Film: New Films

PLUNKETT AND MACLEANE (15)

Director: Jake Scott

Starring: Robert Carlyle, Jonny Lee Miller

Plunkett and Macleane (Carlyle and Lee Miller) are rakish Dick Turpins. They cut a dash through 18th-century society. They rob the rich and keep the loot. Plunkett packs a pistol and scowls a lot. Macleane romances a shapely debutante (Liv Tyler). Their adventures come choreographed to a thrumming techno beat. And yet beneath all the powder, the frills, the ruffles and the wigs, Plunkett and Macleane proves a pretty plain-looking customer, shuffling along on a puny prop of a plotline that gets gradually more bent out of shape the longer it progresses. As a substitute, director Jake (son of Ridley) offers noise, colour and virtuouso pop-promo visuals, while leaning heavily on the winning chemistry between his two stars (re- united from Trainspotting). Ultimately it's Carlyle and Lee Miller that keep it palatable; this stylised bit of knockabout theatre, this posturing costume fancy, this Adam Ant video for the next millennium.

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THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (12)

Director: Charles Laughton

Starring: Robert Mitchum

Conceived by its creator as "a nightmarish sort of Mother Goose tale", Charles Laughton's 1955 drama (his only stab at directing) proved altogether too rich and strange a brew for the neat, Formica tastes of McCarthy-era USA. Now an acknowledged classic, The Night of the Hunter hinges on the legendary bit of screen villainy from Robert Mitchum as the tale's murderous preacher; LOVE and HATE tattooed across his knuckles and chasing two imperilled orphans (Billy Chapin, Jane Bruce) into the arms of Lilian Gish's saintly fairy-godmother. What might have been a run-of-the-mill thriller is conjured into the realms of fantasy by Laughton's skewed child's-eye vision, his Old Testament bombast and a ripe storybook style best evidenced in the kids' otherworldly trip downriver. This is a haunting, wholly unique thing; a mescal lullaby sung over an empty crib.

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TEA WITH MUSSOLINI (PG)

Director: Franco Zeffirelli

Starring: Maggie Smith

Zeffirelli's clearly been at the Chianti again. His Tea With Mussolini is a typically squiffy and loquacious affair, ambling around the houses during its tale of three dotty Brits (Smith, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright) adrift in Mussolini-era Tuscany. One senses that someplace deep down in his consciousness, Zef has some points to make about fascism, and about the contrast between British fortitude and Yankee grit (represented by Cher's vital American vamp). But just as he seems to be nearing some thematic breakthrough, Tea With Mussolini turns all syrupy again. The scenery slips into a golden haze. The dialogue turns slurred and drippily incontinent. The acting goes off into a series of mannered tics: the starts, twitches and adjustments of a body already half-asleep.

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BLAST FROM THE PAST (12)

Director: Hugh Wilson

Starring: Brendan Fraser, Alicia Silverstone, Sissy Spacek, Christopher Walken

Less a blast than a faint pop, Hugh Wilson's workmanlike Cold War satire has Brendan Fraser's last American man (called Adam, natch) emerging from the nuclear bunker his parents (Christopher Walken, Sissy Spacek) holed up in during the Cuban missile crisis. Trouble, of course, is that the Bomb didn't get dropped, and California is still there (albeit in radically- altered form). So off goes bewildered Adam through this brave new world, soon finding a sassy Eve in Alicia Silverstone's knowing Valley Girl, as a decent set-up nosedives into brash predictability.

HH

BEYOND SILENCE (12)

Director: Caroline Link

Starring: Sylvie Testud, Howie Seago

Caroline Link's fine domestic drama (Oscar-nominated in 1997) revolves around the dynamics of the uncommon German household headed by able-bodied Lara (played by Tatjana Trieb as a child, Sylvie Testud as an adult), who acts as a representative for her deaf mum and dad (Emmanuelle Laborit, Howie Seago). Unshowy acting and a a keen eye for the telling detail help keep the sentiment at bay.

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