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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Of the IRA, Belfast and British Bias

"In the Name of the Father" is one of those seamless, captivating films that is compelling enough on video to stifle the strongest urge to hit the pause button and get a snack. It is the top pick among the latest offerings at Moscow video outlets.

The opening scene alone is a masterpiece. Daniel Day-Lewis, playing a petty thief living in an Irish Catholic district of Belfast, is stealing tin from a rooftop when British soldiers spot him and mistake him for a sniper. A shot rings out and a long foot chase ensues through streets and back alleys, ending in a riot. All the while Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile" plays full volume on the sound track.

The effect is at once riveting and instructive, giving the viewer a sketch of the situation in the Northern Ireland of 1974 and a hint of what is to come.

"In the Name of the Father" is based on the story of the Guildford 7, a group of Irish Catholics wrongfully accused of taking part in the Irish Republican Army's October 1974 bomb attack on a tavern in Guildford, England. Despite flimsy evidence -- extracted in some cases by torture -- the group, led by Day-Lewis' character, Gerry Conlon, were convicted and given long prison sentences.

Much of the film centers on the relationship between Day-Lewis and his father, played by Pete Postlethwaite, in a maximum-security British prison where they share a cell. For years they live together, bickering, reliving life in Belfast and, finally, working together to have their case retried. In one scene, Day-Lewis is tripping on LSD while his father prays the rosary.

The father-son dynamic and Day-Lewis' brilliant transformation from ne'er-do-well to solid human being are what gives "In the Name of the Father" a depth lacking in some other prison and courtroom dramas. But director Jim Sheridan resists the temptation of relying too heavily on legal wrangling and prison life to drive the film. (AV, GR)

The Paper. At the center of this frenetically-paced film is Michael Keaton, playing the neurotic metropolitan editor of a New York City tabloid newspaper. While the plot focuses on Keaton and his race for the big story, director Ron Howard makes room for a high-powered cast, including Glenn Close, Robert Duvall and Jason Robards, without losing momentum or getting distracted.

Cast as the penny-pinching managing editor, Close delivers a fine, elegant performance which serves as an effective counterpoint to Duvall's portrayal of a gritty executive editor who has sacrificed everything for the newspaper.

Well-scripted and tightly edited, "The Paper" has the drama of a thriller without relying on much violence or even a car chase. It is definitely worth seeing. (AV)

The Fugitive. Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones star in a film based on the 1960s American television series by the same name. Ford is Richard Kimble, a successful doctor who is wrongfully accused of the murder of his wife and is pursued throughout the midwestern countryside by a federal marshal played by Tommy Lee Jones. Jones' performance earned him an Oscar for best supporting actor earlier this year.

Director Andrew Davis, better known for films with gratuitous gore, gives the film a staccato pace and plausibility that make it an escapist film in the best sense of the term. The plot's twists and turns are sufficient to keep even the most jaded of video viewers interested. (AV, GR, VF)

Mystery Date. The premise is fairly simple: older brother helps younger brother woo voluptuous woman. From there, the story gets more complicated, as he younger brother, played by Ethan Hawke, discovers his older brother is a big-time criminal.

As a sociological study of the mating patterns of adolescent males living in suburban America, "Mystery Date" is enlightening. As art or even just entertainment, the film is a failure. The acting is mediocre and the plot predictable. Without too much violence, nudity or strong language, "Mystery Date" might be a good choice as low-brow fare for the teen and pre-teen set. (AV)

Almost Pregnant. An infertile husband, played by Jeff Conaway of television's "Taxi," and his wife, portrayed by Tanya Roberts, search for a way to have a child. After rejecting in vitro fertilization, the couple settles on finding a surrogate father to perform the deed. As might be expected with such a plot, "Almost Pregnant" borders on pornography, with frequent scenes of Roberts' attempts at conception.

This video has the feel of an extended television situation comedy, with lots of jokes about genitalia, fertility and infidelity. A light, slightly off-color comedy with mediocre acting, "Almost Pregnant" is certainly not a must-see. (AV, GR)

Hostage for a Day. This comedy starring George Wendt is the story of a middle-aged man oppressed by a domineering wife and a mindless job in a small American town. When his wheelchair-bound childhood sweetheart returns home, Wendt begins the transformation from meek to manly, eventually embarking on a harebrained scheme involving Russian terrorists to extricate himself from a miserable life.

Wendt, who played a barfly on the popular television show "Cheers", has an endearing quality -- much like the late John Candy -- which makes his character shine and carries the film. (GR, VF)

The Quiet Man. When John Wayne, a prizefighter from Pittsburgh, returns to the Irish village where he was born, he falls in love with a headstrong local woman played by Maureen O'Hara. Director John Ford's masterful depiction of the love story and the clash between American and Irish sensibilities make this 1952 film a classic. It won Oscars for best director and cinematography.

Unfortunately, the early Technicolor gives "The Quiet Man" a weird, nightmarish quality, especially when the color green appears -- which is often the case in Ireland. Some versions of the video feature a documentary-like prelude called "The Making of the Quiet Man." (GR)

The videos reviewed are available at either AV -- American Video (229-8797), GR -- the Garden Ring Supermarket (209-1572), or VF -- Video Force (238-3136).