New Films: The Independent film guide

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WILDE

(15) HH

Director: Brian Gilbert Starring: Stephen Fry

Brian Gilbert proved with his last film, Tom & Viv, that if a biopic is worth doing, it's worth doing from a skew-whiff angle. But Wilde, in which Stephen Fry takes the role that nature intended him to play, ultimately tells us more about modern attitudes to homosexuality than it does about its subject.

Admittedly, the film covers all the necessary biographical ground, from Wilde's clandestine love of the house guest who lives with him and his wife, through the success of his plays and into the tortured affair with Lord Alfred Douglas, aka "Bosie", which would sow the seeds of his downfall. But the screenplay comes up short on psychological detail, shying away from investigating the near masochistic attraction between Wilde and Bosie in favour of relishing that old cinema staple: the fall of the homosexual.

Wilde is palatable to mainstream audiences because it submerges itself in tragedy rather than employing some objectivity to deduce how that tragedy came to pass. Despite this dramatic shortfall, Stephen Fry is a formidable presence on screen, his complex performance very nearly compensating for the rest of the film.

A SIMPLE WISH

(U) HHH

Director: Michael Ritchie Starring: Kathleen Turner

Enjoyable, lightweight fairy-tale with young Mara Wilson finding herself lumbered with a fairy godmother who's actually a man. Martin Short is equal parts jolly and irritating in that role, while Kathleen Turner relishes the chance to continue her kitsch'n'cruel villainous routine from Serial Mom.

FREE WILLY 3: THE RESCUE

(U) HHH

Director: Sam Pillsbury Starring: Jason James Richter

The loveable killer whale returns in a second sequel which vastly improves upon the saccharine excesses of Free Willy 2. The same ingredients are all present and correct - the splintered family unit who learn the meaning of bonding through participating in Willy's welfare; the lump-in-the-throat finale in which Willy's life is threatened. What makes this a cut above similar family films is that it serves up these staple features while refusing, for the most part, to patronize its audience.

HARD EIGHT

(18) HHHH

Director: Paul Anderson Starring: Philip Baker Hall

Healthy houseplants wither and die under the gaze of Philip Baker Hall, the gnarled actor whose finest hour was playing a sweating, fretting Nixon in Secret Honor. In Hard Eight, an ice-cool thriller from young director Paul Anderson, Hall uses his sinister presence and the voice that sounds like distant thunder to fine effect as Sidney, a professional gambler who helps a young drop-out, John, become a success in Las Vegas. Just as their relationship is developing, the film flashes forward two years to find them still hanging out together, their bond so strong that when John turns violent to protect a young waitress that he's fallen in love with, Sidney agrees to help him out of a tight spot.

Anderson shoots his cast mostly in tight close-up, and his script pays similarly close attention to every flicker of doubt in his characters. Perhaps the film is sometimes a touch too portentous, but you'll find it hard to resist its slow, seductive allure.

THE BLUE ANGEL

(PG) HHHH

Director: Josef von Sternberg Starring: Marlene Dietrich

Von Sternberg's extraordinary and influential portrait of life in a seedy night-club boasts Dietrich as the siren who snares a school-teacher. The latter arrives at the Blue Angel with the intention of rebuking whoever has been corrupting the morals of his students. A brand new print of the 1930 cinematic landmark.

SHOOTING FISH

(12) HH

Director: Stefan Schwatz Starring: Dan Futterman

An impossibly wacky comedy which strives to be a Four Weddings and a Funeral for teenagers, but ends up straining so hard in its efforts to please that the cast and crew should have ended up with hernias. Dylan is a precocious dyslexic American; Jez is an English techno-boffin. Together with their secretary, Georgie, they are amassing a small fortune by engineering computer scams. What plot there is arises from the efforts of those they have wronged to get revenge.

SUBURBIA

(18) HHHH

Director: Richard Linklater Starring: Giovanni Ribisi

The darkest film yet from Richard Linklater, a director who usually concerns himself with illuminating the idiosyncrasies of suburbia, but has never before suggested that the place is on the verge of apocalypse. Eric Bogosian's script introduces a sense of menace hitherto absent from Linklater's work, and there are sparkling performances from Ribisi and Parker Posey, who plays a rock star's PR.

HHHHHexcellent HHHH good HHH average HH poor

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