Calendar Girls (12A) has been tipped as "the new Full Monty", partly because it's a quintessentially British feelgood comedy about some salts-of-the-earth who all pull together, but mostly because the salts-of-the-earth take their clothes off. They pull together in the altogether. It's based on the real-life story of Rylstone and District Women's Institute who sold a mischievously nude calendar in aid of leukaemia research. Since the women first exposed their bare-faced cheek in 1999, the calendar has raised over £600,000 and its models have had more media attention than the Hutton inquiry.
In the film, the pin-ups are played by a role call of Britain's most recognisable actresses of a certain age. Julie Walters is very touching as the mild but fierce-willed Annie, whose husband's death is the seed of the calendar. Helen Mirren is strong, too, as Chris, the project's extroverted driving force, although she never seems entirely happy with her northern accent. The film's other star is the postcard countryside of the Dales, which should give Calendar Girls some of The Full Monty's worldwide appeal.
Calendar Girls is sprightly and positive and enjoyable, but woollier, and it doesn't have The Full Monty's emotional heft or satisfying dramatic shape. In The Full Monty, the chaps didn't get their kits off until the final frame. Mirren and co strip off halfway through, and from then on the film struggles to find anything else to show us. It touches on the strain that the limelight puts on the women's families and friendships, but these subplots are dropped before they get going. And it forgets to mention that the calendar girls didn't actually fall out until the movie's producers came on the scene: in reality, five of the women wanted the film rights to go to Victoria Wood. That, it seems, is another story.
Co-incidentally, one of Calender Girls' co-writers, Tim Firth, also wrote this week's other new British film - and again it has a stuffy provincial institution hitting the headlines, and the headlines hitting back. Directed by Mel Smith, Blackball (15) is a broad comedy about a rock'n'roll rebel (Paul Kaye) from the wrong side of Torquay who becomes a sports superstar with the support of his best mate, Johnny Vegas, and his tough-talking new American agent, Vince Vaughn. The sport in question: lawn bowls. Unfortunately, Smith and Firth aren't sure what to do with their funny set-up, and the patchy second half doesn't live up to some terrific early scenes that show Kaye's blackball wizard tearing up the bowling green as Queen and The Who belt out the music. Kaye, best known as the celebrity-goading Dennis Pennis, is a hoot - a shaggy-haired livewire whose arrogance is matched only by his innocence. If there's any justice, his performance will propel him to the same level of stardom as Dennis Pennis's targets.
Microcosmos, Jacques Perrin's acclaimed creepy-crawly documentary, showed us what was going on beneath our feet. Now the Oscar-nominated Winged Migration (U) gives us a bird's-eye view of flocks from all over the globe as they fly to new feeding grounds across deserts and seas. It's stunning. Some of the meditation music made me want to stuff a pelican in each ear. But the images of the birds and their surroundings are awe-inspiring, often taking you so near to our feathered friends that you can almost feel yourself being fanned by their wings. Flight hasn't been portrayed so entrancingly since "Walking In The Air" in The Snowman.
Camp (12A) is a rites-of-passage movie set at a performing arts summer camp. It has its earnest charms - for a start, its teenaged stars are refreshingly ordinary-looking - but it needed much more rewriting and rehearsing, and Todd Graff, the writer-director, is torn between debunking the kids' Broadway pizzazz and applauding it. It Runs in the Family (12A) is a tepid TV movie about a wealthy, successful, loving New York family whose members have a few mild disagreements, the poor lambs. Its one point of interest is that it stars Michael Douglas, his father Kirk, his mother Diana and his son Cameron, and that's only of interest to viewers who are as enamoured of the Douglases as the Douglases are. In the NFT's Gay Men's Cinema season, Madame Sata (NC) is a sweatily intimate biopic of a street-fighting Brazilian drag queen.Reuse content