Autumn In New York (15); <br></br>Say It Isn't So (15); <br></br>Dracula 2001 (15); <br></br>Another Life (15); <br></br>No Place To Go (Nc); <br></br>Like Father Amber Collective (15)

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The Independent Culture

The problem with Richard Gere and Winona Ryder in the romantic weepie Autumn in New York isn't their supposed age difference ­ he's 48 and she's 22 ­ but the feeling that the two stars barely know one another. He plays Will, a celebrity chef and epic womaniser; she plays Charlotte, a whey-faced orphan who designs expensively fussy (and horrible) hats. They meet when she has a birthday party in his restaurant and tells him: "You're fabulous." Will takes the compliment in his stride, and pretty soon they're having breakfast on his roof terrace. (This is a Lifestyle Movie, so it's all glinty bars and fabulous apartments.) Who knows, he may even reform his philandering ways and actually fall in love.

Their prospects are tainted, however, because Charlotte is dying of a tumour. This might have been a cause for pathos if the film hadn't framed illness so prettily and telegraphed her fainting fits so obviously; it gets to the point when every time he looks away she collapses and there's another dramatic dash to the hospital. The audience at the press screening revelled in derision. Director Joan Chen goes at full tilt to make Manhattan look beautiful under falling leaves and snow (the ice rink at the Rockefeller Center is a favourite scene), but Allison Burnett's screenplay seems unwilling to seek alternatives to the mawkish or the hackneyed. The only liveliness to be found is on the margins: in Elaine Stritch's astringent grande dame performance as Charlotte's guardian; Anthony LaPaglia as Gere's bartender; and Mary Beth Hurt as a straight-talking doctor ("You don't hum this thing away," she replies when Will raises the possibility of alternative medicine). All the same, even their best efforts can't excuse the lacklustre central pairing and won't discourage frequent groans, guffaws and glances at your watch as Autumn wears on.

Having the Farrelly brothers listed as producers should alert us to the prevalence of gross-out gags in Say It Isn't So, but their name is no longer a guarantee of quality, I'm afraid, if it ever were. Chris Klein plays a lovable dope (much as he did in Election and American Pie) who falls for gorgeous blonde hairdresser Heather Graham, but their plans to marry are derailed when it is revealed that, thanks to her trailer-trash mom (Sally Field), he's actually her long-lost brother. Cue a dreary and preposterous flurry of sequences ­ you couldn't call it a plot ­ wherein Klein learns that the paternity call is false and attempts to win back his sweetheart, an excuse for writers Peter Gaulke and Gerry Swallow to test the limits of vulgarity with jokes about necrophilia, masturbation, prosthetic legs and a town called Beaver. Oh, and there's a scene in which Klein is obliged to run through town with his hand up a cow's backside. I wish I could say it isn't so.

Dracula 2001 also plasters a 'Star Producer' kite mark on its credits ­ Wes Craven this time ­ but it's far from a Scream. This is the Bram Stoker legend edited for the MTV market, peopled by a young Anglo-American cast and festooned with an array of special effects that already look dated. Christopher Plummer plays Dr Van Helsing and Justine Waddell his estranged daughter, who not only works (spot the product placement) in the New Orleans Virgin Megastore, but has been having premonitions of a date with young Drac himself. In the title role, Gerard Butler, with his dandyish black curls, resembles not so much a Prince of Darkness as interior decor luvvy Lawrence Llewellyn Bowen. I kept expecting him to run his finger along his matt-grey coffin and say, "Well, we could certainly brighten this up." He couldn't make it look any more ridiculous.

Based on a true story, Another Life is a very English story of manners, marriage and murder. Set in suburban Ilford in the early Twenties, when underwear was still called "unmentionables", it focuses upon a dreamy, spirited young woman named Edith Thompson (Natasha Little) and her fateful adultery with Freddie Bywaters (Ioan Gruffudd), 10 years her junior and one-time suitor of her sister (Rachael Stirling). Nick Moran plays Percy, Edith's strait-laced husband, whose refusal to divorce her proved the nemesis for all three. Writer-director Philip Goodhew, having dealt with similar material in Intimate Relations, gets good performances from the cast, Little and Stirling in particular, and captures both the repressive dowdiness of "polite" society and the yearning of a woman who saw beyond it.

No Place to Go also recounts a true story about a woman's decline and fall, though writer-director Oskar Roehler's portrait of Hanna Flanders (Hannelore Elsner) cuts even closer to the bone: it is based on the character of his mother, the German writer Gisela Elsner. Shot in melancholy black and white, it examines Hanna's inability to cope with change and her tragic choice of remedy in drugs, drink and the most outlandish wig since Tina Turner's. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 prompts her to relaunch herself on the world, but her old talent for getting on has evaporated, and her love of life with it. This is a deeply cheerless tale, no question, but set against the rest of the week's junk a big helping of Teutonic angst is not unwelcome.

Like Father, the third film to emerge from the Durham-based Amber Collective, is an earnest drama about three generations of a working-class family coming to terms with their emotional and economic legacies. Pigeon-fancying, greyhound racing and bingo at the club are presented with a fearless lack of irony, and as Joe Elliot, ex-miner, trumpet player and troubled family man, Joe Armstrong gives a likeably rounded lead performance. I hope we see more of him.

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