Trashy, goofy, and surprisingly sincere, this superhero fantasy is better than you expect but not as good as it should be.
Q. Since the Oscar nominations for best animated feature were revealed, I've read that people are shocked that "Waking Life" wasn't recognized. Has everyone forgotten "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within?" The process took four years to complete, and it's the most ground-breaking animation of the lot. (Tim Friel, Aston Pa)
A. "Monsters, Inc." and "Shrek" deserved their nominations. I admired "Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius," but for it to be nominated instead of either "Waking Life" or "Final Fantasy" devalues the award by revealing the voters as uninformed.
Q. A recent Answer Man item asked about the origin of the Slow Clap. Like so many other movie conventions, I believe this came out of "Citizen Kane," where Kane attempts to revive the applause for his wife's pitiful opera performance. In that scene, he begins clapping slowly and then with more fervor as he realizes that he is the only one doing so. (Michael Richard, Pittsburgh PA)
A. That's the earliest movie slow clap I can recall. As Steve Bailey of Jacksonville, FL points out, Kane clapping after everyone else reverses the modern practice of leading the applause.
Q. Winona Ryder is my favorite actress, and I was saddened to hear of her recent arrest. My question is, do you think that the arrest will have any negative effect on her future in film? (Jeff Folken, Gladstone MO)
A. The outcome of her trial will not affect her ability to win good roles, if producers are confident she can deliver. She is a long way from the top of the list of Hollywood's employable bad boys and girls.
Q. Why has no reviewer pointed out that the idea of giving up sex for Lent, the basic premise of "40 Days And 40 Nights" is akin to a Jew giving up pork only for a Jewish holy period? Don't religions that celebrate Lent also frown on sex outside marriage? Did I miss a recent papal decree? (John McCauley, Arlington VA)
A. Here is the review by the U.S. Catholic Bishop's Office for Film and Broadcasting: "Crude romantic comedy about a young bachelor (Josh Hartnett) who swears off sex for Lent after his girlfriend (Vinessa Shaw) breaks up with him, but complications ensue as soon as he meets the girl of his dreams. Snickering at the Catholic Church's teaching on pre-marital sex, director Michael Lehmann's one-joke film exploits the holy season of Lent as a cynical pretext for abstinence. Misuse of the sacrament of penance, sexual encounters, recurring nudity, intermittent rough language, crass sexual expressions and profanity. Rating: O--morally offensive."
Q. This year is a special one for us Indians as "Lagaan" has been nominated in the Best Foreign Film Category of the Academy Awards. Indians all over the world are ecstatic as a result. Though Indians have loved the film, I wonder how American audience and critics will react. (Yousuf Hussain, Farmington Hills MI)
A. Bollywood--the Bombay Hollywood--is the world's largest producer of films, but has never cracked the U.S. market. "Lagaan," a film about how a cricket match helps settle a potentially bloody dispute over land and taxes, has been a worldwide hit, and is setting box office records in its U.S. engagements in theaters aimed at Indian moviegoers. Now it's been picked up by Sony Classics for American distribution. How will it go over? At the recent Floating Film Festival, conducted by Toronto Film Festival co-founder Dusty Cohl, it was the first film to ever win first prize both from the audience members and the critics' panel.
Q. In your "Queen of the Damned" review you write of the vampires: "They burst into flame, curl up into charred shadows of themselves, and float upward just like the wrapper from an Amaretti di Saronno cookie." This sounds like a phenomenon that I've been trying to track down since I saw it in an old British movie: Partygoers placed their paper party hats on plates, lit them, and their ashes rose to the ceiling on the column of hot air. I've tried badgering every Brit I run across, but nothing. I've discovered that in the 1920s the S. S. Adams Co. (of Joy Buzzer fame) manufactured what they called "Table Balloons" that performed the same feat. What shape/size/type of paper is required? What technique of lighting (if any) is necessary? I've ordered a box of Amaretti cookies, and experiments will commence. Is there a trick to lighting the wrappers? (Ben Truwe, Medford OR)
A. Yes. Roll the wrapper into a tube and light the bottom.
Q. Jeez, you really make us work! In a recent Answer Man, someone asked you to explain the Laurel & Hardy joke about a magnet being something that likes cheese. Your response was, "Everyone likes magnets. That's why they call them magnets." WHAT were you referring to? I searched through recent AMs until I found debate on the David Mamet line from "Heist" about how everybody needs money: "That's why they call it money." I laughed then, and laughed again today. (Paul J. Marasa, Galesburg IL)
A. As many readers pointed out, including David E. Miller of Las Vegas, Howard Hoffman of Sterling, Va, and Edward Sullivan of San Francisco, Laurel and Hardy were making a play on "magnets" and "maggots." Readers who don't think Mamet's line about money is funny continue to write me. I encourage them to write one another.
Q. Chuck Jones, the legendary creator of Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, and director of the best Bugs Bunny cartoons and other Warner Brothers classics, died on Feb. 22. I was looking for your tribute, but nary a peep--or a beep! beep! (Susan Lake, Urbana IL)
A. I have an excellent excuse: I was under full anesthetic on Feb. 22. The news of Chuck Jones' death brought back happy memories of this warm man who gave such pleasure. I first met Chuck and his wife, Marian, as regulars at the Telluride Film Festival, where they were so beloved the festival's new Chuck Jones Cinema was dedicated to him. On Telluride's 25th anniversary crossing aboard the QE2, Chuck was an endlessly entertaining table companion, and his Q&A sessions delighted the passengers. His memories of life at the Warners cartoon factory resembles a cartoon, with the hated boss Leon Schlesinger playing the role of Elmer Fudd ("Leon never did figure out," Chuck chuckled, "that his voice inspired the way Elmer spoke"). Unlike pro athletes who charge for their autographs, Chuck was delighted to do a quick sketch of Bugs or other characters for his fans. To know him was to know why the Tunes were Looney.
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