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The Independent Culture
My Name is Joe Ken Loach (15) Antz Eric Darnell, Tim Johnson (PG) Girls Town Jim McKay (15) The Players Club Ice Cube (18)

IN HIS new film Ken Loach recounts the story of a mismatched couple living in working-class Glasgow, reprising the first half of his previous film, Carla's Song. Yet where the latter decamped to South America and collapsed beneath its righteous burden of indignation, My Name is Joe keeps its compass homebound and emerges the stronger for it. Joe (Peter Mullan) is a recovering alcoholic whose basic good nature is at war with a violent temper. He has reached a sort of Stoical resignation, which is just as well given the toerag football team he coaches - "Keep your shape," he tells them in his pep talk, unavailingly.

Concern for one of his players, Liam (David McKay), who is trying to stay off drugs and support his wife and kid, involves Joe in a relationship with a health visitor, Sarah (Louise Goodall). The tentative and faltering steps they take towards romance bring out the best in Loach, who, for all his gritty political intent, is a sentimentalist at heart.

When Joe first invites Sarah back to his flat, he puts on some music, not the pop she might have been expecting but a Beethoven violin concerto. What could have been a corny prompt (the hard man with a secret passion for classical music) is undercut when he explains how it was the last tape from a bunch he'd just stolen and flogged in a pub - the Beethoven was the only one he couldn't get rid of. The plot lurches into their midst like an unwelcome guest. Liam's drug debts remain unpaid, compelling Joe to enter the lair of a local crime boss (David Hayman) and plead on his behalf. This act of compassion inevitably leads him back into the hinterland of violence and criminality he has struggled so hard to escape. The climax is a melodramatic thunderclap, yet what keeps the whole enterprise grounded is Mullan's rivetingly intense performance; the side of his nature he manages to keep in check until the end when it is finally revealed, and it's terrifying.

My Name is Joe hasn't the transcendence of Raining Stones or the hard- bitten humour of Riff-Raff, but it makes you grateful once more that Ken Loach still wants to make films like this.

"I had a very anxious childhood," reflects worker ant Z as he lies on the analyst's couch. "The middle child in a family of five million." Even if you don't recognise the face, the voice is unmistakably that of Woody Allen, star of Dream Works's computer-animated comedy Antz. Z, who's been feeling depressed about his insignificance, does what any ant would do and hits the bar after work. All this changes after a night spent smooching on the dance floor with Princess Bala (Sharon Stone), continuing the fine tradition of Woody Allen pairing up with a beautiful leading lady. Eager to impress her, Z becomes a soldier, goes to war against an army of termites and returns a hero, much to the chagrin of Bala's fiance, the Fascist General Mandible (Gene Hackman).

Directed by Eric Darnell and Tim Johnson, Antz has the freakish inspiration of Allen's early films, and derives many of its laughs from the shared memory of his archetypal role, the loser who can't get a girl. His drinking pal, a beefed-up soldier ant named Weaver, is voiced by Sylvester Stallone, though I couldn't help thinking of Tony Roberts offering a shoulder to cry on in Annie Hall. Similarly, when he dances with Bala, the memory of his trying to cosy up to a girl in Play It Again, Sam is irresistible. The film changes gear once Z and Bala find themselves stranded in the outside world, where they must brave the dangers of raindrops and chewing- gum as they search for the land of Insectopia. (It turns out to be a rubbish tip full of rotting food - ant heaven). Yet behind the computer-animated dazzle lies a traditional film romance, the one about the regular guy who hooks up with the uptight, spoilt heroine and teaches her about life. It's just that they happen to be, well, ants. What to say? It's terrifically funny and sophisticated and just a bit spooky - check the sequence in which hundreds of ants line-dance in a bar to the strains of "Guantanamera". In a word, antic.

Girls' Town is a scratchy American indie that focuses upon a trio of high-school girlfriends nearing the end of their senior year. Shaken by the suicide of a close friend, who left a diary recounting a rape she never told them of, the three friends decide to get proactive and exact retribution on the male sex. One vandalises an ex-boyfriend's car; one burgles an ex's flat and pawns his hi-fi; and they all gang up on the man who allegedly raped their late friend. The sentiments may be impeccable; the drama, sadly, is a graceless mishmash of Girl Power cliches.

Yet it's still preferable to Ice Cube's directorial debut The Players' Club, which is essentially a black version of Show Girls. Why anyone would want to do this is a mystery, but it certainly matches Verhoeven's tits 'n' bums extravaganza for vulgarity, opportunism and witlessness. Ice Cube apparently conceived the film while visiting some of Atlanta's wilder strip joints. "The Southern black strip club industry is a phenomenon not many people know about," he says. On the strength of this movie, I imagine it will remain so.

All films are on release from tomorrow

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