A wild whirlwind of a mess, without any coherence, without even a guiding principle.
Q. Yesterday I heard for the first time that "Ripley's Game," released in Europe, would not make the big screens in the U.S. and has gone right to DVD. I bought it yesterday, watched the film last night -- and loved it! Great story, great acting, great locations and photography. What's the problem with distribution in the U.S.? Fred Bothwell, Austin, Texas
A. "Ripley's Game" centers on a John Malkovich performance that creates the best of all the Tom Ripleys in the movies. It is a superb film, and on "Ebert & Roeper" we gave it a full review, even though it went directly to DVD. The failure to open it theatrically was a shameful blunder by New Line and Fine Line, comparable to Miramax's failure to release "The Castle," the funniest comedy of recent years.
Q. I have recently watched both "Elephant" and "Gerry," by Gus Van Sant. In "Elephant," the two killers are playing a video game that shows two characters being shot in what looks to be a desert. They're wearing clothes that look exactly the same as the characters in "Gerry." Are these two films meant to be related? Kevin Ellis, Portland, Ore.
A. Gus Van Sant tells me: "The films are related in that they are two different lessons or thoughts about delusional killing -- and I am working on one more. The first, "Gerry," is killing by the hand of one's trusted friend. The second, "Elephant," is by the hand of an unknown or foreign entity. And the third one, "Last Days," will be death by one's own hand. But I guess one of the real reasons to base the video game characters on "Gerry" is that we couldn't secure a real game, say "Doom" (2005), for instance, from a video game company. So we made a simple, somewhat low-budget game using characters from the previous films. No real relationship, except in the themes of delusional death."
Q. In your "Hellboy" review, you wondered how the heroes went from defeating the monsters in one cave, to being imprisoned in another. Well, for one, Liz explained that she blacks out when she uses her powers. I guess that we can just assume that John was knocked unconscious by the force of the blast. And given that Hellboy didn't appear to be moving or awake when Liz fried the monsters, the bad guys only had to pick them up and transport them. Neil Shyminsky, Toronto, Ontario
A. Ingenious, but there's another explanation. Matthew Bradford of Los Angeles points me to a message by director Guillermo del Toro on the message board of the official "Hellboy" Web site.
Edited for length, del Toro writes: "We got some complaints of HB copies that were screening without 45 seconds at the end of reel 5. You see, AFTER Liz explodes there is a FADE OUT to absolute black, and some projectionists are taking it as a cue for the reel being over. It is not! All copies are printed correctly but may be screened with that 45 seconds missing by omission in the 'assembly' of the platter. The print you view needs to have the following scenes: A) HB is attacked (spoilers from now on). Liz explodes. A rock hits the lens! B) DARKNESS. Voices. The water has evaporated, and burnt Sammael carcasses are seen. Myers wakes up, dizzy. He sees Rasputin/Ilsa. She approaches him and thanks him for the grenade belts. CUT TO: C) Another space in the complex. She's slamming the belts and everybody has been manacled. The copies are being projected without "B" in some theaters."
Q. I know you've stated in the past that your reviews shouldn't be evaluated in comparison to the general consensus, but when you see a wide disparity between your reaction to a film and that of most other critics, especially in the case of you giving a good-to-stellar review to something that everyone thinks stunk, do you ever second guess yourself? For example with these recent films: "Ella Enchanted" (2004), "The Alamo" (2004), "Jersey Girl" (2004), "Never Die Alone" (2004), "Taking Lives" (2004), "Secret Window" (2004), "Spartan" (2004), "The Reckoning" (2004) and "Hidalgo" (2004). Sandy Cormack, Baltimore, Md.
A. I remain satisfied with all of those reviews. I try to explain the reasons why I praise or dislike a movie, and I think, for example, that my review of "Hidalgo" is a splendid description of the film I saw and the reasons I liked it. Mamet's "Spartan" is likely to make my Top 10 list. "Jersey Girl" suffered because of the Affleck-J. Lo nonsense and because Kevin Smith dared to make a sweet film. You didn't ask, but I was stunned that "The Girl Next Door" scored around 60 on the Tomatometer. I agree with Ken Turan of the Los Angeles Times: "What is disturbing and frankly distasteful about 'The Girl Next Door' is how slick and shameless it is in its eagerness to blur boundaries, to squeeze as much transgressive material as it can into a nominally bland and innocent form." The movie's ads are shamelessly pitched at an audience too young to qualify for the R rating.
Q. Re the Answer Man items on how people loved "Lost in Translation" in theaters and hated it on video. After being in the video industry for 20 years, I've noticed that nothing affects a person's view more than expectations. With "Lost in Translation," I saw a screener on video months before its release and loved the movie. By the time it was released on video, it had gone through the media hype of the Academy Awards, and viewers were expecting heights that could not be reached. Everyone had heard what a great movie it was, and the virgin experience that reviewers got was lost.
I remember years ago when "Ghostbusters" first came out; most video customers were very vocal in their dislike of it. It was one of the first video titles to go through a media frenzy, and like "Lost in Translation," nothing could live up to the hype. Since then it has, of course, moved on to become a video classic. Brad Pilger, Edmonton, Alberta
A. The movie's reception on video has inspired a record number of messages to the Answer Man. Bob Riggs of Houston writes: "Some films are intended to be appealing and easily digested, while others try to explore difficult subjects in unique ways. By nature, humans enjoy simple repetition of pleasant experiences and shy away from the hard work involved with dealing with anything challenging.
"Thomas Kinkade and Britney Spears have made enormous amounts of money marketing to people for whom this instinct has become a way of life. I would suggest that the value of 'Lost in Translation' lies in its appeal to another part of human nature -- that which says, 'Get up off your butt and find out what's going on out there!' "
And J.C. Inglis of Toronto writes: "Why did you give in to the clods who disagreed with your statements on 'Lost in Translation'? At the end of your reply you wrote, 'You're not wrong just because you disagree with me.' Yes, they ARE wrong. Watching, enjoying and understanding movies is a skill and can be done poorly and wrongly. 'Getting' a movie is not the same as having an emotional response.
"One can still 'get' a movie even if one doesn't like it. Saying one doesn't 'get' a movie is like saying one doesn't 'get' a symphony. It proves that one has a stunted or undeveloped faculty of appreciation, or possibly that one is an idiot."
Q. In regard to your "Girl Next Door" review, I don't think people should try scooping up underpants from the street while driving. That sounds dangerous. Carl Meyer-Curtis, Los Angeles
A. Attention, readers: Clip and save!
The 2020 Oscar nominations.
A review of Netflix's Dracula, from the creators of Sherlock.
A review of the new Netflix crime docuseries about former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez.
A collection of the reviews given our highest possible grade in 2019.