Marinated in gin...

also showing...; Trees Lounge Steve Buscemi (15) Conspirators of Pleasure Jan Svankmajer (nc) In Love and War Richard Attenborough (12) She's the One Edward Burns (15) Fierce Creatures Robert Young / Fred Schepisi (PG) Powder Victor Salva (12) Harriet the Spy Bronwen Hughes (PG)
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The Independent Culture
In Trees Lounge, his first film as a director, Steve Buscemi plays Tommy, a barfly who lands a job working as an ice-cream man and gets himself into hot water by hanging around with Debbie (Chloe Sevigny), a teenage friend of the family. To suggest that the film has even the most minimal plot may be to do it a disservice, as it is effectively defined by its own shapelessness: it has the meandering structure of a conversation you might have with any of its characters - a parade of dreamers who spend their lives marinating in memories and gin. Fortunately, Buscemi (who also wrote the lolling screenplay) eschews the self-pity that characterises many full-time boozers, and chooses instead to emphasise the glimmers of hope in their lives.

Like many of Buscemi's screen characters, Tommy is a persistent source of irritation to those around him, but the film is very sharp about his insecurities, particularly in the scenes he shares with his former buddy Rob (Anthony LaPaglia), who has made Tommy's ex-girlfriend pregnant. The film has its share of annoying little indulgences, particularly in the long, unblinking close-ups of an old soak staring into the distance. But it's a good-natured, intelligent debut, with a nice line in tragi-comic humour, and a revelatory performance from Chloe Sevigny, all battered glamour and effortless savvy, which shows just what Larry Clark squandered when he (mis-)directed her in Kids.

After the rather leaden Faust, it's thrilling to have Jan Svankmajer back at the peak of his powers with Conspirators of Pleasure. There's hardly any animation in the new film, but Svankmajer's imagination is operating at full throttle, relishing the gloriously diverse and obsessive ways in which we each express our sexual desires, while maintaining a taut relationship between the absurd and the grimly disturbing. It's a Freudian shaggy-dog story that is as hilarious, intangible, idiosyncratic and terrifying as the most unspeakable sexual fantasy you've ever entertained. Yes, that good.

Any film that casts the square-jawed, walking anaesthetic Chris O'Donnell as Ernest Hemingway cannot claim to have much truck with reality. Accordingly, Love and War, which tells the story of the young Hemingway's war-time romance with the nurse Agnes Von Kirowsky (Sandra Bullock), makes infrequent touchdowns on planet earth, occupying instead a kind of soft-focus no- man's-land where statements like "I didn't know it at the time, but the choices I made in Northern Italy would affect me for the rest of my life" can pass unchecked through border control. You could blame the film's failure on George Fenton's oppressive score, or Richard Attenborough's self-conscious direction, both of which stifle any burgeoning intimacy. But the casting is the problem. How passionate can any film be when your first reaction upon seeing the male lead swigging alcohol is to wonder if he shouldn't temper it with a jot of lemonade?

Only viewers with sniper's eyes will spot the difference between Edward Burns's ingratiating debut The Brothers McMullen, and his follow-up She's the One. Burns concerns himself with questions that only usually trouble those with an impoverished cultural diet: will men and women ever get along? How can a woman compete with what good, sturdy, heterosexual men share in private? In short, nothing of any great significance.

That She's the One manages to wring a few chuckles out of you while unfurling the story of squabbling siblings Francis (Mike McGlone) and Mickey (Burns) is testimony to Burns's skill as a gag-writer, not a director or dramatist. The film has a very naive view of relationships: the men are capricious beasts, while the women (except Cameron Diaz in the thankless role of resident bitch) are grounded in reality. The final scene shows a woman being allowed on the brothers' men-only fishing trip. In Burns's world, that's called progress.

As the country is now well aware, Fierce Creatures is not a sequel to A Fish Called Wanda (though it reunites that film's principals - John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline and Michael Palin). It's just a distracting little comedy with an Ealing-esque theme - tiny British zoo must defend itself against ruthless Australian conglomerate - and a clutch of star names giving their all to a script which they know is beneath them. The most gleefully nasty scenes, such as Cleese arguing that a stretchered woman is faking her injuries, carry overbearing echoes of Fawlty Towers, which paradoxically makes them the saddest moments too. When a talent has sunk this low, it hurts to be reminded of how high it once soared.

Powder is named after its hero, a super-intelligent misfit who resembles a cross between Lindsay Kemp in Sebastiane, and a cue-ball: his skin would make an albino look like a sunbed addict. Powder (Sean Patrick Flannery) was born as his mother died from being struck by lightning. When he's finally tempted into school, his science teacher (Jeff Goldblum) concludes that the boy is pure electricity. But it's the tragic fate of the outcast to be ... well, outcast. There are some unexpected bursts of invention here, but the best reason for seeing the film is Jeff Goldblum. With his inflections- from-another-planet and pauses that would test the patience of Pinter, he makes the film's hero seem positively normal.

Even the most heavily sedated children will not fail to notice that absolutely nothing happens during the first 50 minutes of the new comedy Harriet the Spy, adapted from Louise Fitzhugh's 1964 novel about a mischievous 11-year-old whose diary lands her in trouble with her pals. You'll barely be able to hear the dialogue for the sound of thumbs being twiddledn

All films open tomorrow

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