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Movie Answer Man (05/04/2003)

Q. Re: the AM discussion of "Bend It Like Beckham" and its title: The distributors of the movie apparently considered the expression "Bend it" to be too subtle for the non-English speaking European audience. In Germany, an English language title was used for all the publicity material. However, that title was "Kick it Like Beckham." In France they used a French language title "Joue-La Comme Beckham," which translates as "Play it Like Beckham." French and German cinemagoers were expected to know who Beckham is. In America, the whole title was presumably expected to be incomprehensible, so they didn't attempt to change it. (Michael Jennings, London)

A. Yet the movie is a box office hit; after seven weeks on the charts, it was averaging $3,600 per screen last week, has grossed some $10 million, which is sensational for an import. Except for the big movies that buy their grosses, word of mouth is more important than titles and advertising put together.

Q. Liz Smith quoted you as saying, "at least Scorsese lost to a real director and not to Rob Marshall." What makes you think he isn't a real director? (Charles Smith, Chicago)

A. He is a real director, and a gifted one. I wrote him to apologize. I spoke carelessly. I meant to say something like, "a veteran director"--meaning someone who, like Polanski, has a body of work and is not a first-timer. Scorsese has lost twice in the past to first-timers (Robert Redford and Kevin Costner).

Q. I am a student at Queen's University in Canada and have recently begun reviewing theatre productions for the campus newspaper. I feel I have a good sense as a reviewer. I am critical, but fair. I am certainly not afraid (as I find some are) to give praise when praise is due. I have been criticized for my subjectivity. I'll be the first to admit that I do discuss my personal reaction to a piece. What are your thoughts on the subjective/objective responsibilities of a reviewer? (Graham Kosakoski, Kamloops BC)

A. Subjectivity is the only possible approach to reviewing. What is a review but an opinion? Those who call for you to be objective are revealing that they have not given the matter a moment's serious thought. Most times, those calling for objectivity are essentially saying they wish you had written a review that reflected their subjective opinion.

Q. In your review for "The Core," you mentioned that the film is not very scientifically accurate. The screenwriter would beg to differ. John Rogers went to quite a bit of trouble to make his film as accurate as possible. He has his panties in a bunch over the dismissal of the film as scientific fantasy and has been responding, as in a letter to Ain't It Cool News. (Bruce Labbate, Atlanta GA)

A. I read his letter, and man! This guy is angry enough to personally drill to the earth's core in his birthday suit. I concede that his portrait of the earth's interior draws on facts (up to a point), but then it shades off into total fantasy, and besides, are we going to this movie for accuracy, anyway? Most of the criticism of the science was affectionate. Mine was.

Q. Re: your item that the name Buster did not exist before it was used by Buster Keaton: The comic-strip character Buster Brown debuted in May of 1902, when Buster Keaton was six years old, and quickly became the most spectacularly successful comic-strip of its time. So the name "Buster" was certainly in circulation before Keaton became famous. (Andy Ihnatko, Boston)

A. Not quite. Believe it or not, biographies record that Buster Keaton was nicknamed when he was two, and already a famous member of the family vaudeville act, and both the comic strip and Buster Brown shoes were named after him.

Q. Of late I've had the notion that DVDs have been coming down in price. To see whether this is correct, I crunched a lot of numbers, and found that between 1998 and this year my average DVD purchase went down from $22.85 to $14.25. Up to now I have crossed my fingers. The DVD seemed too good to be true. I was expecting the industry to realize their mistake and triple or quadruple the price, explaining it was too good for the likes of me! But to my joy, the DVD format has increased in strength, and competition has driven down the prices instead. (Chuck Kuenneth, Chicago)

A. Prices of VHS tapes were often in the $89 range, because studios made most of their money selling them to video stores for subsequent rental. The business strategy for DVDs was to make them a "sell-through" medium, like CDs and paperback books. The format has been successful beyond the industry's wildest dreams. Recently some big consumer electronics chains have stopped selling VHS tapes altogether to make more room for the discs.

Q. The AM wrote: "One of the great mysteries is why people will cheerfully attend movies they expect to be bad, but approach good movies with great caution." Here is my theory: People are aware that film is a powerful medium and fear being challenged by it. They have plunked down nine dollars for an entertaining two hours, and do not want the movie to interrupt their good time by calling into question their values and beliefs (and, in some cases, prejudices). When a review says "This movie will leave you with nothing to think about," that's precisely what they're looking for. If it's a bad movie, all the better, they can deride it with a sense of superiority. (James R. Temple, Seattle WA)

A. As I never tire of repeating, "No good movie is depressing. All bad movies are depressing." I am exhilarated after a great tragedy, dejected after a bad comedy.

Q. In a recent Answer Man, you refer to "the non-existent 555 prefix." The 555 prefix does exist now, though, so I expect movie makers will resort to using more normal-sounding numbers from now on. One example: call 800-555-TELL and you can order movie tickets. (Binky Melnik, New York City). 

A. For years "555" was reserved for movie numbers. Another citadel of movie trivia falls. But at least the California 2GATI23 license plate still turns up all the time.

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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