Film: Also Showing

Solomon and Gaenor Paul Morrison (15) Knock Off Tsui Hark (18) The Ninth Configuration William Peter Blatty (18) In Dreams Neil Jordan (18) At First Sight Irwin Winkler (12) The Honest Courtesan Marshall Herskovitz (15) The Waterboy Frank Coraci (12)
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The Independent Culture
IT ALWAYS rains in Wales, and in Solomon and Gaenor it fairly pours. The time is 1911, the place a small mining community, the subject a love affair that breaches ethnic and religious divides. Solomon (Ioan Gruffud), the eldest son of a Jewish draper, courts Gaenor (Nia Roberts), the shy daughter of a Chapel-going family. Mindful of this, he conceals his background, a deception which rebounds on him when a rising tide of antisemitic hatred engulfs the town and puts familial loyalties to the test.

Paul Morrison's film is modestly told and sensitively shot, opening a window on both cultural bigotry and the narrow lot of indigent Valley folk in the early years of the century. Its last reel takes precisely the route you hoped it wouldn't - headfirst into Hardyesque sadism - though it shouldn't cloud the sombre beauty of the photography and the affectingly restrained performances of Roberts and Gruffud (an excellent Pip in the recent BBC Great Expectations).

Knock Off is Jean Claude Van Damme's latest attempt to prove that guns and knives are of no physical threat to a man who can kick really high. Set during the 1997 Hong Kong handover, it propels a muscled huckster (Van Damme) into the midst of a Russian mafia conspiracy to launch a micro- bomb on the terrorist black market. Director Tsui Hark, a leading exponent of the Hong Kong action genre, uses slo-mo to lend Van Damme's antics the right degree of heroic pomposity, while the city itself looks to have been so comprehensively trashed one wonders quite what was left for the British to hand over.

First released in 1980, The Ninth Configuration is notable for being the directorial debut of William Peter Blatty, who wrote The Exorcist. The same weighty preoccupations are apparent. It's a hand-wringing and somewhat hysterical drama about an army psychiatrist (Stacy Keach) who is posted to a remote Gothic castle where a hush-hush mental asylum has been set up for disturbed Vietnam vets and the like. Keach's most tormented patient is an astronaut (Scott Wilson) who aborted a moonshot after coming down with a dose of the existential jitters: he now defies the shrink to prove the possibility of God - and good - in the world. Blatty's metaphysical musings are too earnest for words, while the attempt to create a paranoid, Catch-22-style madhouse can't dispel an air of contrivance. The Christian symbolism is sincerely felt but clunkily delivered - the big fight scene, in which Keach finally turns on a gang of bikers, has the look of an ancient Black Sabbath video. For committed Blatty-philes only.

In Dreams is a drab, pretentious trawl through the paranormal in which Annette Bening plays a children's book illustrator haunted by ghastly premonitions of murder. Neil Jordan's picture begins with the arresting image of a drowned city, but soon ends up beached and gasping for air as Bening's life is torn apart by a loony killer (Robert Downey Jr) who's somehow accessed her dreams. Anyone expecting another Eyes of Laura Mars can forget it. Jordan seems to be under the illusion he's directing a serious art movie - in his dreams - and tarts up the story with fairytale resonances and doomy lighting. When it's not meretricious it's simply incompetent: why cast Stephen Rea as a psychiatrist and give him absolutely nothing to do?

Irwin Winkler's At First Sight is based, like Awakenings, on an Oliver Sacks case study. Amy (Mira Sorvino), a New York architect on vacation, has no sooner fallen in love with blind masseur Virgil (Val Kilmer) than she's contacted a pioneering eye surgeon who restores to Virgil the sight he lost as a child. So begin the couple's problems as he tries to comprehend the world after a lifetime in the dark, while she tries to keep track of his moodiness and frustration. The film teases out its theme - the importance of seeing with your heart as much as your eyes, and so on - in a mostly frictionless and one-paced fashion.

The Honest Courtesan is a fabulously awful costume romp whose name should be a lasting embarrassment to all involved. Catherine McCormack stars as Veronica, a 16th-century Venetian lass whose lowly social standing disqualifies her from marrying handsome aristo Marco (Rufus Sewell). Rather than spend a lifetime in drudgery or nunnery, she takes her mother's advice and becomes a courtesan to the high and mighty, crowning her career as everyone's favourite horizontale by spanking the backside of the King of France himself. Shooting through a syrupy haze, director Marshall Herskovitz offers eroticism and elegance on a par with that Ferrero-Rocher advert, and I kept waiting for a periwigged butler to show up with a platter of golden-foiled chocs.

Do you really need to know how much I hated The Waterboy? Oh, all right then. It's a lame-brain American football comedy in which Adam Sandler, the ingratiating dork from The Wedding Singer, goes from team whipping boy to Most Valuable Player as he discovers unsuspected tackling skills, despite having a physique that makes Jarvis Cocker look like Giant Haystacks. Prostratingly stupid junk..

All films on general release from tomorrow

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