The Big Sick
Finds that laughter-through-tears sweet spot, often in the unlikeliest of places.
Q. In your review of "Le Divorce," I reached your account of Peter Noble's story: An English guy walks into a cafe in Cannes and asks if they have a men's room. The waiter replies: "Monsieur! I have only two hands!" This story was so inexplicable that I asked a couple of colleagues to make sense of it. They could not. Is it simply intended to outline the French and English inability to communicate? Does it mean that the French like to talk with their hands? Does the French guy think the English guy wants assistance with his zipper? Please explain. (Aaron Dunn, Honolulu HI)
A. Three excellent theories. But I think it is the form, timing, attitude and inexplicability that make it funny, and not the meaning, if any.
Q. I just listened to your DVD commentary for the new anniversary edition of "Casablanca" and found it excellent. But you perpetuate a common misunderstanding when you say that the infamous "Letters of Transit" are signed by Charles De Gaulle. As you said, anything signed by the leader of the Free French would be worthless in Vichy French territory. Contemporary screenwriters certainly knew that. Which is why, although Peter Lorre's accent might make it hard to understand, his character says "General Weygand" (pronounced VAY-gauh), a Vichy official, not "De Gaulle." But you're still right about the letters being nothing more than a MacGuffin. As Rudy Behlmer noted on the other commentary track, such letters never actually existed and were purely a plot contrivance. (Greg Stevens, Studio City CA)
A. The problem is that the line sounds more like "DeGaulle" than "Weygand." The following story was deleted from my commentary because it referred to a different disc version of the movie.
Q. I noticed that "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" is selling a quote of yours that labels the movie as, "Wall-to-wall action." Does it bother you that they are using your quote when you didn't even recommend the film? Are there no ethical boundary for marketing movies to audiences? (Jonathan Margolis, Pacific Palisades CA)
A. Here is the complete sentence: "'Terminator' is made in the spirit of these slick new action thrillers, and abandons its own tradition to provide wall-to-wall action in what is essentially one long chase and fight, punctuated by comic, campy or simplistic dialogue." You have to admit "wall-to-wall action" does accurately describe the film. So does my closing sentence: "...dumbed down for the multiplex hordes."
Q. Drew Barrymore is an admitted alcoholic and was in treatment for substance abuse in her early teens. Yet "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" begins with a scene in which Drew Barrymore's character is drinking shots in a bar, and has apparently been in a drinking match with a mercenary who is drunk to the point of passing out. Later on in the film, she is seen attempting to walk off with a bottle of champagne from the "O'Grady gang" hideout. Still later, when on the run, she stops in a Mexican bar and orders a drink. Ms. Barrymore has trumpeted the fact that, as an executive producer for the film, she banned the film from depicting the "Angels" from using guns because she is "morally against" guns. Yet she seems to have no problem with her own character drinking alcohol! This seems hypocritical to me. (Joseph O'Connell, New York City NY)
A. Me too. I can understand why a recovering alcoholic would want to portray alcohol in a realistic light in a serious movie (as many have) but to portray binge drinking as fun is something Barrymore should have thought twice about.
Q. There is an advertising link on your Answer Man page that takes the surfer to Cleanfilms.com. I was dismayed to see a company that sanitizes films by stripping them of serious content being marketed on your site. These companies are ruining one of the great art forms with their mindless editing. Are they gonna swing by the museum and cover up the statue of David? (Jason Morrow, Lake Mary FL)
A. Don't laugh. John Ashcroft, who covered the bare breasts on the statue of Justice, might think that was a good idea. Other readers have also questioned the ads for CleanFlicks, including Donald Frazier of Boulder, Colo., who writes: "'Private Ryan' without the gore? 'Titanic' without the sex? Not just unethical, but probably illegal! Certainly not deserving of your implicit endorsement."
Q. Halfway through a screening of "The Spanish Prisoner," a young man in the front row started taking photographs of the movie with a flash camera. After being told to knock it off, he did for a short time, then resumed his documentation and was summarily ejected. We think he had a crush on Rebecca Pidgeon. (Matt Rosen, Madison WI)
A. Your letter, while brief, contains three astonishing aspects. (1) Did it not occur to him that the flash would obscure the photo, and he should use available light from the screen? (2) It is remarkable that he was "summarily ejected," since many movie theaters enforce few standards for audience behavior. (3) In Madison, which according to a recent survey by the Princeton Review, contains the No.2-ranking party school in the nation, this poor sap is reduced to stealing snapshots of Rebecca Pidgeon?