Filmmaker Mike Leigh's biography of the landscape painter J.M.W. Turner is what critics call "austere"—which means it's slow and grim and deliberately hard to love—yet…
Q. A blogger named Brian at takes issue with your remarks about Paul Greengrass' long takes in "The Bourne Ultimatum," writing: "I don't recall a single take in this movie that was more than about three seconds long. Either Greengrass really does a spectacular job of not 'calling attention' to those long takes, or Ebert saw a different movie. But it's very strange, no matter what." (From goneelsewhere.wordpress.com:) Who's right?
Greg Nelson, Chicago
A. This inspired some introspection. I didn't write about long takes in my notes during the movie, but while writing the review, they formed in my memory. If Brian is right, perhaps what happened was that sustained stretches of breakneck action, as assembled by editor Christopher Rouse, played like unbroken takes in their effect, especially since so much of the movie follows the action with a Steadicam or hand-held camera. Rouse tells me there are lots of shots more than three seconds long, and the film's first assistant editor, Robert Malina, writes me: "We have long shots! In Reel 2, we have a 20-second Steadicam shot going through the halls of SRD, following the characters Vosen and Wills (David Strathairn and Corey Johnson)."
Q. Is the movie critic for the Washington Post embarrassed that he was the only critic of the "cream of the crop" on Rotten Tomatoes who gave "The Bourne Ultimatum" a negative rating? He's got to be questioning himself.
Carey Ford, Corsicana, Texas
A. I think it’s a badge of honor for Stephen Hunter. When only one review disagrees, read it. I did, and understand his point, even if I disagree. I asked Hunter himself, who replied: “I'm far too shallow to have doubts.”
Q. You gave "The Bourne Ultimatum" 3.5 stars. How much did the studio pay you for that? Not enough to compensate for your lost credibility. I'll never read you again.
Milt Heft, Colorado Springs, Colo.
A. See above letter. There is now only one major critic in the country you can read.
Q. In your review of "The Simpsons Movie," you noted that Time magazine named "The Simpsons" the best TV show of the 20th century. You sniped that their opinion said more about the magazine and the 20th century than it does about "The Simpsons." That was a condescending remark. "The Simpsons" has been one of the smartest, if not THE smartest written show, for almost two decades. You've claimed in the past that you were a better person because you didn't watch TV when you were younger. But there are plenty of people out there who are just as intelligent and cultured as you who do watch television, including shows like "The Simpsons."
Leo Flores, Chicago
A. Hey, I watched television when I was younger. I do now. That's why I know there were better TV shows. Ever heard of "Omnibus," "I Love Lucy," "Sesame Street," "Ed Sullivan," "Jack Benny," "60 Minutes," "Fawlty Towers," "The Honeymooners," "Saturday Night Live," "Captain Kangaroo," or Carol Burnett's or Tracey Ullman's shows?
Q. Even though I am a huge movie fan, I am embarrassed to say that I have yet to see an Ingmar Bergman film. I know "The Seventh Seal" is a must. Can you suggest any other titles I should watch in honor of him?
Bin Lee, Torrance, Calif.
A. If you admire "The Seventh Seal," you might also like "The Virgin Spring" and "Wild Strawberries." For a heartbreaking combination of horror, death, fear and love, there is "Cries and Whispers." In a poll by Sight & Sound of the world's film directors and critics, "Fanny and Alexander" was voted the third best film of the last quarter of the 20th century (after "Apocalypse Now" and "Raging Bull").
Q. People are trying to change your mind about video games the wrong way. I've designed a simple text-based adventure game that, while I won't claim is great art, should hint at the medium's potential. You are stranded on a desert island with your best friend. As the days go by, you and your friend die slowly of starvation and dehydration. One day, out of desperation, you develop a plan to strangle him and eat the meat from his bones. Your choices are: (a) Go through with the plan, or (b) Starve together. I don't think either outcome is less meaningful just because there are two of them.
Gilbert Smith, Winter Haven, Fla.
A. Neither do I.
Q. So biographer Jon Spence has discovered a boyfriend for Jane Austen ("Becoming Jane"). I remember when the scholars found first a boyfriend, and then a girlfriend, for Emily Dickinson. Our society just can't accept the notion of a woman without a sex life, no matter how otherwise extraordinary she may be.
Mary Shen Barnidge, Chicago
A. The experts seem agreed that neither Austen nor Dickinson had actual sexual intercourse. At least Dickinson heard a fly buzz when she died. You have to hand her that.
Q. There was a question posted in the last Answer Man column complaining that there are no new interesting American directors. I would like to counter that. Craig Brewer, Richard Kelly, Rian Johnson, Edgar Wright (admittedly British) and Zack Snyder have all come out recently with creative and unique voices. True, not everyone likes their movies, but as you are fond of saying, good movies aren't for everybody, only mediocre movies are. Besides, it seems inaccurate to call the so-called Mexican New Wave "new," as all three of those filmmakers have been making great films since the mid-'90s.
Bryce Wilson, Northridge, Calif.
A. Once in a New Wave, always a New Waver. Godard, Resnais, Chabrol, Herzog, Wenders, they're all still surfing. New American candidates: David Gordon Green, Joey Lauren Adams, Miranda July, Sofia Coppola, Ramin Bahrani, Shane Carruth, Hilary Birmingham, Hadjii, Michael Gilio, Judd Apatow, M. Night Shyamalan, Eric Byler, Jill Sprecher, Ramin Serry, Kerry Conran -- but stop me now, because when you start making lists, no one cares, except the people you forgot to include.
Q. In your response to the question about promising new directors, you answered, "Do we have to stick with Americans? There is a New Mexican Cinema." Perhaps you have forgotten, but Mexicans are Americans. Of course, I realize that the battle against identifying the United States with "America" is already lost, but in the war between the gods and the giants, the giants may win, but I fight for the gods.
Bart Odom, McKinney, Texas
A. Another famous son of McKinney, Haystacks Calhoun, fought for the money. Thanks for the tip about my xenophobia! Of course, Canadians are also Americans. I plan to attend the Toronto Film Festival this year, and meet such leading American directors as Norman Jewison, Denys Arcand, Atom Egoyan, Deepa Mehta, Paul Haggis, Arthur Hiller, David Cronenberg, Guy Maddin, Ted Kotcheff, Patricia Rozema, Alison Maclean, Sturla Gunnarsson, Sarah Polley, and Ivan and Jason Reitman. I'm betting the first one to punch me is Gunnarsson. He was born on the offshore American island of Iceland, and you know how they are.
Laura Hunt, Chicago
A. Rosario Dawson wins. In my review of Ethan Hawke’s “Chelsea Walls” (2002), where Dawson plays a poet named Audrey, I wrote, long before Davis, “I do not know how good Audrey’s poems are because Dawson reads them in a closeup – just her face filling the screen – and I could not focus on the words. I have seen a lot of closeups in my life, but never one so simply, guilelessly, erotic. Have more beautiful lips ever been photographed?”
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
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