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Ash is the Purest White

(China). Story of Qiao, a young woman whose boyfriend Bin is a gangster (well, I am not sure of the exact translation – he kind of runs an underworld gambling operation and seems to perform “dirty work” for his boss). One day, Bin is viciously attacked by a pack of young men, and Qiao fires warning shots in the air to scare them off. She is arrested and spends the next 5 years in prison. The story is told in three parts: The first, as Bin’s girlfriend before she is arrested; 5 years later, her release and post-arrest life; and …

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Unbelievable

This Netflix miniseries that begins with a young woman living in the Seattle area, Marie (Kaitlyn Dever) who was raped, reports it and then, under pressure from the local police, withdraws her allegation. This further alienates this young woman, who spent many of her childhood years moving from one foster home to another. Meanwhile, about 5 years in the future, two detectives (played by Toni Collette and Merritt Wever) are investigating a series of sexual assaults that appear to be connected. The film moves back and forth across the 8 episodes between the two stories. Overall, I liked the film. …

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The Irishman

Martin Scorcese’s latest film, based (probably loosely) on the life of Frank Sheehan (played by Robert DeNiro), an associate of the mob and of Jimmy Hoffa, is very impressive. There are two narrative strands that weave to form the overall story and narrated by Frank Sheehan in the present from his nursing home: The road trip that was taken by him and his mob boss Russell Buffalino (Joe Pesci) to attend a wedding and meet with Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) and the story of how Sheehan rose in the ranks as he did. The acting overall is great, but the …

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Knives Out

In this murder mystery film, the Thrombey family is a bunch of rich, whining, selfish brats headed by their matriarch Harlan (played by Christopher Plummer). His nurse, who has become his friend, helps him with his medications. One night, Harlan is found dead on his couch. Famed detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is on-scene with two local detectives to try to uncover what happened. The film is Murder on the Orient Express, updated to a conventional setting and context. I enjoyed the film for its blend of humor and mystery. The cast, including people like Michael Shannon, Jamie Lee Curtis, …

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The Guilty

(Denmark):  Asgar has been assigned from patrol to a desk job answering 911 calls. He clearly doesn’t want to be there, has a chip on his shoulder, and doesn’t seem to care about the fate of the callers. Then a woman named Iben calls and claims she has been abducted. The entire film is shot in the police station where he takes the calls, and for almost the entire movie, Asgar is the only one you see. This is an amazing piece of film crafting. The film most closely resembles Locke, shot entirely in the car as Locke is driving; …

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You Were Never Really Here

You Were Never Really Here: Joaquin Phoenix is Joe, an emotionally and physically scarred man who makes his living finding missing girls. His latest assignment involves the teenage daughter of an elected official who has been seen in a prostitution house.  The film is a technical marvel. The director expertly moves from inside of Joe’s head, and his memories, to the present day and back; the flashback scenes are jarring and add to the depth of the damage done to Joe as a kid and as a war veteran. The script is 89 minutes, and there is not a single …

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Wind River

This film by Taylor Sheridan, the screenwriter for Sicario and Hell or High Water as well as Wind River, is inspired by true events and tells the story of the murder of a young Native American woman on the Wind River Indian reservation in Wyoming. Cory (Jeremy Renner), a troubled expert hunter who is in the back woods on a job, discovers the body of a young woman frozen in the snow.  FBI Agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) is called, and the two team up to solve the case. The directing is remarkable. The various plot details reveal themselves slowly …

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The Nice Guys

In what is a combination of a “buddy-cop” movie and film noir (like Chinatown), Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling play two detectives, Jackson and Holland, who team up to solve a murder after their paths cross while looking for the same woman. Holland is a kind of a “hit man” who gets slipped some bucks from people to threaten their adversaries (brass knuckles figure a lot into his daily work). Jackson is an alcoholic private eye with daughter who is 13. The movie works for a couple of key reasons. The dialog is taut and really, really funny – there …

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Embrace of the Serpent

(Spanish with English subtitles): The film takes place during two time periods woven together through the continuity of an Amazonian guide named Karamakate. He guides two white explorers looking for a particular plant that has sacred and psychedelic properties. The film is quite stunning; it is shot in black and white, which has the interesting effect of making the jungle and the stories it contains feel much more real. It is also a great historical story about colonialism, missionary work, and the effects the intrusion of white men had on native culture. There is one story line in particular that …

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Sicario

Emily Blunt plays Kate, a young, idealistic, and talented FBI agent whose specialty is hostage situations. She is recruited by Matt (Josh Brolin), a government agent who offers her an assignment that will get her at the heart of the drug trade to really make a difference in the war on drugs. A mysterious man, Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), is quiet but seems to have a key role on Matt’s team. The movie is about the execution of a mission to find a specific drug lord. The film is excellent; it is intense but very skillfully written and directed, and …

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