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Movie Answer Man (07/27/1997)

Q. In the end credits for "Batman & Robin" they listed: "Dr. Fries Hairstylist." Since Arnold's character is bald for 99% of the movie was this an "in-joke" or was it a legitimate credit? (Gary Currie, Montreal)

A. A Warner Bros. spokesperson reassures me: "The credit "Dr. Fries Hairstylist: Peter Toth Pal" is legitimate. Before Arnold Schwarzenegger fell into the vat, he was Dr. Fries and he did have hair. After he fell into the vat, he became Mr. Freeze and he didn't have hair. So the credit for Dr. Fries hairstylist is correct.

Q. I am disappointed with "Contact." The use of President Clinton and CNN kills the overall effect of diving into a fantastical voyage into space. For "Forrest Gump," I accept the use of real people as tongue and cheek. But this movie makes Clinton a player in "Contact's" White House. I find that disrespectful and unethical. I cannot imagine using Roosevelt in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." Also, how can the entire CNN news team be for sale? How can journalists feel their integrity is not compromised when they are being paid to act out a script? I expect a news company to do one thing, to report the news. That is how they earn my trust. (Beth Landau, Washington, D.C.)

A. The Clinton White House has reacted with strong disapproval to director Robert Zemeckis' clever integration of fictional Clinton footage into fictional scene in "Clinton." In my review of the movie I called those scenes "distracting," and so they were, because they were so obviously faked. (Oddly enough, it was the sheer effrontery of the fakery in "Gump" that made it so entertaining.) As for CNN allowing its newsmen to appear in the film: Network president Tom Johnson has stated that the experiment was a bad idea, and will not be repeated. The CNN footage reminded me of the classic line, "I'm not a newsman, but I play one on television." None of these side issues detract from "Contact's" considerable impact.

Q. In your review of "Men in Black," you mention the celebrities that are shown on a chart and described as being alien. Besides the ones you've noted, I was also able to spot filmmaker George Lucas and self-improvement guru Tony Robbins. (Mark Dayton, Costa Mesa, CA)

A. The complete list of "aliens among us" in "Men in Black," according to Columbia TriStar's Danielle McLaughlin, includes Sylvester Stallone, Dionne Warwick, Al Roker, Newt Gingrich, Isaac Mizrahi, Danny DeVito, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Anthony Robbins, director Barry Sonnenfeld, and his daughter Chloe.

Q. Why is it that it's 1997 and I'm sitting in the theatre watching a very expensive movie like "Batman & Robin," and there appears to be schmutz on the screen (kinky hairs, dust, specks, etc)? I expect this when I'm watching a really old movie, but why is it still happening now? Does the film have all this crap on it (if so, how'd it get there?) or is it the projector (if so, why isn't the projection room cleaner)? I have always imagined that the projection booth is like a computer room: good ventilation, nice and cool, extra clean. The previous film I saw was "Liar, Liar," and the last ten minutes of the film appeared to have Wheat Chex, trail mix, Spaghetti-Os, carpet lint, root beer, and smegma on it. It was appalling. (Binky Melnik, New York City)

A. Your lazy oaf of a projectionist should get out his can of compressed air and blow the schmutz off the lens. Many projection rooms, by the way, look like the attic of your reclusive neighbor who rides his three-wheel bike around to all the garage sales.

Q. What do you think of my theory that "My Best Friend's Wedding" is really a guy movie in disguise, and not so much a chick flick. Romantic comedy is for women what action is for men--audiences desire a predictable ending which will push the right buttons and give them exactly the thrill and satisfaction they pay for. But MBFW undermines and subverts just about every romantic comedy convention there is. Usually the man starts out pig-headed, mistakenly involved with the wrong woman, and when he finally realizes the error of his ways, he has to diligently pursue the female lead. Here, Julia Roberts winds up chasing the man, in complete opposition to "the rules." and to underscore this unusual turn of events, Rupert Everett rubs it in, asking her "Who's chasing you?" MBFW is ironic and subversive, and it pays off from a guy's POV--the male lead gets the perfect woman--not from a woman's, which would have her getting the perfect guy. (Paul Idol, Ft. Lee, N.J.).

A. So deeply-embedded is our conviction that the heroine will get her man than when I wrote that the movie had a surprising ending, I was accused of giving it away. Screenwriter Ron Bass did a brilliant job of playing both with and against convention. Is it a guy film or a chick film? The interesting thing is that it keeps both camps guessing.

Q. In your review of "Contact," you refer to "the late Carl Sagan, who spoke optimistically of "billions of billions of stars." Despite popular myth he never said "billions and billions." I think Johnny Carson just always kidded that he did. While updating the "Cosmos" TV series, Sagan watched the whole series to see if he ever spoke that phrase, and indeed it never happened. "It's so imprecise," he observed. "How many is billions and billions? One or two? A hundred?" As explosively as he pronounced the word, one utterance would have been enough for the whole thirteen episodes. (Chris Rowland, Plainsboro, NJ)

A. On the other hand, how many is "billions?" Two? A hundred? Sagan discusses this very subject in the introduction to his last book, titled Billions and Billions.

Q. I loved "Secrets and Lies" now that it has finally made it to video, but why did it get an "R" rating? No nudity, no violence, not even much profanity. (Christopher Hanley, Galesburg, IL)

A. The MPAA's official explanation is that the film was rated R "for language." It must be one of the milder R-rated films of recent years, but the MPAA doesn't take context into account and basically just counts the four letter words and applies its guidelines.

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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