Keeping Mum (15)<br/>Tickets (15)<br/>Lower City (18)<br/>Doom (15)

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The Independent Culture

Keeping Mum (15)

Black farce meets CurtisWorld Britcom, and the marriage is not a happy one. Maggie Smith plays Grace, the saintly housekeeper who arrives to sort out an ailing vicarage family: the Reverend (Rowan Atkinson) is too busy for sex and has driven his wife (Kristin Scott Thomas) into the sleazy embrace of her golfing instructor (Patrick Swayze); the teenage daughter sleeps around and the schoolboy son is being bullied.

The joke is that Grace, on the quiet, is a homicidal nutcase, though this secret jars dreadfully with the whimsical comedy that dominates elsewhere. It's aiming for the macabre jauntiness of Kind Hearts and Coronets, and misses quite badly.

There's nothing wrong with the acting: Smith and Scott Thomas are in fine fettle, and Atkinson plays the role of the undynamic vicar so straight it becomes almost moving. But, a couple of decent lines aside, this is strictly boil-in-a-bag Sunday evening comedy whose wobbly tone - four-letter words and flower shows? - never convinces.

Tickets (15)

Strangers on a train link the trio of stories in this absorbing portmanteau picture. Ermanno Olmi's opening segment has a melancholy professor (Carlo Delle Piane) pondering what might have been with a younger PR woman (a lovely performance by Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), while an intrusive military presence crowds about him.

The middle section, by the Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, is even better: a sleepy-eyed Italian youth (Filippo Trojano) is caught between his duties to a military widow and his interest in a young girl who remembers him from their hometown. Only Ken Loach's sentimental concluding episode strikes false notes, as three rascally Celtic fans travelling to Rome become involved with a refugee family from Albania. Even this has its moments. All three stories contemplate boundaries and exclusion, and celebrate small acts of kindness in a world which for some is no better than a jail.

Lower City (18)

This raw, angst-driven love story from the slum streets of north Brazil could almost be a pendant to Fernando Mereilles' City of God. Sergio Machado's debut feature plays a variation on the eternal triangle between two best friends (Lazaro Ramos, Wagner Moura) and a sultry young prostitute (Alice Braga).

Prefiguring the conflict at a vicious cock fight, Machado moves through exuberance, doubt, aggression and lashings of red-hot sex before arriving, exhausted, at a kind of truce. As a portrait of survival on society's edges it's persuasive; as an insight into strutting male rivalry it's little short of painful.

Doom (15)

Movies based on computer games: who are they for? Not for the obsessive games player, surely, once the control panel has been removed, and not for anyone with an attention span longer than a gnat's.

Perhaps action-movie freaks will warm to this tale of a marine troop sent to a scientific facility on Mars with a mission: stalking killer mutants down clanging corridors and then blasting them to atoms. The Rock does duty as lead, while Rosamund Pike plays the eye-candy, sorry, forensic archaeologist. Not one for the CV, Ros.

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