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The Zookeeper's Wife

Has many lovely and moving moments but fails to capture the many layers of this unique story, relying instead on plainly-stated metaphors.

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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Vegas, baby, yeah!

View image De Niro in "Casino." Las Vegas is a Hollywood movie.

From my piece on Sin City in the Movies at MSN Movies: The world has other gambling meccas -- Monte Carlo, Atlantic City, Reno -- but none as storied or mythologized as Las Vegas, an American dream-zone strategically located in the arid wasteland between Hoover Dam and Hollywood. The neon oasis is a concrete mirage: The closer you get, the more real the place becomes, but when you reach out to grab it, it slips through your fingers anyway. A surreal amalgamation of landmarks historical and imagined (Egypt, New York, Camelot), it rises out of shimmering heat and dust, a dazzling C.B. DeMille monument to profligate waste and the proposition that anything can be purchased or accomplished for a price.

Vegas is a Hollywood movie made corporeal, a surreal experience built on sand, powered by electricity, riches and promises of desires fulfilled. The electricity comes from the dam, the money comes from the odds that always favor the house, the desires come from the human heart (as well as a bit lower and to the right). But how sinful can sin be in a place called Sin City, where everything sinful in the outside world is overtly or tacitly permitted?

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