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If You Don't, I Will

What happens to a marriage once the early ardor cools? That's the central question in this likable drama starring Mathieu Amalric and Emmanuelle Devos as…

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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.

A Lincoln who creaks with every step

Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" (2102) is exactly what we would expect it to be. It is reverent. It is of such epic scope, with such microscopic attention to detail, that it competes with any period piece in the history of cinema. Daniel Day-Lewis disappears into Abraham Lincoln. So many supporting players ornament this film that a familiar face appears on screen every few minutes, adding depth, personality, and charm. Tony Kushner's script is complex, pious, and at times mesmerizing. Janusz Kaminski's cinematography, mixed with Rick Carter's production design, provides a portrait in every frame.

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Racing toward oblivion

As we race further and faster toward a global war between Christians and Muslims, and as we feel compelled to choose sides, I have to think back to my childhood. One of the blessings of my youth is that my parents raised me in the simple, small life of the South Suburbs of Chicago. When we landed, the overwhelming majority of South Asian immigrants took residence in the North and West sides. The blessing is not that I was raised away from most other Pakistanis and Indians. Rather, that I grew up in a town that boldly, humbly calls itself a "Community of Churches." It is a small town that banned all business on Sundays and prohibited any liquor sales any time of the day or week. And, what becomes more important is that when watching a film like Ridley Scott's "Kingdom of Heaven" (2005), I remember my wonderful neighbors, childhood friends, and teachers far more than I remember the television and internet bigots who today masquerade as Christians, no matter how many of them there seem to be.

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Don't tear down that wall!

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A great many Americans no longer believe in the separation of Church and State, and indeed deny it is a principle found in the Constitution. Yet the wording of the First Amendment is quite clear, and its importance to the founders is underlined by its being first. Certainly it was clear to Thomas Jefferson, who wrote, "I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church & State."

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Three faces of Margaret

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Let me indulge my passion for operatic drama for a moment and say that I've seen Kenneth Lonergan's "Margaret" four times now (the theatrical version and the new "extended cut" on DVD, twice each) and, while I'm watching it, I feel like I've never before seen a movie that fully recognized what human behavior is like. Sure, the focus is entirely on a certain demographic slice of human beings -- mostly middle- to upper-class, educated, New York-dwelling, Judeo-Christian-atheist white people -- but these people are alive and ragged and messy in ways few movie characters are allowed to be. (The characters, and the lives the movie depicts, are messy; the movie itself is exquisitely shaped according to its maker's vision, and that was apparent from the theatrical cut.)

Of course, all movies are stylized and all characters, whether documentary subjects or fictional, are creations (of writers, directors, actors, editors, cinematographers and others) presented to us in a frame. Yet there are dimensions to the interactions in "Margaret" -- the longing to be understood, the perverse impulse to (deliberately?) misinterpret someone else, the desire to inflict emotional sabotage on yourself or another person just because you can -- that movies so often overlook in an effort to provide clear and clean drama in which everybody announces, bluntly and correctly, exactly what they mean to say.

In other words, as Lisa Cohen might say, "Margaret" calls bullshit on most other movies.

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#122 July 4, 2012

Marie writes: If you're anything like me, you enjoy a good book cover as much as a good story; the best often speaking to inspired graphic design. Indeed, I know I'm not alone in my admiration...Welcome to "The Book Cover Archive" for the appreciation and categorization of excellence in book cover design; edited and maintained by Ben Pieratt and Eric Jacobsen. On their site, you can gaze lovingly at hundreds of covers complete with thumbnails and links and even the name of the type fonts used. Drool....

{click image to enlarge]

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The Texas School Book Repository

Do the schoolbook publishers of America have standards? Courage? Ethics? In what sense do they stand behind their product? For "product" they sometimes produce, and not textbooks in the traditional sense. I ask these questions for a reason.

Right-wingers from Texas will be deciding what will be added and taken out of the textbooks of America's school children. They form the majority of the 15-member Texas State Board of Education. They believe current textbooks are slanted toward a liberal viewpoint, and that discussion of Darwin's Theory of Evolution, which one member describes as "hooey," wrongly excludes a consideration of Creationism.

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Your flag decal won't get you into heaven any more

Here I was all set to go Elitist on the country singer Lee Greenwood, and I pulled the rug out from under myself. I shared Rachel Maddow's incredulity that the limping duck George W. Bush had appointed Greenwood to the National Council of the Arts. I even had my first two sentences written in my head: "Remember how the Bush takeover squad at the White House complained the Clintonites had unplugged all the PCs on their way out the door? As he steadfastly marches toward his own sunset, it is Bush himself who seems unplugged."

Zing! Totally unfair, but snappy, Bush had two vacancies to fill on the NCA, one for three years, one for six. Greenwood got the six-year term. He'll be the gift that keeps on giving every day during Obama's first term. The Council's job is to advise the National Endowment for the Arts on how to spend its money. I assume Greenwood will support the endowment's Shakespeare in American Communities Initiative, but you can never be sure about those things.

Da-ding! I was just getting warmed up. I was going to sympathize with Bush because fate has set a limited table for conservatives in the arts department. Liberals get Paul Newman, conservatives get Chuck Norris. We get Bruce Springsteen, they get Cousin Brucie. Does such a thing as a conservative dancer even exist? To be sure, Greenwood was a member of a dance ensemble, but that was when he was nine. Look at Thomas Jefferson, founder of the Democratic party, who was a philosopher, author, architect, violinist , inventor, sketch artist and culinary expert, and still found the time to found another branch of the family. JFK told an assembly of U.S. Nobel Prize winners: "I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House -- with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone." I imagine George whispering to Laura: "Why didn't anyone want to eat with him?"

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Letter: In defense of (some) Christians

From Nathan Marone, Chicago, IL: I am an evangelical Christian from Chicago. I've been very interested in your blogs concerning "The Da Vinci Code" (naturally). Much of what you say is true. There are many Christians who don't really read the Bible much, or for that matter any literature that seriously deals with their faith. The subject of Church history eludes most Christians, and the complexities of academic theology can often be too much for them (and me sometimes, for that matter). I wish that this weren't true, but sadly it is.

But I want to take the opportunity to defend some Christians.

If the Church were to reach my ideal, we'd all know Greek and Hebrew, know Church history pretty well, understand the various opinions on theology and philosophy... and then make sense of it all. But there are a few reasons that this does not happen. 1) People are lazy. It's easier to be ignorant and believe. Much easier. Even the Bible acknowledges in Ecclesiasties that "with much knowledge comes much pain." 2) I'm not sure that everyone has even the time to know all of the things that we ideally would have them know. Many Christians have jobs, families, and other obligations in life.

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'V' for vagaries

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Q. In your review of "V for Vendetta," you write: "There are ideas in this film. The most pointed is V's belief: 'People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.' I am not sure V has it right; surely in the ideal, state governments and their people should exist happily together. Fear in either direction must lead to violence."

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Savoring a century of 'the cinema'

As I now move, graciously, I hope, toward the door marked Exit, it occurs to me that the only thing I ever really liked to do was go to the movies. Naturally, Sex and Art always took precedence over the cinema. Unfortunately, neither ever proved to be as dependable as the filtering of present light through that moving strip of celluloid which projects past images and voices onto a screen.

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