"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.
Q. I saw a story about how the Farrelly brothers, directors of the surprise gross-out summer smash "There's Something About Mary," are considering a "cleaned up" version that could get a PG or PG-13 rating. At first, I figured this was an suit-wearing executive's pinhead decision, but it turns out to be the Farrelly brothers themselves. Or so they claim. What's up with that and what do you think about it? (Robert Sterling, Los Angeles)
A. I suggest the new film be retitled "There's Not Much About Mary." It is a spectacularly bad idea. The laughter in "Mary" is inspired specifically by how it gets away with so much. People laugh despite themselves--not believing what they see on the screen. Take out those moments, and what do you have left? A sweet little love story? I am reminded that the PG-13 version of "Saturday Night Fever" flopped dismally. Market surveys showed that everyone under 17 who wanted to see the R-rated version already had. The Farrelly have already grossed $140 million with "Mary," which is still doing big business. They should pocket their profits and move on.
Q. A recent Answer Man discussed films which use the same shot twice, often reversed left to right. When I watched "Anaconda" a while back, I was dumbfounded by a shot which was obviously run backwards. In the shot, the main characters' boat travels across the screen while a waterfall flows upwards. While this is not exactly the same thing as reversing a negative, it is definitely an interesting screw-up. (Zach Fine, Univ. of Washington)
A. Sometimes editors feel that the movement in a shot must go in one direction and not another, in order to fit into the flow of a sequence. They trust you will be looking at the foreground action, and not the waterfall. It's not that filmmakers aren't aware of sneaky moments like that--but that they believe they can direct your eyes away from them.
Q. Re the Answer Man exchange about how the words "The End" have disappeared from the movies. Right off the bat, I can think of Ron Howard's recent movies ("The Paper," "Apollo 13") and Disney's animated "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." Personally, I prefer the contemporary trend of ending on a freeze-frame or a fade-out. I'm a middle-school English teacher, and I have to work very hard to get my students over the bad habit of ending simple paragraphs with "The End." I tell them, "Know how I know that you've come to the end? Because AFTER the end, you've written nothing else!" If moviegoers need "The End" to convince them that the movie's over, our country's literacy level is even worse than I've often feared. (Steven Bailey, Jacksonville Beach, FL)
A. I've been part of audiences so noisy they needed "The Beginning."
Q. I just saw an advertisement for a film called "Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss." I do NOT have anything against homosexuals, but my question is this: Why do so many "gay movies" revolve around drag queen performances? Every "gay" movie has some sort of drag queen/disco sequence in it. It's as if the movies believe that if you're gay, you automatically find yourself drawn to divas a la Streisand. Just take a look at "Priscilla," "To Wong Foo," "The Birdcage," "La Cage," and "Love! Valour! Compassion!" Even "Philadelphia" threw in a drag party. Here's an idea: Make a "gay" movie where the sexuality is secondary to the characters' intellect, personality, and charm. (Paul West, Seattle, Wash.)
A. I referred your question to San Francisco film critic B Ruby Rich, who coined the term "New Queer Cinema" and whose new book, Chick Flicks: Theories and Memories of the Feminist Film Movement, deals with gay topics, among others. She replied: "It is true that drag is the most popular representation of homosexuality in the movies. But that's a phenomenon not of the New Queer Cinema but rather of "straight" Hollywood. It's the image that heterosexuals want to see: cute, campy, gay critters that are just so fun and not threatening at all. It's such a beloved stereotype that it even makes money at the box office, which is why it appears on screen over and over and over. The other new favorite is the gay best friend, such as Rupert Everett in "My Best Friend's Wedding." Once upon a time, that was actually the most prevalent lesbian role, not that she was ever labeled as such--no, she was the "spinster" best friend or sidekick to the star, wisecracking, not falling for the crap rolled out by the romantic narrative. Think of "Mildred Pierce's" gal at the cash register. The independent films made by gay and lesbian filmmakers generally have had little use for drag."
Q. MGM recently made an announcement that they will release the following DVD's in the pan & scan format only: "Kingpin," "The Secret of NIHM," "A Fish Called Wanda." I was wondering if you agree (or disagree) that this is a step backwards for DVD. Even though I do not like the P&S format, I do believe the consumer should have a choice and that all DVD's should include both formats. I do believe the exclusion of wide screen on these titles is just plain laziness on MGM's part. (Jeff Lockhart, Vancouver, Canada)
A. "Pan and scan," of course, means that a wide-screen format has its edges sliced off so that the amputated remainder will fill a standard TV screen. "Letterboxing" is the term for movies that use black bands at top and bottom so the viewer can see the entire picture as the director originally intended it. Anyone who loves the movies wants to see the original version, without all the distracting compromises that P&S requires. There are deluded or thoughtless viewers who complain that their whole TV screen isn't filled up. The beauty of the DVD process is that there is room on a disc for both letterbox and pan and scan. That means the format is ready for the new wide screen digital TVs, and for the new generation of front projectors that can fill a wide screen. MGM's decision to deprive customers of the choice is small-minded and deceitful. It is always depressing to realize that there are people who make a living from the movies but have no respect or love for the medium.
Q. In your review of "Madeline," you said you hoped people would discover the books that Ludwig Bemelmans wrote for grown-ups, and that his writing should be "studied by anyone who wants to learn how to put a sentence together without any nails." Titles and recommendations, please? (Charlie Smith, Chicago)
A. If you're a movie fan, a good place to start would be Dirty Eddie, his Hollywood novel. My own favorite is Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. Basically, you can't go wrong. Bemelmans is a treasure without price, a master of prose style, piercing observation, and the human comedy. The Book of the Month Club brought out a matched set of five or six titles a couple of years ago, which you may be able to find.
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