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Posted: Friday, January 23, 2009 10:00 pm

I watched a movie called "9 1/2 Weeks" for the first time the other day. It's a "sex flick," but a great one, and a stark reminder of why I've always considered Mickey Rourke to be one of cinema's most appealing leading men, and perhaps - just perhaps - the sexist bastard to ever flash his mug on a movie screen.

But that was long ago. He could have been his generation's Brando, but a string of bad choices both on- and off-screen (including a brief, devastating stint as a boxer) led Rourke down a bad path that ended with him existing on the margins of the movie industry, beaten down to a pulp on the outside and scarred internally by the knowledge that all of it was nobody's fault but his own.

He'll never be handsome again, but thanks to Darren Aronofsky's wholly remarkable "The Wrestler," Rourke has at least gotten one last shot at stardom. And he makes the most of the opportunity with his Oscar-worthy turn as Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a big-time pro wrestler who peaked in the late 1980s but, 20 years later, finds himself broke and alone.

"Tell No One" ****

Even the title is alluring, which befits this thoroughly titillating Hitchcockian thriller about a man who begins receiving ominous e-mails from his wife eight years after she was supposedly murdered by a serial killer. (Among her instructions: "Tell no one. They're watching.") The set-up is as simple as can be, but from there things get complicated pretty quickly. An hour in, the plot gets so mind-bendingly complex that it seems there couldn't possibly be a reasonable explanation for everything that the man learns as he works to unravel the mysteries behind his wife's disappearance. However, by the end of this incredibly dense, rich and amazingly literary character-based story, all loose ends are tied up without the filmmakers ever having to resort to cheap tricks (e.g., he's crazy and killed her himself; it's all a dream; etc.).

"Standard Operation Procedure" *** 1/2

Errol Morris could have simply made a traditional documentary about the abuses committed by U.S. military personnel at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. From the tortures and bizarre sexual exploitations to the actual killings, there are enough buried facts and outrageous testimony to make for a very compelling film.

However, Morris is never satisfied with the ordinary.

Being the skilled provocateur that he is, Morris instead chose to focus on a more unusual, less tangible aspect of the story: the apparent need of the perpetrators to document their crimes. The abuses were indeed terrible, and Morris does an admirable job of relating exactly how dehumanizing the situation was for everyone involved.

"Milk" ***

San Francisco city supervisor Harvey Milk, who was murdered along with the city's mayor in 1978 by rival supervisor Dan White, is unquestionably one of the most influential and inspirational figures in the struggle for gay rights and acceptance, and not just because he was the first openly gay man to ever hold elective office in the United States.

And I understand why, following the passage of California's Proposition 8, sympathetic critics and audiences are eager to heap praise upon a work that pays proper tribute to the man (played here by Sean Penn) and his cause.

However, if you let the movie speak for itself and evaluate it on the basis of its own artistic worth and not simply its positive message, it becomes clear that the film has been blown way out of proportion.

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