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The November Man

In this excitingly nasty but ultimately confused action picture, Pierce Brosnan plays a retired government hitman drawn out of retirement to untangle a global political…

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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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Monsieur Hire

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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Starry, starry nonsense

Q. How can you be so dead-on correct about 99 percent of the movies you review, but be 100 percent off about a piece of crap like "Marley and Me"? Boring material, terrible script and totally misleading advertisement -- worse than a Lifetime cable movie! We took our 5-year-old to what was supposed to be a fun family movie about a dog, not a slice of life from a totally uninteresting family. I won best jazz guitarist in all the major guitar magazines for two years in a row. I'm not perfect and neither are you, but I've never made a piece of music that's as horrible and dead wrong as your review. Scott Henderson, Los Angeles, CA

A. You are the only person who has ever said I'm dead-on correct 99 percent of the time, so thank you. But weren't you just a little fascinated by the sheer insanity of the Grogans continuing to live in the same house with Marley? I'm guessing -- no, you weren't. I love dogs, but Marley is scary. I guess your child didn't like the movie, either. I suspect in a lot of families, the kids will love Marley but the parents will look at each other and communicate telepathically: Not in our house, Marley won't.

Q. In your review of "Marley and Me," you begin: "The second-greatest headline in the history of the Onion is..." Is it good form to generally proclaim things as the second greatest in this fashion, so as to avoid a futile debate with the readers? Graig Kent, Toronto

A. Actually, I could tell you the greatest headline, but then I would have to shoot you.

Q. Have you seen anyone's analysis of the extensive self-plagiarism screenwriter Eric Roth exhibits in his new film? I've compiled a list of parallels between his "Forrest Gump" and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" on my blog: http://madeinhead.org/anism/?p=369. Jason Preston, Junction City, Kan.

A. Many people have noted parallels, but your blog is pretty much a slam dunk. In rewriting, Roth plugged the Fitzgerald short story into "Gump."

Q.While I loved the book Marley and Me, I found the movie to be a typical "zany" Hollywood comedy. On the other hand, "Benjamin Button" had me bawling throughout. You write: "But it's so hard to care about this story. There is no lesson to be learned. No catharsis is possible." That is simply that reason why the movie works so well. The viewer knows there is no happy ending here. The ending is only the worst possible thing to happen. I think you are incorrect in assuming people will not go to see this movie twice. I saw it tonight and plan on going later in the week to pick up any nuances I may have missed. I think a review that drives home the point of the movie has been written by Capone over at AintItCool.com. Neal Greenberg, Freehold, N.J.

A. Well, at least you chose another one of our excellent Chicago critics. I gave "Marley and Me" half a star more than "Benjamin Button," although, of course, star ratings are relative, not absolute, and are nonsense either way.

Q. Am I the only one who thinks Amy Adams' facial features resemble Greta Garbo's? Emilio Rafael Gomez, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

A. I see what you're getting at. With the right eyebrows, she'd be the one to play the young Garbo in a biopic.

Q. In his review of "Daylight," Gene Siskel wrote: "As a measure of my boredom, about a half hour into this picture I became fixated on the critic down the row from me eating some candy. It wasn't Roger. It was John Petrakis from the Chicago Tribune, and I tried to guess the candy he was eating by the sounds he was making." Do you remember this? Did you join in? Jerry Roberts, Birmingham, Ala.

A. I remember the review. What I have always wondered is, do different candies make different sounds? I am sitting here trying to imagine. I think most of the sounds are inside your head. The M&M crunch, for example, or the Red Hots slosh. Notice that Gene doesn't say what he concluded. If he listened even though he couldn't tell, he must have thought the movie was really bad.

Q. I object to this statement in your review of "Gran Torino": "What other figure in the history of the cinema has been an actor for 53 years, a director for 37, won two Oscars for direction, two more for best picture, plus the Thalberg Award, and at 78 can direct himself in his own film and look meaner than hell? None, that's how many." John Huston should be considered in the same league as Eastwood. A first-rate actor, an award-winning director, even directing his own father to a best supporting actor Oscar. On any list of the best in cinema, there will be multiple Huston movies, perhaps giving Clint a run for his money. We can only hope Clint's career will last as long. Maggie Sorrells, Williston, N.D.

A. Technically, my statement is correct. But you are quite right that Huston is the only name that belongs on the same list.

Q. In your "Valkyrie" review you mentioned the negative buzz Tom Cruise has been receiving ever since the "Oprah couch incident." I'm at a loss to understand how the most irrelevant of happenings could damage such a big career so badly while, for example, Robert Downey Jr. is on the brink of being canonized for his comeback year ("Iron Man," "Tropic Thunder") after years of wasting his life in prison and drugs. Nothing against either of these two actors, who seem like nice enough people and whose movies are pretty good. I'm just wondering who exactly is behind this war against Tom Cruise. Personally, I feel sorry watching him on TV these days going out of his way trying to be nice to everybody and getting hammered on a constant basis, and it's not like I've even yet seen "Valkyrie" or give a care about Scientology. Gerardo Valero, Mexico City

A. In a sense, Cruise declared open season on himself with the couch incident and the debate with Matt Lauer about psychiatry. The gossip wolves are always hungry and they can smell fresh blood. Downey has suffered in private and repented in public. That, the wolves forgive. But it's way to soon to mark down Tom Cruise.

Q. Re your review of "Synecdoche, New York": I like your view of life, and I agree. But how do we stop playing these roles? Do you have any answers? I know you're busy, but could you respond? I unfortunately don't know intelligent people that have anything interesting to say ... it's funny but sadly true. Name withheld

A. You signed your name but I thought it wise to withhold. Your last sentence gave me an insight into why the movies are so important to a lot of people. They supply characters who have something interesting to say. About your question: I think we all play those roles, but it's useful to know we are doing so, and to try to play them better.

Q. In the new movie "Last Chance Harvey," Emma Thompson is reading and carrying around a book and Dustin Hoffman even refers to it. At one point she sort of flashes the cover, as if it's an inside reference. What was the book? Charlie Smith, Chicago, IL

A. I'm always trying to identify the books in movies. The one she's holding seemed to be by Anita Harmon, but a search at alibris.com finds no books at all by that name. Either I saw it wrong or the director wasn't playing fair.

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