Oscar and Lucinda Gillian Armstrong (15)
Sphere Barry Levinson (12)
Ulee's Gold Victor Nunez (15)
Telling Lies in America Guy Ferland (15)
Most Wanted David Glenn Hogan (15)
Out of the Past Jacques Tourneur (PG)
Don't be fooled by the posters for the slapstick comedy Mousehunt, which are decked out in sprightly yellow and red - the film itself has a colour scheme that ranges from tombstone-grey to excrement-brown, while its heart is pure black.
The picture begins with a superbly photographed funeral in the rain, with the huddled umbrellas glistening like cockroach shells. Among the pallbearers are two squabbling brothers, Ernie (Nathan Lane) and Lars (Lee Evans), whose father has bequeathed to them his string factory and a near-derelict mansion. When they discover that the house is worth millions of dollars, they set up an auction, only to have their plans confounded by a belligerent mouse that survives ever more ingenious attempts on its life.
Mousehunt has a tremendous, fearsome momentum; it rattles along like a runaway train. But although the first-time director Gore Verbinski keeps the cruel gags snapping like mousetraps, he remains faithful to the brooding Gothic tone. The film's oppressive, treacherous world suggests German Expressionism, or the retro-futuristic territory of Terry Gilliam's Brazil, and there's something of Gilliam's visceral excess in a scene involving a hoover bag bloated with sewage. Moderately disturbed children of all ages will love it.
With his splash of red hair, singsong voice and liquorice-limp limbs, Ralph Fiennes will have a hard time convincing audiences that his performance in the peculiar new film Oscar and Lucinda wasn't inspired by Andy Pandy. Adapted by Laura Jones from Peter Carey's Booker Prize-winning novel, the picture teeters on the brink of whimsy, much like Fiennes himself. He plays Oscar, a geeky missionary and compulsive gambler who journeys to Australia and meets Lucinda (Cate Blanchett), owner of a Sydney glass- works, who shares his addiction. Before you can say Fitzcarraldo, Oscar pledges to transport an enormous glass church across northern Australia for her. You know how it is when you're smitten.
Whereas Carey's novel traded in enigmatic and ambitious themes, Gillian Armstrong's movie feels disappointingly trivial. Even if you do manage to get excited about Oscar's cross-country journey, when the glass church is finally assembled at its destination it resembles any old greenhouse in a suburban garden. You may need to be physically restrained from shouting "Is that it?"
In the admirably serious thriller Sphere, Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone and Samuel L Jackson are scientists called in to explore a UFO imbedded in the ocean floor. Inside is a glimmering sphere that has catastrophic side-effects upon those who enter it, transforming their fears into physical matter. The movie is at least 40 minutes too long, and frequently gets bogged down in scientific exposition. But it has its virtues, such as the terrifying scene in which a woman is attacked by malevolent jellyfish.
Peter Fonda was rightly nominated for an Oscar for his performance in Ulee's Gold. But the film scarcely deserves him. He is stinging as the curmudgeonly old bee-keeper Ulee, who rescues his junkie daughter-in-law from two crooks, inheriting his jailbird son's problems into the bargain. The picture looks gritty, but is governed by a deeply conservative perspective that sacrifices honesty and credibility in its worship of the family unit. Couldn't fault the bees, though.
Telling Lies in America stars Brad Renfro as a young Hungarian immigrant who idolises a corrupt DJ (Kevin Bacon) and learns the hard way that heroes always let you down. This is sweet and contemplative - two qualities you wouldn't immediately associate with its writer, Joe Eszterhas, best known for his worst films, Basic Instinct and Showgirls. And while it's hardly original, you may get a kick from the faintly subversive ending, which endorses perjury as part of the American way of life.
If you're in the mood for a trashy, birdbrained B-movie, you could do worse than Most Wanted. Keenen Ivory Wayans (who wrote the chirpy script) plays a decorated war hero hired as a political assassin and then framed by the dastardly colonel Jon Voight, official ambassador of trashy B-movies, who snarls, sneers, and plays his final scene with cotton wool crammed up one nostril. I do hope he's available for birthday parties.
Robert Mitchum is the epitome of unflappable cool in Jacques Tourneur's moving and masterful 1947 thriller Out of the Past. Hired by Kirk Douglas to track down the treacherous femme fatale Jane Greer, he falls in love with her, but manages not to alter his facial expression even as she is turning his heart inside out. "She can't be all bad - no one is", someone remarks. "She comes the closest," he grunts. I have decided to be Robert Mitchum for the rest of the year.
Ryan Gilbey's top 5
1 Out of the Past
2 Jackie Brown
3 Mother and Son 4 Mousehunt 5 Gattaca