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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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This just in: Hip-hop robots in Transformers are only robots

Q. Good calls on "The Searchers", but there's also this: It's the grave marker -- her grand-mother's -- that Debbie is sent out to hide behind when the Comanches attack, where Scar finds her. It allows us to raise the question of Ethan being a man who hates Comanches because of what they are or because of what some of them did. The inscription on the marker itself is virtually invisible in the movie. It says, "Here lies Mary Jane Edwards. Killed by Commanches May 12, 1852. A good wife and mother in her 41st year." I obtained it through a computer screen capture -- technology unavailable to anyone in a movie audience in 1956. I think the question of who was meant to see it is pretty obvious; it was there for Wayne to see. Steve Paradis, Davison, MI

A. Yes, although if the audience can't read it, does it serve a purpose? Your computer skills raise the question: What else is hidden onscreen waiting for us to discover?

Q. Is “Rambo IV” mistakenly titled? This might be nitpicking, but first movie was “First Blood” and the second was “Rambo: First Blood Part II.” Technically, this is “Rambo III: First Blood Part IV,” right? Steve Forstneger, Chicago, Ill.

A. Yeah, and it’s titled simply “Rambo,” which makes it sound like the first in the series. “Rambo V” is said to be in production for a 2011 release. Me, I’m still arguing that “The Other Side of the Mountain, Part 2” should have been titled “This Side of the Mountain.”

Q. I just read your review of “Food, Inc.” (2009) and I have to say I am disappointed in how easily you put aside your critical thinking skills and fell for a scare tactic. This film exaggerates, stages or just plain lies about a number of issues. This film scared you because that’s what they wanted to do to you — facts be damned. There are certainly some legitimate problems in the food industry, but scare tactics, like those used in this film, are the same as those used by the Bush administration to justify all sorts of questionable activities such as the Patriot Act, NSA wiretapping and the war in Iraq. These scare tactics effectively prevent any constructive and rational dialogue from taking place between the food industry and its critics, and it’s time to get past that so that real progress can be made. Bryan Hughes, Texas Tech, Lubbock, Texas

A.You steered me to the Web site safefoodinc.org, which has a rebuttal of the film. The issues are complex, and I concede I should not have taken the film entirely at face value, but neither should we believe we are not eating factory food.

Q. In your review of “My Sister's Keeper,” you make this assertion: “If you’re pro-life, you would require Anna to donate her kidney, although there is a chance she could die, and her sister doesn’t have a good prognosis. If you’re pro-choice, you would support Anna’s lawsuit.”

I am pro-life and you are wrong. Being pro-life means you do not destroy one life (Anna) for the convenience or comfort of another (Kate). It is the “pro-choice” position that results in a life sacrificed, often horribly, for the convenience and comfort of another. Kris French, Orlando, Fla.

A. I may have been using faulty logic. Does the principle that she must act to save another life apply equally in both cases?

Q. I’m still thinking about “Begging Naked,” the documentary you showed at Ebertfest in April. How is the film’s subject, Elise Hill, doing? You said that her paintings sold out at the festival. Is she still painting? Susan Lake, Urbana, Ill.

A. Elise Hill is a former stripper, prostitute, drug addict and dedicated artist who sometimes painted even from the stage of Show World, where she worked near 42nd Street. She now lives in Central Park. Karen Gehry, the film’s director, tells me: “Elise’s paintings continued to sell like hotcakes even weeks after Ebertfest. Powerful stuff, your festival mixing with Elise’s work, plus that audience!”

Q. I recently saw Michael Mann’s new movie “Public Enemies,” and I was disappointed by the fact that I could barely watch the movie without feeling that my eyes were playing tricks on me. In only a handful of shots did my eye actually relax and drink in the beautiful cinematography. The rest of the time the picture looked dark and blurry, but if you asked me to pinpoint an exact spot on the screen that was one of the above, I couldn’t do it. My eye just couldn’t focus on a single object in the frame without being distracted by the entire shot’s resolution.

I’m asking if you have any ideas on this. I understand it might just be due to my local theater and a shoddy projectionist, or perhaps my contact lenses, but I think it might be more. Mann shot this in a digital format, right? And I know he intended to use the shaky cam, which disoriented me even further. But even in static shots, I had a tendency to itch my eyes just by looking at the picture. Kyle Warnke, West Palm Beach, Fla.

A. Mann is a perfectionist. My guess is it involved problems at your theater. The film was shot in HD digital, so everyone saw the “same” print.

Q. I just read your review of “Big Man Japan,” where at the end you write that Hitoshi Matsumoto’s name is misspelled “Hitosi Matumoto,” and that this is a “little joke.” Actually, I’m not sure it is a joke. There are various ways of transcribing Japanese characters into English, and the different spellings of Matsumoto’s name simply reflect that difference.

In other words, “si” and “shi” are exactly the same thing, as are “tu” and “tsu.” We only tend to romanize using “shi” and “tsu” because it helps us English speakers affect a pronunciation that is closer to the original. On the other hand, if this really was meant to be a joke, then I’m afraid I’m missing something. :) Timothy Martin, Princeton, N.J.

A. In Variety’s review from Cannes by Russell Edwards, I read: “A popular stand-up comedian in Japan, Matumoto is a notorious prankster. In this spirit, his name both onscreen, in press materials and in Quinzaine catalog is a deliberate misspelling of his actual name, Hitoshi Matsumoto.” Edwards, based in Australia, specializes in the films of Japan and Korea.

Q. I want you to seriously STOP bashing “Transformers,” a movie that was not meant for the Academy Awards or for people who are over the hill. I’m sorry if you don’t enjoy cool cars, giant fighting robots, gorgeous women in their early 20s or big explosions, but it seems a whole lot more people around the world do.

And just for your info, the two “black” characters in the new movie are not black, they learned how to talk through the World Wide Web, which is why different Transformers talk differently; that’s why one has a British accent. I don’t see all the Brits freaking out because one said “bollocks.” Matt Boswick, Halifax, Nova Scotia

A. You mean the two robots from an alien world are in fact not actual black people? Glad I didn’t mention them in my review. Whew. I do enjoy “cool cars, giant fighting robots, gorgeous women in their early 20s or big explosions,” but only when I find them in a better movie than this one. I guess that’s why I gave the first “Transformers” movie three stars.

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