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The Independent Culture
Strange Days (18). Kathryn Bigelow's millennial thriller is noisy, violent, sensational, lurid - and an undeniable blast. Set in Los Angeles on the last two days of the 20th century, this is the story of Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes), a street hustler who deals in the drug of the day: playback clips that enable the user to live vicariously through the digitally preserved experiences of others. The movie has its shortcomings: its Bladerunner- like vision of apocalypse isn't very convin-cing; James Cameron and Jay Cocks's screenplay is littered with dismal lines; and worst of all, Juliette Lewis is in it (recycling her trademark tics, as Lenny's insufferable rock-star ex-lover). But Bigelow's genre-collapsing brand of movie-making breeds ambitious ideas. Consider the reversal of gender roles in the central relationship (Fiennes is a refreshingly wavering action hero, Angela Bassett is tough and unfailingly focused); the commendable, if inevitably superficial exploration of race relations and police brutality; and the pointed comments on the pleasures and dangers of voyeurism - and, by extension, of cinema. Despite these complex concerns, the film never once forgets that it is a thriller - and therein lies its strength.

Up Close and Personal (15). The ludicrous celebrity of American news personalities is the starting point for media satires such as To Die For: But Jon Avnet's film indulges the notion of news anchors as stars without a hint of wit, irony, or cynicism. Sallyann Atwater (Michelle Pfeiffer), stupidly renamed Tally by her even-more-stupidly-named mentor, Warren Justice (Robert Redford), gets her first break as a weather girl at a local Miami station. Growing progressively more photogenic, she ruthlessly climbs the TV news ladder, and eventually nabs an anchor position. The Celine Dion theme song is emblematic - Avnet's safe tale is, more than anything, a celebration of airbrushed banality.

Underground (18). Black farce, clumsy allegory, and 50 years of Yugoslavian history do not co-exist easily in Emir Kusturica's confused, fantastical Palme d'Or winner about a community of resistance fighters trapped for decades in a Belgrade cellar, manufacturing arms for a war that has long ceased. The director's political stance is inconsistent, and even more irritatingly, the musical accompaniment is provided by a deafening, omnipresent brass band. Dennis Lim