When American children grow out of Harry Potter, the novel they read is Holes (PG) by Louis Sacher, and, judging by the movie version, I can see why. The hero is Stanley Yelnats, a palindromic name that seems daft until you read that the actor playing him is called Shia LaBeouf. Wrongly convicted of training shoe theft, he's sent to a Texan young offenders' camp, where he and his fellow inmates have to work all day in the baking desert sun, digging five-foot deep pits in the sand. Why they have to do so, and how their task is connected both with Stanley's Latvian great great grandfather and with a Wild West bank robber called Kissin' Kate Barlow (Patricia Arquette) is a riddle so sophisticated that it makes the plotting of most adults' films seem childish. Sachar, who also wrote the screenplay, does a magical job of weaving together two different historic narratives, as well as Stanley's own present-day story, so that yellow-spotted lizards, buried treasure, a baseball star, an onion farmer and a gypsy curse are all integral components.
Directed by Andrew Davis (renowned for another false arrest film, The Fugitive), Holes is offbeat and unpredictable, with an ingenuity that reminded me of the Coen brothers - Tim Blake Nelson from O Brother, Where Art Thou? plays the camp counsellor. Two other stars who lend considerable class to proceedings are Sigourney Weaver as the imperious warden, and Jon Voight as her crazy-eyed, Elvis-quiffed right-hand man, Mr Sir. He's better here than he's been in years.
Secondhand Lions (PG) has some similarities. It's another family film set in Texas, and its narrative flips back and forward through the decades. But while Holes may well be a classic, the more simplistic Secondhand Lions only thinks it is. It stars Haley Joel Osment as a 14-year-old sent to live with his long-lost great uncles, Michael Caine and Robert Duvall. The codgers are a mysterious pair - irascible, reclusive, and reputed to have millions of dollars stashed away somewhere in their rickety farmhouse. They're as unhappy to have Osment to stay as he is to stay there, so you know that everyone will soon be hugging everyone else. It shouldn't happen as soon as it does, though. The supposedly frosty old grouches thaw out within minutes, and from then on there are still plenty of gently eccentric capers to get through. Not that it's too painful. Caine and Duvall both have a natural, leathery charm, and Caine's Munchausenesque reminiscences of their swashbuckling youth are filmed as fun homages to Indiana Jones and Arabian Nights. But towards the end, when the sentimentality takes over, you might wish that Osment's pet lion would follow the example of Siegfried and Roy's tiger.
XX/XY (15) is the sort of semi-autobiographical indie movie that could only come from a first-time writer-director: it's a portrait of an aspiring New York film-maker (Mark Ruffalo) who can't choose between the various sexy young women who queue up to sleep with him. It's self-indulgent, but there are sparks of insightful humour that promise better, funnier films from Austin Chick in the future.
Waiting for Happiness (U) points a camera at a coastal village in Mauritania. Despite being improvised by an amateur cast, it's lyrical and hypnotic, and it ends up being strangely moving - although in such a hazy, plotless way that most viewers will get bored of waiting. Kung Phooey (12A) is a spoof martial arts movie, like Airplane except without the budget, or, indeed, the jokes. Interstella 5555 (PG) is essentially an hour-long, animated music video. It's the brainchild of Daft Punk, the Vocoder-happy Parisian techno duo, and the dialogue-free anime has their entire Discovery album as its soundtrack. A groovy, Battle of the Planets-style sci-fi adventure, it posits that pop groups aren't manufactured, they're transported here from distant galaxies.