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The Magnificent Seven

Rarely have so many charismatic actors been used in a film that feels quite as soulless as Antoine Fuqua’s update of The Magnificent Seven.

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The Age of Shadows

At 140 minutes, Kim sometimes loses the rhythm of his spy thriller, but he's such a confident filmmaker—and his leading man such a magnetic presence—that…

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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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Gods and monsters

Q. Your Answer Man item about the availability of Pauline Kael's criticism reminded me that I hadn't brought you up to date about our looking into a reprint of Going Steady. Our paperback editor checked out the situation regarding her work, and it appears that the small British firm of Marian Boyars Publishers Ltd. now has rights to most of her titles. Just talked with our paperback editor, and she confirmed that Little, Brown (the original publisher of Going Steady) had directed her to Kael's literary agency in England, Curtis Brown Ltd, since rights had reverted to Kael in 1988.

Hardcover or paperback editions of the following Kael titles are still available from Marion Boyars in the United Kingdom: Going Steady, Deeper Into Movies, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, I Lost It at the Movies, Reeling, Raising Kane and Other Essays, and Hooked. I believe there are editions of her other books as well from Marion Boyars that are still available in the used market. These are also sold via amazon.com (and its related sellers) in the United States (other than in the used book market).

5,001 Nights at the Movies is still in print in the States and is "available at better bookstores," but of course it's essentially a video guide and doesn't contain any complete essays. I expect it may take a well-selected Library of America volume to get her principal pieces widely available again in the United States. With rights for the individual volumes apparently still held by Marion Boyars, I doubt that any U.S. publisher would be able to issue reprints in the near term. I wish the situation looked more promising, but for now it looks as if we'll have to make do with 5,001 Nights at the Movies and whatever else can be ordered, either used or new, online. Rodney Powell, University of Chicago Press

A. I went to amazon.co.uk and found virtually all of her titles, as you report. I have often ordered books from them and know they accept American orders. But the American situation is dire. I agree she is abundantly deserving of the honor of a Library of America title.

Q. Regarding the Spike Lee/Clint Eastwood flap, I'm getting so tired of this. If Spike Lee wants more blacks in WWII films, why doesn't he make a film about the Tuskegee Airmen? Their heroism, the racism they had to endure -- this is a film he could really put his heart into. And I would love to see it. I've been hearing about the Tuskegee Airmen for years but don't know much about them. Kathleen Church, Chicago

A. A 1995 film on the airmen was made by HBO and widely seen, starring Laurence Fishburne, Andre Braugher, Cuba Gooding Jr., Mekhi Phifer and John Lithgow. It's on DVD.

Q. Do the live-action segments in "Wall-E" make it ineligible for the best animated feature Oscar? If so, a friend of mine has an elegant solution: It should be nominated for best picture. Dave Platt, Winnipeg, Manitoba

A. It's eligible in both categories, but animation now seems shut out from best picture consideration -- just when it is entering a new golden age.

Q. During the fight with the elemental god in "Hellboy II: The Golden Army," I couldn't shake the idea that the creature was inspired by the Forest God from Hayao Miyazaki's brilliant "Princess Mononoke." The moment Selma Blair said that the Elemental could "give and take life," I began to recall Miyazaki's film, whose own elemental god has that exact ability. I couldn't get "Princess Mononoke" out of my thoughts; the way the spirit grows into the night, the cruel and violent way it meets its fate, etc. It all reminded me of the Forest God in "Mononoke."

Any doubts I had were dispelled by, as you describe it, what the Elemental turns itself into in "Hellboy II." Remember the ending of "Princess Mononoke"? Remarkably similar, no? John Bell, New Bedford, Mass.

A. I think you're right on the money. Spoiler: The monster becomes a tree, surrounded by a sylvan forest glade

Q. In your Great Movie review of "Cool Hand Luke," you note: "But such a film could not possibly be made in more recent decades, not one starring Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise or other actors comparable to Paul Newman's stature. It is simply too painful. I can imagine a voice at a studio pitch meeting: 'Nobody wants to see that.'"

However, I think "The Shawshank Redemption" had plenty of punishment for its main character: prison rape, beatings, solitary confinement. True, there's maybe a bit more hope to that particular character's struggle, but all in all I think the characters in that film suffer quite a bit more than in "Cool Hand Luke" (and it was made less than 15 years ago). What do you think? Patrick Naugle, Elgin

A. Yes, but Tim Robbins doesn't have the iconic immunity of a Pitt or Cruise, and the movie ended ambiguously but happily.

Q. In your review of "Hellboy II: The Golden Army," you justly praise the film for director Guillermo del Toro's fantastic visual imagination in populating his world with unique monsters. But can these things only exist in the realm of computer-generated bits and bytes? You call the Hellboy character "CGI for the most part" and say the film's sights were "created by CGI, of course, but how else?" I was delighted when watching the credits to see whole teams of artists who brought the movie to life with special effects makeup, prosthetics and animatronics (just like the original inhabitants of the Mos Eisley Cantina bar).

After reading an article in the Los Angeles Times, I learned that some of the film's best fantasy visuals, such as the multi-ocular Angel of Death, were created and puppeted in the "real" world and captured that way in del Toro's camera lens. CGI is, of course, just another kind of paint on a filmmaker's palette. But let's not forget the hard work and tremendous artistry of those who continue to push the limits of what can be achieved the old-fashioned way. Alex Meeres, Regina, Saskatchewan

A. I wrote hastily and overlooked del Toro's love of the whole vast craft of traditional special effects.

Q. Did Clint Eastwood say there were no African Americans involved in the Iwo Jima campaign? Or did he say that there were none included in his "Flags of Our Fathers" story? Which there weren't. There were about 900 African-American Marines on the island at the time. And there were African-American soldiers and sailors on duty there, too.

I don't have the numbers for the Army or Navy. But Bill Madden, the primary source for my novella Iwo Blasted Again, who landed on Iwo Jima in the first wave with Easy Company, Second Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment, said his amtrac had a black sailor at the helm. Beyond that, it seems that Spike Lee's comments had a great deal to do with publicizing his new movie, "Miracle at St. Anna." Ray Elliott, Champaign

A. As former president of the James Jones Literary Society, you have studied World War II extensively. It may be that no African Americans were directly involved in the flag-raising story that Eastwood set out to tell, but certainly he could have shown them in the wide-scale scenes of invasion and landing. Eastwood is certainly not racist. I suspect this was the result of oversight.

Q. I thought your question to Kevin Costner (whether he could envision casting Dennis Hopper as the Republican candidate and Kelsey Grammer as the Democrat in "Swing Vote" instead of the other way around) was interesting, especially since Costner said he could not imagine that casting.

However, I remember seeing a Hopper interview years ago with Mike Wallace, in which Hopper confirmed that he is, in fact, a loyal Republican. When the interviewer asked how it was possible that a poster boy for the '60s counterculture grew into a man who voted twice for George W. Bush, Hopper replied, "I got sober, man." Harris Fleming Jr., Waldwick, N.J.

A. Like, wow, man!

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