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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 (12/03/2000)

Q. I just read your review of "Unbreakable." I'm afraid you didn't get the whole point of the movie. This film is not a "serious drama" as you state in your review. The entire movie is tongue in cheek. It's sly and witty, with lots of laughs for those who get the joke. The joke is that the entire movie is a comic book about a new super hero, in which the hero discovers his powers. The very name of the Bruce Willis character, David Dunn, is in the classic comic book tradition of Peter Parker, Clark Kent and Lois Lane." Similarly, Mr. Glass is in the tradition of The Joker, The Riddler, Pruneface, etc. The Bruce Willis character goes out in the rain wearing a hooded poncho reminiscent of Batman's hood and cape. I think the movie is a victim of bad marketing. The previews should have shown some of the lighter scenes to give the audience more appropriate expectations. (Jared Laskin, Los Angeles)

A. I agree it's a comic book story, but not that it's funny, except to an in-group. I think the filmmakers would agree: It works as drama, that's the thing. The marketers must have known what they were doing, since it opened with a sensational $50 million week.

Q. In "Requiem for a Dream," I noticed a recurring scene where Jared Leto's character walks out on a pier trying to reach Jennifer Connelly, who is standing at the edge looking out towards the water. It struck me instantly that this scene is identical to one of the last shots of "Dark City," in which Jennifer Connelly stands on a pier in the exact same spot of the frame while Rufus Sewell approaches her. The scenes are so similar it seems impossible that this was done unintentionally. (John Kane, Richmond, Va)

A. Director Darren Aronofsky responds: "The pier scene comes from a personal moment in my own life. When I was a teenager, I once met a girl I had a crush on out at that Coney Island pier. When I was writing the script, before I cast Jennifer, I decided to draw on this personal moment. Unfortunately, I had missed 'Dark City' and had no idea there was a similar image in Alex Proyas's film. When we got to the pier Jennifer told me how strange it was that both films used this image. At that point, it was too late to change things. So I went for it. Since the shoot I've watched 'Dark City' and was amazed that not only did we use a similar shot but we used the same actor. I guess I fed off of some ether that Alex created and presented to the universe. So I owe him thanks as I owe so many filmmakers who continue to influence me consciously and unconsciously."

Q. Hello from Iran. I am very happy that these new foreign movies such as "A Time For Drunken Horses" are there for you to see. I am a movie critic myself. I usually go through your writings, such as "Nutty Professor II: The Klumps," which I saw today and didn't like. I noticed that you gave it three stars. Why should Eddie Murphy and Janet Jackson in a very empty movie with no feeling other than crude jokes on people (no funny jokes), no real interesting subjects, and yes, there was good make up, get three stars, the same as "Drunken Horses?" (Sara Sedighi Millikin, Tehran)

A. Star ratings are a kind of convenient shorthand for readers, but should always be seen as relative, not absolute. They are awarded with a generic spin: "Nutty Professor" was a three star comedy, "A Time For Drunken Horses" was a three star serious drama, and on an absolute scale "Horses" was indeed deeper, more affecting and more important than "Nutty."

Q. I just read your review of "Red Planet". What are Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics? (Carol Antonow, Grand Rapids MI)

A. Good Dr. Asimov postulated that if mankind ever created a race of robots, we would have to protect ourselves by programming them with three crucial laws. They are: "1. A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. 2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. 3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law." Asimov then wrote the book I, Robot, which consists of stories in which robots or their masters find and exploit loopholes.

Q. In your review of "The Legend Of Bagger Vance", you ask of Bagger, "Is he a real person or a spirit? You tell me." The book is loosely based on the Hindu scripture The Bhagavad Gita. The main character in the Gita is Arjuna--just as Damon's character is R. Junuh. The name "Bagger Vance" comes from the Hindu word "bhagavan," which means God manifesting himself as a person. So Will Smith is God! In the Gita, Arjuna eventually realizes that his friend and charioteer is actually Krishna himself. (Dennis Andersen, Newman Lake WA)

A. My theological consultant Fr. Andrew Greeley agrees: "The Will Smith character is clearly God." Who would have guessed She would appear as a caddy?

Q. In a recent Answer Man response, you said, "I hope 'anime' isn't one of those terms like Kleenex that becomes generic. If it's Japanese it's anime, and if it's not Japanese, it's not." Actually, "anime" was originally the French word for "cartoon." The Japanese took the word because they liked it, and it eventually spread throughout Japanese culture. But in reality, anime and animation are interchangeable words, and if ownership of the word goes to anyone, it goes to the French. Weird, huh? (Jonathan Cotleur, North Ridgeville OH)

A. I will grant the origin of the word to the French. But I do believe "anime" correctly refers, in English if not in French, to Japanese animation and no other.

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