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Movie Answer Man (11/03/2002)

Q. The MPAA rating for "Jackass" gives the film an R for "dangerous, sometimes extremely crude stunts, language & nudity." Ignoring the "extremely crude" remark (which seems to be more of an aesthetic judgment), aren't all stunts "dangerous?" Regardless of the danger or crudity how in the hell can a movie (stop reading if you are eating) show a guy make his own yellow sno-cone (you know what I mean), consume said sno-cone and then regurgitate said sno-cone and only get an "R"--while Paul Schrader has to pixelize grainy video footage before he can get an "R" for "Auto Focus"? (Peter Sobczynski, Chicago)

A. If there is a pattern to the MPAA's reasoning, it's that you can do things in a vulgar comedy that are off-limits in a serious drama.

Q. I await your review of "The Santa Clause 2" with great interest. I liked the first "The Santa Clause" with Tim Allen, though I didn't find it quite as enjoyable as you did. But at a preview of "Clause 2," I couldn't reconcile Christmas with a "dictator Santa" and "children elves" working in a sweatshop. Where were all their parents? Santa employs a legion of orphaned elves? I found it all a bit disturbing and I don't think I'd take very young kids to see it. An evil Santa is too much for parents to explain after the credits roll. (Maria Toscana, Chicago)

A. My review has now appeared; I liked "Clause 2" better than the original, but I confess I didn't think of the impact on younger kids. Yeah, it's a little weird with Clone Santa staging a military coup with all those toy soldiers. I guess maybe the cut-off is: Kids who believe in Santa are too young for this movie.

Q. I am currently a student at Oxford. Not 10 minutes ago, I passed a quad poster advertising "America's smash-hit comedy," which is "Slap Her, She's French." According to The Hollywood Reporter, this film has not yet seen a US screening, and awaits distribution in 2003 (what, no Oscar-qualifying December run?). It's one thing to misrepresent a film's box office success; but this is flat-out dishonest. Americans shouldn't be crucified for poor taste until after awarding a $20 million weekend to a movie. (Daniel Mallory, Oxford UK)

A. I think we qualified already by awarding a $23 million weekend to "Jackass." As for "Slap Her, She's French," it was originally set to open in September, then October, and so they must have printed the posters in a fog of premature optimism.

Q. I've been waiting all year for "Punch-Drunk Love" to open. Now it has, and I'm frustrated by the fact that The Powers That Be have not deemed me worthy of viewing it. It is not playing in any of the over a dozen theaters within reasonable driving distance of my home (in Southern New Hampshire). I'm not so naive as to think that a letter of complaint will have any constructive effect, but I want to do it anyway. My question is, who is responsible for the decision not to let me see this film and others like it? If I'm going to write a pointless letter, at least I want it to be thrown away by the right person's secretary. (Ron Spiegelhalter, Merrimack NH)

A. I would contact the home office of the chains operating theaters in your area. They obviously believe that while Southern New Hampshire is ripe for moronic Adam Sandler movies, it is not ready for a good Adam Sandler movie. A kind of red-lining goes on, in which "art films" are booked in the cities but denied to less populated areas. Woody Allen once claimed that none of his films has ever played south of the Mason-Dixon Line. An exaggeration, but with a grain of truth.

Q. I wanted to share with the AM two wonderful visits to the cinema I had recently, both of which were improved by audience "participation." The first was to a sneak preview to "The Ring," a most frightening film I attended with about 100 teenage girls in the theatre, shrieking and squealing and squirming in their seats as the psychological terror unfolded on the screen. The second was to "Spirited Away," which many forward-thinking parents had taken their small children to see; each of them was rapt with attention and the wonderful adventure "spirited" them away both with terror and delight. In both cases the audience added to the whole experience because they reacted in a myriad of ways, bringing me along with them. Let it not be said that the home theatre can ever replace seeing a movie with a live audience. (Miles Blanton, Carrboro, NC)

A. Let it not, indeed. Although I would suggest that the audience for "The Ring" took almost nothing of value away from the theater, while the audience for "Spirited Away" took great artistry and a sense of wonder. Both films deal with young girls. The heroine of "Spirited Away" has enchanting adventures and learns lessons in life; the heroine of "The Ring" is horribly mistreated and gets revenge as a serial killer, murdering people seven days after they get her phone call.

Q. With movie competition so intense but dull these days, I am pining for the days when studios promoted their movies with flair, like William Castle did. Case in point. With "The Ring," wouldn't it be neat if the theater required all viewers to complete a form before the show, so that each can be tracked in case they died in seven days? Also, how about having a phone ring inside the theater right after the first showing of "The Ri (Hilton Mock, Stanford CA)

A. Your message ended prematurely in the middle of the title. I hope this was simply an e-mail glitch.

Q. You couldn't mention in the AM that you were reading The Shipping News without expecting to hear from your most persistent Newfoundlander reader. Here's an exercise in reverse engineering for you. Having read the book, do you have an actor in mind who you would have cast as Quoyle, instead of Kevin Spacey? Two names I heard bandied around years ago were Randy Quaid and John Lithgow, for physical reasons, I assume. A wife of a friend once told me she imagined me as Quoyle as she read it. He has wisely divorced her since. (Mike Spearns, St. John's, Newfoundland)

A. Timothy Spall, of course.

Q. In answering the question about CleanFlicks, which censors movies on demand for consumers, you say the studios are on shaky ground because they "agree with airline and broadcast censorship." Two points you've overlooked: (1) The editing for airlines and TV is done by the director himself (or someone under his or the studio's supervision), not some yahoo in Utah who thinks he's a better filmmaker than Scorsese. (2) These studio-edited versions are then copyrighted; the rogue versions from CleanFlicks are not, and thus as "derivative" works are technically public domain, which means anyone could dub off copies of the "clean" "Titanic," sell 'em for ten bucks a pop, and there's nothing Fox, Paramount or James Cameron could do to stop him. Personally, I think the studios should simply make their airline/TV versions available to video stores that want 'em; that way, the religious folks can get their clean movies, the studios don't lose any money, and no copyright laws are violated. (Michael Schlesinger, vice president, Sony Pictures)

A. Good idea. And...the movie-choppers are technically guilty of theft?

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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