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The Magnificent Seven

Rarely have so many charismatic actors been used in a film that feels quite as soulless as Antoine Fuqua’s update of The Magnificent Seven.

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The Age of Shadows

At 140 minutes, Kim sometimes loses the rhythm of his spy thriller, but he's such a confident filmmaker—and his leading man such a magnetic presence—that…

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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 (05/07/2000)

Q. A cell phone story. While I was watching "Frequency," a lady one row back took a call and conducted a conversation--unnerving, evoking comments all around her--but at least it was during a light-hearted scene in the movie. Still, "cinema rage" must have coiled up inside me. And it struck during the double showdown. I was confused enough by the plot. Then came another electronic warble. Immediately all my unspoken protests from the first incident spring to the surface: The lady does NOT have her phone on vibrate. She's NOT by an aisle seat, so she CAN'T duck out of the room quickly. She's NOT switching the phone off, but engaging in conversation. This resultyed in me saying, "Hang up!" And, about three seconds later, louder, "Hang it UP!" I didn't hear any more out of her, but I had residual adrenalin pumping through my body, and for about the next two minutes, and could not concentrate. So at the climax of the movie, someone's phone went off and, I guess, so did I. (Jim Carey, Glen Ellyn, IL)

A. I like the approach they take to cell phones at the Telluride Film Festival. The first time your phone rings during a screening, they issue a warning. The second time, they confiscate the phone. That she left the phone turned on after the first call shows she was not merely pea-brained but deliberately rude. If she ever receives a ham radio message from a parent who has been dead for 30 years, I hope a cell phone starts ringing so loudly she can't hear a word.

Q. My husband and I saw "Frequency" tonight. We thought it was an excellent movie. But one thing bugged us immensely. In the police station, the father sets off one fire sprinkler, and then ALL the sprinklers in the station go off. This does not happen. Sprinklers are activated by heat, when the fire melts a link in the specific sprinkler. If all the sprinklers in the building went off, the water pressure would drop too low to put out the fire. I know this because I was a fire protection engineer for an insurance company. I have seen this happen over and over in movies, and it drives me nuts. (Robbi Joy Eklow, Grayslake, IL)

A. Me, too. But maybe it explains why whenever any character goes outside at night, the streets are wet.

Q. In the movie "To Have and Have Not", why does Lauren Bacall's character call Humphry Bogart "Steve" when his character's name is Harry Morgan? (Tsuneaki Miyazawa, Ajax NY)

A. According to Tim Dirks (whose web site, www.filmsite.org, is a trove of information about classic movies), Bogart and Bacall call each other "Slim" and "Steve," which in real life were the pet names of the director, Howard Hawks, and his own wife.

Q. Do you get miffed when you see a phrase from one of your reviews get misused by studios? I keep seeing and hearing ads that say: "Roger Ebert says, 'Rules Of Engagement' works splendidly..." But they leave out the obvious sarcasm that followed. (Robert F. Burnier, Chicago IL)

A. Here is the complete sentence: " 'Rules Of Engagement' works splendidly as a courtroom thriller about military values, as long as you don't expect it to seriously consider those values."

Q. It seems like today, at least one movie comes out a week with a Kaiser Soze-like ending. Now this isn't neccesarily a bad thing, but some movies seem to throw in a twist at the ending simply to throw in a twist. More and more endings are not making sense and leave the viewer feeling cheated, like "Gossip" for example. Will these endings decrease anytime soon? (Jared Canada, Norman OK)

A. Yeah, those endings got a lotta 'splaining to do. I think it's a fad, and will die out to the sound of the groans of the audience.

Q. Last night, TV Ontario aired the 1999 installment of Michael Apted's "7-Up" series, "42 Up". Have I missed something, or has there NOT ever been a discussion of the sex-role distinctions that are glaringly apparent? I realize that an unspoken hope of the project was to document the end of the British class system. However, I continue to be amazed at how many careers the young men have succeeded at, and how complacent and circumscribed the young women's lives seem to be, almost as if they are still waiting for something to happen, at age 42. (Patricia Nolan, Toronto, Canada ON)

A. The participants analyze their own lives, and the women apparently do not draw the same conclusions that you do. Apted says if he had the series to do over again, he would have chosen more women. Now a new 7-Up series has been started, which will visit a fresh group of British subjects every seven years. The women in this group, growing up in the 21st century, may have quite different stories.

Q. You have long mentioned that you pride yourself on asking, "what did this movie set out to accomplish, and how well does it meet its stated goal?" However, you mercilessly trashed the new Flintstones movie, because..I dunno..it was not witty or classy? "The Flintstones In Viva Rock Vegas" was a silly kids movie based on a silly kids show--it was sweet and harmless. It seems like you temporarily abandoned one of your most laudable critical qualities. (Ed Vaira, San Diego CA)

A. Yeah, but...over the weekend at my Overlooked Film Festival at the University of Illinois, I showed the Oscar-nominated Iranian family film "Children of Heaven" to an audience of hundreds of children. You could have heard a pin drop. They loved it, learned from it, cheered it, were better for having seen it, accepted the subtitles, and asked intelligent questions afterwards. Childhood is short and precious and I am not sure it's enough that a movie is harmless. Indeed, to the degree that the Flintstones sequel trains kids to expect nothing substantial at the movies, it is not harmless at all.

Q. What is it with Tom Hanks going to the bathroom in so many of his films? In "A League Of Their Own," an early scene shows Hanks' character with a hangover, relieving himself in the former men's locker room, currently occuppied by the girl's baseball team. In "Forrest Gump" he tells JFK that he has to pee. And in "The Green Mile," the first hour of the movie is all about his character's urinary tract problems. One of the trademarks of Stanley Kubrick films is that all of his movies had at least one scene set in a bathroom. It's a shame he never directed Tom Hanks, because one can only imagine what they could have accomplished together. (Arthur Allen, Kent WA)

A. There is still time for Hanks to work with John Landis, who includes the dialog "See you next Tuesday" in every one of his films, after first hearing it in Kubrick's "2001." One can imagine the line being used, for example, just before the long-suffering Hanks disappears into the bathroom.

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