Mr Turner (12A, 150 mins)

Drama/Romance. Timothy Spall, Paul Jesson, Dorothy Atkinson, Marion Bailey, Karl Johnson, Ruth Sheen, Lesley Manville, Sandy Foster, Amy Dawson, Nicholas Jones, James Fleet. Director: Mike Leigh. Released: October 31

On his death bed, celebrated landscape painter and watercolourist Joseph Mallord William Turner, who was a divisive figure in the 19th-century art world, reportedly lamented, "So I am to become a non-entity."

Mike Leigh's impeccably crafted biopic, which concentrates on the final 25 years of the artist's career, ensures the genius of Turner lives on.

Anchored by a magnificent central performance from Timothy Spall, Mr Turner is another glorious ensemble piece from the writer-director of Topsy-Turvy and Vera Drake.

Developed through improvisational workshops, which are the trademark of Leigh's filmmaking process, the script melds historical fact with personal interpretation to burrow deep beneath the surface of the characters and expose the desires and fears which drove some to greatness and others to despair.

When it comes to greatness, Spall's embodiment of an artist with few social graces and a surplus of talent is the stuff that Oscars were made of.

The London-born actor spent two years learning how to paint like Turner so he could convincingly hold a brush and palette in front of the camera, allowing Leigh to capture visceral scenes of artistic creativity in full flow.

Mr Turner opens with the breathtaking image of the artist capturing the rising sun over fields in Belgium.

He returns to London and the home he shares with his father William (Paul Jesson) and housekeeper Hannah Danby (Dorothy Atkinson).

The relationship between the two men is sketched in exquisite, heart-warming detail in these early scenes, with Turner warmly embracing his "daddy".

Turner channels his energy into his work, which continues to raise eyebrows at the Royal Academy Of Arts.

"The universe is chaotic and you make us see it," observes Turner's good friend Mary Somerville (Lesley Manville).

During excursions to Margate, Turner meets Mrs Booth (Marion Bailey) and her husband (Karl Johnson) and rents a room from the couple so he can paint seascapes by the morning light.

The burgeoning relationship between the artist and Mrs Booth sweetens the bitter pill of William's passing and Turner continues to clash with the artistic establishment, represented here by Sir John Soane (Nicholas Jones) and his coterie.

Mr Turner is a glorious period piece that offers us a glimpse behind the canvasses of a misunderstood maverick, who notes at one point, "When I peruse myself in a looking glass, I see a gargoyle."

Spall is imperious and Leigh surrounds his lead star with an impeccable supporting cast of familiar faces including Jesson as an honest, hard-working man of the world who believed "the rain falls, the sun shines and the onions grow" and Atkinson as the housekeeper who allows Turner to use her to sate his sexual desires.

The 150-minute running time passes too quickly, holding our attention with ravishing costumes and period detail as well as a haunting orchestral score from composer Gary Yershon.

Very nearly a masterpiece.

Rating 9/10


Nightcrawler (15, 117 mins)

Thriller/Action. Jake Gyllenhaal, Riz Ahmed, Rene Russo, Kevin Rahm, Bill Paxton. Director: Dan Gilroy. Released: October 31 (UK & Ireland)

Set on the mean streets of modern day Los Angeles, Dan Gilroy's directorial debut is a delicious and twisted media satire starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a ghoulish loner called Louis Bloom, who exploits human misery for personal gain.

It's a tour-de-force and genuinely creepy performance from the handsome Oscar-nominated star of Brokeback Mountain, who has shed a significant amount of weight to portray an emaciated social limpet, who lives by the mantra that good things come to those who work hard.

In the case of Nightcrawler, this 'work' involves monitoring a police scanner, racing to crime scenes and capturing gruesome footage of critically injured victims on a handheld camera to sell to TV news stations, who are hungry for raw footage of real-life crime.

Gilroy's lean script doesn't shy away from the despicable and morally repugnant actions of the bloodthirsty anti-hero, nor does it forget to remind us that we are culpable for devouring this graphic news footage.

If only we turned off, or could drive past a motorway accident without glancing at the carnage when we should be concentrating on the road ahead...

Louis is a product of base human desires and, like a vampire, he feeds off them with ghoulish glee.

When we first meet Louis, he's struggling to find direction in life, until he pulls over on a highway close to a fatal accident and meets cameraman Joe Loder (Bill Paxton).

"If it bleeds, it leads," cackles Joe, who sells his footage to the highest bidder.

Louis purchases a small camera and tries his luck then approaches Nina Romina (Rene Russo), ratings-hungry editor of the graveyard shift at one news station, with amateurish footage of a victim fighting for life.

She pays up and explains that her perfect newscast is "a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut".

Taking these words to his blackened heart, Louis hires an inexperienced protege called Rick (Riz Ahmed) to capture gangland shootings, murder and misfortune in grisly close-up.

At first, Rick recoils in disgust but inexorably, Louis moulds his employee in his own warped image.

Nightcrawler is a bravura and audacious debut from Gilroy that captures Los Angeles at its most grimy.

Every crackle of Louis' police scanner heralds potential doom and the director impresses in a pivotal action sequence, which sees Louis and Rick join a police chase in pursuit of valuable footage, regardless of the risks to pedestrians or other drivers.

Gyllenhaal distorts his screen image as a charming, buff leading man beyond recognition, slithering through each frame like a predator in search of the next kill.

Russo is luminous in a meaty supporting role and London-born actor Ahmed captures the right mix of naivete and nervousness as a fellow passenger on this sickening descent into the abyss.

Rating: 8/10


Horns (15, 120 mins)

Romance/Thriller/Horror. Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple, Joe Anderson, Max Minghella, David Morse, Kelli Garner, James Remar, Kathleen Quinlan, Heather Graham. Director: Alexandre Aja. Released: October 29 (UK & Ireland)

Something wicked this way comes as Harry Potter heartthrob Daniel Radcliffe becomes a horny little devil in Alexandre Aja's quirky supernatural thriller.

Lord Voldemort would be proud of his transformation into a vengeful, flame-spewing demon, whose presence compels the damned to succumb to their most primal impulses.

Lusty work colleagues throw off the shackles of politeness and engage in frenetic sex; an exhausted mother fantasizes about inflicting physical violence on a screaming child; a recovering drug addict hungrily snorts an entire stash of narcotics - destined for the oblivion of an overdose.

Aja, director of The Hills Have Eyes and Piranha 3D, remains rooted in the horror genre with Horns but there's more soul-searching than gratuitous gore in this serpentine whodunit about a young man who is suspected of murdering his girlfriend in a jealous rage.

Ig Perrish (Radcliffe) only has eyes for neighbour Merrin Williams (Juno Temple).

Their romance blossoms in childhood when they play together as part of a gang with Ig's older brother Terry (Joe Anderson) and good friend Lee (Max Minghella).

On the day that Ig is poised to go down on bended knee, Merrin orchestrates a very public break-up in a diner.

The following morning, police discover Merrin's lifeless body below her favourite treehouse in the forest and a drunken and dishevelled Ig in his car with no memory of the night before.

A voracious media scrum descends and Merrin's father Dale (David Morse) makes clear that he believes Ig is the killer.

"As long as he is free, there is no way her soul can be laid to rest," rages the father.

After a night of excessive booze - a pitiful attempt to salve his grief - Ig regains consciousness with a raging hangover and discovers that he has a pair of horns growing out of his head.

The devilish outcrops compel locals to confess their sins and Ig realises he can exploit his new-found powers of persuasion to uncover the circumstances of Merrin's death and unmask a murderer.

Horns is blessed with one of Radcliffe's best screen performances.

Sporting an impeccable American accent, he teases out his character's maelstrom of emotions, laced with mordant wit like when Ig survives a vicious beating and quips, "One thing I'll say in my favour, I'm hard to kill!"

Anderson and Minghella offer strong performances, while Temple casts a dreamy glow as the flame-haired free spirit, who drives men to madness.

Black humour walks hand in hand with brutality as Ig's haphazard investigation twists and turns.

The blood-spattered and bone-crunching denouement can't resist a flourish of digital effects to unleash hell, literally, on earth.

But for the most part, director Aja shows admirable restraint, revelling in the depravity and dark desires of a close-knit community, which assumes people are guilty until proven innocent.

Rating: 7/10


Ouija (15, 89 mins)

Horror/Thriller/Romance. Shelley Hennig, Olivia Cooke, Daren Kagasoff, Ana Coto, Douglas Smith, Bianca Santos, Lin Shaye, Vivis Colombetti. Director: Stiles White. Released: October 31 (UK & Ireland)

On two occasions in Stiles White's supernatural horror, ill-fated characters spell out the golden rules of how to play safely with a Ouija spirit board.

Never play on your own, never play in a graveyard, and always sign off by moving the heart-shaped planchette over GOODBYE.

It sounds simple enough but, within minutes of establishing these dos and don'ts, grief-stricken high school students are recklessly ignoring their own advice and find themselves at the mercy of a malevolent force.

"It's only a game," nervously whispers one girl.

The naivete of characters in hoary horror films never ceases to amaze.

White's film, co-written by his wife Juliet Snowden, punctuates a predictable and increasingly preposterous plot with obligatory cheap scares, which all involve a member of the cast appearing unexpectedly, accompanied by a discordant screech from composer Anton Sanko.

As a big screen Halloween haunting, Ouija is pitifully short of both tricks and treats.

High school student Debbie (Shelley Hennig) consults a spirit board on her own and takes a tumble over her balcony with a string of fairy lights wrapped around her neck.

Classmates struggle to make sense of her apparent suicide.

"I never got a chance to say goodbye," sobs Debbie's best friend Laine (Olivia Cooke) to her boyfriend Trevor (Daren Kagasoff).

During a nostalgic final tour of Debbie's bedroom, Laine discovers an antique Ouija board and decides to rally the troops to make contact with their late friend and say their tearful goodbyes.

"Do not go seeking answers from the dead," warns Laine's superstitious grandmother (Vivis Colombetti), the only person in the neighbourhood who isn't blinkered to the neon-lit bad omens.

"Get rid of the board!"

Unperturbed, Laine convenes at Debbie's house with her truculent younger sister Sarah (Ana Coto), Debbie's boyfriend Pete (Douglas Smith), gal pal Isabelle (Bianca A Santos) and Trevor to open a connection to the spirit world.

Unwittingly, the friends make contact with a dark force that inhabits the house and torments the teenagers with the same greeting: HI FRIEND.

The body count rises and Laine follows a trail of clues leading to a patient in Hoover State Care Psychiatric Hospital with intimate knowledge of the house's previous occupants.

Ouija follows a linear path from ho-hum to hokum and clearly signposts the characters' demises including a dip in a swimming pool that takes almost the entire film to come to lacklustre fruition.

Cooke looks pretty with tears in her eyes and her mouth contorted in fear while attractive co-stars are content to put themselves in harm's way.

Director White maintains a plodding pace, even during a climactic race against time to banish the evil.

We're itching to grab the spirit board and say GOODBYE to Ouija well before the blessed relief of the end credits.

Rating: 4/10


The Necessary Death Of Charlie Countryman (15, 103 mins)

Drama/Romance.Shia LaBeouf, Evan Rachel Wood, Mads Mikkelsen, Til Schweiger, James Buckley, Rupert Grint, Ion Caramitru, Melissa Leo, Vincent D'Onofrio. Director: Fredrik Bond.Released: October 31 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

Fredrik Bond's directorial debut is a magical realist fable masquerading as a romance across the language divide, which takes occasional detours into brash comedy and violent crime.

The Necessary Death Of Charlie Countryman is a curious case of creative overload in desperate need of a coherent structure and direction.

Somewhere amidst the poetic slow motion chases, drug-fuelled dream sequences and Sixth Sense-style conversations with the dearly departed, there are glimmers of a poignant and life-affirming tale of loss and remembrance.

Whether audiences will have the patience to find these diamond moments in the rough is debatable.

Screenwriter Matt Drake reportedly drew inspiration from his own experiences in Romania for the disjointed script, which includes a bizarre interlude with an ambulance that seems to be a half-hearted nod to Cristi Puiu's 2005 tragicomedy The Death Of Mr Lazarescu.

Cliches and pop culture references sporadically bubble to the surface, like when one of the film's villains decides against a quick summation of his perplexing subplot.

"I would love to explain it to you like a James Bond movie, but I have things to do," he growls unrealistically.

Charlie Countryman (Shia LaBeouf) sits in a Chicago hospital room with his father Bill (Vincent D'Onofrio) as a nurse turns off the life support of his mother Kate (Melissa Leo).

Soon after, he sees Kate's spirit in a hallway and begs her to tell him what to do with his directionless life.

"Go to Bucharest," she responds.

Accepting these words of wisdom, Charlie boards a flight to Bucharest and befriends an elderly passenger called Victor Ibanescu (Ion Caramitru).

The old man dies in his sleep and his spirit begs Charlie to deliver a gift intended for his daughter.

At the airport, the American abroad befriends Victor's daughter Gabi (Evan Rachel Wood).

They kindle an awkward romance but Gabi has an emotionally unstable husband called Nigel (Mads Mikkelsen), who has connections to the Romanian criminal underworld including a thug called Darko (Til Schweiger).

Meanwhile, Charlie settles into shared lodgings at the Marco Polo Youth Hostel with two British tourists (James Buckley, Rupert Grint), who lead him astray with their stash of mind-bending narcotics.

The Necessary Death Of Charlie Countryman is more of a lukewarm muddle than a hot mess.

Visually, Bond conjures some arresting sequences and he makes excellent use of the Romanian locations including the resplendent National Opera House.

LaBeouf adopts a mournful gaze, one sniffle away from full-blown waterworks, even when he is kindling screen chemistry with Wood.

Buckley revisits his Inbetweeners alter ego while Grint says expelliarmus to Harry Potter as an aspiring adult film actor - nom-de-porn: Boris Pecker - who endures extreme physical discomfort after swallowing six Viagra pills.

He rises magnificently to the occasion; Bond's film less so.

Rating: 5/10