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Blue Ruin

Jeremy Saulnier makes a striking debut that brings to mind Blood Simple and Pulp Fiction.

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The Other Woman

While "The Other Woman" raises some thoughtful questions about independence, identity and the importance of sisterhood, ultimately it would rather poop on them and then…

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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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Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

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* This filmography is not intended to be a comprehensive list of this artist’s work. Instead it reflects the films this person has been involved with that have been reviewed on this site.

Mister Rogers Goes to the Movies

May Contain Spoilers

Why in the world couldn't we use this thing called television for the broadcasting of grace through the land? - Mr Rogers

There aren't many films that have made me cry. "Brokeback Mountain" prickled my eyes. "Toy Story 2" caused a lone tear to escape my eyelids and creep across my cheek. "Dear Zachary" made me discreetly weep with silent despair. And two PBS documentaries about a children's TV presenter left me red-eyed and runny-nosed, my face swollen and my chest shaking, as I sat clutching Kleenex and trying not to dehydrate.

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Legend of the Millennium Dragon: Epic anime

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"Legend of the Millennium Dragon" is available on DVD/Blu-ray and via iTunes and Amazon Instant. In Japanese with English subtitles.

When a movie jumps from one culture to another, especially one with a different language, expect some things to be lost in translation. If you're not up on Japanese history and folklore, you might be a bit mystified by director Hirotsugu Kawasaki's 2011 "Legend of the Millennium Dragon." Based on a two-book novel by Takafumi Takada (with screenplay by Naruhisa Arakawa and Hirotsugu Kawasaki), this engrossing animation with beautifully detailed background paintings whisks us into an ancient war between gods in Heian Japan.

Names are important in this quick-moving adventure. Shakespeare wrote that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but his historical tragedies would hardly make any sense to one who thinks the "War of the Roses" involves Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner. "Holinshed's Chronicles and "Bulfinch's Mythology" won't help you here. Much of what happens in "The Legend of the Millennium Dragon" harks back to two ancient tomes: "Kojiki" and the "Nihonshoki."

The original title, "Onigamiden," means "Legend of the Demon God," but dragons are probably more attractive to an English-speaking audience than demons. A dragon does appear, but the story involves finding courage and a sacred sword. Then there's that age-old question: Just who are the demons?

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Maher vs. Mohammed

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Here's what Bill Maher said on his HBO show last Friday night:

MAHER: The most popular name in the United Kingdom, Great Britain -- this was in the news this week -- for babies this year was Mohammed. Am I a racist to feel alarmed by that? Because I am. And it's not because of the race, it's because of the religion. I don't have to apologize, do I, for not wanting the Western world to be taken over by Islam in 300 years?

MARGARET HOOVER: If you were with NPR you'd be fired.

MAHER: Right. That's so similar to Juan Williams, who said last week, 'I'm nervous --'

LAWRENCE O'DONNELL (MSNBC): No, it's worse. It's way worse than what Juan Williams said.¹

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Precious Based on the Movie Female Trouble by John Waters

May Contain Spoilers
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My previous post, Impressions Based on the Hype for the Movie Precious Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, was an account of exactly that -- how even limited exposure to advance word for the movie over 11 months, from Sundance in January to theatrical release in November, created expectations that made me not want to see it. What follows are my impressions when I finally did.

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UPDATE (12/24/09): "I didn't have the sensibilities of your ordinary filmmaker, let alone your ordinary African-American filmmaker. My heroes were John Waters, Pedro Almodóvar, and actors that were part of that world. Different." -- Lee Daniels, June 2009

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None of us is immune to movie publicity, unless we're lucky enough to see the picture well in advance of its theatrical release (perhaps at an early film festival screening) -- or stay away from publications, television, radio, the Internet and any form of communication with other people until we can see it. In the case of "Precious Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire," I reluctantly came to feel that I knew all-too-well what to expect: a grueling torture-fest of a movie that would culminate in an equally manipulative upbeat ending.

Turns out, it is all that, but it's also something else I hadn't anticipated: funny. Yes, it's a rags-to-redemption "social problem" movie, but at the same time it's a consciously camped-up fairy tale, complete with Evil StepMother. It's a showcase for two heartfelt bravura performances (by Mo'Nique and Gabourey Sidibe) and an often laughably overwrought melodrama -- not just because of the horrors it depicts but because it's fully aware of how shockingly high it stacks the decks against its heroine. "Precious" is a virtual remake of John Waters' 1974 "Female Trouble," which makes for a crazy, volatile clash of tones and textures.

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I'd like you to meet your best friend

It was the opening day of the Disney-MGM studios in Orlando. The stars were there with their children. There was an official luncheon at the Brown Derby, modeled after the legendary Hollywood eatery. I was beside myself. I was in a booth sitting next to Jack Brickhouse, the voice of the Chicago Cubs. A man walked over and introduced himself. "Bob Elliott." Oh. My. God. Bob, of Bob and Ray.

For me he was the biggest star in the room. Who, after all, compared to even one half of Bob and Ray, was Tom Hanks? Whoopi Goldberg? Art Linkletter? "Gosh all whillikers, Mr. Science!" I said, "What's that long brown object???" Bob didn't miss a beat: "That's known as a board, Roger."

Another man was steaming toward us through the throng. A middle-aged man, well-dressed, tanned, with a pleasant smile. "Hi, Jack!" he said. "Say, I hear Ernie Banks is invited. Yeah, I was just talking to Michael and that's what he said." Jack turned to me and said, "Roger, this is a man I want you to meet. You're going to be seeing him again many times over the years. Say hello Jerry Berliant."

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The O'Reilly Procedure

Bill O'Reilly has been brought low by the same process that afflicted Jerry Springer. Once respected journalists, they sold their souls for higher ratings, and follow their siren song. Springer is honest about it: "I'm going to Hell for what I do, and I know it," he's likes to say. O'Reilly insists he is dealing only with the truth. When his guests disagree with him, he shouts at them, calls them liars, talks over them, and behaves like a schoolyard bully.

I am not interested in discussing O'Reilly's politics here. That would open a hornet's nest. I am more concerned about the danger he and others like him represent to a civil and peaceful society. He sets a harmful example of acceptable public behavior. He has been an influence on the most worrying trend in the field of news: The polarization of opinion, the elevation of emotional temperature, the predictability of two of the leading cable news channels. A majority of cable news viewers now get their news slanted one way or the other by angry men. O'Reilly is not the worst offender. That would be Glenn Beck. Keith Olbermann is gaining ground. Rachel Maddow provides an admirable example for the boys of firm, passionate outrage, and is more effective for nogt shouting.

Much has been said recently about the possible influence of O'Reilly on the murder of Dr. George Tiller by Scott Roeder. Such a connection is impossible to prove. Yet studies of bullies and their victims suggest a general way such an influence might take place. Bullies like to force others to do their will, while they can stand back and protest their innocence: "I was nowhere near the gymnasium, Sister!" A recent study of school shootings found that two-thirds of all the shooters were victims of bullying, and perceived themselves as members of persecuted minorities.

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Dead teenage wasteland

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Q: I disagree with your contention that, after having seen all 100 movies on the American Film Institute's "greatest" list, one would no longer have the desire to see a Dead Teenager Movie. Such a statement does a disservice to the ranks of dedicated horror fans and critics who could intelligently construct arguments for why many of these movies are quite worthwhile. There is a baseness to them, certainly, but horror's essential function is base -- to create a sinister echo in the darkest wells of our psyche.

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It's time to save Field's

What's this? Federated Department Stores wants to buy May Department Stores, which bought Marshall Field's last summer? And Federated has a history of changing the names of all of their stores to "Macy's"? Which would mean the end of "Marshall Field's"?

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