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Movie Answer Man (12/31/2000)

Q. I am surprised that you were critical of Robert Zemeckis for giving away the plot to "Cast Away" in the trailer for the movie. While I share your disgust at this marketing tactic, Zemeckis is not doing anything different than what Shakespeare did at the beginning of "Romeo and Juliet". I guess that it proves that audiences haven't changed in 400 years. (Hugh Kearney, Clearwater FL)

A. Shakespeare made you buy a ticket and enter the theater, where his introduction was part of the play. He didn't reveal the ending in his handbills.

Q. I read on the Internet Movie Database that Britain's Plain English Campaign, "which hands out an annual Foot in Mouth award honoring the celebrity who makes the most baffling verbal statement during the previous year," picked Alicia Silverstone as this year's winner. She won for this comment about her movie "Clueless:" I think that 'Clueless' was very deep. I think it was deep in the way that it was very light. I think lightness has to come from a very deep place if it's true lightness. According to the article, John Lister, spokesman for the Campaign, told the BBC: "That quote left us all scratching our heads." What do you think? (Susan Lake, Urbana, IL)

A. Silverstone's comment is perfectly clear to anyone but a dunderheaded Plain Englishman, and deserves a space somewhere between "less is more" and "the incredible lightness of being." Her words describe the multilayered magic of Emma, the Jane Austen novel on which the movie is based. The British should be grateful for her efforts; she brings poetry and wit to a celebrity comment, and is not simply adding to the oversupply of dumb movie star quotes. John Lister should try Listerine for his scalp condition.

Q. I watched "The Perfect Storm" last night and did not like it. But I noticed something interesting. Though the antagonist in the story is the storm, a lesser evil is the boat owner played by Michael Ironside. Clooney and crew return to sea for economic reasons, and Ironsides' character personifies the ugly side of capitalism. In films where the enemy is nature ("Jaws," "The Towering Inferno," "Titanic," etc. ), there is often a subplot involving some greedy corporation or officials who worsen the situation by "putting profits before human life." "The Grinch" takes a negative viewpoint towards the commercialization of Christmas, and yet you can't walk into a mall without stepping on a Grinch product. I would suggest that these anti-capitalist cliches have become so standard that Hollywood filmmakers plug them in without even thinking about how contradictory they are to their own motives. (Mike Spearns, St. John's, Newfoundland)

A. Consider also the evil billionaire mountain-climber in "Vertical Limit;" Nicholas Cage as a selfish executive at the beginning of "The Family Man;" Tom Hanks learning that company profits are not the most important thing in "Cast Away;" and the evil upper class society twits in "The House of Mirth." It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to be the hero in a movie.

Q. I've been reading lately that "Gladiator" may be the top contender for Best Picture this year. Two questions: 1) are these prognosticators mad? 2) in your opinion, what was the last truly mediocre movie to take home the Best Picture Oscar? (Dan Conley, Chicago)

A. Oscar talk about "Gladiator" has grown since it got five Golden Globe nominations. Enthusiasm for the movie baffles me. Its special effects are muddy and substandard, and its story combines elements of 1950s Hollywood gladiator epics with staging by the World Wrestling Federation. Among the mediocre Best Picture winners are "The Sound of Music," "Around the World in 80 Days" and "The Greatest Show on Earth."

Q. Why are videocassette movies getting physically lighter? The tapes in my collection that are 7-10 years old are definitely heavier than the feature tapes of the last few years. Is cheaper tape being used? Has technology changed? Is the quality reduced? Will the newer tapes have a shorter (or longer) shelf-life? (John Tirpak, Fairfax VA)

A. I went for an opinion to Michael Schlesinger, vice president of Sony Classics, who replies:

Q. If everyone in the U.S. sent Nicholas Cage a dollar do you think he would stop being in movies? It's not that he's bad--he's quite adequate--he's just plain in too many of them. Do you think it would work? (Ray Broms)

A. I like Cage as an actor. But your plan interests me. I suggest that everyone in the United States send me a dollar, and I will stop reviewing his movies.

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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