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'The Cable Guy'
'Carrington'
'Casino'
'The Castle'
'The Celebration'
'Celebrity'
'Center Stage'
'Chasing Amy'
'Chill Factor'
'Cider House Rules'
'City Hall'
'City of Angels'
'A Civil Action'
'Clockers'
'Clueless'
'The Color of Paradise'
'Con Air'
'Congo'
'Conspiracy Theory'
'Contact'
'Contempt'
'Cop Land'
'Courage Under Fire'
'Cradle Will Rock'
'Crimson Tide'
'Croupier'
'The Crucible'
'Cruel Intentions'
'The Cruise'

'The Cable Guy' (6/17/96)
Directed by Ben Stiller
Starring Jim Carrey, Matthew Broderick

The joke here is that the guy who wires your cable box has his own wires dangerously crossed. A loner raised in front of a TV, he comes to install cable in the apartment of Steven (Matthew Broderick), just dumped by his girlfriend. Steven wants free cable. The cable guy (Jim Carrey) wants to be Steven's friend—and nothing is going to stop him. Like a demonic and omnipotent Dennis the Menace, the intruder rewires Steven's life, causing him to land in jail, lose his job and almost lose his mind. Directed by Ben Stiller, it's a strange movie: Carrey works his gifted butt off, and we're not allowed to laugh. (on video)
DAVID ANSEN
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'Carrington' (11/20/95)
Directed by Christopher Hampton
Starring Emma Thompson, Jonathan Pryce

No screenwriter could possibly have invented the love story at the heart of this film, Christopher Hampton's fascinating, moving depiction of the bond between painter Dora Carrington (Emma Thompson) and Bloomsbury giant Lytton Strachey (Jonathan Pryce). Their rule-breaking relationship—mostly platonic, but allowing each to have many other lovers—defies the easy psychologizing and tidy dramaturgy that most movies rely on. In its best scenes, the film takes us to places of the heart we haven't been, exploring Strachey's credo that there are "a great deal of a great many kinds of love." (on video)
DAVID ANSEN
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'Casino' (11/20/95)
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Starring Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone

Martin Scorsese's film is conceived on a grand scale, as a gangster's paradise lost. Paradise was Las Vegas in the 1970s, where guys from the street like "Ace" Rothstein (Robert De Niro) and Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) could reign in gaudy splendor. In this story of the overreaching Rothstein and Santoro we're meant to see a fall of Shakespearean proportions. Naturally, there's an Eve in this garden of nouveau-riche delights, Ginger (Sharon Stone), who marries Rothstein and betrays him with Santoro. As anthropology, it's fascinating, and everything about the production is first class. But the human drama at the heart of this movie is stillborn. (on video)
DAVID ANSEN
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'The Castle' (5/10/99)
Starring Michael Caton, Anne Tenney
Directed by Rob Sitch

The insanely happy Kerrigan family finds delight where others would find horror. This lovey-dovey Australian crew lives in a house perched atop a toxic landfill, situated next to a deafening airport runway overseen by looming electrical-power poles. The proud patriarch, Darryl (Michael Caton), a tow-truck driver, waxes enthusiastic about his fake chimney, his pet greyhounds and his hairdresser daughter's horrid hairdo. In his incurably optimistic eyes, he is living a charmed life in the perfect abode, and nobody is going to take it away from him. Not even the government, which orders him to sell his home to make way for an expanded airport. "The Castle" is further proof that the Aussies love to make affectionate fun of the tackiest aspects of their culture. (Remember "Strictly Ballroom"?) While this modest little comedy struck a deep chord in its homeland, here it's not much more than a light tap on the funny bone.
DAVID ANSEN
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'The Celebration'(10/19/98)
Directed by Mogens Rukov
Starring Ulrich Thomsen, Henning Moritzen

The fireworks generated by the family gathering in 'The Celebration' are unusually explosive. At a lavish country estate turned hotel in Denmark, the well-heeled family and friends of Helge Klingenfeldt gather to celebrate this powerful patriarch's 60th birthday. At the heart of the tale are his three children: Michael, the volatile black sheep, the rebellious, emotionally disheveled Helene and the introspective Christian. When the revenge-seeking Christian rises to toast the guest of honor, out of his mouth comes a family secret so dark and disturbing that the guests have no choice but to...completely ignore it. But this is just round one. Thomas Vinterberg's gripping and savagely funny movie is shot with a handheld camera in a raw, urgent style that gives the story an almost cinéma vérité immediacy. This gifted young director and his veteran co-writer, Mogens Rukov, dispense with cinematic slickness to home in on the characters. "The Celebration" may have been intended as a specific assault on the complacency and hypocrisy of class-conscious Danish society, but the family emotions this supercharged movie taps into are sure to push universal buttons.
DAVID ANSEN
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'Celebrity'(9/27/98)
Directed by Woody Allen
Starring Kenneth Branagh, Hank Azaria

At long last a film by the ultimate New Yorker is being featured as the Festival's opening act. Unfortunately, despite its undeniably appropriate subject matter, it is not one of Woody Allen's more successful efforts. "Celebrity" follows the post-divorce wanderings of a Manhattan couple (Kenneth Branagh and Judy Davis). Branagh, doing an uncannily accurate impression of Woody Allen, is a celebrity journalist dazzled by his contact with the rich and famous as he documents their decadent goings-on and tries to insinuate himself into their world. Meanwhile his schoolteacher ex-wife collides with fame unexpectedly, becoming a television personality who moves easily amongst the glitterati. Shot in crisp black and white, this homage to "La Dolce Vita" nonetheless lacks the charm and energy of Fellini's farcical original. While the caricatures of movie stars and models are often spot on--most notably the standout performances by Charlize Theron as a voluptuous but highly temperamental supermodel and Leonardo De Caprio as a pampered, hedonistic teen idol (cast in pre-"Titanic" days)-the central story falls curiously flat. The situations faced by Branagh and Davis are so transparently a mere pretext for exploring the role of fame in our culture, their dilemmas and crises lack any real emotional depth or intrinsic interest. As always with Allen, we keep wanting him get on with the funny bits--which in this case are just about worth waiting for.
ANDRÉA C. BASORA
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'Center Stage'(5/12/00)
Directed by Nicholas Hytner
Starring Starring Amanda Schull, Ethan Stiefel

Jody (Amanda Schull) has bad feet and the wrong body, but all she wants to do is dance. Eva has a great body, but a terrible attitude. Maureen is a perfect dancer, but her heart isn't in it. All are clichés, er, students, at the fictional American Ballet Academy and the principals in Nicholas Hytner's elegy to "Fame," "Center Stage." Like the 20-year-old classic about New York performers coming of age, "Center Stage" follows a young and talented ensemble as they fight with teachers, parents, and themselves before figuring it all out. The end is predictable after the first five minutes (two, if you're smart), but the film sucks you in all the same. While Hytner has made a name for himself on celluloid ("The Madness of King George," "The Crucible," and "The Object of My Affection"), his background is in musical theater: He directed "Miss Saigon" and the ground-breaking revival of "Carousel." A film about the trials and tribulations of young ballet dancers is a perfect project and "Center Stage" showcases some stunning dancing. The brilliant Susan Stroman choreographed most of the numbers (she has recently been nominated for four Tonys for her stage work), and to make sure they worked, she and Hytner cast the film favoring feet over faces. Amanda Schull was accepted at the San Francisco Ballet just before being cast. The two hoofers who vie for Jody's heart are played by Ethan Stiefel, arguably the best dancer in the world, and American Ballet Theater star Sascha Radetsky. All three are wonderful dancers who would do well to stay clear of dialogue in their future careers as performers. Zoe Saldana as the sassy Eva and Susan May Pratt as the tragic Maureen are more convincing, but are nonetheless dwarfed by the real actors playing their teachers: Peter Gallagher, Debra Monk, and Donna Murphy. But really, who cares about rocky acting or an uninspired script? Seeing foot-work this fun on film is enough. Give "Center Stage" an encore just for existing.
TED GIDEONSE
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'Chasing Amy' (4/7/97)
Directed by Kevin Smith
Starring Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams

"Chasing Amy" proves Kevin Smith is more than a one-hit wonder. He hasn't lost the raunchy bad-boy humor of "Clerks," and he's back to working on a shoestring. But instead of cool twenty-something irony, Smith startles us with raw emotional honesty. "Chasing Amy" is about a straight white dude—comic-book artist Holden (Ben Affleck)—who falls in love with a lesbian comic-book artist named Alyssa Jones (Joey Lauren Adams). Ultimately this funny, surprisingly moving love story is a devastating critique of the hetero male ego, a victim of arrested development. Holden, so cool about Alyssa's flings with women, goes haywire when he's confronted with her promiscuous heterosexual past. Whether discussing comics, cunnilingus or their deepest feelings, all of Smith's vibrant characters seduce us with their blunt and heartfelt eloquence. (on video)
DAVID ANSEN
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'Chill Factor' (9/3/99)
Directed by Hugh Johnson
Starring Skeet Ulrich, Cuba Gooding Jr.

Pair a first-time director (Hugh Johnson) with first-time writers (Drew Gitlin and Mike Cheda), add two actors who have never appeared in an action film and you have "Chill Factor," a thrill-less "Speed" wannabe. Action-novices Cuba Gooding Jr. and Skeet Ulrich are stuck with a stale screenplay about a night-shift diner attendant (Ulrich) who convinces an ice-cream deliveryman (Gooding) to help him save America from the terrors of an out-of-control biological weapon, code-named "Elvis." The supposed tension is based on the fact that Elvis will explode if it reaches 50 degrees, killing everyone for hundreds of miles. Thus our heroes must race around cradling the icy, volatile weapon while evading stone-faced super-villain Peter Firth. The sarcastic buddy dialogue between Gooding Jr. and Ulrich is amusing, but the film ultimately falls flat with predictable scares (the weapon repeatedly reaches 49.9 degrees) and stale Elvis jokes. Like "The Rock," "Chill Factor" has gruesome footage illustrating the devastating effects of flesh-melting biological weaponry, but little in the way of special effects. Soporific chase sequences dominate the film. Ulrich and Gooding Jr. have followed up their successful work in "As Good As It Gets" with a movie that's about as bad as it gets.
JEREMY CAPLAN
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'Cider House Rules' (3/3/00)
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom
Starring Tobey Maguire, Michael Caine

"Cider House Rules," John Irving's own adaptation of his novel, is the Capra-esque tale of a sheltered young man who sallies forth into the world to learn important life lessons before returning to the safety of his home and his destiny, a wiser, more content person. The home in question is St. Cloud's, an orphanage in rural Maine and director Lasse Hallstrom seems to have taken the name as his mantra. St. Cloud's, like everything else in the film is seen through such a heavy haze of nostalgia and sentimentality that it is barely visible as a real place at all.

The time is the 1940s and Dr. Wilbur Larch (Michael Caine, doing his best New England accent) presides over the orphanage—peopled with alarmingly cute little kids with names like Fuzzy and Curly—with beneficent crustiness. When he's not delivering unwanted babies into the world, he is saving them from it by performing illegal abortions. The gentle doctor has an even gentler orphaned protégé, Homer Wells (the always subdued and enigmatic Tobey Maguire), who assists with the deliveries but refuses to perform the abortions; their discussions on the subject sounds like a bad high-school debate. One day a beautiful patient arrives (Charlize Theron, constantly bathed in a golden glow) with her equally beautiful soldier boyfriend (will somebody please give Paul Rudd an interesting role?). They spirit Homer off to the "real world"—which in this idealized cinematic world means a picture-perfect apple farm on the coast of Maine. Once there, he rather improbably settles down with a group of black migrant workers and sets about learning that sometimes you have to bend the rules in order to do the right thing.

"Cider House Rules" touches on some difficult subjects, but somehow makes them look too easy. Children are abandoned, others die, there is incest, infidelity and even the tragedies wrought by war. But none of it registers with any impact. Everything just looks so good, the syrupy music (by Rachel Portman) is so infuriatingly manipulative, and every twist and turn of the plot is so unsurprising that you end up feeling like you've just been strolling through a Norman Rockwell exhibit. Indeed, "Cider House Rules" is so resolutely fanciful that it makes even Rockwell look like an edgy realist.
ANDREA C. BASORA
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'City Hall' (2/19/96)
Directed by Harold Becker
Starring Al Pacino, John Cusack

Al Pacino as New York City Mayor John Pappas is trying to make his city hall a place you don't have to fight, a place that cares, that gets things done. He's a pragmatic and charismatic guy who long ago came to terms with the deal in idealism. It's Deputy Mayor Kevin Calhoun (John Cusack) who's the pristine idealist. This is a movie about our old friend Mo—Moral Ambiguity. Mo surfaces after a street shootout kills a cop, a drug dealer and a 6-year-old. While absorbing in its evocation of New York fauna and rhythms, the film's problem is in the screenplay—the classic Hollywood too-many-cooks disease. (on video)
JACK KROLL
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'City of Angels' (4/20/98)
Directed by Brad Silberling
Starring Nicolas Cage, Meg Ryan

Meg Ryan might not be the first person you'd cast as a heart surgeon, and Nicolas Cage is far from the wispy, ethereal types usually drafted to play angels, yet here they are as the surprisingly convincing lovers—one mortal, the other celestial—in "City of Angels." The premise and the images of grave, black-clad angels who congregate in the public library and eavesdrop on the thoughts of mankind are all taken from Wim Wenders's "Wings of Desire." Think of this lyrical, unabashedly romantic remake, transposed from Berlin to Los Angeles, as "Wings Lite." The mood is hushed, the swooping, angel-eyed views of L.A. ravishing, the quirky eruptions of comedy well timed. Only near the end does the mix of melodrama, mush and message get out of hand. (on video)
DAVID ANSEN
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'A Civil Action' (12/21/98)
Directed by Steven Zaillian
Starring John Travolta, Robert Duvall

Steven Zaillian's engrossing legal thriller is based on a well-known case of toxic pollution that occurred in Woburn, Mass., in the 1970s. An unusual number of children were dying of leukemia, the cause unknown. When personal-injury lawyer Jan Schlichtmann (John Travolta) agrees to take the case, the finger of blame points at two giant corporations—W.R. Grace and Beatrice Foods. Schlichtmann is a fascinating protagonist, an ambiguous mixture of greed and idealism, vanity and altruism. Zaillian, best known for writing "Schindler's List" and directing "Searching for Bobby Fischer," can turn dry depositions into riveting drama. And he has assembled a rock-solid cast. Travolta has just the right mixture of flash, tenacity and narcissism to bring this paradoxical hero to life. As his wiliest foe, attorney Jerome Facher, Robert Duvall is as good as it gets. "A Civil Action" is one movie that could have been longer. The other members of Schlichtmann's Boston firm are too sketchily developed and too many vital events are crammed into the last half hour. Zaillian's meaty movie, at once bleak and hopeful, speaks volumes about the maddening distance between justice and the justice system.
DAVID ANSEN
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'Clockers' (9/25/95)
Directed by Spike Lee
Starring Harvey Keitel, John Turturro

In the Brooklyn housing project that is the setting of Spike Lee's grimly passionate film, a 19-year-old (Mekhi Phifer) sells crack from a park bench and is periodically shaken down by Det. Rocco Klein (Harvey Keitel). The outlines of the story come straight from Richard Price's novel "Clockers" (slang for dealers who'll work round the clock). But Lee has altered the tale to address his own concerns. From the ghastly snapshots under the opening credits to the glimpses of music clips glamorizing gun-packing rappers, Lee announces his furious protest at the culture that has decimated the black urban community. It may be Lee's strongest film since "Do the Right Thing." (on video)
DAVID ANSEN
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'Clueless' (7/24/95)
Directed by Amy Heckerling
Starring Alicia Silverstone, Stacey Dash

In the summer's most compelling movie about teenagers, the passage through adolescence is a perilous haul. Family structures have broken down, parents and adults are either absent or irrelevant. Kids thrash about in a sea of pop cultural junk, cobbling lives out of casual sex and even more casual drug use. Moral issues are whatever. Set in a snooty Los Angeles high school, Amy Heckerling's ("Fast Times at Ridgemont High") Mentos-fresh comedy draws adolescence as a meaningless but zesty quest to get baked, get busy and get over—preferably in a form-fitting Azzedine Alaia dress. (on video)
JOHN LELAND
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'The Color of Paradise' (3/31/00)
Directed by Majid Majidi
Starring Hossein Mahjub, Mohsen Ramezani

"The Color of Paradise, " the latest offering from a burgeoning Iranian film industry, is the story of Mohammed, a blind boy whose widowed father (Hossein Mahjub) is struggling to reconcile his wife's death and the burden of his handicapped son. It begins with parents picking up their children from an institute for the blind in Tehran. After everyone has gone, 8-year-old Mohammed (Mohsen Ramezani) is left waiting for his father. When the father finally arrives, he takes the boy only begrudgingly. Once home, however, Mohammed's two sisters and his grandmother (Salime Feizi, who gives a touching performance) give him a warm welcome and shower him with affection. But, despite their protestations, the father is unable to face up to the responsibility of caring for his son and sends Mohammed off to apprentice with a blind woodcarver. There he gradually learns spiritual lessons from his mentor and begins to see the world in a new light. "The Color of Paradise" is is a beautifully told story of a child's innocence and faith, filmed with exquisite detail and stunning cinematography. It is a little gem of a movie about transcending blindness to see the world in a fuller, richer way.
ANN-REBECCA LASCHEVER
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'Con Air' (6/9/97)
Directed by Simon West
Starring Nicolas Cage

Another pumped-up, amphetamine-paced action movie from producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Con Air is also a prison transport plane carrying a gaggle of the most twisted felons in the land. On board is the one man crazy and heroic enough to foil their hijacking scheme: the just-paroled Cameron Poe (Nicolas Cage), heading home to deliver a stuffed bunny rabbit to the 8-year-old daughter he's never met. Welcome to dozens of seat-shaking explosions, a crash landing on the Vegas strip, attempted rapes, one bloody impalement, a motorcycle-and-firetruck chase and characterizations which are all outlined in cartoon strokes. John Malkovich is the bald, brilliant psychopath Cyrus (The Virus) Grissom. Steve Buscemi, shackled like Hannibal Lecter, is the comically depraved serial killer. Ving Rhames is a militant murderer with a reputation for "killing more men than cancer." The saving grace of "Con Air" is its sense of its own absurdity. (on video)
DAVID ANSEN
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'Congo' (6/19/95))
Directed by Frank Marshall
Starring Dylan Walsh, Laura Linney

Congo is basically the old African ooga-mooga movie brought into the P.C., high-tech age. Instead of a bunch of white guys (and a girl) seeking King Solomon's mines, you have a bunch of white guys (and a girl) seeking... actually, they are seeking King Solomon's mines. Herkermer Homolka (Tim Curry), a Romanian hustler, lusts after Sol's diamonds. Karen Ross (Laura Linney) also is looking for rare gems, as components for her company's satellite communications. And Peter Elliot (Dylan Walsh), a primatologist, is returning his pet project, Amy the talking gorilla, to her jungle home. But behind the computers, the satellites, the lasers and the special effects lurk all the African cliches. (on video)
JACK KROLL
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'Conspiracy Theory' (8/11/97)
Directed by Richard Donner
Starring Mel Gibson, Julia Roberts

Mel Gibson's character, cabbie Jerry Fletcher, thinks the world is a web of conspiracies, and it turns out he may be onto something. But the hows and whys don't get sorted out until he works through his relationship with a Justice Department attorney played by Julia Roberts, who takes the nutty paranoid cabby under her wing. It's hardly a romance—she's more mother than lover—but the emotions do run deep. Gibson's offbeat performance is gripping and Roberts has renewed strength off the success of "My Best Friend's Wedding." Although Roberts lobbied to turn up the heat between the two characters, the romance never really gets off the ground. Rather Roberts and Gibson form a "pas de deux," two lonely urbanites fighting vague yet common enemies in a plot that never quite comes together. (on video)
CORIE BROWN
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'Contact' (7/21/97)
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Starring Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey

Jodie Foster, playing astronomer Ellie Arroway, brings a passionate conviction to this ambitious, 2-hour adaptation of Carl Sagan's science-fiction best seller, which labors mightily to merge the personal and the cosmic in a resonant metaphor. Filled with lofty debates about the conflict between science and religion, more interested in stirring awe than whipping up action, "Contact" is being positioned as the "thinking man's" summer movie. But Robert Zemeckis's movie is frustratingly uneven. When it's good, it's very good. And when it's not, it can be as silly and self-important as bad '50s sci-fi. However, Zemeckis is such a potent imagemaker that he is capable, for long stretches at a time, of sweeping you up in his vision. At the heart of the film is a primal sense of cosmic curiosity that all but the most cynical will find hard to resist. (on video)
DAVID ANSEN
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'Contempt' (7/28/97)
Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Starring Brigitte Bardot, Michel Piccoli

The reissue of this 1963 Jean-Luc Godard film has proved to be the surprise hit on what used to be called the art-house circuit. And it will remind you why art and movies were once discussed in the same breath. Brigitte Bardot, Michel Piccoli and Jack Palance star in a movie about (among other things) the making of a movie based on "The Odyssey," the dissolution of a marriage, the clash of classicism and modernism, Hollywood and Europe, the death of love and the beauty of B.B.'s butt. A British critic has called it "the greatest work of art produced in post-war Europe." Nonsense. It's not even Godard's best. It's merely wonderful: challenging, gorgeous, moving, bitterly funny and graced with a Georges Delerue score ravishing in its melancholy. (on video)
DAVID ANSEN
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'Cop Land' (8/25/97)
Directed by James Mangold
Starring Sylvester Stallone, Harvey Keitel

Determined to shed his action image and be a serious actor, Stallone gained 40 pounds of haunch, paunch and jowls. For him, serious equals schlumpy. Poor Freddy waddles around Garrison, a town inhabited by corrupt New York cops. Ray Donlan (Harvey Keitel) is the Godcopper who actually runs Garrison, while Freddy handles traffic tickets. Keitel is part of a heavyweight ensemble that includes Robert De Niro as an Internal Affairs officer digging into the corruption and Ray Liotta as a cop caught between good and evil. These actors spray each other with testosterone while the de-Ramboed Stallone waddles around droopily. If he's going serious, he needs help to build tones and colors onto his not-unappealing base—more help than writer-director James Mangold gives him. Mangold is something of a pseudo-Scorsese, assembling elements of other pictures like "Internal Affairs" and "Bad Lieutenant" into an eclectic mix that lacks its own vital reality. (on video)
JACK KROLL
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'Courage Under Fire' (7/15/96)
Directed by Edward Zwick
Starring Denzel Washington, Meg Ryan

Karen Walden (Meg Ryan) is the first woman candidate for the Medal of Honor, to be given for the courage under fire that cost her life during the gulf war. The job of investigating her candidacy falls to Lt. Col. Nat Serling (Denzel Washington), who is under a cloud for his own actions in the Persian Gulf. Serling gave the order that resulted in the "friendly fire" death of several of his own men. Full of remorse for his mistake, he's been hand-picked to rubber-stamp Walden's medal. But the stories of Walden's heroic death don't match up. Also starring Lou Diamond Phillips, the film seems to want us to pin a medal to its own chest. (on video)
DAVID ANSEN
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'Cradle Will Rock' (12/10/99)
Directed by Tim Robbins
Starring John Cusack, Susan Sarandon

It's always a shock to run into a Hollywood movie with a sense of history, much less one as ambitious as Tim Robbins's "Cradle Will Rock." Perhaps inspired by the mural Nelson Rockefeller (here played by John Cusack) commissioned from Diego Rivera (Ruben Blades) for Rockefeller Center, Robbins has mounted a swirling mural of his own, attempting to capture the political and artistic fever of New York in the mid-'30s. Here are Orson Welles (Angus MacFadyen), producer John Houseman (Cary Elwes) and composer Marc Blitzstein (Hank Azaria) mounting their Federal Theatre production of the political musical "The Cradle Will Rock," when it is suddenly shut down by the government on the eve of production. Here are a Jewish Mussolini sympathizer (Susan Sarandon) trying to raise money for Il Duce from rich industrialists, a fake countess with bohemian urges (Vanessa Redgrave) and a self-righteous informant (Joan Cusack). Mixing fictional characters (a bitter ventriloquist played by Bill Murray) with broad, controversial portraits of real people (Welles is a drunken blowhard here), Robbins eschews leftist diatribes for a bold cartoon version of history. It's as crowded and energetic as a big parade—and just about as subtle.
DAVID ANSEN
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'Crimson Tide' (5/22/95)
Directed by Tony Scott
Starring Denzel Washington, Gene Hackman

With "Crimson Tide," director Tony Scott completes the testosterone trilogy he began with "Top Gun" and "Days of Thunder." In the absence of old enemies, a new one is concocted. During a Russian civil war, a group of rabid nationalists seize a missile base. The ship's hard-line captain, Frank Ramsey (Gene Hackman), gets an order to nuke the rebels, but an enemy torpedo interrupts an urgent incoming message that could reverse the command. When he insists on launching the warheads anyway, his executive officer (Denzel Washington) seizes control. Ultimately, this is a war of boorishness vs. sensitivity, and the filmmakers waffle. (on video)
KATRINE AMES
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'Croupier' (5/12/00)
Directed by Mike Hodges
Starring Clive Owen, Alex Kingston

Watching "Croupier" is rather like watching a roulette wheel--utterly mesmerizing. In the hands of veteran director Mike Hodges—the man behind "Get Carter," the classic British gangster movie that helped launch Michael Caine's career—this exploration of the gambling underworld gets a treatment so stark and focused that it makes his followers (Quentin Tarantino, Guy Ritchie) look like undisciplined children. The croupier of the title is Jack Manfred (Clive Owen, last seen in "Bent"), an aspiring novelist with a severe case of writer's block—let's just say he can't even come up with a title. He takes a job in a London casino in order to pay the rent, but ends up getting swept deep into the dark currents of the gambling life. Not that he gambles himself, as he is adamant about pointing out; his high comes from the power he wields over the so-called "punters" at his table. Jack is a man who is hermetically sealed off from his own emotions. He lives with one woman and sleeps with two more during the course of the film, but seems to feel nothing. Indeed, ever the novelist, he takes pride in his utter detachment; everything is grist for the writing mill. During the course of the film there are betrayals, beating, a heist, and even a death, but in the end they register with him only in that they provide material for his novel. Aided by one of the few successful voice-overs in movie history—Jack narrates his actions and thoughts in the third person as if he were continually writing his life as a novel—Jack emerges as a man so convinced at his ability to control the table, that he ends up on the other side, metaphorically gambling with his own life. The riveting Clive Owen, serves up his acting cards with a perfect poker face, but his eye glitter with just the right degree of cynical intelligence. His Jack is so intensely characterized and so darkly appealing that he is as hard for the audience to resist as he is for the women of the film. Cleverly plotted and starkly atmospheric, the film's surface simplicity is as deceptively skillful as the swift moves of a dealer's hands.
ANDREA C. BASORA
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'The Crucible' (12/2/96)
Directed by Nicholas Hytner
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Winona Ryder

Nicholas Hytner's passionate version of Arthur Miller's play about the Salem witch hunts was meant to get your blood boiling, and it does. The flash point of the drama is sexual jealousy. Rejected by her lover John Proctor (Daniel Day-Lewis), teenage Abigail Williams (Winona Ryder) gathers her girlfriends in the woods, where they dance libidinously and Abigail drinks a potion to kill Proctor's wife. When their ritual is discovered by a local minister, the madness begins. Accusations of Devil-worship fly, an investigation commences and the community is torn apart. Caught in the middle is Proctor, faced with a wracking choice: does he save his neck with a lie or sacrifice his life for the truth? Director Hytner revs up the emotional pitch from the outset, and his stars slip powerfully into their 17th-Century skins. (Paul Scofield is juicily effective as the stern Judge Danforth.) The result is a film that is moving if a little too black-and-white: it makes us feel as noble in our moral certainty as the characters it invites us to deplore. (on video)
DAVID ANSEN
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'Cruel Intentions' (3/5/99)
Directed by Roger Kumble
Starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe

Unless you've been stuck in a book—right!—you've noticed the entertainment industry's current love affair with teenagers. What began with "Clueless" (1995) and got a shot from "Scream" (1996) has exploded into a billion-dollar business catering to and starring boys and girls between the ages of 13 and 19. "Dawson's Creek" is a demographic tsunami. Seventeen-year-old Britney Spears has sung her way to the top of the charts. And every Friday seems to bring a new movie full of fresh-faced, large-cupped high school students who talk nasty, get down and dirty and occasionally morph into aliens. "Cruel Intentions," this week's entry, features no characters from other planets—though it does take place in the strange universe of New York's Upper East Side prep school circuit.

This adaptation of Choderlos de Laclos' "Les Liaisons Dangereuses"—famously made into two movies in the late '80s, one of which starred Glenn Close, John Malkovich and Michelle Pfeiffer—casts Sarah Michelle Gellar as Kathryn, the beautiful, rich class president, who under the surface is a manipulative, promiscuous coke-addict, and Ryan Phillippe as her Jaguar-driving, fiercely intelligent step-brother, Sebastian. Distinguished by their complete lack of scruples, the two navigate upper Manhattan like vampires on the prowl, turning strangers into lovers and striking a bet over the virginity of Annette (Reese Witherspoon), the wholesome new presence on Park Avenue. As well-acted as it is dirty-minded—language is lifted straight off bathroom walls—it's all delicious fun until Sebastian's frozen heart begins to thaw. But even then, you won't be able to resist the film's ribaldry and cynicism. Kids these days!
B.J. SIGESMUND

Related Articles:
Expecting couple: Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillippe.
A history of teen films by Veronica Chambers and Yahlin Chang.

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'The Cruise' (11/02/98)
Directed by Bennett Miller
Starring Timothy 'Speed' Levitch

"The Cruise" is a long day's journey into urban weirdness. The cruiser is Timothy (Speed) Levitch, a 28-year-old New York tour guide and home-grown existentialist prophet who spritzes mad odes about the city and his own psychic demons to busloads of tourists. Bennett Miller's documentary is a sharp portrait of a true original. Microphone in hand, Levitch spews forth evocations of New York's splendors and miseries. He points out the house where Tom Paine died, another where Garbo loved to be alone, the place where Dylan Thomas spoke his last words: "I just had my 16th martini." With his Jewish afro, his whiny but eloquent voice, Levitch is a nutty mix of Harpo Marx and Allen Ginsberg. Against Miller's vivid obbligato of towers and bridges, he rants about his bad acne, his family, his treacherous friends. Creepy but unforgettable, there's clearly only one future for him--mayor of New York.
JACK KROLL
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