FILM / Other New Releases: Facing the music: The Music of Chance (15), Director: Philip Haas (US); Autumn Moon (no cert), Director: Clara Law (HK / Jap); Gunhed (12)' Director: Masato Harada (Jap); British Films of the 1940s

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The Independent Culture
The Music of Chance starts out like a scam movie. A drifter (Mandy Patinkin) picks up a hitch-hiker (James Spader, spectacularly cast against type) who turns out to be a sleazy card-sharp with a sure thing in prospect: two old gents (Charles Durning and Joel Grey) with more money than sense dying to lose at poker. But the game goes wrong, it's Spader who loses, big-time, and they must work off their debt by building a wall in the middle of nowhere.

This is based on a novel by Paul Auster, and wears its literary trappings a little unhappily: the characters keep launching into long monologues sprinkled with obscure musings about things like the 'philosophy of prime numbers' and the 'music of the universe' that never quite cohere into anything explicable. The story wears its absurdism like a badge.

The film has a crack cast (M Emmett Walsh is there too, as the grumpy foreman overseeing the men's labours), but is stymied by a hollow at its core: Patinkin has hired himself a 'strength and conditioning consultant,' we learn from the credits, and spends the film's latter scenes posing around stripped to the waist to make sure we all notice. But even this can't detract from the fact that his character is dull - the book sheds some insight on his psyche but here he's a cipher thoroughly eclipsed by Spader's virtuoso, slightly over-the- top posturing.

Clara Law's Autumn Moon is a study in elegant, Jarmusch- style minimalism. Masatoshi Nagase, who played the lugubrious tourist in Memphis in Jarmusch's Mystery Train, is another stranger in a strange land: Tokio, a camcorder-toting Japanese in Hong Kong, in search of girls and good Chinese food. Li Pui Wai is a Hong Kong schoolgirl waiting to join her parents in Canada. They form an odd couple - she is jailbait, a child-woman full of hopes and fears for a life about to change irrevocably, while he's already jaded at 19 - and their friendship never quite gels into an affair.

This is a finely crafted, often beautiful piece, pervaded by the sense of a country, culture and lifestyle about to fall apart - Hong Kong is filmed as a high-tech but almost deserted city, where everything is temporary and the old ways are slipping into oblivion. I also found the film hard to warm to: the maudlin sensibility and the visual tropes seemed somehow so hand-me-down, so reminiscent of other independent movies. But it bespeaks a promising new talent.

Not so the week's other Far East offering, the dismal Japanese sci-fi adventure Gunhed, which arrives here festooned with cobwebs (it was made in 1989) and some of the worst dialogue and shoddiest dubbing I've heard in years. The look is sub-Alien; the 'story' concerns a posse of treasure hunters storming a computer-controlled Pacific island.

New prints of Carol Reed's The Third Man and the Boulting brothers' Brighton Rock spearhead a season of 12 films from the late Forties, British cinema's finest hour: it is warmly recommended as a rare chance to see them in their big-screen glory. The Third Man, which opens the retrospective, is still a gilt-edged classic, with Joseph Cotten bumbling around a cosmopolitan post-war Vienna of duffel- coated, British army types (Trevor Howard, for example), beautiful refugees and kvetsching old Austrian crones. Orson Welles, as Harry Lime, black marketeer, is one of the great cameo villains (see also Director's Cut, p26).

Brighton Rock is a lesser movie but still has many impressive moments and gives Richard Attenborough one of his most memorable early roles as Pinky, the baby-faced mobster. Both these films, incidentally, offer object lessons in the wonderful sting-in-the-tail closing shot. The other movies (playing in repertory) are also worth a look: Robert Krasker, who was responsible for The Third Man's stunning, expressionist cinematography, also shot the quintessential (pace Shadowlands) British weepie, Brief Encounter, and Reed's IRA drama Odd Man Out, while the interesting psycho-thriller The Fallen Idol is another product of the fruitful Reed-Graham Greene collaboration. No new prints are promised of these supporting films, so caveat emptor.

(Photograph omitted)

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