STARTING THIS WEEK
THE GOLDEN COMPASS (PG) (All major cinemas)
RELIGIOUS zealots of the world rejoice! 2007 has finally provided you with a chance to polish your placards and bring out your banners in a desperate bid to save Christianity.
After making hay while the sun shone in the summer of 2006 when The Da Vinci Code threatened civilisation as they know it, misguided Bible thumpers can now renew their campaign against the best-selling Philip Pullman trilogy His Dark Materials.
More than a whiff of atheism lies at the heart of these novels which is more than the faithful can stand of something which might, heaven forbid, actually turn out to be popular.
What such protesters completely fail to appreciate, though, is that every time they launch one of their campaigns, the result is invariably even greater success for the object of their ire (eg, the aforementioned Da Vinci Code, The Last Temptation of Christ, The Life of Brian, The Exorcist).
It’s true that Pullman’s own brand of preaching becomes a little tiresome in the epic final part of the trilogy – The Amber Spyglass – but his opening gambit (originally titled Northern Lights) is a rollicking good adventure with a brilliant young heroine, a memorable villainess and an unforgettably heroic polar bear!
So far there has been something of a mixed response to the film version which has been put together by director Chris Weitz, potentially punching above his weight after previously specialising in comedy hits like American Pie and About A Boy.
The luxurious future-past look of the film has earned universal praise and set pieces such as bear hero Iorek Byrnison’s gory battle with a rival grizzly are acknowledged as superbly staged.
But there have been an equal number of brickbats and bouquets to describe the work of Nicole Kidman as icy blonde nemesis Mrs Coulter and newcomer Dakota Blue Richards as main character Lyra Belaqua.
There are high hopes that this will become the next Lord of the Rings trilogy but studio New Line’s uncertainty is demonstrated by the fact it puts the novel’s cliffhanger ending to one side to make this a self-contained entity – just in case this opener crashes and burns.
STAR RATING: ***
SOUTHLAND TALES (15) (All major cinemas)
DIRECTOR Richard Kelly’s follow-up to the sublime Donnie Darko has already gained notoriety as one of the worst received movies in the history of the Cannes Film Festival.
It has taken him 18 months to recut and restructure his car crash of a picture and what has emerged has earned a more favourable response - but only just.
The story is simply impossible to follow but involves The Rock – under his real name of Dwayne Johnson – playing a superstar of action movies who is kidnapped and replaced with a double.
Sarah Michelle Gellar crops up as a porn star turned chat show host and there is a supporting cast that includes everyone from Miranda Richardson to Justin Timberlake.
Destined to crop up in several Director’s Cut and Special Edition DVDs in years to come.
STAR RATING: **
YOU KILL ME (15) (All major cinemas)
SINCE stunning everyone with The Last Seduction – an amazing 13 years ago – director John Dahl has been one of indie cinema’s major under-achievers.
Nothing he has come up with has matched that film’s quality - which makes it quite gratifying that he has finally rediscovered his mojo with a romantic comedy about a hitman trying to overcome alcoholism after meeting the love of his life.
Ben Kingsley is a towering presence as the uncertain assassin at the centre of the story while the under-rated Tea Leoni is absolutely captivating as the object of his desire.
STAR RATING: ***
CODENAME: THE CLEANER (PG) (All major cinemas)
DISASTROUSLY reviewed comedy starring Cedric the Entertainer as a man who wakes up in a hotel room next to a dead CIA agent but with no memory of who he is or how he got there. He becomes embroiled with femme fatale Nicolette Sheridan and is aided by leading lady Lucy Liu but all in all, this is a misfiring attempt to create something substantial out of the limited appeal of its star.
STAR RATING: *
HE WAS A QUIET MAN (12A) (All major cinemas)
CHRISTIAN Slater has been struggling to find his rightful place in 21st century cinema for quite some time now and is here seen in arguably the most challenging role of his career as a bitter office worker who unwittingly turns hero when he tackles a colleague going on a killing spree.
The main focus of the story is the relationship he develops with Elisha Cuthbert who was left paralysed by the attack and ends up in the care of Slater.
STAR RATING: **