Stage Beauty (15)<br/>Hellboy (12A)<br/>The Alamo (12A)<br/>Festival Express (15)<br/>Facing Window (15)<br/>You're My Hero (15)<br/>In Casablanca Angels Don't Fly (nc)

The Method comes to Restoration England!
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The Independent Culture

Stage Beauty (15) is a film about a man with an identity crisis, but its own identity crisis is just as severe. It's set in the early 1660s, when all women's roles in the theatre were played by men. The most beautiful of these is Ned Kynaston (Billy Crudup), whose coquettish turns as Desdemona and Cleopatra have made him a heart-throb to all Londoners, male and female.

Stage Beauty (15) is a film about a man with an identity crisis, but its own identity crisis is just as severe. It's set in the early 1660s, when all women's roles in the theatre were played by men. The most beautiful of these is Ned Kynaston (Billy Crudup), whose coquettish turns as Desdemona and Cleopatra have made him a heart-throb to all Londoners, male and female.

Then one day the king (Rupert Everett) decrees that women should be allowed to tread the boards, and Kynaston is upstaged by Maria (Claire Danes), an ingénue who used to be his devoted wardrobe mistress.

Stage Beauty is an enjoyably bawdy romp, especially when Everett is around, playing a Charles II who has a mischievous resemblance to Charles III. But it is, to be Shakespearean about it, a problem play. Richard Eyre, the director, and Jeffrey Hatcher, the writer, touch upon an array of plots, ideas and tones from BBC costume drama to Carry On Nell Gwyn without settling on any of them. Their film strains after authenticity, then it has Ned inventing method acting 300 years ahead of schedule. It wants to be romantic, but features a hero who's in love only with himself. And it has so many extraneous characters that Samuel Pepys (Hugh Bonneville), for one, hangs around with nothing to do except jot in his diary.

Hellboy (12A) is adapted from Mike Mignola's superhero comic, although it owes at least as much to several cinematic sources. It's a film in which ancient demons are scampering around New York (cf Ghostbusters); a top-secret government task force exists to contain them (cf Men in Black); and the villains are ritual-happy Nazi occultists (cf Raiders of the Lost Ark).

What Mignola's comic brings to the party is its offbeat characters. Hellboy (Ron Perlman, pictured right) himself is a gruff, bright-red devil who puffs cigars and files down his horns "to fit in". His sidekicks are an amphibian with the prim voice of David Hyde Pierce, and a woman (Selma Blair) who has an inconvenient habit of bursting into flames, while the forces of evil include a resurrected Rasputin and a German ninja with a clockwork heart.

They're characters that would be worth getting to know, but we're never given the chance. Guillermo del Toro, the writer-director, keeps cobbling together action sequences that have progressively more CGI and less imagination until the film fizzles to a damp squib of a conclusion. As well as Ghostbusters and co, unfortunately, another of del Toro's sources must have been Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.

The rallying cry of Texans and John Wayne fans is "Remember the Alamo!" The response of anyone who's seen The Alamo (12A) would be: "Why?"

It's a singularly uninspiring story. The historical facts are that, in 1836, 200 Texans held a fort for 13 days against an army of 2,400 Mexicans, but the new film version doesn't persuade us that the Texans had any more of a claim to the territory than the Mexicans did, and it doesn't persuade us that it was the bravery and cunning of the Texans that prolonged the siege. Instead, it's the Mexicans who choose to sit back and lure General Houston (Dennis Quaid) into the fight. Inside the fort, nothing happens for two long hours except that Davey Crockett (Billy Bob Thornton) plays some tunes on his fiddle, and Jim Bowie (Jason Patric) swigs whiskey and then dies of consumption. Forget it.

In 1970, The Grateful Dead, The Band and lots of other hairy men with round specs travelled across Canada on a private train, stopping off en route to stage a series of festivals. Festival Express (15) is a documentary about the tour, which the participants remember as a pivotal, once-in-a-lifetime trip.

From an audience's point of view, however, the musicians are just too civilised. They play fusty, twangy blues-rock at the festivals and then when they're back on the train they sit around and play some more fusty, twangy blues-rock: a blast for them, but disappointing if you were hoping for some sex and drugs to go with your rock'n'roll. Janis Joplin stands out with two performances at her frazzled, electrifying peak. Otherwise, everyone on the train is like that bore at the party who sits on the stairs strumming his acoustic guitar.

There are three interesting foreign-language films out this week. In Facing Window (15) a young Italian couple takes in an old man who has lost his memory. It's a smart and involving mystery, but its error is to keep going so long after the mystery is solved. You're My Hero (15) is a big-hearted coming-of-age film set in Seville at the time of Franco's death. In Casablanca Angels Don't Fly (nc) follows three men from the Moroccan countryside to low-paying jobs in a city café. There are some lovely moments, but it feels as if a fourth and maybe a fifth man were needed to bulk it up.

n.barber@independent.co.uk

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