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APRIL 17, 2000: 

HIGH FIDELITY. Top five reasons to see (or not see) this anti-romantic love story with an uncomfortably happy ending: 1) It stars John Cusack as an immature, egotistic, 30-something music geek adrift in an ecosystem of vintage vinyl, nightclubs, punk rock T-shirts, and fellow music geeks. 2) Tim Robbins appears for all of 10 minutes as the monotone, pony-tailed, incense-burning rival for demure Danish love interest Iben Hjejle. 3) SNL upstart Jack Black is hilarious as record store bully Barry. 4) It's weird to see the British humor of novelist Nick Hornby seamlessly adapted to a Chicago set (that, bonus, was actually filmed on location in Chicago). 5) There are exactly three and a half minutes of sincerity distributed throughout the other 113 of this savage comedy. -- Mari Wadsworth


RULES OF ENGAGEMENT. Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson give great performances as decorated U.S. Marine veterans who served together in the jungles of Vietnam. They are, unquestionably, fun to watch. Thirty years later, in 1998, Jackson is being court-marshaled for the slaughter of 83 unarmed Yemenite women, children and elderly people. Hung out to dry in this political op, he turns to Jones -- a second-rate, semi-retired alcoholic lawyer -- to defend him. While on the surface Rules is a battlefield and courtroom drama tackling the sticky issues of protecting conflicting U.S. interests abroad, the particular path it follows is blood-soaked and laughably propagandist. Based on a story by former U.S. Secretary of the Navy James Webb, in the hands of director William Friedkin this fiction quickly abandons moral ambiguity in favor of emotion, manipulating common fears and our sense of justice to deliver the antiseptic message that no matter what front-page pictures and outraged politicians have to say, you can bet the stars and stripes our military has a right to shoot civilians in a crisis. The closeups of black-veiled women and Arab children firing UZIs at American soldiers is second only to the scene where the North Vietnamese soldier testifies in court on Jackson's behalf, solemnly saluting him afterwards. The end notes further add to the illusion that this is a true story. Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, indeed. -- Mari Wadsworth


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