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THE FAN

Director: Tony Scott. Starring: Robert De Niro, Wesley Snipes, Benicio Del Toro, Ellen Barkin (18)

The release of Tony Scott's thriller The Fan is so timely you're tempted to think crystal balls and tarot cards were involved. Everyone's talking about stalking. The stalker in The Fan is Gil (Robert De Niro), a middle- aged divorcee with more psychological scars than De Niro has played characters with psychological scars.

But despite Gil's maniacal obsession with baseball hot-shot Wesley Snipes, you couldn't honestly call The Fan a movie about stalking. So what is it? Well, it's a guy thing. Bonding. Baseball. Fathers and sons. Little bursts of homophobia, and startling flashes of homo-eroticism. A big jumble of emotions, barely articulated. Like I said, a guy thing. A sports commentator suggests as much, sighing wistfully at the opening-day crowd: "Fathers sneaking away from work early, kids playing hooky from school."

Gil is one of those fathers sneaking away from work early: he's a salesman jeopardising an important meeting to be at the game with his son. When he collects the boy, he flashes a smug grin at his ex-wife, and steers him out of her clutches. It's as though he's taking the kid off to hunt buffalo, not munch hot dogs. The mother, Patti D'Arbanville Quinn, gets only a few minutes of screen time, but she captures the anguish of a woman surrendering her child to a volatile man.

Women get short shrift. Ellen Barkin appears as a radio journalist trying to nail an interview with Bobby, but her character is like the result of a genetic accident: a probing Paxmanesque figure trying to deconstruct the sports establishment, she would be unemployable in the real world. But this is Tony Scott world, a techno-noir hell-hole where there are too many Venetian blinds and not enough light bulbs. Scott favours quick cutting, and uses tight close-ups of De Niro to interrupt the fussy wide- screen compositions. In the second half there is slow motion, and filters which swamp the screen in marble blue and deep red. As Gil goes off his trolley, so does Scott.

Gil's most terrifying moments appear when he's sociopathic rather than psychopathic. The more human he is, the more disturbing. When he's transformed into a machine of infallible evil, the film loses its undercurrent of black comedy. That's when it becomes crude rather than just trashy.

Ryan Gilbey

BRASSED OFF

Director: Mark Herman. Starring: Pete Postlethwaite, Ewan McGregor, Stephen Tompkinson, Jim Carter (15)

A brassy, sleazy melody strikes up, and a couple of diffident cabaret spotlights bob towards the centre of the screen. Soon two lights turn into many, the camera focuses, and they suddenly become the helmet-lamps of a gang of approaching miners. Thus the credits sequence of Brassed Off neatly sketches the film's two concerns: it is a paean to northern England's unique heritage of brass-band musicianship, but also a lament for the same region's blight of pit closures and industrial decline.

Don't worry, it's not that grim oop north - writer/ director Mark Herman has made one of the most involving and enjoyable British films in years. It's set in 1994: while the workers of Grimley Colliery struggle against the decision to close the pit, they have reached the semi-finals of the National Brass Band competition, and will play the Albert Hall if they make the finals. The cast are uniformly charming, in a story which snakes confidently through deadpan comedy and gruffly passionate sentiment. But the outstanding performer is the magnificent Pete Postlethwaite, as bandleader Danny. Where he could have played the part for cheap sentiment, he is genuinely moving, and when he's on the conductor's podium in full purple braided regalia - elbows flying, smiling serenely, giving little ecstatic shakes of the head - it's impossible to mould your features into anything other than a very wide grin of delight.

LOADED

Director: Anna Campion. Starring: Catherine McCormack, Oliver Milburn (15)

Loaded is a wannabe-millennial morality tale of love and angst among students. A bunch of them spend a weekend in a remote country house to make a horror video. What starts out as a jolly satire on studenty pretensions soon commits artistic suicide by buying into studenty pretensions itself. But Anna Campion (sister of Jane) produces arresting images, and the young cast do a fine, fresh job, so it's never less than watchable, and often mordantly amusing.

THE LAST SUPPER

Director: Cynthia Roberts. Starring: Ken McDougall, Daniel McIvor (NC)

The Last Supper is the story of Chris, an actor dying of Aids, who spends a last evening with his lover. The camera never leaves his sick-room, and from the interminabe opening shot, it's depressingly clear that the film is shot in "real time". The script is, mostly, crushingly banal. Only Daniel MacIvor's measured performance as the doctor contains any edgy glint to cut through the emotive mush. The rest is chat and jerky camera-spinning.

THE GLIMMER MAN

Director: John Gray. Starring: Steven Seagal, Keenan Ivory Wayans (18)

In which the erstwhile karate hero tries to conceal a massive paunch under baggy black smocks. The Glimmer Man jumps on the theological-schlock bandwagon of last year's Seven by having a serial killer who crucifies his victims. Quite the most witless and insulting piece of bilge this year.

Steven Poole

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