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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Ebert vs. Scott Pilgrim vs. the world?

Q. I was shocked and appalled this morning to learn that Netflix is refusing to make "Trash Humpers" available on its site. In a statement by the film's distribution company Drag City, it's stated: “We don’t expect Netflix to carry anything they don’t want to, for whatever reason, but it reminds us that this is the price paid when we allow one entity to control the lion’s share of content distribution.”

It really is a wake-up call for me. All of the independent video stores are shutting down, and soon it's just going to be Netflix and Redbox. It's chilling and it really makes me want to cancel my Netflix membership, rather than have them try to keep a film away from me which has been to the Toronto Film Festival, New York Film Festival, London Film Festival, among others. It's worth mentioning that I had no desire to watch "Trash Humpers." I don't particularly enjoy the work of Harmony Korine but I certainly support his right to make his films. (Ryan Sartor, Fairfield, CT)


A. The Netflix decision is creating quite a stir. I haven't seen "Trash Humpers," and it's unlikely to open soon at a theater near you, so video is its only outlet. It doesn't seem to be pornographic. It does appear to be offensive. Is that why Netflix said no to it? A learn it's about a group of actors wearing the masks of old geezers wandering the alleys of Nashville and, according to Rob Nelson of Variety, "bashing TVs with sledgehammers, blasting an empty wheelchair with a self-serve car-wash gun, 'killing' various plastic dolls, spanking a trio of women in lingerie, lighting firecrackers, singing, cackling incessantly and other taste-challenged ephemera. The result, riveting beyond all rationality, is something like 'Jackass,' except that here the stunts are dangerous only to standards of good taste -- which, of course, is precisely the point."

The statement by Drag City is precisely to the point. The role of Netflix is as a conduit between filmmakers and film viewers. I can understand why they don't handle hard-core pornography. But "Trash Humpers" seems to have merely offended someone's taste. I'm not a member of Netflix for their taste, but for their movies.

Q. From your review of "Secretariat": "Nor did Penny Chenery, Secretariat's owner, 'luck into' the horse. As the film spells out, she won the horse by losing a coin toss, which she wanted to lose..." Did you not just describe luck?  Did Chenery somehow master the skill of engineering coin tosses to fall the way she desired? (tigertooth)

A. It wasn't all luck. She counted on her knowledge of blood-lines to know which mare she wanted. She guessed (perhaps luckily) that the millionaire would know less, and choose the wrong mare. Therefore: (1) She wins, and chooses the mare she wants, or (2) She loses, and the millionaire chooses the mare she doesn't want.

Q. Are you looking forward to revisiting the Star Wars films in 3D? (Ronald Z. Barzell, Los Angeles)

A. How many different restorations, revivals, refurbishments, retreads and renovations are we expected to endure? The Star Wars are terrific movies. Why is George Lucas wearing out their welcome?


Q. In your  review of "Hereafter," you state that you do not believe in "Woo-Woo." What does this mean, Woo-Woo? (David Slater, Nashville, Tennessee)

A. Man, did that stir up people. Carol Miller of Fargo, ND wrote: "Come on, you don't believe in 'woo-woo?'  Is that a technical word for something?  A belief in God?  I'm not as concerned if you believe in the afterlife, I want a review of the technical aspects of a film, the acting, story, etc.  It's a little condescending though to call it 'woo-woo.'  Really." And a reader signed AnyEdge wrote: "I would like to register that I find the phrase 'woo-woo' to be very nearly hate speech. I am a functional skeptic (but not a member of the movement), and have deep concerns with people who believe in disproven things, like homeopathy.  But to use a derisive, derogatory term like this to describe other people's beliefs, even those beliefs we know to be false is beneath the dignity of reasonable discourse."

Isn't woo-woo pretty general usage?  I'm using it in the review to refer to mind-reading and psychics in general. has two definitions: (1) Supernatural, paranormal, occult, or pseudoscientific phenomena, or emotion-based beliefs and explanations; (2) An alcoholic cocktail consisting of peach schnapps, vodka and cranberry juice. It is not to be confused with Woo Hoo, which means (1) great excitement, or (2) In the game Sims 2, sex.

Q. Regarding "Hereafter": Neither telepathy nor life after death have been proven by science but you seem to be saying that you and Clint believe in one but not the other. If you are going to make a leap of faith and believe in one, why not believe in both? (Brian Mier)

A. I don't know what Eastwood believes. I don't believe in telepathy, but I think it might theoretically be possible in the physical universe. I don't believe life after death is possible in the physical universe, nor do most believers in it.

Q. I read your review of "I Spit on Your Grave" ( a remake of a movie I am familiar with but purposely have never seen.  I don’t plan on seeing the remake either.  However, I found your comments about revenge interesting and shared them with my dues-paying feminist wife. You wrote: “First, let’s dispatch with the fiction that the film is about 'getting even.' If I rape you, I have committed a crime. If you kill me, you have committed another one.”


She quickly pointed out the oversight in your comment.  If we understand you, rape is a lesser offense than murder therefore if you rape someone and that person murders you, what they have done is escalation which isn’t equal and can’t be “even.”  My wife, having extensively studied violence against women, will point out that a women who are raped are often psychologically damaged for life and if given the option, would have opted for death.  If anything, by murdering her offenders, Jennifer let them off easy.  They won’t spend the rest of their lives in fear of dark parking lots, empty homes and being alone with members of the opposite sex. (James Ford, Ocala FL)

A. I understand your wife's point, but I was not equating rape and murder or even comparing them. I only used them as an example. If I am harmed, a hurt has been caused me. If I harm in revenge, a hurt has been caused to another. Philosophers have been discussing the moral issues involved for centuries. But in the case of "I Spit on Your Grave" (2010), the film depends on the revenge theme to conceal its real content.

Yes, men rape the heroine. Yes, she devises elaborate and sadistic ways to torture and murder them. So now are they even? No, because in the first half of the film the psychological goading of the women is deliberate and realistic, and for me expresses true hatred of women. In the second half, the woman enacts unlikely and "entertaining" variations on violence that most horror movie fans will feel at home with. So the movie isn't about a woman getting even. It's about a woman horribly mistreated, and then put to work to entertain the goons in the audience who didn't walk out during the first half. The mystery to me is: Why do women watch this movie? Or men who love women?

Q. Why haven't you reviewed "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World?" While it certainly underperformed at the Box Office, given your (embarrassingly) tumultuous relationship with Video Games, it would seem like fertile ground for a nuanced and controlled critique of video game culture and its effects on other forms of media. (Christian Russo) 

A. Video games rank low on the list of tumultuous relationships I feel embarrassed about, but I've been amazed how often I've been asked your question. I took a month's leave to work on my memoirs, and alas didn't see "Scott Pilgrim." I still sleep nights.


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