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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 (09/10/2000)

Q. In your review of "The Cell" you described the outfits worn by Jennifer Lopez and others while voyaging into the minds of patients as "virtual reality gear." I think the opposite was the case. The outfits were probably worn by the characters to completely desensitize them from the external world so that the therapy could not be interrupted. That's probably also why they were suspended in mid-air. During the therapy sessions the characters did not move their bodies at all. If they were wearing virtual reality gear their bodies, conceivably, would have been mimicking their movements. (Jordan Potasky, Toronto)

A. You are quite right. Tarsem, the film's director, replies: "I'm afraid your reader hit it on the nose. In essence, the suits were to aid in the transition while going into someone's mind. Lacking an 'outer skin' (due to the suits) created an undisturbed journey. I incorporated the suspension to assist in a feeling of weightlessness."

Q. First off, let me helpfully inform you that you are insane for thinking "The Cell" is one of the best movies of the year. But I must ask you, what was that cartoon that Jennifer Lopez was watching on television when she was trying to sleep? It looked really neat, and I'd like to see the whole thing. (Kevin Fischer, Minneapolis)

A. If you can name five movies so far this year that were more creative and original than "The Cell," be my guest. A New Line spokesman says Lopez was watching the Japanese anime, "Fantastic Planet."

Q. You observed that Donal Logue did not remove his shirt in "The Tao of Steve," and said you suspected he was not as fat as the character he played. Logue's apparent weight was a combination of both padding and some extra weight he gained for the "Tao" film. This information came from Logue when he was at the Seattle Film Festival this spring. Donal said he quickly lost the extra weight as he went from filming "The Tao of Steve" to "The Patriot." (Patrick Ryan, Bainbridge Island, WA)

A. Since movies love it when fat guys take off their shirts, I knew something was up.

Q. I want to know why the "The Original Kings of Comedy" is not at the theaters downtown? Is that bias or what? What's the explanation for not showing it? To me that's discrimination. I hear its sales are pretty good. (Daphne White, Chicago)

A. Spike Lee's concert film starring four stand-up comics is an enormous hit, passing the $50 million mark. In its original release it was booked on less than 900 screens, in predominantly black areas, allegedly because Paramount thought white audiences were unfamiliar with the comedians. The studio says it always planned to widen the release as word of mouth spread. My guess: The studio was caught flat-footed by the movie's popularity. It shouldn't have been. Black comedians are "crossing over" to white audiences all the time now, because of their success on cable.

Q. There is an unfortunate typo in your Great Movie review of "Jaws," when you cite this dialogue: "I pulled a tooth the size of a shot glass out of the rectal of a boat out there, and it was the tooth of a Great White." I believe it was not a "rectal" but a "wrecked hull." (Peter T. West, Media Officer, National Science Foundation's Office of Polar Programs, Arlington, Va)

A. The North Pole is melting and this you're worried about? That's a mistake but not a typo. I thought I heard "rectal" and double-checked with Tim Dirk's invaluable Greatest Films of All Time site (http://www.filmsite.org). He also heard Richard Dreyfuss say "rectal." I asked Dirks for his response. He writes: "Here's the quoted line from the revised final draft screenplay, found on the web: 'I just pulled a shark tooth the size of a shot glass out of the hull of a wrecked boat out there.' In playing the laserdisc version myself, I heard 'the rectal of a boat.' Since the final screenplay version does use the words 'hull of a wrecked boat,' I'm assuming that Richard Dreyfuss just reversed the words. However, 'wrecked hull' sure sounds like 'rectal,' doesn't it, especially in Dreyfuss' rapid-fire mouth?"

Q. Recently, I saw "The Patriot" at Chicago's Water Tower theater. When the film began, the audience noticed that the picture was off the screen. It extended about 1 foot off the top and bottom and approximately 3 feet off of each side onto the curtains and the walls. I mentioned this to the manager at the start of the film, hoping to have it corrected. I was told by her, "We know. The film they sent us was too large for our screen. There is nothing that can be done about it." I mentioned that I have been in theaters with much smaller screens than this one and not had a problem. I also noted that we shouldn't be expected to pay $8.50 for a movie when we are being denied a portion of the picture. She just shrugged it off. (Jason Steele, Chicago)

A. A movie can be configured to show on any size screen. All it takes is a projectionist who knows what he's doing. The movie does not have a "size," but a format, and the projector must be adjusted to frame the film in that format. "The Patriot" was filmed in the ratio of 2.35 to 1, true widescreen, but movies in that format have been shown in every theater countless times.

Q. I liked your Great Movies review of "Shane." But there was one missing (and key) element: Shane's name. In Yiddish, spelled schoen, means "beautiful" or "pretty," as in the old Andrews Sisters song "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen." Shane has no first name. Just that. It fits. (Name Withheld Because I Work Across the Street, Chicago)

A. I'd consider this a coincidence, except that the movie does portray Shane as a pretty boy in a store-bought shirt, and contrasts him with the hard-boiled toughs played by Jack Palance and Ben Johnson. The song lyrics include:

Bei mir bist du schoen, again I'll explain It means you're the fairest in the land.

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