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Child's Play

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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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Movie Answer Man (01/21/1996)

Q. Re your discussion of the time travel paradox in "12 Monkeys:" To understand what's going on, one merely needs to disregard the common perception of time as a linear dimension. The time theory at work in "12 Monkeys" is that time does not start at point A and travel along to point B, but rather that all moments in time occur simultaneously. Time is not like a line, extending, stretching, and leaving a path behind, but rather like a painting, with each point and brushstroke being a different moment in time. At any given moment in time, we only see one little point in the painting, but all the others are still there, including present, future and past, and together they make up the universe, which is timeless. (Dominic M. Armato, Winnetka, Ill.)


A. Thinking back about the movie, I'm convinced you are right: The Willis character hops, as it were, between points in time, and in a way the "dream" material indicates a leakage of memory, or "paint," from one part of the picture to another.

Q. It appears that with the release of "12 Monkeys" you will have to make an update to the "Cole Rule." (Rob McKenzie, Stratford, Ont.)

A. This is the rule in Ebert's Little Movie Glossary which states that no movie made since 1977 with a character named "Cole" is any good. I think time is running out on it.

Q. I've noticed an interesting correlation between the films without opening credits and their box office success. Those movies without opening credits have done better than those with opening credits. For example, "ET," the Stars Wars trilogy and "Jurassic Park" all lack these opening credits. Maybe if all producers left the opening credits out, we would see many $300 million grosses! What do you think? (Mason Mandy, Birmingham, AL)

A. On the other hand, maybe if all movies were produced by Steven Spielberg or George Lucas, we would see more $300 million grosses. Another possibility: If the opening credits were left off of Pauly Shore movies, the audience might stay longer.

Q. Joe Eszterhas, that literary giant, while talking about a new script that he is peddling, said, "There is no sex in this piece; no sex between men and women, men and men, women and women, men and animals or women and animals. I think Bob Dole or Roger Ebert would like it, assuming Dole could understand it." Please advise. (Bret Hayden, Thousand Oaks, CA.)

A. I still hold out some hope for sex between insects and plants.

Q. In Jean-Claude Van Damme's "Sudden Death," don't you think that helicopter defied the law of gravity in how it fell? Wouldn't the propeller movement force the helicopter upside down? I mean, it fell perfectly into that hole in the roof. (Odell Henderson, Jersey City, N.J.)


A. It's hard to explain (maybe MST3 fans will understand), but I relish certain kinds of phony special effects, because in their oddness and implausibility they create an effect that merely "realistic" effects do not. I like the f/x in the original "King Kong" better than in high-tech remake, for example, and the parting of the Red Sea in "The Ten Commandments" better than the much slicker wall of water in "The Abyss."

Q. Emma Thompson not only stars in but co-wrote "Sense & Sensibility." I understand that the British don't have as high a regard for her as we Americans do. Is this true, and if so, can you explain it to me? (Art Strauss, Walnut Creek, Calif.)

A. The bashing of Emma Thompson (and to an even greater degree, her former husband Kenneth Branagh) is great sport in British critical circles. The usual explanation is that the British resent ambition, and punish anyone who makes too much of a show of it. The preferred British stance is to appear to have accomplished things by accident, without really noticing.

Q. In your review of "Grumpier Old Men," you mentioned the previous collaborations of Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon. Years ago (probably some trivia(l) contest), I looked up the Walter Matthau-Jack Lemmon collaborations. Here are two more (forgettable) films to add to your list: "Gentleman Tramp" (1976) and "Portrait of a 60% Perfect Man" (narrated by Lemmon, acted and produced by Matthau in 1980). They are listed in all the books, but no one's ever heard of them. (Mary Mitchell, Winter Park, Fla.)

A. They are indeed listed in "Microsoft Cinemania 96," but without reviews or any other information--even from the exhaustive Leonard Maltin. I had never heard of them.

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