Sam Shepard

"Killer Joe" is a terrible film, but it marks the latest in a year of great performances from Matthew McConaughey.

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Painters have long attracted film-makers for reasons too obvious to explore. Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Gogh, Michelangelo are only a few who have served their workaday turn on the screen. Now comes a considerable difference, itself in the hands of an eminent artist. Lech Majewski is a Polish film, theater, and opera director recognized widely for his startling and enriching imagination. He is much taken with the paintings of Pieter Bruegel, and his film The Mill and the Cross is his response to two Bruegel gems.

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Gentleman bandit. Heartless killer. Confederate martyr. Rank opportunist. Inspiration. Abomination. Jesse James has been considered all of the above by various people at various times, but Andrew Dominik's The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is largely agnostic regarding such disputes. The film is concerned less with the content of James's character than with the meaning of his murder. Insofar as it asks a question, it is whether a man who has been elevated to myth can continue to coexist with mere mortals.

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that as a nation's politics grow more regressive, its arts tend to become more rambunctious. This is especially true in the theater. At the same time that the newly re-elected Bush administration is eliminating all traces of opposition from its Cabinet and its agencies, the volume of dissent is being turned up again on the American stage. Let us savor this precious privilege. An administration so eager for conformity in its inner circles will eventually try to impose it on the culture and the citizenry at large.

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The Marriage of Bette and Booby Christopher Durang Miss Universal Happinessby Richard Foreman During his brief sojourn in the Sunday pages of The New York Times, the English drama critic Benedict Nightingale indicted a central strain of current American drama as "diaper plays," by which he meant works that ignored the urgencies of the political and social world, focusing instead on a surrogate hero's problems with his parents.

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