Michael (PG) 105 mins ti

When reports that the archangel Michael is living in Iowa reach sleazy Chicago tabl0id The National Mirror, the paper's pugnacious British editor (Bob Hoskins) dispatches three reporters to bring back a front-page story in time for Christmas. For William Hurt’s cynical hack Frank Quinlan and his hapless colleague Huey Driscoll (Robert Pastrorelli). it’s a last chance to save their skins Accompanying them on the assignment is so-called angel expert Dorothy Winters (Andie MacDowell), a much-married, romantically bruised woman who nurses a yen to write country songs.

The trio arrives in Iowa expecting to find a hoaxer sporting a pair of stick-on wings, but the figure they encounter has real feathers sprouting from his back. As

-* s: M)“ ' Winging it: John Travolta and William Hurt in Michael

played by John Travolta, however, he also boasts razor stubble, a hairy chest and a flabby gut. Nor does he behave in an angelic manner. Willingly going with the journalists back to Chicago but only if they drive cross-country he loses no opportunity to drink, smoke, flirt with waitresses and plunge into bar-room brawls. But Michael’s true mission on Earth is to get sceptical, lovelorn Frank and Dorothy to believe in each other. Travolta's unquenchable charisma works miracles in Michael, but his charm alone isn't enough to save the movie. The episodic script and Nora (Sleepless In Seattle) Ephron’s lacklustre direction slow the film down to a crawl on the long car ride, while the lack of chemistry between Hurt and MacDowell means that the film needs a huge suspension of disbelief to work as a romantic comedy. (Jason Best) I General release from Fri 27 Feb.

Trials of man: Daniel Day Lewis in The Crucible

The Crucible

(12) 124 mins *~k**

In case you're not familiar Wllll Arthur Miller's classic stage play, The Crucible is based on the true story of a murderous witch-hunt which tore apart the community of Salem, Massachusetts, at the end of the 17th century. Miller wrote the drama in the 1950s as a response to the McCarthyite scourge then gripping America, and some have questioned what relevance the text can have for the present decade. Plenty, given the number of irrational and hysterical belief systems on the ascendant today.

The Salem Witch-hunt happens because a group of young girls believe (0r act as if they do) in events which did not actually occur namely that the deVil is at large in Salem. Their ringleader is Abigail Williams (Winona Ryder), a Wild and Vindictive young woman who determines to see the Wife

of her ex-lover John Proctor (Daniel Day Lewis) hung as a witch. When the girls are discovered casting spells in the woods, two of them take to their beds in fear, and Witchcraft is blamed. The girls invent the story of satanic involvement to save their own skins, and the finger-pointing begins.

What is most provoking about the film is the way in which deception, fuelled by the complicity of weak, superstitious authorities, becomes a stronger force than the truth. No individual in Salem is solely responSible for the tide of evil that results in so many deaths, yet what happens is rooted in such commonplace human failings as jealousy, fear and greed. By implication, similar events could occur again. Great credit is due to director Nicholas Hytner (The Madness Of King George) and to Arthur Miller, who adapted the play for the screen, for this compelling and impOrtant film. (Hannah Fries)

I Selected release from Fri 28 Feb.

new releases FILM

Like Grains Of Sand

(18) 129 mins ***

Dramatically restrained and devoid of the usual cliches, Ryosuke Hashiguchi's film tells of a Japanese teenage boy's struggle to have his homosexuality accepted at school and at home. Sent by his father to a clinic for psychiatric counselling to Cure his 'illness’, lto spots new girl Aihara, the school misfit who is undergoing therapy following a rape. The two bond, but familiar teen romance complications Like Grains Of Sand: 'sensitive' ensue around them as Ito’s love for classmate Yoshida is not returned when the latter falls for Aihara. By stripping away the teen trappings (blaring soundtrack, p0p icons, etc) that would weigh down an American equivalent, Hashiguchi - best known for 1993's A Touch Of Fever concentrates on the emotions at the core of the film’s dilemmas. A sensitive character study. (Alan Morrison)

I Edinburgh Fi/mhouse from Fri 27 Feb.

Bound (18) 97 mins ***

Slippery at the start and humorous throughout, this corkscrew film noir from the writers of Assassins is notable for subverting the genre's gender and sexuality. The classic macho hero is replaced by butch, handsome Corky (Gina Gershon), while both she and the femme fatale are lesbians. Ex-con Corky is just out of prison and keen to go straight (in a sense) doing renovation work. Through the wall is breezy bimbo Violet (Jennifer Tilly) and her boyfriend Caesar (Joe Pantoliano), who is laundering $2 million on the premises for his gangster contacts. Violet seduces Corky into stealing the Breaking in: Gina Gershon cash, but sticks around to convince Caesar that the thief must be his rival, Johnnie. Half the fun lies in seeing the hapless phallocentrics jump through hoops for the girls, while the slick camerawork and unrelenting sound design paper over the budget cracks in this stylish Coen Brothers style romp. (Gio MacDonald)

I GFT, Edinburgh Fi/mhouse and selected cinemas from Fri 28 Feb.

The Phantom (12) 100 mins 1!

Created back in 1936 and still going today, The Phantom is perhaps the original comic-strip superhero but, after the likes of Dick Tracy, The Shadow et al, this belated screen version looks decidedly second-hand. The jungle island of Bengalla is home to a dashing, purple-clad crusader, whose latest mission is to stop power-crazed American business magnate Xander Drax reuniting the four legendary Skulls of Touganda and unleashing a deadly force of evil on the world. Aussie director Simon Wincer has spared little Masked man: Billy Zane expense in decking this 30s adventure fantasy in the best Art Deco style, but leading man Billy Zane proves plastic and soulless in the Lycra outfit, Treat Williams barks his way through bully-boy Drax to ultimately numbing effect, and Catherine Zeta Jones is remarkably dull as the dyke-vixen villainess. Since it's never sure how seriously it wants to take itself, the final outcome is rather bland, and obviously redundant. (Trevor Johnston)

I General release from Fri 27 Feb.

His Girl Friday

(U) 92 mins “an

The glittering centrepiece of the ongoing Howard Hawks retrospective is this dynamic comedy, one of the best Hollywood ever made. Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell are simply fantastic as the sparring newspaper editor and top reporter drawing battle lines in their professional and personal lives. Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s script, from their original play The Front Page, spits out a series of rapid-fire quips and cross-cutting

Fast talker: Rosalind Russell gags, but allows the sbpporting characters to have their scene-stealing moments too. Don't miss it. (Alan Morrison)

I Edinburgh Fi/mhouse from Fri 27 Feb; GFT from Fri 28 Feb.

21 Feb—6 Mar 1997 THE LIST 25