A thorough and thoroughly conventional, look at the first astronaut to set foot on the moon.
Q. "The X Files" obviously took place in summer, as evidenced by the complaints about the heat in Dallas, the lack of overcoats in Washington, D.C., the corn crops, and the copious sweat in all locations. Therefore, the sun should not have been brightly shining in Antarctica. That continent should have been in the middle of its dark and stormy winter. (Denise Leder, Las Vegas)
A. Either (a) you have spotted a technical error, or (b) Mulder and Scully only thought they were in Antarctica, and in fact were on an elaborate fake set constructed as part of the conspiracy. That would explain how they got from the U.S. to Antarctica so suspiciously quickly.
Q. In your review of "The X Files," I'm glad you mentioned the shot evoking the Oklahoma City bombing. I enjoyed the movie, but like you, I wondered if some viewers might have old wounds reopened by that particular sight. Surely there must have been another way to evoke the shock?. What are filmmakers thinking of when they do things like that? (Steve Bailey, Jacksonville Beach, FL.)
A. The shot, showing a building with its facade in shreds, deliberately echoes Oklahoma City. For the filmmakers, perhaps it represents the thin line between real and fictional conspiracies. I thought it was disturbing and unnecessary.
Q. In your review of Disney's "Mulan" you wrote: "The story this time isn't a retread of a familiar children's classic, but original material." I thought you might be interested to know that Mulan is in fact based on an epic poem from ancient Chinese folklore. It is almost as well-known to the Chinese as the Iliad is to the Greeks. The full name of the protagonist is actually Kwa Mulan, "Kwa" being the family name. The male-female duality in Mulan's psyche and strength is echoed in her very name: "Kwa" means "flower" in Chinese, "Mu" means wood, and "Lan" means orchids. It's a pity that Disney altered an integral part of the original story, which is that Mulan was as proficient in the martial arts as she was in sewing and poetry. This is because she was an only child and her father had no sons to whom he could pass on his martial arts skills. I'm convinced "Mulan" might have been intended partially as an icebreaker for Disney's emerging markets in China. Regardless, I am glad that Disney borrowed from my favorite Chinese epic. (Mina Chung, Beltsville, Maryland)
A. What I should have said is that Disney didn't base the movie on a Western children's classic, as it often does. Since Disney is the dominant global source of children's entertainment, it's good to see it reaching out to other cultures for its source material.
Q. The strangest of many selections on the AFI's list of the Greatest 100 American Films is "The Third Man," at number 57. Of course this movie would rank in the top ten of most cinema lover's lists (and could easily have taken the place of "The Graduate" at number seven). But why is it on a list of American films at all? This was a British film if ever there was one. (Mark H. Cohen, Atlanta, Ga.)
A. The director, Carol Reed, and the author, Graham Greene, were British. It was shot in Vienna. Two of the stars (Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles) were American, one was British (Trevor Howard) and one Italian (Alida Valli). The producer, David O. Selznick, was American. Certainly "The Third Man" is always claimed by the British cinema, and for that matter we might ask how, exactly, "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Bridge On the River Kwai," both by the very British David Lean, are "American" films. (Apparently they quality because of American studios financing.)
In a larger sense, the entire AFI list has been a fiasco. Hardly anyone is happy with it. It has been attacked for its lack of African-American films, for its puny handful of films about women, and for overlooking most of the silent era (including Buster Keaton). True, it was never intended to be a politically correct "balanced" list - but as it stands, it could be called "The 100 Greatest Relatively Recent Popular Studio Films Mostly About White Males."
Many people have mentioned, as you do, "The Graduate," being too high at No. 7 (is there anyone, including its director, who thinks it is a greater film than "2001: A Space Odyssey," at No. 22, or "City Lights" at 76?). Other films apparently got in on the basis of their past reputations. I recently screened "High Noon" (No. 33) as a candidate for my Great Movies series, and rejected it as, frankly, just not a very good film. I chose Howard Hawks' great "Red River" instead.
The bottom line: The AFI list is an arbitrary selection of 100 titles from an equally arbitrary selection of 400 titles, chosen by an arbitrary group of voters, many of whom have bad taste and are uninformed about film history.
Q. Re your Answer Man item about the "Truman Show" print that turned up in New York with French end credits. This is no big mystery. The answer is Quebec. All major films must be released up there in French as well as English. Reels occasionally do get switched, and I'll bet that somewhere along the line, either at the lab or during shipment, wires got crossed. It's rare, but not unprecedented; it happened to us last year, when half a dozen theatres in the L.A. area got prints of "Absolute Power" with a couple of reels in French. (Mike Schlesinger, Vice President, Sony Pictures Repertory)
A. Hey, getting the wrong French dialogue happens all the time. When Groucho Marx was made a chevalier of arts and letters at the Cannes Film Festival, he turned to the festival president and asked, "Voulez-vous couchez avec moi?"
Q. I'm writing as a parent who is shocked and appalled at what has been done to a great story like "Doctor Dolittle." Why would they make a movie for children with a rating like PG-13? Teenagers and adults wouldn't want to go to a movie like this, so why make it for them? I shudder to think how many children will end up at it just because their parents aren't paying attention to the ratings. (Cindy Helgason, Des Moines, Iowa)
A. The PG-13 reflects an emphasis on bodily functions, as when a pigeon poops on a villain, and Dolittle, as a little boy, takes the advice of his dog and sniffs the rear end of the school principal. Yes, the movie has some gross-out moments, but it's comparatively tame, and the overall tone is kind of sweet. I think the studio is aiming to attract teenagers and adults (Murphy is the box office draw), and didn't intend to remake a G-rated children's film. All the same, I know many parents are concerned about the specific content of films, and I recommend Screen It!, which is an incredibly detailed online guide to the content, tone, tenor, language, sexuality, violence, action, implications and example-setting of current movies. It's on the Web at (www.screenit.com/index.html).
A video essay about Mortal Engines, as part of Scout Tafoya's ongoing video essay series on maligned masterpieces.
This is the most purely entertaining season of Stranger Things to date.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...