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Movie Answer Man (09/26/1999)

Q. "Stigmata" is not as silly as you say. My friends and I left the theater having experienced a dazzling and powerful film. You talked about demonic possession. The spirit (not the demon) that possessed Frankie was a Catholic priest angry at the Church because it would not publish what he believed to be the gospel Jesus himself wrote. We don't have a demon who wants to ravage the world and kill people, as silly horror movies portray. We have a priest who wants to be heard, and his only way to get this word out to the world is through possessing the atheist, Frankie. Nor does "Stigmata" imply that the stigmata itself comes through the rosary. It comes due to the possession by the spirit of Father Almeida. At the end of your review you talk about Catholics and the outrage that this film has caused. A Catholic friend watched it with us and thought it was incredible. He even agreed with the corruption of the Catholic Church which was illustrated in the film. (Nathan Miller, Castleton VT)

A. You assume that the opinion of a Catholic friend who went to the movie with you is naturally more valid than that of any church spokesman. Churches don't work that way. But you make some interesting points. Here's my take. Father Almeida has the stigmata, meaning he is filled with the spirit of Jesus. His rosary is mailed to America, Frankie touches it, and afterwards exhibits the stigmata, which has apparently been transmitted through the rosary. She is therefore not filled with Almeida's spirit, but Christ's. Impossible, since one must have deep faith to exhibit the stigmata. It's not a secondary symptom of possession by a third party. If it were only Almeida possessing her, there should be no stigmata. If the deep masculine voice is Almeida's, then Christ is Almeida's spokesman, which has things the wrong way around; that's like preferring the opinion of your friend to that of the Church.

Q. Did you know that Bruce Willis is playing a Jewish psychiatrist in "The Sixth Sense?" In fact, he is a dybbuk. When I found out the kid was seeing ghosts I remembered learning about dybbuks from my grandparents. I went back a second time to see if there were any inconsistencies with the dybbuk theory, and didn't see any. I went back a third time just to watch the phenomenal performance of the kid. I hope he gets an Oscar for it. (Richard J. Gaylord, Univ. of Illinois-Urbana).

A. Director N. Night Shyamalan prefers not to comment because the answer might give away the secret of the film. As for the young actor, Haley Joel Osment, he is inspired in a difficult and complex performance, and may get a supporting nod. I hope the Academy doesn't overlook Bruce Willis, however, who is not only strong in the lead, but no doubt contributed to Osment's work. As Robert Mitchum observed after working with the two children in "The Night of the Hunter," adult actors are sometimes as involved in the direction of children in movies as the director is.

Q. You wrote from the Telluride festival that "Princess Mononoke" deserves an Oscar nomination as one of the best films of the year. Does an animated film seriously have a chance? (Pet Danforth, Oak Park)

A. Animation, yes ("Beauty and the Beast" was nominated in 1991). But "Princess Mononoke," no. Cynthia Swartz of Miramax tells me: "Unfortunately, in one of those silly Academy twists, it is not eligible for anything because it was the Japanese entry in the foreign language category two years ago."

Q. I saw "The Thomas Crown Affair" and decided to check your review. After reading it, I have only one question: "Rumpy-pumpy?" (Tom Ballew, Kansas City MO)

A. A splendid expression, which you will find in the New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, listed as being of mid-20th century origin. I first encountered it in "A Clockwork Orange." I have no idea what it means.

Q. What do you think of Disney's intention to release nine animated features to DVD with no special features at a price of $39.99? The titles are "Pinocchio," "Mulan," "Hercules," "101 Dalmatians," "The Lion King II: Simba's Pride," "Peter Pan," "Lady & The Tramp,": "The Little Mermaid," and "The Jungle Book." Each DVD is "limited issue" for 60 days. Don't get me wrong; I'm a Disney FAN--that is why I am so distressed). (John Berggren, Raleigh NC)

A. Disney is indeed setting a new record high price for the DVD market. The majority of new DVDs without added bells and whistles sell for $19 to $25; the highest price point is $29.95. Above that, you get into the Criterion Collection and "special editions." The $39.95 DVD price is $13 above Disney's price for the VHS versions of the same films, despite the trend toward lower DVD prices. (Note however that the titles are often found discounted 30 to 40 percent.) Martin Blythe, spokesperson for Buena Vista Home Entertainment, says there are extra features on some of the DVDs, but there is little time to add bells and whistles if a new DVD is to appear on the same day as the VHS tape. He chose not to comment on the pricing.

Q. I have not yet heard of any new continuation of the "7 Up" movies. You know: Michael Apted's "28 Up" and "35 Up". So where's "42 Up"? Shouldn't it be coming out this year? (J. J. Fehr, Mainz Germany)

A. Heather McLeod of Vancouver also writes, saying "I'm just dying to see what's happened to the man living in the camper." They're referring to the long-running series of documentaries that revisits the same cross-section of the British population every seven years, checking in to see how they're getting on with their lives. Some of the subjects seem to illustrate the notion that the child is father to the man: At 7, you can read their future in their eyes. Others reveal surprises. I ran into Michael Apted at the Toronto Film Festival, and he told me "42 Up" was finished two years ago, but has had trouble finding North American distribution, even though all the titles in the series have been profitable. Now, thanks to clout from his latest feature, the James Bond film "The World is Not Enough." there will be a release in November. (See my overview of the "The Up Documentaries".)

Q. Can you tell if there are any plans for the 25th anniversary of Robert Altman's "Nashville?" Will it be available on DVD or videotape? Letterboxed? (Mike Sundhausen, Los Angeles)

A. Incredibly, a Paramount rep. tells me: "At this time, we have not announced any plans to release 'Nashville' on DVD nor have we announced a letterboxed VHS version." This despite the fact that "Nashville" is considered one of the greatest films of the century. Another one of Altman's best films, the Cannes prize-winner "3 Women," has never been available on video.

Q. In a literature course that I am taking we recently read an excerpt from a 13th century French allegorical poem called "Romance of the Rose". In it, the character suffers many heartaches for the love of a rosebud. I was wondering if you knew whether or not this inspired the "rosebud" in "Citizen Kane." (John Kinard, Columbia SC)

A. Apparently not. The screenplay was co-written by Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz, and was inspired in part by Mankiewicz's experiences as a regular guest at William Randolph Hearst's legendary castle, San Simeon. He was friendly with Hearst's mistress, Marion Davies, and Hollywood lore has long held it that from her he learned that "rosebud" was Hearst's pet name for that most precious region of her anatomy.

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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