VIDEO REVIEWS

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The Independent Culture
Mulan (U)

Buena Vista, retail HH

There was a time when Disney heroines were simpering dolts whose primary objective was to escape the shackles of some cruel stepmother figure and land themselves a Prince Charming. But with Mulan, the hallowed corporation seems to have had a change of heart. In this epic tale, a young girl dresses up as a soldier, joins the Imperial army and saves first-century China from a Hun invasion. OK, so there is a spurious love interest, and the usual comic side-kick - in this case Eddie Murphy as a loquacious lizard - but neither dominate the basic premise of female empowerment.

Life Is Beautiful (PG)

Buena Vista, rental, DVD retail HHH

Roberto Benigni directs and stars in this fable about a Jewish man who tries to shield his young son from the terror of a Nazi concentration camp by pretending that it is a game. "I made a reservation!" he cries, leaping onto the packed cattle trucks, declaring that points will be deducted from those who refuse to wear uniforms or ask for more food. Though Benigni softens the horrors of the camp - deaths occur off-screen and the only bodies appear through a woolly mist - Life Is Beautiful remains a bold and utterly moving picture.

The Negotiator (15)

Warner, retail HHH

When Samuel L Jackson's Chicago hostage-crisis fixer finds he's been framed for his partner's murder, he engineers a hostage situation of his own to clear his name. Kevin Spacey plays Chicago's other negotiator, the only guy in town with whom Jackson is willing to play psychological mind-games. Jackson's hostages incorporate the requisite bad guys, a couple of warm-hearted types, a woman and a thicko, so you know what is going to happen from the start. Nevertheless, the chemistry between Spacey and Jackson is just about enough to carry the film - as long as you don't dwell on the plot.

She's All That (12)

FilmFour, rental HH

It's that old ugly duckling routine again. Re-visiting Grease and Pretty In Pink territory, She's All That stars Freddie Prinze Jr as Zack, a highschool jock whose friends bet that he can't transform Rachael Leigh Cook's bespectacled geek into a prom queen. Cook is actually a sensitive loner who spends more time playing the matriarch at home than powdering her nose at high-school. Inevitably, when she dons a hideous ballgown and mingles with the bouffant bitches at high school, Zack learns the error of his ways and falls in love. Insufferably asinine stuff.

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