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Movie Answer Man (01/24/1999)

Q. A lot of the time when an actor is shown being injected with drugs, the needle looks like something you would use on a horse. I doubt that the actors are actually injected with anything, yet the effect looks pretty real. Is this a special effects needle or do they use a real one on the actor (or body double) with a harmless substance? A movie I just saw with Ewan McGregor called "Nightwatch" showed an actress being injected in the neck with one of these and it made me wonder. (Keith Silcox-Ingersoll, Ontario, Canada)

A. One of the most memorable needle injections of recent years occurred in "Pulp Fiction," when Uma Thurman was skewered with a needle straight through the breastbone and into the heart. So I turned to the co-author of that screenplay, Roger Avary, for an answer. He replies: "In reality, the needles that junkies and diabetics use are these tiny little things, not much longer than an inch. That, of course, won't do in most films. When I see a needle on screen, I want it to scare me. In my movie "Killing Zoe" I never actually showed a needle touching an arm because what you imagine is far worse than what I could afford to do. But if I had wanted to, and had my actors felt game, we could have injected a little saline, or some vitamins, into their system. "Stage needles (the ridiculous-looking ones out of `Dr. Phibes') never look real. If most junkies had one of these monster-sized needles they'd shred up their arms because the process of shooting up is such a mess. In the case of the actress in `Nightwatch.' I tend to think that it was a fake syringe with a collapsible needle. I can't imagine many actors who'd allow you to jab a needle into the jugular. I guess the answer to your question is that in film, which is a medium of trickery, you use whatever trick will accomplish the effect you're looking for."

Q. The young kid (with the mice) in "Shakespeare in Love" gives his name at one point. Is he an actual historical character that I should know or is it an inside joke reference to someone in Hollywood? (Mark Sachs, San Rafael, CA)

A. The mean little kid is John Webster, who was about 16 years younger than Shakespeare. He grew up to write blood-soaked dramas such as The Duchess of Malfi and The White Devil, in which he wrote: But keep the wolf far thence that's foe to men, For with his nails he'll dig them up again.

Q. I've seen mention of the similarities between "Stag" and "Very Bad Things," and between the two movies named "Jack Frost," both about walking, talking snowmen. Here's another example of how they make two of everything. There is a 1996 direct-to-video movie named "Just Your Luck", starring Virginia Madsen and Sean Patrick Flannery. The plot: A guy in a diner discovers he is holding a winning lottery ticket worth six million dollars. He keels over dead from a heart attack. The rest of the people in the diner decide to cash the ticket and split up the money. Someone's been spending too much time in the video store, eh? (Ed Slota, Warwick, R. I.)

A. Maybe we should wake up Ned Devine and tell him about it.

Q. Any significance to the twenty-two stars that surround the Paramount Pictures logo? (John Kumiega, Lansing, IL)

A. A Paramount rep says, "No, it's just our design."

Q. All-Movie Guide ran an ad looking for reviewers. Pay is $400 a week, and you must be able to review 50-100 films a week. Okay, say the average film is around two hours. You would have to watch movies 28 hours a day, seven days a week, to watch 100 movies. When would you find time to write the reviews? Hey, there are only 24 hours in a day to begin with! Even if you only reviewed the minimum of 50 films, that's still 14 hours a day seven days a week just watching the suckers. They seem to want people to make up the reviews without watching the movies. (W. C. Martell, Studio City, CA)

A. Many of the vast compendiums of movie "reviews" are actually ripped off from other books, and compiled by free-lancers who have not seen many of the movies they pass judgment on. The best of the free-lancers, of course, steal from me.

Q. When a film such as "The Waterboy" grosses $39 million in its first weekend, how can you justify doing what you do? What's the point? (R. Pockmire, Chicago)

A. If it had grossed $78 million, there would have been twice as much point. How many people have you heard nostalgically recalling what a terrific time they had at that movie? Compared, say, to "Forrest Gump"--another film about an intellectually-challenged overachiever?

Q. Earlier in the decade the musician Prince changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol. He has since been referred to as "the Artist formerly known as Prince." Since then, Spike Lee made his movie "Girl 6." I picked up the box in the movie rental store the other night, and there it was: "Music by Prince." If the Artist wants his name to be an unpronounceable symbol, then why was "Prince" spelled out in readable English in the credits? (Ricky Stilley, Carrollton, GA)

A. A rep for Spike Lee says the songs featured in the movie "Girl 6," were recorded while the Artist was still known as Prince.

Q. I note you picked "Dark City" as the best film of the year. I recently watched the film on DVD and, like every good DVD should, it contained some additional commentary tracks. Strange that one of these should be by a certain Roger Ebert. Does that make you on commission? (Mark Weal, Southhampton, England)

A. No, but it's a good question. I do not receive royalties from the disc's sales, and did not receive a payment for doing the commentary track. A fee was offered, which I suggested be used instead to press a laser disc so that I could do a shot-by-shot workshop on the film last April at the University of Colorado, in preparation for taping the commentary track. The track was a labor of love.

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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