Film Also Showing: You've Got Mail, Titanic Town, Painted Angels, Practical Magic
I WOULD have taken bets before watching You've Got Mail that Meg Ryan would be seen at some point wearing bedsocks. The movie, written and directed by Nora Ephron, is another soft-centred homage to her cuteness, I'm afraid. She plays Kathleen Kelly, a cute New Yorker with a cute hairdo who, unbeknown to her boyfriend (Greg Kinnear), has been making friends on the Internet with Joe Fox (Tom Hanks), who in turn has kept it from his girlfriend (Parker Posey). Why they have to keep their e-mail habit under wraps is a mystery, since all they chat about is bagels and coffee and how much they love Manhattan. You know, cute stuff.
The twist is that Kathleen and Joe, who correspond pseudonymously as Shopgirl and NY152, are at daggers drawn in real life. He's a corporate nasty whose new book superstore is threatening her cosy little bookshop with extinction. (It's called The Shop Around The Corner, a nod to the Lubitsch comedy on which Ephron's film is based.) So follows a long, laboured duel between them and their literary tastes. She takes Pride and Prejudice as her sacred text, he quotes approvingly from The Godfather, and they both - groan - discover a different side to themselves.
Ephron can turn a snappy line when the occasion demands, but she's no great shakes as a director; most of the time we seem merely to be watching Hanks and Ryan frown over their laptops. The solving of the romantic complications is perfunctory to the point of offensiveness - Kathleen's break-up scene with her boyfriend is barely recognisable as human interaction. As with Ephron's last big hit, Sleepless in Seattle, enjoyment largely depends on your goodwill towards its two stars. Click for cyberdump.
When a film about Ireland features a rendering of "Danny Boy" within the first five minutes, you're inclined to fear the worst. Yet Roger Michell's Titanic Town turns out to be an admirably gritty account of a Belfast family in the Troubles, circa 1972.
Julie Walters plays Bernie McPhelimy, a housewife whose conscience is awakened when she sees her best friend gunned down on the street. Armed with righteous indignation and little else, she begins an outspoken campaign for peace that sets her at odds with the IRA, her neighbours and, most poignantly, her own family. Walters, whose playing I've always found too broad, is terrific here, a Valium-popping worrywart who nevertheless finds courage from somewhere to face death threats and the scorn of her nearest and dearest (Nuala O'Neill makes a fine debut as her aggrieved teenage daughter). The dowdiness of the era is convincingly captured, while a superb acoustic score by John Martyn furnishes the appropriate gradations of light and shade.
Painted Angels is a kind of anti-Western, recounting the little-known story of young women who, in their efforts to escape destitution, fetched up on the frontier with only their bodies to sell. Set in a grim little boom town during the 1870s, the film focuses upon a quintet of working girls whose labours are overseen by a watchful madam (Brenda Fricker).
The hardship of their lives is explicitly detailed, be it the prospect of a night shift with a queue of filthy locals, the humiliation of amateur theatricals to impress a visiting bigwig, or the ever-present threat of violence and disease. Jon Sanders' feature debut is a cheerless affair, rendered no easier by its funereal pace and drab palette of duns and greys. Not a fun night out, but its careworn integrity commands respect.
You might have hoped that Scream and its sequel had dealt a mortal knife- wound to the teen slasher movie. No chance: here comes Urban Legend, an almost insultingly glib rehearsal of horror-flick tropes. There's a killer on campus - again - whose signature is dispatching his victims after the fashion of an urban myth. That you may fail to recognise any mythic overtones is beside the point; all the movie demands is that you jump from your seat as one gruesome death follows another. The debut director Jamie Blanks - there's a promising name - seems to be aiming for a world record number of genre cliches in a single feature, an accolade I'd hand over on condition that he never makes a sequel.
All films on general release from tomorrow
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