Russell Crowe

The video released on YouTube several days ago by a group of amateur filmmakers in Hong Kong is the first of what will surely be many dramatizations of the Snowden saga. Paced like a thriller, it features the requisite pounding music and a few brisk shots of city skylines. It makes reliable use of cinematic details such as the Rubik’s cube that Snowden allegedly used to identify himself to Greenwald.

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You feel it’s a story you’ve heard before, but that’s often the way in Los Angeles where there are more scripts than cars on the street. This happened at a cottage on Benedict Canyon, one of those roads that wind down from the crest of Mulholland Drive to Sunset Boulevard. The cottage was tucked into the hillside, overgrown with ivy, shrubberies, and bad karma. It looked like the forsaken or forgotten house in a fairy story. Over a period of time, a neighbor noticed that its delivery box was crammed with more and more junk mail. So she decided to break into the house.

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Bigger, Badder

You hear a lot of complaining, and rightly so, about Hollywood's tendency to churn out safe, unimaginative pabulum--the remakes, the sequels, the blow-everything-up movies. Less remarked upon is the opposite problem: The studios' inability (or unwillingness) to make B+ movies, competent, mid-sized genre films that are formulaic in the good sense. There was a time when Hollywood excelled at producing such solid but unexceptional fare--Westerns are the classic example--but no longer.

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Boxed Out

Damon Runyon called fighter James J. Braddock the greatest human interest tale in boxing history.  His once-promising career cut short by losses and injuries, Braddock and his family fell into poverty during the Great Depression. Though he took any available job working on the docks, he couldn't make ends meet. His children near starvation, he applied for federal relief and begged former colleagues for help. On a fluke, in 1934 he was offered a one-time fight against a contender, a fight he was given no chance to win.

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Love and War

It's an odd claim to make for a film that won the Oscar for cinematography, but at its best Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (released on video this week) is less a visual experience than an aural one. Director Peter Weir opens with aerial shots of a tall ship accompanied by on-screen text--"H.M.S. Surprise ... N. coast Brazil. Admiralty orders: ... 'Intercept French privateer Acheron en route to Pacific.'"--before swiftly shifting to a nighttime  change of watch aboard the vessel.

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