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Sin Alas

Sin Alas has a lot going on, both plot-wise and stylistically, and it often gets quite theatrical, but the overall effect is that of a…

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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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A man who is on everybody's mind

May Contain Spoilers

A few years ago, I set up an internet alert to inform me whenever Muhammad Ali was mentioned in the news. At the time, he wasn't doing anything newsworthy. It was years after the Michael Mann movie. A decade since his appearance in the Opening Ceremony of the 1996 Olympic Games. Nearly three decades since his last fight. But, for whatever reason, he was on my mind. The strange thing I discovered is that he was in the news, somewhere in the world, every single day. Every single day. That's his astonishing mystique. For whatever reason, he was and is on everyone's mind. The most popular of all basketball players, Michael Jordan, is in the news for shoe sales. The most popular of soccer players, Pele, is in the news for soccer. The most popular of all cricket players, Imran Khan, is in the news for politics. Muhammad Ali, however, is in the news for being Muhammad Ali. Rather, he is in the news for who Muhammad Ali was and is to us. And, in Pete McCormack's wonderful "Facing Ali," we learn who he is and was for the fighters he faced.

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A sermon no one can sleep through

May Contain Spoilers

Many of today's films seem to be made solely for financial reasons, but the case of "The Exorcist" is more complex than most. It was a tremendous financial success, the all-time box office champ for a while, but only a psychic could have predicted that people would line up to see a movie of this nature.

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The Metaphysics of Digital Mysticism

May Contain Spoilers

The sunglasses, scowls and black leather make it easy to forget that the Wachowski Brothers' mega-popular "The Matrix" (1999) is a dystopian superhero movie, if that makes any sense. The story is an exciting but familiar origins story. We experience and recognize its Frankenstein mythology telling us that our creations, the machines, have conquered us. We see its Orwell/Kafka environment, sometimes taken straight from Orson Welles' "The Trial." And we appreciate its fantastically choreographed martial arts (at least early on, paying homage to video games and Hong Kong movies). And, the philosopher will appreciate the conscious exercise in semiotics. Perhaps, the greatest fun of this movie is the popcorn entertainment. But, for me, even though the movie invests itself so much in its coolness, the overarching appeal of "The Matrix" is its mysticism.

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The right hand of great directors

May Contain Spoilers

Awards season again. Last year, as you may recall, a many months pregnant Natalie Portman received the Oscar for Best Actress for "Black Swan." Her lithesome acceptance speech, without notes, thanked many colleagues she knew had helped her stand there. As both a lifelong moviegoer and a worker on films, my spirit lifted at these words: "There are people on films that no one ever talks about, that are your heart and soul every day, including Joe Reidy, our incredible A.D..." Along with so many others, I was thrilled by her sentiment -- and especially pleased for Joe Reidy.

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The Heart is a Lonely Fighter

May Contain Spoilers

Thinking about this movie, I had to go to a thesaurus to find any synonyms for "underdog." Try it. The point is that I had little interest in watching another dark horse movie because they tend to follow the same unique long shot formula to such a degree that there are not many synonyms even for the word that describes them. Further, the admittedly exciting trailer for Gavin O'Connor's geometrically constructed "Warrior" (2011) seemed to give away all of the film's secrets, including the most preposterous plot points. More than that, all the villains in these Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) matches seemed too familiar and too cartoonish. But, a few friends recommended the movie; then, my fellow Far Flung Correspondent from Cairo, Wael Khairy, appreciated this movie somewhere in his list of the Best Films of 2011.

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A Simple Plan

May Contain Spoilers

Sometimes ordinary people becoming evil are more frightening than Dr. Hannibal Lector or Frank Booth. Villains like them are downright scary, but they are basically outsiders with a monstrous nature beyond our common sense. In contrast, the characters in Sam Raimi's crime thriller "A Simple Plan" (1998) are nice, ordinary people we can identify with, at least in the beginning. We can recognize their human wishes, desires, and motives. We can understand why they are driven into the plot while it's getting bloodier and more complicated. As a result, it is frightening to observe them doing horrible things, and one question immediately pops up in our minds - what would I do if I were in their circumstance?

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Taking the Plunge

May Contain Spoilers

Some tricky music rights issues finally got resolved, and so Jerzy Skolimowski's "Deep End" is back on the map, and with a recent run at Brooklyn's BAMcinématek under its belt to prove it. A legendary specter for years - lusted after but near-impossible to track down and watch - it now arrives as part of the adventurous BFI Flipside series in a lush DVD/Blu-ray edition that will have you gasping equally at Jane Asher's copper-red coiffure and John Moulder-Brown's baby blue eyes (the latter firmly fixed on the former throughout the movie).

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Tender Traumas of Helplessness

May Contain Spoilers

For the first time in a long time, she has breakfast with her husband. But now, nobody in her house will talk to her. She is Arati, wife of Subrata, and to help pay expenses she starts her first job outside of the home. In Satyajit Ray's tender "Mahanagar" (1963) aka: "Big City", we follow a quiet Indian family's struggles against the nearing claws of modernity.

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Confessions of an Unrepentant War Profiteer

May Contain Spoilers

I've seen scenes in this movie multiple times in multiple movies, yet I've never seen this movie before. Andrew Niccol's "Lord of War," is the story of the rise and decline of an arms trafficker (Nicholas Cage) and takes many predictable narrative steps. It is a list of cinematic clichés, from the personalities (even the names) of the characters, to the moments of suspense and surprise, to the preposterous ethnic stereotypes. It contains everything short of a protagonist dangling from a cliff or a racing bus driving through a fruit stand. Further, there is very little character development, very little revelation, and most of the characters are caricatures. Nevertheless, the final product is a thoroughly original, provocative satire that explores a violent decade of global peace and haunts you with an almost silent sinister laugh.

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Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?

May Contain Spoilers

Don Siegel's "Dirty Harry" (1971) may not be the greatest film of Clint Eastwood's career but its title character is certainly the one that best defines it. Looking back, it's hard to imagine it took five years for such an acclaimed picture to arrive here in Mexico. Censorship wasn't common in those days but there was something about "Harry." The only other feature that I can recall getting a similar treatment was "Two Minute Warning" with Charlton Heston. Both dealt with mad snipers on the loose so my guess is that someone decided it was better not to give anyone ideas.

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