NEW FILMS

AUSTIN POWERS

Director: Jay Roach Starring: Mike Myers, Elizabeth Hurley (15)

When you watch a James Bond film do you wonder, not how Roger Moore is going to escape before he is slowly lowered into that piranha-infested pool, but why the dastardly villain has devised such a protracted method of execution? If so, then Austin Powers is the movie for you. Of course, if you're the sort of person who can detect the opportunities for scatological humour in a character named Number Two, then you too will find your tastes catered for by Mike Myers, the writer and star of this sometimes clever, sometimes vulgar, but always shamefully funny spoof.

Myers has numerous targets in his sights, but the film is held together by its sharply observed parodies of spy thrillers, as well as every swinging Sixties movie ever made. Austin Powers himself (played by Myers, complete with Michael Caine glasses, creepy ivy chest-wig and mouldy teeth) is a hip fashion photographer in Sixties London by day, and an international secret agent by night, committed to thwarting the diabolical Doctor Evil (Myers again). The Doctor is a Blofeld-style tyrant who freezes his own body and gets defrosted in the 1990s. Austin has also agreed to be cryogenically frozen, but, upon thawing, he discovers to his horror that the world has changed. Free love now has its price; women like Austin's new sidekick (Elizabeth Hurley) no longer drop their drawers at the faintest stirring in his velvet trousers, despite a stockpile of charming chat-up lines - "shall we shag now, or shall we shag later?".

The time-travel scenario is a transparent trick to excuse the abundance of smut, but, at its sharpest, Myers' writing exploits the absurdities of political correctness to delicious effect. One of the most ticklish digressions involves Doctor Evil, who finds he has a son he never knew, though the lad sports a grunge hairdo and an attitude in place of a bald head and megalomaniac tendencies. The scene where they attend group therapy together works so well that you almost forget that the movie has strayed miles from the beaten track. It's all infectiously silly, and shot through with an attention to detail that is genuinely astounding, particularly during the opening sequence, where beefeaters and British bobbies join Austin in a synchronised gallivant along Carnaby Street.

NIGHT FALLS ON MANHATTAN

Director: Sidney Lumet Starring: Andy Garcia (15)

When you want to know about corruption, you go to Sidney Lumet. This isn't a vindictive attack on a seasoned film-maker, but an admission that Lumet set the standard for treatments of this theme when he made Serpico and Prince of the City. He returns to questions of morality and liability in his new drama, in which Andy Garcia plays a district attorney whose father (Ian Holm), a cop, is wounded during a raid on a drug dealer in which four fellow officers are murdered. This hot new DA gets to prosecute the killer, but although a verdict is quickly reached, the investigation spills over, and Garcia finds himself wading through accusations of police corruption levelled at pop's precinct.

Yes, it's Sins of the Father-time again, though the picture has some moments of startling originality in its favour. Like the striking credit sequence in which night literally falls, streaks of blue paint crawling down the screen to form the bleak dusk against which the Manhattan skyscrapers are framed. And there's a magical performance from Ron Leibman as Garcia's mentor, a firecracker of a man whose every other breath carries an insult to somebody. Assuring Garcia that the case will be a doddle, he says: "Even my son could do it. And he's in high school. And he's stupid."

MRS BROWN

Director: John Madden Starring: Judi Dench (PG)

The Mrs Brown of the title is actually Queen Victoria, whose intimate friendship with John Brown, the Scottish handler who accompanied her beloved pony to the Isle of Wight, provoked gossip suggesting that a new marriage for the recently widowed monarch was on the cards. As played by Judi Dench, the Queen is a desolate soul whose icy wounded heart is gradually warmed by Brown. Billy Connolly is deeply touching in the role of this confidante and his performance somehow manages to both eradicate all memories of his jovial persona, and paradoxically build upon our familiarity with him - isn't this irreverent part a gift to an actor and comedian whose entire career is a testament to no-nonsense earthiness? The film only falls short in its sombre visual style, which might have grown more daring as the relationship progressed.

THE HONEYMOON KILLERS

Director: Leonard Kastle Starring: Shirley Stoler (18)

This chilling 1969 thriller is released in a sharp new print which shows off its bright monochrome compositions, where every lamp or window burns with blinding light. The film seems at first to be a John Walters-style camp crime comedy - it begins by announcing itself as "an incredibly shocking drama" while the performances in the early scenes look like they were culled from Andy Warhol's home movies. Then you lock into the peculiar easy rhythms and become sucked into the true story of Martha (Shirley Stoler) and Ray (Tony LoBianco), two lovers who lured lonely women to their deaths. Characterised by deftly handled shifts between banal comedy and genuine tension, this is a strange and unnerving work.

L'APPARTEMENT

Director: Gilles Mimouni Starring: Vincent Cassel (15)

The debut of writer-director Gilles Mimouni is a complex but playful love story in which a young man (Vincent Cassel) becomes obsessed with his own past obsession - a girl who slipped out of his arms and his life. As he desperately tries to find her again, Mimouni interweaves flashbacks which reveal the details of this enigmatic relationship, creating a delightfully clever picture which fascinates more than it resonates.

FETISHES

Director: Nick Broomfield (NC)

The latest expose from the documentary director Nick Broomfield is a laboured and rather obvious exploration of New York's S&M underground. Broomfield is as central as ever to the piece, but now his presence and his asides really grate, and he seems determined only to mock and scandalise.

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