Red, Paranormal Activity 2, Easy A, Africa United and more reviewed by Paul Byrne

LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS: THE OWLS OF GA’HOOLE (USA/Australia/PG/97mins)

Directed by Zach Snyder. Starring the voices of Jim Sturgess, Ryan Kwanten, Helen Mirren, Hugo Weaving, Sam Neill.

THE PLOT: Initially akin to Rich Owl, Poor Owl, young barn owls Soren (Sturgess) and Kludd (Kwanten) are just learning to fly when they’re kidnapped so they can be foot soldiers for the evil Metalbeak (Weaving) and his army of Pure Ones. Soon, Soren proves a dove and Kludd – always jealous of his more successful brother – a hawk, as the ancient Guardians are called upon to fight once again.

THE VERDICT: Well, you can’t fault the dedication here, the attention to detail of the fine computer animation (by Animal Logic, responsible for Happy Feet), and the sterling cast, but there’s something plainly ridiculous about a violent, epic fantasy adventure yarn populated entirely by our nocturnal feathered friends (based, incidentally, on the first three of Kathryn Lasky’s best-selling book series). Which may explain why the director of 300 got involved. It’s Lord Of The Rings with lots and lots of feathers flying. It’s Watership Down meets Triumph Of The Will. It’s bonkers. There are those who will find it fascinating, a great big shiny curiousity, but it’s far too dark and bloody for kids, and for adults, well, it’s about gladiator owls.
RATING: **

EASY A (USA/15A/92mins)

Directed by Will Gluck. Starring Emma Stone, Penn Badgley, Amanda Bynes, Dan Byrd, Patricia Clarkson, Thomas Haden Church, Stanley Tucci.

THE PLOT: Having come up with the little white lie of a hot date to avoid a camping trip, when California high-schooler Olive (Stone) pushes the lie with a tale of mad passion with an older man, she soon finds herself the talk of the town. Which gives her friend Brandon (Byrd) the idea of Olive inventing another night of passion with him, to cover his homosexuality. As similar favours mount, Olive finds herself at the centre of a school campaign on morals. Naturally, her favourite teacher, Mr. Griffith (Church), currently has his students studying Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.

THE VERDICT: It’s been a while since Hollywood updated a literary classic to the all-American high school, which, given just how successful – both commercially and artistically – the likes of Clueless (Jane Austen’s Emma) and 10 Things I Hate About You (Shakespeare’s The Taming Of The Shew) proved to be, is surprising. Here, director Gluck reveals his cinematic influences clearly, as we get a clip of Sixteen Candles, and Easy A is certainly a worthy addition to the bastard-children-of-John-Hughes pile. It’s Stone’s show, of course, her rise from supporting player in the likes of Superbad and Zombieland leading her now to love interest Gwen Stacy in the upcoming Spider-Man reboot. Nice.
RATING: ***

RED (USA/12A/110mins)

Directed by Robert Schwentke. Starring Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Brian Cox, Mary Louise Parker.

THE PLOT: The title is an abbreviation of Retired and Extremely Dangerous, something we realise early on when former black-ops agent Frank Moses (Willis) sees off a bunch of hitmen in the opening scenes. Along for the ride is pension administrator Sarah (Parker), the duo soon joined by other sly old CIA dogs, such as charmer Joe (Freeman), nutter Marvin (Malkovich), Ruskie florist Ivan (Cox) and, yep, GMILF, Victoria (Mirren). The rest is Grumpy Old Hitmen.

THE VERDICT: Based on Warren Ellis and Cully Hammer’s somewhat darker graphic novel, this lighthearted and largely lightfooted big-screen adaptation has a lot of fun with the comedy clash of OAPs going OTT with shiny military hardware. Think Grumpy Old Hitmen, only with a few flat spots, and a surprising slither of tenderness. Everyone involved seems to be having a ball, and although there may be nothing particularly new or original going on here, there is quite a lot of fun on offer.
RATING: ***

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 (USA/15A/86mins)

Directed by Tod Williams. Starring Kathie Featherson, Micah Sloat. And some spooks.

THE PLOT: They ain’t saying, really. Apparently, this time, Katie’s convinced the demons are out to get her baby nephew.

THE VERDICT: The screening for this inevitable follow-up to 2009’s no-budget moneyspinner was held the night before its release – which either means they really, really needed those extra few days in the editing suite, or it’s a dog. The trailer was pulled from some cinemas in America, after complaints that it was too frightening, so, here’s hoping. Then again, does anyone remember that woeful Blair Witch sequel? RATING: n/a

RAMONA AND BEEZUS (USA/G/102mins)

Directed by Elizabeth Allen. Starring Joey King, Selena Gomez, John Corbett, Bridget Moyahan, Giffiner Goodwin, Josh Duhamel.

THE PLOT: Ramona (King) doesn’t have an easy life, somewhat at loggerheads with her older sister, Beatrice (Gomez) – whose name she has always mispronounced – and worried for her dad (Corbett) loses his job. Her efforts to secure the family some income all end in disaster though, and times become even tougher when the offer of a new job means the family will have to sell up and move out of Portland…

THE VERDICT: Based on Beverly Cleary’s long-running series of books (which began in the 1950s), and the basis for a Sarah Polley-led TV series in the 1980s, Ramona And Beezus is daytime family fodder, a movie that has little or no real bumps or axes to grind. Just a soft dilemma or two for a young girl, with the resolution – and a family wedding, of course – to wrap it all up in a ribbon before the closing credits. For little girls only. Especially those who like their worries all wrapped up in a ribbon just before the closing credits.
RATING: **

AFRICA UNITED (UK/South Africa/Rwanda/12A/87mins)

Directed by Debs Gardner-Paterson. Starring Eriya Ndayambaje, Roger Nsengiyumva, Sanya Joanita Kintu, Yves Dusenge, Sherrie Silver.

THE PLOT: Rwandan siblings Dudu (Ndayambaje, who also narrates) and Beatrice (Kintu) convince their highly skilled friend Fabrice (Nsengiyumva) to abandon his studies and head across country to the opening ceremony of the World Cup in Johannesburg, after the latter is approached for a trial at the National Stadium. Their mission is complicated a tad by their arrival at the wrong stadium, almost being enlisted as child soldiers and criminal hoteliers…

THE VERDICT: A strange beast of a film, what might look like a FIFA promo on the poster is far more concerned with the dangers of dreaming big in South Africa, director Gardner-Paterson and scriptwriter Rhidian Brook teetering between Disney adventure and hard-hitting docudrama. The wide-eyed determination of the film’s protagonists sets the tone, and their enthusiasm is infectious, but this is ultimately more distraction than the diatribe one might expect.
RATING: **

CHASING LEGENDS (UK/12A/94mins)

Directed by Jason Berry. Starring Mark Cavendish, George Hincapie, Phil Liggett, Eddy Merckx, Paul Sherwen.

THE PLOT: “For the cyclist, it’s like, three weeks of pain, unbelievable concentration”, says one contributor, as a group of HD cameras follow those hardy fools who take on the Tour de France. Some tears, some broken bones, and plenty of sweat, Berry charts the grueling course…

THE VERDICT: Currently touring cinemas in the UK and Ireland, Jason Berry (who previously gave us 2005’s Off Road To Athens) charts the history of the Tour de France, as they follow Team HTC Columbia, with a little helpful commentary from the likes of Lance Armstrong, Liggett and Merckx. Premiering in 50 cinemas on October 21st, this is also available from December 2nd on DVD. It’s natural home.
RATING: ***

ALPHA and OMEGA (USA/G/88mins)

Directed by Anthony Bell, Ben Gluck. Starring the voices of Justin Long, Hayden Panettiere, Dennis Hopper, Danny Glover, Larry Miller, Christina Ricci.

THE PLOT: Humphrey (Long) is not so much a lone wolf as a stoner wolf, happy to spend his days in the wild of Canada bobsleighing and hanging out with his equally lazy, hazy friends. His unrequited love, Kate (Panettiere, is none too impressed, but then, she is part of the Alpha wolf pack. And they’re all about getting the job done. As trouble brews at home, the two find themselves being swept up in a relocation programme, and must find a way home. You know, just like that Disney movie, about the homeward bound mutts.

THE VERDICT: A film that doesn’t even think about giving Pixar a run for their money, Alpha And Omega is your average by-the-numbers kids cartoon that is free of both pretentiousness and ambition. A pawsome adventure, according to the tagline. In shiny 3D, and with an amicable cast handling the amicable dialogue, you can neither get too annoyed or too excited about such an offering. It’s there merely to keep the little brats amused for 88 minutes. For some parents, that’s all they really need out of a kiddie flick. RATING: **

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT (USA/16/105mins)

Directed by Lisa Cholodenko. Starring Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson.

THE PLOT: About to leave for college, 18-year old Joni (Wasikowska) is curious about the sperm donor who fathered both she and her younger brother, Laser (Hutcherson), and decide to get in touch without telling ma (Bening) and ma (Moore). Their biological pop, organic farmer Paul (Ruffalo), quickly forms a bond with his two offspring, and with one of their mothers, sharing a love for landscaping, and an enemy of the other, who instantly becomes jealous of the new bonds that are threatening their family unit.

THE VERDICT: A Sundance hit (but, of course), The Kids Are All Right has been getting rave reviews in high places, such as Sight & Sound, but there’s something undeniably smug about Cholodenko’s thoroughly modern family drama. Maybe it’s Bening – she’s got that Sharon-Stone-with-a-haircut smell about her; trying desperately hard to come across as though she isn’t trying. Moore, Ruffalo and co are all pretty darn wonderful though. RATING: ***