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Office Christmas Party

Another reminder that allowing your cast to madly improvise instead of actually providing a coherent script with a scintilla of inherent logic often leads to…

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Harry Benson: Shoot First

The filmmakers are themselves too celebrity besotted to comment in a meaningful way on how Benson’s career balanced depictions of the rich and famous with…

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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Movie Answer Man (01/13/2002)

Q. Sometimes I'll take a look at the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com) to see how people are reacting to a recent release. To my disbelief, people have rated "Lord of the Rings" the best movie of all time on IMDb's Top 250 list! I thought it was a good action/fantasy adventure but I wouldn't have even included it in my personal Top 100 list. After speaking with many people, I realize that most of those who consider it the best film are also fans of the books. I noticed the same reaction for "Harry Potter:" If the book is great, the movie must be great. Is it possible that movies in the future will simply be visualizations of a book? Will books in the future simply be "test script runs?" Will people rate movies based on how close the visuals and characters look and act like people think they are supposed to? I'm scared. (Bruce M. Arnold, University of Arizona, Tucson, Ariz.)

A. Take it from me: "Lord of the Rings" isn't the best movie of all time. What's reflected is extreme enthusiasm by a lot of fans, who gave it a "10" on the IMDb poll although many of them, individually, might not rate it the best of all films.

Q. I saw "Lord of the Rings" this holiday season with my family and enjoyed it so much, I saw it again a few days later in Seattle with some friends. However, during the second showing, I noticed that subtitles appeared when the characters were speaking elfish. The first time I saw it, there were no subtitles and I remembered wondering what the heck they were saying. Do you know why there's a discrepancy? (Steve Lazo, Redondo Beach, Calif.)

A. A New Line rep replies: "All prints of the movie are the same and there were subtitles on all prints." Assuming you were not hallucinating, the only explanation is that the film at the earlier screening was so badly framed that the subtitles were cut off.

Q. In your review of "Kate & Leopold" you mention that Leopold is Stuart's great-great grandfather, but I couldn't recall any mention of that in the movie. Then I heard a rumor that the movie was moved from its Dec. 21 release date to Dec. 25 to allow for last-minute editing to remove a suggestion of incest. I heard this was due to some reviews that were critical of this. Is this true? How you feel about studios making changes to satisfy reviewers? (Justin Hamaker, Paradise, Calif.)

A. Richard Roeper pointed out that Kate's relationship with Stuart was incestuous, since she was apparently his great-great grandmother. Director James Mangold decided to edit out the relevant references. I doubt he did this to "satisfy reviewers," but to head off an unintended controversy.

Q. I watched "Hannibal" on DVD last night, and when Clarice was searching the FBI's most wanted list, Osama bin Laden's name and photo were prominent above those of Hannibal Lector. Was this a case of extreme divination on the part of the filmmaker? Or was this added for the DVD release? (N. Nelson, Metaoroe, La.)

A. Osama bin Laden would have been at the top of the real list at that time.

Q. Re your item about the line in David Mamet's "Heist," "Everybody needs money! That's why they call it money!" I was wondering myself what was so funny about the line. You quoted Louis Armstrong but you didn't give us an answer as to why YOU thought it was so funny because, I guess, some of us are probably too dense to "get it." Could you please enlighten us anyway on why you think it's so funny? To me, the word has no meaning beyond its literal meaning. (Binh Ha, Waterloo, Ontario)

A. Of course it has no meaning beyond its literal meaning! That's why it's so funny! This is the question that will not go away. Juan-Jose Pichardo of Chicago also writes: "No, really, explain Mamet's money joke." I cannot explain it. I can only laugh at it, and quote Gene Siskel, who liked to say, "Two things are not debatable: eroticism, and comedy. If you don't think it's sexy, or funny, there's no way I can change your mind."

Q. Regarding Robert Altman's "Gosford Park," I note that Ivor Novello really did play the title character in both the 1932 version of "The Lodger" and the 1926 Hitchcock original, and really was a talented musician and composer. But was the 1932 "The Lodger" really a flop or was the Maggie Smith character just being catty? (Chuck Huber, Goleta, Calif.)

A. It was very badly received, not least because Novello's voice was not suited to sound pictures.

Q. I noticed that three of your top 10 films of 2001 are not being released nationally, nor in your city of Chicago, until 2002. Since the only reason they were screened in one or two cities in 2001 was for the Oscars, and since the vast majority of moviegoers will not view them until 2002, isn't it inaccurate to pretend along with the Academy that they are 2001 releases? Is being in synch with the silly Academy Awards more important than being in synch with the moviegoing public and reality? (Robert Mason, Cleveland)

A. These films are around right now, and very much in play. Many will win Oscars. Why should I wait a year to name them to a best 10 list? Wouldn't you rather read about upcoming titles you can look forward to, than read about films that are 50 weeks old?

Q. Even though his hairline is receding, Kevin Spacey still has a perfectly fine head of hair. Why is it, then, that in "The Shipping News" he wears an obvious and distracting toupee? His character, Quoyle, does not strike me as the type of person who would be concerned about his hair in this manner. Since Mr. Spacey doesn't wear a hairpiece in his interviews to promote the movie, why would he wear a hairpiece in the movie itself? (Larry MacInnis, Markham, Ontario)

A. The movie doesn't intend to suggest Quoyle is wearing a hairpiece. It intends to suggest that's his hair. I didn't find it obvious or distracting. Of course, since you know that isn't Spacey's real hair, you have to give him a break. I knew it wasn't Billy Bob Thornton's real hair in "The Man Who Wasn't There," but so what?

Q. You (and many others) have cited Liam Neeson as the narrator for this IMAX presentation. I saw the film a few weeks ago and am certain Kevin Spacey provided the narration (it sounded like him and I saw his name in the credits). Is it possible there are two versions of this movie? (Michael Modisett, Portsmouth, R.I.)

A. There are two versions with similar but not identical material. Liam Neeson narrated the theatrical release, titled "The Endurance," and Kevin Spacey narrated the IMAX release, titled "Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure."

Q. I've seen "Ocean's Eleven" twice now. On both occasions Don Cheadle was omitted in the credits. Any idea why the oversight? (Mike Tucker, Tampa, Fla.)

A. No oversight. It's a reverse-prestige thing. Kevin Kline is not credited in the upcoming "Orange County," and of course Bill Murray loves to appear incognito.

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