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Another reminder that allowing your cast to madly improvise instead of actually providing a coherent script with a scintilla of inherent logic often leads to…

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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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Is this a dragon, or what?

Q. Regarding Jim Bruce's contention to the Answer Man that 'Old Dogs' is "so bad it's good": I have not seen it, but I suggest applying these rules:

RULE 1: The only way that bad can be good is that it has to literally be 'laughably' bad. It must make you laugh AT it, not with it.

RULE 2: Comedies cannot be so bad they are good, because of Rule 1. If you laugh, it works. If its lack of comedy becomes funny, you are working at a rarefied level of irony that few can attain.

RULE 3: A movie cannot strive to be so bad it's good. It has to be unwitting. RULE 4: Lazy movies are never so bad they are good. The ineptitude has to be coupled with earnestness and a true (albeit misguided) belief in the material. "Phoning in" a movie is never funny, it's an insult to the audience.

RULE 5: The badness can exist side by side with an empathy or  affection for the artist. (I feel for Ed Wood)

It sounds like Jim's reaction is more of the "shocked that a movie could be so bad" category, which does not make it good, but instead makes one question the ability of mankind to work together to create something so horrible. (Mike Spearns, St. Johns, Newfoundland)

A. Thanks for the handy guidelines. I will henceforward exercise strictest control over my use of the phrase "so bad its good."

Q. I'm deaf, and consider myself eloquently mute. Here's my question: how do you recognize good acting these days, and is it at all different compared to the '60s, '70s or '80s? (Julie Tibbitt)

A. Bergman said the great subject of film is the human face. I imagine that may be doubly true when one is deaf. A great actor is one whose face (and body) is an instrument for the effective but not obvious conveyance of emotion. That isn't easy. For example, Pierce Brosnan may not be your idea of a great actor. But I've recently seem him in two quite unrelated roles, both ripe for overacting, and his choices were unerringly good. This is even more of an accomplishment because he labs under the burden of being improbably handsome.  

Q. Now that I've read your "Green Zone" review. But man, where do you get your information on your "no WMD" statements regarding Iraq?  If you are going down that path, why then do you not mention that our satellites showed considerable tractor-trailer activity at each suspected WMD site several days before Hans Blix's "UN" inspection teams show up to "inspect" each site.  Our satellites traced many tractor-trailer envoys into Syria with cargo loaded from these sites.  The TV newscasts were showing them live on the air.  What exactly do you think those envoys were moving into Syria? Saddam's moonshine stash?   

We also found several live bio-weapon labs, we found 400 nuclear scientists enriching uranium (against UN sanctions and policy), and we found 3,000 military-grade chemical weapons suits. Saddam also chemical bombed one of his own cities in 1989, killing tens of thousands of his own citizens. Do nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, and bio weapons meet your definition of WMD's? Whew. Never mind the 10,000 citizens per year dying in torture chambers, does that meet WMD criteria? If you are going to get political in your reviews, how about "manning-up" and presenting both sides? (Adam D. Porter, Pittsburgh, PA)

A. In October 2004, President Bush said at his press conference: "Iraq did not have the weapons that our intelligence believed were there." In August 2006: "The main reason we went into Iraq at the time was we thought he had weapons of mass destruction. It turns out he didn't, but he had the capacity to make weapons of mass destruction."

Q. I read your Great Movies entry on "The Big Lebowski" with pleasure but was a bit disappointed that you only alluded to the element which always gives me the greatest pleasure in watching the movie; namely, that it serves as a wonderful parody of the detective story that is so ingrained in us. The Dude and Walter make no wilder assumptions about the clues they find than the Philip Marlowes and Sam Spades (and Thomas Magnums and Patrick Kenzies) do, but in this movie they are completely, totally wrong about each and every one of them. The case, such as it is, just solves itself. (O.J. Hanau, Hamburg, Germany)

A. Quite true. If it were left to Walter and the Dude, the movie still wouldn't be over.

Q. Why does it seem like all the streets are wet even when it's sunny in the movies? (Tom Armbruster, East Peoria, Il) 

A. They wet them down. They look better that way, especially at night.

Q. I'm a writer for an online movie website.  Over the past couple of years, I've heard folks talk about "print vs. online," with the former as a dying model.  While I believe this is true from a business perspective, I've also heard it used in regards to the legitimacy of the writers. I recently participated in a panel where I had to keep grimacing every time the "legitimacy of print" was mentioned, because I feel that talented writing isn't beholden to the medium. I am just curious as to your thoughts. (Matt Goldberg, managing editor, Collider.com)

A. In the mind of the reader, a review either usefully discusses a movie or it does not. That's true no matter where it appears.

Q. Do you have any idea as to why movies from a certain era -- let's say before the mid-1960s -- don't have an extensive list of end credits the way that today's films do? This has bothered me for years, but I haven't been able to find a concrete reason for this, save for this being a union-influenced action. (Pete Croatto, East Brunswick, NJ )

A. Two reasons: Unions, and sometimes to add a few songs which can be some on the sound track album. What really annoys me is that films no longer routinely open with the names of the actors, and at the end they usual make you wait through countless other credits before getting around to the actors. Doesn't the Screen Actors Guild have any clout?

Q. Re "Green Zone:" Did you ever think it was inane, or at least fake how Damon always emerges from a death match in a kitchen or tiny bathroom leaving a dead guy and suffering only a paper cut? I am former USAF, but why should I tell you that, you were probably a ninja. (Frank Shaffer)

A. Yes, I did. I've given up on complaining about that phenomenon in thrillers. It's a variation of the fact that bad guys with machine guns never hit the hero, who fires back with a handgun and kills them all. I know this, and I wasn't even a ninja turtle.

Q. Regarding the upcoming animated film: "How To Tame Your Dragon." Take a look at the photo recently used as their media promo shot, with graphic phallic imagery so blatantly used. Am I the only adult on the planet who may be wondering how and why the cute Dragon illustrated in the original book suddenly takes on a highly suggestive shape? (Sally Davis, Irvine, CA)

A. I guess it all depends on how you look at it.

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