J James and the Giant Peach (U). Animator Henry Selick's last film, the fantastically original Nightmare before Christmas, benefited from the twisted vision of Tim Burton. This time, Selick has help from another master of macabre; he's taken Roald Dahl's first children's book and turned it into a vibrant stop-frame animation movie (bookendended by live-action segments). The story's orphan hero, James (Paul Terry), dreams of running away to New York (Freudian quote: he has a fixation with the Empire State Building). One day, a strange man (Pete Postlethwaite) gives him some crocodile tongues, one of which grows into a large-scale but friendly insect infestation, and ends up taking a transatlantic trip in the Giant Peach, all the way to the Big Apple. Although much of the book's magic remains, this is clearly Disneyfied Dahl, the most conscpicuous signs being Randy Newman's insipid score, and the clumsy morals about confronting fears and cultivating self-belief. But to compensate, there is an endessly charming assortment of bugs: a streetwise caterpillar (the voice of Richard Dreyfuss); a pompous, fiddle- playing grasshopper (Simon Callow); a neurotic earthworm (David Thewlis); a motherly ladybug (Jane Leeves); and best of all, a vampish spider with a spit curl and a beret, voiced by Susan Sarandon in exquisitely sultry whispers.
Twister (PG). Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton, husband-and-wife meteorologists, race across the US Midwest in search of tornadoes. Director Jan De Bont (Speed) has constructed a couple of tight setpieces, but the technical proficiency is overshadowed by Michael Crichton's shoddy script, which not only has no concept of characterisation, but makes a pathetic attempt to villify corporate greed (Cary Elwes plays a rich, unscrupulous rival scientist); note that Twister was produced by not one but two Hollywood studios, and went on to earn $250m.
Antonia's Line (15). Marleen Gorris's film, a boringly lopsided battle of the sexes, begins with Dutch monolith-matriarch Antonia (Willekle van Ammelrooy) waking up and realising that she is about to die. The movie then cuts into the Forties, with young Antonia returning to her home village and a community of painfully kooky misfits. A typically undeserved Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film. Dennis Lim