Staying In: Video Reviews

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The Independent Culture
It's a Wonderful Life (U) Polygram, retail, pounds 12.99 HHHH

Cynics beware: Frank Capra's uplifting Christmas fable, It's a Wonderful Life, has been digitally enhanced in time for the season of goodwill. It stars James Stewart as George Bailey, the philanthropic head of the Bedford Falls Building & Loan. Approaching a potentially fatal crossroads in his life, George is visited by an angel who shows him how life would have been if he had never been born. Anticipating Back to the Future and Groundhog Day as well as harking back to Dickens's A Christmas Carol, Capra's creation is much more than the homage to American values which it is often dismissed as. The ending is also one of the slushiest in film history, but will melt the chilliest of hearts.

Sliding Doors (15) CIC, rental HH

The only moral of Peter Howitt's tale seems to be that blondes do have more fun. Stick-insect Gwyneth Paltrow sports opposing hairdos in two alternative realities after being sacked from her PR job. In the first, she squeezes through the closing doors of a train, allowing her to get home in time to find her boyfriend (John Lynch) "up to his nuts" in Lydia. Alternatively, she misses the train and gets home after Lydia has left. The first Helen gets a makeover and a budding romance while the second gets a dead-end job and brown hair. John Hannah's gabbling Scot will have you spitting with rage but Paltrow's acutely observed posh-girl's accent is stunningly good. Ultimately a banal rendering of an interesting idea.

The Wings of the Dove (15) Buena Vista, retail, pounds 14.99 HHHH

A literary drama which takes a refreshing and contemporary slant on Henry James's gloomy novel. Helena Bonham Carter plays a wonderfully bruised Kate Croy, who orchestrates the romantic lives of journalist Merton Densher (Linus Roache) and terminally ill heiress Milly Teale (Alison Elliot). Croy arranges a meeting between the two in order that they will marry and Merton inherit Milly's wealth. While there are enough taffeta frocks to keep period puritans happy, director Iain Softley daringly contravenes the costume code as Bonham Carter hitches up her skirts in the backstreets of Venice. As the camera prowls amid their nefarious activities, this lost trio exude enough feverish desire and dark seediness to make you flinch.

The Apostle (12) CIC, rental HHHH

Robert Duvall simultaneously elicits empathy and sends shivers down your spine as the raging evangelist Sonny, in a deeply unsettling picture which he also wrote and directed. The actor manages to combine the preacher's innate compassion, seen in the mesmerising conversion of a local iconoclast, with his travelling- salesman diatribe and ugly lechery. Sonny's sermons are stunningly delivered, filled with alliteration, repetition and call-and-response banter, and undercut with a smidgen of fire and brimstone. Reflecting its leader, the Vegas-style advert on the top of his church - an arrow lined with fairy lights pointing to heaven - is both comical and horribly sinister. If I was able to hand out Oscars, Duvall would top my list.

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