Clooney shines in this very human tale

Cert: 15 ****

by Steve Dinneen

Alexander Payne does a rare thing in mainstream cinema; he makes films that are just about people – their flaws and insecurities and hopes and failures. It’s a tricky thing to get right. When not much happens in your movie, you’d better hope the script – and the people reading it – are up to scratch.

About Schmidt saw Jack Nicholson portray a curmudgeonly, retired widower, alienated from his daughter, coming to terms with the fact he’s a bit player in the last act of his own story. Sideways is about a man who realises he is never going to write the great novel he always thought he would. And The Descendants shows George Clooney’s middle aged lawyer Matt King trying to accept that life has crept up behind him; that he hasn’t picked up his surf board in 15 years, has two troubled kids he has no idea what to do with and a wife – now in a coma after a boating accident – who had a secret life he knew nothing about.

The three films share a common thread in the road trip their characters embark on as they try to make some sense of their lives. But where Sideways and About Schmidt saw the lead characters kicking and screaming against the inevitable, Matt soaks it all in. Clooney plays it with remarkable restraint – looking every inch like a man struggling to deal with what is going on around him. His 10- and 17-year-old children are played excellently by Amara Miller and Shailene Woodley, and the supporting cast – especially stoner Sid – rarely put a foot wrong. There are no good or bad guys: just people. Even the potential hate-figure turns out to have a human face.

It is all played against the often rain-soaked Hawaiian landscape, beautiful rolling scenery and vivid blue seascapes – but it provides little comfort. Matt says at the start of the film: “My friends on the mainland think just because I live in Hawaii, I live in paradise. Like a permanent vacation... Are they nuts?” The Descendants is about the adversity we’ll probably all face – and it does it brilliantly.

Cert: 18 ***

by Stevie Martin

Two children in different parts of the world are stalked nightly by the same hooded creature in Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s (28 Weeks Later) Pan’s Labyrinth style horror.

In Spain, little Juan is sent to a priest after being terrorised by Hollowface, an aptly named spectre intent on possessing him. Over in England, John Farrow (Clive Owen) tries to convince Mia, his daughter, that the monster in her room isn’t real – until he sees it for himself.

The scares aren’t heart stopping but Fresnadillo keeps the silent, nightmarish threat constant, building towards a twist that’s both underwhelming and groan-worthy. This is followed by a confusing explanation that renders, the eerie figure Fresnadillo created about as scary as a sock puppet.

Cert: U **

by Stevie Martin

This French 3D animation, following the antics of a monster set loose before inadvertently becomes a cabaret sensation, may not be Hugo but it's not half bad.

It’s 1910 and a pair of deeply unfunny slackers Emile (Jay Harrington) and Raoul (Adam Goldberg), manage to unleash a giant flea on the streets of Paris after an experiment in a greenhouse goes awry.

Lennon's Francoeur, the eponymous monster, is convincingly petrifying before discovering his true calling, charging through a city beautifully evoked with immaculate attention to detail. Though lacking the wit, humour and charm of those it emulates, the characters are mostly likeable, the animation impressive and the story engaging enough.