Alexander (15)<br></br>Turtles Can Fly (15)<br></br>End Of The Century, The Story Of The Ramones (nc)<br></br>Undead (15)<br></br>White Noise (15)

And when Alexander saw his biopic, he wept - for it was long and confusing
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The Independent Culture

There are several key scenes that any biopic of Alexander the Great has to have: the one in which an oracle proclaims that he's Zeus's son, for instance, and the one in which he takes control of Egypt. But Oliver Stone's Alexander (15) misses out both of them. Instead, after about an hour on Alex's childhood, the film jumps to the battle of Gaugamela, and those intervening, life-changing episodes are merely mentioned in passing by the narrator, Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins). And that's what happens all through the film. Time and time again the most significant stuff is left to Ptolemy, who's seen doddering around the library of Alexandria, listing dozens of Greek names with all the expression of a middle-manager reading an end-of-year sales report. He still can't fill all the yawning holes in the narrative, though. There's even more exposition from Alexander's mother (Angelina Jolie), who rasps her lines in the voice of an East-European Bond girl - never mind that Alexander (Colin Farrell) and his dad (Val Kilmer) share an Irish brogue.

The film - aka, Olly's folly - is mired in confusion. Stone marches from country to country for three long hours but he never settles on what story he wants to tell or why he wants to tell it. For example, he seems obsessed by what he sees as the gay marriage between Alexander and Hephaiston (Jared Leto), but he doesn't let them kiss, nor does he explain what impact, if any, their relationship had on Alexander's achievements. And the embodiment of this confusion is the central character. In Stone's version of events, the ancient world's mightiest warrior was a shy, sensitive wuss with a footballer's bleach-job and a tendency to break down sobbing.

Turtles Can Fly (15) is the first film to be made in Iraq since the war.

It's set two years ago in a Kurdish village where the refugee children make a living by digging landmines out of fields, marshalled by an immensely likeable artful dodger who calls himself Satellite. He's heard that the Americans are about to invade, but he's more curious about the sad, scowling girl who has just wandered into the village.

Written and directed by Bahman Ghobadi, Turtles Can Fly is the most powerful film to come from the Middle East since his last one, A Time For Drunken Horses. He documents life at its toughest with devastating clarity - few other film-makers would show us a boy with no arms unearthing a mine with his teeth - but he never forgets that hardship exists in the same world as humour and deep blue skies. As in A Time For Drunken Horses, it's the resourcefulness and courage of the children that make it so moving.

With their collective stage-surname and their biker uniforms, The Ramones always appeared to be the tightest, most united of bands. A new documentary, End Of The Century, The Story Of The Ramones (nc), illustrates just how deceptive that appearance was. Joey, the singer with the figure of a sickly pipecleaner, was a Jewish liberal. Johnny, the guitarist and business manager, was a Nixonian conservative. Dee Dee, the bassist, was always addicted to one substance or another. And Tommy, the drummer, wanted to stay home in New York.

The documentary may be as rough and ready as the Ramones' songs, and it's certainly not as concise, but it's still one of rock's best stories - the story of how four delinquents from Queens inspired generations of bands, but then had to watch as those bands' success eclipsed their own. It's an American tragicomedy - and when you see Dee Dee's shockingly misguided attempt to relaunch himself as a rapper you'll realise that no other word than tragicomedy will do.

"When I was a kid we fuckin' respected our parents," fulminates the sheriff in Undead (15). "We didn't fuckin' eat 'em!" Just when you thought you'd seen the last of the nu-zombie films, another shuffles along, this one a loony homage to 1950s B movies, but set in a dusty Queensland town: imagine if Robert Rodriguez or Sam Raimi had made his earliest films with the cast of Muriel's Wedding. The low-budget creativity suggests that its writer-directors, twin brothers named Michael and Peter Spierig, could have a blockbuster in them yet. For now, Undead is the sort of film you'd keep watching if you stumbled across it on TV after closing time.

White Noise (15) is a dreary, overcomplicated ghost story that wants to be The Sixth Sense. It's based on the notion that if you listen hard enough to the static between radio stations you can hear the voices of the dead - surely an argument for buying a digital radio. Michael Keaton plays the architect who explores this notion after his wife is killed, so for most of the film he's sitting in front of a tape recorder, frowning.

n.barber@independent.co.uk

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