It can be tricky when you're watching a French film to concentrate on the story and not be distracted by the fabulous lifestyles. And it's bad enough when the characters are quaffing wine at Parisian dinner parties.
In Little White Lies, we have to put up with a group of friends, including Marion Cotillard and François Cluzet, who go on holiday to Cap Ferret, staying in a beachfront house which Cluzet owns.
It's true that one of their number is in intensive care following a scooter accident, so they're cutting short their stay from a month to a fortnight, the poor things. And it's true that one of the married men in the group has just confessed his love for another of them. But still, these people are hardly suffering. Take into account the two-and-a-half hour running time, and Little White Lies sometimes threatens to reach almost Raymond Blanc levels of Gallic smugness.
If you can get past that, though, you can enjoy one of those rare films that's interested in ordinary people with everyday concerns. Guillaume Canet, who had a crossover hit with Tell No One, has written and directed a humane comedy-drama that's reminiscent of vintage Woody Allen, a more glamorous Mike Leigh or, most obviously, The Big Chill.
The characters cover just about every imaginable relationship problem, and yet their dilemmas and insecurities bubble to the surface at a natural, unforced rate – hence the running time – and the crises are offset by the wry humour. Much of this comedy springs from the questions of who's doing the grocery shopping and what the day's activities are going to be, subjects that will ring bells with anyone who's ever gone away with their friends.
The endless country-rock songs start to grate after a while, but at a time when the old-friends-hanging-out sub-genre has sunk to the twin nadirs of Couples Retreat and Grown-Ups, Little White Lies is almost as much of a pleasure to watch as it must have been to make.
From Little White Lies to Red Riding Hood – although the total irrelevance of the eponymous scarlet apparel is just one indication that this horror-tinged teen romance hasn't been very well thought through: even the fairy tale's pivotal what-big-teeth-you-have scene is thrown away in a dream sequence. Instead of a classic fable, Red Riding Hood is a sexless, scareless whodunnit set in a medieval-ish village. Gary Oldman is a monster-hunting priest who's investigating which of the main characters turns into a computer-generated wolf every full moon, but the audience doesn't know enough about any of them to care either way.
The film is aimed squarely at Twilight fans. It's directed by Catherine Hardwicke, who made the first and best Twilight movie, and it's no stretch for her, given that its heroine (Amanda Seyfried, inset below) is being fought over by two chiselled boys (Shiloh Fernandez and Max Irons), one of whom may or may not be a werewolf. But Twilight-aholics shouldn't be taken in. The mystery plot doesn't leave room for the love story, and Fernandez and Irons are less convincing than the CGI wolf. Besides, Hardwicke's key idea in filming Twilight was to contrast its supernatural silliness with an authentically grungy setting, whereas here she's gone in the opposite direction: the village in Red Riding Hood has all the eerie forest atmosphere of a theme park dedicated to the Smurfs. The leading men may be wooden, but the ubiquitous log cabins look plastic.
Nicholas Barber sees Russell Brand playing to type as a dissolute playboy in the Arthur remake
Also Showing: 17/04/2011
The Last Picture Show, (126 mins, 15)
Peter Bogdanovich's tragicomedy is one of the all-time great films about being stuck in a small town. Reissued to mark its 40th anniversary, it stars Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges and Cybill Shepherd as teenagers in the pre-rock'n'roll early-1950s – and after you've heard the soundtrack's umpteenth country 'n' western yodel, you'll appreciate why Elvis had such an impact. But the masterstroke of this moving, continually witty film is that the adults are just as lost and lonely as their offspring.
Your Highness (102 mins, 15)
Danny McBride, James Franco and Natalie Portman star in a puerile swords'n'sorcery comedy which takes a standard Tolkienesque adventure and slops in lots of swearing, homophobia and misogyny. I laughed a few times, I admit.
Winnie the Pooh (74 mins, U)
This gentle Disney cartoon stays reasonably true to the spirit of A A Milne and E H Shepard, but it's utterly forgettable. Shave off the two short cartoons that precede it, and you're left with tuneless songs and meandering story.
Sparrow (87 mins, 15)
Playfully noirish Hong Kong crime caper about a gang of pickpockets being bamboozled by a femme fatale. A treat.
A Small Act (88 mins, 12A)
Inspirational, if not exactly cinematic documentary about a Kenyan educational foundation.
Scream 4 (111 mins, 15)
Wes Craven revives his Postmodern slasher franchise. The press screening was cancelled due to "a fire in the projection booth".