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  • Cabiria

    Cabiria

    ★★★

    One of film’s first grand epics, released a year before D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, Cabiria is simultaneously a wonder of early cinema ingenuity, an occasionally interesting adventure yarn, and a collection of of-its-time racial tone deafness (postwar reassessments that posit this as an indirect player in the rise of Italian fascism isn’t wholly inconceivable). Once you look past the barbarism projected on the dark-skinned masses and the omnipresence of brown- and blackface (including the film’s standout star, strongman…

  • The Cat and the Canary

    The Cat and the Canary

    ★★★★

    For Paul Leni’s first project in the fledgling Universal horror shop, he turned a fairly small-scale, unimaginative haunted house play into one of the most strikingly gorgeous U.S. takes on German expressionism, an all-out marvel of art direction and economical intensity. Part of the secret is in the casting of Laura La Plante, whose initial introduction comes across as another creation from the overwrought silent era ditz prototype but who is then given a series of character progressions through the…

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  • Hearts of the World

    Hearts of the World

    ★★★★

    In the name of patriotism and the strategic need for American support for a war effort they weren’t yet fully embracing, D.W. Griffith got to open up his old Birth of a Nation playbook for artistically crafted epic action set pieces, romance pitted against the vagaries of history, and the stripping of the humanity of the “other” — in this case "the Huns," standing in for freed slaves and abolitionists. Though out and out propaganda, the final product is nonetheless…

  • The Revenant

    The Revenant

    ★★★

    The film looks so good you almost forget that it isn't.