The most surprising thing about "The Martian" is how relaxed and funny it is.
Q. You said the final image of "The Assassination of Jessie James" was a Credit Cookie of the last shot of "The Great Train Robbery," with the cowboy firing his gun at the audience. That gave me an idea for a post-credits final image for "Charlie Wilson's War." As the film implies at the end, the aid to Afghanistan had an eventual blow-back, helping fuel the creation of our enemy Al-Qaeda. How about an Afghan fighter firing rockets at Russian planes, then turning his weapon on the camera and firing right at the audience. Rhys Southan, Richardson, Texas
A. An intriguing idea, but some readers inform me Al-Qaeda did not precisely emerge from the forces we supported and did not use those weapons against us.
Q. My friends and I have come out of "No Country for Old Men" with very different opinions about who the protagonist of the film is. They suggested that Tommy Lee Jones (Sheriff Ed Tom Bell), but I thought his role, although a crucial one to the film, was too small. How do you view all of this? Edgar Mendoza, Adelanto, Calif.
A. He's a candidate. So is Josh Brolin, as Llewelyn Moss. But the dominant figure in the film is the antagonist, Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), and all the others are essentially supporting characters, making up a sort of collective protagonist.
Q. Having been blown away by "No Country for Old Men" three times now, I wonder what your thoughts are on Ridley Scott directing McCarthy's masterpiece Blood Meridian? My biggest fear is that the novel is just simply unmanageable as an adaptation. Also, after reading Blood Meridian for the second time, I couldn't help picture in my mind Marlon Brando in "Apocalypse Now" as McCarthy's Judge. He resembles him in both physical stature and in the way he spins his god-like rhetoric. Considering McCarthy wrote the novel in the mid-'80s, do you think he drew from Kurtz in his conception of the Judge? Adam Watson, Corona, Calif.
A. I don't think the Judge was drawn from anywhere except the recesses of McCarthy's brain. You didn't ask, but one ideal actor to play him is Tom Noonan. The Judge cannot be played by a famous star, or the character will not work.
Q. It seems years have passed since I first heard of the Apu Trilogy. I have heard so many voices declare their love for Satyajit Ray's work but cannot find the trilogy through any rental service and the copies of the trilogy available for purchase are too expensive. Can you help me? Does any company, Criterion perhaps, have plans to re-release these three films? Jake Ochoa, San Antonio
A. These three masterpieces are out of print in the U.S., and just the first film, "Pather Panchali," is priced beginning at $118 on Amazon. However, the entire trilogy in the Artificial Eye edition can be had from England at $125. This is an obvious candidate for Criterion, although the Satyajit Ray Foundation in India has done less than a brilliant job at making his films available. If you opt for the British edition, it's Zone 2 and won't play on your machine. But all-region machines can be had for as little as $60, and it's an open secret that with some creative Googling you can discover the code to unlock the zones on your own DVD machine.
Q. Your remark about the presence of a penis in "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" is answered in this interview with Kasdan and Reilly on NPR's Fresh Air: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=16832411. Terry Gross spends several minutes discussing that very scene; the relevant part of the interview starts at about 26:00. Matt Dimmic, St. Louis
A. And very interesting it is. I especially enjoyed John C. Reilly explaining how he didn't crack up while sharing a two-shot with a penis.
Q. Your note about the peculiar element in the film "Walk Hard" is rather peculiar itself. To quote your review: "... a male penis is framed in the upper right corner of the screen." If one spotted a female penis in a film, would that be even more peculiar? Craig Carden, Atlanta
Smith has water because NYC's water is gravity-fed from the Catskill Mountains, and thus, except for the really tall buildings, no pumping is needed as the drop is several hundred feet. Water seeks its own level, and in a sealed system just rises up the pipes in the buildings. No power is needed. Garry Jaffe, Chicago
A. Case closed.
Q. I almost skipped going to see the newest "National Treasure" movie after reading numerous poor reviews. But, as always, I underestimated the ability of our national movie critics to understand the likes and dislikes of our true national critics -- the movie-going public! My family had a great time watching "National Treasure: Book of Secrets." True, it was far-fetched, but it was two hours of escape from the real world. I guess, Mr. Ebert, you gave Mr. Depp's new movie, "Sweeney Todd," four stars since it is more believable and fun entertainment for the holidays. Merry Christmas, Mr. Scrooge! Scott King, Chapel Hill, N.C.
A. I don't think you underestimated us at all. Overestimated is more like it. However, the critic's job is not to reflect public opinion. If that's all he does, the public is the ventriloquist and the critic is the dummy. I have gone back and carefully read both of those reviews, and I think you must concede they are both accurate descriptions of the movies.
Q. I went to the YouTube link regarding the audio enhancement of the "Lost in Translation" whisper, and I don't believe it's correct.
For example: near the end of Bill Murray's whisper, I am pretty sure that he says, "Tell him that you love him." It is obvious to the naked ear. The YouTube segment tells us that he says "I won't let that come between us," but that doesn't sound accurate at all. I've listened to it again and again, it just seems like a wrong interpretation. I think it was a nice try, but I guess we'll never really know what Bob said to Charlotte. But that doesn't bother me, since maybe we aren't supposed to know. It's like you said: Sofia Coppola wanted it to be artistic to leave it to our imaginations. Alex Jabre, Greenwood, Ind.
A. Why are some people so determined to answer questions that movies themselves do not answer? Think of the words wasted on the contents of the suitcase in "Pulp Fiction." Its co-author, Roger Avary, brilliantly explained: "It contains the MacGuffin."
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
An interview with Michael Shannon on Freeheld, 99 Homes, Boardwalk Empire, and more.
A comparison of Frank Costello in The Departed and Whitey Bulger in Black Mass reveals weaknesses in the latter.