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Faith-based film tries reaching past its audience, but falls back on preaching to its own choir way too much.

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"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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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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Movie Answer Man (03/28/1999)

Q. Roberto Benigni--is he for real? I loved it when he climbed up on the backs of the seats after winning his best actor award, but what if he had fallen off and broken a leg? (Ronnie Barzell, Los Angeles)

A. Then he would have hopped onstage with one leg instead of two. Or maybe walked on his hands. I am not sure, though, that you can lie down in the firmament and make-a love to everybody with-a your leg in a cast.

Q. Have enjoyed your attacks over the years on the blurbmeisters who grind out favorable quotes for ads. But there was a quote in Friday's Sun-Times that was truly strange. It was for Clint Eastwood's "True Crime," and it quoted Joanna Langfield of "The Movie Minute," whatever that is, saying the movie was "A TRUE POTBOILER!" Hello? (Emerson Thorne, Chicago)

A. The ad appeared around the country. Webster's defines potboiler as "a work of art or literature, often inferior, produced only to make money." Obviously at least one member of the Warner Bros. advertising department was not familiar with the meaning of the word. As for Joanna Langfield, either (a) she also does not know what it means, or (b) she has written her first negative review, and we should send her congratulatory telegrams.

Q. I recently listened to the alternate audio commentary track on the DVD version of "Zero Effect" and noticed that the film's director, Jake Kasdan, plays a word game throughout the film. Every so often he mentions a key word. Then, by the end of his commentary, the words reveal this sentence: "That spooky rumbling is a distant timpani." Is there any significance to why he chose this particular sentence? (Rob Mathiowetz, Oshkosh, WI)

A. Jake Kasdan replies: "Re The Case of the Timpani of Questionable Significance: For those unfamiliar with the whole 'commentary track' thing, the central idea is this--the director and/or other creative forces behind a film are locked in a small recording booth for duration of said film, as it rolls on video tape. An open microphone records their incoherent ramblings, anecdotes, and nervous jokes. No interviewer. No context. Just uninterrupted talk. The result is recorded onto an alternate digital track on the DVD, so viewers can press a button and hear a sports-broadcast-like color commentary as they watch the movie.

Q. Re your review of the movie "20 Dates," in which you reported on how producer Elie Samaha kept nudging the director to use the star Tia Carrere: Thought you might like to know that Elie Samaha and Tia Carrere are currently married (and, judging from the huge ring on her finger in the scene she appears in, were also probably married at the time of the film). Although I doubt that would heighten your enjoyment of the film, it does probably explain why Samaha was so insistent on putting her in the movie. (Jeff Taplin, United Talent, Los Angeles)

A. As you went on to point out, that means that the film's director, Myles Berkowitz, technically only went out on 19 dates. But you know what? At least Tia Carrere has a dazzling smile, and when it appeared at the end of that dreadful film, it was like finding a diamond in a CrackerJack box. Not that I have anything against CrackerJacks.

Q. In your review of "October Sky," you mentioned that it was based on the book Rocket Boys, by Homer H. Hickam, Jr. Here is an interesting footnote: Universal refused to go with the original movie title, which was also "Rocket Boys." So the filmmakers were forced to come up with something else. Thus it became "October Sky"--which is an anagram of "Rocket Boys!" (Mary Jo Kaplan, New York City)

A. How could anyone possibly think "October Sky" was a better title than "Rocket Boys?" The original title leaps off the page and vividly summarizes the movie's concept; "October Sky" sounds like the title of an album by Wyndham Hill. Here are some other new and improved titles: "A Span at River Vying," "A Pale Heroes' Knives," "I Fail But Use Life," "The Ale Biz" and "Dither the Lenin."

Q. That kid you wrote about from Sundance--the one who got so many people to look at his short film, and then went to Hollywood in search of fortune. How did he make out? (Charlie Smith, Chicago).

A. Stuart Acher tells me: "I signed with Larry Kennar at Writer's and Artists, and plan to move to LA. Meanwhile, my agent (that has a nice ring to it) is setting up screenings of 'Bobby Loves Mangos' at the various studios, for executives. The eventual plan is to go out with the feature of 'Mangos' as a spec sometime next month."

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