The Big Sick
Finds that laughter-through-tears sweet spot, often in the unlikeliest of places.
Q. Did you really need to pick on Rob Schneider in your review of "Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo"? RottenTomatoes.com shows that he scores a 10 out of 100 on the TomatoMeter, which is even lower than Steven Seagal. Why not just say that the movie sucked, as opposed to saying HIS movie sucked?
Willy Yu, Los Angeles
A. You say he's lower than Steven Seagal, yet you think I picked on him?
Q. Re "Deuce Bigalow": You guys always seem puzzled how stuff like that gets made. Ya' know, there's a huge audience for this crap in America. That's why it keeps getting made. And yes, I'll admit that even these crap movies can have their funny moments. I live in Indianapolis and I know there's a bunch of Deuce Bigalow fans in this town. They're beer-guzzlin', dope-smokin', truck-drivin', pit-bull-ownin', head-shavin', ball-cap-wearin', crime-committin', jackass psychopaths whose parents (if there were any) didn't want to bother with the job of teaching and controlling them. Garbage in, garbage out, so the parents are probably just like their offspring. The United States is rife with them. It's ugly and it's increasingly one of the causes for the ruination of a once civilized, safe nation.
Tom McCullough, Indianapolis
A. Indianapolis also harbors many heroic, civilized and cultured citizens, as befits the home office of Steak n Shake.
Q. In a recent column you printed a letter suggesting that "The Aristocrats" was a hoax by Penn Jillette, who made up the joke and claimed it was a tradition among comedians. I heard the story over 50 years ago. At that time the punch line was "The Sophisticates!"
Richard Washburn, Cliffside Park, N.J.
A. Case closed. In my review of the film, I said Buddy Hackett could have told the joke better than anyone else, and wondered why he wasn't used. I received this reply from Penn Jillette, who made the film with Paul Provenza:
"I called Buddy and explained the project to him. He loved the idea and he got it. He told me a few versions of the joke and talked about how much it meant to him. Man, Buddy was perfect for our movie. I asked him and he said he'd love to but 'I'm old and sick.' It was as simple as that. He cheered us on, but he just wasn't up for being on camera. The 'old and sick' might have been a lie, but man, if you're willing to back up your lie by dying, well, I'm going to believe you. I called Rodney [Dangerfield] right after that and had just about the same phone call. They both should have been in the movie.
"Many people who aren't in the movie were very supportive. It was Johnny Carson's favorite joke and he loved our idea, but was no-kidding, no-Sinatra, retired. We were setting up a time to go to Malibu and show it to him; the day after our first screening at Sundance, we got a phone call from Amazing Randi saying Johnny had died. So much for our comedy high.
"The project is not over. We used only comics that we knew personally for this go-around, but many more have loved the movie and want to be part of the project, so we will keep shooting people for posterity."
Q. I, like you, loved "Murderball." It moved me almost to tears, yet we saw it in an almost-empty theater on opening day. Why do you think it hasn't caught on? I think the title is a problem, but I couldn't think of a better name for it.
Bill Payne, Las Vegas
A. David Alan Shapiro, "Murderball's" co-director, tells me: "It is indeed odd, as I reckon we're one of the best-reviewed films of the year, if not the decade. The press has been so kind, and as mainstream as it gets. Maybe people just don't like wheelchairs. Maybe we alienated our base by trying to gloss it up and go mainstream: big theaters, no festival laurels, no 'documentary.' Maybe the title paired with Zupan's goateed mug scare off half the audience. For better or worse, people are hearing 'sports film.' Maybe the sportos don't want to see a wheelchair doc, and the doc-heads don't want to see a sports flick. Maybe everybody thinks it's one of those cue-the-violins 'inspirational' weepies. Who knows?"
Q. I was appalled at the pure venom in your review of "Dukes of Hazzard." As a movie critic, I know you have every right to blast a movie, but I am shocked at the personal character attack on Jessica Simpson. No, she may never win a Nobel Prize, but that is hardly a reason to so viciously attack her in print. Blast her performance, costumes, script, whatever, but I found it mean-spirited to be so cruel in regards to Ms. Simpson's personality and intelligence. Yes, she should watch the news more, but a movie review is hardly the place to point it out.
Jenna Scott, Bowling Green, Ky.
A. You're right. I was unkind, and it was uncalled-for. I was startled that Simpson didn't know who Lance Armstrong was, but then again I'd never seen "Dukes of Hazzard" on TV. We live and learn. I made some reckless comments about her I.Q. and the school system of her birthplace, Abilene, Texas, and got a lot of messages like these:
Alan Grady, Raleigh, N.C.
John Neese, Abilene, Texas
OK, this is Ebert again: If we are, as you say, "we, the liberal elite," then why shouldn't conservatives call us elitist? Conservatives can be elitist, too. In fact, it is something we should all strive for, don't you think? Any reader of my reviews knows I love popular culture. I also love putting my tongue in my cheek, which is where it was parked when I wrote about being so smart and cheerful. Have we, the liberal elite, entirely lost our sense of humor?