Wim Wenders was so shaken by his experience with Hammett (1982) that he swore never to make another film for an American producer. He has now relented, but only to make a film that exposes some of the underlying mechanisms of Californian society. The End of Violence is far from being another tribute to the Hollywood myth and to American cinema as Hammett was, suggesting that Wenders may have outgrown his fascination with the States.
Set in the near future (so near, in fact, that it could be a present in which communications technology has been marginally improved), The End of Violence stars Bill Pullman as a Hollywood producer with a failing marriage (to Andie MacDowell, above), a lovely swimming pool and a taste for violent action on screen. One day, he is kidnapped, but it appears that he may be mysteriously involved in some way in his own abduction; and, in the end, it is the kidnappers who end up as the news item, after being found decapitated on a patch of waste ground. Some clues to what really happened may lie in the video accidentally recorded by a former Nasa scientist (Gabriel Byrne), who is involved with an experiment to end "violence as we know it".
Wenders has been quoted as saying that he set out not with a story, but with a theme: violence as a consumer article, and how, as one of the characters in the film remarks, "When things are upside-down, you start to like them that way." The result is not a simple film, but it has a stronger storyline than some of Wenders's earlier work, while exhibiting his usual strengths: memorable images, and a momentary sense of rhapsody that few other directors can equal.
In a sense, it was inevitable that Wenders would go back to America. Few European directors have so openly expressed the ambivalent relationship that almost all of them engage in with the Dream Factory. He studied everything - medicine, philosophy and painting - before starting his film career as a director of music videos in the late 1960s. Music, particularly American music, has always played a major role in his work. And here, as in Paris, Texas, he uses a score contributed by Ry Cooder.
We have 500 tickets for a preview screening on Sun 4 Jan at 11am at the Chelsea Cinema, SW3. Tickets can be picked up from the box-office any time: just wave a copy of this paper. Robin Buss
Essential at the Palace (Alexandra Palace, N22, 0990 344 4444, Wed). Some of 1997's most feted dance acts bid it goodbye in style. Topping the bill are Black Grape, the Chemical Brothers, Roni Size/Reprazent, 808 State, Lo-Fidelity All Stars, LTJ Bukem, etc. In my young days, we were happy with "Auld Lang Syne".
Edinburgh Hogmanay Street Party (Edinburgh, 0131 558 9013, Wed). Texas, Space and the Saw Doctors in Princes Street Gardens, plus a fiesta of world music in George St, and Jah Wobble on the Waverley stage. Wrap up warm, mind. Nicholas Barber
Starship Troopers (15; nationwide from Fri). Not the sort that Sarah Brightman would have lost her heart to, I believe. Paul Verhoeven's death- squad from outer space takes on a legion of computer-generated phantasmagoria.
Written on the Wind (PG; in London from Fri). Douglas Sirk's masterpiece of Martini-sodden lust stars Rock Hudson and Lauren Bacall. Full-blooded Technicolor melodrama at its finest.
The Wings of the Dove (15; nationwide from Fri). Well received in the US, Iain Softley's James adaptation stars Helena Bonham Carter and Linus Roache. Matthew Sweet
Scott Hamilton's Festive Celebration (Pizza Express, W1, 0171 439 8722, tonight to Sun 4 Jan). Much-loved American tenor saxophonist in the smoochy tradition. Special guest-stars include guitarist Dave Cliff and singer Tina May.
Ray Gelato's Giants (Pizza on the Park, SW1, 0171 235 5273, Mon-Sat to 10 Jan). Swinging, hard and punchy, old-time jazz; Louis Jordan and Louis Prima-style.
King Pleasure and the Biscuit Boys (Birmingham Ronnie Scott's, 0121 643 4525, Mon-Wed, Fri & Sat). Uproarious jump, jive and R&B combo play Ronnie's.
George Melly (Ronnie Scott's, W1, 0171 439 0747, Mon-Sat). Great anecdotes, excellent blue jokes and fine showbiz blues. Phil Johnson
Tosca (Glasgow Theatre Royal, 0141 332 9000, Tues & Sat). The diva keeps on diving in Anthony Besch's resurrected production.
Hansel & Gretel (QEH, SE1, 0171 960 4242, Thurs). Englebert Humperdinck's sugar-coated Wagner fantasy gets its last night in a short, seasonal run by the young company Palace Opera. Michael White
Brindisi Quartet (Wigmore Hall, W1, 0171 935 2141, Tues). Leading young British players in works by Beethoven, Bartk, Ravel.
The King's Consort (Wigmore Hall, Wed). Robert King directs a decorous New Year's Eve party of seasonal music by Schutz and Gabrieli.
Johann Strauss Nights (Barbican, EC2, 0171 638 8891, Wed-Fri). As always, the LSO provide the best waltz-schmaltz this side of the Vienna Woods. John Georgiadis conducts, throws snowballs, drinks champagne etc. MW
The Pursuit of Leisure (Exeter Royal Albert Memorial Museum, 01392 265 858, today to 21 Mar). Paintings of Victorian pastime. Some good and unusual pictures, by Frith, Millais, Tissot and Lavery. Tim Hilton