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Girls Trip

Screenwriters Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver know how to get the party started and keep it lively.

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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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White Dog: Video essay about a trained racist

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A young black boy deemed suspicious for wearing a hoodie. A black head of state depicted as a primate. Extremist political parties masking bigotry behind nationalism. Google the word "racism" and you'll find a vast array of news items showing that this most basic form of bigotry is alive and well.

There have been many films big and small which have addressed the subject. But only one comes to mind with racism as an actual character: the controversial drama "White Dog," directed by Samuel Fuller, based on the novel by Romain Gary.

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A man with storms in his head

May Contain Spoilers

A professor at my department who studied neuroscience, once told us something you have probably heard elsewhere: If you think you're crazy or getting crazy, that means you are not crazy because crazy people do not know that they are crazy. This sounds like the famous dilemma in Joseph Heller's "Catch-22." I thought it was useful advice for students who had to deal with lots of pressure and stress in the academic process. It could also be good advice for the hero of "Take Shelter" (2011), because he thinks at first something is wrong with his head, but cannot ignore what disturbs deeply him. He tries to quell his mental turbulence as much as he can, but is transformed into a more disturbed man obsessed with visions attacking him every night. It is possible that he himself is the threat to the family he wants to protect, not the catastrophe of epic proportion he fears.

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The actor as form for the film

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A video essay published in tandem with Indiewire

"The human face is the great subject of the cinema. Everything is there." - Ingmar Bergman

The craggy complexion. The stately ovate chin. Those thin lips deceptively wrapped around that charming smile. That perfect nose. Those clear greenish-brown eyes. That squint.

One cannot discuss Clint Eastwood's iconic stature in film, without mentioning his face. There are others that have been as handsome (Newman), masculine (Gable), striking (Hitchcock), fearsome (Bronson), and symbolic (Wayne). But from a visual standpoint, none of them have been as instrumental as a filmmaking tool or signature. Most actors are cast to fill in a character from the inside out, building an individual based on the personal. But Eastwood himself is a form. An absent presence whose persona is filled primarily by the film's themes and ideas.

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The ultimate expression of humanity

May Contain Spoilers

This movie is 97 minutes of trying not to blink. Image after luxurious 70MM image. A perfect soundtrack. I watched it again, wearing headphones, sitting really close to an HD screen letting the film astound me with its Blu-Ray picture. And it did astound me, beyond my expectations. The details revealed textures and images I had not previously noticed. Every time I plan to watch Ron Fricke's "Baraka" (1992), I watch far more than I plan. I intend to watch one scene, but realize quickly that I have to finish it.

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Too much frosting, not enough cake

May Contain Spoilers

Is Bryan Singer's "The Usual Suspects" (1995) one of the greatest films ever made? I admit there was a time, right after I saw it, that it seemed special. For most of my first viewing, I thought I was watching a standard crime thriller when suddenly it caught me off-guard and left me stunned. Once the DVD came out, I rushed to buy it but then, as the years went by, I noticed it had been left on its shelf abandoned as I had little interest in watching it again. I couldn't remember much about the characters or the plot, in fact, there was only one thing that stuck in my mind about it. Readers who've previously watched it will instantly know what I'm taking about.

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Remembering Mike Wallace

News that the incomparable journalist Mike Wallace has died brought back a story. In a life filled with remarkable and dramatic events, it is perhaps among the most memorable but little told. It happened in Iran in 1981.

In early 1979, the Iranian Revolution burst upon the world, forcing out the widely-hated, long-serving despot, Shah Reza Pahlavi, and bringing the exiled Islamic fundamentalist Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to power. Anger at America, whose policies had supported the Shah and interfered in Iran's politics for decades, was widespread, as thousands of Iranians demonstrated daily in the streets, and Khomeini denounced "the Great Satan." That November, revolutionary students stormed the American Embassy in search of C.I.A. files, taking the 52 staffers present hostage. It was a siege that would last a seemingly infinite 444 days, becoming an American sensation on the nightly news (ABC's "Nightline" was created to cover "the Iran hostage crisis"), and profoundly influencing the outcome of the 1980 Presidential election.

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A family secret

May Contain Spoilers

Looking back at when I watched "Life, Above All" (2010) last December, I discern that I'm a more jaded person than I think. At one point in the story, I wondered if its heroine really had to do what she was determined to do. I understood her motive, but I thought it might be better for her and her family to leave the problem alone because there was really nothing she could do for changing the circumstance. However, it was what should have been done, her heart knew that, and I was eventually moved by her determination while recognizing that she was right after all.

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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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Piracy isn't always that simple

Matt Singer wrote a thoughtful piece against piracy a few days ago here on Criticwire. I read it with great interest. And I believe that he is correct, provided that Piracy fits a certain context. Let me try and provide some background.When I started writing movie reviews, I was living in the Philippines, a third-world country. Movie-going is deeply tied into our entertainment habits. The masses, most of whom are not able to afford most forms of entertainment, at least have theaters we can go to to escape the hardships of reality.

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Political Persecution, American Style

May Contain Spoilers

Just a few months ago, our President signed the National Defense Authorization Act 2012 after almost unanimous bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, while the media almost unanimously ignored it. This is that same troubling act that permits indefinite detentions of American citizens without trial. There was a time in our recent history when we were debating over trials for so-called Enemy Combatants detained in Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo; the debate was over whether the trials should be military or civilian but the consensus was that prisoners should at least get some sort of a trial.

And, there was a time when we were surprised that the CIA held secret prisons all across the globe. Well, it seems that that time was so, so long ago and we've been so inoculated that now not even the media cares. Now, when we walk through X-Ray machines whose companies were represented by our former Head of Homeland Security, we do not think much about it anymore.

So it is with gratitude that I mention that Line Halvorsen, a filmmaker from Norway, chose to make the outstanding documentary "USA vs. Al-Arian," (2007) chronicling a short period in the life of a family that has been suffering what is nothing less than American political persecution right in our suburbs for over a decade. On the one hand, this is the story of America seeking to keep itself secure. On the other hand, it is the story of the impact these sometimes questionable efforts have on a family.

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