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A wild whirlwind of a mess, without any coherence, without even a guiding principle.

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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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A president in a fishbowl

May contain spoilers

Streaming free on Amazon Prime.

Rob Reiner's films represent a remarkably mixed bag. The best scripts he's chosen have made for rather good pictures ("Misery," "A Few Good Men," "When Harry Met Sally...") and the bad ones ended up being "North" and "The Bucket List". There have been a few filmmakers like Hitchcock who always managed to take their work's origin to the next level but I have my doubts even he could have made "Bucket's" digital journeys to the Taj Mahal/Himalayas interesting.

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Tricky Dick and Wee W.

In some Scanners comments this weekend, we've been discussing various comparisons between George W. Bush and Richard M. Nixon, seeing as how Oliver Stone has now made made both failed presidents the subjects of Major Motion Pictures. Matt Zoller Seitz and Kevin B. Lee, in a series of visual and print essays at Moving Image Source about Oliver Stone's political portraits ("Born on the Fourth of July," "JFK," "Nixon," "Alexander" -- leading up to "W.") have been re-examining these films as part of Stone's cinematic autobiography-in-process. (I think all these films, for better or worse, say more about their maker than they do about their subjects -- though there's nothing exceptional about that.)

Nixon is a key figure in my life -- the center of many of my political disputes with my late father, who would not find it unflattering to be described a "redneck" from Catawissa, MO, which I think is a pretty accurate description. When I was 10 and studied the 1968 presidential candidates in elementary school, I decided I was for Hubert Humphrey. My dad voted Nixon (though sometimes I suspected him of actually going for Wallace -- a racist gargoyle who could not have terrified this young Seattle white boy more if he had actually worn a gown and pointed hood). To me, Nixon's resignation in disgrace represented the triumph of my morality over my father's. To him, the only difference between Nixon and any other politician was that "he got caught."

Now that I'm older than he was then, I think we both have our points. At any rate, the president the country chooses unquestionably reflects and defines that period in its history.

Which leads me to something Matt writes about "Nixon" (the movie):

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Who wants to be a slumdog?

TORONTO, Ont.--Danny Boyle's "Slumdog Millionaire" hits the ground and never stops running. After its first press screening early Saturday morning, it became a leading contender for the all-important Audience Award, which is the closest thing the Toronto Film Festival has to a top prize. And an Oscar best picture nomination is a definite possibility.

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Powerful `Once' Deserves Wider Audience

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. This is the story of one of the most important films I've seen this year and of the show-business cliffhanger it prompts: Will it find the audience it deserves? Or will it drift into the neverland of home video, because it has been denied the right launching pad?

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Star Power and Small Gems Get Equal Time at Festival

In the autumn march of film festivals, Chicago's comes after Montreal, Telluride and Venice, and is held at about the same time as New York. All of these festivals are essentially fishing in the same pond, so the remarkable thing about the 31st annual Chicago event is how many new or unfamiliar titles have been discovered.

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