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i am cuba mikhail kalatozov (pg) n a simple plan sam raimi (15) n the impostors Stanley tucci (15) n apt pupil bryan singer (15) n she's all that Robert Iscove (12) n the corruptor james foley (18)
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The Independent Culture
MIKHAIL KALATOZOV'S I Am Cuba is an extraordinary Soviet-Cuban collaboration from 1964, a study in revolutionary fervour comparable with Pontecorvo's masterly The Battle of Algiers. A quartet of unrelated stories recount the final days of the corrupt Batista regime and the popular revolt which eventually toppled it. Using voiceover and a minimum of dialogue, Kalatozov offers a kind of epic poem on the concerted efforts of peasants, students and guerrillas to wrest Cuba from the hands of the capitalist oppressors. It sounds tedious but is actually stirring, hypnotic and beautiful.

The film's visual poetry takes off from the cameraman Sergei Urusevsky's deployment of dreamy, high-contrast black and white, oddly tilted angles and long, fluid takes, such as the puckish Fellini-esque shot of a woman at a drunken poolside party (this is decadent Havana) plunging beneath the water, closely followed by the camera. There's a nod to Potemkin's Odessa Steps, too, in the student riot sequence, a chaos of smoke, blood and water cannons. Most impressive of all is a tracking shot which goes up the side of a building, takes a right turn into a room of cigar-makers, and then flies out over the street below, thronged with the progress of a funeral cortege.

The last section, about the rural worker's call to arms, is the most obvious agitprop in the film and underlines its basic Marxist tenet: history is on the side of the masses. Kalatozov invests his images with such passionate verve that you can see how persuasive that might once have sounded. Yet if its optimism feels a little dated now, the audacious pictorial beauty of I Am Cuba remains absolutely timeless. It's part of a celebration of Cuban culture at London's Barbican Centre, and really shouldn't be missed.

The cult horrormeister Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead) makes a surprising entry into the mainstream with A Simple Plan, a chilling and complicated morality tale about the consequences of a single dishonest act. Hank Mitchell (Bill Paxton) is a regular guy who finds $4.4m inside a wrecked plane in snowbound Minnesota woodland. Along with his slow-witted brother Jacob (Billy Bob Thornton) and his layabout pal Lou (Brent Briscoe) he decides to keep the money and wait to see if anybody claims it. This simple plan sets in train an inexorable sequence of calamities, abetted by the interference of Hank's wife Sarah (Bridget Fonda) who reveals the unexpected cunning and ruthlessness of Lady Macbeth.

Adapted from his own novel by Scott B Smith, the film has the agonising pull of a vortex, wherein every attempt to correct the original mistake leads only deeper into the abyss. Raimi is keen on predatory images of foxes and birds - just count all of those crows - but mostly exercises restraint in letting the script and the actors tell the story. Paxton is solid as the decent everyman who's horrified to discover exactly what he's capable of, while Thornton as the goofy simpleton brother is a beguiling mixture of gentleness and danger. The wintry landscape, hauntingly photographed by Alar Kivilo, will freeze you to the marrow if the plot's cleverly wrought thrills haven't done the job already.

With more discipline Stanley Tucci's The Impostors might have wowed audiences as comprehensively as his previous film, Big Night. Tucci and Oliver Platt play a pair of needy, unemployed actors in Thirties New York who seem destined for the small time. Somehow they end up as stowaways on a cruise liner, pursued by a pompous Shakespearean ham (Alfred Molina) whom they've publicly humiliated. Cue a wildly uneven farce that boasts an overpopulous cast - including Steve Buscemi, Isabella Rossellini and Lili Taylor - and an underwritten script. There's far too much mugging and falling about, though I wouldn't like to have missed Campbell Scott's turn as a chief steward of icily Teutonic creepiness.

Talking of which, Sir Ian McKellen perfects much the same in Bryan Singer's Apt Pupil. He plays the former commandant of a Nazi death camp who is discovered living pseudonymously 40 years later in a mid-American backwater by a curious schoolboy (Brad Renfro). The boy threatens to expose McKellen, but holds back on condition that the old man tells him the X-rated particulars of his part in the Holocaust. Based on a Stephen King novella, it develops into a nasty and fairly implausible folie a deux as master and pupil try to outsmart each other. The question it poses - is evil contagious? - is undermined by the absurdity of the set-up, a silly subplot involving an alcoholic vagrant, and the faint campness of McKellen's old monster. Considering that Singer's previous film was The Usual Suspects, it goes down as a disappointment.

There are some smart one-liners in the high-school comedy She's All That, though I'm not sure they justify an hour-and-a-half out of your life. Freddie Prinze Jr plays the school heart-throb who is challenged to turn a weirdo art chick (Rachael Leigh Cook) into prom queen and gets a life lesson for his trouble. He becomes less of a self-satisfied jerk, she loses the twitchy neurosis and - inexplicably - her spectacles. The repulsive Matthew Lillard aside, the young cast do fine, and writer R Lee Fleming spikes the Cinderella stuff with sufficient tartness to make the thing just about digestible.

Not so The Corruptor, a John Woo-style shoot-'em-up in which cops Chow Yun-Fat and Mark Wahlberg enter a violent Chinatown gang war between the Tongs and the Fukinese Dragons. Its director, James Foley, wrings maximum pomposity out of the hackneyed buddy formulas. Fukinawful.


All films on general release from tomorrow