Man in the moon

also showing...; Box of Moonlight Tom DiCillo (15) The Funeral Abel Ferrara (18) The Addiction Abel Ferrara(18) Metro Thomas Carter (18) The Saint Philip Noyce (12)
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The Independent Culture
One of the first shots in Box of Moonlight is of a deer grazing in a tranquil, sun-dappled forest. The camera draws nearer and we discover that the deer is absolutely still - and absolutely porcelain. As a way of warning an audience that nothing is what it seems, this is pretty much unbeatable. You need that visual foreword, because at times Box of Moonlight threatens to develop into exactly what you expect it's going to be - the story of an uptight working man who meets a wild free spirit and sheds his inhibitions. But it's more than that. One character describes himself as "off the grid", and that's a fair description of the film - normal rules do not apply.

John Turturro plays Al Fountain, an engineer working as a construction supervisor on a job far from home. He sits alone at dinner, and his workmates ridicule him behind his back. Add to this his daily clinical telephone calls to a wife and son who seem relieved not to have him breathing down their neck, and you have a man who couldn't be any more tragic if he had the words "sad loser" tattooed across his forehead.

Or so it seems. But the deftness of the director Tom DiCillo's screenplay, and the warmth of Turturro's playing, result in a character who consistently subverts his own idea of himself. He may be coiled tighter than his hair, but Al has his share of loose wiring. When the construction job is mysteriously cancelled, all the workers go back to their families except him. He visits a lake where he played as a child, only to find that it has been polluted - perhaps not the most subtle of metaphors, but one that DiCillo soon compensates for by having Al collide with The Kid, who is something like a firecracker in a Davy Crockett costume. The young actor Sam Rockwell pulls off a wonderful balancing act here between kinetic stand-up comedian and irritating adolescent, but like Turturro, he too is energised by DiCillo's writing, which always keeps the character levitating two inches above the nearest available pigeonhole.

Rockwell gives the film its vigour, stripping to his bright red underpants and bounding around the rocks like a New Age superhero, but it's the delicate shifts in power between Al and The Kid that create the friction that keeps the picture in motion. Box of Moonlight often appears to be on the brink of becoming a fable or a buddy movie, but DiCillo isn't interested in pursuing those well-trodden paths. The magic of the film is in its ability to make startling detours from every course that it seems set to take, so that it resembles a Talking Heads song made celluloid rather than an Iron Johnny-come-lately.

Even if you are a stranger to the work of Abel Ferrara, you will gather from the title of his new film The Funeral that it won't exactly be A funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. It's a dark, brooding study of the fall of one mobster family in Thirties New York, precipitated by the killing of one of their members, 22-year-old Johnny (Vincent Gallo). His older brothers Ray (Christopher Walken) and Chez (Chris Penn) swear revenge, and as the film alternates between flashbacks to the days leading up to Johnny's death, and scenes of the brothers grappling with their loss, the family hurtles toward self-destruction. "Forget last rites," someone tells a priest preparing to enter the grieving household. "What they need in there is an exorcist."

Nicholas St John's screenplay throws up ideas about responsibility and religion, with little order or illumination. At one point, a man faced with the barrel of Ray's gun pleads, "You've got the chance to do something good! Don't pull the trigger!", which is like having the writer trudge on screen and start annotating the action. It's a badly disjointed work too, a collection of powerful scenes lacking the investment in narrative necessary to connect them. Many of the performances are electrifying nevertheless, notably Chris Penn, whose rage swells him up like a boil ready for lancing. But The Funeral is finally a depressing work whose immaturity can be glimpsed in a climax which argues that we can only progress by obliterating mistakes, and the people who make them.

You wait three years for an Abel Ferrara movie (well, maybe not you, but someone) and then two come along at once. Made before The Funeral, and sharing some of its cast and most of its crew, The Addiction is a fiercely intellectual attempt to analyse human morality through the story of a philosophy student (Lili Taylor) who becomes a vampire. While both films concern themselves with identifying the various choices that determine who we are, The Addiction is a more considered effort, presenting its arguments in the same detached theoretical manner which it condemns its "heroine" for applying to life. The weight and bravery of Taylor's performance is the movie's saving grace - without her, it would simply be an itinerary of theories and philosophies expounded to no dramatic effect.

At the bottom of the barrel this week are two inept thrillers. Despite starring Eddie Murphy as a hostage negotiator, Metro has an interesting first half, with support from the excellent Michael Rappaport, and an ingenious car-chase that makes you wonder if the film was set in San Francisco solely to invite comparison with Bullitt. Everything falls apart in the last hour, ruined mostly by a condition known as screenwriter's sexism, which creates female characters who are only good for being tied to railway tracks (or in this case, a lathe) and being rescued.

The good news about The Saint is that it in no way resembles the tacky Seventies spy series. The bad news is that it's much, much worse - a combination of Fletch and In Like Flint, which sounds like the kind of diabolical concoction only an evil scientist could dream up. Val Kilmer plays Simon Templar, the jet-setting secret agent who is planning to quit his job once his bank account hits the $50 million mark. You tend to lose all sympathy for him upon discovering this detail. That's if it hadn't evaporated already; with his array of comic voices and false moustaches, Kilmer would be more suited to a summer season at the Southend Cliffs Pavilion than a Hollywood movie n

All films are on general release from tomorrow