends born in adjacent beds when the atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima in 1945. Hmmh ...

Despite several touching and warm scenes between the pair, there's something not quite right about the story. The arty and arch dialogue sounds forced while the romance between Ginger's father (Alessandro Nivola) and Rosa just doesn't ring true. A fine cast covers over some of the cracks but can't prevent Ginger & Rosa from being a phoney-feeling period piece.

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MADAGASCAR 3: EUROPE'S MOST WANTED Animation. Featuring the voices of Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen, Frances McDormand. Directed by Eric Darnell and Conrad Vernon. Cert Gen

The first two entries in the Madagascar franchise were enjoyable enough diversions but the third part shows signs of severe strain. The zoo animals somehow find themselves in Monte Carlo. What ensues is a bunch of unrelated , confusing scenarios bolted together as the quartet join a circus. Madagascar 3 has plenty of bells and whistles, but little substance at its heart.


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