Maps to the Stars
David Cronenberg's film of Bruce Wagner's Hollywood satire-nightmare turns ludicrous situations into operatic tragedy.
Q. A friend of mine reports a rumor regarding the upcoming "Psycho" remake. She says all the talk about a shot-for-shot remake is just a smoke screen. What Gus Van Sant actually plans to do is copy only the first half of the movie, lure the audience into thinking they're getting a straight remake, and then go off in a completely different direction. I was dubious until she pointed out that's exactly what Hitchcock did with "Psycho," where he suddenly kills off the main character. What do you think? Is there still hope? (Eric Brochu, Regina, Sas.)
A. That would at least give the movie a reason for being. If I believed the rumor, I wouldn't print it and spoil the surprise. But I mentioned it to John Boorman, the British director whose new film "The General" was playing at the Chicago Film Festival, and he said he'd actually met the actor who is playing the psychiatrist in the film: "And there is no reason to leave in the scene where the psychiatrist explains Norman Bates' problems unless you are faithfully remaking the entire film." True. Even Hitchcock's greatest admirers feel the film stops dead with the hilariously inappropriate "explanation."
A. Frankly, that's not such a hot idea, either. Most movies can be remade (I am reminded of how "To the Shores of Tripoli" was remade as "Rip Goes to War," with the John Payne role being played by a dog). But a few special movies are quite simply one of a kind, and to remake them is to court resentment and disaster.
Q. What's with the ad campaign for "Beloved?" It refers to "Pulitzer Prize-winner Toni Morrison." PULITZER Prize? What about the NOBEL Prize? I think the Nobel is a little more prestigious! Does the studio's marketing department think the public can't identify the Nobel? (David Martinez, San Jose, CA)
A. A rep for Touchstone Pictures argues that Beloved won the Pulitzer Prize, and the ad refers to the novel, not the author. Name recognition for the Nobel shot up dramatically, however, with this week's award to the discovers of Viagra.
Q. I read Beloved several years ago and think it is the greatest novel of the last half of this century. But for those who haven't read the book, the TV ads are going to result in a great shock when they see the movie. According to the ads, it is about a bunch of happy slaves dancing around in the woods. My God, I hope they haven't messed that story around. Those promos are an insult to Toni Morrison. (Guenvuer Burnell, Kent, Ohio)
A. No matter what a movie is about, it is the absolute policy of all Hollywood studios to produce TV ads that promise the audience a good time, every time. They haven't messed the story around.
Q. In "Rounders," I found the final game confusing. What hand did Matt Damon's character have? I saw the hole cards, but the "common" cards were on the screen too briefly for me to register. When he announced his hand to "KGB," it didn't seem possible. For that matter, what hand did "KGB" have that would have kept him in that pot to the end? (Steven Stine, Buffalo Grove, IL)
A. I appealed again to poker expert John Harkness, who in another life is a Toronto film critic. He replies: "Damon flopped the nut straight--he had 8-9, the board came 6-7-10. (Of course, the play of the hand is foreshadowed in the tape of the World Series that Mike watches on video.) I assumed all along that KGB had a pair of tens in his hand. When I was watching the movie, I found myself thinking 'Don't pair the board,' because I assumed that KGB was holding three tens and a pair on the board would give him the full house. Other arguments were for the A-10, that he had a pair of tens on the flop and caught his second pair with the A on the river and so moved all in, but I always put him on the three of a kind."
Q. Sorry to be contradictory, but John Harkness' answer regarding Teddy KGB's "tell" was wrong. KGB actually splits the Oreo in two natural halves, leaving a cream-filling side and a plain side. He breaks them the same way every time: next to his right ear. The "tell" is that he eats the cream-filling side first if he has the cards, the plain side first if he does not. It's an amazing moment in the film, unspoiled by voice-over narration; the careful observer knows what happens the second Damon's character does. (Matt Bailey, Madison, Wis.)
A. My "tell" is, if I dip the Oreo in milk, I am about to fold, since any delay would result in the soaked Oreo losing that residual crunch.
Q. Re your review of "Holy Man:" I am from India and there is no such thing as "Gandhi Pajamas" there. Is it an American term for the "Kurta Pyjama" (which is the Indian term for Murphy's attire)? (Navneeth Rao, Minneapolis)
A. No, it is my term for the Kurta Pyjama. Sorry.
Q. Re this Roscoe's Chicken & Waffles thing I keep seeing in your column, about how the restaurant was mentioned in both "Jackie Brown" and "Rush Hour." The first movie to mention Roscoe's was a little 1988 comedy film called "Tapeheads," starring John Cusack and Tim Robbins as two would-be music video producers. Their first job was doing a commercial for Roscoe's. Heavy, pounding 1980s rap music played while Roscoe sang into the camera about how he was "gonna give you the bird." The highlight was animated chicken legs and wings dancing with waffles. (Roger B. Domian, Chicago)
A. Lee Benson of Brisbane, Australia, and Chris Martin of San Diego were among several other readers who also remembered the "Tapeheads" mention. Now the question becomes: Which came first, Quentin Tarantino's first viewing of "Tapeheads," or his first visit to Roscoe's?
Q. Near the end of "There's Something About Mary," there's a scene in which Ted, the Ben Stiller character, touches the ear of Warren, the retarded brother--and, for the first time in the movie, Warren doesn't go berserk when his space is violated. When I saw this, my guess was that they would later show Brett Favre touching the ear and getting pummeled, making Mary realize that Ted was the guy for her. This didn't happen and I didn't think more about it until the credits, which include out-takes and silly stuff. Included is a scene where Favre touches Warren's ear and gets sacked. I wonder if the scene was shot for the picture, but later edited out. (Alan Podmore, Canoga Park, Ca)
A. Co-director Peter Farrelly says you're correct. The scene with Brett Favre getting sacked by Warren was filmed with the intention of using it. In the editing process they decided it made the living room sequence too long, and cut it. The Farrellys think the audience already "gets it" when Ted touches Warren's ear and gets away with it.
Captain's log: eight fifth graders, one adult, one James Cameron movie.
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