BLUE IN THE FACE Wayne Wang / Paul Auster (15) ROUGH MAGIC Clare Peploe (12) MONEY TRAIN Joseph Ruben (18) FRANKIE STARLIGHT Michael Lindsay- Hogg (nc)

Nothing strikes fear into the moviegoer's heart like "improvisation" (except, perhaps, the words "... starring Charlie Sheen"). Too often this technique, employed to conjure up stretches of fluid, unrestrained cinema, actually creates the opposite - stiffly played, sparsely directed longueurs in which people drink coffee and scream a lot. You can glimpse such design flaws every now and then in Wayne Wang and Paul Auster's film Blue in the Face, but not often enough to ruin your enjoyment of what is a sassy and jubilant slice of on-the-hoof lunacy.

Wang and Auster knocked the movie together immediately after completing their previous collaboration, Smoke. Blue in the Face shares a clutch of characters with its sister film - Auggie Wren (Harvey Keitel), the jovial owner of the Brooklyn Cigar Company, the New York corner-store, which is the core of both films, leads us through a flurry of unrelated episodes populated by star cameos, backed up by his little trio of chums, notably Tommy (Giancarlo Esposito), a bristlingly funny wolf in chic clothing.

Given the picture's ramshackle conception (it was shot in under a week, with the cast riffing before the camera in various hastily-arranged scenarios), the higgledy-piggledy observations which bob to the surface are surprisingly coherent. And from those shaggy-dog stories, you get a poignant, cumulative sense of the paradox of Brooklyn, where myriad cultures converge but each rubs the other up the wrong way; and of the Brooklynite's ever-present tension between staying and fleeing, brilliantly exemplified by Lou Reed's monotone monologues (passing his skew-whiff judgement on Sweden, "Sweden scares me. Everyone's drunk. Everything works"). That frizzy perm, the deadpan delivery, those gags - this guy should be in showbiz.

Most of his co-stars already are. There are delicious walk-ons from Lily Tomlin, Michael J Fox and Roseanne; there's even a perfectly agreeable performance by Madonna. My favourite, though, was the director Jim Jarmusch, who pops into Keitel's store to share the joy of that last-cigarette-before- quitting. He embodies Blue in the Face at its richest: dry but dippy, strung-out yet still searching. But a warning to anyone trying to kick nicotine: Jarmusch's vividly poetic eulogy to his newly retired habit had me reaching for the Marlboros, and I don't even smoke.

You get the feeling that Rough Magic is everything it could possibly have been, and yet that doesn't feel like nearly enough. It's a sparky 1950s love story between a magician's assistant (Bridget Fonda) and a reporter (Russell Crowe) en route to Mexico City. No, wait. It's a tongue-in-cheek thrills 'n' spills adventure about Fonda joining up with dubious quack Doc Ansell (Jim Broadbent) in the quest for a secret elixir. No, hang on a sec. It's a brooding B-movie pastiche about one woman's search for love and faith in a time of chaos.

Whatever it is, it's directed with flair by Clare Peploe, who elicits spirited straight-faced playing from Fonda, and shot with a frugal grace by Gus Van Sant collaborator John J Campbell. So much attention has been lavished on the immaculate period detail that you're saddened when all you can recall is the scene where a man gets transformed into a hot dog. Could it be magic? Only for those who don't get out enough.

Mind the pap: Money Train is a shambolic comedy-thriller which reunites Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson, who whipped up some crackling banter in White Men Can't Jump five years ago, and casts them as a pair of cops hatching a plan to become the latest great train robbers. This is cheap, gaudy and anachronistic, an inelegant mess of colliding plot-lines and stunted characters, beefed up with some objectionable violence and derailed by the inability of the director, Joseph Ruben, to unfold a simple narrative. And those are just the good points. I predict that this train will call at all stations to your video store bargain bin.

Frankie Starlight is a small film about a small man. Frank Bois (Corban Walker) is a dwarf who ambles into a literary agent's office and presents the manuscript of his autobiography. Of course, this means we have to be ushered through the entire wretched thing in painstaking flashback, from the arrival in Ireland of Frank's mother (Anne Parillaud, so leaden you suspect she's under anaesthetic) to the sudden, improbable appearance of a kindly Yank (Matt Dillon, so cloying you wish he were under anaesthetic). Walker and Alan Pentony, who plays the younger Frank, invest the picture with some considerable dramatic weight and make the hero's passion for the stars wholly plausible. But their efforts are undermined by the script's thick vein of whimsy. We are all of us in the gutter... and those responsible for Frankie Starlight deserve to stay there.

All films on general release from tomorrow

RYAN GILBEY

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker