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Transcendence

"Transcendence" is a serious science fiction movie filled with big ideas and powerful images, but it never quite coheres, and the end is a copout.

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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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Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

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Movie Answer Man (05/17/1998)

Q. The Amazing Kreskin is working on a "Millennium" book for release on January 1, 1999. He would like for you to provide insight into what could possibly lie ahead in the film world in the next millennium. (Tom Coyne, assistant to The Amazing Kreskin)

A. Within the next 1,000 years, the "feelies" of science fiction will become a reality, and movies will take place entirely inside our heads. The computerized technology will be able to directly access and control those brain zones dealing with pleasure, thought, and the five senses. In these films of the future, we will all be incredibly smart, good-looking, and brave. Our fantasies will become so addictive that opium dens will pale by comparison, and "moviegoers" will return to their real lives only reluctantly. The human race will gradually die out, as fantasy becomes easier, more pleasant and safer than reality. The last surviving human will die with a smile at a very old age, still plugged in and thinking he is enjoying great sex.

Q. Whatever happened with the all-cat version of "La Boheme?" The idea, as I recall, was a film featuring live feline "actors" while the soundtrack played the Puccini opera as performed by the likes of Freni and Pavarotti. Has this project ever been realized? (Dix Sudquai, Chicago)

A. James Cameron decided to go ahead with "Titanic" instead.

Q. According to a report in the current issue of Slate, the upcoming "Godzilla" movie features a "Mayor Ebert" who gets "crushed like a bug." The screenwriters' previous film credits were "Independence Day" and "Stargate," both of which you panned. Does this kind of silliness make you feel flattered or just annoyed? Will it affect the way you view the film? (Sue Trowbridge, Albany, CA)

A. I am deeply honored to be working with Mr. Godzilla in his first major Hollywood film.

Q. I'm all for the willing suspension of disbelief, but to paraphrase Kevin Kline's character in "A Fish Called Wanda," don't consider me stupid. Case in point: "City of Angels." An attractive female doctor is in a large metropolitan hospital late at night. She encounters a strange man lurking in a hallway who has no good reason for being there, and the man unaccountably knows her name. Does she: (a) yell "get out!" and dial 911 at the nearest security phone; or (b) engage the stranger in marginally upscale, meet-cute pleasantries which will be mined as intellectual ore in subsequent scenes? This is Hollywood, so the answer, of course, is (b). To my mind this incomprehensible scene captures everything that is subsequently wrong with the unromantic, uninteresting, underthought, and over-schematized "City of Angels." (Paul Kedrosky, Vancouver, B.C.)

A. That's almost plausible compared to "Mercury Rising." In that one, Bruce Willis, who is sweaty and smelly wearing a torn T-shirt, and with an autistic kid under his arm, enters a cafe in Chicago and encounters Kim Dickens, who is in sales. He asks her to forget about her job in order to watch the kid for him, because he is really an FBI agent but the FBI is after him because of a big conspiracy. Of course she immediately agrees.

Q. Are you aware of the widespread befuddlement that has followed your appearance with Gene Siskel on the Leno show? The mysterious exclusion and then comeback of Leno Lookalike audience favorite Number 11 has some viewers questioning your all-powerful critical faculties. (Daryl Jevins, Chicago)

A. Here's what really happened. There were 13 lookalike finalists, too many to judge. The Leno staff picked the final five. We announced them. Number 11 was not a finalist, but the audience decided it liked him. We chose a winner, but during the station break the audience started chanting. It was a wild bunch anyway, hardly able to quiet itself even during Jay's monologue, so a producer thought it would be prudent to ask Arsenio Hall to come out with Number 11, just to head off an uproar that might derail the rest of the show.

Q. I look forward to your coverage from the Cannes Film Festival, and I've often thought that one day I would like to attend the festival. Would it be worth it for someone without connections to the movie industry or the press ? Would one have any chance to attend the various screenings? Are there restrictions on local hotels, restaurants, bars and beaches due to the large celebrity contingent? (Donald J. Lazo, Chicago)

A. It's a trade show, not really open to the public, but a limited number of tickets go on open sale every day, and moviegoers line up for them in front of the Palais des Festivals at 8 a.m. Also, you might run into someone who'll give you tickets to one of the market screenings. In addition, there's a lot of people-watching, with weirdos and street entertainers strolling along the Croisette. Every night big crowds surge against the barricades as the stars parade into the Palais. It can be fun, although if actually seeing movies is your objective, you'd be better off at the best festivals in North America, which are in Montreal in August, Telluride over Labor Day, and Toronto in September (Sundance is also hard to crack). As for Cannes hotels and restaurants, etc., they welcome anyone prepared to pay their startling prices. Of course, the regulars book their favorite rooms and tables a year in advance, but there's always room at La Pizza, down by the old yacht harbor, which probably has the best food in town anyway.

Q. We were deeply moved by the Oscar-winning documentary "The Long Way Home," but had a question about the scenes of the Jewish refugees trekking across the Alps. Was this authentic footage? Why did there happen to be a camera there? (Casey Anderson, Schaumberg)

A. Mark Harris, director of the film, replies: "The footage of the refugees crossing the Alps in 'The Long Way Home' comes from Meyer Levin's film, 'The Illegals.' Levin followed a group of refugees from Poland on their way to Palestine, across the Alps, and then aboard the ship the 'Unafraid,' trying unsuccessfully to evade the British naval blockade. The British board the boat, tow it into Haifa, and then send all the refugees to Cyprus. The film was an early docudrama, somewhat like Haskell Wexler's 'Medium Cool,' in that Levin structured the film around a fictional story, in this case a couple making their way illegally to Palestine. (The actress later became his wife.) But just as Wexler filmed his story in the midst of the Democratic Convention in Chicago, Levin put his fictional couple in a real group of Jewish refugees escaping from Eastern Europe, so the footage of them crossing the Alps is all authentic, as are the out-of-focus shots we later used of the British boarding the 'Unafraid.' In his autobiography 'The Search,' Levin describes this clandestine journey and the dramatic effect the survivors had on him."

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