* * * *

Cert 12A, 145 mins
Each Harry Potter film has been progressively darker as its audience has grown up, but this one is the most chilling yet.

Think less magic and more malevolence. Within ten minutes, someone is tortured, killed and eaten by a snake. It’s not for the faint-hearted or the under eights.

JK Rowling’s last book has been adapted in two parts, a sound idea which saves the denouement from being rushed.

The first half doesn’t have as much action as the second, but the long tracts in the novel where Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint, proving he’s the best of the young actors) aimlessly wander the country, hiding from Voldemort’s Death Eaters and testing their friendship, are thankfully truncated.

If nothing else, the scenery is stunning and a great advert for Britain.

New additions to the cast include Guy Henry as a villain and Rhys Ifans as Luna Lovegood’s eccentric father. We also see more of Ralph Fiennes as the oh-so-sinister Voldemort and Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix, mad as a box of frogs.

But some of our favourites, like Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid, Alan Rickman as Severus Snape and Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy, barely get a look-in.

Blink and you might miss John Hurt. And it’s a sign of the stellar cast when actors like Danny Webb get the lowly credit of ‘Bushy Haired Muttering Wizard’.

Ominous and downbeat but a compelling, visual treat, this certainly whets our appetite for next year’s big finale. RL

MARY & MAX * * * *
Cert 12A, 92 mins
This is the first of two new animations aimed at adults which are far more imaginative than most live action movies.

Narrator Barry Humphries introduces Mary Dinkle, a little girl living in Australia in 1976, as having “eyes the colour of muddy puddles, her birthmark the colour of poo”.

That sets the irreverent, rather dark but witty tone.

Mary (Toni Collette) is lonely and bullied, with a ‘‘wobbly’’ (drunken) mum who ‘‘borrows’’ (shoplifts) things.

She writes, at random, to 44-year-old overweight and depressed Max (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) in New York. The pair have a lot in common and strike up an unlikely long-distance friendship. In fact, Mary becomes Max’s first friend who isn’t invisible.

Funny, poignant and moving, this quirky and clever film oozes heart and insights into human nature. RL

CHICO & RITA * * * *
Cert 15, 93 mins
A bright and breezy hand-drawn animation, with a sweet story beginning in Cuba in 1948.

Young jazz piano player Chico (Eman Xor Ona) meets beautiful singer Rita (Limara Meneses).

He is smitten by her silky voice and her looks and persuades her to enter a music contest with him, which they win.

He’s a charming ladies’ man and when he breaks her heart, Rita allows herself to be whisked away by a talent scout to New York. But Chico follows her – can her win her back?

The story and the animation are fairly simple, but the music, featuring Latin rhythms plus the likes of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, is fabulous. RL

Cert 15, 82 mins
Gerard Depardieu is Germain Chazes, a village simpleton for whom reading remains a struggle.

Born in 1914, inspirational actress Gisèle Casadesus is the cheerfully well-read Margueritte (with ‘‘two Ts’’).

Germain sits on a bench naming the local pigeons (including Marguerite); Margueritte reads to him.

Showing at the MAC until Tuesday, the pair light up this simple story.

My Afternoons... is an entertaining piece of pure Frenchness which reminds us of the value of older people in a world where the potential for lifelong ‘‘education, education, education’’ exists everywhere all of the time. GY

Cert 15, 92 mins
Imagine a sci-fi thriller about aliens above LA sucking up humans like a vacuum cleaner lifts crumbs from a carpet.

Although two of the cast enjoy a good view of Skyline’s special effects from the roof, they also spend most of the film stuck in a boring tower block lest their brains join the film’s producers in a nasty place.

Combining everything from War of the Worlds to Independence Day, Skyline is all tricks and no trousers with its stars failing to spot this film’s further resemblance to the Peter Jackson-backed District 9.

The dialogue is risible, there is no headline star like a Tom Cruise or Will Smith, nor is there a young star like Dakota Fanning to give us a wide-eyed interpretation.

Sibling directors The Brothers Strause (Aliens vs Predator – Requiem) should stick to their forte – special effects. GY