Alan Dee’s guide to the new cinema releases

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THERE’S a varied field of runners and riders under starter’s orders for this week’s Box Office Stakes, but there’s one nag which is undoubtedly installed as odds-on favourite.

It has the pedigree, it has the form, and can only be handicapped by hype and expectation.

We’re talking about War Horse, of course, Steven Spielberg’s latest venture into the area and humanity.

From popular children’s book to surprise West End stage hit, former children’s laureate Michael Morpurgo’s story of a love between a boy and his horse comes across a bit like Black Beauty On The Western Front.

But even though Spielberg’s trademark soppiness and eagerness to please the audience are in evidence, this is a handsome and star-studded drama which offers a satisfying wallow.

It’s not a gallop by any means – a running rime of nearly 21/2 hours could leave anyone a bit saddle sore – as we follow a Devon farmhand and his maned mate from the bucolic countryside to the hell of the trenches and back again.

The horse, as it happens, gets called up first but the boy takes the King’s shilling in a bid to rescue the stirling steed from the fate that can befall any nag unwise enough to enter French territory, or worse.

> Here’s a clever way to cut down on the special effects budget – the aliens invading Moscow in The Darkest Hour are invisible. Brilliant!

There’s still a lot of 3D trickery and general eyeball amazement here, though, as five young and gorgeous party people making the most of the Russian capital’s nightlife are caught up in the invasion by the aforementioned invisible aliens who are intent on sucking up every bit of power they can plug into.

Fans of the likes of Cloverfield and Battle Los Angeles will feel right at home, and for once it’s a sci fi thriller which isn’t based in the States.

> You’ll need to concentrate if you opt for Margin Call, in which the likes of Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, and Stanley Tucci slip into slick suits and do battle as an investment bank starts to fall apart.

Crisis meetings continue through the night as the big guys try to work out how to save their skins.

First-time writer/director J.C. Chandor is given enormous help by a terrific cast – think Glengarry Glen Ross updated to the present day.

> If you’re on a diet, contemplating Christmas bills and generally affected by New Year gloom, then comfort yourself that some people are in an even worse place.

They certainly are in Steve McQueen’s Shame, with Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan centre stage in a grim tale of addiction and desire.

Fassbender’s a shallow porn freak, Mulligan is his self-harming sister, you won’t find many laughs but there’s a sizzling soundtrack and both stars give it all they’ve got.