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La La Land

This is a beautiful film about love and dreams, and how the two impact each other.

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Jackie

There are two movies in "Jackie." One of these movies is just OK. The other is exceptional. The first one keeps undermining the second.

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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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Succeeds beyond all expectations, sort of

Q. After seeing "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," on the car ride home, we couldn't help but discuss how different an American version of the film would be. Besides the obvious sexual situations and probably the villains' background, we came upon an obvious difference. An American film would have to explain to the audience the titular tattoo. It was great to see a movie leave so many plot threads unanswered. (Mark Coale, Editor/Publisher, www.odessasteps.com)

A. The name of the movie is "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." The heroine of the movie is a girl with the dragon tattoo. Yes, a lot of viewers would have to puzzle that out. Don't get me started on The Man With No Name.

Q. How you doing? I made a trip to London. Got mugged at gun point last night! All cash, credit card and phone was stolen.  It was a bitter experience. My return flight leaves in a few hours and I'm wondering if you could loan me some dollars to sort out the hotel bills and also take a cab to the airport, about $3,500. (Nate Patrin)

A. Damn, Nate, if you'd only written sooner I could have told you how to take the train out to the airport.

Q. Would you agree that movie posters of yesteryear are a lost art form?  When I was a young boy growing up in the 70's, I always admired (and coveted) the never-ending amount of promotional movie memorabilia that studios happily provided movie theaters with to decorate their lobby walls.  I'm speaking fondly of 8 x 10 glossy black and white stills, colored lobby cards, inserts, and of course, the folded(!) one- sheet posters, that to me, were nothing lass than absolute works of art.  Posters for films like "The Poseidon Adventure," "Jaws," "The Sting," "Star Wars," and "Apocalypse Now," (which were actually reproduced from paintings) were so striking, so vibrant, so exciting in their composition that today's movie posters literally pale in comparison.

Studios now issue multiple "teaser" one-sheets, featuring enormous glamour-style head shots of various cast members, eventually leading up to the one sheet that is meant to advertise the film. Of course, today's movie theater lobbies more resemble airports, and beside the bland advertising material, we're now treated to enormous twenty foot card board stand ups advertising either the latest Disney/DreamWorks/Pixar animated feature or Julia Roberts' new romantic comedy.  And though the one-sheet for Steven Soderberg's 2006 "The Good German" was still technically a composite of photos, I was deeply impressed by its obvious nod to "Casablanca's" original poster. Now that's art! (Kevin Fellman, Phoenix, AZ)

A. I couldn't agree with you more. I'd guess maybe a third of recent movie posters involve the male lead in the foreground looking out of the poster, with the female lead the background looking at him. Or the two equal leads looking at each other. Photographic head shots. No imagination, no artistry, no reason to collect.

Q. Is there anywhere to go to find a movie by description? I saw a French movie, 5-8 years ago I believe, set in WW2 France. The Germans were invading, and there was a mass departure of people. A romance, friendships… Can’t recall any actors' names but it was pleasing to view. (Diane Swenson) 

A. I get so many questions like this. Just for fun, I Googled "movie France invasion WW2 romance friendships." I was taken to filmjunk.com, "15 WWII Movies Worth Watching Before You See Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds." None of them sounded like yours.

Q. I read your Great Movies review of Errol Morris's "Gates of Heaven" today. It ended with: "Cal Harberts promises in the film that his park will still be in existence in 30, 50 or 100 years." Twenty years have passed. I searched for the Bubbling Well Pet Memorial Park on the World Wide Web, and found it (www.bubbling-well.com). There is information about its 'Garden of Companionship,' 'Kitty Curve,' and 'Pre-Need Plans,' but no mention of this film. Or of the Harberts."

I found an article in my local free paper saying that as of that date, Dan Harberts was running the place. I loved "Gates of Heaven" and it makes me feel better to know that a Harberts is in charge. Several of my childhood pets are there. (Chuck Kubota, Campbell, CA) 

A. Yes, I actually heard from Dan not long ago. Seemed like a nice man. Many readers can't believe I selected a documentary about a pet cemetery as one of the best films of all time. But that film remains a fascination to me. Is it satire, or serious? Does it honor, or mock? Should we bury our pets in a pet cemetery, or in a dumpster? A woman in the film says, "There's your dog, you dog's dead. But there has to be something to make it move. Well, hasn't there?" The more you think, the more profound her question grows.

Q. You gave three stars to "Hot Tub Time Machine. Really!!!  This might be the worst movie my wife and I have ever seen.  And the use of the F word...can you say OVERDONE!!  We chose this movie on the basis of your comments in the movie ad "It succeeds beyond any expectations."  Are you serious!  Have your "expectations" diminished to this level?  People at our show were walking out.  This was truly a stupid movie. John Cusack should be embarrassed to be associated with this work. I guess we will research other critics next time. (Bob Racette, Orland Park, IL)

A. If you research them on the basis of their comments quoted in movie ads, you might not find too many negatives. What I wrote was: "…succeeds beyond any expectations suggested by the title."

Q. Kevin Smith, the director, says movie critics should be made to buy tickets to the movies they review. My question to you is, would you pay to see a movie like his "Cop Out?" (Andy Tate, Regina, Saskatchewan)

A. Gladly. But I'd want to attend before 2 p.m. on a Tuesday.

Q. Right now, we seem to be having an explosion in the heretofore uncommon "Action Thriller Romantic Comedy" genre. We've got "The Bounty Hunter" currently in cinemas, then there's "Date Night" with Steve Carrel and Tina Fey, then in June there'll be both "Killers" with Katherine Heigl and Ashton Kutcher, and James Mangold's "Knight and Day" with Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz. Do you have any idea what exactly about the current Hollywood scene or socioeconomic climate provokes such an interest in nutty romantic couples getting shot at whilst their speeding car drives through explosions, etc.? (Craig Sheehan, Hazelbrook, NSW, Australia) 

A. Other than a grievous lack of imagination and ambition to excel, perhaps Hollywood is driven to prove it can make a better movie than "The Bounty Hunter?"

Q. I presume your "Hot Tub Time Machine" review has sent thousands to IMDB to review the John Cusack catalog. I am certain I'm not the only one to suggest that perhaps "Tapeheads" is not good? This from a girl who adores both John Cusack and Tim Robbins. Or at least I adored Tim Robbins until that whole thing about him donating to Michele Bachmann came to light. (Elise Christenson, Minneapolis, MN)

A. He did? Now I understand the divorce.

Yeah, my Cusack-o-meter was malfunctioning when I wrote that review. He makes an extraordinarily high percentage of good movies, but their number doesn't include, for example, "Class," "America's Sweethearts" and "Must Love Dogs." Oh, and "Tapeheads."

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