Directed by Stefan Schwartz
Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Stuart Townsend, Dan Futterman
With its desperately jubilant Britpop soundtrack and relentless catalogue of wacky escapades, Shooting Fish aspires to be a hip, cutting-edge caper comedy, though in spirit it's rather long in the tooth. Every time our heroes, the precocious American whiz-kid Dylan (Dan Futterman) and his English computer-boffin chum Jez (Stuart Townsend), have to make another frantic getaway from another gang of businessmen they've swindled, the camera tilts on its side, the music is cranked up and without warning the film turns into Catch Us If You Can.
You could stomach the relentless chirpiness if the writers Stefan Schwartz (who also directed) and Richard Holmes had invested any care in their characterisation. Even accounting for the fact that the secretary, Georgie (Kate Beckinsale), exists only to prove that Dylan and Jez aren't gay, the film still refuses to address her effect on their friendship. She walks out on Dylan's attempt to seduce her, and straight into a romantic stroll with Jez which Dylan witnesses. But where is the jealousy? The recrimination? The audience might have guessed that Dylan will conveniently end the film paired off with Georgie's sister, but Dylan himself can't know this, unless he's been hacking into the screenwriters' computer.
Only Townsend really sparkles as the techno-nerd struggling to pass himself off as an ordinary member of the human race. When Georgie pops round, he hides his computer magazines. What PC? - it's the modern bachelor's Penthouse.
Directed by Richard Linklater
Starring: Giovanni Ribisi, Nicky Katt
Some cinemagoers may recently have asked themselves: How many more films can possibly be made about disillusioned teenagers who hang around shopping malls and/or parking lots posing existential conundrums while getting high and headbutting road signs?
The answer is: none. Not after subUrbia, anyway. The film is often very funny, but it feels like a dramatic full-stop on a parochial corner of cinema. This study in the aimlessness of youth is as bleak in its view of society as it is generous toward its ambling protagonists, a group of twentysomething loafers who spend one long evening hanging around outside a 24-hour convenience store waiting for one of their old friends, now a rock star and MTV regular, to cruise by in his limo.
The director Richard Linklater is working from another writer's script for the first time - Eric Bogosian, the star and creator of Talk Radio, has adapted his own play - and he seems a little shaky, forcing the action to its apocalyptic conclusion. But as Linklater demonstrated on Slacker and Dazed and Confused, his forte is the fluid direction of ensemble casts, and he moves among the eight main characters with a seductive ease and compassion worthy of Rohmer.
Hard Eight (18)
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Samuel L Jackson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Philip Baker Hall
Healthy house-plants wither and die under the gaze of the actor Philip Baker Hall, so it's a mystery why he isn't every director's first choice to play a shifty gangster or a morally ropey cleric, especially when his Nixon in Altman's Secret Honor suggested elements of both. In Hard Eight, he commands the screen - you fear looking away in case he notices and berates you for it.
The first half of this noir-ish B-movie is taut and enticing, but the young director Paul Thomas Anderson proves himself more adept at cultivating enigmas than unravelling them. Hall plays Sydney, a professional gambler who offers to teach a scruffy drop-out the tricks of the trade in Las Vegas. Anderson's use of lingering close-ups creates an edginess that the fabulous soundtrack - all ominous chimes and metallic clanging - further heightens.
The film eventually becomes overbearingly portentous, and the poised dialogue makes Pinter's characters sound like after-dinner speakers. But Hard Eight is the work of a fine, intuitive new director, and a weather- ravaged, criminally under-used old pro.
Free Willy 3 (U)
Directed by Sam Pillsbury
Starring: Jason James Richter
You know what to expect by now. The resilient whale Willy gets threatened by poachers and is valiantly protected by young Jesse (Jason James Richter). A new little scamp has relieved Jesse of his Cute Kid duties, and, in a juicy spot of family conflict, turns out to be the hunter's son. Well, you knew his dad was no good by that untrustworthy moustache. What you might not have anticipated is the absence of sentimentality, which means that the film earns your final tears/ lump-in-the-throat/goosebumps without recourse to dirty tricks.
A Simple Wish (U)
Directed by Michael Ritchie
Starring: Martin Short, Kathleen Turner, Mara Wilson
This children's comedy about an inept male fairy godmother called Murray (Martin Short) is undoubtedly a mess, which is all the more frustrating when the flashes of inspiration indicate what a little more care might have resulted in. The fantasy homages are impeccable, from Murray and his young ward disappearing in a whirlwind of paper like Robert De Niro in Brazil, to Kathleen Turner as a witch who disappears into the watery mirror from Cocteau's The Blood of a Poet. Many of the effects are very inventive, such as when Murray turns to jelly and oozes down a staircase like a spilt milkshake, but only a tighter screenplay could have redeemed this.
Divine Decadence Season
A new print of von Sternberg's The Blue Angel is the flagship feature of this season, which collects together the cinematic landmarks of the Weimar Republic. But it is Fritz Lang's M which you should excuse yourself from weddings and funerals - your own or other people's - to see. It's a chilling masterpiece, both fearless and fearsome, which dares to immerse itself and its audience in unmotivated evil. Also in the season: Pabst's Pandora's Box and The Threepenny Opera, those parades of immorality in disguise.
For further details of the Divine Decadence Season call the Everyman Cinema, London NW3, 0171-435 1525 or the NFT, London SE1 on 0171-928 3232.
The other films reviewed here open around the country today