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"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 (01/28/1996)

Q. In your review of the movie "Dead Man Walking" you turned a neat little phrase. You said of Susan Sarandon's character that she would not behave according to "the pieties of those for whom religion, good grooming, polite manners and prosperity are all more or less the same thing." I can think of several individuals and groups that might fit that description. To whom were you referring? (Joe Dempsey, Sr., Ridley Park, Pa.)

A. I guess I was thinking of an earnest young man who once informed me that Scorsese's "Last Temptation of Christ" did not have a sufficiently devout attitude because the characters were always wearing dirty clothes. I told him that people in those days might sometimes only be able to afford one outer garment, and that Biblical characters probably looked more like bearded, unwashed hippies than like the freshly-scrubbed saints on holy cards. He said that, even so, the movie "sent the wrong message." I am also amused by the televangelists who talk about how prayer has made people into rich businessmen; you can watch those shows for a long time without ever hearing a peep about the camel getting through the eye of the needle.


Q. The other night on the Encore cable channel, I watched Michelangelo Antonioni's "Blow Up." "What a film!" I thought to myself. Then it occurred to me that Antonioni hasn't been heard of for quite a spell. I saw "Zabriskie Point" and "L'Avventura" some time ago; and "Blow Up" was released in 1966. After viewing these films, it's obvious to me that this guy is a real genius. However, Ephraim Katz's Film Encyclopedia gives no date for Antonioni's death, so I assume he is still alive and kicking. What's he been up to? (Michael Alden, Middleton, Wis.)

A. Antonioni, who was born in 1912, has been nearly inactive since a heart attack in 1985 left him partly paralyzed and unable to communicate easily. However, he recently co-directed a film with Wim Wenders, which premiered at the 1995 Venice Film Festival, to lukewarm reviews. His previous film was "The Passenger" (1975), starring Jack Nicholson as a TV reporter who takes the identity of a dead man. Looking at it again recently, I found it fascinating, especially for its long and elegiac final shot.

Q. I am continually fascinated by the little political digs on your show. Tonight, you compared the sadistic and mean character Sid from "Toy Story" to Bill Gates, a brilliant software engineer and entrepreneur. This comparison is lost on me, yet your motivation to disparage a prominent businessman is not. (Mike Sadlowski, Camarillo, Ca.)

A. You should have listened more carefully. I was suggesting that although "Toy Story" makes Sid into a villain, it is likely that a kid smart enough to take his toys apart and put them back together in an improved way has the potential to grow up to be a Bill Gates. Kids who just sit there and play with their toys will end up buying "Windows 95," instead of selling it.


Q. In your review of "Two Bits", you wrote about movie scenes in which countless candles are suddenly available, and you also cited "Taxi Driver" and "Interview With the Vampire." There was a scene in "Waiting to Exhale" where the coffee table is covered with candles and I was thinking the same thing--whenever there are candles in a movie, there is never just one. Another film off the top of my head that had a scene with "countless candles" in it was "Mad Love" with Drew Barrymore, after the couple moves into the run-down apartment. (Tom Crosley, CompuServe)

A. Countless candles are often used in touching scenes involving love or reconciliation. I think the time is ripe for one of those Leslie Nielsen satires where the beautiful blonde is waiting to be seduced, and he keeps her waiting for days while he lights 7,000 candles.

Q. I have noticed movie ads with the blurb "Thumbs Up--Roger Ebert (or Gene Siskel)." Doesn't it seem to you that this is one of the most lunkheaded things that could be included in an ad? After all, if you BOTH like a movie, they're going to trumpet that fact proudly. But if they cite just ONE of you as liking it, they're implying that the other did not. (James Campbell, Arnold, Mo.)

A. "Thumbs Up--Siskel" I agree with you about. But "Thumbs Up--Ebert"--now THAT'S a recommendation.

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