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John Wick

The film breathes exhilarating life into its tired premise, thanks to some dazzling action choreography, stylish visuals and–most importantly–a vintage anti-hero performance from Keanu Reeves.

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Low Down

Preiss' movie does a consistently excellent job of explaining the lure of jazz, and the psychology of addicts, their enablers and their children without explaining…

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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

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Frogs rain on California, so never go to a Date Movie

Q. I was puzzled to see only one entry for "Beauty and the Beast" under your Great Movies listing, and while Jean Cocteau's magical 1946 film certainly deserves its status, I was sorely disappointed in the exclusion of the Disney version. I cannot think of a reason why you do not consider Disney's film a Great Movie. Company biases? I would hope a pundit of your standing would be above that. Maybe because there's already a Great Movie called "Beauty and the Beast"? Jerry Yan, New Berlin, Wis.

A. When I wrote the Cocteau review in 1999, I was happily employed by Disney on the TV show, so I don't think I was biased against them. There are so far only about 300 Great Movies, and I did give the Disney version four stars and put it on my Top 10 list for the year.

Q. Movies of the '40s and '50s feature actors speaking in a certain clipped delivery that seems very unnatural today. They'd jam all sorts of expository dialogue and plot points in a stilted conversation that had a machine-gun staccato. How and when did the trend to a more natural style of acting start? Tony Sosa, Providence, R.I.

A. A more naturalistic acting style is generally said to have started appearing in films of the late 1940s, led by actors like Brando (whose acting was stylized in its own way). You didn't ask, but I'll add: Jay Robert Nash, the author of countless books about crime, says American gangsters of the 1930s actually copied their speaking styles from the movies, and that the screenwriter Ben Hecht is in a sense the creator of a speaking style heard even now in movies, on TV and during congressional hearings.

Q. I was browsing through the film books at the Seminary Co-op today, and discovered that the Marion Boyar's U.K. edition of Pauline Kael's I Lost It at the Movies was back in stock there. Jack Cella, the manager, said he decided to try to order it again from Perseus in London, which now distributes Marion Boyar's titles in the United States.

And lo and behold, it did eventually arrive. I checked Amazon, and it is listed as in stock. I don't know if this means that any of the other Kael titles will now receive more distribution in the United States. The blurbers on the back cover included John Updike and Quentin Tarantino (really covering the waterfront). Rodney Powell, University of Chicago Press

A. One more example of why enterprising local bookstores need to be cherished and used. And I'm sure we still agree Kael deserves attention from the Library of America. Everybody talks about her; why can't they find her books?

Q. Thanks for reviewing my film "Song Sung Blue." As a first-timer on the festival circuit, it has been a roller- coaster ride. While distributors haven't yet made a move, something much cooler took place last week in Milwaukee: "Thunder" [co-star of the singing duo in the film] finally got to meet Neil Diamond! If my film never gets a wider release, I'm satisfied knowing it helped make one of Lightning & Thunder's dreams come true. Greg Kohs, Milwaukee

A. I hope she sang him some Patsy Cline. Distributors are all hiding under their desks during this economic crisis, but your movie deserves to be seen. Maybe cable is a resource.

Q. About that one guy who really got pissed off at you for "giving away" who killed Harvey Milk. Hang on! Do we have to give spoiler alerts for real-life events, too? It's like saying "Don't tell me who won the election! I've TiVo'ed it for later."

No spoiler statute exists for history, surely. If one doesn't know something, tough. To paraphrase Steve Coogan at the beginning of "24 Hour Party People," one should probably read more. Ali Arikan, Istanbul, Turkey

A. I was once seriously berated for revealing the ending of "The Passion of the Christ."

Q. Readers: In the previous Answer Man column, I published a query from Ryan Murphy of Kearny, N.J., who wondered if the review of "Role Models" on FHM.com was the worst movie review of all time. Although appalled by the ignorance of the review, I was curious that gawker.com said they'd received their complaint about the review from a former FHM.com employee. I Googled Ryan Murphy, discovering that he was a former employee of the FHM.com. Since Gawker did not mention the reviewer's name but Murphy did, I concluded that he was calling attention to his own complaint and helpfully pointed this out. Murphy replies:

Thanks for answering my question -- although I get the feeling you published it mostly to call me out. In my defense, I am a former FHM employee (although I was never U.S. Editor -- or paid handsomely, for that matter), but I am not the one who submitted the review to Gawker. The link was sent to me, and I was interested to get your take on it. The story was also carried on Jossip (http://www.jossip.com/out-of-work-editors-get-ready-to-rage-20081110/), which is where I attained most of the details. That's the link I should've sent. From now on, I'll be sure to submit things anonymously on the Web, so I can't be held accountable for anything. Just like everyone else. Ryan Murphy, Kearny, N.J.

A. I went to jossip.com, which thanks "a little birdie" for the tip. I assume you discovered the original Jossip item through Googling, which is why you referred me to the Gawker link. Or not. I think we can all agree it's a review that could have been written by a grade-schooler who found out everything in it on the Web, without even seeing the movie. I hope this low level of research does not extend to the models in this lad mag, although I doubt the lads really care.

Q. I have a pet peeve about the practice of describing a movie as a "date movie." As in, "Oh, it's a good 'date movie,' but otherwise I'd skip it." Surely a movie good enough to see with a date is also good enough to see on one's own? The statement implies one of two things, in my eyes: 1) Women don't have the taste in movies men do, so it really doesn't matter what you take them to as long as they are entertained. 2) You're going to be much too busy attending to other matters to be concerned with what's happening onscreen. Nathan Gearhart, Kansas City, Mo.

A. Young men (and women), heed this warning! Only marry someone whose taste in movies is as good as, or better than, your own. Otherwise, you will be doomed to seeing Date Movies for the rest of your life, and almost by definition they aren't worth seeing at all.

Q. Re your Great Movie review of "Magnolia," a favorite of mine. Have you and your readers noticed not one, but multiple Exodus 8:2 references in the movie? Look at the ropes on the top of the building before the man jumps at the beginning, they are in the form of an 8:2. This, along with subtle frog visuals (Frogger video game in bar) are scattered all throughout. Patrick Pendergast, Portland, Ore.

A. Not to mention actual frogs falling from the skies. Yes, the references of Exodus 8:2 in "Magnolia" are well-known, but to my knowledge, you're the first to notice the ropes on top the building. Re-reading the biblical passage, I find it funny what a slow learner the Pharaoh is. Reminds me of Boss Gettys on Citizen Kane: "He's going to need more than one lesson. And he's going to get more than one lesson."

Jeff Ignatius has a good explanation for the frogs at his blog culturesnob.com: "'Magnolia' has but one devout character -- police officer Jim Kurring -- and the script implicitly mocks him as a simpleton whose piety seems contingent on favorable treatment from God. When he loses his gun, he thinks the Lord has abandoned him and begs for help. Kurring is good-hearted but not rigorous in his faith.

"And the movie is populated with lost, lonely people. Addicts, adulterers, misogynists. Greedy, mean, egocentric. Friendless, pathetic, stunted. They're miserable, and many of them are wicked to boot. These characters are so far gone that only something nearly miraculous could awaken them from their moral and spiritual slumber. God's weapon of choice? Frogs."

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