A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
Q. Not wishing to appear a sexist pig, I hesitate to approach this subject. However, in your review of "Chicken Little," you keep referring to the protagonist as "he." In my opinion, Chicken Little was a "she." A male chicken is usually referred to as a rooster.
Derek Verner, Tuckahoe, N.Y.
A. Actually, the word "chicken" encompasses both genders of the domestic fowl. A hen is a female chicken and a rooster is a male chicken. This doesn't get me off the hook, however, since how did I know that Chicken Little was a male and not a female? Perhaps because he was supplied with a male voice by Zach Braff, and referred to as "he" throughout the movie's publicity materials.
Nevertheless, it is fairly clear that Chicken Little is not a rooster. Perhaps he is a capon, in which case more than the sky has fallen. Another good question: Since Chicken Little has no ears, why don't his glasses slip off?
Q. I have a big complaint with the folks who release DVD versions of theatrical releases. I now own "Titanic," "Star Wars I-III" and a lot of others. My question is: Why can't the directors put all the extended and deleted scenes within the context of the film itself? We are smart enough to sit through a longer version.
Marianne Brzezinski, Oak Lawn
A. Yes, but perhaps there was a reason those scenes were shortened or deleted? The director's cuts on DVDs reproduce the director's original vision, which in some cases ("Picnic at Hanging Rock") may actually be shorter than the theatrical version. And when a director does incorporate longer or deleted scenes or makes other changes, I get complaints like this one from Robert Wiseman:
"Do you have any idea if and when the original version of "Blade Runner" (i.e., the one that made the film a success, not the one that Ridley Scott's ego destroyed) will be available on DVD?"
Answer: An edition that includes three versions of the film, including the original version, was announced a year ago, but digitalbits.com reports rumors that the forthcoming special edition will feature, once again, only the director's cut. Versions of the original version, which opens with Harrison Ford's narration, are on sale an eBay at bids ranging from $1.99 to $30 (for the Criterion laserdisc).
Q. I was saddened to read that you consider video games an inherently inferior medium to film and literature, despite your admitted lack of familiarity with the great works of the medium. This strikes me as especially perplexing, given how receptive you have been in the past to other oft-maligned media such as comic books and animation. Was not film itself once a new field of art? Did it not also take decades for its academic respectability to be recognized?
There are already countless serious studies on game theory and criticism available, including Mark S. Meadows' Pause & Effect: The Art of Interactive Narrative, Nick Montfort's Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction, Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrigan's First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game, and Mark J.P. Wolf's The Medium of the Video Game, to name a few.
I hold out hope that you will take the time to broaden your experience with games beyond the trashy, artless "adaptations" that pollute our movie theaters, and let you discover the true wonder of this emerging medium, just as you have so passionately helped me to appreciate the greatness of many wonderful films.
Andrew Davis, St. Cloud, Minn.
A. Yours is the most civil of countless messages I have received after writing that I did indeed consider video games inherently inferior to film and literature. There is a structural reason for that: Video games by their nature require player choices, which is the opposite of the strategy of serious film and literature, which requires authorial control.
I am prepared to believe that video games can be elegant, subtle, sophisticated, challenging and visually wonderful. But I believe the nature of the medium prevents it from moving beyond craftsmanship to the stature of art. To my knowledge, no one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great dramatists, poets, filmmakers, novelists and composers. That a game can aspire to artistic importance as a visual experience, I accept. But for most gamers, video games represent a loss of those precious hours we have available to make ourselves more cultured, civilized and empathetic.
John Brightling, Listowel, Ontario
A. It was the best documentary of the year, after all, so maybe that counted against it.
Q. The newly released home video of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" bears a PG rating for "quirky situations" (among other things). Once again I am baffled by the MPAA's logic.
Having seen the movie, I do not deny that it contains situations which are indeed quirky; however, what degree of quirkiness is required to elevate a movie from the G-rated quirkiness of, say, "Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" to the PG-rated quirkiness of "Charlie"?
Maureen Stabile, Streamwood
A. The MPAA Code and Ratings Administration never discusses its reasons for a rating. If you think you're confused, consider the reader in a previous Answer Man column who questioned the G rating for "Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" in view of its "sexual innuendo, curse words and even some nudity."
To be sure, Gromit displays full frontal nudity in every scene.
Q. In your review of "Walk the Line," you state: "The movie fudges some on the facts. Johnny didn't actually propose marriage to June onstage, but I'm glad he does in the movie." I just read Johnny Cash's autobiography Man in Black last week, and Cash himself tells the story of when he proposed to June Carter onstage in Toronto.
Megan Breen, Chicago
A. You are quite right. So was Johnny Cash, for that matter. The review has been corrected.
Cal Ford, Corsicana, Texas
A. She rewrote the script, but would not take a screen credit.
Q. I got a nasty review (not from you) for my debut feature, the comedy "Four Dead Batteries," which I wrote and directed. Those thumbs down haunt me now, as I prepare my sophomore effort. As a critic, do you take into consideration the damage a thorough drubbing might cause a beginning filmmaker?
Hiram Martinez, Clifton, N.J.
A. Looking on the bright side, your "Four Dead Batteries" didn't get any thumbs down, haunting or otherwise, because the thumbs are trademarked and were not employed on your film one way or the other.
As for the drubbing, let's put it this way: If the review was useful to you, it did its job. Praise without merit is more harmful than unearned criticism.
Developing that thought, I checked your movie's page on IMDb.com, and found that your User Rating is 8.8 out of 10, which seems fairly high, considering that the top-rated movies of all time, "The Godfather" and "The Shawshank Redemption," are rated 9 and "Casablanca" and "Star Wars" come in at only 8.7. An amazing 54 percent of all voters gave "Four Dead Batteries" a perfect 10, and only one of 26 voters rated it lower than 6. Can you think of any possible explanation for this extraordinary result?
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