The Independent film guide

WASHINGTON SQUARE

(PG) HH

Director: Agnieszka Holland

Starring: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Albert Finney, Ben Chaplin, Maggie Smith

Bringing up the rear of the latest Henry James boom comes the story of the mousy New York heiress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) whose dour father (Albert Finney) forbids her marriage to a dashing but penniless suitor (Ben Chaplin).

In the hands of Polish director Agnieszka Holland, it is tasteful and carefully observed, but distinctly lacking in passion, with the central trio so muted that Maggie Smith is allowed to steal the show as Leigh's interfering aunt. Besides, William Wyler did it all so much better in his 1949 version, The Heiress.

THE GENERAL

(15) HHHH

Director: John Boorman

Starring: Brendan Gleeson, Adrian Dunbar, Sean McGinley, Angeline Ball, Jon Voight

John Boorman's best film in two decades charts the violent, colourful career of Dublin gangster Martin Cahill, who ran rings round the Gardai with a succession of increasingly audacious heists before the IRA put him out of business in 1994.

Beautifully shot in black-and-white, it's incongruously jaunty and lyrical in tone. But Boorman gets away with it thanks to a larger-than-life performance from Brendan Gleeson, which has you warming to Cahill's defiant individualism even as you recoil from the brutality his lifestyle entailed.

See Interview, p4-5.

WISHMASTER

(18) H

Director: Robert Kurtzman

Starring: Tammy Lauren, Andrew Divoff, Robert Englund

Transforming the djinn of Arabian legend from pantomime figure-of-fun to movie monster might seem like a shrewd idea for a horror franchise. But despite the recommendation "Wes Craven presents" (whatever that means, since he's not credited as director, writer or producer), there's little trace of the Scream director's ironic touch in this turgid gorefest about an evil spirit running amok in the art world after it's released from an ancient Persian jewel.

"Forget Robin Williams," quips one character as they try to describe the genie's evil nature, but frankly his hairy back is a lot scarier than any of the latex on display here.

THE JAMES GANG

(15) HH

Director: Mike Barker

Starring: John Hannah, Helen McCrory, Jason Flemyng, Toni Collette

Desperate Scottish mum Helen McCrory turns to armed robbery with four kids and hopeless boyfriend John Hannah in tow, leading uptight policewoman Toni Collette on a cross-country chase from London to the wilds of North Wales.

Mike Barker's feature debut moves fast and looks fantastic, but never makes up its mind whether it's supposed to be a hard-hitting social drama, a knockabout comedy, a tense psychological thriller or a shaggy-dog road movie. The kids are great, though. DARK CITY

(15) HHH

Director: Alex Proyas

Starring: Rufus Sewell, Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly, William Hurt

Alex Proyas, director of The Crow, returns with another over-the-top urban nightmare, as amnesiac suspected serial-killer Rufus Sewell flees through the night, pursued by dour inspector William Hurt, syringe-wielding psychiatrist Kiefer Sutherland and Richard "Rocky Horror Show" O'Brien as one of a sinister, Homburg-hatted breed of aliens known as "The Strangers".

What starts off as a hugely imaginative pastiche of film noir and German expressionism soon spins off into the stratosphere of mind-boggling sci- fi mumbo-jumbo, but it's done with complete conviction and lashings of morbid style.

AFTERGLOW

(15) HHH

Director: Alan Rudolph

Starring: Nick Nolte, Julie Christie, Lara Flynn Boyle, Jonny Lee Miller

Two couples - fiftysomethings Nolte and Christie, and twentysomethings Boyle and Miller - swap partners and wry aphorisms in the latest urbane romantic comedy from writer-director Alan Rudolph (Choose Me, The Moderns).

The plot may be the stuff of farce, but the mood is melancholy, mysterious and ultimately - thanks to Julie Christie's wonderful, Oscar-nominated performance as a washed-up B-movie actress - very moving. The rest of the cast are excellent too, not least Jonny Lee Miller, a long, long way from Trainspotting, as a repressed Montreal yuppie.

John Wrathall

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