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Wormwood

A fascinating piece of filmmaking that challenges the form in new ways as it recalls themes its director has been interested in his entire career.

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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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Books do furnish a mind

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My friend Bill Nack and I sat in the coffee shop of the student union and chortled like escape artists. We couldn't believe our good luck. You could actually get a university degree just by reading books and writing about them! Students in other majors had to, you know, actually study. I make it sound too easy, and I sweated some exams, but now in my autumnal glow those undergraduate years are bathed in wistful nostalgia. My image is of myself walking down the quadrangle at Illinois, my shoes kicking at leaves, my briefcase containing a couple of novels, some poetry, and of course some fun reading, which could include, I recall, Herbert Gold, John Updike, Katherine Anne Porter and Playboy--for the good fiction, you understand.

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A great deal of solace

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I'm double-posting my review of "Skyfall" to encourage comments, which my main site can't accept.

In this 50th year of the James Bond series, with the disappointing "Quantum of Solace" (2008) still in our minds, "Skyfall" triumphantly reinvents 007 in one of the best Bonds ever made. This is a full-blooded, joyous, intelligent celebration of a beloved cultural icon, with Daniel Craig taking full possession of a role he earlier played well in "Casino Royale," not so well in "Quantum"--although it may not have been entirely his fault. I don't know what I expected in Bond #23, but certainly not an experience this invigorating.

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What was that all about?

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One of the readers of this blog asked a few days ago if audiences absolutely demand that movies be linear and realistic. The question came in the thread about "Cloud Atlas," which in fact is realistic, at least in the sense that we understand stories set in the past and in the future--although we don't often get six of them in the same film. There's nothing in the film we can't understand in the moment, although we may be hard-pressed to understand how, or if, they fit together. And if the actors play multiple characters of various races, genders and ages, well, we understand that too.

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A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma

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I'm posting this review of "Cloud Atlas" both on my web site and as a blog entry, because the blog software accepts comments and I want to share yours. At the end, I have added the post-screening press conference at Toronto.

Even as I was watching "Cloud Atlas" the first time, I knew I would need to see it again. Now that I've seen it the second time, I know I'd like to see it a third time--but I no longer believe repeated viewings will solve anything. To borrow Churchill's description of Russia, "it is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma." It fascinates in the moment. It's getting from one moment to the next that is tricky.

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Stick to my knitting

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The notion for this blog has been rattling about on my to-write list for months. It many ways it should not need to be written. All the same, again today another of Those Comments came in: "Just stick to movie reviews. you have no idea of what you're talking about. You love socialism? Move to Europe."

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Who do you believe--Mitt, or your lyin' memory?

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A depression has descended upon me. I look at the blank screen, and those are the words that come into my mind. I do not believe for a second that Mitt Romney will win the election. I do believe that at this moment he is tied, 50-50, in various national polls. Many of my fellow Americans have at least temporarily disappointed me.

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Did you choose your religion?

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This entry was originally titled, "Would you kill Baby Hitler?" Unfortunately, as several readers pointed out, most of the comments centered on the title, suggesting few had made it to the end. The entry is not about Hitler so much as about fate, chance, and luck. I'm giving it a second chance under another title.

The original entry began: Of course, you would have needed to know on April 20, 1889 that the little boy would grow up to become Adolf Hitler, and would commit all of the crimes we now know he committed. The only way you could know that, apart from precognition, would be to have traveled backward in time from a point when Hitler had committed all his crimes and you knew about them.

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Tell me about acupuncture

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I don't have any answers in this entry, which will calm those who think I never do. I have questions, and the answers will appear in the comments. I want you to share your experience with acupuncture.

I saw an extraordinary documentary a few days ago titled "Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare." It argued that when we speak of "American health care," we should in fact be calling it "American sickness care." There's more money to be made in making healing sick people than in keeping them well in the first place.

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We'll have to get used to this idea

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The first time I met vegetarians I assumed they were risking their lives in some cockamamie cult. The first vegetarian I got to know well was Anna Thomas, author of the classic cookbook The Vegetarian Epicure. Her husband Greg Nava had been out collecting wild mushrooms for our dinner.

"Wild mushrooms! We'll all die! You eat yours first!"

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A statement and a "film"

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Set aside for a moment all of the controversy. Do me the favor of reading the actual words of the statement released by our Egyptian Embassy six hours before it was attacked by radicals, and before a similar attack in Libya that took four innocent lives. Here it is:

"The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims -- as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others."

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