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Film Round-Up March 09

VictoriaVicky Cristina Barcelona (cert 12a; 96 mins) is touted as Woody Allen's return to form. Two young American women (Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall) take a vacation in Barcelona where their contrasting approaches to love become apparent. It's likeable, but you wonder if an old director focusing on young women is trying to evade the issue of mortality. For that subject, you're better off with Darren Aronofsky's astounding The Wrestler (cert 15; 109 mins) and its amazing performance by another comeback kid, the grizzled, burnt out Mickey Rourke.

Clint Eastwood casts himself in Gran Torino (cert 15; 116 mins) as a Korean War vet whose Hmong (Chinese) neighbours' teenage son is being pressurised to join a gang and is forced to steal the ex-Ford worker Clint's cherished Gran Torino car. The kid botches it. The neighbours make him work for Clint doing odd jobs and a son/substitute father relationship develops. What follows is an incisive study of tension between the ageing population and their youthful counterparts - and WASPs and immigrants - with some unexpected observations about violence and non-violence.

Disaffected youth also feature in the French The Class (cert 128; 15 mins) as a teacher rises to the challenges posed by a group of difficult, ethnically diverse students. Much use is made of improvisation among the non-actor adolescents who comprise his class. Worth seeing, if a little overlong.

The first part of an epic trilogy, Japan's 20th Century Boys (cert 15; 142 mins) chops between flashback childhood memories of a bunch of friends and the eve of the Millennium where they face a mysterious religious cult, masterminded by an arch-villain named Friend who plans to pulverise Tokyo with a giant robot. At once trashy and strangely engaging, it's much better than it sounds.

The Young Victoria (cert 15; 109 mins) casts Emily Blunt (below) as the Queen, charting her teenage years, ascension to the throne and romance with Albert (Rupert Friend). The tone varies between romantic cliche and fascinating historical detail - for instance the Kensington System where the teenager is not permitted to move between palace rooms without an appropriate person taking her hand. The interior locations are impressive and the whole boasts a strong eye for visual period detail.

In Surveillance (cert 18; 97 mins) two FBI agents cross-examine witnesses to a series of gruesome murders. The director Jennifer Lynch (the daughter of David) populates a terrifying, amoral universe with a cast of quirky and bizarre characters - to hugely idiosyncratic and original effect.

Jeremy Clarke