Paul Greenwood's movie reviews - The Book Thief, Non-Stop, Ride Along, We Are What We Are, The House of Him

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Geoffrey Rush and Sophie Nelisse as Liesel and her adoptive father
Geoffrey Rush and Sophie Nelisse as Liesel and her adoptive father

The Book Thief (12A, 131 mins)

Director: Brian Percival

2 stars

This cosily appointed but really rather drab adaptation of the bestselling novel by Markus Zusak begins in Germany in 1938, as 12-year-old Liesel (Sophie Nélisse) travels by train with her mother and brother.

Sticking to the conceit adopted by the book, it opens with a narration by Death, and this is where Liesel encounters him for the first time, with her young brother dying on the journey. Given away by her mother, she's sent to live with adoptive parents (Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson), he warm and kind, she hard and stern, and Liesel wants to return to her mother.

What follows are some very minor adventures, and rather sluggish with it, such as Liesel starting school and the discovery that she can't read. Other than that, about the only source of conflict in an otherwise very flat piece of storytelling is that war is coming.

It's one of the few times you're likely to see the wartime experiences of everyday Germans from a non-Jewish point of view, as ordinary people who support their Fuhrer. And that's fine as far a set-up goes, but the stilted nature of it makes this tough going, and it just kind of limps along, losing its way badly in a bone-dry midsection.

When the few plot points are played out, it gains a little impetus, but it's done so stiffly and reverently that it never really gets to the heart of the characters or offers any dramatic meat. The performances are all perfectly fine, but actors speaking English to each other in German accents is quite frankly ridiculous.

And, given the title, the book-thieving element is a small and rather insignificant one, as Liesel secretly borrows books from a rich household to read to Max, a Jewish family friend whom they shelter during the early years of the war.

The narration by Death is little more than a half-hearted device that may have offered the book a unique voice, but which comes across here as a pointless gimmick. You'll spend half the time wondering who's providing the voice (is it Tom Wilkinson? Is it Rush himself? In fact it's Roger Allam) and the rest of the time forgetting he's even there.

And the question of why Liesel is so special and why Death takes a particular interest in her is never adequately addressed, making for one of the most meandering and undernourished war tales imaginable.

See it if you liked: The Reader, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

Ride Along (12A, 100 mins)

Director: Tim Story

2 stars

This lame action comedy has been a big hit in the States thanks to its popular star, comedian Kevin Hart. He takes on his first leading role as a security guard who wants to be a cop, and who wants the blessing of his girlfriend's brother on their engagement.

The brother (Ice Cube) also happens to be a hotshot policeman and, in an attempt to impress him, the pair go on a ride along for a day, getting involved in a case that Cube has been working for years.

It's the sort of mismatched buddy comedy that you don't see too much of anymore, but that you will have seen before, from 48 Hrs to Rush Hour.

The to-and-fro banter between Hart and Cube is far from scintillating, but it pops along at a pace and has a couple of chuckles, particularly when they're shaking down suspects.

Hart's motor-mouth schtick recalls Eddie Murphy or Chris Tucker, and though it can become grating after a while, it's still pretty much the only funny thing on offer here.

See it if you liked: The Heat, Rush Hour, 21 Jump St

Non-Stop (12A, 106 mins)

Director: Jaume Collet-Serra

3 stars

Now firmly established as an action star, Liam Neeson's latest sees him as an air marshal on a flight from the States to London who starts to receive anonymous messages that passengers on the plane will be killed if he doesn't come up with a ransom.

It's all quite cat and mouse for a while, as he tries to work out which of the passengers could be behind it, followed by some decent rough and tumble.

Tension is nicely held thanks to a steadily escalating pace, albeit with quite a bit of flim-flam and repetition to wade through in a saggy midsection, but the Agatha Christie-style vibe is fun, painting everyone as a potential suspect including Neeson himself.

It's a solid mystery, staying together almost until the silliness takes over, but sturdy enough overall to keep you on board.

See it if you liked: Taken, Air Force One, Unknown

We Are What We Are (18, 103 mins)

Director: Jim Mickle

3 stars

If you haven't seen the 2010 Mexican film on which this far slicker American remake is based, it would be unfair to reveal just what the family who are what they are, well, are.

They have a secret, that's for sure, in a small town where people have been going missing, and where they seem to live in poverty and hunger.

Director Jim Mickle has brought freshness to genre cinema before with decent vampire effort Stake Land, and this is similarly composed and beautifully shot.

The slow-burn approach to the material is a benefit for a while, although a little more incident might have been nice. But the performances are strong, especially from the family's two teenage daughters, and though it falls apart quite alarmingly in the final stages, it's still wholly superior to the original.

See it if you liked: Ravenous, Stoker, Stake Land

The House of him (18)

Director: Robert Florence

Running time: 90 mins

Writer and comedian Robert Florence pulls off an astonishing sleight of hand with his debut feature, The House of Him, an eviscerating commentary on the scourge of domestic violence disguised as a slasher movie.

Filmed entirely in his mother's Glasgow home for £900, it may be confined and small of scale, but that lack of expansiveness is more than made up for with the thematic ambition and depth brought to it by Florence's impassioned script.

It's the house of a serial killer (Richard Rankin) who has been murdering young women there for years, and has just lured his latest victims, Sophie (Kirsty Strain) and Anna (Louise Stewart).

At first it seems as though Anna will be the conventional "final girl", chased around the house by Him.

But it quickly becomes clear Florence has more on his mind.

Leaving the slasher antics aside for long spells, it becomes essentially a two-hander as the pair talk of Anna's powerlessness to escape her plight.

The analogy is a potent one, as their conversations delve into all the insidious ways abusers operate.

And in case you think this might sound preachy, it also works just fine as a horror film.

The location never becomes limiting, imaginative and atmospheric ways are found to film it, and there are a bunch of decent jolts. A terrific, Carpenter-infused score helps considerably too.

The actors are assured and controlled, even overcoming that thing where hearing Scottish accents on screen can be like getting slapped on the ear.

Rankin oozes quiet menace, while Stewart gets to display a wide emotional range, and their interactions never fail to compel.

As the film progresses, radio reports suggest what's going inside this house is happening the world over.

Secret things, bad things in all the houses. And that plague is men. It's a pungent metaphor that entreats us to wake up to everyday misogyny and make us look long and accusingly at a world full of monsters.

Director: Robert Florence

Running time:

90 mins

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