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Office Christmas Party

Another reminder that allowing your cast to madly improvise instead of actually providing a coherent script with a scintilla of inherent logic often leads to…

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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Mmmmmm, D'oh Nuts!

Q. In your review of "The Simpsons Movie," you mention that it is already voted as the 166th best film of all time on the Internet Movie Database and ask, "Do you suppose somehow the ballot box got stuffed by 'Simpsons' fans who didn't even need to see the movie to know it was a masterpiece? D'oh!" Likewise, readers of your own Web site on the morning of the film's release already gave it a four-star rating. Don't you think these are merely fans of the movie showing their contempt for you and all other reviewers, and in fact for any but their own opinions?

Bill Pierce, Burlington, Ontario

A. Not at all. They simply love the Simpsons. By the way, on July 29, "The Simpsons Movie" had climbed up to the 43rd greatest film of all time, right behind Kubrick's "Paths of Glory" and three ahead of "Chinatown." Will it knock off "The Godfather" for No. 1? IMDb.com notes: "For the Top 250, only votes from regular voters are considered."

Movie City News reports that 10 clips from Lazlo Kovacs' best work can be found here.

Q. It's so sad to learn of the death of Laszlo Kovacs. To me, he always seemed Hungarian to the core, yet he's associated with so many films and filmmakers who ARE the American cinema of the last 40 years.

Milos Stehlik, Facets Multimedia

A. He was an artist and an innovator. I remember seeing "Hell's Angels on Wheels" (1967) one of his early non-union shoots, and observing: "There's one shot where the camera moves in and out of focus through a field of green grass and then steals slowly across one of the big, brutal cycles. The contrast has an impact equal to David Lean's similar shots in 'Doctor Zhivago' (remember the frosty window fading into the field of flowers?)."

Q. While reading through your article "Games vs. Art: Ebert vs. Barker," my mind was continually distracted by a single thought. What would Roger Ebert think if a man who self-admittedly has never experienced a film then critiqued a film as a whole?

Matthew Schindler, Meadville, Pa.

A. I would value his naivete and learn from his first impressions. During an interview about the movies on his 80th birthday, in 1908, Leo Tolstoy said: "You will see that this little clicking contraption with the revolving handle will make a revolution in our life -- the life of writers."

And in a graduate class on Shakespeare's tragedies at the University of Illinois, Professor G. Blakemore Evans, later the editor of The Riverside Shakespeare and the world's authority on "Romeo and Juliet," told us: "I would give anything in the world to read this play for the first time, knowing nothing about it."

Q. In regard to "The Wilhelm Scream," is there a name for the giggle of the little girl or the "ah-ah" of the baby heard so often in radio and TV commercials as well as movies?

Kyle Bright, Joliet

A. Steve Lee of hollywoodlostandfound.net, which documents "The Wilhelm Scream," tells me: "No, I don't believe this particular sound effect has a distinctive name, other than 'Baby Coo,' or 'Baby Laugh.' If I am thinking of the same sound that Kyle is, there are several versions. I think the most popular is on a CD library of sounds called 'Hollywood Edge,' and it's a small piece of a baby recording on their Premiere Edition series, Disk 14, Track 47, 28 seconds in. There, it's called 'Baby No. 10.'

"But the truth is, it could have been one of many recordings. Babies make similar sounds to this all the time. Many sound editors and commercial houses have their own library of original sounds, and have recorded their own children giggling. 'Loop groups' have members who can imitate babies perfectly, and they record original vocals for every new project they work on. And to make sound-effects archeology even tougher, editors trade sound effects with others a lot -- making it very difficult to track them all down. But give me some time. I'm on the case!"

Q. Regarding the question about survival in space: A person exposed to direct sunlight in space would rapidly cook to death, not freeze. If they were in the shade, the vacuum would prevent the body temperature from bleeding off very quickly (no wind or air to cool it off, just the body radiating its own heat) and they would die of suffocation instead. Freezing would happen after.

Arthur Clarke postulated that to survive, you should hyperventilate and fill your bloodstream with as much oxygen as possible before exposure, then vacate the lungs to prevent a pressure imbalance that might create a rupture. So lasting a while does take a bit of prep time (as shown in "2001").

Rob Schwarz, Carlsbad, Calif.

A. I'm gonna stick that to the refrigerator door, for when I may need it.

Q. Are there any plans to restore Orson Welles' "Chimes at Midnight" (a k a "Falstaff") and give the film a proper DVD release in America, or should I just break down and buy one of those overpriced imports?

Scott Brady, Chicago

A. Jonathan Rosenbaum, film critic of the Chicago Reader and an expert on Welles, tells me: "Michael Dawson, the guy who rejigged the lip-synching on Welles' 'Othello,' has been planning for years to do the same thing with 'Chimes at Midnight,' only this time, I'm happy to say, without changing the music and sound effects and without turning the soundtrack into stereo. (My only beef with his ground plan is that he wants to add the sound of neighing horses to one shot! Go figure.) The problem is, until or unless the labyrinthine rights issues get cleared up with the widow of producer Harry Saltzman, you can't even buy DVDs now from Europe, either, judging from my latest Google search. (When the Locarno Film Festival had a huge Welles retrospective and conference two years ago, they had to get special permission from her just to show the film once.)"

Ebert again: For my Great Movies piece on the film, I was able to find a decent DVD from Brazil. But it's probably no longer available.

Q. What is your stand on fan edits? According to Wikipedia, a fan edit is "a version of a film modified by a viewer, that removes, reorders, or adds material in order to create a new interpretation of the film." The largest provider of these fan edits is currently fanedit.org, a site which recently had some legal issues with Lucasarts. Do you think it's right by any means for fans to "take justice into their own hands," so to speak?

Miikka Mononen, Vantaa, Finland

A. The film will be copyrighted, so you have no legal right to do it. However, doing it at home on iMovie, let's say, could be a real learning experience. It's posting it online that's dubious. Some directors, like Kevin Smith, have an anything-goes attitude. Others go ballistic. Michael Moore, who has encouraged piracy of his films, would be enraged if one shot was touched.

Q. It's going on 10 years since we had the last great generation of film directors emerge. Among the directors I am referring to are P.T. Anderson, David Fincher, Darren Aronofsky, Spike Jonze and Christopher Nolan. With the exception of Michel Gondry, are there any emerging directors that you feel will emerge as the next generation's visionary?

Neal James, Skokie

A. Do we have to stick with Americans? There is a New Mexican Cinema forming around Guillermo Del Toro ("Pan's Labyrinth"), Alfonso Cuaron ("Children of Men") and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu ("Babel").

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