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Review: This week's new films

PUBLISHED: 16:27 04 February 2010 | UPDATED: 07:56 02 July 2010

If there ever was a true story destined to fall into the clutches of Hollywood filmmakers, it was Nelson Mandela's. Clint Eastwood's Invictus offers a swerve ball take on it, focussing on his role in the Rugby World Cup. Plus: Astro-Boy, Youth in Revolt.

INVICTUS (12A)

***

If there ever was a true story destined to fall into the clutches of Hollywood film makers, it is one involving Nelson Mandela. In the lead-up to Nelson Mandela's 20th anniversary of freedom this month, director Clint Eastwood's film dips into Mandela's early days in office in 1994, having won his place in the first ever multi racial election in South Africa. In a desperately disparate country, Mandela's pledge to eradicate apartheid and win the support of angry dissenters was superlatively ambitious to some and plainly naïve to others.

But - and here's the Hollywood bit - as the country teeters on the brink of implosion, Mandela finds the answer in an unlikely place: the rugby pitch. Yes, the universally appealing, unifying language of sport. Morgan Freeman plays Mandela, a true pro now at earnest, stoic types, and it's a role that suits him perfectly. Matt Damon is fantastic as the respected Francois Pienaar, team captain of South Africa's national rugby team the Springboks.

The story centres on the Mandela's strategic transformation of the Springboks from a symbol of white nationalism to his dream of a 'rainbow nation'. Utterly inspirational, but sadly over-stuffed with unsubtle symbolism at the end of the film - from the once racist team captain's mum celebrating the Springbok's victory with her black maid to the parting image of overlapping black and white hands holding up the World Cup. It's a shame, as it's a powerful and emotive story not in lacking drama that should and could speak for itself.

ASTRO BOY (PG)

**

After nearly 60 years entertaining Japan, this super hero robot makes his leap to Hollywood - in computer animated form.

It's just a shame the film-makers couldn't have come up with something more inspiring for Astro's first adventure. It all feels that little too obvious, unspectacular and, well, mechanical to win you over.

That said, they haven't skimped on the vocal talent. There's Nicholas Cage, as the grieving professor who creates Astro Boy - a robotic version of his dead son who can fly and has machine guns in his bottom. There's Donald Sutherland as a power-hungry villain, Bill Nighy as a kindly robotics whizz and Matt Lucas as a revolutionary. They even throw in Oscar-winner Charlize Theron and Samuel L Jackson for good measure.

While Sutherland and Lucas ham it up with glee, the rest struggle to bring any life to their one dimensional characters. Nighy, in particular, sounds as if he's just woken up and had a script shoved in his face.

Still, there's plenty of enjoyable action mixed in with gentle lessons about life and the environment (in this future, humanity lives in the sky and uses Earth to ditch broken robots). Just don't expect too much. It may be as sweet, colourful and child-friendly as a lollipop - but it's also just as filling.

YOUTH IN REVOLT (15)

***

Michael Cera - the star of Juno and Superbad - has carved out a considerable career playing awkward but loveable teenage dweebs.

And he doesn't stray too far from the formula in this sharp if messy and unfocused anti-adult comedy based on the series of novels by C. D. Payne.

Cera plays Nick Twisp, a horny teen dealing with his parents' divorce, his ridiculous name and his desire for France-loving beauty Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday).

He devises a plan to be reunited with his aloof new love by getting chucked out of his mum's home. But going bad isn't as easy as it sounds, and Nick is forced to concoct a new persona - the moustachioed rebel Francois - to get the job done.

Not only does the double role help Cera spread his wings a bit, but it also lands him with all of the sharpest lines as Francois suggests arson, car theft, narcotics and sex roads trips to his bemused other half.

There's plenty of surreal energy and absurd set pieces, but behind all the scathing wit and star cameos, it's Cera's vulnerability and soft-hearted charm that win you over.

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