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By Ray Pride

OCTOBER 26, 1998: 

Apt Pupil

Bryan Singer's first feature, "Public Access," marked the director as a very serious young man, and his second, cultish success, 1995's "The Usual Suspects," brought him to the attention of a larger audience. His compelling, ambitious "Apt Pupil," made with an extraordinary degree of swooping, gliding visual rigor, distills Stephen King's novella wherein a high-school boy, Todd Bowden (Brad Renfro) nurtures his inner Nazi with the help of an escaped war criminal, Arthur Denker (Ian McKellen). With the performances Singer draws from the pair in the game of intergenerational cat-and-mouse, you wish he had gone farther, deeper, in examining how Todd's fascination with the crimes of the Holocaust lead him to toss away much of his humanity. With Bruce Davison, Elias Koteas, David Schwimmer. 112m. Panavision.



Happiness

If you haven't heard why "Happiness," the new film from Todd Solondz, writer- director of "Welcome to the Dollhouse," is already notorious, you will soon enough. Solondz makes a major leap from his earlier picture, in formal and tonal control, in the starkness of its comedy, and in developing his own vigorous voice. In his unflinching depiction of the wildly unsuccessful attempts of its large cast of characters, centered on three New Jersey sisters, to find the title state of mind, Solondz has made an extraordinary, unflinching film that has divided its early viewers between finding it intelligent yet twisted, or delicate and ultimately compassionate. I tend to the latter. With Jane Adams, Dylan Baker, Lara Flynn Boyle, Ben Gazzara, Louise Lasser, Jared Harris, Cynthia Stevenson, Philip Seymour Hoffman. Panavision.


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