New films reviewed by Roz Laws and Graham Young.

The Lovely Bones * * *
Cert 12A, 135 mins

Serial killer thrillers are one of the staples of modern cinema.

To recall the genre’s power, one thinks immediately of the success of Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs, which won the best picture Oscar winner in 1992.

Or the dark, brooding intensity of another 18-rated hit, Se7en, in which Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt got 1996 off to a flying start.

Yet, by the time Zodiac was directed by Se7en’s David Fincher in 2007, the BBFC was willing to issue a 15 certificate.

Covering similar territory to the above, but in a more fantastical, effects-laden Alice In Wonderland fashion, The Lovely Bones has been rated a 12A.

And it’s no surprise that the certificate should sit uncomfortably.

You wouldn’t want anybody under 12 watching, hence the BBFC’s defensive judgement unusually runs to some 850 words – roughly the length of this entire column.

A more serious problem for The Lord of the Rings’ director Peter Jackson is that The Lovely Bones is caught between two stools of warning youngsters and entertaining adults with unimaginable horror.

Adapted from the Alice Sebold novel by the director and his regular co-writers, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, we quickly learn that a 14-year-old girl called Susie Salmon has been murdered (in what turns out to be a most unbelievable place).

Stuck in a dream-like afterlife, Susie narrates her own story, tries to help her father, makes friends with another murder victim and generally offers a serious warning about life’s dangers.

But, even though Oscar-nominated Atonement star Saoirse Ronan looks the part as Susie, she’s unlikely to generate much of an emotional reaction from viewers.

Best supporting actor Oscar nominee Stanley Tucci excels in his scarcely-recognisable guise as George Harvey, but the parental roles played by Rachel Weisz and Mark Wahlberg are woefully ill-developed.

At its best, The Lovely Bones will have you gripping your chair arms, especially when Susie’s sister, Lindsey (Rose McIver) finds herself at the heart of a great dilemma. Too often, though, it feels like another unwanted M Night Shyamalan movie, with Wahlberg again looking stunned, as if he still can’t believe he starred in The Happening.

Bearing in mind that this is only Jackson’s second movie since he followed up his multi-Oscar winning Tolkien trilogy with the rather pointless (and seriously overlong) King Kong remake, The Lovely Bones is, on balance, a disappointment.

The Last Station * * * *
Cert 15, 112 mins

Both Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer have been Oscar-nominated for their roles in this film, charting the last few months in the life of Russian author Leo Tolstoy.

Of the two I reckon Mirren has the edge, though it’s great to see such a resurgence in Plummer’s career – at 80 he’s recently starred in The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus and leant his voice to Up and 9.

He plays the War And Peace author, who, in the early 20th century, was at least as famous as, say, Michael Jackson. Photographers camped outside his house and the newspapers gossiped about his every move.

His ardent followers, led by Vladimir Chertkov (Paul Giamatti), start the Tolstoyan movement advocating passive resistance. Chertkov is keen for Tolstoy to leave all his wealth to the people, a plan not met with approval by his wife Sofya (Mirren), the Countess who has borne him 13 children.

Caught in the middle of this unseemly war is his new private secretary Valentin Bulgakov (James McAvoy). He’s appointed by Chertkov and told to spy on Sofya and report back.

One of the conditions of the job is that Valentin should live at the Tolstoyan commune and remain celibate, but that goes out the window when he meets Masha (Kerry Condon).

Their blossoming love affair plays out against that of the Tolstoys, married for almost 50 years.

They frequently argue – “You all think he’s Christ, don’t you! He thinks he’s Christ! This is unbearable,” shouts the irascible Countess – but the depth of their feelings is touching, especially when Tolstoy catches pneumonia on his travels and lies dying in a railway station.

Always watchable, The Last Station benefits from a witty script and excellent performances from its mostly British cast, including Anne-Marie Duff (McAvoy’s real-life wife) as Tolstoy’s daughter and John Sessions as his doctor.

Burlesque Undressed * * *
Cert 15, 88 mins

Essentially artistic stripping, burlesque has been enjoying a revival.

Home Counties girl Immodesty Blaize – real name Kelly Fletcher – mixes footage from the archives and her seductively elegant Tease stage show with interviews in this interesting documentary.

Immodesty gives us a history of burlesque as we learn how the gas man gave her her stage name and how painful it is to wear the ‘skull crusher’ of an exotic feathered headdress.

Immodesty is visiting Birmingham’s Electric Cinema in person for its sold-out Wednesday screening.