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The following reviews of festival films are by Liam Lacey, Marsha Lederman and Fiona Morrow. Films are rated out of four stars.

Facing Ali

Pete McCormack (Canada)

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This exceptional film, based on the book by Globe and Mail journalist Stephen Brunt, traces the career of the great Muhammad Ali through the eyes of ten of his opponents, including Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Larry Holmes and Leon Spinks. McCormack weaves archival footage of the bouts with his present-day interviews, Ali's opponents essentially providing the play-by-play for their long-ago fights. Each of these fighters has a story to tell - not just about Ali, but about themselves. McCormack has also dug up unforgettable footage of the often heated pre-fight press conferences. It's impossible not to fall for the young, outspoken Ali's charisma - or this film. This smart, innovative documentary is a knock-out. M.L.

Granville 7: Today, noon.

Sweet Crude

Sandy Cioffi (USA)


The devastation of the Niger Delta is a human and environmental catastrophe. Repressed in equal measure by the multinational oil companies and their own government, the people of the region are in a fight for survival. Entire villages have been ravaged to make way for drilling, the water of the Delta is brown with pollution, and many of those who have dared to stand up have been literally shot down - or, in the case of acclaimed author and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, hanged. Cioffi originally was on assignment in Nigeria to cover the opening of a new library, but soon became immersed in the escalating crisis - to the extent that she stepped out of her traditional documentarian role to actively help the campaigners reach U.S. media outlets and government officials. That boundary blurring bothers Cioffi more than it should - perhaps the reason why ultimately, the film lacks the visceral punch the subject deserves. F.M.

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Vancity: Today, 11 a.m.; Granville 7: Oct. 13, 12:40 p.m.

The Great Contemporary Art Bubble

Ben Lewis (Britain)


Between 2003 and 2008, contemporary-art prices increased by an average of 800 per cent - making a lot of money for a lot of people, but maybe not making a lot of sense. At least not to Lewis, a British art critic who is openly critical of the "absurd and obscene" prices some of these works managed to fetch at the height of the contemporary art boom. Lewis seems frankly delighted when the bubble finally begins to burst, in a scandal that cast a shadow on the artist Damien Hirst and his much-ballyhooed $100-million (U.S.) bejewelled skull. Lewis makes good points - and he illustrates them well - but his argument gets lost at times, as he zips around inexplicably in a little car created for him by one of those contemporary artist types. M.L.

Granville 7: Today at 12:40 p.m.

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Bluebeard Catherine Breillat (France)


The celebrated French director of Romance and Fat Girl takes on the 17th-century fairy tale of the eponymous castle-dwelling ogre who marries incessantly, his wives always vanishing within the year. Enter two impoverished sisters cast out of convent school, the youngest, Marie-Catherine (Lola Créton), agreeing to marry Blackbeard (Dominique Thomas) on the understanding the union will not be consummated until she is of age, naively blind to his more deviant appetites. If seduction and temptation propel Charles Perrault's original text, the same sexual tension pulses here. Breillat even cranks it up a notch with a parallel tale set in the 1950s. The images are an atmospheric delight - realism never dares intrude. And Breillat's subversive fingerprints are everywhere, from her thrillingly willful and defiant heroine, to the final breathtaking twist. F.M.

Granville 7: Today, 11:20 a.m., Oct. 11, 9:15 p.m.

Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire

Lee Daniels (USA)


Raw and moving, Precious is a fable of abuse and redemption set in Harlem in 1987. Based on the novel by poet Sapphire (born Ramona Lofton), the film follows the struggle of Precious (Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe), an obese, illiterate 15-year-old who has been twice impregnated by her father and is physically and verbally abused by her mother (Mo'Nique). Salvation comes from a gorgeous, angelic teacher, improbably named Blu Rain (Paula Patton), who helps Precious and a group of other young women find dignity and hope through keeping journals. Daniels's direction is all over the map but he gets vibrant performances from his actresses. L.L.

Granville 7: Today, 2:30 p.m.

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