Film: Also showing/ Aspirin at the ready

HOW TO MAKE AN AMERICAN QUILT Jocelyn Moorhouse (15) THE CURE Peter Horton (12) TWO DEATHS Nicholas Roeg (18) THE JUROR Brian Gibson (18) LAST OF THE DOGMEN Tab Murphy (PG) PARIS WAS A WOMAN Greta Schiller (nc)
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The Independent Culture
Let's be honest. How to Make an American Quilt has the odds stacked against it. There's that title for a start. And who in their right mind would actually pay to watch Winona Ryder spend two hours dithering over whether or not to get married? (And to a DIY enthusiast, for goodness' sake.)

So it's to the credit of the Australian director Jocelyn Moorhouse (who impressed with her 1991 debut, Proof) and the screenwriter Jane Anderson (who adapted Whitney Otto's novel) that the movie feels snappy, and also substantial. Ryder plays Finn, who leaves her boyfriend (Dermot Mulroney) demolishing the front room while she hotfoots it to Granny's house, where she intends to spend the summer finishing her thesis and musing on Mulroney's marriage proposal. But Granny (Ellen Burstyn) and friends (Anne Bancroft, Maya Angelou, Kate Nelligan, Alfre Woodard) have all got their own stories of love-gone-haywire to tell as they collaborate on Ryder's mammoth wedding quilt. So will Ryder choose to follow the example of her mother (Kate Capshaw) and bounce between boyfriends like a pinball, or spend the rest of her days with a husband whose idea of a good time is a half-price day at Homebase?

This is a leisurely but absorbing picture, gorgeously photographed by Janusz Kaminski in colours that you can feel on your cheeks, with especially generous performances from Woodard, whose commanding eyes compensate for a paucity of screen time, and Bancroft, who has a devastating scene where her face twists with wordless incomprehension as she realises that she has been betrayed. Despite testimonies like hers, there is never any doubt about which route Ryder will take. But the film is serious enough about its theme - the maddening unpredictability of love - to suggest that anguish may await her.

Sometimes it's a touch too serious (the symbolism will leave you in need of aspirin). But in a genre where love is as blind and unconditional as nostalgia, the cautionary tone and uncertain ending have a faintly subversive scent. You could take your date to see it, but don't expect to still be holding hands when the credits roll.

You might also be surprised at just how good The Cure is, though it sounds like the sort of thing you'd muck out the hutch to avoid if it appeared on TV. It wouldn't look out of place there: it's shot without style and bears no mark of cinematic sophistication, but there is great sensitivity in Robert Kuhn's screenplay, and in the brilliantly intuitive playing by the young actors Brad Renfro and Joseph Mazzello. Renfro plays Erik, a grouchy slacker who objects to his new neighbours, a single mother (Annabella Sciorra) and her young son, Dexter (Mazzello), who has contracted Aids from a blood transfusion.

But the boys become friends and drift from shoplifting and trolley-racing to something more serious: conducting their own amateur experiments to help stave off Dexter's death. There are sticky patches where it looks as though the picture might not pull through (some of the scenes with Erik's bigoted mother, played by Diana Scarwid, are painfully misjudged), but it's a thoughtful and likeable work, sullied only by the composer Dave Grusin. He won an Oscar a few years back, but after this stomach- churning score, he deserves to have it confiscated.

It's all downhill from here. The biggest disappointment of the week comes from Nicolas Roeg, whose stiff new film Two Deaths is a study of destructive love that's so dull it makes ditch-water look like punch. As the Ceausescu government crumbles and the streets of Romania descend into violent chaos, the esteemed Dr Daniel Pavenic (Michael Gambon) reveals to his dinner- party guests (Patrick Malahide, Ion Caramitru, Nickolas Grace) how he came to possess Ana (Sonia Braga), a surly and dutiful housekeeper who brings them dinner even as the story of her slavery and humiliation is being unfurled.

Roeg's camera is still very much alive; wobbling, jittery, it closes in on the tense power games with voyeuristic relish, but finds nothing there: no passion, no intelligence, no life. The single-mindedness of Pavenic's obsession with Ana clearly struck a chord in Roeg, for his oeuvre is littered with men engulfed by their own desires. Once, Roeg seemed engulfed too - by cinema and its rawness, its limitless capacity for danger. Now that's gone, and Roeg has made the first bloodless film of his career. He's the man who fell to earth - with a bump.

Last week, Now and Then asked us to believe that Demi Moore could pass for a dapper, Thomas Wolfe-quoting novelist. Now, in The Juror, she's a sculptor. I'd advise her to have a stab at playing someone nearer her intellectual ballpark. Like a Munchkin.

Moore does a spot of jury service but it's no fun because a psychopath called The Teacher (Alec Baldwin) is leaning on her to help his boss beat a murder rap. When she briefly turns into Henry Fonda and persuades the rest of the jury to acquit the mobster, it becomes too much: after all, here is a woman with all the persuasive powers of a paving slab. Without her, The Juror would still be dreadful. But it wouldn't be half as hilarious.

Last of the Dogmen is admirably earnest, even at its silliest. Yet a two-hour running time tends to eradicate any vestige of warmth you may initially feel towards it. Tom Berenger plays a tracker who believes that members of the lost Cheyenne Indian tribe are alive and well in the Rockies, and heads off with anthropologist Barbara Hershey to prove it. The Montana locations are lovingly shot, but that's as thrilling as it gets; the movie is all camerawork and conscience. Hats off to Tom Berenger, though, for keeping a straight face through lines like, "This ain't gonna be no picnic, lady! I've seen that wilderness reduce grown men to tears."

Greta Schiller's documentary Paris Was a Woman attempts to capture some of the vibrancy of the Left Bank in the first half of this century, when you couldn't swing a chat without clumping an artist. It's a short, moderately diverting piece, though re-reading a single paragraph of Gertrude Stein's The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas is more likely to leave the era's indelible mark on you.

n All films are on general release from tomorrow