Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (12A)<br/>Factotum (15)<br/>Separate Lies (15)<br/>Familia Rodante (15)

Harry gets the hots
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The Independent Culture

Welcome back to Hogwarts, a school with such a shameful record of appointing teachers who are actually murderous demons in disguise that it should have been shut down by Ofsted. Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is now in his fourth year, and, wouldn't you just know it, the malevolent minions of Voldemort are once again plotting to give him a few more scars to match the one on his forehead. Just as frightening for Harry and his pubescent pals are the exchange students who are boarding at Hogwarts for an inter-school magic contest. Ron (Rupert Grint) is ooh la la-ing at the jeunes filles from France's Beauxbatons Academy, while Hermione (Emma Watson) gets some eye-candy, too, in the shape of the Durmstrang Institute's crewcut stormtroopers.

This is the most gratifying film of the series. Indeed, it's the first one that's been made as a distinct entity in its own right, as opposed to a scene-by-scene re-enactment of the source novel. J K Rowling's notoriously elaborate mystery plot has been pared back to basics, so although the book is a disc-slipping 630 pages, the film never feels as bloated as the previous instalments. The action set-pieces are genuinely thrilling, hence the 12A certificate, and the scenes without any broomsticks are almost as good. Mike Newell has made no bones about sending his young stars to acting classes, and it's a move that's paid off: the boys' adolescent awkwardness with the opposite sex recalls the same director's Four Weddings and A Funeral. Mind you, the idea that Hermione might fancy Ron seems a lot more convincing in the book than in a film where, frankly, she's out of his Quidditch league.

Factotum (15)

Factotum is bizarrely sub-titled "A man who preforms [sic] many jobs".

I can't account for the spelling, but the reason Hank Chinaski (Matt Dillon) has such an extensive CV is that he tends to get the sack within a day, allowing him to return to his favoured occupations, ie, drinking, picking up women, writing short stories, and drinking. Based on Charles Bukowski's novel, Factotum has as little structure as Chinaski's life. It's really just a collection of sleepy comic vignettes which are remarkably cheerful and affectionate considering that their hero is a belligerent alcoholic. He may be clownish and perpetually hungover, but there's a certain dignity in the way he swaggers through life without a drop of self-pity.

The film is a fond, eccentric curio, but it has too little to do with reality to be moving. Chinaski is unmistakably a beat poet, so it was an odd decision to put him in a present-day setting of skyscrapers and computers.

Separate Lies (15)

Separate Lies is a mature drama about mature people who always mean well, even when they're doing wrong. It's also one of those films in which the hero's life is so wonderful at the start that you know it's about to get very unwonderful indeed. The hero is James (Tom Wilkinson), a complacent corporate lawyer who spends his weeks in a City office, and his weekends in Buckinghamshire, where he has a sleek young wife (Emily Watson), a quaint house, a bounding dog, and a place on the village cricket team. The idyll ends when his cleaner's husband is killed in a hit-and-run accident. Wilkinson suspects that it must have had something to do with the area's louche lord of the manor (Rupert Everett), but his snooping quickly uncovers more secrets than he bargained for.

Separate Lies is written and directed by Julian Fellowes, who won an Oscar for his Gosford Park screenplay. His adaptation of Nigel Balchin's novel, A Way Through the Woods, proves that that script was no fluke. Even though his upper-upper-middle class characters are unfailingly well mannered, their every line of dialogue vibrates with suppressed desires and resentments, and the actors make the most of these nuances. Wilkinson, especially, is on towering form. It must be said, though, that because Fellowes unfolds the story carefully, incident by incident, rather than accelerating towards a dramatic conclusion, Separate Lies seems more suited to television than to the cinema. But if it were a TV drama, it would get rave reviews.

Familia Rodante (15)

Translated as "Rolling Family", Familia Rodante is an Argentinian road movie, with four generations of relatives squashing into a camper van and trundling off on the 1,000km journey from Buenos Aires to a wedding in the countryside. As the gas-guzzling tin can judders down back roads and through villages, it passes a carnival, some ostriches, and a biker on a mission, but there's just as much going on inside the van as there is outside. A pair of teenaged cousins are starting to notice one another, for instance, and a married man seems suspiciously eager to be alone with his sister-in-law. Like the character with a nagging bad tooth, the family has problems that won't go away without a painful wrench.

The film is shot in pore-revealing close-ups, as naturalistically as if it were a mosquito-on-the-wall documentary. And yet it also offers sunbaked scenery, a rollicking soundtrack, and all the crises and kisses of a Hollywood wedding comedy. It deserves to be one of this year's biggest foreign-language crowd-pleasers.

n.barber@independent.co.uk

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