A wild whirlwind of a mess, without any coherence, without even a guiding principle.
Q. When you were talking to Charlton Heston on TV as he arrived at the Oscars, you asked about the possibility that "Titanic" could beat "Ben Hur's" record for number of awards. He made a decent point: Any comparison between the two epics would be unfair because there are now more Oscar categories than when "Ben Hur" was released in 1959. If that's the case, then those declaring "a tie" between the films are wrong. (L. D. Paulson, Sacramento, CA)
A. In 1959 there were also categories that were later dropped, such as "black and white cinematography." But if you add up the categories in which both films were (italics) eligible to be nominated, it was 14 for "Ben Hur" and 17 for "Titanic." Thus "Ben Hur" batted .785 and "Titanic" batted .647.
Q. I enjoyed "Titanic" very much (3 times) and I've enjoyed James Cameron's other work, but his ego was really on display at the Oscars and it turned me off. The ultimate offense was the "moment of silence." I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking that this was one of the most ridiculous moments in Oscar history. I mean, did Steven Spielberg ask for a moment of silence for "Schindler's List?" Or Kevin Costner for "Dances with Wolves?" (Jon Pietrowski, Genoa, OH)
Q. I have been amazed by criticisms that Kate Winslet was overweight for her role in "Titanic." A woman with her body type would have driven men mad in 1912. There are styles in body types. If you took a Jane March and put her on the real "Titanic," everyone would have concluded she had consumption and would have quarantined her. I'm still waiting for my body type to come into fashion. (Rich Elias, Delaware, Ohio)
A. Does that mean you are often mistaken for Leonardo DiCaprio?
Q. I saw "The Man In The Iron Mask" the other day. Is it just me, or do you highly doubt they used the word "tits" in 17th century France? (Chad Polenz, Schenectady, NY)
A. The Oxford English Dictionary says the word originated in Old English, so it was in use at the time--but in England, of course. No doubt the Musketeers would have used the French equivalent. I somehow have no doubt that Musketeers talked like that.
Q. On the poster for "Scream 2," two girls loom over the cast. One looks like Neve Campbell with blue eyes, when she clearly has brown eyes in the cast photo. The other looks like Jada Pinkett--but white. What's the deal behind changing Neve's eyes and Jada's race? (T. Lehmann, Honolulu)
A. A Miramax representative says the process used to "blue out" the photo for the poster to make it look cool had the result that all skin colors lost some of the grey tones; it happened to both Jada and Neve. They did play with the color of the eyes to make them more contrasting because both had such similar eye color. "Both Jada and Neve were crazy about the photo on the poster," I'm assured.
Q. In "The Sweet Hereafter," during the legal hearing at the end, a woman seems to be breathing into some kind of a cone. Does she need oxygen, or what? (Susan Lake, Urbana, Il)
A. "That is a dictating device that allows her to take verbal notes without disturbing the others," the film's director, Atom Egoyan, told me at the Independent Spirit Awards. He added: "I wish I had just shown her taking shorthand, since so few viewers apparently knew what that was."
Q. I noticed that Universal Pictures changed the tag line on the posters for "Primary Colors" from the double-entendre "What went down on the way to the top" to the much tamer "How much spin does it take to win?" They weren't be afraid of offending someone, were they? (Ed Slota, Warwick, RI)
A. My suggestion would have been the tagline from "Alien": "In space no one can hear you scream."
Q. In "Good Will Hunting," the character of Will comes up with the names of 12 non-existent brothers. Are the names of some significance to Will, or to the film makers? You know, like the Red Sox starting line-up? (Paul Cormier, Leiden, Netherlands)
A. A publicist for the film says "there's no significance." The names are listed, by the way, in a transcript of the movie posted on the Web by Dana Franklin. They are Marky, Ricky, Danny, Terry, Mikey, Davey, Timmy, Tommy, Joey, Robby, Johnny, and Brian. I'll send a copy of the 1998 edition of Roger Ebert's Video Companion to the reader who can suggest the most plausible link among them. E-mail me c/o email@example.com, or write me at 401 N. Wabash, Chicago 60611.
Q. Your characterization of "Dangerous Beauty" as "light-hearted" is so puzzling that I am compelled to write. "Dangerous Beauty" is a biography of a woman who lived in 16th century Venice, a time when "decent" women were illiterate chattel and the "best" life a smart, beautiful woman could make for herself--as long as youth and beauty lasted--was as a high class prostitute. Veronica Franco become a courtesan because her mother lacked the dowry and social status necessary to marry her to the man she loved. She was ultimately denounced to the Inquisition, incarcerated, and almost burnt at the stake. In between she risked pregnancy, disease and disfigurement in the beds of any number of distasteful if not revolting men and, when Venice went to war and plague swept the city, she and the other courtesans were made the whipping girls for its devastation. What is "light-hearted" about any of this? (Lynn Hecht Schafran, New York City)
A. You have described the plot of the film but have not captured its tone, which is a good deal more light-hearted than the sordid docudrama you describe. I was reviewing the movie, and you are essentially discussing the profession of prostitution. Consider the next letter, which reprimands me from the other side of the aisle.
Q. On your Oscars show you were discussing Julianne Moore's character in "Boogie Nights," and said, "The people she's surrounded by are all sad." I spent the last two years as a stripper, (gay) porn star and prostitute, while I got my MA in Creative Writing, and I have to tell you it was not all sad. There were definitely some ugly moments, but for me, on balance, it was really positive. As far as my peers, there were definitely some sad tales, but most of the time, it was a real blast. Why do you think people do it? Sure, because "they have to," some of them--with prostitutes in general, that might even be the norm, but in the porn business, that's clearly the exception. So I found the whole portrayal of the industry really disturbing and one-sided. (Name Withheld)
A. But the characters in "Boogie Nights" are sad. I do not doubt that your experience has been better than theirs, but the task of a movie critic is to describe what is on the screen. The previous letter finds prostitution revolting, and thus cannot understand that I was not revolting by "Dangerous Beauty." You do not find porn sad and are concerned that I thought "Boogie Nights" was sad. I refer you both to Ebert's Law, which states: (italics) A movie is not about what it is about, but about how it is about it.
The 2020 Oscar nominations.
A review of Netflix's Dracula, from the creators of Sherlock.
A review of the new Netflix crime docuseries about former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez.
A collection of the reviews given our highest possible grade in 2019.