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The Independent Culture
LONE STAR

Director: John Sayles. Starring: Chris Cooper, Matthew McConaughey, Elizabeth Pena, Joe Morton. 15.

Lone Star is the second John Sayles film to be released this year, but thankfully it's a good deal more focused than his whimsical fantasy The Secret of Roan Inish. It begins with the discovery of a skeleton and a rusty old sheriff's badge on an abandoned rifle range near Frontera, a Texas border town. Frontera's sheriff, Sam Deeds (Chris Cooper), takes up the investigation, hardly knowing that it will reveal some raw secrets about his own origins. Deeds begins unravelling the town's history, determining that the bones were those of Charley Wade (Kris Kristofferson), a brutally racist former sheriff who, local legend maintains, was driven away by Deed's own father, Buddy (Matthew McConaughey), a lawman who had the intelligence to know that Wade was tarnishing Texas, and the guts to do something about it.

As with his earlier complex drama, City of Hope, Sayles effortlessly interweaves the lives of numerous characters, from Sam's old flame Pilar (Elizabeth Pena) to a strict colonel (Joe Morton) who treats both his son and his father as though they were his soldiers. The film takes its time drawing the disparate strands together, with the inevitable result that when everything finally does click into place, it all feels too contrived to give the climactic revelations any emotional sting. But Sayles is a genius with actors, and he draws some beautiful performances from Cooper, looking like a bashed-up Sam Shephard and Pena in particular. Lone Star can play like an overstated history lesson, but the seamless shifts between decades add to a lyrical sense of timelessness, where the characters can barely move for the weight of the past bearing down upon them.

JACK

Director: Francis Ford Coppola. Starring: Robin Williams, Diane Lane, Brian Kerwin, Jennifer Lopez, Bill Cosby. PG.

It has long been considered that Robin Williams' screen persona - the fluffy grown-up, the eternal urchin - was somehow indicative of the actor's state of mind. Not so. In Jack, Williams plays a 10 year-old with an accelerated ageing process which gives him the appearance of someone four times his age. "On the inside, he's a kid," somebody notes. You can no longer say that of Williams. On the outside he's a kid, with his keenly observed mannerisms and insistent whinge. But on the inside, he's a calculating self-absorbed charlatan whose love-me routine has finally come undone.

Jack enters this world to a pair of dippy parents (Diane Lane and Brian Kerwin) who observe with wonder as their bouncing baby boy grows and grows. By the time he's 10, Jack is holed up in his bedroom with a home tutor (Bill Cosby) who quickly realises that his ward's talents are going to waste, and recommends that Jack be enrolled in school with other children of his mental if not physical age. Cue a sickening finale in which Jack is declared an inspiration to the world, "a shooting star amongst ordinary stars". Jesus in other words.

What this abominable film never explains is why Jack should be considered such a hero. With Williams in the role, the character isn't even endearing, let alone inspirational. Pitched as an uplifting comedy, the film is closer to a morbidly depressing tragedy once you notice who directed it - Francis Ford Coppola. Somebody with a very large cheque book must have made him an offer he couldn't refuse.

BROTHERS IN TROUBLE

Director: Udayan Prasad. Starring: Om Puri, Angeline Ball, Pavan Malhotra, Pravesh Kumar. 15.

When Amir (Pavan Malhotra) enters 1960s England from Pakistan, it is without grace or ceremony. He arrives squeezed into a vegetable crate, thin and tatty as an old stick of celery. Once in the country, his living conditions make the crate seem spacious. Stuck in a house with 17 other illegal immigrants, Amir must adjust to the daily grind of life in a country which delivers far less than it promised.

Udayan Parsad's murky film goes some distance on very little incident, thanks to a sharp screenplay and some gentle playing from Pravesh Kumar, as one of Amir's housemates, and Angeline Ball as Mary, the young Irish woman who ends up being coerced into a fraudulent marriage. At first she's a little ray of sunshine. Literally so: every time she opens the door, a blinding shaft of light carves through the gloom. That's the only indulgence from a director who has enough faith in his material not to labour over the numerous dramatic confrontations. Low-key but ultimately bright-eyed, Brothers in Trouble is a film filled with plenty of odd little pleasures.

YIDDLE WITH HIS FIDDLE

Director: Joseph Green. Starring: Molly Picon. NC. (subtitles)

The main presentation of the Barbican's festival of Yiddish cinema is a touching 1936 musical which foreshadows Barbra Streisand's Yentl. Comedian Molly Picon plays a young woman who disguises herself as a boy in order to tag along with a gang of musicians making their way through 1930s Poland. The inevitable romantic complications ensue, and there's even a daring brush with homosexuality when Picon falls for a band mate. The jokes are orchestrated with precision, but the biggest laugh comes from the title song's ingenious onomatopoeic lyrics.

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