FILM / Now is the winter of their discontent: Grumpy Old Men (12); The Adventures of Huck Finn (PG); Josh and SAM (12); Rookie of the Year (PG): A Business Affair (15); Look Who's Talking Now (12)

SEPTUAGENARIAN storming of the box-office is rare enough for us to raise a cheer even before Grumpy Old Men (12) starts. Starring Walter Matthau (73) and Jack Lemmon (a spring chicken of 69), it took dollars 70m in the US - a considerable feat in the culture of Culkin. But watching the film you understand why, since it too is about childhood - second childhood, and the infantilism of old age. Lemmon and Matthau play two miserable old codgers, neighbours in the Minnesota snow, who scrap and snarl in dependent enmity, with practical jokes and sour tirades. When Ann-Margret's merry widow moves in nearby, and improbably starts to flirt with the duo, she warms the frozen wasteland and stokes up the fires of jealousy.

Lemmon and Matthau have always been an odd couple. Not least of the oddities is how rarely they have been a couple. They're the Laurel and Hardy of this neurotic age, but Grumpy Old Men is only their fifth co-appearance, whereas Stan and Ollie starred together 26 times. Even allowing for the greater variety of modern careers, it's an indication of the fitful, tetchy nature of the Lemmon-Matthau relationship which has prevented us from taking them to our hearts (nobody refers to them as Jack and Walter). They have always been best playing off this abrasiveness, in rapid-fire exchanges, thriving on the tension of confinement - the shared flat of The Odd Couple, or the imprisoning hospital room in The Fortune Cookie.

There's an uneasiness in seeing this quintessentially urban couple in the wilds of the countryside, fishing and snow-fighting - going for slapstick gags. And it's surely a mistake not to give them more scenes together. Director Donald Petrie goes in for a lot of syncopated editing, switching between Lemmon cursing and fretting in his log cabin and Matthau cursing and fretting in his. This antiphonal approach stresses the characters' similarities rather than their differences, which were always the source of their comedy and chemistry. When they do act together, trading insults and gags, they transform a fairly thin script, hitting us with the old schtick.

Ann-Margret gives good, trilling support, striking a blow for middle age in a cast which, apart from Daryl Hannah and Kevin Pollak as the men's children, is a gerontocracy. Ossie Davis - on leave from Spike Lee - plays a local bait-shop owner, who speaks for the pleasures of old age, striking a note of rapture that the film's ending takes up. Before then, 85-year-old Burgess Meredith (who seems to have played old men since he was quite young), as Lemmon's priapic pa, suggests a darker view of old age, as a time of sexual despair, closer to the film's heart. The goatish Meredith, resembling Wilfrid Brambell's Steptoe, exhorts his boy to 'mount' the comely neighbour. It's good to see this old trooper still performing, but the material demeans him.

And then there is Jack Lemmon. A twist of Lemmon goes a long way. Despite the name, asperity or bitterness is what this arch ingratiator lacks. Here, over-deliberate and sickeningly folksy ('holy moly' and 'Jeez Louise' are his catchphrases), he's supposed to be a retired history professor. But that beaming face has no past in it, only the present urgency to be liked. It is far easier to believe in Matthau as a retired TV-repairman (there's an unexplored class frisson) - and he has bite and unexpectedness. But if anything he's a little too carefree, leaving his best moments for the out-takes which get played over the credits. Where Lemmon begs for our approval, Matthau barely bothers to perform. An odd couple indeed.

The Adventures of Huck Finn (PG) loses the texture of Twain's classic, but not its spirit. Twain's precise South-western and Mississippi dialects are blurred into a more palatable movie Southernness: the runaway slave Jim (Courtney B Vance) speaks something close to the Queen's English. The river itself, which in the book is capricious and treacherous, governing the narrative as well as Huck and Jim, is largely unexplored. The cinematography by Janusz Kominski, an Oscar-winner for Schindler's List, is beautiful, but in a picturesque, unexpressive way.

Nevertheless it's a delightful romp. The director and adaptor, Stephen Sommers, has filleted the book's key episodes and presents them at a whirling, compulsive pace. If Elijah Wood's puckish Huck doesn't conform to T S Eliot's view of the character as one of the most solitary figures in fiction, he does have the right restlessness and innocence. Sommers has made a paean to freedom, and places at its centre a Huck who represents the instinctive goodness that can triumph over convention. The lack of human pathos is compensated for by rich comedy, especially in the show-stealing scenes in which Jason Robards and Robbie Coltrane play shady con-men impersonating a pair of bereaved brothers in order to benefit from a will. For all its betrayals, minor and major, the film has clearly been made out of a love for the book.

Josh and SAM (12), a wayward but original tale about the role of lies and fantasy in childhood, might be a distant descendant of Huck Finn. Twelve-year-old Josh (Jacob Tierney) tells his rivalrous sibling, Sam, that his parents sold him to the US government to be transformed into a secret, self-guiding weapon - a Strategically Altered Mutant. The film hedges on whether Josh's fantasy is also its own: we are forever on the point of discovering the truth. What ensues is a kids' road-movie, with the children on the run from their separated parents. On the way, they may or may not have killed a man and they meet a girl (Martha Plimpton) who may or not be 'The Liberty Maid'. Confusing? But so is adolescence, the film is saying. The haze has the satisfying feel of observed confusion rather than cop-out certainty. Tierney is funny and convincing as Josh, channelling his pain into fights or fibs. And, as the perplexed dad, Stephen Tobolowsky (Groundhog Day's Ned Ryerson) cements his status as the cinema's foremost nerd-interpreter.

Still on childhood, Rookie of the Year (PG) is a baseball movie about a kid called Henry who, after surgery, develops such a powerful arm that he becomes a star pitcher with the Chicago Cubs. Baseball fans may feel as if they're watching an innings by Michael Jordan, now struggling after his switch from basketball, so many are the film's misses. Juicy satirical targets like sporting commercialism are passed by, and the action scenes are full of fumbles. As the wonder-kid, the relentlessly uncharismatic Thomas Ian Nicholas confirms the adage that you should never hire a leading man with three first names. If you don't know baseball, you won't understand the climax. If you do, you'll find it preposterous.

A Business Affair (15) is bad beyond the power of criticism to evoke. Its literary romantic triangle is reasonably plotted, but what fascinates is hearing fresh absurdities delivered by actors as distinguished as Christopher Walken (the avaricious publisher hero), Jonathan Pryce (his star author) and Carole Bouquet (the spoils). The script has an unerring instinct for the clunky detail, with a Euro-production feel, as if processed by a committee of translators.

Look Who's Talking Now (12) is a glutinous mix of all that's worst in movies: cloying sentimentality, anthropomorphised animals with actors' voices, music by the Smurfs, and a little boy coming to terms with there not being a Santa. Avoid.

Cinema details: Review, page 74.

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor