Director: Warren Beatty
Starring: Warren Beatty, Halle Berry
Dog-tired and disillusioned at the end of an election campaign, woolly-liberal senator Jay Bulworth (Beatty) turns suicidal loose-cannon; lifting the lid on US politics, hanging out in the 'hood and delivering his speeches in abrasive rap stylings. Beatty's Bulworth (above) is a blast: crude and condescending on occasion yet genuinely audacious and committed, too; savaging a corroded democratic system in a way that few mainstream Hollywood daintees (and Bulworth is bankrolled by Murdoch's Fox Studios) would dare to do. At an age when he might be forgiven for resting on his laurels, Beatty's freewheeling, heart-on-sleeve romp puts him abruptly back in film's front rank.
HILARY AND JACKIE (15)
Director: Anand Tucker
Starring: Emily Watson, Rachel Griffiths
Full-throttle playing from Rachel Griffiths and Emily Watson sustains Tucker's warts-and-all biopic of the Du Pre sisters Hilary (shy, married flautist) and Jacqueline (world-famous cellist). Sibling rivalries, a menage a trois and terminal illness are all carefully navigated by Tucker's finely-wrought direction, though it's as an acting showcase that Hilary and Jackie really hits home.
CLASS TRIP (15)
Director: Claude Miller
Starring: Clement Van Den Bergh, Francois Roy
Pity poor Nicolas (Van Den Bergh); bed-wetting schoolboy fantasist with few friends and a domineering dad in Francois Roy's prosthetic-limb salesman. Spirited off on a school skiing trip, the nipper starts letting his own dark imaginings run away with him, as Miller's pungent child's- eye psycho-drama switches nervously between stark naturalism and florid dream sequences. Actually, there's a lot to admire in the tense, smouldering Class Trip. The trouble is, Miller gets over- fussy; he keeps messing with the mood, keeps letting air into the pressure- cooker. And you can spot the ending a mile off.
Director: Mark Christopher
Starring: Mike Myers, Ryan Phillippe Christopher's retro-trip through the heyday of New York's Studio 54 (above) boasts a glitterball turn from Myers (as club-boss Steve Rubell), but not a whole lot else. What we have here is the huckstering hanger-on to Boogie Nights and The Last Days of Disco's leading lights: a garbled, under-developed run-through of dance-floor chic as Ryan Phillippe's colourless busboy falls in with the beautiful folk (Salma Hayek and Neve Campbell) and learns the downside of life in the fast lane. Tatty stuff, all told.
PRACTICAL MAGIC (12)
Director: Griffin Dunne
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Sandra Bullock
Essentially a sibling soap-opera with a dash of mumbo-jumbo, Practical Magic (above) sees Bullock and Kidman cast as two mismatched sisters raised from a line of witches and hexing any unlucky man who swings into their orbit. The canny star-pairing is soon spoilt by an over-egged eye-of-newt broth that mixes Bewitched with Beetlejuice and The Witches of Eastwick. Its spick-and-span surface masks the turmoil of undigested influences.
THE MERCHANT OF FOUR SEASONS (nc)
Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Starring: Hans Hirschmuller, Irm Herrmann
The centrepiece of the NFT's Fassbinder retrospective, 1972's The Merchant of Four Seasons proves a ripe and strange fruit indeed. It's a melodrama with social-realist underpinnings, it traces the slow slide to destruction of a seething fruit-and-veg seller (Hirschmuller). He is purple-faced from booze and given to pummelling his clinging wife (Herrmann). While the film's jerky camera zooms and ragged cutting can look a little clumsy, the claustrophobic air and baleful acting more than scoop up the slack.