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CRUELLA: THE DEVIL YOU SAY

It says something about our times that a story that once featured cute, heroic dalmatians now focuses on their adversary, a larger-than-life villain (just as Sleeping Beauty has morphed into the saga of Maleficent). Parents should note the PG-13 rating on Cruella, which is earned through a series of nightmarish scenes involving death, abandonment, and revenge. Some children may absorb all of this as make-believe but others might have a different reaction to so much dark matter. I fall into the latter category; I was aghast.  In time, I made my peace with the movie, which is long but not dull. The story of an odd little girl (think Wednesday Addams) who’s been wronged and seeks revenge on the woman who ruined her life. Its sprawling screenplay is credited…

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‘THE DRY’ LEFT ME WANTING

The Dry has been a massive hit in its native Australia but may not find as eager an audience here in the States. Based on Jane Harper’s best-selling mystery novel, it stars Eric Bana as Aaron Falk, a federal cop who fled his arid hometown of Kiewarra twenty years ago under something of a cloud. A gruesome murder/suicide involving a boyhood pal brings him back, but he doesn’t receive a uniformly warm welcome. He’s not there on official business but the alleged shooter’s parents fully expect him to use his clout to investigate the matter and clear their son’s name. Director Robert Connolly, who also adapted the novel with its author, paints a vivid picture of a tight-knit community that always seems on edge, especially after…

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RIDERS OF JUSTICE

Riders of Justice is a risk-taking movie that may have you cheering one moment and recoiling the next. Writer-director Anders Thomas Jensen takes a big swing by mixing a real-world revenge thriller with a dark-hued farce. It shouldn’t work…but somehow it does. A key reason for its success is Mads Mikkelsen in the leading role, a military man with a formidable presence (shaved head, bushy beard) and a spiky personality to match. He is about as far removed from the likable teacher in Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round as one could imagine… yet it’s that unexpected ferocity that makes this performance so effective.          After losing his wife in a train wreck he is left to deal with their teenage daughter, with whom he has an already-rocky relationship. This…

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HOLLYWOOD VS. SABOTEURS AND SPIES

Hollywood started fighting the Nazis before America did…but two films are seldom, if ever, mentioned in accounts of this isolationist period. Warner Bros’ Espionage Agent (1939) may not be a great film but it is certainly provocative, as I learned from watching the Warner Archive DVD. I also screened an obscure B movie from Republic Pictures called Sabotage (1939) which was rescued from oblivion by Olive Films on Blu-ray and DVD. Both pictures were made when the U.S. was officially neutral and the Motion Picture Production Code insisted that foreign countries be represented fairly—even Germany. Yet Sabotage introduces familiar German-born character actor Frank Reicher as a key figure whose nationality is crystal clear. He is the coordinator of an underground spy network that has set its sights on the town of…

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REMEMBERING NORMAN LLOYD

I am going to miss the sound of Norman Lloyd’s booming voice. It could easily reach the second balcony of any theater, and it never lost its power even as he celebrated his 106th birthday. It belied the fact that he was born in Jersey City, New Jersey and grew up in Brooklyn, New York. Norman claimed that he had a Joisey/Brooklyn accent until he went to work for the formidable Eva LeGallienne, whose repertory troupe was filled with young men and women who spoke beautifully.  “You couldn’t play a whole repertory of work unless you could learn to speak,” he explained, “So I set about to learn and I managed to get what has been called a mid-Atlantic accent.” He graciously welcomed my daughter Jessie…

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‘TIME’ WELL SPENT

A woman named Fox Rich is literally in our face as Time begins. She is addressing the camera, maintaining a video diary of her comings and goings. The cumulative effect only hits home as a major chapter in her life comes to a close in Garrett Bradley’s Time. This is one of the year’s best documentaries, and one of the most disarming. It already earned the filmmaker the Directing Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize. Other accolades are still to come. Fox Rich exudes poise and self-assurance, but it’s a pose she strikes—not just for the camera, or her family, but for herself. She and her husband robbed a bank twenty years ago, and while she’s served twelve years…

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COLLECTIVE: A RIVETING DOCU-THRILLER

When a so-called documentary has you gasping at one moment and on the edge of your seat the next, you know it’s exceptional. Alexander Nanau’s Collective, from Romania, is just such a film. The title comes from the name of a nightclub that caught on fire in Bucharest one night, killing many people because there was only one exit. Even worse, many burn victims who might have been saved later perished because of bureaucratic issues within the country’s network of hospitals. Filmmaker Nanau chooses to follow one fearless investigative journalist whose determination forces the Romanian government to answer for its sins. By exposing deep-rooted corruption in his country’s health care system he puts his very life on the line.       Later in the film we meet…

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