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JULY 5, 1999: 

AN IDEAL HUSBAND. In this period piece based on Oscar Wilde's play, a ne'er-do-well (well-played by Rupert Everett) and a young parliamentarian are drawn into a web of evil by the cupidity of the lascivious and mendacious Mrs. Chevely (played with delicious wickedness by Julianne Moore). The film begins strongly and finishes well, but bogs down a bit in the middle. Still, lots of good fin-de-siecle style quips and decadence make this a reasonable divertissement, although it would probably be more fun to just sit around your drawing room drinking absinthe and engaging in witty banter with your cadre of illicit lovers. --James DiGiovanna

THE RED VIOLIN. Perhaps in response to the vast amounts of dead wood in many Hollywood films, director Francois Girard casts a violin as the star of this Canadian production that follows an instrument through various owners. The violin is cleverly animated through the voice of a 17th-century tarot card reader who tells its future and lets it serve as tour guide across four centuries and five countries. The narrative structure is similarly engaging as a contemporary auction is the touchstone from which flashbacks of its travels emerge and converge. Also, sound and image are harmoniously fused together as the score dictates and justifies much of the pacing. Kudos to you, Red Violin, and also to your supporting actor, Samuel L. Jackson, who courts you without shame. --Polly Higgins

THE WINSLOW BOY. David Mamet's first stab at directing someone else's story is a smashing success that will have almost no appeal for American audiences. There's no sex, no violence, and the surface plot about a young boy accused of theft is there merely as a distraction from the real story about a 29-year-old woman who must marry in order to survive in 1920s England. Her story is left largely unresolved, with only subtle hints at its outcome, and one of the major plot motivators is never revealed to the audience--each time it comes up the characters whisper inaudibly to each other. While this will no doubt infuriate or bore most Hollywood-trained theater-goers, it is Mamet at his best, dealing with the difficulties of rule-based human relationships, and it deserves a wider audience than it will no doubt get. Starring the impeccable Rebecca Pidgeon and the delectable Jeremy Northam. --James DiGiovanna

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