Also showing: Proof (12A) <br/> Song of Songs (NC)<br/> The Adventures of Greyfriars Bobby (PG)<br/> Chicken Little (U)<br/> Final Destination 3 (15)<br/>

Click to follow

Catherine (Gwyneth Paltrow) has little discernible reason to be cheerful. Her 27th birthday is marred by the funeral of her father, Robert, a genius mathematician who revolutionised his field by his twenties, but died a madman. She's worn down by the years spent caring for him. And she is troubled by the fear that she, like him, could be five balls short of an abacus. It doesn't help that she's discussing the possibility with his ghost.

But when Hal (Jake Gyllenhaal), an acolyte of her father and would-be suitor of Catherine, discovers a brilliant mathematical proof amongst the old graphomaniac's notebooks, something that surely could not have been written by the man in his final years, another possibility presents itself: that Catherine has also inherited her father's talent. Which is it: genius or madwoman? Hal is unsure, Catherine's sister, Claire (Hope Davis), is already booking loony bins, Catherine hardly knows herself. Thus, we're left with a quite intriguing conundrum.

For those who didn't see David Auburn's Pulitzer Prize-winning play when John Madden directed it at the Donmar Warehouse, this is a welcome chance to catch a work - again directed by Madden and with Paltrow reprising her stage success - that uses a cerebral milieu to explore human, emotional idiosyncrasy. Proof is only superficially about the authorship of a mathematical formula; it's more concerned with the vagaries of family relationships, and the value of trust over "evidence" in all relationships. Time and again the characters are asked to believe in each other, rather than meekly accept what events suggest to them to be true; time and again they're found wanting.

The film bulks up the scenario in several respects: skilful flashbacks chart Catherine's relationship with her father (played with appropriate bluster and authority by Anthony Hopkins) and add layers to the mysteries relating to his state of mind and the genesis of the sacred "math". Also made tangible is the Chicago campus in which the drama is played out, and whose geeky members can only dream of producing such work.

The acting is exemplary, particularly that of Paltrow, whose brand of melancholy fits the character like a glove, and also that of Davis, who lends zest and humanity to the controlling Claire, a character who could so easily have fallen into cartoon villainy. Madden, meanwhile, directs with skill and conspicuous confidence in his material. While too many of today's film-makers shy away from challenging their audience, Proof benefits from the theatre's unabashed willingness to be smart.

* Set within London's Orthodox Jewish community, Josh Appignanesi's intense, uncompromising debut creates the impression that one is peeping through the keyhole into a secret world - not so much a religious milieu, but a private, unventilated family hell - the experience of which is fascinating, but far from gratifying.

Ruth (Natalie Press) has returned home from Israel, to care for her dying mother. While her faith in Judaism has been strengthened by her travels, her brother David (Joel Chalfen) has rejected his own, once strong religious beliefs. With their father dead, Ruth endeavours to end the estrangement between her mother and brother, by returning David to the family home. But the siblings' proximity reignites seemingly incestuous feelings. The odd pair are threatened by both faith and desire; and in Ruth's case, her brother's latent violence.

Shooting mostly indoors, with digital cameras, Appignanesi uses up-close images and a soundtrack as alive to every creaking floorboard as to the pair's combative Talmudic recitations, to create an almost overpowering sense of claustrophobia and menace. A willful obliqueness prevents it from working entirely, but there's much to admire here.

* Following the well-mounted resurrection of Lassie, this is a rather enervating account of the legendary Edinburgh mutt, whose refusal to leave his master's grave apparently inspired all sorts to good deeds. It doesn't help that Bobby is an uninspiring, pint-sized terrier - he's a mere character actor compared to Lassie's leading lady, adept at a certain Method approach to catching rats, but without the charisma to hold the attention. Christopher Lee makes a cameo showing how it's done.

* Chicken Little is the laughing stock of the anthropomorphised populace of Oakey Oaks, having caused a riot when declaring that the sky was falling. The humiliation has driven a wedge between Little and his father, town baseball hero Buck Cluck; which is about to get wider when, once again, a piece of the sky lands upon the schoolchick's head. No one, least of all his dad, is going to believe his new claim - of an alien invasion.

Disney's first fully computer-animated feature is a mixed experience. The premise is fine; the voice work good (particularly Garry Marshall as Buck Cluck and Spinal Tap's Harry Shearer as a canine baseball commentator); and the CGI imagery is amongst the most impressive we've yet seen. If only someone had looked to the Pixar template - to the Toy Story films and The Incredibles - and attended to the words.

At a time when animated films are providing smarter scripts than many live-action ones, Chicken Little's doesn't seem to have left the napkin on which it was conceived.

If you engage with the latest in this gleefully gory franchise, you might think twice about ever again climbing aboard a fairground ride; or attending a firework display, using a sunbed, even going to Homebase.

In fact, anyone in the tiniest bit neurotic really ought to consider staying at home. First it was a plane, then a motorway pile-up: this time a group of youths evade death at the fair. But, as with the previous films, the Grim Reaper catches up with them, displaying grisly ingenuity and macabre wit in the process. The film is like a big dipper - the screams both of terror and delight.

Comments