Scarlett Johansson is an intriguing blank in Luc Besson's "Lucy," which is stranded somewhere between a stranger-in-a-strange-land action thriller and apocalyptic science fiction.
Q. Can you think of any post-apocalyptic film where a better America arises from the rubble? True, that war, virus, flood, earthquake or asteroid were very bad things, but these films are typically set decades afterward. Why can screenwriters only imagine Americans behaving badly? Bad teeth, I can understand, in a post-dental world. Bill Stamets, Chicago, IL
A. Surely there must be. Memory fails me. Meanwhile, readers may help. I checked the Wikipedia entry on apocalyptic fiction, and all I can say is, it was depressing: http://twitpic.com/ylcfd
Q. Are you personally "buying" the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' supposed reasoning behind their new rule in now nominating 10 films for best picture? Why don't they just admit that they couldn't handle all of last year's negative criticism from the media over "The Dark Knight" failing to get a best picture nomination?
Just because it didn't make the final five doesn't necessarily mean it wasn't nominated. Perhaps it was No. 6 in the nomination process, yet failed to make the cut by a mere one or two votes (and since the academy will never release its voting results, only it will know for sure). What's the academy going to do next year when the media starts slamming it for failing to nominate film No. 11? Kevin Fellman, Phoenix, AZ
A. Whatever the academy's reasoning, the change strikes me as absurd. Ten nominees are guaranteed to produce an unwieldy and bloated Oscar ceremony. I think there's a fair chance that the vote totals will tail off fairly rapidly, so the final 10 will include all the films that most people could reasonably expect to be nominated. So we'll never know, for instance, if "Avatar" didn't make the top five.
Q. In your review of "The Lovely Bones," you make some strange assertions. I think what you are describing is actually some kind of nirvana-like state. I would not fault you, except that you use the word "heaven," which is by and large a concept that belongs to Christianity (though this is doubtless because Christianity is so deeply tied to the development of the English language).
I cannot help but point out that in that idea of heaven, while it is true that the blessed are outside of time and space, this does not mean that they lack sensations or intellect, nor that they simply "are." Perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that, according to this schema, the state of blessed can only be grasped by the living in the final stages of contemplative prayer, and even then it cannot be perfectly expressed with language or imagery, which is perhaps what makes the film somewhat unsatisfactory.
I would also point out that while you may have some theologians on your side (perhaps of the Paul Tillich school), I again think that referring to the thoughts that such thinkers might have had concerning the hereafter as corresponding to the idea of "heaven" is a little misleading. Kevin Corbett, Perrysburg, Ohio
A. I'll let the professionals off the hook and take full responsibility for the theology in that review. It alarms me that one might remain with sensations and intellect forever. Forever. Without end. That, for me, would be a better definition of hell. I would prefer nirvana. Of course, I don't get to choose.
Q. You did not comment in your review of "The Book of Eli" on the relation of the villain's name, "Carnegie," and the character's quest for a book. Andrew Carnegie established almost half the libraries in the United States by the time of his death. Many of these libraries were in rural towns. Do you believe your readers are generally aware of the actual connection to the name used in the film and the character's quest? Do you consider a comment inappropriate, and, if so, why?
In contrast to the Carnegie character's looking to obtain a single book by force, Andrew Carnegie was giving away books by the millions. Andrew Carnegie wanted to spread knowledge, while the film's Carnegie character wants to control knowledge and the book. Joseph Jacobson, Dallas, TX
A. In fact, the Urbana Free Library, which had a big impact on my life, benefited from Andrew Carnegie. Not incidentally, he was also responsible for the most inspiring buildings in some of those towns. Yes, it's an irony that the Gary Oldman character has the same name. I hope he's not a descendant.
Q. In your review of "The Book of Eli," you say it takes the hero 30 years to walk across America, and then add, "I'm pretty sure it doesn't take that long." OK, I'll bite. How long does it take? Greg Larson, Chicago, IL
A. It's my theory that no human being has ever seen more of the Earth's surface at ground level with his own eyes than the great travel writer and novelist Paul Theroux. So naturally I put the question to him. He replies:
"Thanks for your interesting query. In my novel O-Zone , set in the future, a group of people walk from the Ozarks to NYC. No time specified. They witness desolation and abomination. Many stunt-travelers must have walked across the USA. One was the young (at the time) English woman Fyona Campbell, who claims she has walked around the world and has written three books about it. But after she walked across the USA, it was revealed that she had gotten pregnant en route and was given lifts for 1,000 of the miles.
"My take: A healthy person ought to be able to walk 15 to 25 miles a day. I did this when I walked a lot of the British coast in The Kingdom by the Sea. Say 19 miles/day as an average. Divide the distance from N.Y. to L.A. by 19, and add at least one day a week as a rest day. And make some allowance for the fact that it's not a straight line, and that the weather might not be perfect. That would be a pretty good figure."
Me again. So in other words, less than 30 years, but Eli has an alibi.
Q. In a recent Answer Man, you got into a discussion of what color Zuzu's petals were in "It's a Wonderful Life." Why don't you ask Zuzu? Karolyn Grimes, the actress who played her, now lives in Carnation, Wash. She travels the country and makes appearances at Christmas shows and always includes her most famous movie line in the autograph, "Every time a bell rings, another angel gets his wings." R.S. Lindsay
A. I did indeed ask Zuzu herself, and Karolyn Grimes replied: "I guess it is time to tell all. My rose was a burgundy color. Not a fancy rose at all, but to a little girl in the dead of winter, I guess it was very beautiful, especially if you won it. Wonder what I did to win that rose???
"The film is timeless -- it applies to yesterday, today and tomorrow. We can all identify with the fellow whose dreams never quite work out the way he envisioned for himself. But in the end, we reflect on our own lives and realize that we have touched others and truly made a difference. We also are reminded, once again, what really are the most important things in our lives: faith, family and friends.
"There is a needlepoint sampler on the wall of the Bailey Building and Loan, in George's office. When there is a run on the bank, before he goes out to address the people, he pauses a moment and looks at the portrait of his father, and under it is a needlepoint sampler that says, 'All you can take with you is that which you've given away.' Too bad our bankers of today can't learn something from that."
The first part in a four-part series on what film can teach us about the relationship between Israel and Palestine.
An obituary for the legendary James Garner, who has passed away at the age of 86.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
A report on the atmosphere at the 2014 Jerusalem Film Festival and its best film, "Maidan."