Maps to the Stars
David Cronenberg's film of Bruce Wagner's Hollywood satire-nightmare turns ludicrous situations into operatic tragedy.
Q. I read your Great Movie review of "Magnolia" and asked myself why the film was titled like that and thought of all the different characters, all beautiful blossoms, alone, but connected at the root of one great magnolia. I see "Magnolia" as a story about redemption. The film so closely observes its sinners, and we suffer as we watch them trapped in their self-made cages of misery. But all along, a change is coming; from the very outset, something is in the air. The religious allegory here is about receiving a second chance. Shawn Inlow, Osceola Mills, Pa.
A. That's certainly one meaning. The IMDb user "swlf63" adds on a message board: (1) Magnolia Blvd. is a street in the San Fernando Valley where the film takes place. Some of the characters in the film, I believe, drive down this street; (2) Magnolia "sounds similar to "Magonia," a term created by Charles Fort (who wrote about strange phenomena and is referenced in the film's closing credits), which is an alleged place in the sky where things are kept until they fall from it, which might explain the rain of frogs; (3) Magnolia is an eight-letter word with two "a's" being the second and eighth letters. This is an odd coincidence, which relates back to the numbers 8 and 2 featured frequently in the film as a reference to Exodus 8:2: "If you do not let them go, I will send a plague of frogs."
Q. At the age of 12, I was livid while reading your trashing of my favorite blockbusters. I've outgrown those days. I read your review of "Fanboys," and for the first time was struck hard enough to comment: Absolutely spot on! What struck me was the insightful glance at the current trend in our culture toward group-think. It's everywhere -- music, television, fashion, business.
The arts scare me the most. Too much energy is being wasted on fruitless endeavors and trivia. A quick glance at one of innumerable fan message boards will reveal the emotion and time invested in fandom. In the search to be different, the fans become the same -- a tired cliche taking pride in their uselessness. "Get a life," indeed! I congratulate you on the tone of your review. I can only hope that someone hates it enough to start listening to what you have to say! Daniel Bauer, Ontario, Canada
A. Fanboys were intensely unhappy with that review and have let me have it. To what I've said already, I'll add: It's fine to have fun as a fan, but to define yourself as a fanboy -- to offer that as the reply to "what are you?" -- is sad.
Q. The discussion continues about why Jack Nicholson didn't attend the Oscars this year. Jack might have skipped because Heath Ledger was nominated for a role they both played, the Joker, in "The Dark Knight." Jack's presence would have prompted questions from every journalist seeking quotes about how he compared his performance in the 1989 Tim Burton film to Ledger's. And the cameras would be on him as the award was announced, looking for his reaction. I think he would have wanted to avoid that, for personal reasons and to keep the focus on Ledger, as it should have been. Harry Thomas, San Antonio Express-News
A. This makes perfect sense to me.
Q. I was anticipating "Wendy and Lucy" for months. It didn't disappoint; I got to look at Michelle Williams for 90 minutes, which was the basis of my anticipation in the first place, but ironically, don't you think that despite her marvelous performance, she was too good-looking for the part? The attempt to take the shine off of her was doomed to failure and the number of male volunteers to halt her floundering would have filled Soldier Field. Perhaps the point was to emphasize the character's relentless self-reliance, but we all have a breaking point. Joel Ostrow, Deerfield
A. Two opinions: (1) Most movie stars are too good-looking for their roles. (2) A homeless, penniless, clueless woman far from home represents an opportunity to help, not an opportunity to date. A "male volunteer" thinking of anything else should be ashamed of himself.
Q. After reading your "Watchmen" review, there's a vital piece of information I feel you left out: Have you read the graphic novel? When it comes to reviews for movies that appeal to both the geek masses and the mainstream, knowing the reviewer's familiarity with the source material can be helpful to both camps.
For instance, when the "Lord of the Rings" movies were released, I preferred reading reviews from critics who had not read the books (and thus entered the theater with the same knowledge that I would). Of all other reviews of "Watchmen" I've read, there's a common bond: Those who had read the novel previously could follow along. Those who hadn't found themselves at a loss to explain what was going on. Erik Dresner, Elmhurst, N.Y.
A. I have not read the novel. I have been told I must in maybe a third of the almost 500 "Watchmen" comments on my blog. Over and over again, I have been told. I purchased the book but have decided not to say if I've read it, because, frankly, it has been scrutinized in such minute detail by its admirers that I fear becoming mired in a quicksand of debate. A film critic of course is writing for readers who must not be presumed to have read the book.
Q. It's my understanding that the Ozymandias character in "Watchmen," whose "real" name is Adrian Veidt, was named after Conrad Veidt, though I can't find any source on this. I also seem to recall Rorschach, who is named Walter Kovacs, was named for Ernie Kovacs. Any truth to these rumors? Chris Swanson, Phoenix
A. I can't find any evidence that author Alan Moore named him after Conrad Veidt. Still, he must have known about the actor, famous as Major Strasser in "Casablanca." The actor changed his surname Weidt to Veidt to make it easier for non-Germans to pronounce. (A Hollywood sales pitch helped: "Women fight for Conrad Veidt!") And there's a certain facial similarity between the actor and Matthew Goode, who plays Ozymandias.
A more direct superhero connection is between Batman's enemy the Joker and Veidt's performance in the silent classic "The Man Who Laughs." Legend has it that Batman creator Bob Kane was inspired by Veidt's makeup in that film (which is in my Great Movies collection). As for Ernie Kovacs? Can't find proof.
Q. The Vulture blog at New York mag surveys the "Watchmen" critics who mention the size of Dr. Manhattan's you know what. You called it "discreet." Are you trying to send a message? Ronny Barzell, Los Angeles
A. Not the one you got. I was referring to the way it blends perfectly with his blue color scheme. I don't know what Peter Travers of Rolling Stone was smoking when he wrote of Manhattan "flashing a few yards of giant blue wiener." Zack Snyder, director of the film, likens it to a "bell clacker." My own opinion? Manhattan has ceased to exist as flesh and blood, and has reconstituted himself as quantum energy. He controls every detail of his appearance, and manifests himself as a blue giant. How many men could resist the opportunity to do a little tweaking?
Captain's log: eight fifth graders, one adult, one James Cameron movie.
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