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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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Issues for the (space) ages

Q. How you can give the new "Star Wars" movie 3.5 stars when you write, "The dialogue throughout the movie is once again its weakest point: The characters talk in what sounds like Basic English, without color, wit or verbal delight, as if they were channeling Berlitz." Doesn't this make it a movie deserving no more than two stars? Just because a fabulously wealthy producer can afford the best in special effects, does that warrant a rating close to perfection?

Robert Cavanaugh, Wheaton

A. I got a lot of messages saying there was a disconnect between my star rating and my review. Perhaps there was. Star ratings are the bane of my existence, because I consider them to be relative and yet by their nature, they seem to be absolute.

"Star Wars: Episode III" returned to the space opera roots of the original film and succeeded on that level, and for that I wanted to honor it, while regretting that it did not succeed at the levels of intelligence and wit as it did on the levels of craftsmanship and entertainment.

Q. In your review of "Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith," you wrote that the voice of General Grievous "sounds curiously wheezy, considering the general seems to use replacement parts."

I would like to clarify why he wheezes. Cartoon Network within the last year ran a series of short cartoons called "Star Wars: Clone Wars." It was placed in the time period leading up to Episode III. In the final chapter (No. 25), as Grievous makes his escape with Palpatine, he encounters Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson). Windu uses the Force to crush Grievous' chest cavity, causing the "wheezing."

So by the time Palpatine is secure aboard the starship, the Episode III movie has begun and, realistically, only a few hours have passed.

Leonard Blackman, Las Vegas

A. I have received countless explanations of Grievous' condition from readers who go into almost theological detail in their analysis. If they are now expected to incorporate information from the Cartoon Network series into their interpretations, I fear their heads may explode. Continuity is not everything. I grew up watching "Captain Video," on which three rocks were rearranged to indicate they had left one planet and were now on another.

Q. There is a pants/no-pants continuity error in Padme's maternity getup when she arrives on the lava planet. How do such errors creep into movies made with such budgets and so many eyes checking and approving things?

Mark Suszko, Springfield, Ill.

A. I cannot recall this detail, but as you describe it, it certainly sounds like the kind of detail that should be noticed.

Q. Is George Lucas a knowing Economic Terrorist? Lucas KNEW that by releasing the last "Star Wars" movie what effect it would have on the United States Economy. The movie was released on a working day. Lucas could have well waited to release his movie on Saturday or even Sunday. The effect was a $627 million loss in American Productivity.

The box-office take was $158.5 million. That leaves a $468.5 cost to the U.S. Economy. But that's not the end of the loss. Each day, Lucas is losing $1.5 million to pirates -- a capital cost to his investors of $6 million in four days and climbing. The loss could and should have been avoided by release on a Saturday or Sunday, and Simultaneous Distribution to Television, Sales and Rentals. The question becomes, would George Lucas really damage the economy to make a point of his hate for the Republican Party and President George Bush?

D.L. Graham, San Diego

A. And what happened to Padme's pants?

Q. In your review of "Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith," you say it is not explained why Darth Vader is several inches taller. Obi-Wan cut off Anakin's legs at the knee during their battle. Vader's legs in the suit are appendages.

Brian Killian, Berwyn

A. We should send Gen. Grievous the name of his surgeon.

Q. I took a few friends -- none of whom had never seen a Woody Allen film -- to see "Melinda and Melinda." They loved it. They said it was the best movie they had seen in 2005. They wondered why no one was talking about the film. Radha Mitchell was brilliant, they said. Goes to show, if this were the first Woody Allen film to be released, we'd be throwing bouquets at his feet.

I think of Allen films as a great jazz piece -- say, "Kind of Blue." All the movies share a melody, but each is its own instrument putting down a harmony. I am hopeful that Americans will learn again to appreciate one of our great artists, Woody Allen.

Tim Varner, Toledo, Ohio

A. Oddly enough, much the same thing was said at Cannes about Allen's newest film, "Match Point." Had it been signed with another name and entered in the competition, some thought, it might have won.

Woody has made so many films over so many years that, as A.O. Scott observed a few months ago in the New York Times, we have come to take him for granted and even resent his productivity. The challenge in marketing "Match Point" will be to tell potential customers: You think you know all about Woody Allen and you think the returns are in, but has he got a surprise for you.

Q. I greatly enjoy your reviews and the thoughtful observations they contain. However, I get a little worried about the strength of your argument in your review of "Unleashed," when you make the case for women being able to stir a man's humanity by using Ann Coulter as your example. That is the same person who claimed women should bear arms but not be able to vote.

C. Perla, Miami

A. Wouldn't you sleep more soundly at night knowing Ann Coulter was in the Army and not in a voting booth?

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