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'Beowulf' screenwriter: I still can't believe we got away with it

Q: To me, "Beowulf" was one of the most thrilling movies ever. I can't believe you thought people should have been laughing at it. Ronnie Barzell, Los Angeles

A. Not at it, with it. You can laugh and still be thrilled (see "Raiders of the Lost Ark"). I thought it was a send-up of itself, and asked Roger Avary, the co-writer (who also co-wrote "Pulp Fiction") if he had "a glint in his eye" as he was working on it. He responds: "A glint for sure. I still can't believe we got away with it. I feel like I just pulled off a crazy stunt." After I congratulated him on the film's opening-week grosses: "Now I can unleash more weirdness onto the masses. My fiendish plan is nearly complete! All the pieces are in place ..."

Q. To fulfill your curiosity about the Geats, the hero's tribe in "Beowulf": The name of this ancient Germanic tribe is derived from a root word meaning "to pour." So the Geats are "The Pourers." Pour what, you may ask? There's some academic debate about it; two Wikipedia entries state that the omitted direct object was "men" or "semen" (a third opts for the somewhat tamer "pour, offer sacrifice").

If true, the first explanation would make the name an ethnic boast: The Geats wanted neighboring tribes to get the idea they couldn't be killed off; they just kept coming. In a similarly warlike vein, the Saxons were literally "The Stone Knife People." Ken Cordes, Chicago

A. One hesitates to ask what drew the Anglos and Saxons together.

Q. I just saw "No Country for Old Men" the other day and I cannot stop thinking about the character of Anton Chigurh. At first I thought about how much he scared me and I initially wanted to classify him accordingly. I put him right up there with Jaws and the oil-slick from "Creepshow 2" as one of the all-time scariest creatures to grace the big screen.

But as I thought about it more, Anton seemed less like a monster, and more like death personified. This made me think of Bergman's Death and the game of chess he played with Von Sydow in "Seventh Seal," and I thought this somewhat paralleled Anton and the coin-tossing game he played with the gas station owner. Should Anton be considered a monster or is he merely Death personified? Nathaniel Meek, Los Angeles

A. Merely death personified? Death gets billing above monsters, in my book. There is something relentlessly supernatural about the way he just keeps coming. We haven't seen the last of him. At least Bergman's Death didn't make the knight risk his life on a coin toss but had the chess pieces there on the board.

Q. You write that the film of "The Martian Child" is bland. Here's something that might have saved it. The film is based on a book by openly gay science-fiction writer David Gerrold. His book was based on his own experience as a single gay parent who adopted a problem child who was convinced that he was from the planet Mars. The father's identity as a gay man was a major part of the book but the makers of the new film version seem to have deemed this theme irrelevant and have jettisoned the whole gay angle and made the father straight.

In short, they eliminated the very thing that made the original story interesting. Well, I suppose we can't risk getting the evangelicals of this country upset by making a movie that presents gay parenting in a positive way, can we? As always, Hollywood panders to the lowest common denominator. What could have been a groundbreaking film has now been irreparably lessened, and that is sad. Michael D. Klemm, Buffalo, N.Y.

A. Institutional Hollywood sometimes seems afraid to offend anybody except those with open minds and good taste.

Q. I would like to point out an error in the response to the question about Jerry Seinfeld being a "b-girl." The first part of the answer was spot on about the role of drones. However, in the second part of the answer, you cited Frank B. Chavez III of Hayward, Calif., as claiming that honey is vomit and a waste product. Honey is not a waste product, it is food for the bees.

If beekeepers took all their honey, the bees would die. The reason why there can be a honey harvest is because bees make more than they need. And honey is not exactly vomit -- at least it is nothing like our vomit. The bees take up nectar into their crop and add enzymes and regurgitate it into wax cells, and evaporate some of the water to create honey. Katie Lee, St. Paul, Minn.

A. That's nothing like our vomit, for sure. I have now allowed Honey-Nut Cheerios back into our kitchen.

Q. Regarding your first question in last week's "Answer Man" column: Worker bees are not female but neuter. Being "female" is a bit more than the absence of male characteristics. Brian Isaacs, Lovington, Ill.

A. The Answer Man is beginning to regret the day he ever let the bees into the column. Not only was "Bee Movie" wrong in everything it said about bees, but the Answer Man was wrong in all his corrections.

Q. I've been writing movie reviews for the newspaper at the University of Northern Iowa for a little over a year now. I've tended to find that if I don't write my own headlines, I'm usually dissatisfied with what is written by an editor or staff member. As a critic, do you write your own headlines, or do you trust someone to do it for you? James Frazier, Cedar Falls, Iowa

A. Editors write the headlines, as they must, because it's a matter of type size and space. Mostly at the Sun-Times, they're terrific. What bothers me is that occasionally an ad will pull a quote from the headline and attribute it to me. Jim Emerson, my Web editor, and I write the heads at, sometimes indulging in shameless puns. You didn't ask, but my personal favorite, for Jodie Foster's "The Brave One," was "Silencer of the Lamb."

Q. I often find some of my very favorite films are ones you give 3½- star ratings. I've never read a review where you explain what costs these movies the last half star. "Shoot 'Em Up," "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," "Lord of War" and "The Incredibles" were all movies I didn't find fault with, but you've been at this longer than I. How do you decide on those? William Woody, Columbia, S.C.

A. I wish that I didn't give star ratings at all and every review had to speak for itself. But 3½ is a very good rating, meaning all a movie lacked was an ineffable tingle at the base of my spine.

Coming to stores soon: Roger Ebert's Four-Star Reviews, 1967-2007.

Q. After watching the Coen brothers' wonderful adaptation of "No Country for Old Men," I was inspired to read the book. After reading the book, I went online and saw a photo of Cormac McCarthy taken in 1972 for the dust jacket of Child of God. I was stunned by the resemblance to Josh Brolin in "No Country." Separated at birth? Bruce Burns, Austin, Texas

A. Given the age difference, not separated by birth, probably, but perhaps linked by a blood meridian. See the appended photographs.

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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