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Review: This week's new films

PUBLISHED: 09:43 16 April 2010 | UPDATED: 09:45 02 July 2010

Ricky Gervais hasn't rested on his laurels, with Cemetery Junction ere he brings us a blue collar take on the 1970s with a slight whiff of The Office about it. Plus: The Ghost, Repo Men, Dear John, Lourdes.

CEMETERY JUNCTION (15)

***

Ricky Gervais hasn't rested on his laurels after his cringe-inducing turn as David Brent in The Office. Here he brings us a blue collar take on that seminal TV show.

It's the 1970s and three working class lads from small-town Reading dream of escaping the monotony of their lives.

Christian Cooke's Freddie sees a job in an insurance company as his way to avoid the trap of the dead end town, while stud Bruce (Tom Hughes) distracts himself with fighting, dancing and girls.

Snork (Jack Doolan) on the other hand is quite happy with life the way it is - as long as he's got his mates. But when Freddie bumps into old flame Julie (Felicity Jones), the gang are forced to make some life changing decisions.

It's a class drama with a romantic side, and there are good performances from all the new actors. Ralph Fiennes, the most established actor involved, does a fine turn as the owner of the insurance firm. If you are a fan of Gervais, you will love this, and his character - a father with a small-town mentality - offers some of the best laughs. It offers nothing new but Cemetery Junction is a nostalgic film that's good for a laugh with a great soundtrack.

THE GHOST (15)

***

Director Roman Polanski is a shadow of his former with this political drama - but even a lukewarm pot- boiler from the man behind Chinatown and The Pianist is still a fine thriller by most people's standards.

There are no ghosts - despite the title - but the film is haunted by former PM Tony Blair, master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock and Polanski himself. As you watch the story of a disgraced British politician, hounded the media and under practical house arrest, it could easily describe the troubled director's own life.

Based on the novel by Robert Harris, Ewan McGregor plays a ghost writer who's called to work on the memoirs of ex-PM Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) after the previous writer winds up dead.

Whisked off to Lang's hideaway, he starts to uncover some skeletons in the cupboard which threaten both his life and the future of international relations.

It may be a bit silly and pedestrian at times - the visuals never scream “Important Polanski movie” - but the director's talent for creepy tension is on full force. That mix of brooding atmosphere and sly wit - not to mention a film-stealing performance from Olivia Williams as Lang's wife - are certain to haunt your brain for days.

REPO MEN (18)

**

In this envisioned future people can improve their lives with artificial organs. It's a service the film-makers could use as it's hard to think of a movie more in need of a new brain than this sci-fi thriller.

Take the visuals of Blade Runner and the chase plot of Minority Report, then stir in ideas taken from... say... every sci-fi movie ever and you've got a slick but ridiculous movie that takes itself far too seriously.

The good ideas suffocate under shallow philosophising as we meet ex- army guys Remy (Jude Law) and best pal Jake (Forest Whittaker), who earn a living repossessing people's artificial organs when they fall behind on the payments. After an accident, Remy is fitted with fake heart but struggles to return work - and guess who hunts him down when the repossession order comes through?

Full of plot holes and unlikeable, idiotic characters, it's hard to care about any of this - and eventually director Miguel Sapochnik ditches it all in favour of astonishingly violent action scenes. The performances are strong but as you get to the slap-in the-face, shocking-for-the-sake-of-it ending, you'll wish someone would come along and remove your brain.

DEAR JOHN (12A)

**

This is showcase of love story clichés: sweeping shots of a moody beach, twangy guitar music, lingering looks between attractive people, full moons, and long grass blowing in a gentle breeze.

John (Channing Tatum) and Savannah (Amanda Seyfried) are in love after a chance encounter on the beach - but two weeks into their affair (of the type that only occurs in films) John is called away to attend to hero duties “abroad” - cue budget-dodging sets depicting Somewhere in the Middle East.

And so the film embarks on its dreamy journey as John and Savannah exchange love letters which don't say much at all.

Nicholas Sparks' adapted novel gets a little meatier with the introduction of John's father played by the excellent Richard Jenkins. Suspected of suffering from autism, he barely functions in a world of self-enforced routine while his relationship with John is strained.

It's unfortunate then, after Jenkins's acutely observed performance, that there is an unashamedly romantic reconciliation at the end as though the autism was just a case of chronic shyness. A twist towards the end goes some way to bringing this story back to earth - and introduces us to a grown-up Elliot from ET (Henry Thomas) - but it's a ploy which is not canny enough to allow you to forgive all that's gone before.

LOURDES (U)

****

A wheelchair user is looking for a miracle in this hypnotic French language drama. Walking the fine line between healthy scepticism and detached respect, director Jessica Hausner's exploration of Catholic faith is brimming with ideas and led by a delicate and deep performance from Sylvie Testud as Christine, a multiple sclerosis sufferer who regains the use of her body after a few days at the site.

Christine freely admits the trip is as much a holiday as it is a spiritual exercise, sparking a mix of jealousy and religious awe from her fellow visitors to her good fortune while the group's priest struggles to explain any of its religious implications.

Hausner's film is just as bereft of answers, but get past the intentional ambiguity and there's a hefty amount of dark humour here as the film slyly captures all aspects of the holy site, from gossipy visitors to its theme park elements.

Sure, the film's on the slow side, with great chunks of the film devoted to showing the rites and trips at Lourdes, but its restraint and beauty are arresting as it raises some tantalising issues.

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