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  • How Green Was My Valley

    How Green Was My Valley

    ★★★★½

    Sure, we’re supposed to dismiss this one particular John Ford epic, as it has the unwieldy historical legacy of being the film that won Best Picture in the year of Citizen Kane. And no, it doesn’t reinvent cinema and didn’t serve as the inspiration for every maverick filmmaker to come... but it IS something of a masterpiece, if an old-fashioned one even for 1941, buoyed by Ford’s sweeping visuals and deep humanism (or sentimentalism, I suppose). Adapted from Richard Llewellyn‘s…

  • Moonrise

    Moonrise

    ★★★½

    The feverish opening moments of Frank Borzage’s unusual noir are the best; in expressionistic, nightmarish montage we learn that young Danny Hawkins is the son of a murderer who went to the gallows, and that his remorseless schoolmates will not let him forget it... a twisted legacy that the adult Danny (Dane Clark) cannot escape, as he too kills a man, albeit in self defense. The noose seems to wait for the him as he attempts to avoid detection and…

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  • High and Low

    High and Low

    ★★★★★

    A stone cold masterpiece, Kurosawa’s elegantly-constructed treatise on layers of Japanese society—economic, social and even physical, as much of the action centers on a literal mansion on the hill— feels like it shouldn’t work.  The first hour takes place entirely in the palatial home of Kingo Gondo (the great Toshiro Mifune, Kurosawa’s signature star) an executive in a women’s shoe company plotting to seize corporate control, only to find himself the target of a kidnapping and ransom plot; but the culprits…

  • Better Days

    Better Days

    ★★½

    One of this year’s Oscar nominees for best international feature, Derek Tsang’s crime film, educational exposé and tragic romance has inspired considerable backlash; it’s Hong Kong’s submission, but is largely about mainland China... and fared poorly at the Hong Kong box office, versus blockbuster status across China.   There also was governmental censorship and related meddling, but what remains is still a damning indictment of the fervid culture around college placement exams and pervasive bullying throughout the educational system, both…