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Solo: A Star Wars Story

An engaging but unnecessary bit of backstory for one of blockbuster cinema's most beloved characters.

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First Reformed

A stunning, enrapturing film, a crowning work by one of the American cinema’s most essential artists.

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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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* 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.

#156 February 20, 2013

Marie writes: As some of you may have heard, a fireball lit up the skies over Russia on February 15, 2013 when a meteoroid entered Earth's atmosphere. Around the same time, I was outside with my spiffy new digital camera - the Canon PowerShot SX260 HS. And albeit small, it's got a built-in 20x zoom lens. I was actually able to photograph the surface of the moon!

(click to enlarge)

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"America is not a country, it's a business."

So says professional killer Jackie Cogan at one point in Killing Them Softly, the third film by New Zealander Andrew Dominik - and considering the filmmaker's efforts to establish a connection between the events in the movie and the economic crisis started in the late 2000s thanks to the greed and lack of scruples of Wall Street, it is easy to see Cogan as an ordinary employee of any company complaining about the lack of vision of his bosses and, on the other hand, the big bankers as Armani-dressing versions of the violent mobsters who inhabit the crime section of the newspapers. More than that: fearful due to the financial disaster caused by their colleagues in Wall Street, the bad guys presented by Dominik are miles away from those gangsters who used to throw hundred dollar bills on the ground or distribute tips in exchange of a smile; instead, here they need to haggle prices with professional killers and negotiate with theirs superiors before approving a sum of a thousand dollars for framing someone.

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Gangsters, renegades and rebels

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Today looks to be a day of renegades and gangsters from the start, with "Killing Them Softly" by Andrew Dominik, the second American film to premier in competition, first thing in the morning. The all-male cast is headlined by Brad Pitt, who also starred in the director's Oscar-nominated "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. " This is a talky tough-guy movie that is heavy on long interchanges among thugs with odd accents and/or speech impediments. Talking like a tough guy means modifying every noun with the f-word (and I wonder what the grand total would be for this film).

"Killing Them Softly" is set in New Orleans, although pains are taken to avoid any distinctly identifying landmarks. The grey, wet, boarded-up desolation of the landscape could only be the post-Katrina lower 9th Ward, and I found the film's fleeting glimpses of that more electrifying than the introduction of Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn), a pair of lowlifes setting up a robbery with Squirrel (Vincent Curatola).

The two bumblers manage, just barely, to pull off the robbery of a high-stakes poker game, which makes it only a matter of time before they're marked men. It also makes Markie (Ray Liotta), the pudgy mid-level gangster who was running the game a suspect. Whatever higher authority these thugs answer to calls in its enforcer Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) to sort it out.

The first and only woman, who is also the first and only black person in the story, makes her appearance one hour into the film. She's a prostitute who's treated like garbage in her approximately two minutes on the screen. This is not only a man's world, it's a white man's world.

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Our neighbors the sociopaths

May Contain Spoilers

While revisiting David Michôd's "Animal Kingdom" (2010), I wondered what it was like for its passive teenager hero to live with his heroin addict mother at their small home. We can only assume that she definitely could not get the Mother of the Year award, considering the mundane but eerie opening sequence. It's around afternoon, and her son is watching some TV show, and she seems to be asleep next to him on couch - but we soon learn she died from an overdose.

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