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Movie Answer Man (01/10/1999)

Q. I think I'm the only American to have been bored by "You've Got Mail." I'd love to see a really good film about finding romance online (my wife and I met online about three years ago). I thought the whole "big corporation swallowing little bookseller" angle was dopey. Hey, it's a film about finding love online, so why doesn't Meg's character try to sell books online? That would have been a fun ending, and more relevant to the film's cyber-veneer: Meg keeps the bookstore and thrives, because she's getting customers from the entire planet, while Hanks' megastore only does so-so, because it's just getting people from the surrounding area. (Ed Driscoll, San Jose, CA)

A. Yeah, and after she takes it public for $200 million, she buys out Hanks and fires him, only to discover this is the same guy she loves online. There wouldn't be a dry eye in the brokerage.

Q. Here on the Coast the latest annoyance is even worse than people who talk during movies. At some films, teenagers have started using laser pens to throw little moving dots of light on the screen. They especially use them to highlight key areas during nude scenes. Theaters are throwing the offenders out or confiscating the pens. What do you think? (Ronnie Barzell, Los Angeles)

A. If this practice discourages attendance at the kinds of movies that attract such cretins, in the long run it could be good for the cinema and perhaps for Western Civilization.

Q. I enjoyed the heck out of "Shakespeare in Love," but was distracted by one thing: Where oh where did Gwyneth's Paltrow's hair go when she was rehearsing on stage for the part of Romeo? At night with William she has long, flowing blond hair, and in the day she has a short cut. I know the movie isn't supposed to realistic, but this was going too far. (Michael Whalen, Brooklyn, N.Y.)

A. Mark Schaeffer of the CompuServe Showbiz Forum replies: "It's all accounted for in the movie. After Viola auditions as 'Thomas Kent,' and flees the theater when Will asks her to remove her hat, she instructs her nurse to buy her 'a boy's wig.' Later, when John Webster exposes her charade by dropping a mouse down her collar, we see her accidentally knock the wig off her head, and her flowing blond hair falls beautifully down to her shoulders.

Q. What does it mean when a scene in a movie is referred to as a "set piece?" Is it that the set itself is somehow involved in the scene, or that the set is just really huge and expensive? (Chris McCaleb, Chicago)

A. Neither. A set piece is an assignment given to you by a teacher to demonstrate that you have mastered the fundamentals of your subject. When a movie scene is described as a set piece, that mean the director has done it primarily to show how technically clever he is. "Armageddon," for example, is a feature-length set piece.

Q. In "Pleasantville," how would the folks know the names of the colors if their whole world was black and white? Or even what colors are? (Guenvuer Burnell, Kent, Ohio)

A. In one sense, this question inspires an easy answer ("Gee, they wouldn't!"). In another, it involves theories of color perception and visual cognition. Oliver Sacks, who has written about blind people who had their sight restored but found it difficult to interpret what they saw, would no doubt be fascinated by the case of a color-blind community suddenly confronted by colors. (Sacks' story of the restoration of sight inspired the movie "At First Sight," with Val Kilmer and Mira Sorvino, which opens Friday.)

Q. The Egyptians in "The Prince Of Egypt" are not white as they are in other biblical movies. What evidence is there for the ancient Egyptians being black? (Gene Fieg, Claremont, Calif.)

A. Without opening the whole Afrocentric debate, I will observe that some of the film's Egyptians, particularly Ramses, do look as if they could be African.

Q. As a fan of "Titanic," I was dismayed to hear there are serious rumors flying around Hollywood about a sequel. The story will be that Jack really didn't die. He was rescued and spent three years in a coma. When he awakens he only remembers his tango with Rose in the car. Leo will be offered $30 million to star! Are these rumors true? I'm sure James Cameron wouldn't touch this, would he? (Kari Pontinen, Minneapolis)

A. This is an urban legend. No sequel is planned. It is true, of course, that when a movie becomes the top-grossing hit of all time, there is enormous pressure to generate a sequel. But although any silly plot device could easily resurrect Jack, the problem is that a "Titanic" sequel would have to involve more than Jack and Rose--it would also need a centerpiece at least as spectacular as the sinking of the ship. Jack and Rose could I suppose be reunited, marry, and book passage on the Hindenberg, but by then they would have aged out of the tango category and into the fox trot.

Q. You say in your "Life is Beautiful" review, that at a certain point "several years pass, offscreen." Please don't forget to tell us if that happens ON screen in another movie, so I can alert the family that I'll be taking a bit longer than usual at the cineplex. (Zoltan Karpathy, Santiago de Chile)

A. You bet. Uh, let's see. It happens onscreen in "Jack Frost."

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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