If Beale Street Could Talk
Jenkins’ decision to let the original storyteller live and breathe throughout If Beale Street Can Talk is a wise one.
Q. I met you in the bathroom of the Varsity Cinema in Toronto, during the festival in September, 2000. We both had to take a leak at the same time during a screening of "Dancing at the Blue Iguana." I was a film buyer from Canada, you were, well... you. After spending what seemed like an inordinate amount of time standing in close proximity to you whilst doing our business, we both walked to the sink at the same time, and I asked you what you thought about the film.
I didn't get more than "Mr. Ebert, what do you think of the mo..." and you very abruptly cut me off saying "I don't comment on any film until my review is published." Curt, concise and to the point. Without even making eye contact you brushed by me, and were gone. Sadly though, I had to follow you right back into the theatre to see the rest of the film. I think I saw you glancing nervously out of the corner of your eye at this Canadian kid following you from the biffy, and were probably wondering about calling security, in case I tried to follow you back to your seat. Awkward? Probably. But I still tell my friends about it.
I've been in the film business for 20 years, and even though I avoid writing about what I do for a living I've been influenced by you, your writing and your outlook. You've provided me with many hours of enjoyment. So much that I'm almost able to get past our awkward bathroom meeting. Craig Adlard, Toronto
A. I wish I'd been more courteous. Your kind letter gives me an excuse, however, to observe that many film critics are asked immediately after every movie what they thought of it. Obviously this leads to endless problems. If there is anything worse than being asked what I thought of a movie, it's other movie critics telling me what they thought of a movie. That's Amateur Night.
Q. Did you read about Uma Thurman's recent movie "Motherhood" opening in London with a gross of $131? How can this be? Even if the movie is as awful as claimed, the law of averages and a star of certain clout such as Uma should have provided more than the dozen or so clueless moviegoers in a city of that size. Can you recall another movie that even remotely approaches this mind boggling record of low attendance? Gerardo Valero, Mexico City
A. At one screening, it sold only one ticket. But it's so unfair that it's now labeled as Uma Thurman's film. How about "Anthony Edwards' film"? Or "Metrodome's film"? Or Minnie Driver's? Or Jodie Foster's?
My friend the British critic Barry Norman told the Guardian: "Good God. I have never heard of anything like this before. This is not some small, independent movie. It's astonishing that only about 11 people could be bothered to go and see Uma Thurman. The reviews were very poor indeed but that alone isn't enough to explain this. It's a reasonable assumption that there was a marketing and advertising catastrophe, and people didn't know it was showing. But it should have attracted more than 11 people in passing trade alone. Apollo cinemas, after all, aren't in tucked-away places. They're all prominently located. I'm baffled."
In other words, it might require psychologists to investigate what apparently caused people to so actively desire NOT to see the film. I don't believe it had anything to do with the film itself. The one theater it played is in Leicester Square, the prime movie theater location in the city.
Q. Something Gene Siskel once said to you popped into my head. He said something along the lines of "that's not in the movie, Roger" or "that's not on the screen." That may be pretty obscure, but I was wondering if you remembered what movie you were reviewing so that I could pull up the video archive. David Pease, Lincoln, NE
A. I believe we both used such lines quite generously.
Q. I read the review of "City Island” and would like to share the name of the actress you said was not listed on IMDb. The "Fat Neighbor" was played by my good friend Carrie Baker Reynolds. The film is her first ever. Toni Ostini, Templeton, Ca
A. And she was damn good and had an important role which she played with great charm and presence. Why was her proper credit missing?
Q. You've had a rocky relationship with the films of David Lynch over the years, but you gave four-star reviews to his more recent feature films, "The Straight Story" and "Mulholland Drive." Given that "Mulholland Drive" has appeared in the upper ranks of many "Best of the Decade" lists, including the top slot in the rankings of the online film magazines Slant and Reverse Shot, perhaps it's time for a Great Movie essay on "Mulholland Drive?" Andrew Wyatt, St. Louis, MO
A. It's circling to land. I'm just waiting until I get it all figured out.
Q. How do I go about getting Lions Gate to restore their DVD of John Houston's movie "The Dead." Someone removed about 12 minutes from the original release of the movie and the VHS edition? Maria Gonzales
A. Lionsgate realized their goof and recalled the bad version in 2009. They may still exchange your disc for a complete one. "The Dead" is in my Great Movies Collection.
Q. Have you ever wished to borrow a third thumb to use in rare cases for the very, very best movies or the very, very worst? I suppose you have assembled the equivalent of "three thumbs up" movies in your Great Movies list. But whence your all-time worst? I recall you once mentioned "I Spit on Your Grave" as a movie you utterly despised. How to distinguish it from a merely terrible movie like "The Bounty Hunter"? Keith Nelson, Arlington VA
A. I find it necessary it resort to the written word.
Q. Thank you for your honest assessment of Miley Cyrus's acting in "The Last Song." I found her performance uneven, but very good at times. I have seen among some critics an eagerness to trash the young star's performance, and I thought they were unfair and too gleeful in their eagerness to do so. I too am looking forward to a day where she gets to try out a more challenging role and think viewers and critics may be surprised. Randall Yelverton, Camdenton, MO
A. A lot of the younger fanboys remind me of high school bullies picking on the good students.
Q. With 3-D being the current trend in film technology, I recently read an online blog concerning consumers who are rushing out to buy old 3-D films such as Vincent Price's original "House Of Wax," "Jaws 3," "Friday The 13th, Part 3," and "Amityville 3" only to discover that they are, in fact, standard 2-D films. Sure they were all originally released theatrically in 3-D, but the DVDs make no claim to actually being presented in true 3-D. That is until I reached for my copy of "Amityville 3." The case clearly advertises it as "Amityville III: The Demon," yet the disc curiously reads "Amityville 3-D." While the disc played in clear, sharp 2-D, I donned a pair of 3-D glasses and sure enough it also actually appeared to be in 3-D! Is this my imagination or some kind of inside marketing joke? Kevin Fellman, Phoenix, AZ
A. If it was in sharp 2-D, it wasn't in 3-D. Why did you want to see "Amityville III: The Demon" in any D?
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