The Farewell Party
High drama and lowbrow, morbid humor get stitched together in this successful tragicomedy about terminal patients and assisted suicide. Works better than expected.
The following Q&A reveals plot points from "The Stepford Wives" (2004).
Q. In all the reviews I've read of the new version of "The Stepford Wives," I haven't read any that point out what appears to be a major problem with the plot. It is first established that the flesh-and-blood women of Stepford are replaced with mechanical robots. But near the end of the film, it seems when the woman are re-humanized they were never robots at all, but merely had their brains electronically altered. Did I misunderstand something, or did I view this plot flaw correctly? Mike Wagner, Honolulu, Hawaii
A. Yes, either (a) they have been killed and replaced by robots, or (b) their human bodies are being controlled by the chip implanted in their brains.
The movie seems to have it both ways. It has scenes establishing them as robots, and even shows a robot body that has been prepared to replace Kidman, but then at the end the wives are miraculously themselves again. This is inconsistent, to say the least.
Q. The Cinema Advertising Council reports that council members collected $356 million in 2003 from cinema advertising, a 48 percent increase from 2002. That guarantees the continuing intrusion of commercials before the coming attractions.
Council president Matthew Kearney says the ads, if done right, "do not alienate customers." He points to a study by Arbitron that found two-thirds of adults and 70 percent of teens don't mind an ad played before the trailers and movie begin.
As a lover of movies, and especially of going to the cinema, I refuse to quietly accept that. Are you bothered by these ads, or do they fade into the background for you? What do you make of apparent plans to institute a 20-minute "presentation" of sponsored ads before movies? Michael S. Miller, Daily Telegram, Adrian, Mich.
A. I think it stinks. The figures quoted by Arbitron are preposterous; how did they word the question? I have never encountered a single moviegoer, either in person or in print, who does not despise the ads before movies. The prospect of seeing 20 minutes of ads sickens and angers me; because the theaters will not sacrifice their quick turnovers of houses, it may create pressure on Hollywood to make movies shorter. I have heard audiences boo ads before movies; what advertiser wants to alienate consumers by stealing their private time?
Q. In "Saved!" (2004), Pastor Skip is not widowed, as you mention twice in your review. His wife is alive and well, doing missionary work overseas. That's what made his relationship with Mary's mother so tormenting for him. I'm surprised you missed that. Mike O'Donnell, Washington, D.C.
A. Sandy Stern, the producer of the film, indeed confirms that Pastor Skip is married but separated and his wife is on a Christian mission. But that was so glossed over that I and several other critics missed it. My puzzlement is: Why not make him single or a widower? Why make him a potential adulterer?
Q. I recently took my wife to see the latest Harry Potter movie. I was amazed that the only speaker working was the front speaker. We heard the dialogue with no problem, but the soundtrack and audio effects were barely audible. When I complained to the manager after the movie, she was apologetic, and explained that the technician who was suppose to fix it was not available on the weekends.
Yet she was still selling tickets to the show and from what I could tell, I was the only person in the crowd of over 100 who noticed enough to complain. I know people rarely notice when a bulb in a lamp is too dim, but to watch a high budget film in mono? Can't people hear what they're listening to? Ike Quigley, Greensboro, N.C.
A. Maybe they're programmed to passively accept what's on the screen, without reflecting that it is the responsibility of the projectionist and the management. Recently I attended a public/press screening of "The Stepford Wives" at a Chicago multiplex. The picture was dark, dim, murky and indistinct. Not acceptable.
I complained to the manager. A few minutes later, the light intensity was turned up, and the picture looked fine. Many theaters cheat their customers through the idiotic practice of dialing down the projector bulbs, in the mistaken believe this will extend their life. Studies have proven that it has no effect. The picture quality at the Chicago screening was dramatically bad. The theater contained dozens of film critics, not to mention the publicists, but nobody else went out to the lobby to complain.
Q. I was a upset that you revealed who the werewolf was in "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban." You didn't say it directly, but merely mentioning the name "Lupus" completely gives it away. Corey Slack, Springfield, Mass.
A. Since that is the character's name in the movie, don't you think the movie itself gave it away, for anyone like you who obviously knows your Latin roots?
Q. I just recently watched "Big Fish" on DVD for the first time. I noticed in one particular scene that a cloud resembled a baby's face in a hyper-realistic way. The time code was 74:42-74:50. I rewound it and paused it, and when my family finally saw it they agreed it did not look fake, but more like a picture. I know Tim Burton recently had a baby, and I also know that in "Sleepy Hollow" a hidden face was added with CGI inside a fire. Do you know if this baby's face was intentional or just an amazing coincidence? Mitchell Stookey,Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
A. There are no coincidences. Another hidden surprise, according to movieweb.com: "From the Main Menu, if you press UP twice after highlighting the 'Special Effects' option, a 'star' will appear on the 'top hat' above the 'tree.' Select it to see Tim Burton driving a golf cart shooting fireworks down the main strip of Spectre."
Q. There is a new documentary by Michael Wilson titled "Michael Moore Hates America." When it hits theaters in August, I hope that you have the guts to give it a fair shot. David Oestreich,Norwalk, Calif.
A. I have asked for a copy or a screening. The title is not a good omen. It seems to me that dissent is a patriotic duty, a sign of love for one's country, not hate.
Q. I just wanted to write and say that I, an adamant conservative and somewhat begrudging Bush supporter, completely agree with the assertion in your piece on "Fahrenheit 9/11" that "[my] opinions are my stock in trade, and is it not more honest to declare my politics than to conceal them?"
Exactly right. Even more so, I would venture that for a critic to really effectively review a film like "Bowling for Columbine," it's almost necessary to reveal one's personal politics. No matter how much I might try, I will approach Michael Moore's films with a higher degree of scrutiny and skepticism than a liberal reviewer, and it's disingenuous for me to try to deny that.
I've always enjoyed your criticism, largely because you're willing to discuss your own personal reactions -- emotional, political, or otherwise. I certainly don't have to agree with those reactions to respect or enjoy the piece. Win Martin, Portland, Ore.
A. I got two kinds of messages in response to that column: The "shut up and stick to movies" rant, and those like yours and this one from Mark McFadden of Citrus Heights, Calif.: "There was a time when I thought movie critics should keep their political views to themselves. Then I changed my mind; but I wasn't sure just why I had. Thanks for clearing that up for me.
"It was Edmund Burke that said an elected official owes his constituents more than simple obedience to their desires. He owes them his full intelligence and judgment to make decisions. I think movies are so important that their critics should subscribe to the same wisdom. No work of art exists in a vacuum, and a critic that isn't engaged in society serves no useful purpose other than to judge technical competence."
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