(12) H

Director: Brad Silberling

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Meg Ryan, Dennis Franz

Now that plans for Tim Burton's stab at a Superman film have been indefinitely postponed, it looks like Nicolas Cage will be denied the chance to wear his underpants outside his trousers (though if he chooses to exercise this right in the privacy of his own home, that's no concern of mine).

For the time being, his role in City of Angels will provide some consolation. Although the picture claims Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire as its progenitor, the real inspiration for the film's pivotal dramatic dilemma lies in a far less prestigious source. When Seth, the angel played by Cage, puzzles over whether or not to exchange his divinity for domestic bliss with a mortal woman, he's following in the footsteps of the Man of Steel, who turned in all that saving-the-world poppycock to go shopping for household knick-knacks with Lois Lane in Superman II.

Seth's experiences aren't a whole lot different from Superman's; he too is introduced to mortality with a sound thrashing, and gazes in astonishment at the blood which pearls on a fresh wound. It's fitting that the picture should echo such vulgar entertainment, because it always struck me that Wings of Desire would have been much more tolerable as a Hollywood tearjerker than a sombre European art movie. Accordingly, City of Angels is silly in the way that only serious-minded movies can be. The romance between Cage and Meg Ryan, the dippy surgeon for whom he considers trading in his (metaphorical) wings, is startlingly limp, and it's left to the director, Brad Silberling, to conjure some magic from the chaos of Los Angeles. In the same way that A Matter of Life and Death reassured viewers who had lost loved ones in WWII, so City of Angels seems timed to cash in on pre-millennial jitters.


(18) HHH

Director: Finn Taylor

Starring: David Arquette, Kathryn Erbe, Brad Hunt

Here's a recipe for disaster. Take an uptight suicidal loser preparing to throw himself off a bridge. Add a junkie with a month to live and a headful of hedonistic fantasies that he's determined to realise on his way to the grave. Give them a few weeks on the road together, stir in a sprinkling of zany supporting characters and leave to simmer until the inevitable tearful farewell. Serve with sick-bag at the ready. Perhaps it's the realisation that Dream with the Fishes could so easily have been a nightmare that makes its success seem refreshing and deserved. A movie about two young men learning to live in the shadow of death has no right being witty, effervescent and adventurous, but Dream with the Fishes is all of these things.

Rather than taking his cue from tearjerkers like Hawks, the writer-director Finn Taylor combines the salty irreverence of The Last Detail with the dreamy non-sequiturs of Drugstore Cowboy to create a film which seems not so much scripted as daydreamed.

The film consistently smothers sentimentality before it has had a chance to flourish, and the cast are instrumental in this. As the terminally ill Nick, Brad Hunt is aggressively vivacious, and the glee with which he plunges into his fantasies, whether it's nude bowling or nude bank robbery, is very winning. In the role of the potential straight-man, Terry, David Arquette, who suggests a young Leonard Rossiter, mines the rich comic possibilities contained in his mixture of naivete and indignation.


(15) H

Director: Stephen Kay

Starring: Thomas Jane, Keanu Reeves, Gretchen Mol

A mannered and vacuous dip into the life of the Beat poet Neal Cassady, played by Thomas Jane, who believes that Cassady was a charmer, but portrays him as an egotistical sixth-former. There's lots of fast cutting and theatrical lighting, but the film just amounts to the same old Beat Generation cliches: blue smoke, white vests and black coffee, maaan.


(18) H

Director: Peter Antonijevic

Starring: Dennis Quaid, Stellan Skarsgard, Nastassja Kinski

There are also plenty of unexpected giggles in Savior, though given that the film is set in war-torn Bosnia, we should assume that they are mostly unintentional. In a bizarre pre-credits sequence, Dennis Quaid loses his wife (Nastassja Kinski) and son in a Paris bomb blast, then avenges their death by strolling into a mosque and gunning down a row of Muslims at prayer. I suspect that the editor dozed off at his Steinbeck, because the next thing you know, Quaid is a hired gun for the Serbs, shaking his head at various atrocities and taking a woman and her newborn daughter under his wing. When he sighs "This war sucks, man," you'd better cherish the line - it's the film's only shot at characterisation or political commentary.

Savior is produced by Oliver Stone, and bears all the worst trademarks of Stone's own films. The horror of war is measured only in the extremity of torture inflicted upon women and children, with mutilated victims served up for our delectation like macabre entrees at a cannibals' banquet. During one scene, in which a Croatian general smashes Serbian heads with a variety of oversized mallets plucked from a golf-bag, the violence degenerates into slapstick, and realism is sacrificed along with sensitivity.

I might feel guilty for laughing at something with so grave a subject matter were the film not so soulless and calculating. It wants your tears, but deserves only your jeers.


(15) HHHH

Director: John Boorman

Starring: Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson

Re-release of John Boorman's finest film, a chilly and chilling existential thriller with Lee Marvin as the gangster Walker, his soul emptied but his mind full of revenge.