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Victoria & Abdul

There are multiple pleasures to be had by witnessing a powerful, still-vital woman finding unexpected late-life joy of the platonic variety.

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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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Shooting Gallery series

This is a good idea. For six weeks in 19 cities, including Chicago and Evanston, new independent and foreign films will be showcased in two-week runs. You can buy single tickets, or join a club that allows you to attend a preview followed by a discussion with local film critics. And there is a web site for additional discussion. http://movies.yahoo.com/sgfilmseries/index.html

In a world where good smaller films disappear and blockbusters soak up the available screens like a sponge, this partnership of the Shooting Gallery and Loews Cineplex theaters is a bold experiment. They've selected six new films and packaged them into an experience sort of like a film festival sampler. Why do the films need a special launch? Because it costs a fortune to open a film, these titles were offbeat and lacked big stars, and dumbos don't like subtitles.

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In the Chicago area, the series plays at the Fine Arts on S. Michigan, and the Evanston theater. Host for the preview nights (at the Fine Arts) is Bruce Ingram, film critic for the Pioneer Press. He'll have a different guest speaker after each film (kicking off the series: Dann Gire of the Daily Herald).

"Judy Berlin," the first of the films, opens today, and a review by Lloyd Sachs is in this section. We'll review all the films, and I've already seen and can recommend "Croupier," arriving April 21, the knife-edged story of a British casino dealer who gets a seductive offer to cheat. Directed by Mike Hodges, whose work includes the great Michael Caine film noir "Get Carter," it stars Clive Owen, an emerging star with a dark, saturnine outlook, in a movie that knows a lot about casinos and even more about the psychology of gambling.

The series is wide-ranging, with films from the U.S., England, Scotland, Ireland, India and Japan. Scheduled are: "Orphans" (March 10), by Peter Mullan, about four Scottish adults who have just lost their mother, and spend a long night in and near pubs trying to deal with their new state; "Such a Long Journey" (March 24), by Sturla Gunnarsson, based on the Rohinton Mistry novel and starring Om Puri in a story set in Bombay during the 1971 war with Pakistan; "Southpaw" (April 7), by Liam McGrath, about young boxers in Ireland; "Croupier" (April 21) and "Adrenaline Drive" (May 5), by Shinobu Yaguchi, slapstick from Japan's most successful comedy director.

The "club night" preview and discussion is on the Monday before the Friday opening. Club tickets are $15; usual ticket prices apply on other nights. More info, ticket sales, trailers and a discussion thread are at movies.yahoo.com/sgfilmseries/ Other cities involved are: New York, Los Angeles, Owings Mills (Baltimore), Boston, Natick, MA, Chicago, Evanston, Richmond Heights (Cleveland), Plana (Dallas), Houston, Auburn Hills (Detroit), Indianapolis, Orlando, Salt Lake City, Seattle, Tucson, Washington, San Francisco, and Philadelphia.

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