New films reviewed by Graham Young and Roz Laws.

A Single Man ****
Cert 12A, 100 mins

Tom Ford is the fashion designer who turned around the fortunes of Gucci and Yves Saint-Laurent, and who now makes an impressive debut as a director.

He’s also written the script, adapted from Christopher Isherwood’s 1964 novel.

With Ford’s eye for detail, we would expect this film to look good, and he doesn’t disappoint.

What is more surprising is that he has coaxed brilliant performances from his cast.

Colin Firth has been nominated for an Oscar for his poignant portrayal of university professor George, an Englishman living in Los Angeles in 1962.

He is still consumed by grief over the death eight months previously of Jim (Matthew Goode), his lover of 16 years.

“My heart has been broken and I feel like I’m drowning,” he says.

He is comforted by his best friend Charley (Julianne Moore), a fellow Brit and ageing beauty. Also distracting him is one of his students, Kenny (Nicholas Hoult), who singles him out for attention.

It’s darkly amusing in places, even when George plans his suicide.

Ford indulges himself by dressing his cast in gorgeous clothes and then undressing lots of good-looking men, and Firth fans will enjoy another of his famous wet shirt moments.

At times it feels too slow, with lingering arty close-ups, yet it weaves a hypnotic spell upon its audience so we carry on watching, mesmerised.

It’s certainly well worth staying to the startling end. And while it may appear at times to be too much style and not enough emotional substance, this haunting film will stay with you for a surprisingly long time.

Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief ****
Cert PG, 119 mins

Christopher Columbus is the world’s most commercially successful film maker without even an Oscar nomination to his name, after writing Gremlins and then directing the first two Home Alone movies and Mrs Doubtfire.

Today he’s now back to almost where he was at the dawn of the new Millennium, with two boys and a girl investigating something quite fantastical.

Only instead of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter we now get Percy Jackson’s gene pool from Texan novelist Rick Riordan.

Logan Lerman’s Percy character has a human mother, Sally (Catherine Keener), and a Greek god of a father called Poseidon (Kevin McKidd). Don’t mention the stepdad!

Zeus (Sean Bean) thinks Percy has stolen the most powerful weapon ever made, the Lightning Bolt.

The film is a rousing blend of special effects, but not so scary that children aged seven and above will spend the entire movie hiding behind their fingers.

Echoing The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – Percy’s best friend, Grover (Brandon T Jackson) is an impressively-fashioned half goat satyr, while Pierce Brosnan’s Chiron is a half-horse centaur who trains heroes.

Uma Thurman (Medusa) and Sean Bean are underused, while Steve Coogan (Hades) is another historical (as opposed to hysterical) parody of himself.

Battle For Terra ***
Cert PG, 79 mins

For anyone who has seen Avatar, the plot for this film will sound familiar. The peaceful inhabitants of an alien planet face annihilation from greedy humans, but one Earthling discovers more about the natives and sides with them in the climactic battle.

The producers of Battle For Terra point out they finished their film first, back in 2007. But they made it first in 2D before deciding to transform it into three dimensions, which works pretty well though could never match the stunning visuals of Avatar.

Life on Terra is shattered when a giant space ship blocks out the sun and machines emerge to capture the natives, who look a bit like sperm.

Mala (Evan Rachel Wood) is a resourceful girl, who saves the life of pilot Jim Stanton (Luke Wilson) when he crashes. He has a Wall E-type cute robot who handily teaches Mala their language in five seconds. They bond and when it comes to the crunch Jim sides with Mala and her people rather than the violent humans.

These square-headed people don’t look very realistic, perhaps deliberately so as the expressive, big-eyed aliens are more endearing.

There are exciting moments but it’s all a little too earnest and forgettable. And the stellar voice cast is wasted, with the likes of Brian Cox, Chris Evans, Dennis Quaid, James Garner, Danny Glover, and Justin Long often brought in for just a couple of lines.