VIDEO REVIEWS

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The Independent Culture
Pi (15)

Fox Pathe, DVD, retail HHHH

The fine line between genius and madness is deftly explored in Darren Aronofsky's first feature. Shot in grainy black and white, it upholds the philosophy that everything can be represented and explained through numbers. The story revolves around Max, a reclusive but brilliant teenager on the cusp of discovering the numerical key to the universe. As word gets around, he finds himself persecuted by a Wall Street syndicate and a group of weirdy beardies who believe he has unlocked the secret name of God. Whether Pi adds up or not is anybody's guess, but it certainly stands up as a psychological thriller.

Cruel Intentions (15)

Columbia Tristar, rental HHH

Loosely based on Dangerous Liaisons Roger Kumble's picture pulses with deceit and cruelty. The scheming Kathryn (Sarah Michelle Gellar) seeks revenge on her ex-boyfriend who dumped her for the gauche Cecile (Selma Blair). She wants her stepbrother, a notorious seducer, to deflower her rival, though he is more interested in the challenge of the new headmaster's daughter (Reese Witherspoon). Although the plot sometimes fails to convince, the performances lend the picture a patina of class and there is pleasure in seeing the American teen movie transformed into a depraved sex-fest.

Tea With Mussolini (PG)

Warner, rental HH

Joan Plowright, Maggie Smith and Judi Dench are a group of bossy expat Brits living in Florence in 1934. Cher takes time off from singing to play a vulgar yet altruistic American socialite who gradually gains Smith's respect. Franco Zeffirelli's picture is an absurdly romanticised view of the war, in which Smith goes to meet Mussolini to have tea and give him a piece of her mind and, when Dench comes across a bunch of Nazi thugs on the street, she yells: "Stop this nonsense at once!" There is a distinct lack of focus, too, as the various sub-plots become confusing, not to mention implausible.

Swingers (15)

Fox, retail HHHH

Doug Liman's directorial debut follows a few days in the life of Mike (Jon Favreau) who, having left his girlfriend for Hollywood, receives lessons in love from his friends. Revolving around Mike's social inadequacies, the film follows their efforts to "be money" (cool) and seduce "pretty babies" (women) in a series of ghastly LA bars. This quest for notoriety is also seen in their ailing careers - Charles fails to get a part in Deep Space Nine, while Trent pursues a job as a theme-park Goofy. By turns despondent and optimistic, this is a witty portrait of young men with the odds stacked against them.

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