Sparkling and sophisticated

 

NEW TO RENT

Going on release today, The Birdcage (15) is a sparkling and [sophisticated new treatment of La Cage Aux Folles, relocated to Florida, adapted by Elaine May, directed by Mike Nichols, and featuring a fine cast - Robin Williams and Nathan Lane as the gay couple and Gene Hackman and Dianne Wiest as Williams's prospective in laws.

The spirited new Woody Allen comedy, Mighty Aphrodite (15) features Allen himself as a sportswriter seeking out the biological mother of the child adopted by him and his wife (Helena Bonham Carter). Mira Sorvino effortlessly steals the movie in her Oscar winning performance. In Spanking The Monkey (18) writer director David O. Russell makes an assured debut with an unsettling story of a young medical student (Jeremy Davies) reluctantly agreeing to care for his bedridden mother (Alberta Watson) and getting incestuously involved with her.

In Barry Sonnenfeld's entertaining movie of Elmore Leonard's novel Get Shorty (15), John Travolta is perfectly droll and charming as a Miami loan shark and movie buff sent to LA to collect a gambling debt from a B movie producer (Gene Hackman). Travolta and Christian Slater costar as former friends vying to recover stolen nuclear weapons in Broken Arrow (15), John Woo's second American, action thriller, an illogical yarn in which the vigorous action sequences are the raison d'etre.

Anthony Waller's ingeniously assembled and consistently gripping thriller, Mute Witness (18), deals with three Americans making a film in Moscow with a Russian crew and what happens when one of them, a mute make up and special effects artist (Marina Sudina), is locked into the huge old studio overnight and finds two of the Russian crew filming a snuff movie.

Strange Days (18), Kathryn Bigelow's apocalyptic drama set on New Year's Eve, 1999, features Ralph Fiennes and Angela Bassett "as characters caught up in a deadly fantasy of conspiracy, murder and betrayal. Slow burning to begin, this visually stylish movie gradually exerts an arresting hold and it reaffirms Bigelow's bravura talent as an action movie director. Terry Gilliam's complex, challenging and ultimately satisfying 12 Monkeys (18) deals with time travel and a diabolical scheme. Inspired by Chris Marker's 1962 short film, La Jetee, it features Bruce Willis, Brad Pitt, Madeleine Stowe and Christopher Plummer.

Winner of the Palme d'Or at Cannes last year, Emir Kusturica's tremendous epic Underground (15), spans more than 50 years in the recent history of the former Yugoslavia, from the first German bombing raid over Belgrade in April 1941, to the turbulent present. To emphasise the absurdity of war, Kusturica shapes Underground as a wild, intense tragic comedy that is as black humoured as it is upsetting.

Writer director Gillies MacKinnon returns to his native Glasgow for Small Faces (15), an affectionate and affecting picture set in 1968 which centres on a widow (Clare Higgins) and her three teenage sons (I.S. Duffy. Joseph McFadden and lain Robertson), who get caught up in gang violence. Al Pacino flamboyantly plays a shrewd New York City mayor, with John Cusack as his idealistic young deputy in Harold Becker's City Hall (15), a drama of power and corruption which is strong on detail but loses its way in the second half.

Set in Las Vegas in the 1970s as the Mafia schemes to take over Martin Scorsese's repetitive, predictable and gratuitously violent Casino (18) reunites him with GoodFellas screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi and stars Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci. But the outstanding performance comes from Sharon Stone as an insecure, heavy drinking hustler.

At the bottom of this month's barrel are: the rambling and turgid Before And After (12) with Meryl Streep and Liam Neeson as a married couple who are shocked to learn that their teenage son (Edward Furlong) is suspected of murdering his girlfriend; Cutthroat Island (PG), which has Geena Davis and Matthew Modine miscast as a pirate and her slave in a hugely expensive and thoroughly tiresome swashbuckling yarn; and a strong contender for worst film of the year Barb Wire (18) with Baywatch star Pamela Anderson Lee in a futuristic yarn which sinks under the weight of its creaking banality and sheer daftness.

NEW TO BUY

Recommended for all age groups are Toy Story, A Little Princess and, in advance of the live action version due here at Christmas, the animated 101 Dalmations. Notable new widescreen releases are The Usual Suspects, Seven, Ulysses Gaze, Apollo 13 and Braveheart. Six Andy Warhol productions directed by Paul Morrissey, with Joe Dallesandro starring in five of them, are now available from First Independent Video: Flesh, Heat, Trash, Flesh for Frankenstein, Blood For Dracula and Madame Wangs.

From CIC Video the Horror Classics series features digitally remastered copies of the 1931 Frankenstein (with Boris Karloff) and the 1933 The Invisible Man, both directed by James Whale, and Tod Browning's 1931 Dracula starring Bela Lugosi.