8 Women<br/> L.I.E. <br/>Enough <br/>The War Bride <br/>Sophiiie! <br/>Santa Claus 2

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The Independent Culture

It looks good on paper. Assemble an all-female cast that includes several of the grandest dames in French cinema, assign each a role in a country-house murder mystery with her own musical solo, shoot it like a Fifties Douglas Sirk melodrama, stand back and wait for the sparks to fly. Thus 8 Women, and one duff movie. One can't blame the director, François Ozon, for wanting to clear the air after the suffocating horrors of last year's stupendous Under The Sand, and one can only admire his nerve in gathering a potentially volatile octet beneath one roof, but somehow the instinct to create an entertainment worthy of them has eluded him. Count 'em: Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Emmanuelle Béart, Fanny Ardant, Virginie Ledoyen, Danielle Darrieux, Firmine Richard and Ludivine Sagnier play various members of a household whose patriarch lies dead in his bed, and while suspicion of murder swiftly passes from one to another the acting hits a single pitch – hysteria – and stays ther

It looks good on paper. Assemble an all-female cast that includes several of the grandest dames in French cinema, assign each a role in a country-house murder mystery with her own musical solo, shoot it like a Fifties Douglas Sirk melodrama, stand back and wait for the sparks to fly. Thus 8 Women, and one duff movie. One can't blame the director, François Ozon, for wanting to clear the air after the suffocating horrors of last year's stupendous Under The Sand, and one can only admire his nerve in gathering a potentially volatile octet beneath one roof, but somehow the instinct to create an entertainment worthy of them has eluded him. Count 'em: Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Emmanuelle Béart, Fanny Ardant, Virginie Ledoyen, Danielle Darrieux, Firmine Richard and Ludivine Sagnier play various members of a household whose patriarch lies dead in his bed, and while suspicion of murder swiftly passes from one to another the acting hits a single pitch – hysteria – and stays there. (Huppert gives probably the worst performance of her life.) Not one of them is awarded the gift of an amusing line, or even a decent song. Is there anything to say for it? Well, the clothes are great, so if your idea of fun is The Mousetrap styled by Vogue then 8 Women might not be a complete waste of time.

The one film this week I'd pay to see again is L.I.E. (below), a tender, funny and disturbing rites-of-passage story with two knockout performances. L.I.E. is the Long Island Expressway, where 15-year-old Howie (Paul Franklin Dano) lost his mother in a car accident; now he loafs on the edges of delinquency, and one night gets involved in a house-breaking. His aggrieved victim is an ex-marine and local character named Big John (Brian Cox), who comes after Howie demanding the return of the pistols he stole. What follows is an odd-couple bonding – very odd, for Big John is a serial pederast, and Howie, with Tin-Tin quiff and braces on his teeth, hardly seems to realise the danger he might be in. Yet director Michael Cuesta keeps their relationship balanced on a knife-edge: just when you expect some unpleasant sexual coercion, instead they discover a mutual love of Walt Whitman. Big John fills the space Howie's crooked businessman father can't, and the scene where he gives Howie his first shave is a hypnotic beauty. L.I.E. is an antidote to those "ennobling" father-figure movies Hollywood loves so much, and it gives Brian Cox and Paul Franklin Dano the roles of a lifetime.

Ten minutes into the latest Jennifer Lopez vehicle Enough and your dearest wish will be: Enough already. The director Michael Apted thinks it's clever to disguise this domestic-violence thriller as a comedy by inserting intertitles ("get out", "you can run", et cetera) but given the subject matter it just looks tasteless. Lopez stars as a waitress who falls for a Mr Wonderful (Billy Campbell), moves into the dream home and has a darling moppet of a daughter, only to discover that her perfect husband is a love rat and a wife-beater. So she goes on the run, daughter in tow, and finds herself not only pursued by hubby and his thugs (including bad cop Noah Wyle) but virtually unprotected by the law. At which point Lopez takes up self-defence and Enough takes a nose dive into outright silliness. The press notes pretend it's about "finding one's inner power", and they also inform us that J-Lo's martial-arts training provided "an incredible workout" for the star – it's one of the hottest new fitness trends in the US! One hopes this is the only trend it encourages, because all it adds up to is a primer in How To Murder Your Husband and Make It Look Like Self-Defence.

In The War Bride Anna Friel plays a cockney seamstress who marries a Canadian soldier in haste and repents at leisure as she and her toddler decamp from Blitzed London to remote Canada farmland, where the wind cuts as sharply as the disapproving looks of her new in-laws, Brenda Fricker and Molly Parker. The restrained playing of these two should be a lesson to the rest of the film, which can't resist overplaying and underlining, eg. Friel shivers in the privy ("It's bloody freezing 'ere"), or finds her chirpiness slapped down ("I can't bloody win in this house"). A few nice moments, but, like farm life, mostly a struggle.

Opening the fifth German Film Festival, Sophiiie! is the story of a young woman's dark and degraded night of the soul. Katharina Schuttler stars as Sophie, due at the abortion clinic in the morning but still torturing herself about what to do. The director Michael Hofmann trails her remorselessly as she gets into violent scrapes, tests the patience of various taxi drivers and drinks herself into oblivion. It's a frenzy of self-loathing, orchestrated in the manner of a fever dream or nightmare – and honestly, why bother when you can get either one at home?

Parents should assume the crash position: Santa Clause 2 is a Disney Christmas movie starring Tim Allen, formerly the star of the TV sitcom Home Improvement. Its basic message, that Christmas has no meaning without Santa, is tawdry enough being peddled to kids, but to try it on with adults as well is insupportable. A film to rouse the inner Scrooge in all of us.

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