Film: Also Showing

the muse albert brooks (PG) n october sky joe johnston (pg) the five senses jeremy podeswa (15) n the last yellow julian farino (15) 81/2 women peter greenaway (15) n end of days peter hyams (18)
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FOR THE first 15 minutes of Albert Brooks's new comedy The Muse the jokes fly thick and promisingly fast. Brooks plays a Hollywood screenwriter used to picking up awards for humanitarianism but whose career has hit the wall. "Daddy, what is a humanitarian?" his daughter asks. "It's someone who has never won an Oscar," he replies sourly. Cold-shouldered around town, he applies for inspiration to a real live muse (Sharon Stone) whose influence has already made votaries of James Cameron, Rob Reiner and Martin Scorsese (all three contribute cameos).

Trouble is, this muse is also a spoilt flake who's a constant drain on Brooks's time and money; she eventually moves into his home and even commandeers the marital bed. Brooks is a natural in the role of whining schlemiel - he kowtows to the muse even as he realises she's hijacking his life.

His digs at Hollywood can be fun, too, sending up its falsity like a low-tar version of The Player. Unfortunately the jokes give way to a vapid plot about the muse inspiring Brooks's wife (Andie MacDowell) to patent her home-baked cookies at flash restaurant Spago, while Brooks knocks together a rip-off of Free Willy that sounds even worse than the stuff he was peddling before. At times Brooks can seem the funniest man on the planet, but he needs more discipline and edge to get a whole movie off the ground.

Having made the terrific Saturday-matinee style adventure, The Rocketeer, director Joe Johnston reaches for the stars again in October Sky, based on the true story of Homer Hickam (Jake Gyllenhaal), a West Virginia high- school student growing up in the late Fifties. Inspired by the space race and the kindly promptings of his schoolteacher (Laura Dern), Homer starts building rockets with a trio of friends, much to the chagrin of his stern father (Chris Cooper) who expects him to continue the family tradition of mining.

As a hymn to American can-do it's a solid and unobjectionable entertainment, even if the movie's emotional terminus - it's another "I love you, Dad" number - can be seen miles off. Gyllenhaal is fine as the clean-cut hero, while Chris Cooper's granitic integrity dominates the screen. Can someone please give this great actor another leading role?

The Five Senses is an ensemble drama from Canada, directed by Jeremy Podeswa and nicely played by a cast that includes Mary-Louise Parker and Atom Egoyan stalwart, Gabrielle Rose. Themed around the five senses, it deals variously with an optometrist who's going deaf, a house-cleaner with an acute sense of smell, a massage therapist and her unhappy teenage daughter, and a cook whose cakes taste of nothing. It's a little contrived and a little earnest, but there's believable anguish in the acting and some acute observation about human relationships.

If The Last Yellow were half as good as its cast it would be a film to reckon with. Mark Addy, sporting a dreadful mullet, plays terminal sad- sack, Frank, who moves into a squalid B&B after his mum kicks him out of the house.

Here he befriends the landlord's son Kenny (Charlie Creed-Miles), who's inexplicably impressed by their new guest and enlists his help to avenge the savage assault that left his brother brain-damaged. So they catch a bus from their Leicester home and make for London, one loaded gun between them. What begins as a fairly half-assed attempt at an odd-couple comedy turns nasty once the would-be avengers invade their target's flat and take his girlfriend (Samantha Morton) hostage.

The violence which follows sorts very uneasily with the farce plotting, within which Paul Tucker's script flailingly tries to accommodate little homilies on loyalty and friendship. You may have to stifle a groan. Addy, Creed-Miles and Morton manage to survive with dignity intact, but they deserve so much better.

Peter Greenaway's films are the closest thing the cinema can offer to Chinese water torture. His latest, 81/2 Women, is by way of a "tribute"to Fellini, though it does honour to no-one. A wealthy Swiss businessman (John Standing) and his son (Matthew Delamere) set up their own private bordello in a country mansion, recruiting a number of disparate women upon whom they can enact their sexual fantasies.

Greenaway is often justified on the grounds of being "painterly", but this new one hasn't even that little to recommend it. It's a stupefyingly tedious experience, clotted with all the pomposity and smug antiphonal dialogue we've grown accustomed to; the arch attempts at humour are truly pitiful. It made me wonder, not for the first time, why he bothers making movies at all, given that his contempt for both the medium and its audience are etched into every frame.

The one good thing about reaching 2000 is that we won't have to endure any more pre-millennial angst movies like End of Days. Three days to countdown and the Vatican is on tenterhooks, for the Pope has got wind that Satan is abroad and out to claim the young woman fated to bear the anti-Christ. And of course the Prince of Darkness has chosen, for the convenience of multiplexes everywhere, to relocate to New York.

Enter Arnold Schwarzenegger as Jericho Cain - enough biblical resonance for you? - to help protect the girl (Robin Tunney), thwart Old Nick (Gabriel Byrne) and save the world. In other words, it's Terminator 2 with baroque Catholic makeover. Through the Satanist hokum and frequent fireballs you may dimly recall a pleasantly laconic performance by Kevin Pollak as Arnie's partner and some toxic scenery chewing from Miriam Margoyles, who also gets to beat up our musclebound superhero - the only point where I felt inclined to cheer.