Movies to watch this week at the cinema: Victor Frankenstein, Sunset Song, more...

Out on Friday 4 December

Radcliffe and McAvoy do Frankenstein. Rogen, Mackie and Gordon-Levitt do Christmas. Yes, heres this weeks new releases. Click on for our reviews of Victor Frankenstein, Sunset Song, The Night Before, Krampus, Chemsex, Christmas With The Coopers, The Lesson, The Show Of Shows, The Honourable Rebel and Future Shock! The Story Of 2000 AD. For the best movie reviews, subscribe to Total Film.

VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN

Its no good griping that Max Landis (Chronicle) riff on Mary Shelleys classic text throws in backstories and a love story and a crazed chimpanzee called Gordon cinemas most famous Frankenstein adaptations, by Universal, Hammer and Mel Brooks, are equally patchwork affairs, as befits a source story about creating new life from ransacked body parts. More concerning is that for all the bellowed banter, mad-eyed compulsion and steampunk set-pieces (the thunderous finale set in a cliff-top castle looks to Marvel on how to close out a picture), Victor Frankenstein rarely gets viewers hearts pumping, least of all with emotion. Pitched as both an origin story and a bromance, Landis screenplay begins with James McAvoys titular scientist rescuing a scientifically minded hunchback (Daniel Radcliffe) from the circus. Draining his hump (icky) and naming him Igor (funny), Frankenstein enlists this upright young man as his assistant, the pair seeking to conjure life from death. First they animate a pair of milky eyes floating in electric jelly, then Gordon, a homunculus with a chimps head, and finally an oversized mishmash of a man. McAvoy gives it his considerable all as the charming, monomaniacal, bullying Victor, and Radcliffe brings his innate likeability to the surgeons table, whether hes experimenting with an accent or dropping it altogether. Each murky frame is bursting with grime and clutter this is cutting-edge (Victorian) science in the way Alien is futuristic sci-fi: lived-in, ramshackle, all clunk and clatter while the novels key themes of obsession, rampant ambition and the perils of playing God are all present if not quite correct. Why? Because everything is too busy, too loud, too determined to do for Frankenstein what Guy Ritchie (big screen) and Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss (small screen) have done for Sherlock Holmes. Director Paul McGuigan helmed four episodes of BBCs Sherlock but here the grafts dont quite take. The result is far from monstrous but it's hardly divine, either. THE VERDICT: Fun enough, but not the lightning-bolt-to-the-heart update we hoped for. For a far superior update of the Frankenstein myth, read Stephen Kings Revival. Director: Paul McGuigan Starring: James McAvoy, Daniel Radcliffe, Jessica Brown Findlay, Andrew Scott Theatrical release: 3 December 2015 Jamie Graham

SUNSET SONG

The past is a foreign country, and rarely more so than when its deep rural Aberdeenshire in the years before World War I. Chris Guthrie (Agyness Deyn), growing up on a remote croft under the fierce eye of her patriarch-bearded father (Peter Mullan), dreams of a wider world but remains tied to the land where she was born. Terence Davies, working to his own script, lovingly adapts the classic 1932 Scots novel by Lewis Grassic Gibbon into a film that moves with the rhythm of the seasons. Fans of fast-paced action may be put off, but for those who can adjust to the ruminative pace of Sunset Song, there are riches in store. After her eye-catching turn in Electricity, model-turned-actress Deyn here finds a role ideally suited to her wide-eyed expressive features and pre-Raphaelite beauty. As Chris, growing into womanhood, becoming ever more conscious of her independence and sensuality, she gives a deeply felt performance, well matched by Mullan as her brutal dad. (Oppressive fathers have long haunted Davies work, linking back to his early autobiographical films like Distant Voices, Still Lives.) Michael McDonoughs camera pans lovingly across the glorious Highland landscapes (much of them, admittedly, shot in New Zealand) as the action sweeps over the years and the shadow of war reaches out to darken and destroy the lives of this small community. Its not all poignancy. There are moments of humour and whole scenes of celebration not least Chriss wedding, her barn spruced up for feasting, music and dance. and for all the visual grandeur this is a film of touching intimacy, the sense of one life experiencing joy and hardship and surviving it all. Only towards the end does the film start to stumble, with an ill-advised transition to the mud and desolation of the trenches that breaks the integrity of the action. But that apart, Davies long-nurtured plan to film Gibbons novel has come to rich fruition THE VERDICT: A warm, intimate epic of Scots rural life from Terence Davies, filmed with palpable affection and framing a central performance of emotional intensity. Director: Terence Davies Starring: Agyness Deyn, Peter Mullan, Kevin Guthrie, Jack Greenlees, Ian Pirie Theatrical release: 4 December 2015 Philip Kemp

THE NIGHT BEFORE

Christmas is just the worst thing going, let's face it. The drained bank accounts, the forced encounters with half-remembered relatives, the awkward office parties... it's all too much. Even worse than the holiday itself are the syrupy, cloying films about Christmas. Yuletide movies are generally as life-affirming as last-minute shopping frenzies on 24 December. Which is why The Night Before is so refreshing. Yes, it ends on a celebratory note they all do but along the way, it properly knocks our intrepid heroes around, dragging them through a druggy night of craziness. The true spirit of Christmas is challenged at every turn meanwhile, homage is paid to all the festive perennials you can think of, including Die Hard, Home Alone and The Grinch. The story centres on sadsack Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a 30-something basket case unable to move forward after his recent break-up with girlfriend Diana (Lizzy Kaplan). His two best buds Isaac (Seth Rogan) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) have a long-standing tradition of taking Ethan out for a night of boozy hijinks every Christmas Eve, but their busy lives have made it more of a chore every year. Ethan manages to steal tickets to the most exclusive party in New York, a white whale the trio have been chasing for over a decade. As they stumble through the city's urban wonderland in search of the Nutcracker Ball, attempts are made to mend their strained friendships. Our trio runs into various ghost of Christmases past, present and future, including Michael Shannon's deadpan drug dealer Mr. Green and Ilana Grazer (TV's Broad City) as a sex-crazed grinch. Meanwhile, Rogen's character inhales more drugs and embarrasses pretty much the whole city. Directed by 50/50's Jonathan Levine, The Night Before is essentially Superbad for the holidays. Funny, cynical, and warm in all the right ways, this could finally be the Christmas movie for people who hate Christmas movies. THE VERDICT: If buddy movies are your thing but Christmas flicks aren't, you'll enjoy this refreshingly edgy romp about three friends lost in the city full of hallucinogens and regrets. Director: Jonathan Levine Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie, Lizzy Caplan, Michael Shannon Theatrical release: 4 December 2015 Ken McIntyre

KRAMPUS

If you thought Gremlins had a twisted take on Christmas, brace yourself for Krampus. Forged in the image of that Joe Dante classic, its assortment of festive fiends are the stuff of snowbound nightmares as young Max (Emjay Anthony) and his family battle the titular anti-Santa. What's most surprising about director Michael Dougherty's film is just how dark he pushes the wintry frights. Early scenes recall Home Alone as Max's ma (Toni Collette) and pa (Adam Scott) wind up hosting half the family over the festive season. Squabbling kids and booze-happy aunts are the least of their problems, though, when Max's disillusionment over the festive season sees him inadvertently summoning Krampus, a horned monstrosity with an army of razor-toothed nasties. When they're finally unmasked, these mostly prosthetic critters are a grim delight, while an animated interlude amps up the invention (even if it is little more than window-dressing). With its blizzards, creepy snowmen and gung-ho cast, there are moments where Krampus scrapes the underbelly of brilliance. A slow-burn mid-section and a try-hard climax limit its impact, meaning this isn't quite a festive classic, but it sleighs, ahem, slays the majority of recent Christmas movies. Director: Michael Dougherty Starring: Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner, Allison Tolman, Conchata Ferrell, Emjay Anthony, Stefania LaVie Owen, Krista Stadler Theatrical release: 4 December 2015 Josh Winning

CHEMSEX

They call it slamming the slang name for injecting GHB, ephedrone or crystal meth, particularly during sex parties; and among the UKs gay community its become something of a high-risk epidemic. (And thats before we get into the practice of deliberate HIV self-infection.) In this excellent, timely and harrowing expos, former and current drug addicts bravely bare their souls (and plenty else besides), while health professionals describe how new drugs, new tech, and a lonely, alienated community emerging from a traumatic past have all contributed to form this perfect storm. Directors: William Fairman, Max Gogarty Theatrical release: 4 December 2015 Ali Catterall

CHRISTMAS WITH THE COOPERS

In a similar vein to Valentines Day or New Years Eve, this semi-anthology movie serves up a Christmas feast of mawkish goodwill. Luckily, it's stuffed with enough star quality to offset the slush. Bickering marrieds Diane Keaton and John Goodman are waiting until after the holidays to tell their kids unemployed divorcee Ed Helms and lively 'disappointment' Olivia Wilde that they're separating. Factor in grandpa Alan Arkin and his protective friendship with waitress Amanda Seyfried, plus shoplifting sister Marisa Tomei counselling closeted cop Anthony Mackie, and there's plenty to distract from the clunky dialogue and corny twists. Director: Jessie Nelson Starring: Diane Keaton, John Goodman, Olivia Wilde, Ed Helms, Marisa Tomei, Anthony Mackie, Alan Arkin, Amanda Seyfried, Jake Lacey, Alex Borstein Theatrical release: 1 December 2015 Matt Looker

THE LESSON

Unfolding in contemporary provincial Bulgaria, this impressively controlled debut feature from writer/ directors Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov focuses on 30-something female English teacher and translator Nadezhda (Margita Gosheva). Discovering that her marital home is to be repossessed in just three days, she is driven to extreme measures in her efforts to come up with the necessary money. The Lesson owes a thing or two to the Dardenne brothers social-realist dramas, but thanks in part to Goshevas terrific performance, it remains a gripping study of human principles. Directors: Kristina Groseva, Petar Valchanov Starring: Margita Gosleva, Ivan Barnev Theatrical release: 4 December 2015 Tom Dawson

THE SHOW OF SHOWS

Presented as one long series of silent clips from the archives, this documentary presents footage of circus performances and cabaret throughout the ages, all set to a stirring score composed in part by Georg Holm and Orri Pll Drason of Sigur Rs. The display of vintage circus showmanship is charming enough and the feats on display captivate for a time, but the conveyor-belt format is a test for any attention span, especially as it lacks any real insight into its subject matter. At the very least, youll be wishing that Harry Hill was narrating each potential mishap. Director: Benedikt Erlingsson Theatrical release: 4 December 2015 Matt Looker

THE HONOURABLE REBEL

Mixing archival footage, talking heads, fictional dramatisations and a first-person voiceover, this sort-of docudrama inventively tells the story of Elizabeth Montagu, from her aristocratic upbringing to her involvement in World War II. Is her story really worthy enough, though? Her problems certainly feel trivial when juxtaposed with a tense opening scene depicting a Jewish man trying to avoid detection from a Nazi officer. Things do pick up when she finds herself behind enemy lines in occupied France only to tail away again when the war ends and the story moves on to her later life. Director: Mike Fraser Starring: Diana Rigg, Dorothea Myer-Bennett Theatrical release: 4 December 2015 Stephen Puddicombe

FUTURE SHOCK! THE STORY OF 2000 AD

The story of revered sci-fi weekly 2000 AD (birthplace of Judge Dredd) is one of innovative, homegrown talent. Though largely celebratory, this talking-head doc also pulls no punches in revealing the failed business model that almost broke the comic, mainly through initially not crediting, and then underappreciating, its staff. Former writers like Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman and Pat Mills all give their insights, although it misses contributions from Mark Millar and, unsurprisingly, Alan Moore. Nonetheless, we're left in no doubt of Dredd and co's indelible impact on modern pop culture. Director: Paul Goodwin Starring: Dan Abnett, Geoff Barrow, Emma Beeby, Karen Berger, Lauren Beukes, David Bishop, Brian BollandTheatrical release: 4 December 2015 Matt Looker

ATTACK ON TITAN: PARTS 1 & 2

About 10 minutes in, a giant nippleless woman stuffs a church full of teenagers into her mouth. Whatever you think of Shinji Higuchis mad manga adap, you wont have seen anything else like it. The opening assault wherein a horde of huge naked extras gobble up the inhabitants of a steampunk town is actually the least WTF moment in Tohos live-action two-parter, which sees plucky survivor Eren (Haruma Miura) fighting back with jetpacks, samurai swords and more than a few genuinely bonkers plot twists. It might be a bit of a mess, but it's never dull. Director: Shinji Higuchi Starring: Haruma Miura, Hiroki Hasegawa, Kanata Hong Theatrical release: 1 December 2015 Paul Bradshaw