These movies arrive on video store shelves this week.

DOWN IN THE DELTA

(PG-13, 1999, 112 minutes, Miramax)

"Down in the Dumps" is more like it. Maya Angelou's gloomy and schoolmarmish feature-directorial debut about the spiritual rejuvenation of a drug-addicted single mom (Alfre Woodard) suffers from too much awareness of its own goodness. The acting is fine, the photography is adequate, but the smarmy story about how life in the Mississippi Delta is better than inner-city Chicago has a scolding, goody-two-shoes tone. That's not helped by the fact that the film's cynical manipulation of the audience is hidden behind the characters of an autistic child (Kulani Hassen) and a woman with Alzheimer's (the late Esther Rolle). Contains drug use and a firearm discharged into a stuffed animal.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

8MM

(R, 1999, 123 minutes, Columbia)

Director Joel Schumacher's thriller about snuff pornography tries to have its cheesecake and eat it too: It expresses vigilante outrage at the potbellied pigs who create and support violent pornography but has no problem giving us peekaboo shots of its female victims. As a surveillance expert sent to find a female snuff performer feared dead, Nicolas Cage gives a credible performance. But apart from an odd-buddy interlude with Joaquin Phoenix, playing a rock star aspirant who earns money clerking in a porno store, the movie is somewhere between twisted and pseudo thoughtful -- a sort of Adrian Lyne affair. The movie's true female victim is actress Catherine Keener who, as Cage's wife, spends the movie waiting for her husband to call home. Contains disturbing pornography, obscenity and violence.

-- Desson Howe

*THE GENERAL

(R, 1998, 124 minutes, Columbia)

This outstanding, black-and-white movie, for which John Boorman took the Best Director Prize at last year's Cannes festival, is a dreamy tribute to Martin Cahill, a gangster in Dublin during the 1980s who is said to have stolen more than $60 million over a 20-year career. An electrifying performance from Brendan Gleeson, propelled by Boorman's visionary direction, brings Cahill to almost surrealistic life; he's a blithe Peter Pan, whose in-your-face heists exasperate everyone from the Irish Republican Army to the local cops, led by Inspector Ned Kenny (Jon Voight). Cahill's coterie -- including rock-solid Noel Curley (Adrian Dunbar); devoted, but nervous Gary (Sean McGinley); his wife Frances (Maria Doyle Kennedy); and his mistress Tina (Angeline Ball) are a collective charm, too. Catch this if you can. Contains obscenity, violence and partial nudity.

-- Desson Howe

VIRUS

(R, 1999, 100 minutes, Universal)

One of the worst sci-fi monster movies of the 1990s, first-time director John Bruno's unscary ordeal pits a team of second-tier acting talent (Jamie Lee Curtis, William Baldwin and Donald Sutherland) against a second-tier special effects alien. (It's hard to be scared of a whirring, clicking, robotic, deep-voiced alien that looks like something you might buy for your kid at Christmas.) Curtis and company are the crew of a sinking tugboat who take refuge on a deserted Soviet research vessel, only to discover aforementioned alien, who believes mankind is a bad virus. The alien's got it all wrong. This movie's the real scourge, and the only cure is to steer clear of it. Contains profanity, violence and plenty of room for laughter.

-- Michael O'Sullivan