NEW FILMS

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THE BOXER

(15) HH

Director: Jim Sheridan

Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Emily Watson

In Daniel Day-Lewis's third film for the director Jim Sheridan (after My Left Foot and In The Name of the Father), he plays Danny Flynn, a former boxer and IRA member re-entering the world - and the ring - after 14 years behind bars.

There are ghosts to confront - not only in the shape of his former colleagues, but also in the memories of his love for Maggie (Emily Watson), now the loyal wife of another prisoner, and in the anger of his one-time trainer, Ike (Ken Stott), who resents Danny for not fulfilling his potential, yet leaps at the chance of revisiting past glories.

Sheridan's sombre, thoughtful film is an intelligent dissection of a society where loyalties are poised in perpetual conflict, where pledging your allegiance to anything other than yourself, whether a political faction or the person you love, can put the ink on your death certificate.

What's missing from the picture is passion. Day-Lewis and Watson have a blistering scene together when they organise a clandestine meeting and, despite the danger involved, their faces come alive with childish glee. But generally, the grim screenplay denies them the opportunity to breathe life into their love affair.

Chris Menges' photography is suitably oppressive - full of icy blues and trout greys; when the fighters are in the ring, they look like cadavers (though the fight scenes, and Day-Lewis himself, are brutal and convincing), and the gym is shot to resemble a mortuary.

But drabness has infected the film, and except for a handful of scenes, this is a work which inspires only detached admiration.

ALL OVER ME

(NC) HHH

Director: Alex Sichel

Starring: Alison Folland

Claude (Alison Folland) is an amiable, unassuming teenager with a crush on her best friend, Ellen (Tara Subkoff), but little hope of expressing her feelings, thanks to the arrival of Ellen's new boyfriend, a thug who may have had some involvement in the recent murder of a local gay man.

This freewheeling but often harrowing drama has an endearing honesty and a style which suggests improvisation, but is underpinned by a sturdy narrative which gradually works its spell on you. The real trump card is Folland, previously seen as the amoral slacker in To Die For, here revealed as an accomplished actress capable of switching from radiant warmth to scorching intensity in the blink of an eye. This is demonstrated to great effect by the scene where she falls apart to the sound of Patti Smith.

THE POSTMAN

(15) H

Director: Kevin Costner

Starring: Kevin Costner, Will Patton

When he chooses to occupy the space behind as well as in front of the camera, Kevin Costner is his own worst enemy. His infatuation with himself can be tempered by a canny director, but left to his own devices on Dances With Wolves or this new, desperately earnest effort, the effect is like watching a man contemplate himself in a mirror for three hours. It is not a pretty sight.

In this futuristic drama, all democracy has been obliterated in America and the land is ruled by a squad of thugs, headed by Will Patton. Costner is escaping from them when he chances upon an old post van, steals the dead mailman's uniform and wanders into the nearest town, claiming to have reinstated the country's postal service. From that moment, the film turns into a rehash of Dances With Wolves, with Costner doing his humble messiah routine while several hundred extras offer looks of awestruck wonder in his direction.

If he is indulgent as an actor, Costner is simply vacuous as a director, with no sense of pacing or visuals. By the time Tom Petty makes a cameo appearance as himself, the film has abandoned all semblance of coherence.

THE BUTCHER BOY

(15) HHH

Director: Neil Jordan

Starring: Stephen Rea

Neil Jordan's film of Patrick McCabe's blackly comic novel about a manic and precocious 12-year-old in 1960s Ireland has a macabre thrill about it that is genuinely seductive. Jordan's depiction of the world as seen through the deranged eyes of young Francie (the astounding Eamonn Owens) is so rich and unsparing that it pulls you into the movie in the manner of a Grimm fairytale.

To reveal the precise direction of the film would be to remove some of its shocking power, but it should suffice to say that as Francie's life with his depressive mother and alcoholic father worsens, and his obsession with the beastly neighbour Mrs Nugent (Fiona Shaw) increases, the world starts to resemble the twisted landscape of imagination.

After the rather dull Michael Collins, it is heartening to see Jordan exploring the limits of his imagination again, making The Butcher Boy an alluring work to rank alongside his finest films, Angel and Mona Lisa.

See Wide Angle, p16-17

PRISONER OF THE MOUNTAINS

(15) HHH

Director: Sergei Bodrov

Starring: Oleg Menshikov

A quirky and sometimes poignant story of two Russian soldiers held hostage by Chechen rebels. What could have been overbearingly sentimental is redeemed by the director Sergei Bodrov's knack for dry humour and haunting detail.

ROTHSCHILD'S VIOLIN

(PG) HH

Director: Edgardo Cozarinsky

Starring: Sergeuy Makovetsky

A tense docu-drama about the efforts of Benjamin Fleischmann, a pupil of Shostakovich, to infuse his music with social significance about the lot of Russian Jews at the start of the Second World War.

TALES OF THE TAIRA CLAN

(NC) HH

Director: Kenji Mizoguchi

Starring: Raizo Ichikawa

The Kenji Mizoguchi revival continues with the re-release in a new print of his 1955 drama about the power struggles between religion, law and samurai in Japan.

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