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Movie Answer Man (08/13/2000)

Q. In your review of "Thomas And The Magic Railroad," you wrote: "In an age when even the cheapest Saturday morning cartoons find a way to make the lips move, what, oh, what, was the reasoning behind Thomas' painted-on grin?" That's easy: It's because that's the way it has always been for years and years of the TV show "Shining Time Station" and the many videotapes, and young children eat it up. My 7- and 3-year-old sons have loved watching both the show and the tapes since they turned 1-year-old, and they wouldn't expect the movie to be any other way. Obviously, the movie is intended for the legions of Thomas fans. Although I have not yet seen it, nothing in your review indicates that those young children will be disappointed (which you do imply in your next-to-last paragraph). I'm sure I won't like it any more than I like the tapes and TV show, but the movie obviously isn't intended for me or any other adults. (Evan H. Zucker, San Diego, California)

A. I confess I have never watched "Shining Time Station" and did not know that the lips don't move on TV. But they should! If you have eyes and they move, and you can talk, then your lips should move, too. Low budget shortcuts are one thing on TV. Now that Thomas is a movie star, he should have been given a break.

Q. Are Leaf Phoenix of "Spacecamp" and "Parenthood" and Joaquin Phoenix of "Gladiator" and "Far From Paradise" the same person? They look and sound exactly the same. If not, then are they brothers? (Veronica Cruz, Burke, VA)

A. They are the same person.

Q. There is a trend in Hollywood to come up with the blandest title possible . I understand that "Rocket Boys" was the original title for "October Sky," and "Dancing About Architecture" became "Playing By Heart" (worse yet, it could have been "If They Only Knew"). Bonnie Hunt's recent comedy was titled an uninspiring "Return To Me." Don't studios realize that audiences are attracted to exciting titles that reflect the nature of the movie? Even simple titles like "The Abyss" and "L.A. Confidential" are not going to be confused with other movies, unlike the titles "Extreme Measures" or "Maximum Risk"--who is going to remember what those were about? Huh? What is going on here? (Corey Whaley, Edmond OK)

A. Couldn't agree with you more. I'm especially confused by the Basic Fatal Syndrome: "Basic Instinct," "Fatal Attraction," "Fatal Instinct," "Fatal Beauty," "Instinct," etc. Here, on the other hand, are titles no one could confuse: "Being John Malkovich," "Shakespeare in Love," "Mighty Peking Man," "Mission To Mars," "Space Cowboys," "The Perfect Storm." The most wrong-headed name change I can think of was when they took the wonderful "Cops Tips Waitress $2 Million" and changed it to "It Could Happen To You." Changing "Rocket Boys" to "October Sky" was almost as dumb. And the forgettable new title "Bring It On" was originally called "Cheer Fever" (although "Cheerleader Fever" would have been better still). By the way, "The Abyss" almost had its title changed because market research showed many people did not know what an abyss was.

Q. I was truly astonished by your review of "Nutty Professor II: The Klumps." Just which of the following did you find "hilarious?" Anal rape? Projectile defecation? Public flatulence? The elderly being sexual? Impotence? Uncontrollable erections? And add blatant sexism and racism to that list. I agree wholeheartedly that Murphy is a genius and Rick Baker's special effects were absolutely astonishing. That makes this truly disgusting travesty all the more tragic. But what is most amazing of all is that the MPAA gave this a PG-13. After all the things you have said about them in the past how could you let them off the hook? (Mike Kerrigan, Redondo Beach, CA)

A. It is not WHAT it is about, but HOW it is about it. Your list misrepresents the movie by ignoring its tone. "Projectile defecation" sounds horrible--but it was done by a hamster, and is the sort of thing kids love. Nothing remotely offensive about it. Anal rape? By a hamster? Come on! Flatulence? We joked about it all though grade school. Uncontrollable erections? Boys have that problem at a certain age, and everyone knows it, and it is often the source of classroom embarrassment. A movie like this helps them see it's part of life. Impotence? That's been a subject of humor since Shakespeare, and before. Sexism? Racism? Only to a member of the Politically Incorrect Police Force.

Q. What is the update on the two athletes in "Hoop Dreams?" Did they finish college? (Libby Johnston, Pittsburgh PA)

A. The update is nothing but good news. Chicagoan John Iltis, who was instrumental in marketing the film, replies:

"William Gates was a gang intervention counselor in Oak Park and recently completed his degree from Marquette University, where he played basketball for four years. William and his wife, Catherine, have three children, and he is currently working in northern Illinois for CEDA, an organization that helps people make the transition from welfare to work. When Mrs. Gates finishes college and gets her degree, William plans to return to Marquette University to attend law school.

"Arthur Agee has formed the Arthur Agee Role Model Foundation, which helps inner city young people strive for a higher education. According to Steve James, the director of 'Hoop Dreams,' Arthur has a budding acting career. James cast Arthur in a supporting role in the TNT movie 'Passing Glory,' and Arthur has also secured supporting roles in two upcoming films, 'Shall We Dance?' and 'The Fixer.' Arthur played basketball at a junior college and then played for two years at Arkansas State. He has not yet graduated."

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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