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Movie Answer Man (09/21/2003)

Q. I spoke to a Japanese person who saw "Lost in Translation," and she agreed with me that the film took a heavy-handed, anti-Japanese stance. Of course, the story was about two strangers in a strange land who didn't have the ability to plug into the culture, but the movie showed Japan with few, if any, redeeming qualities. From the hotel greeting committee to the talk show host to the prostitute, the film offered us caricatures of Japanese stereotypes, and it was a little hard to watch them -- they distracted from the honesty of the film with their shallow rendering and low humor. Do you think that this was purposeful, or even necessary? (Roy Lambrada, New York NY)

A. The prostitute was a caricature, yes, but anyone who has been to Japan will recognize the greeters at the hotel (there is even a woman to point you to the elevator and bow as you enter it), and the talk show host (a lot of Japanese TV is exactly that goofy). I think the movie involved two cultures failing to communicate, but doing a fairly good job of getting along. As for the TV commercial director--you can find that type all over the world.

Q. I read a review that said that you sang "Singing in the Rain" and made "body sounds" whilst attending the screening of "The Brown Bunny." I pride myself on not being a dumbed-down American movie-goer (I'm actually English, so I wouldn't qualify for that anyway.) Now I'm somewhat concerned that I have been following the reviews of a man who doesn't know how to behave in a movie theater! OK, I know, the movie was appalling apparently, but still, is this the behavior of a respected film critic? (Harvey Kertland, San Diego CA)

A. Actually, I sang "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head," just those six words, during a flashback scene showing Gallo on a bicycle with Chloe Sevigny. Consider it a tribute to "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." I sang it very softly to my wife, but for my sins I was seated close to a writer for the Hollywood Reporter, who included it in an article about the movie's negative reception at Cannes, where the entire audience was engaging in hoots and catcalls. The story has now grown to the point where you would think I performed it on a kazoo. After the screening of "The Brown Bunny" at Toronto, director Vincent Gallo named the wrong song, and further elaborated that I "burped and farted" during the screening. Not true.

Q. I've been soaking up the screenings at The World 3-D Film Expo in Hollywood, CA, at the Egyptian Theatre, and loving every minute of it. Last night I went to see the film "Charge at Indian River," and knowing nothing about it, I looked it up in my handy-dandy Leonard Maltin guide. He gave it two and a half stars. Fast-forward to the screening, and Leonard Maltin is in front of me for popcorn. I asked him about the film, and he said he hadn't seen it. Is it acceptable for critics to lie in their movie guides simply to make it seem like they've seen everything? (Travis Baker, Calabasas CA)

A. No, but Maltin was not lying. He was being scrupulously honest. No single human being could see all 19,000 titles in the invaluable Maltin guide, and he is up front about using an expert staff of editors and contributors. And now you know that in the next edition the review of "Charge at Indian River" will be his.

Q. I am shocked by your praise of "Matchstick Men." Having seen con-artist films like "The Grifters," "House of Games," "The Spanish Prisoner," "Confidence" and even "The Sting," how could you for one moment been fooled by this plot? The screenplay you so highly tout gave such easy clues... (Clues omitted here to avoid spoilers.-Ed.) ...And my biggest question is, if Nicholas Cage was so great at being a con man, how could he have been so easily taken by such a well known long con? (James Kent, Woburn MA)

A. I confess I was successfully misled. The film has three excellent front stories (the con, the neurotic hang-ups, the daughter), which absorbed, distracted and entertained me. But, hey, if you're smart enough to figure out what's going on, doesn't that make it poignant on a human level? I think that's what the final scene is all about.

Q. Re the AM item about playwright Simon Gray's theory that Gary Cooper's performance in "High Noon" was improved because he was suffering from piles: Why can't Simon Gray judge the film on what he sees and not "inside" information? Didn't Charles Laughton have a stagehand twist his leg during the flogging scene in "Hunchback" to help his acting along? Is it any worse than a method actor dredging up his past or Olivier planning every eyebrow movement in advance? (Leeds Bird, Bay City MI)

A. Lots of readers were outraged by the Simon Gray analysis of "High Noon." Film expert Jeff Schwager wrote: "His story had the ring of Urban Myth to me, so I did a little research. I could find no other mention on the Web of Cooper suffering from hemorrhoids or the film being reedited to maximize the appearance of his discomfort, but did find this commonly repeated anecdote (quoted from IMDb): "The pained expression on Kane's (Gary Cooper's) face throughout the film was entirely realistic, as Cooper had a bleeding ulcer at the time."

Q. Re: the ongoing discussion about the man who asked the French waiter where the toilet was, and the waiter who said "Monsieur, I have only two hands!"--I am sure that you will be delighted to learn that "I have only two hands!" is a direct translation of the French expression "Je n'ai que deux mains!" It means "I'm busy. I can't take care of this right now!", preferably said with a touch of long-suffering exasperation. (Wendy Gasperazzo, West Mersea, Essex, England)

A. That's what it means in English, too, but as an answer to that particular question it can hardly be improved upon.

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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