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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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Udderly bull

Q. Please help before it's too late! There is still time for the producers of the animated movie "Barnyard" to redub the soundtrack. No wonder Americans are becoming known as the world's stupidest people: apparently we don't even know that milk comes from mommies, not daddies. The brain trust behind this movie spent a fortune to animate "cows" with very prominent udders -- all of which are dubbed with MALE VOICES. Oh, the horror. Eva Sandor, Chicago

A. Good gravy! I looked at the trailer, and saw a cow, its udder clearly visible, speaking in a male voice. The cows in the movie include Otis (Kevin James), Eddie (S. Scott Bullock), Budd (John DiMaggio) and Ben (gravel-voiced Sam Elliott). There is one girl cow, Bessie, voiced by Wanda Sykes. I'd like to hit Bessie for the 411 on wassup up with those he-cows.

Q. The Motion Picture Association of America is warning parents of movies that contain a reference to the Christian faith, equating Christianity with sex, violence and profanity. The MPAA is controlled by Hollywood moguls known for their bitter opposition to Christianity. A new family film featuring miracles and a pro-God theme has earned the PG rating because it would offend non-believers.

"Facing the Giants" is the story of a Christian high school football coach who uses his undying faith to battle the giants of fear and failure. Due to the Christian content, the MPAA rated it PG, placing it in the same offensive category as sex, violence and profanity. The plot includes several prayers being answered, a medical miracle, and a mystic who delivers a message from God. The scene the MPAA found most offensive was a discussion between the football coach and a boy named Matt. The coach says the boy needs to stop bad-mouthing his father and get right with God.

The boy replies: "You really believe in all that honoring God and following Jesus stuff? Well, I ain't trying to be disrespectful, but not everybody believes in that."

The coach responds: "Matt, nobody's forcing anything on you. Following Jesus Christ is the decision that you're going to have to make for yourself. You may not want to accept it, because it will change your life. You will never be the same." That, says the MPAA, is very objectionable and parents need to be warned. Tom Payne, Concord, Calif.

A. The PG rating does not permit sex, violence and profanity, so the MPAA is not equating that content with Christianity. The mild PG rating informs parents of young children that some of the material may be intended for more mature audiences. Assume for the sake of argument that the movie featured the coach telling the child, "Following Allah is the decision that you're going to have to make for yourself. You may not want to accept it, because it will change your life. You will never be the same." Would that be all right with you, or would that be an element you would want to be informed about? There is no official religion in this country. Not all parents are Christians, and the MPAA ratings should serve all parents.

Q. I've used "Being There" as a litmus test of where people are coming from. If they say they don't like the film, it tells me something about the person. If they like it, I ask what they thought of the ending scene, where Chauncey Gardner walks on water. People are flabbergasted, and don't know what to say. That ending scene at the lake is not in the original book. Can you tell me whose idea it was? Jon Monday, Fallbrook, Calif.

A. I had a big fight about the ending once with my students. They were theorizing about buried sand bars, a very shallow lake, etc. I said: "Walking on water is associated in history with one famous individual. It is impossible to see it without thinking of that person. Draw your own conclusions."

Regarding the genesis of the ending, IMDb.com reports: "Originally there was a different last shot planned for the funeral sequence at the end of the film. Director Hal Ashby was chatting with another director one day about filming when he commented how well everything was going. 'It's like walking on air,' he said, then suddenly was struck with a thought. He changed the last shot to the one that appears now in the movie."

Q. Despite what reader Stan Blair wrote you in the Answer Man for June 11, "Capella Sistina" definitely does NOT mean the "sixteenth chapel." It was named after Pope Sixtus IV, under whose direction the Capella Magna was restored and renamed. Dominic Armato, Chicago

A. Lots of readers caught that. Richard Huffman of Seattle writes, "Admittedly, the 16th chapel answer is more amusing, but proof can be found at the Vatican's Web site." And Barton Odom of Copperas Cove, Texas, writes, "Sheesh! I think his Italian teachers were playing a joke on Mr. Blair."

Q. Having only just seen Cameron Crowe's "Elizabethtown" on DVD, I am shocked that none of the reviews mention what seems to be the actual story line. Granted, you have to read between the lines, but the lines are triple-spaced. I feel as if a practical joke has been played on me by this movie and I want to know if anyone else gets it. Kudos to Crowe for the sleight of hand.

I am not a religious man, and I must be as dense as other American moviegoers because it wasn't until my second viewing that the story slapped me in the face. The first time I saw what most people saw, an unspectacular "nice" movie for Crowe to showcase his mastery of classic rock.

I suppose if Crowe had put in a scene showing Claire being sent down to Earth on a mission to save Drew, the movie would have gotten slammed. Because I see "Elizabethtown" as a falling angel story (literally). It only makes sense if Claire (Kirsten Dunst) is a discontented angelic being whose job it is to come down and get people back on the path to God (route 60-B equals G0-D). Todd Zimmerman, Long Island University

A. Your letter is much, much longer, and finds countless parallels, including an equation between her friend Ben and the name of God (Benjamin means "of the right hand" in Hebrew). I forwarded it to Cameron Crowe, who responds: "Well, I'm honored by Todd's deep digging and for spotting more than a few themes beneath the surface of 'Elizabethtown.' He gives me a little too much theological credit with the Ben/God symbolism, but Claire indeed is more than just a chatty flight attendant, and the movie is certainly more than a vehicle for classic rock. The last couple movies I've done have been experiments in layering and creating some extra gifts for any second- or third-time viewer. Thanks for watching, Todd. There's more to the music than meets the ear, too."

Zimmerman's full letter is reprinted at rogerebert.com.

Q. In your review of "The Lake House" you are puzzled about how they could both have the same dog. The movie is a remake of the Japanese film "Il Mare." In that film, the dog first belonged to the man who found him at Il Mare (that's what the lake house was called in the original) and decided to keep him. The man ended up dying and the dog just hung around the place, until the woman moved in and adopted the dog as her own. Alexandra Amams, Calabasas, Calif.

A. If it works for the dog, it works for me.

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