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Mudbound

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"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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Murder At 1600

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'') The cop and the sharpshooter achieve an easy rapport; she likes it that his apartment is filled with incredibly elaborate reconstructions of Civil War battles.

But then the movie kicks into auto - pilot. The last third of the film is a ready-made action movie plug-in. Without giving away a single secret, I can tell you that Regis and Chance find it necessary to break into the White House. And to do this, they must traverse a forgotten series of tunnels that lead by labyrinthine twists into the White House basement. The movie does what too many thrillers do: It establishes an interesting premise, and then instead of following it, substitutes standard action cliches. Will there be water, rats, electricity, dangerous secrets, hazards, security traps, flames, explosions and gunshots in the tunnel? If you think not, you haven't seen ``The Rock'' or all the other movies that inspire this sequence.

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While our heroes sharpshooter are wading through the dangerous subterranean waters, let's step back and think. They need to tell the president something. He is walled off by a conspiracy. How can they get the information to him? I can think of two answers: (1) The president's son has a personal motive for wanting his father to get the information, and has complete access to him. (2) The cop is surrounded by TV cameras every time he steps outside. He could simply blurt out the truth, since there is no need to keep it secret.

Neither of these alternatives would be as much fun as breaking into the White House, but they would have a better chance of success.

The fact is, the entire movie is fiction, and so if it's entertaining me, then I'm grateful. It's only when a movie stops working that I ask questions. For example, in a later scene, Regis masquerades as a janitor and pushes a cart through the White House while holding his head down and whistling tunelessly.

Doesn't he know that holding your head down and whistling tunelessly is what *all* suspicious characters do when they disguise themselves as janitors? Isn't that like wearing a neon sign saying ``Impostor?'' I'd love to see a taut, competent police procedural based on a murder in the White House_one that followed standard procedures to see how they were warped by presidential power. ``Murder at 1600'' seems to have started in that direction, before the fatal decision was made to cut out large chunks of the story in order to import weary thriller cliches. If I want to see a movie about slogging through flooded tunnels, I'll watch ``The Third Man.''

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