Geoff Cox’s guide to new DVD releases (14.09.11)

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EVERY tween’s favourite vampire takes a break from nibbling necks to learn some circus tricks in WATER FOR ELEPHANTS (12: Twentieth Century Fox).

After all his adolescent mooching in the Twilight movies, Robert Pattinson emerges as a mature leading man in this old-fashioned story.

But he still manages plenty of quiet brooding as the lost and lonely Jacob, who runs away with the circus during the Great Depression and becomes the show’s vet.

He falls head over heels for troubled tumbler Marlena (Reese Witherspoon) and her elephant sidekick Rosie, but Marlena is married to domineering ringmaster August (Christoph Waltz), who views both his wife and his animals as his property.

If you recall Waltz’s Oscar-winning performance in Inglourious Basterds, you won’t be surprised to see that he adds fire and urgency to an otherwise smouldering romantic tale.

Although there’s a believable rapport between Pattinson and Witherspoon, true passion is lacking and Jacob’s youthful idealism doesn’t inspire action until very late in the tale.

This adaptation of Sarah Gruen’s best-selling novel eventually builds to an impressive finale and director Francis (I Am Legend) Lawrence paints a dark and dreamy picture of circus life.

But it’s that which draws the viewer in rather than the slightly tepid love affair.

> Don’t be put off by the slang, drugs and council-estate backdrop in ATTACK THE BLOCK (15: Optimum).

For here we have an energetic horror comedy that’s scary and very funny.

Writer/director Joe Cornish, making his feature debut, combines his love of 1980s creature capers like Gremlins with a more contemporary concern – fear of teenage hoodies.

His south London update of The Goonies contains characters who are first seen mugging a nurse.

Yet they are soon forced to find the hero within when their ‘block’ is targeted by sharp-toothed alien invaders.

The non-stop siege action is staged around the estate’s walkways, garages and recycling bins and Cornish skilfully draws upon his local, relatively inexperienced cast’s ear for street language without patronising them.

Led by hardman Moses (John Boyega) and stoner Pest (Alex Esmail), the cocky quintet, along with Luke Treadaway’s posh boy and Nick Frost’s avuncular dope dealer, are deftly drawn as three-dimensional.

> TOMORROW, WHEN THE WAR BEGAN (12: Paramount) was last year’s highest-grossing Australian film and a sequel was quickly given the green light.

Based on a series of young adult novels Down Under, it’s shaping up to be a franchise that’s here to stay.

This accomplished action flick has the same premise that drove the Reagan-era hit Red Dawn, with teenagers taking up arms against foreign invaders.

Sensibly, however, it ditches the Commie-bating and overblown flag-waving and the actual identity of the occupying forces depicted is sketched over.

Instead the film focuses on how eight frightened youngsters from a sleepy backwater town transform themselves into a guerilla unit.

Director Stuart Beattie’s writing credits include Pirates Of The Caribbean and Collateral, so he knows his way around a thrilling action set-piece and he also draws believable performances from his young and largely unknown cast.

> The perennial problem with party films is that the viewer is made to feel like a wallflower, looking on from the sidelines.

Low-budget British comedy drama WEEKENDER (15: Momentum), set in 1990, does nothing to dispel that sense of distance.

Everything about charismatic young Manchester rogues Matt (Henry Lloyd-Hughes) and Dylan (Jack O’Connell) seems familiar from the outset.

They are first glimpsed sweet-talking their way into stealing a cigarette machine from a bar in broad daylight before they decide to capitalise on the emerging dance scene by running illegal raves in disused warehouses, making a fortune in the process.

Along the way there’s a doped-out DJ (Captain Acid), a visit to Ibiza and threats to their venture from police and gangsters, not to mention a cliched romantic sub-plot.

The acting and direction are stylish and brash, with a confidence teetering dangerously close to smugness.

> In MY BEST ENEMY (15: Metrodome), set just before the Second World War, as Nazi Germany sought to annex Austria and extend its grip across Europe, a secret is uncovered by the SS.

Hoping to secure an historical artefact, they imprison the family involved and confiscate their possessions. But when one of the victims is taken to Berlin for interrogation, a twist of fate throws him and his jailer into a battle between a renegade band of resistance militia and the enemy.

To save his family, the prisoner must choose between vengeance or laying his life on the line to defend his family and fight for his people