New Films

SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE (15)

Director: Guy Madden

Starring: Gwyneth Paltrow, Joseph Fiennes

See The Independent Recommends, right.

Countrywide

STEPMOM (12)

Director: Chris Columbus

Starring: Susan Sarandon, Julia Roberts

Notebooks out for your authentic Mom Movie recipe. Lay a pastry of wisecracks, add tears and shrink-wrapped life lessons, then ice it all off with a dedication to the director's own "mom". Stepmom skimps on nothing. This sugar-glazed, oven-ready affair casts an out-of-sorts Susan Sarandon as a middle-aged matriarch squabbling over her offspring with the new model mom (Julia Roberts) that hubby Ed Harris has hooked up with. The first mom gets poorly and laughter turns to tears (or at least weary resignation). Sad but true, mothers die too. Didn't your mom teach you anything?

Countrywide

TWO GIRLS AND A GUY (18) (15)

Director: James Toback

Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Heather Graham

James Toback's taut menage a trois drama prowls edgily around its lone loft-space location and probes aggressively at the psychological make-up of its three central characters. Heather Graham and Natasha Gregson Warner are the duped girlfriends of Robert Downey Jr's love-rat prima donna, and Two Girls and a Guy gives them plenty of room to move and breathe, turning the resulting yarn into a pungent acting showcase. Toback's picture is essentially filmed theatre, and struggles to sustain itself throughout a feature-length running time. That said, the vibrant writing and moody atmospherics cast a considerable spell.

Limited Release

VERY BAD THINGS (18)

Director: Peter Berg

Starring: Christian Slater, Cameron Diaz

A bunch of stag-weekenders accidentally kill a Las Vegas whore, intentionally murder the security guard who rumbles the crime, then start coming apart at the seams on their arrival home. Peter Berg's debut serves up swaggering, gross-out comedy in a Loaded magazine style, but it's finally a film with nowhere to go save from shrill to shriller to shrillest. More crucially, you're never quite sure whether Berg is satirising his rapacious white males or merely indulging them in their thirtysomething kicks. Virtuoso nastiness, plus some full-throttle acting from Daniel Stern (as the gang's most guilt-ridden member) and Cameron Diaz (a ball-breaking fiancee) lend the mess a certain shameful allure.

Countrywide

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