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Cinefiles

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Walt & El Grupo (PG)

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

The driest of three recently released Disney documentaries, Walt & El Grupo is a suspiciously paved-over love letter to Walt Disney, who in 1941 took then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt up on his offer to spend a couple months in Latin America to generate Allied goodwill. The very setup gets the mind working: How will the film address Walt's long-rumored anti-Semitism, or Dumbo's now-shocking jabs at union labor forces striking at the Disney offices at the time? Unfortunately, Walt & El Grupo doesn't examine any of this, or even how the trip affected the group of animators ("El Grupo") that Walt brought along, favoring instead photographs of the jet-setting Walt and clips of his letters home read aloud. I more strongly recommend viewing Waking Sleeping Beauty — one of the year's best documentaries, which captures the company's changing of the guard in the '80s — and the song-strong The Boys: The Sherman Brothers' Story. — Justin Strout

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Michael Jackson's Vision (NR)

Sony Legacy

Michael Jackson made history by bridging boundaries between R&B and pop. But his biggest impact may end up being how he took the music video to a whole new level of creativity and technical sophistication. Michael Jackson's Vision collects more than 40 of his videos on three discs. His early efforts ("Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" and "Rock With You") were pedestrian, even for their time. But then came "Thriller," and Jackson's move to revolutionize music videos by creating storylines that used multiple actors and slick choreography. Jackson never topped "Thriller," but he created plenty of other outstanding videos for songs such as "Bad" (directed by Martin Scorsese), "Leave Me Alone" (a smart use of Monty Python-esque animation) and the Egyptian-themed "Remember the Time." It's fun to watch for the many big-name stars that appear in these videos, which will stand as a lasting document of Jackson's ambition. — Alan Sculley

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Death of a Snowman (NR)

Synapse Films

Here's something that I just learned: As the blaxploitation boom wound down in America toward the end of the '70s, South Africa took up the mantle and made its own brand of violent grindhouse actioners. Who knew? In the gritty yet silly Death of a Snowman, Johannesburg reporter Steve Chaka (Ken Gampu) teams up with plainclothes detective Ben Deel (Nigel Davenport) to break the news and crack down on a brutal, all-black vigilante group calling themselves "War on Crime." It's full of plot holes, absurd character studies, poorly blocked action scenes, nonsensical editing and the most ludicrous dubbing job this side of a chop-socky cheapie — and yet, amazingly, none of that really matters in the grand scheme of the movie. Snowman is such a fun ride through the dark ghetto alleyways of world cinema that your eyes will stay wide open in shock and awe. I hope Synapse uncovers more of these unheralded classics. — Louis Fowler

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