Film: Also Showing

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The Independent Culture
ROBERT WISE'S The Haunting (1963) is one of the great movies about Things That Go Bump In The Night, an exercise in suggestive terror which had me checking under the bed for months after I first saw it. When the rumours started that Hollywood was doing a big-budget remake, it was difficult not to feel alarm - tread softly, I prayed, for you tread on my dreams. Some hope.

Like the original, this new version is based on Shirley Jackson's novel The Haunting of Hill House, about a bunch of misfits who gather in a gloomy old mansion and proceed to have the living shit scared out of them. Sadly, Jan De Bont has moved into Hill House with the bulldozers, remodelling the place as a garish Gothic monstrosity and chucking all of the original's subtlety on to the skip.

His cast certainly have an uneasy look, and who wouldn't with lines like: "There won't be anyone here if you need help. In the night. In the dark." That's the scary housekeeper welcoming the guests, who include Eleanor (Lili Taylor), a wallflower spooked by the recent death of her mother, a vamp in Prada boots named Theo (Catherine Zeta Jones, naturally), a cheerful cynic named Luke (Owen Wilson), and Dr David Marrow (Liam Neeson), who has assembled the group on the pretext of investigating insomnia, but really for an experiment in group fear.

So we have everything in place for a right old haunting, and here it comes in the shape of billowing curtains, ghostly voices, sudden chills, revolving bookcases and any amount of clanking, creaking and banging.

I was reminded throughout The Haunting of something else, another scenario where innocents are required to run around in abject terror while the audience sniggers. Then it came to me: it's Scooby Doo, only not as funny or frightening.

The Theory of Flight is excruciating. It's meant to be a blackish comedy about two lost souls finding each other. Richard (Kenneth Branagh) is a failed artist who has retreated to deepest Wales to build an aeroplane out of junk. Required to do community service after an aerial stunt on a London rooftop went wrong, he ends up as part-time companion to Jane (Helena Bonham Carter), who is in the terminal stages of motor neurone disease. Though crippled and speech-impaired, Jane is a fighter, and wants to lose her virginity before the grave claims her. Can Richard help out?

It's quite inadequate, either as a comedy or as a tentative equation between spiritual disaffection and physical disability, while the cross- cutting between a botched bank hold-up and a sexual initiation is both tacky and ridiculous. Bonham Carter is OK, as far as attention-seeking performances go, but Branagh as a regular bloke is false right down to the roll-ups and the flat Northern vowels.

I didn't love A Midsummer Night's Dream either, Michael Hoffman's expensive but inert adaptation of Shakespeare's tedious fairy story. Set against the sun-kissed hills of Tuscany, it plays out the usual round of amorous misunderstandings and "hilarious" mismatches, overseen with malicious delight by Rupert Everett's Oberon and Stanley Tucci as Puck. It depends what you want out of Shakespeare. For some it will be Kevin Kline's Bottom, for others it might be the spectacle of Calista Flockhart and Anna Friel mud-wrestling. Neither prove as interesting as they sound.

Dominique Swain, invisible since her smart turn in Lolita, comes down to earth with a bang in Girl. A nugatory rites-of-passage tale, it recounts the infatuation of Grade-A student Andrea (Swain) with Todd Sparrow (Sean Patrick Flanery), a grungy rock star in the Kurt Cobain mould. Nothing especially valuable is learned, apart from: 1) be true to your mates; and 2) be on your guard when a man sits at a piano and says solemnly, "I wrote this for you". He is a fraud and an egomaniac.