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Movie Answer Man (03/08/2001)

Q. Everyone is up in arms over "Hannibal" getting an R instead of an NC-17. What about the PG-rated "See Spot Run," the most disgusting excuse for a "family" movie I've ever seen? You've no idea the sensation I got when I took my four- and eight-year-old kids to a movie that tried to get laughs from a man's testicles getting bitten off by a dog, and David Arquette trying to make a Chaplin-type ballet out of falling into doggy-doo. Where are the censors when you really need them? (Steve Bailey, Jacksonville Beach, FL)

A. I wish they were more liberal in permitting adult content for adults, and more conservative in permitting it for children.

Q. I read about this Utah company called You send in your film, which contains "questionable" material. They edit anything they find obscene. Language, nudity, drinking, smoking, etc. Of course this is done at a fee. What I find odd is, since the films are deemed obscene by their standards, why is it OK for them to view them in the editing process? (D. R. Smith Jr., Bellfower Ca)

A. Apparently because the more dirty movies you see, the more morally superior you become to those you are protecting. I am planning to send them "See Spot Run."

Q. I just saw "Hannibal." I noticed that actor-director Spike Jonze ("Being John Malkovich") was credited as playing Donnie Barber, a redneck who supplies Lecter with the pancreas and thymus for his famous meal with Clarice Starling and Paul Krendler. Jonze is not seen in the film. Was his part edited out, or was it a hoax? (William Shaw, Kalamazoo MI)

A. An MGM rep says the scene involved was talked about but never shot. However, Jonze is listed in the movie's entry at the Internet Movie Database, which perhaps got it from pre-production credits.

Q. I recently went to see "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and was only able to enjoy about half of the movie because the cell phone of the guy sitting behind me rang loudly, and he proceeded to have a 10-minute conversation right there in the theater. At times like this I believe insensitivity in our society has become boundless. (James Culver, Spokane WA)

A. It has. So he will understand if you "spill" your soda over your shoulder into his lap. My friend Anant Singh, a leading exhibitor in South Africa, has installed electronic devices that block cell phones in his theaters. Why don't our theaters do the same?

Q. Last semester my Journalism 101 class watched "Citizen Kane." The professor asked for a show of hands of those who didn't like it. The majority of over 100 students raised their hands! I have peers who would rather watch junk movies like "Road Trip" or "Armageddon" before they would watch "2001: A Space Odyssey!" Why do people my age have an aversion to great movies made before they were born? (Al Miller, Ames, Iowa)

A. Everyone is a freshman at one point. A few grow out of it. Any journalism student who doesn't love to "Citizen Kane" should switch majors.

Q. Why in "The Gift" did Cate Blanchett's character read Zener cards instead of Tarot cards? Zener cards are used solely for the purpose of testing psychic ability. (See Bill Murray in the beginning of "Ghostbusters.") So the climatic scene is silly (oh no, not three pairs of squiggly lines in a row!) Did they think Tarot cards were cliches? (Dara Jade, Montreal)

A. Many psychics believe cards are simply a device to free their intuitions, and have no power of their own. My guess is that the Blanchett character was at one time or another tested for psychic ability, and was given the Zener cards to keep.

Q. There is an uncanny resemblance between "Chocolat" and "Mary Poppins." Both are set in conservative communities. The heroines have supernatural auras, and apply unconventional philosophies of sweetness (one with a "spoonful of sugar," the other with chocolate) to better the community. Both carry carpet bags big enough to hold a warehouse. Both leading men are musically-inclined Jacks-of- all-trades. Both antagonists become more open-minded human beings. Both comic reliefs like hot drinks. There were many original films in the past few years, but it is rare that these are celebrated by the Academy. Is this the same fear of the unfamiliar manifested in "Chocolat"? (Gabriel Noel)

A. I knew that formula seemed familiar! Here's a letter from George Iacono of Northfield, Il: "I had this nagging feeling while watching 'Chocolat,' and then it hit me: it was 'Footloose' all over again! Free-thinker breezes into stodgy, uptight town and dares to try to turn the folks on to a happier lifestyle, much to the chagrin of a curmudgeonly pillar of the community."

Q. The back of the DVD release of "Your Friends and Neighbors" reads, "One of the most talked about comedies of the season. ... If you enjoy passion, lust, sexuality, and light-hearted humor, this is your circle of friends." This is about as accurate as saying that "Psycho" (1960) was a feel-good movie about a guy who loved birds. (Carl Miller, Duke University, Durham NC)

A. Both blurbs and trailers often reflect the movie the studio wishes the director had made, rather than the movie he made.

Q. Dino De Laurentiis is set to receive the Thalberg Award this year because of the "consistently high quality" of his work. Is this the same high quality work that includes "King Kong," "King Kong Lives," "Mandingo," "Dune," "Conan the Destroyer," and "Diabolik" (a film that was even shown on Mystery Science Theater)? Did the Academy run out of producers to honor? (James Livingston, Boston Ma)

A. To be fair, De Laurentiis' long career also includes work by Fellini, de Sica and Bergman and American productions like "Ragtime," "The Dead Zone," and, although I didn't much like it, "Hannibal." De Laurentiis is a legend with a career spanning 60 years. Perhaps the problematical word in the citation is "consistently."

Q. Everybody in Mexico is talking about the Oscar nomination for "Amores Perros" which is the first production from this country in 33 years to be selected for that award. However knowing the academy and the hype machine behind "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" I know its chances of winning are very slim. I was just wondering, how come "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" is nominated for Best Picture and Best Foreign Film; isn't that a bit of an unfair advantage? (Patricio Lopez, Monterrey Mexico)

A. It may be a disadvantage, splitting the vote.

Q. In nearly every film made, in at least one scene, there is evidence it has rained recently. What do you think of this apparent rain fascination? (Dan Mouritsen, Logan Utah)

A. There is a lot of recent rain, especially in night scenes, because the wet streets reflect light and are incomparably more photogenic.

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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