This is rare, nuanced storytelling, anchored by one of Brad Pitt’s career-best performances and remarkable technical elements on every level. It’s a special film.
A. Complete fiction. It happened this way. I was on the Howard Stern program with Jon Stewart, and we were talking about Hoffman’s chances of winning the Oscar as best actor. I added: “They’re making a movie about Russ Meyer, and I think he should play me.” Just joking around, but a listener reported on Ain’t It Cool News that Hoffman was actually being recruited for the role. That became an instant factoid.
Q. A study by professors from Duke, Florida Atlantic and Carnegie Mellon purports to examine “the meaning of silence” by film critics. Some do not review good films, some do not review bad films. You are listed among four critics giving “the most information” on bad films. What do you think of this study? Greg Nelson, Chicago
A. The study has been greeted with howls of laughter and derision in the filmcrit community. It was made in ignorance of how critics actually work, and its findings are meaningless. It assumes that every critic has control over which films he or she reviews. But on a paper with several critics, the senior critic is likely to get the better films and the junior critic gets the leftovers. “Silence” simply means the other critic wrote the review. In my case, since I review everything I can (280 reviews last year) I should also presumably have been among the leaders writing about good films. My friend Mark Caro, another leading reviewer of bad films, demolishes the study in his blog “Pop Machine” on chicagotribune.com.
Q. My roommates and I go to school in an area that does not get many independent films -- let alone Werner Herzog documentaries -- so we were excited that the Discovery Channel decided to air "Grizzly Man." Unfortunately, the rhythm and beauty of Herzog's film was destroyed by the Discovery Channel's decision to stretch the doc to three hours and add lots of commercials.
With as little as five minutes between commercial interruptions, the film was rendered unwatchable. I understand that licensing can be expensive, but why would the Discovery Channel be so incredibly disrespectful to the film and its audience? And why would Herzog allow such a travesty? Clint Bland, College Station, Texas
A. Werner Herzog replies: "The answer to the interruptions by commercials lies completely within the rules of the market: Discovery financed a good part of the film, and they are a company which is out there to make money. However, Discovery added a full hour to the film (discussions, additional footage from Timothy Treadwell's treasure trove, and other statements) without delineating clearly where my film ends and where the additional materials start.
"Many viewers believed that the appendix belonged somehow to my film, as Discovery placed the end credits of my film at the very end of the three-hour special. I had no prior knowledge that this would happen. But we should not forget that Discovery supported my film, and made it possible that we have it now.
"The only consolation I can offer is the DVD, and the knowledge in my guts that this film will pass the test of time, and that a TV airing like the one on Discovery belongs to the ephemeral and fleeting moments we have to endure.
"Sure, centuries from now our great-great-great-grandchildren will look back at us with amazement at how we could allow such a precious achievement of human culture as the telling of a story to be shattered into smithereens by commercials, the same amazement we feel today when we look at our ancestors for whom slavery, capital punishment, burning of witches, and the inquisition were acceptable everyday events."
Q. (Spoiler warning) We saw "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada" yesterday. Loved it. Read your review of this film today. You say, "There is one word at the end of the film that carries a burden that a long speech could not have dealt with. It is a word that is also used near the beginning of the film. It contains whatever message [Tommy Lee] Jones finds at the end of the journey." What was this one word? My sidekick and I are baffled by this assertion. L. Singh, Chicago
A. The word is "son."
Q. On a message board, someone reported that they went to see "Brokeback Mountain" and were issued tickets for "Eight Below." There was discussion that some studios bump sales by issuing tickets to a different movie than the one you're attending. I've been issued tickets that were not for the film I was seeing.
I thought it was just a mistake but friends who once went to see "The Iron Giant" said that none of their tickets were for "Iron Giant." It smacks of something unfair. Might be worth checking your tickets from time to time. David Brewster, Burbank, Calif.
A. I've heard this sort of thing attributed to cashier error. It could also be a device by the theaters to make more money. In the first few weeks of a run, the studios take up to 90 percent of the ticket price. As the run continues, the theater's share increases. So money could be made by substituting a ticket to an older movie. In this case, though, "Brokeback" is the older movie. A bar code system could assure the correct movie was ticketed, and also prevent the Multiplex Shuffle.
Q. In your review of "Eight Below," you say the dogs should have been invisible, since there is total darkness during the Antarctic winter. You are correct. However, it's not dark so much as this murky twilight. The sun does rise but only to within a few degrees of the horizon. At least, if my recollection of sixth-grade earth science is correct. Jill C. McCoy, Chicago
A. We should have heard barking. The darkness is more total the closer you get to the pole, but in dead winter, it is pretty much dark all over the continent. The man to ask is Mr. Matt, who spends the winter in Antarctica and answers kids' questions on globalclassroom.org. Here is an exchange he had:
Q. (Spoiler warning) We saw "Cache" and then read your review. You write about the last shot of the movie, "... and now observe that two people meet and talk on the upper left-hand side of the screen. They are two characters we recognize, and who should not know each other or have any way of meeting. Why do they know each other?" Please tell us who we were supposed to see in the final scene. Annette Melass, Lake Jackson, Texas
A. The two sons -- the son of the TV host and the son of the Algerian. The shot does not explain how or why the videos were made, or who made them, but it leaves us with tantalizing possibilities.
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This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
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