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.
Q: I've been revisiting the original "Star Wars" trilogy in preparation for "Episode III." I was shocked to see at the end of "Return of the Jedi" the ethereal image of the older Anakin Skywalker replaced by Hayden Christensen's younger version. The change didn't make any sense, any more than if George Lucas had replaced Sir Alec Guinness with Ewan McGregor. I didn't mind all the other little tweaks, but this left me feeling cheated. More than that, don't you think it's disrespectful to Sebastian Shaw? Jimmy Jacobs, Columbia, S.C.
A: I turn to a modern Jedi Master, Sun-Times tech columnist Andy Ihnatko, who replies:
"Well, if it's disrespectful to Sebastian Shaw -- who played the role for exactly one scene in the entire double-trilogy -- then it must be n-times more disrespectful to David Prowse and James Earl Jones, who portrayed Vader's body and soul in every other scene of the Middle Trilogy, except for that one. I think it's actually a little poetic that Anakin goes off to Jedi Valhalla in the form he had before he Turned.
"I encourage the questioner to transfer his outrage to places where Lucas' revisionism merits no lesser reaction. Mr. Lucas, I'm sorry, but look: Apparently, I know more about these characters than you do because I know you got it right the first time. Han Solo didn't shoot Greedo after being fired upon. He knew he was about to be hauled back to Jabba the Hutt and certain death, so he just shot him while the idiot was talking (see Tuco's advice in 'The Good, the Bad and the Ugly'). Boba Fett isn't just some flunky in the service of a crimelord on a dirtwater planet. He got involved in the Solo affair for the reward, he hung around for a while afterward because hey, cool, there were dancing girls and free drinks on the sand barge, and if he hadn't gotten eaten by the Sarlacc, he'd have been outta there, kicking the sand off his boots and pursuing his next bounty somewhere in the next star system."
Q. In your televised review of "Down and Derby" [a movie about the Pinewood Derby, where children race little cars carved from pine], you said the movie makes the fathers seem obnoxious and over-involved in the competition. I can testify to the Derby's sheer lunacy, both as son and father.
As a young man living in Carbondale, Ill., my entry was paltry. It was set next to items, I later learned, that had been tested in wind tunnels and engineered by the fathers of my competitors. Twenty-five years later, I coaxed my son to develop his own entry, believing in my heart that Carbondale was an anomaly.
I was wrong. We were living in Rhode Island. The difference was significant. Where in Carbondale some fathers used the wind tunnel as a resource to ensure victory for their pasty and distemperate children, in Rhode Island, you had the General Dynamics and Sikorsky laboratories at the disposal of the parents of similarly dyspeptic children.
I took the Pinewood Derby as an opportunity for fathers to show sons how to use simple carpentry and build self-confidence. Others cast this notion aside. John W. Womick, Ballwin, Mo.
A. I think we need a sequel: "Down and Derby 2: This Time, It's Personal." All of the child actors should be pasty, distemperate and dyspeptic.
Q. You have a right to complain about casting decisions. But in the case of "The Interpreter" (2005), a different screenplay would have had to be written to accommodate your objections, and you damn well know it.
I've been watching you slide off the left side of the page for the past few years. It diminishes you as a reviewer. You seem to want to be elevated to the position of Supreme Arbiter. It isn't going to happen. And, yes, I agree that your recommended substitute would probably have been effective in the role. So would a number of other black actresses. But as you have often suggested, why don't you review the movie you saw, not the movie you wanted them to make? Tim Monroe, Delavan, Wis.
A. "The Interpreter" stars Nicole Kidman as a white woman, born and raised in Africa, working at the U.N. as an interpreter. She supported her nation's black ruler in his fight against white colonialism, but now he has become a despot whose population is starving. (The fictional character is obviously based on Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.)
In a footnote, I wrote: "I don't want to get Politically Correct, I know there are many white Africans, and I admire Kidman's performance. But I couldn't help wondering why her character had to be white. I imagined someone like Angela Bassett in the role, and wondered how that would have played. If you see the movie, run that through your mind."
Yes, I advise reviewing the movie that has been made, not the one I would have made. In this case, Sydney Pollack has made a good movie, and I said so. But it occurred to me that a different dynamic would have occurred if the woman had been a black African protesting black misrule. I do not see this as a suggestion from the left or right, but simply a reflection on the African reality.
Q. I am an actor that you have reviewed neither favorably nor unfavorably in two different movies: one was "Death to Smoochy," the other "Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her." I have absolutely no objection to you trashing a film or lauding it.
I do object to the use of the word "midgets" in your review of "Death to Smoochy." As a writer, you are aware of the power of words. The use of the word "midget" is, for Little People, equated with any other hate word someone might use to describe a minority group.
I simply ask you: If you were to see Little People children, would you take away their humanity in the same way with the use of such a hate word? I can respect a yes answer but I cannot respect the person who answers yes. Danny Woodburn
A. I had no idea the word "midget" was considered offensive, and you are the only person who has ever written to me about it. In my mind it is a descriptive term, like "dwarf." Now that I am informed that "midget" is offensive, I will no longer use it.
In doing some research, I found a fascinating essay titled "What Offends Us," by Leonard Sawisch, Ph.D., a dwarf who shares your dislike of the m-word and writes in part: "Ironically, midget is the newest term for people like us. It was coined by P.T. Barnum in the mid-1800s to describe members of the dwarf community who were the most socially acceptable, i.e. 'well proportioned,' little people who could entertain on the front stage for polite society.
"The rest of the dwarf community, those of us whose bodies are shaped differently enough to look more than just 'really short,' were relegated to the back stage or freak shows."
Ebert again, to Woodburn: Sawisch has a great deal more to say, and so did you as we exchanged messages. I am reprinting our full exchange, and his essay, in our Commentary section. Here's the link.
A. Jack Lemmon told me that he was in line at Ace Hardware in Beverly Hills, and the sales clerk kept looking past him. "I may not be the biggest star in the world" he said, "but, jeez, usually when I stand in line, the clerk will notice me. I turned around, and there was Klaus Kinski with an ax."
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