Maps to the Stars
David Cronenberg's film of Bruce Wagner's Hollywood satire-nightmare turns ludicrous situations into operatic tragedy.
Q. Your review of "Bringing Down the House" confused me somewhat. You were troubled that the movie didn't pair off the characters in the end as any other movie would have. Usually, you complain about the formulaic endings of movies. (Christopher Dodd, Champaign IL)
A. Lots of people pointed out that contradiction. My dislike of formulas is trumped by the mutual attraction between Steve Martin and Queen Latifah, which seemed like a force of nature in "Bringing Down the House," so that the film's unconvincing U-turn at the end felt wrong.
Q. In your review of the brilliant (though shocking and disturbing) French film, "Irreversible," you wrote that La Tenia is "discovered and beaten brutally." That's actually not the case. The man savagely beaten to death, although believed to be La Tenia, is someone else. He seemed to be either La Tenia's friend or his bodyguard. In essence, the wrong man was punished. Marcus and Pierre never actually get their revenge. I actually had to see the movie twice before I realized it, but it's true. This actually makes the movie even MORE depressing and disturbing. (Joey Di Girolamo, Miami FL)
A. I wrongly identified the beating victim, as several readers wrote me. My excuse: At the time La Tenia is being sought, we have not seen the rape and do not know what the rapist looks like. Nor do we get a clear view of the man actually being beaten. As Darren Fernandi of Brampton, Ont., observed, "half the people I saw it with made this same mistake." When I did see La Tenia (in the backwards chronology of the film) I did not realize he was not the man beaten in the earlier scene. That they beat the wrong man is indeed even more depressing, although one could argue that all of the movie's violence is equally wrong--the revenge turning "ordinary" men into creatures as violent as the rapist. I will correct the review online. But please, no messages about whether I ever change a review online. Of course I do, to correct mistakes above all. It is intended as a current resource, not a historical record.
Q. In an interview with Salon.com, "Irreversible" director Gaspar Noe mentioned that the scene in the gay nightclub included a sound track that consisted of "27 Hz of infrasound--a low frequency sound which the police use to quell riots." Did you notice such an effect when you watched that segment? What are your thoughts on the practicality of putting such a difficult sound in the movie? (Gautham Thomas, Berkeley CA)
A. Noe told Salon's Jean Tang: "...we added 27 Hz of infrasound...You can't hear it, but it makes you shake. In a good theater with a subwoofer, you may be more scared by the sound than by what's happening on the screen. A lot of people can take the images but not the sound. Those reactions are physical."
Q. In your review of "Shanghai Knights," you say "The whole point is that [Jackie Chan] does his own stunts, and the audience knows it." I'm curious what you think of Chan's recent admission that this is no longer true--he does use a stuntman for stunts that he does not feel safe doing. (Geoffrey Romer, Claremont CA)
A. We may be up against an urban legend. The authoritative web site jackiechankids.com says that Chan has never done all of his own stunts, and never claimed that he did, although he sometimes just smiled when others made that statement. Why doesn't he do his own stunts? The reply: "He'd be stupid to do all the stunts in all his movies. And as Jackie has said many times, 'I may be crazy but I'm not stupid.' Jackie began his career in the movies as a stuntman and did many dangerous things that no one else would do because he was trying to make a name for himself. After he established himself as a well-regarded stuntman, he no longer had to do it all to prove anything to anyone. So he began to do as much as he wanted to do. In the old days, that meant nearly all the stunts...As he got older, he began to use stunt doubles for several reasons. The studios...sometimes insisted that he use stunt doubles so that their star wouldn't be put in any danger. He also began to be more careful about his own body. Doctors warned him about doing things that might cause permanent damage."
Q. I just got back from seeing "Willard" and also came to the conclusion, before reading your review, that the creature who played Ben was not a rat. But what was he? (David Mitchell, Franklin MA)
A. Peter Debruge, the well-informed assistant editor of AOL Movies, writes me: "Ben is played in the new version of 'Willard' by an African Gambian rat, the world's largest type of rat. That said, I haven't seen 'Ben,' the sequel to the original' Willard.' where he may have been played by another type of animal (or by poodles in rat costumes, as 'Willard' rat wrangler Boone Narr used in the movie 'Rats')."
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