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Movie Answer Man (01/25/2004)

Q. In your review of the movie "Torque," you refer to the chase scenes as having "the same level of reality as a Road Runner chase." This is most likely true, and much of the reason I'll avoid this movie. But I have one nit to pick. Then you say "One of the bikes is built around a Rolls Royce jet engine," as if this is patently absurd. Well, however absurd it may be, it's also quite true. Just ask Jay Leno, he owns one. (David Smith, Scotts Valley, Calif.)

A. Wonder what kind of mileage he gets. According to Brian Ford of Kansas City, Mo., the chase must have been from one gas station to another: "The most recent episode of the TV show 'Monster Garage' featured a Toyota Celica that was transformed into a jet-propelled vehicle by adding, you guessed it, a Rolls Royce Viper MK22 jet engine. Now, the average car gets maybe 20 miles of driving for each gallon of fuel, right? Well, according to "Monster Garage," a jet engine on a Celica burns gallons and gallons of fuel for every mile it's driven."

Q. After reading your review of "Lost in Translation" and subsequent discussion about how we do not hear Bill Murray's final words to Scarlett Johansson, I was surprised to find that I could understand fairly easily what Murray whispered into her ear at the end. While I could not hear every word, it was obvious to me that he said something like "As soon as possible, call your husband and tell him you love him, OK?" The last six words I have no doubt about whatsoever. (Matthew Allen, Long Beach, Calif.)

A. I saw the film again, and closed my eyes and concentrated every aural nerve during that scene, and still could not hear a word. Apparently I am not alone. In an interview with writer-director Sofia Coppola in the new issue of Sight & Sound, she's asked, "Dare I ask what Bob whispers to Charlotte at the end?" And she replies: "Someone asked Bill, and he said, 'It's between lovers.' I love that answer."

Then she was asked if she had written lines for the scene, and said: "I wrote some stuff but I wasn't happy with it. There was dialogue but it was really sparse. Ultimately I liked it better that you don't hear it, that you can put in what you want them to say. You wish he'd say, 'I had a great time and you're great,' but instead he says, 'I left my jacket.' That's what people do."

Q. I don't disagree with you saying Charlize Theron's performance in "Monster" is one of cinema history's best; I haven't seen the film.

But your comment made me start thinking about how I tend to judge acting. A performance usually becomes better in retrospect after comparing it to the actor's other works. (Case in point: DiCaprio's Arnie in "Gilbert Grape" became all the more impressive when we discovered the actor really wasn't mentally retarded).

However, is this a fair way to judge acting? Is Theron's performance so good because is it such a stark contrast to herself and her other films, or because -- in and of itself -- it achieves something that few others have "in the history of cinema"? (Thomas Torrey, Bronxville, N.Y.)

A. In this case, I think it really is that good, because I had no idea who the actress was as I watched the film, and so had nothing to compare it to.

Q. Regarding your comment in the review of "Monster," the phrase "hate the sin and love the sinner" is not actually found in the Bible. Though it's a laudable notion, this phrase joins a company of popular sentiments often wrongly attributed to the Good Book (see also "cleanliness is next to godliness" and "God helps those who help themselves"). (Mark A. Plunkett, Bedford, Ind.)

A. But I didn't say it was in the Bible. I simply said "we are told." I learn from Jim Emerson of Seattle: "The sentiment is usually attributed to St. Augustine, who said, 'Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum,' or 'With love for mankind and hatred of sins.' It is often loosely translated as: 'Love the sinner and hate the sin,' a saying often incorrectly attributed to Jesus."

Q. Why do you usually sit in the back of a movie theater? Once, while sitting, as is my wont, in the first row, I heard Susan Sontag, just behind me, expounding her theory that the people who sit in the first two rows are different from other moviegoers. We like to be immersed in the film, to let ourselves float up and into the screen, as it were, and let the story unfold around us. As your reviews demonstrate, you have front-row sensitivity. Why do you sit in the back? (Brian M. Schwartz, New York City)

A. Because it's too damned close to the screen. You can immerse yourself in the movie without immersing yourself in the picture. Some front rows are so close the film is actually distorted. My Chicago colleagues Michael Wilmington, Jonathan Rosenbaum and Peter Sobcinski disagree, and sit in the Sontag seats, but in a theater, I sit twice as far back as the screen is wide, because of a theory that optically that's the correct distance.

Q. We loved "Peter Pan," though I was reluctant to go until I read your review. I assumed that Peter Pan was a movie aimed at and for children. There were kids at the movie, but I think maybe the adults liked it more. My question: What exactly is a "children's movie"? (J. David Van Dyke, Buchanan, Mich.)

A. A children's movie is a movie at which adults are bored. A grown-up movie is a movie at which children are bored. A family movie is a movie at which, if it's good, nobody is bored. "Peter Pan" falls in the last category. I was surprised it didn't do better at the box office.

Q. I recently went to a the Hollywood Boulevard theater in Woodridge, Ill., to see "Lord of the Rings." Once we paid and got inside we realized it was a theater/restaurant.

After we sat down, my date and myself found menus where it said we must purchase at least one item on the menu. The movie hadn't started yet, and thoroughly angered, I went to the ticket counter and asked for a refund of the tickets. They said no, and I explained I didn't want food. I didn't get my money back, but instead got some worthless coupon.

I have been to other theaters before where they give back money if the movie hadn't started yet. Do you think a theater should give a refund if the film hasn't started? Or better yet, shouldn't they have let us stay without purchasing food? I already paid for the movie. (Pete Ficarello, Willowbrook, Ill.)

A. Well, they charge less for a ticket than a regular first-run house, and they do advertise they're a restaurant-theater, so I guess they have the same expectation of any restaurant that if you sit down you will order something. But, yes, under the circumstances they should have refunded your money.

Q. Just read your review of "Love Actually," and had some problem with the logic of these sentences: "No good movie is too long. No bad movie is short enough." Yet you say "Love Actually" is good, but it is too long.

If we use the rules of logic, you are asserting: 1.(Movie is Good) implies (Movie is not too long).

2) The Rule of Contrapositives states that if A implies B, NOT B implies NOT A. That is, NOT (Movie is not too long) implies NOT (Movie is good).

3) The rule of double negatives rewords the above as (Movie is too long) implies (Movie is not good).

4) You are therefore saying the movie is not good. (Mike Spearns, St. John's, Newfoundland)

A. Actually, I am suggesting that:

1. Although no good movie is too long ...

2. ... some good movies would be better movies if they were shorter.

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