Film reviews: Paul | Never Let Me Go | Yogi Bear | Nénette

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Our film critic looks at the best and worst of this week's new releases...

Paul (15)**

Directed by: Greg Mottola

Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kristen Wiig, Jason Bateman

FOLLOWING Spaced, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost return to the fanboy well one time too many with Paul, a lazy piece of geeksploitation cinema designed to buttress the Pegg/Frost brand Stateside with Comic Con-courting clichs and groan-inducing movie references. They play best friends Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost), a pair of sci-fi nerds who have a close encounter with a chain-smoking, foul-mouthed alien (voiced by Seth Rogan) while on a post-Comic Con tour of America's UFO hotspots.

As a concept, it's not without promise, but Pegg and Frost's script (their first together) isn't tight enough and nor is Superbad director Greg Mottolo's freewheeling style, which fatally exposes his Brit stars' limited acting abilities. Kristen Wiig does supply a few laughs as a one-eyed creationist whose mind is blown by Paul's existence, but casting Sigourney Weaver for the sole purpose of making the world's most obvious Aliens reference is just pathetic – the sort of thing Pegg would likely have poured scorn on in Spaced. Alas, a decade on from that ingenius show, he and Frost seem intent on regressing still further. To paraphrase another Paul, there comes a time when you need to put away childish things.

Never Let Me Go (15) ****

Directed by: Mark Romanek

Starring: Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Keira Knightley, Sally Hawkins

THIS chilly, austere and haunting adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's acclaimed dystopian novel has already been written off as the Brit flick that didn't get any Bafta nominatons, as if that organisation's approbation was all that mattered. It isn't, and Never Let Me Go is a fine film in its own right.

Set in a subtly altered version of postwar Britain, it's the story of Kathy (Mulligan), Tommy (Garfield) and Ruth (Knightley), three friends who meet as children in the 1970s in a strange boarding school called Hailsham. The school is a kind of hermetic environment in which teachers prepare their charges for their fates in the outside world while buffering them against its realities. The reasons for this peculiar treatment are gradually divulged via horrifying euphemisms and, while the actual twist is easily guessable, the film's power comes from the way it reveals its exact nature from the nave perspective of its three protagonists.

Director Mark Romanek deploys an elegant, deceptively simple visual style here which helps keep the subtle performances front and centre. The end result is a low-key sci-fi film that's strange and sad.

Yogi Bear (U)*

Directed by: Eric Brevig

Starring: Dan Aykroyd, Justin Timberlake, Anna Faris, Tom Cavanagh

IT'S been more than two decades since the Hanna-Barbera cartoon Yogi Bear stopped airing regularly on television, yet here's a new 3D film version anyway, destined to bore today's kids with characters that were actually first trotted out for their grandparents' generation in the late 1950s. Don't expect much cross-generational bonding, though. Even the most nostalgic and forgiving Yogi fan will likely find it hard to warm to the 21st-century, computer-generated, 3D make-over he's undergone here.

Voiced by Dan Aykroyd and relocated to a live-action version of Jellystone Park, his picnic basket-boosting proclivities and curious relationship with Boo-Boo (voiced by Justin Timberlake) have taken a back seat to a token eco plot that is so generic it involves the need to locate a rare species of turtle in order to save Jellystone from a corrupt politician, a plot detail one might feel is a tad extraneous when the film's star is a talking, tie-wearing bear.

Contempt towards its target audience notwithstanding, the film gains further demerits for seriously lowering the comedy stock of Anna Faris, cast here as the goofy love interest of Paul Cavanagh's dreary Ranger Smith.

Nnette (PG)****

Directed by: Nicolas Philibert

THE titular star of Nnette is a 40-year-old orangutan whose life is a constant reality show. The main attraction at the Jardin des Plantes zoo in Paris, she spends her days being observed by crowds of people (around 500,000 a year) who speculate on her activities, her looks, her health, her mates and whether she's happy, lonely, depressed or just fed up of being in captivity since arriving in France from Borneo in 1972.

These voices drift in and out of Nnette, supplying a running commentary that director Nicolas Philibert uses to subtly tell the story of his subject's life in a way that complements the unwavering and unobtrusive gaze of his camera.

Best known as the director of the gently heartbreaking country school documentary tre et Avoir, Philibert is a master of this kind of minimalistic filmmaking and he's found a perfect subject in Nnette who becomes more of an enigma as the film progresses. Indeed, the more time we spend with her, the more we realise how much this magnificent primate resists conforming to the preconceptions and fleeting anthropomorphic-tinged observations of her visitors.

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