The Critics: You'll feel a goose-step over your grave ...

Apt Pupil (15) Bryan Singer; 111 mins A Simple Plan (15) Sam Raimi; 121 mins She's All That (12) Robert Iscove; 95 mins The Corruptor (18) James Foley; 110 mins The Impostors (15) Stanley Tucci; 100 mins

Todd Bowden (Brad Renfro) is 16 years old. He is blond and industrious and capable of an exaggerated American grin. He calls his mum "Monica- baby". When a high-school essay question asks "Why Nazism?" Todd becomes incongruously obsessive in his research. The school library offers what he feels are half-truths, half-horrors. So he goes to the public library and sits for hours, days, examining photographs of death marches and crematoriums and portraits of Gestapo officers, and is soon rapt by the devilishness of it all. But this is not nearly enough for Todd.

In Stephen King's novella Apt Pupil, he describes Todd's fixation as a kind of falling in love, and Todd's desire like "the difference between being told about germs and actually seeing them in a microscope". One day, on the bus, Todd gets to see the germ up close. He recognises an old man as Himmler's "efficiency expert" Kurt Dussander (Ian McKellen), last seen, according to the Israeli government, in Cuba in the 1960s. Todd follows him home, and then spends a month compiling a dossier on this man - Unterkommandant at Auschwitz, not only witness to but instigator of the "gooshy stuff" Todd now lives to hear about. Todd descends on Dussander and promises his silence only if Dussander will speak of the atrocities of the camps. He becomes Dussander's pupil, the pair stuck indoors round a plastic kitchen table, indulging in a kind of nostalgia, both losing weight, both sleeping badly ("The subconscious digging obsessively at some object that won't be dislodged") and utterly misanthropic.

Bryan Singer, who also directed the moody The Usual Suspects, handles King unusually well, particularly his skill with specific horrors. In any King novel, there's likely to be something in a shroud, something slumped and hungry, some nightmare creature under the bed with twigs for fingers. Here we have Dussander, all liver spots and ash down his shirt, forced by Todd to climb into an SS uniform and goose-step up the hall, suddenly very alive, suddenly full of purpose. These are images that stick.

But it's Singer's handling of King's power-shifts that's so extraordinary. Almost imperceptibly, Todd becomes a prisoner. Not only practically - eight months knowing about a war criminal and never telling the authorities, what would Monica-baby have to say about that? - but in his soul. The removal of his teenage frivolities has been ruinous, nothing less than an amputation. At first, Singer has the kitchen dark but the light outside bright and confident, always trying to get in through the oily windows. Then half-way through the film this light starts looking blood-raw, awkward, like someone over-dressed, until eventually it's always night, or certainly feels that way.

Singer's casting illuminates this emotional evaporation, this daily discard. Renfro is bland-handsome. His is a face that you simply can't piece together in retrospect, a face capable of anything. It is Todd's manipulations that fuel King's story, Todd's complicity that engenders the horror here. Dussander only emerges at moments as really fiendish. He is already toppled, unrepentant, and so full of a kind of vomit. But Dussander is nothing compared to this teenager. Todd commits a violation in ignoring his better self. He cycles the optimistic routes of a young man, but his humdrum face and baseball-star shoulders hide an increasingly horrible internal lacework. As a study in how we can decompose as individuals, this is one of the best films I've seen.

A Simple Plan, based on the successful novel by Scott B Smith, is set in a rural American town, of precisely the type J D Salinger succeeds in hiding in. Hank (Bill Paxton), his brother Jacob (Billy Bob Thornton) and brutish friend Lou (Brent Briscoe) find $4m at the remote site of a wrecked small airplane. Their plan is to keep the money and their heads down, until they know it is safe to leave town. The big problem with this plan is that none of the three can keep a secret, and are soon busy telling their spouses. Hank's wife Sarah (Bridget Fonda), pregnant, ostensibly uncomplicated and full of probity, turns out to have a touch of the Lady Macbeths as she goads Hank to more and more bizarre methods of covering his tracks. I half expected her to yell "But screw your courage to the sticking-place and we'll not fail!"

As each character displays an ability to assent, assert, deny, and rage we feel a kind of panic, but Sam Raimi's film is very considered. He is constantly taking our nails from our mouth. Thrifty with symbolism - a fox streaking across the snow; crows battling for supremacy - Raimi continues to choose the human, moral war over the dramatic machinations of what turns out to be a very chaotic plan indeed. This placidity is admirable.

She's All That is a rare thing - an American teen-flick in which nobody dies. This is no slim boast since all the I Know What You Did Last Summers and Screams have shoved youth-oriented films into a worrying arena. Rachael Leigh Cook plays Laney Boggs, an introverted, artistic loner who is romanced by the High School God, Zack (Freddie Prinze Jr), gets a make-over care of his sister, and goes to the Prom. While this might sound like a patronising Cinderella story, it is actually a very funny, well-played film. Laney (vegetarian, politically aware, stable) kicks ass, and the Prom Queen and her evil cronies are all pneumatic snobs, very much spelled out as physically thrusting and absurdly "adult". OK, so Laney loses her specs and lo, a peach with sculpted eyebrows is revealed, which does wildly undermine the point of the film, namely, it's what's inside the dork that counts.

Another irritant is Zack, who, in the tradition of all American teen films is boring (with the exception of the Action Man scar on his chin, which is definitely cool) but still gets the girl. Remember Andrew McCarthy in John Hughes's Pretty In Pink? The kind of boy who practises golf in the study and had never even heard of the Smiths (this was 1986 after all). I was shocked when he bagged the fantastically lean and original Molly Ringwald (he doesn't in the book. Ha!). Hard, then, to say why I liked She's All That. Possibly simply because nobody lunges at the heroine with an axe whilst she changes her knickers.

In The Corruptor, Mark Wahlberg plays an Internal Affairs operative, undercover in New York's Chinatown. He is affiliated to the Asian Gang Unit, and he finds he likes his partner Chow Yun-Fat, and the pair blaze about in a sometimes shockingly trigger-happy way. The first 40 minutes are muddled, but the film still affects a tetchy atmosphere, mindful, at times, of the 1973 film Serpico, and Wahlberg is quite brilliant.

Stanley Tucci's The Impostors, his first film after his charming Big Night (1995), has Tucci and Oliver Platt playing impoverished actors stowing away as stewards on a 1930s luxury liner. This supposed homage to the Keystone Kops has the cast rushing about with soft grins on their faces, then shrieking and hatching all sorts of confusing plots. A mess of the worst kind - The Impostors is plump with delusions of adequacy.

Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
News
The Speaker of the House will takes his turn as guest editor of the Today programme
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jude Law in Black Sea

film

In Black Seahe is as audiences have never seen him before

Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops

film

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game