The most surprising thing about "The Martian" is how relaxed and funny it is.
Q: You wrote from Toronto: "Ang Lee's other films have included 'Eat Drink Man Woman,' 'The Ice Storm,' 'Sense and Sensibility,' 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' and 'The Hulk,' and find if you will the connecting link."
There is definitely a connecting link between "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," "Hulk" and "Brokeback Mountain." In all three films the protagonists are involved in a struggle with conventions or fears. In "Crouching Tiger," Li Mu Bai and Yu Shu Lien are restricted by their warrior codes from expressing their love for each other. In "Hulk," Bruce Banner is feared and isolated for who he can be. In "Brokeback Mountain," Ennis and Jack suffer for the life they cannot have. In this way, the sorrow in all three films is common. Ang Lee is a genuine master of his form, and the pattern connecting these three films further elevates his works. Adhip Iyer, New Delhi, India
A.Others agree with you. Alexander Baack of New York City writes: Lee's films "are all measured, penetrating examinations of people forced to engage and confront their own forms of repression, both psychological and social. Lee himself has stated that he's interested in repression and hidden passion."
Q. In your review of "Silk," you write that the IMDb refers to the concubine as "European." Where is that? The plot summary states: "While there, he spots a beautiful Japanese woman, the concubine of a local baron ..." Robert McLendon, Mission Viejo, Calif.
A. No doubt they corrected themselves. But the Dutch trader tells the hero the concubine's secret: "She isn't Japanese." What is she? In the original novel, she's European. The film uses the line of dialogue but casts the role with Sei Ashina, a Japanese actress. So she is Japanese, but "not Japanese." I think that explains it.
Q. In response to the Answer Man letter by Martynas Aukstuolis, who claimed he was extremely offended by your use of the term "Ping-Pong" to refer to table tennis: I find that quite silly. Ping-Pong is most certainly not an offensive term for the sport. It is derived from "ping pang qiu" in Mandarin Chinese (same pronunciation), which translates literally to "ping pong ball."
In other words, Ping-Pong is the correct, Mandarin Chinese name for the sport. If any term should be considered offensive or dismissive, it's table tennis! Take it from someone who actually lives in China and speaks Chinese; his moral outrage is misguided and unjustified. Nic Hautamaki, Harbin, China
A. I knew it. I just knew it.
Q. You've written many times of your preference for black-and-white films over color, and a "Siskel & Ebert in Black and White" program recently uploaded to the "Ebert & Roeper" Web site gives compelling arguments for why certain films ("Psycho," Astaire and Rogers movies) work better in grayscale.
But has the increased sophistication of computer-treated color led you to revise your views? "Minority Report" and the "Matrix" films, for instance, use muted color to create realistic worlds that (to my mind) retain the dreamlike quality of black and white. And the DVD extras on color grading in the "Lord of the Rings" films (such as draining reds from the Shire to enhance its greens) demonstrate that consciously tweaked color can be used to manipulate mood in a similar manner to the shadows of grayscale. Your thoughts? Matthew Diamante, San Francisco, Calif.
A. Colors carry emotional loads, something directors know (I discuss, for example, the use of red in my Great Movies piece on "Don't Look Now"). Some movies, like "Shoot 'em up," drift toward the blue-gray scale so obviously that they seem to yearn to be b&w. Hardly a sky in modern landscape shots is not augmented. I like color, too, of course, and some movies ("Across the Universe") demand to be in color. But films noir in color want to be b&w, and you can see the color draining from their palettes.
Q. Marcus Grindley wrote to the Answer Man claiming that "This is England" was based on the novel American Skin: The plot of the novel is such: 17-year-old burns down his parents' house after they're arrested for drug dealing, moves to Chicago, goes to work in a factory, gets fired, joins (non-Nazi) skinhead group, falls in love with mulatto girl, sleeps with a lot of women, drinks a lot, crosses a mobster, is "banished" from Chicago, he and the leader of his skinhead group join the Army, he becomes squad leader, decides to make something of himself, immerses himself in Ayn Rand and objectivism, and we're barely halfway through.
Point being, either Marcus Grindley has never actually read American Skin or he's never actually seen "This Is England." And his claims of verbatim dialogue need to be backed up by some evidence, since without using the word, he implicates filmmaker Shane Meadows as a plagiarist. Heck, Don De Grazia, the author of the novel himself has never claimed any such thing.
Seth Gordon, Brooklyn, N.Y. A. Heck, Hollywood producer Frederick Levy, who owns the movie rights to the De Grazia novel, writes me: "Yes, I do think that 'This Is England' 'borrows' too much from American Skin. In fact, the author and I are considering whether or not to take action."
Q. It is foolish of me to wonder about the physics of a movie that contains skull-piercing carrots and bullet-propelled merry-go-rounds, but in "Shoot 'em Up" would there be any point to shooting down at Mr. Smith when he is falling from the plane? He should be traveling at terminal velocity and wouldn't the bullets also be going that fast, too? Hence, they couldn't catch him? Alex Kincade, St. Joseph, Mich.
A. According to Hypertextbook.com, "If an object falls with a larger surface area perpendicular to the direction of motion, it will experience a greater force and a smaller terminal velocity. On the other hand, if the object fell with a smaller surface area perpendicular to the direction of motion, it will experience a smaller force and a greater terminal velocity." A skydiver has a larger surface area than a bullet; also, the skydiver is falling, but the bullet is propelled by an explosive charge.
Q. Sorry to further frustrate the Answer Man's search for a pattern in Clint Howard's career, but contrary to Andy Ihnatko's statement, Howard appears without headphones in at least one Tom Hanks movie: "Splash." Larry Hanks, Urbana, IL
A. Here's a fun fact: Tom Hanks has a brother named Larry, who is an entomologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Q. In regard to your recent debate on video games as art, I recall a 1994 review of an exploratory game, "Cosmology of Kyoto," that you wrote for Wired magazine. You claimed that the game possesses "the sense, illusory but seductive, that one could wander this world indefinitely." This observation is consistent with the AM's position on games as non-art; it describes the game as a theme park for the imagination. Tommy Walker, Glen Rock, Pa.
A. I loved that game and made the mistake of lending it out and never getting it back.
Q. I've followed with interest the ongoing Q&A about the "Wilhelm Scream," a sound effect that has appeared in more than 150 movies. Growing up, I enjoyed a children's TV show called "Flipper." One of the limited special effects was a sound that I've come to call the "Flipper Giggle." This was the sound that Flipper would make whenever it would interact with its human handlers. I think this sound effect is still the only one used to signify human/dolphin interaction in just about any movie where that occurs. Matt Robillard, Cary IL
A. My favorite sound effects experts strike out. Maybe a reader will know. The Answer Man would swell with pride thinking the column might have helped identify the Flipper Giggle.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
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A FFC review of "The Look of Silence."