A film that sentimentalizes and softens what was clearly a very difficult situation, turning something that should be effective and honest into something that too…
Q. Regarding the upcoming M. Night Shyamalan vehicle "The Last Airbender," what do you think about the whitewashing of the production so that all of the original Asian cultural landmarks, architecture, philosophy, and costume design are being retained while they cast white kids to play the main characters? Arlene C. Harris
A. Wrong. The original series "Avatar: The Last Airbender" was highly regarded and popular for three seasons on Nickelodeon. Its fans take it for granted that its heroes are Asian. Why would Paramount and Shyamalan go out of their way to offend these fans? There are many young Asian actors capable of playing the parts.
Q. Heavens! I understand that Sherlock Holmes, in the new "Sherlock Holmes," doesn't smoke his Sherlock Holmes pipe! The fact that he doesn't wear his deerstalker hat is one thing: I always thought it would make him too visible. But to not smoke his pipe? Surely a pipe smoker is deeply attached to his favorite pipe! Ron Barzell, Los Angeles
A. We may think of Holmes as smoking a meerschaum calabash, but that was associated with him largely because of the many Basil Rathbone films. The famous Sidney Paget illustrations appearing with the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories showed him with a much more conventional pipe (see above).
Q. You point out that Clint Eastwood's "Invictus" is certainly not the Nelson Mandela biopic you, or indeed anyone, would have expected. You also point out one very likely reason Mr. Eastwood chose it. He was able to get it made. May I posit another potential reason?
I had to disappoint my son by explaining that I did not think it was an appropriate film for me to take him to. He has seen the previews and is desperate to see the movie. He is a big rugby fan, and there is a local team here in Dallas, the Dallas Harlequins, that we watch regularly. I explained this was not simply a movie about rugby. This lead to a long and detailed conversation about apartheid, Mandela, de Klerk, the ANC and the history of South Africa.
We spent time looking at photos of District Six. He found it very difficult to believe that people could treat each other that way because of a difference in skin color. My son is 6 years old and is a white child at a majority-minority public school.
I suspect that conversations happening between fathers and sons just like that may be the reason this movie was made, rather than a more traditional biopic. If not for the sight of a rugby scrum on the TV, I doubt he would have glanced up. It's maybe not a big "grabber" in the U.S., but rugby is an international sport, and God knows racism is an international problem.
I look forward to seeing "Invictus" this weekend with my wife -- after I take my son to the Dallas 'Quins game of course. Jason M. Fitzmaurice, Dallas, TX
A. You make me suspect my review was written from an insufficient perspective.
Q. After reading your Answer Man column in the Sun-Times yesterday, in which you addressed the rumor that Jack Benny appears in "Casablanca," I pulled out my DVD to see what I could see. My DVD player has the capability to zoom in on the picture as well as slow the film down. There is no doubt in my mind that it is indeed Jack Benny of Waukegan sitting at the table behind Sam.
We have a local station that replays many old TV shows ("Terry and the Pirates," "Dragnet," "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet," "Love That Bob") from the 1950s and "The Jack Benny Show" is on twice a week. Just from watching the few moments of the film, you can see the traits and distinct idiosyncrasies that made him who he was.
So as not to "ham it up," Jack turns away from the camera several times to have a conversation with another actor. Interestingly, later in the same scene, when Bogart hides the "letters of transit" in Sam's piano, Jack has been replaced with another extra. I can only assume that Mr. Benny had a dispute with the waiter over the bill and got the boot. Dave Bahnsen, Coralville, Iowa
A. I think you're right. The Jack Benny Fan Club can feel vindicated.
Q. In most of Charlie Kaufman's films ("Being John Malkovich," "Synecdoche, New York," and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," at least), a character smokes marijuana, which I thought was an interesting similarity. In each of these films, the plot is full of delightful but completely bizarre moments. It seems to reflect the state of someone's mind while pot-smoking (i.e., misheard words, distorted reality). What is your opinion? Nick Duval, Wallingford, Conn.
A. My theory is that it's entirely plausible.
Q. This is a ridiculous question, but one I would like an answer to nonetheless. Which was the first movie with "blood dust?" That's what I call it when someone gets shot and a cloud of red dust bursts out of the wound. I can't imagine that happens when someone really gets shot, but it's a neat little Hollywood invention that I was wondering the origins of. The first time I remember seeing it was in "Red Dawn" (1984) but it may go back further than that. Like I said, ridiculous. Joe Campbell, Philadelphia, PA
A. The only "first time" I'm sure about is when Clark Gable said "damn" in a movie for the first time.
Q. You might get this question all the time, but I was thinking about this as I was driving home last night. It occurred to me that you have a considerable "pull" in the film industry, and I'm guessing that a positive review from you might add millions of dollars to a movie's gross. I'm sure this isn't lost on movie executives, and I was just wondering if anyone's ever approached you with any kind of cash offer or a payoff for giving their crappy film a good review. Minder Singh, New Brunswick, N.J.
A. They're lining up for appointments. But I only see the indie directors with their little Sundance films. They pay the big bucks.
Q. Upon asking my 25-year-old sister what she would like for Christmas, she responded with the following: " 'It's a Wonderful Life' on DVD -- but make sure it's in color!" Disgusted, I asked her why she would ever want to watch the colorized version over the black-and-white original. Her response made me laugh. "Well, how am I supposed to tell what color Zuzu's petals are?"
My family did grow up watching the colorized version of the Capra classic, but I have since returned to watching it in black and white, and find it less nauseating on the whole. The colorized version seems hardly colorized at all; it's merely a mix of hodgepodge faux "colors" that clash when they appear together on screen. I kind of like not knowing what color Zuzu's petals really are. But then again, when one watches the distorted colorized version (shame on you, Ted Turner), is it even possible to tell then? Jordan C. Wellin, South Bend, Ind.
A. About colorization, Bette Davis said, "Nobody had to be told that Jezebel's dress was red." But as to your question, Zuzu's petals were a lovely pink in the center, surrounded by a deeper hue, and does your sister have small feet? http://j.mp/594k8l
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