Nun on the run, cowgirls on acid - and morons in space

Amateur US (15) Director: Hal Hartley Even Cowgirls Get the Blues US (15) Director: Gus van Sant Love, Cheat and Steal US (18) Director: William Curran StarGate US (PG) Director: Roland Emmerich Timecop US (18) Director: Peter Hyams

Hal Hartley describes Amateur as "an action thriller with one flat tyre": how's that for a snazzy high-concept movie-pitch? And how's this for a synopsis: ex-nun and virgin nymphomaniac turned failed pornographer becomes involved with a handsome amnesiacwho used violently to abuse his former mistress, a porn star, who in turn sets a brace of high-powered corporate assassins on her lover's tail?

You will gather that, unlike his early, meandering comedies of social anomie (The Unbelievable Truth, Trust, Simple Men), Hartley's new film is rather on the strong side in the plot department.

It adopts that hoariest of Hollywood conventions, the amnesiac who's not nearly as nice as he seems, and a genre format, but this is a gangster picture at two removes: just as French post-war film-makers refashioned the serie B thriller with an existential spin, so Hartley reworks it yet again from a post-modern American perspective. His stylish, melancholy, terminally self-conscious hoods put you in mind of all those little Bogarts clutching copies of Camus and toting guns like fashion accessories thatyou find in Godard's movies.

The European accent is reinforced by Isabelle Huppert (Hartley's biggest star yet) and the Romanian-born Elina Lowensohn as the two female leads: in their mouths his deadpan dialogue acquires added layers of strangeness and absurdity. The film's title r e flects, Hartley says, "the way I feel most of the the time, sort of confused about what . . . `competence' refers to". It also alludes to the charming ineptitude of all his characters (Huppert writes the saddest pornography you ever heard; Lowensohn's bi d at blackmail fails spectacularly; even the Yuppie hitmen can't operate their mobile phones). Finally, Hartley must want to invoke the word's other meaning: enthusiast or admirer. He's an acquired taste, but the new film has a warmth, humour and humanit y that might please even hostile palates.

Gus van Sant's Even Cowgirls Get the Blues had all the hallmarks of the coolest film of the year, if not the decade: cult source novel by Tom Robbins, rich and strange cast (Uma Thurman, Angie Dickenson, Keanu Reeves, John Hurt, William Burroughs), soun d track by kd lang, vintage Seventies hippie-feminist story. It premiered at Venice in 1993 to an unfriendly reception and has taken this long to resurface, radically re-edited by the director. The result is better, more streamlined; the tedious character of The Chink has been nudged on to the sidelines. It remains a mess, but a fitfully interesting one.

Because of Christmas screening schedules I saw Love, Cheat and Steal two weeks ago and can barely remember it. A dull film noir that shows how hard it is to do these well (for a textbook example see John Dahl's The Last Seduction), it stars Eric Roberts and Madchen Amick.

In the week's two straight action movies, Big Brother is watching us. In Washington, Clinton may agonise over US foreign policy, but it's good to know that, back in Hollywood, Uncle Sam is still busy making the world safe for democracy. In fact he's extending his dominion: in StarGate and Timecop he's the legitimate policeman of space, time and everything.

In StarGate James Spader's shuffling, shambolic academic preaches the crackpot theory that the Pyramids were built, not by ancient Egyptians, but by aliens from outer space. What if he were right? And what if the ancient structures turned out to be spacecapsules capable of transporting you to wondrous civilisations gazillions of light years away? What, then, would be the response of the US military? Why, they would immediately despatch Kurt Russell to nuke the whole planet. StarGate starts out like a conspiracy thriller about crop circles directed by Oliver Stone and ends up like Rambo in Outer Space. The planet, it turns out, is under the thumb of the swishy, despotic King Ra (Jaye Davidson, from The Crying Game) and it's all down to our American friends to liberate this extraterrestrial Third World, plying the grateful natives with candy bars, cigarettes and other boons of capitalism along the way. Directed by Roland Emmerich, this is an old-fashioned space opera with an enjoyabl y daft script, thundering soundtrack, and whooshy special effects.

Elsewhere in the galaxy, the invention of time travel in the year 2004 prompts Washington to set up an Enforcement Commission to stop miscreants tampering with history. Jean-Claude van Damme (whom Emmerich propelled out of the kickboxing ghetto with Universal Soldier) is the Commission's star Timecop, having joined up to forget the murder of his pregnant wife.

Actors who play JC's loved ones are used to short-term contracts: his brothers and (now that he's starry enough to be allowed romantic interest) wives have a brief life expectancy. It's the human factor which justifies his spending entire films vengefully kicking ass. But has he learnt how to act? Let's just say I haven't yet established to my satisfaction whether he's animal, vegetable or mineral. But Timecop is his most expensive movie yet, and the makers are taking no chances. With a confident actiondirector, Peter Hyams (Capricorn One; 2010), and dependable character actors (Ron Silver, Bruce McGill) on either flank, the Muscles from Brussels almost manages to look good.

Arts and Entertainment
Kate Bush: 'I'm going to miss everyone so much'
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Arts and Entertainment


These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals