Film: Also Showing

Year of the Horse Jim Jarmusch (15) n On Connait la Chanson Alain resnais (pg) Babe: Pig in the City george miller (U) n Rush Hour brett ratner (15) n It's a Wonderful Life frank capra (U)
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The Independent Culture
CERTAIN FRIENDS of mine swear by the greatness of Neil Young, though I've never been able to hear it myself. Indie hipster Jim Jarmusch, having used Young's plangent guitarwork on his last film, Dead Man, now gives him the full rockumentary treatment in Year of the Horse. Shot mainly on Super 8 and 16mm for that grainy, on-the-hoof look, the film focuses on the Neil Young and Crazy Horse world tour of 1996, spliced together with interviews (Young's dad among them) and archive footage.

As with most concert films, it doesn't mean much unless you were actually there. Young and his three fellow band members praise one another and talk about their music as if it were some mystical, even sacred thing, but the reality up on stage is four middle-aged blokes cranking out a pretty monotonous rock'n'roll bluster. The grand finale of "Like A Hurricane", all guitar squalls and feedback, seemed to last about 20 minutes - music to the ears of Crazy Horse fanatics, I suppose, but purgatory to the unconverted. While the sincerity of Jarmusch's tribute is beyond question, you can't see his film appealing to anyone beyond the fan club.

Alain Resnais, who can claim for himself one of the most exquisitely puzzling art-house movies of all time in Last Year in Marienbad, has drawn on the inspiration of Dennis Potter for his latest. On Connait la Chanson (Same Old Song) is a flyweight romantic comedy whose characters lip-synch to popular songs in the way Potter pioneered so adroitly in Pennies From Heaven. It's an ensemble piece, set in Paris and revolving around two sisters (Sabine Azema and Agnes Jaoui) who become variously entangled with a radio playwright, an estate agent and an old flame of the elder sister. Very little happens, though one suspects this inconsequential air is very deliberate, and Paris has always been a good place to do nothing stylishly.

The film relies for its personality on the songs and, while the old French airs of yesteryear twitter away quite pleasantly, there's a preponderance of dreadful French pop music that threatens to topple the whole thing into farce. By the end all one can manage in response is an expressive Parisian shrug: et alors?

It's disappointing, though not surprising, that Babe: Pig in the City fails to duplicate the original's eccentric charm. Babe was a one-off, or should have been - the story of a loveable porker that saved its own bacon by expertly assuming the job of sheepdog. Second time round, the director George Miller locates the story in a Disneyish urban dreamland that feels both flimsy yet overdesigned. When Babe's owner, Farmer Hoggett (James Cromwell), is laid up after an accident and the bank threatens the farm with foreclosure, Mrs Hoggett takes the pig to a town fair in order to collect a large appearance fee. They take up residence in a local menagerie named the Flealands Hotel,whereupon the plot takes one unlikely swerve after another. Certain sequences, such as the impounding of the animals, invoke real pathos, but it doesn't take long to realise that the film-makers have sacrificed the idea of a good yarn for a muscle- flexing demonstration of the latest CGI (computer-generated imagery).

In Rush Hour, east meets west as a Hong Kong cop (Jackie Chan) arrives in Los Angeles to help an old diplomat friend recover his kidnapped daughter. Following the time-honoured formula of mismatching partners, the LAPD assign their most unpopular and irresponsible detective (Chris Tucker) to babysit Chan around the city. They make quite a pair: Chan can't speak English, Tucker can but you wish he didn't - his screeching, mile-a-minute jive talk is currently the most irksome sound in cinema.

Two fine actors, Philip Baker Hall and our own Tom Wilkinson, lend a patina of much-needed class to the caper, which comprises three parts scenery-trashing to two parts chop-socky action sequences. The film's single diversion from boredom is Chan's amazingly balletic stuntwork, which combines elements of Bruce Lee and Fred Astaire: the way he can backflip, climb up walls and disarm an opponent - quite often in a single movement - is a thing of wonder.

It's A Wonderful Life gets another outing after its 50th anniversary re-release last year, and looks set to become an annual fixture.

Frank Capra's hymn to small-town selflessness has the reputation of a cosy yuletide heartwarmer, though in actual fact it's an overpoweringly bleak tale of a man tormented by malign destiny. James Stewart plays George Bailey, an all-round good guy driven to suicidal despair by a capitalist predator (Lionel Barrymore), and then granted a vision of how life in his small town would have turned out - vicious, vulgar, miserable - had he never been born. Despite a lyrically happy ending, the insistent message behind Stewart's suffering is that it's not a wonderful life at all. But it is a wonderful movie.


All films are on release from tomorrow