THE DARK KNIGHT  * * * * *
Cert 12A 152 mins
Yes. You may read that Christopher Nolan’s sequel to Batman Begins is a jet black existential meditation on identity, a Shakespearean tragedy. A terrifying look at the toxic darkness of the human soul, a journey into the realms of moral anarchy with just a redeeming glimpse of mankind’s potential for self-sacrifice. An essay on the self-destructive nature of the hero, and a study in the unstable dichotomies of power and impotence, sanity and madness.

It is all this. And more.

The most thematically sophisticated, most philosophically profound, most narratively complex and most viscerally thrilling super-hero movie of all. It transcends the genre. Heat on steroids. It is, in a word, awesome.

It is a film about consequences and impossible choices. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) became Batman to protect Gotham City. Instead, his presence has made it a more dangerous place, attracting vigilante copycats and steeling the resolution of those who do not subscribe to his own strict code.

But, even with police corruption and intercine mob warfare, it’s relatively easy to keep a lid on things. Perhaps, with new DA, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), the gleaming white knight of Gotham, and the dedication of men like Lt Jim Gordon (a superbly understated Gary Oldman), there might not even be need for Batman.

Perhaps, even though she’s dating Dent, Assistant DA Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal, wiping away all Katie Holmes memories) might make good on her word to be Bruce’s if he renounced his other life.

But, what do you do when faced with an evil that has no motive other than to watch the world burn? A brilliantly twisted mind roiling with the unfettered malevolence of the destructive human impulse to forge chaos out of order, dedicated to releasing the inner monsters.

An evil that wears a face freakishly dusted in white foundation, scarred mouth a smear of red lipstick. And evil called the Joker (Heath Ledger).

The less prepared you are, the greater will be the experience of Nolan’s masterpiece. Suffice to say there’s no glib flippancy in this world. People die. Even major characters. And everyone is left tainted and riven by loss.

With several vertiginous sequences filmed with IMAX digital camera (and you must see it on the giant screen) and crammed with heart-pounding chases and fight action set to Hans Zimmer’s sensational score, it’s as visually breathtaking as it is cerebrally muscular.

Michael Caine returns as Wayne’s wordly wise butler Alfred, as does Morgan Freeman as weapons designer Lucius Fox, they too faced with moral decisions in regard to Batman’s driven purpose. Charting emotional and psychological depths, Bale is intense and committed, the only actor truly worthy of the cowl.

But, ultimately, this is Ledger’s film. Every moment on screen he magnetises the world around him. The sight of him sashaying down the street in a nurse’s outfit or flicking back his hair as he threateningly circles Dawes are truly nightmarish visions of the apocalypse. It’s not a performance, it’s a force of nature.

He’s not going to get the Oscar because he’s dead. He’s getting it because nothing else can compare. I’m placing bets Nolan will be making his own acceptance speech too.

Cert 12A 100 mins
Parents of moody teenagers shouldn’t see this. It’s too much like being at home. However, you can safely pack your sulky 13-year-old daughters off to this adaptation of Brit author Louise Rennison’s best-selling books knowing they’ll readily identify with romantically hapless heroine Georgia Nicholson and, hopefully, even be a little more briefly tolerant of mom and dad afterwards.

Adapted and directed by Gurinder Chadah, while there’s an element of Bend It Like Beckham it is, first and foremost, an unashamed stab at relocating the American high school genre to, er, Eastbourne.

Which may explain the somewhat sleepy 50s innocence that prevails despite much talk of sexy underwear, teentalk slang, references to Coldplay and sessions with Georgia (Georgia Broome in a complete contrast to her gritty London To Brighton role) and her chums sizing up their fledgling nunga-nungas.

That aside, the formula’s present and correct. Feeling misunderstood by her parents (Karen Taylor and a wet Alan Davies) and convinced she’ll never find herself a sex-god boyfriend, when she claps eyes on older new boy in town Robbie (Aaron Johnson), Georgia sets about trying to change her appearance so he’ll notice her and take snogging lessons (complete with saliva string) from the school lothario so she’s ready if the opportunity arises.

Naturally, there’s school queen bitch romantic rival Lindsay to overcome along with worries that, with dad in New Zealand, mom might be sizing up their hunky handyman (Steve Jones). She will, too, inevitably fall out with best friend Jas (Eleanor Tomlinson) who’s dating Robbie’s brother before they all kiss and make up, Lindsay’s shown in her true colours and things wrap up in the film’s fairy-tale equivalent of the school prom.

It’s no John Hughes and the quality of acting is distinctly variable, but as a Bridget Jones for 14-year-olds it is breezy feelgood fun with plenty of laughs, recognisable characters and situations, and applaudable be yourself message. Besides, Eastbourne’s never looked so attractive.

BABY MAMA  * * * *
Cert 12A 97 mins
A single, high flying career woman with a ticking biological clock, when Kate Holbrook (Tina Fey) is told her chances of getting pregnant are one in a million and that adoption could take forever, she visits the expensive ‘womb outsourcing’ centre run by smugly serene Chaffee Bicknell (Sigourney Weaver) who, just to rub it in, constantly seems to be popping them out despite being well into the menopause years.

The result of the baby brokering is that Kate agrees to pay trailer trash blonde Angie (Amy Poehler) several thousand dollars to serve as surrogate mom.

When airhead Angie falls out with boyfriend Carl (Dax Shepherd), she moves in with neurotic Kate and much Odd Couple comedy ensues involving life style clashes, birthing classes and problems operating the toilet baby lock. This, you’ll be happy to hear, is the second film this year in which somebody pees in the sink.

With Kate developing a tentative romance with Rob (Greg Kinnear), owner of a struggling juice bar in the area she’s scouting for her company’s next health food outlet, matters are thrown into comic chaos when Angie’s pregnancy turns out to be both less and more than either of them imagined.

Consistently laughter-friendly and warmly sentimental without being mawkish, it’s another congenial addition to the year’s tally of entertainingly unpatronising chick flicks that aren’t going to be an ordeal for husbands and boyfriends.

As respectively straightwoman and wild card, Fey and Poehler have great comic timing and chemistry while Steve Martin turns in his funniest work in ages as Kate’s eccentric pony-tailed new age guru boss, brilliantly deadpanning through a hilarious scene where he rewards her with five minutes uninterrupted eye-contact.

Cert 15 106 mins
Writer-director Tom McCarthy’s follow up to his Oscar winning The Station Agent is another finely acted gentle fable about outsiders who, thrown together by chance, would seem to have nothing in common but come to forge close personal bonds.

A familiar character actor, Richard Jenkins gives a career defining performance as Walter Vale, a sixtysomething professor grown disillusioned with his work and emotionally isolated from life since the death of his wife.

Aware of the void, he’s unsuccessfully tried to learn piano and is now resigned to abandoning the attempt.

Sent to a New York conference to deliver a paper, he goes to his old seldom visited apartment and is surprised to find it occupied by Tarek (Haaz Sleiman), a young Syrian, and his Senegalese girlfriend Zainab (Danai Gurira), victims of a real estate con.

For reasons he would find hard to explain, Walter offers to let them stay until they can find alternative accommodation. Zainab remains cautious and distant, but, discovering a shared love of music, Tarek invites him to the jazz club where he plays the African drum and then offers to teach him to play.

As Walter gradually finds the rhythm you can sense his inner life reawakening. So, when, following a misunderstanding at a subway station, Tarek is revealed to be an illegal immigrant faced with deportation and taken away to a local detention centre, Walter takes it upon himself to help fight his case, hiring a lawyer and making the regular visits that Zainab, for obvious reasons, cannot.

While the political pulse continues to beat as Walter’s confronted by the system’s bureaucratic stonewalling, the arrival of Tarek’s worried widowed mother, Mouna (Hiam Abbass), from Michigan, sees the film shift emotional focus as a tentative mature romance begins to bloom.

A timely philosophically insightful and humanistic commentary on cultural and generation gaps, it may eschew the happy ending for a more realistic one but it’s ultimately an optimistic upbeat reminder that it’s never too late to change and find joy in unexpected places.

Cert 15 97 mins
Fifteen years after debuting with Swoon, a retelling of the Loeb and Leopold kidnapping and murder, Tom Kalin finally delivers his sophomore film with another story of true-life transgression. Unfortunately, it’s more than a little overheated in the melodrama department.

Opening in 1946 New York and climaxing in 70s London by way of 50s Paris and 60s Spain, it follows emotionally needy socialite Barbara Daly (Julianne Moore) from the birth of her baby, through the decline of her marriage to distanced Bakelite plastics heir Brooks Baekeland (Stephen Dillane) and her increasingly unhealthy relationship with son Tony (Eddie Redmayne).

Already uncertain of his sexual orientation, when Spanish girlfriend Blanca (Elena Anaya) goes off with his father, Tony bursts out of the closet, taking up with a rough lover and, at one point, sharing a Mediterranean menage a trois with his mother’s bisexual style consultant (Hugh Dancy).

Determined to ‘cure’ Tony of his homosexuality, Barbara opens the Freudian floodgates and, in a particularly uncomfortable sequence, seduces him herself.

Already something of a sociopath, it would appear to have tipped him over the edge and, on Nov 17, 1972, he stabbed her to death in the kitchen of her London flat, then ordered Chinese.

Moore does her best to earn sympathy for a bitter, disappointed woman who in real life, even without the incest, was also a rude, self-centred, clinically depressed promiscuous alcoholic poseur, but not even her best efforts can surmount the convoluted arch dialogue and the film’s mounting nervous hysteria.

Cert 18, 92 mins
Dumped for the umpteenth time, slobbish moping wannabe filmmaker Chris Waitt decides to turn romantic disaster into a documentary and interview all his exes to find out why he can’t hang on to a girlfriend. One even wrote him into her novel so she could kill him off. Most give him the instant brush off but, thanks to help from mom, a couple eventually agree to be interviewed.

With home truths stripping away his rose tinted memories as he’s told he’s a jerk, loser, emotionally deficient and immature, he then develops erectile dysfunction and embarks on an assortment of therapies that variously include counselling, being whipped by an Irish dominatrix and overdosing on Viagra, leading him to drunkenly wander the streets asking women if they’ll have sex with him.

As the comic scenarios pile up, you might start to suspect that, whatever element of truth there may be, Waitt’s doc is more in the spirit of Louis Theroux and Sacha Baron Cohen rather than Michael Moore, especially when you’re told several scenes were re-enactments and that he’s made award winning shorts and appeared in Hot Fuzz.

It doesn’t matter though, Waitt may be playing a character but his film is both very funny and has something meaningful to say about self-delusion and making connections.