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Movie Answer Man (10/19/2003)

Q. Your ‘School of Rock’ review needs a fix. Hearing, at your age, can play tricks. Joan Cusack, when drunk, mimicked not who you thunk. Change ‘Grace Slick’ into (quote)’Stevie Nicks’. (Mike Spearns, Newfoundland)

A. Your correction is gladly received.

Q. In your Great Movies essay for the recently-added De Palma version of “Scarface” you asked the following questions: “What were Pacino’s detractors hoping for? Something internal and realistic? Low key?” Here’s your answer: how about having an actual Cuban portray the character, rather than have an Italian actor offensively impersonate one (and poorly, at that)? (John Ericson, Ann Arbor MI) 

A. How about having an actual Texan take the role of that Philadelphian Richard Gere in “Days of Heaven"? And let’s take Denzel Washington out of “Much Ado About Nothing.” And what business did Alfred Molina have playing Diego Rivera in “Frida?” He’s a British actor with Italian and Spanish parents. And what about Javier Bardem, born in Spain’s Canary Islands, playing the Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas in “Before Night Falls”? The magic of acting lies precisely in actors portraying someone they are not.

Q. I was intrigued by your statement that “no human being could possibly see all 19,000 movies listed in the invaluable Leonard Maltin guide.” I also noticed that on "" it states that you have seen around 8,000 films yourself, and probably several hundred more since you quoted that. I just turned 23 this week and am proud to say that I have seen just under 9,000 films. Since I wasn’t into this until around 1994, I did the math and figured that as an average, that meant watching only about 2 1/2 movies per day. At this rate, I am determined to prove you wrong somewhere around 2015 in which I will only be 35 years old and still “a human being.” (Mike Furlong, Roy UT)

A. You will definitely be 35, all right, but let’s wait and see about the other part. Before you commit yourself to seeing 19,000 movies, you might want to check out a new documentary named “Cinemania,” about five New Yorkers who pretty much go to the movies all day long, every day. This film cries out for the subtitle, “Get a life!”

Q. You commented that the MPAA rating given to “The Whale Rider” was inappropriate and I agree for exactly the same reasons. So: what could possibly have possessed these idiots when they approved the trailer for the new version of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” for All Audiences? What an egregious pair of examples. (Alex Merz, W. Lebanon NH) 

A. I checked out the trailer at and found it within the MPAA’s usual guidelines. What I don’t understand is the R rating for the movie itself. This film is so gruesome, sick and explicitly violent that if it doesn’t deserve an adults-only rating, you have to wonder what does.

Q. I’m curious about the line in your review of “Luther” suggesting that Martin Luther could not have been the depressive he’s portrayed as and still accomplish what he did. If you look at the historical documentation and Luther’s own writing, it becomes fairly clear Luther was clinically depressed. Do you think it is impossible for someone with mental illness to accomplish something spectacular? (Allen Lunde, Chico CA) 

A. No, I don’t. And I obviously I didn’t know enough about the real Luther, even though my father was Lutheran. Many readers wrote me to say that the depressed, doubtful , despairing man depicted in the film was close to the historical reality. Steve Bliss, a Lutheran seminary student from Kimball, SD, helped me out (I have edited him for length):

Q. My wife and I just returned from seeing “The Secret Lives of Dentists." During the latter part of the movie I could see the microphones in the film, usually over the heads of the actors. I didn’t know what to make of it, especially because it happened again and again. It was terribly distracting from the experience of watching the movie. What happened here? (Bill Meyer, Durham N.C.) 

A. This is the Question That Refuses Go Away, and I answer it faithfully once a year. Please clip and save.

Q. After listening to yet another gravelly throated voice-over, I was struck by the familiarity of the cop’s name—Detective Malloy. I did an character search for the name and the results were vast—especially for Jim’s, Jake’s, and John’s. Why does Hollywood love the “J. Malloy” name so much? (Gary Troutman, Lake Charles, LA)

A. I don’t know, but you’re right. The Internet Movie Database lists 139 Malloys. played by everyone from Rod Steiger to Dub Taylor. On a hunch, I looked up “Travis,” and got 277 hits, including Seann William Scott’s character in the new movie “The Rundown.” Now it’s up to IMDb fanatics to determine the most popular male and female names in movie history.

Q. I am concerned about your use of the terms "nut case" and "whacko" in your review of “Matchstick Men.” Movies and critics have immense power to shape popular perceptions. People with mental disorders resent being called "wacko" or a "nut case." Mental illness is a physical disorder just like diabetes or heart disorders. (Agris Petersons, Santa Barbara CA)

A. I received a lot of protests about the use of those terms. I was describing the specific character, not mental illness in general, but you make a valid point and I will reform.

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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