Q. I had a weird sense of deja-vu while reading the ads for "Breakdown," the new Kurt Russell thriller. Not the ads after the movie opened--the advance ads, which featured your old favorites the "Benevolent Blurbsters," who can always be counted on for praise. Here are some of their quotes: "It keeps you on the edge-of-your-seat from start to finish" (Taylor Baldwin, CBS). "Edge-of-your-seat gripper that delivers" (Bonnie Churchill, National News Syndicate). "Edge-of-your-seat suspense" (Jim Ferguson, Prevue Channel). "An edge-of-your-seat suspense gem" (David Gillin, NBC-TV). Can this be mere coincidence? (Baxter Wolfe, Arlington Heights, IL)
A. Obviously, a faulty Search-and-Replace program in the studio's word processor accidentally replaced the brilliant prose of the Blurbsters with the words "edge-of-your-seat." Here is the clue: "Edge-of-your-seat" is only hyphenated when the phrase is used as an adjective. It should not have hyphens when used as Taylor Baldwin does when he writes "it keeps you on the edge-of-your-seat." Proof that Benevolent Blurbsters can actually be much more versatile in their word choices comes from Ron Brewington of the American Urban Radio Networks. The advertising campaign for "The Saint" used the following quotes from Brewington: "Loads of nail-biting excitement!" "Way over-the-top action!" "You'll really love this film!" "'The Saint' is the bomb!" "This picture has all the right ingredients!" Translated out of Blurbspeak, here is what Brewington, always a perceptive critic, is telling us: "It's good! But it didn't glue me to the edge-of-my-seat!"
Q. What points are behind your theory that James Bond is mad? (Doug Mogle, Melbourne, FL)
A. Wouldn't you be unhinged if all of the women you loved had been sadistically destroyed by cruel tyrants? Especially when the count got above 20?
Q. Ted Turner delayed the release of the movie "Crash," expressing fears that its exhibition in the United States would unleash a series of copycat car crashes. Well, now that the movie has been in American theatres for a while, I keep looking for news stories about this, without success. Just how has Mr. Turner done as a predictor of modern social trends? (Don Baird, Chicago)
A. Not so well in this case. No deaths or injuries have been linked to "Crash." And no wonder. There have been anecdotal stories over the years about people driving like crazy after seeing movies with great chase scenes ("Bullitt," "The French Connection," "Diva," "The Rock"), but in "Crash" what you mostly see are people who are horribly injured in crashes, bleed a lot, and limp around wearing casts and braces. I would expect patrons leaving after the show to drive slowly and thoughtfully.,
Q. Went to see "Chasing Amy" and enjoyed it immensely. As the credits rolled, the nitwit sitting behind me said to his girlfriend: "I didn't like it. It started out funny, but by the end they weren't funny anymore." (Insert Open-faced palm-slap to own forehead here) (Ed Slota, Warwick, R.I.)
A. To which the nitwit's girlfriend replied: (1) "Like, totally." (2) "Yes, it's wonderful how, as Roger Ebert wrote, it starts out like a `setup for an empty-headed sexcom, but develops into a film of touching insights.' " (3) "Hey, nitwit, see the guy in front of us who just slapped his forehead? I'm leaving with him."
Q. Do you know why Ben Affleck is pictured without a beard in the newspaper ads for "Chasing Amy" while he definitely sports a beard in the movie? (B. F. Helman, Chicago)
A. Robin Jonas from Miramax replies: "We weren't able to take a picture during production. The official photo was taken well after shooting was completed. By then Ben Affleck had shaved off his beard. It's hard to fake a beard so we used him without it."
Q. I had an intense meeting with some computer clients last week. We were discussing the huge effort required to get their computer systems ready for the year 2000. This problem is caused by systems storing the year of a date as a two digit number instead of a four digit number. It got me thinking about my favorite film, "2001." For years people have speculated about why HAL the computer went crazy. One reason I've never seen: is it possible that HAL was programmed with two digit year fields? Sure, he worked fine in 1997. But when the year 2000 rolled around, he was a system crash waiting to happen. (John Miller, Cambridge, MA)
A. Not only did he try to kill the astronauts, he screwed up their payrolls.
Q. I'm awfully curious to see what Nicolas Cage does as Superman. I can buy Cage as Clark Kent in an instant, but I have a tough time seeing him as the Man of Steel. Is he going to wear a hairpiece? Will that be hilarious instead of plausible? I can't really imagine a credible balding Superman. (Paul Idol, Fort Lee, N.J.)
A. Nicolas Cage is a gifted and resourceful actor who could quite possibly bring something new and delightful to the role. Besides, I have been reading the Superman comics for years, and it has always looked to me as if Clark Kent and Superman both wear hairpieces. And that can't be Lois Lane's real hair.
Q. I've noticed a pattern. Whenever an art movie, foreign movie, or an independent dramatic movie opens, you will immediately review it. You won't skip reviewing any of these. However, to review these movies you will sometimes skip reviewing a mainstream movie. Some mainstream movies that you have not bothered to review include "McHale's Navy," "The Fan," "The Stupids", "Arabian Knight," "The Crow: City of Angels," "Supercop," "Big Bully," "Bad Moon," and many others. This is unfair. As a journalist, you should be unbiased; half of your "skips" should be art movies, foreign movies, and independent dramatic movies, and the other half be mainstream movies. (Keith Bailey, Victoria, B.C.)
A. Thank you for your letter, which I will use as a response to people who say I review too much mainstream crap. Actually, I try to review virtually everything of significance that opens theatrically. Last year I reviewed more than 260 films. Some of the titles you mention never opened theatrically in Chicago. In other cases, they opened while I was away on vacation, at a film festival, etc. I hope that when my archives are assembled, the lack of "The Stupids" will pass unnoticed.
Q. In seeing "Booty Call," I was offended by the caricatures of the Indian shopkeepers. I understand "SubUrbia" has more positive Indian characters, and if it does I'd be so excited because there's finally a film with people like us, Americans who happen to also be Indian. That's the problem. I shouldn't be so excited about it. It should be a common enough event where the possibility of an Indian character wouldn't immediately send me running to the theater. I'm sitting in one of my school's computer labs right now. Looking around, I see people of all different races. In fact, Caucasians seem to be the minority at this particular time. Why isn't this reflected in Hollywood? That's what I really have a problem with. We're all out there. Isn't that one of the things that makes America unique? (Matthew C. Thomas, Austin, Texas)
A. Enormous progress has been made in casting actors of many different races in supporting roles. But Ben Kingsley is the only leading actor with an Indian background, and he usually plays other ethnic groups. What's interesting about "SubUrbia" is that it's the Indian or Pakistani character, a recent immigrant, who expresses traditional American values.