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Office Christmas Party

Another reminder that allowing your cast to madly improvise instead of actually providing a coherent script with a scintilla of inherent logic often leads to…

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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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Of popes and poissons and Kim Ki-duk

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It's Friday the 13th in Cannes, and that has got to mean something good. An overcast sky threatening rain means that there couldn't be a more perfect day to stay inside and watch movies.

The morning began with the 8:30 am press screening of Nanni Moretti's "We Have a Pope." Hmm...a comedy/drama about the Vatican by a self-professed Italian atheist? Moretti is known primarily for his wry, intellectual, and largely autobiographical approach to comedy in films including "My Diary" and "April, " but also for serious drama in films including his 2001 Palme d'Or winner "The Son's Room." Subjects he has often lampooned include leftist politics, psychoanalysis, water-polo, and the cinema itself.

In "We Have a Pope," the funeral of a dead pope has just taken place and the College of Cardinals is convening to elect the new pontiff from among their number. Moretti goes to great lengths to represent this ritual gathering with great accuracy, but injecting an escalating number of comic moments as the film traverses from the ceremonial pomp of its opening scenes to take on a lighter tone.

As if the voting for a pope were an elementary school spelling test, the prelates cross out names on their ballots, look to heaven for guidance, and even cheat, some slyly spying on what a neighbor seated to the left or right is writing. After a few rounds of voting, the winner is revealed to be a candidate who was not even in the running, a stunned Cardinal Melville (surely Moretti's tip of the hat to iconic French director Jean-Pierre Melville), played by veteran French star Michel Piccoli.

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There will be blood

May Contain Spoilers

Revenge is served raw and simple in "Bedevilled"(2010). The movie delivers exactly what it promises to us, but that is not for free. There are barbarous scenes that make you wince, and then there are bloody scenes that make you cringe, but this South Korean revenge thriller has gallons of emotions to spurt on the screen in its sad, wretched character. It carefully prepares its ground while seemingly following the typical formula of revenge movies featuring abused heroines. It continuously accumulates explosives beneath its surface as the plot progresses. And then, when the time comes, it explodes its anger magnificently like a harrowing bloody aria.

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Indie films alive and well

PARK CITY, Utah -- This was an especially satisfying Sundance Film Festival. Day after day, clicking off three to four screenings, I became heartened by the good health of independent films. Of course, thanks to the dumbed-down movie distribution system and bookers with blinders, some of the films I liked most may never play in some cities (or states). But at least they exist, and thank God for cable and video stores.

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