A Walk Among the Tombstones
Fans of the hardboiled detective, rejoice. Screenwriter-director Scott Frank and actor Liam Neeson, adapting the splendid work of crime novelist Lawrence Block, have brought a…
Q. This year several actors seem to be potential Oscar nominees for more than one film, including Anthony Hopkins, Daniel Day-Lewis, Debra Winger, Tommy Lee Jones, Denzel Washington, Clint Eastwood and Emma Thompson. What happens if they split their votes between two movies? For example, could Hopkins get enough total votes for "Shadowlands" and "The Remains Of The Day" to be nominated, but get shut out because they are divided? (Ronnie Barzell, Chicago)
A. I called Bob Werden, the Academy's legendary spokesman, for the answer, and found that your scenario is at least theoretically possible. "They use a preferential accounting procedure," he said, "in which at a certain point in the vote-counting, if one movie is ahead, then they just go ahead and count only the votes for that movie."
Q. Although I thought the Piano was well acted, especially by Holly Hunter as Ada, I was distracted by some inconsistencies in the plot. For example, early in the film Baines, the Keitel character, tells her he cannot read. Yet in the climactic scene she writes him a message on a piano key. Has she forgotten he is illiterate? (James Walton, Edmonton, Canada)
A. This is an excellent question. I referred it to Jan Chapman, who produced the film. Her response: "Ada sent the written key because she knew that Baines would somehow respond to it. At the time, she was feeling so much emotion she couldn't verbally express, that she couldn't help but write on the key."
Q. I take issue with your assessment of "The Pelican Brief" as "apolitical." This movie was made by the same Washington Post-loving, Liberal Nazi that brought us the "I hate Republicans" movie "All the Presidents Men." The president is portrayed in a typical leftish Hollywood dunderhead "Obviously Republican" uncaring nitwit role. Throughout the movie we are lambasted with political correctness of unbridled proportions in showing a female student who's obviously smarter than the prof. who is twice her age. The ending is an obvious allusion to the racial barriers that exist in society when our heroine finds herself in love with Denzel Washington, but it just can't be because of the invisible barrier which we in society have placed before her. It's our fault! (Norman T. Corts, Arlington, Va.)
A. Aside from racial barriers, I can think of another reason why Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington do not fall in love. Her lover is blown to bits in a car explosion at the beginning of the film, and the subsequent action takes only two weeks, hardly time to get over her grief even if she is only a typical leftish Hollywood dunderhead uncaring nitwit smarter than a man twice her age.
Q. It appears to me that movies are getting darker and darker, in terms of physical light. The most recent example was "Tombstone," where even when the sun was shining and there were no clouds, the sky was darkened. Do I need new glasses? (Kent Livingston, Bloomington, Minn.)
A. The problem may be right there in your local theater. Some major movie chains have been known to instruct their projectionists to turn down the power level on the $4,000 lamps in the projectors. Director Martin Scorsese, who travels with a light meter and likes to take readings from movie screens, says in some theaters the light intensity is as much as a third less than the recommended levels.
Q. At the end of "The Pelican Brief," Denzel Washington makes a bunch of phone calls. How do you suppose anyone was able to hear him when he was talking with the phone's mouthpiece tucked firmly under his chin? I guess he tucked it under his chin to show off his smile, since he wasn't using one of those phones the White House characters used--with the smaller mouthpiece that doesn't obstruct the actor's face but does proudly show off the AT&T logo. (Dan Margules, San Diego)
A. You have raised a favorite topic of my friend Rich Elias, a film critic from Dublin, Ohio. He often writes of "Mabel," the omnipresent phone supplied to movie companies by AT&T's product placement department. "You don't have to dial it," he writes, "and you don't have to speak into it. All that's required is that the AT&T Death Star logo be aimed toward the camera and, presto!, your call goes through." He's got a point. Ordinary phones don't have logos on the mouthpieces, but since he pointed this out, I've noticed AT&T logos in countless movies.
A. You are correct.
Q. I read your Movie Answer Man entry about the mysterious man who can be glimpsed in the forest scene in "The Wizard Of Oz." Somebody wrote you with the rumor that he was a stagehand who hanged himself. According to the new "Ultimate Oz" laserdisc, the "man" is one of the blurry exotic birds roaming in the background of the forest. Either that, or the studio is deliberately trying to suppress the fact that the corpse of a suicidal stagehand is plainly visible in the grassy knoll of Munchkinland Forest, within something they're trying to pass off as children's entertainment. (Andy Ihnatko, Westwood, Mass.)
A. The dead stagehand rumor is sweeping the country. I get asked about it constantly. I think it's fairly unlikely that an MGM production number could be filmed with everyone in the set somehow failing to notice a dead man hanging from a tree. There are guys who get paid just to look for stuff like that.
Q. Here's an idea. What about starting a Movie Astrology column? People could write in with their three favorite (or most despised) movies, from which the Astrologer could figure out the comings and goings of their innermost selves. (Mark Steven Heyman, Graham, Wash.)
A. How would you determine the astrological sign of each movie? By the day and time when the deal was made?
Q. Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern share the same birthday--and you don't believe in astrology! (Danielle D. Dooley, Santa Rosa, Ca.)
A. Even more amazing, they share it with Beavis and Butthead.
Q. I have a couple questions about the movie "The Big Sleep." (1) What was the point of the "cipher" that Bogart was trying to solve? It was never referred to again in the movie. (2) Did you find the movie as confusing as I did? It seemed like there were about a dozen minor characters who are thrown in along the way. (John Jensen, Wilbraham, Mass.)
A. One of the writers of the screenplay for "The Big Sleep" was the great novelist William Faulkner, who couldn't make sense of the story. According to a Hollywood legend, he called Raymond Chandler, author of the original novel, and asked him for an explanation. After Chandler provided it, Faulkner pointed out several loopholes and inconsistencies. "Then I'm as confused as you are," Chandler said.
Q. In the credits for "Cliffhanger" I note that it was based on a "premise" as opposed to a novel. Does that mean Sly Stallone and his pals could have written the whole thing out on cocktail napkins at a bar in Aspen? (Tom Wagenbrenner)
A. You're catching on fast.
Q. I just saw "Mrs. Doubtfire," and am confused by the scene in which Robin Williams starts ad libbing while looping a cartoon. I thought the voices were done first, and animators drew to the audio track. (John Graham)
A. You are quite right. But of course a scene with Williams simply talking into a mike would not have been as cinematic as one where we can see the animated characters on the screen. Study the genie scenes in Disney's "Aladdin" for an example of animators brilliantly keeping up with Williams' verbal inventions.
Q. I have heard rumors that Stanley Kubrick is making a WWII drama, and I have also heard reports of a scifi flick titled "A.I." Can you could shed some light on this? (Dwight Scholl)
A. The great director and famous recluse is indeed at work. Kubrick has long been interested in a futuristic project named "AI" (for "artificial intelligence"), but felt the special effects demands were too great. After seeing "Jurassic Park" he realized that special effects technology has caught up with his ideas, and is proceeding with the project.
Q. I am surprised at your answer to the question last month regarding the Politically Correct editing of a movie classic, "Fantasia." I am not a racist. I have black friends and I am more of a liberal than any other "label". But it is clear that you must know more than the director of "Fantasia" to have appointed yourself to the newly created committee to edit classic films based on "the intended audience." How arbitrary! You can't have it both ways; either you oppose the editing of films or you don't! (Tim O'Connor, North Olmsted, Ohio)
A. The "Fantasia" scene in question shows a little centaur with stereotyped "black" features and mannerisms who polishes the hooves of a "white" centaur and then says, "Lawsy! I do declare those hooves are shiny!" This brief sequence has been cut by Disney from the current video versions of "Fantasia."
Q. There was an interesting article recently comparing "Demolition Man" to "Last Action Hero." The article pointed out that both films cost almost exactly the same and ended up with almost exactly the same final box-office take. Despite this, "Demolition Man" was considered a minor hit, while "Last Action Hero" was considered a major flop. The general conclusion of the article was that it was all a matter of perceptions. (Jeffrey Graebner, Columbus, Ohio)
A. The AP article reported that both movies cost around $70 million and grossed about $55 million. After foreign revenues and video are added in, both films may even turn a profit. Yet "Hero" was portrayed as Arnold Schwarzenegger's bomb, and "Demolition" was seen as Sylvester Stallone's comeback. The perception is probably based on the recent box office records of the two stars: Schwarzenegger was expected to break all records, while Hollywood was surprised that Stallone, whose career has been lagging, did so well.
Q. I read in the paper that Oliver Stone may be considering a biopic of "Hustler" publisher Larry Flynt. Any comment? (Harris Allsworth, Chicago)
A. What an opportunity to combine all of the worst elements of "Born On The Fourth Of July" and "JFK."
Q. In your review of "A Perfect World" you mentioned a restaurant named the "Squat and Gobble." Near Canyon Lake, between San Antonio and Austin, there is a little barbeque place named "The Squat and Gobble" where you eat your food off of a wooden utility wire spool and sit on old tractor seats. Really cool. My husband and I went there on our honeymoon four years ago. (Tracy Standley, Austin)
A. They're all over the place. The "Squat and Gobble" in Bluffton, S.C. even sent me a T-shirt. As I said in my review, "Squat and Gobble" is the best restaurant name I have ever seen in a movie.
Q. Just saw a rough cut of a trailer for "The Crow," the movie where Brandon Lee lost his life while shooting. At the risk of sounding morose, I can't wait for this movie to be released. It looks brilliant. The production design is somewhere between "Batman Returns" and "Blade Runner." Lee's makeup reminds me of David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust. Loads of action, looks like some sex and a killer story. Very dark, very film noirish, Based on the comic book character. Know anything more? (Sean M. Apple, Los Angeles)
A. The movie was almost completed when Lee died, and the editors were able to assemble a finished product, which is now being shopped to various potential distributors. Test marketing will be necessary to see if the film can compete in theaters. Otherwise, it will go to TV and video.
Q. Sorry to bring you into a silly family argument, but I figured you could convince my mother-in-law (since I can't). She is absolutely positive she read that Ashley Judd and Winona Ryder are the same person. (Richard W. Emery)
A. Your mother-in-law has been doing too much reading in the supermarket check-out line.
Q. What's the deal with the constant recycling of the "Few Good Men" main theme in coming attractions trailers? The aural backdrop to Lt. Caffey entering the courtroom has been used for trailers of "Rising Sun," "The Firm," "Pelican Brief" and now "Philadelphia." (Jim McClure)
A. Studios often make their trailer before the music for a movie has been scored. Or, they feel a movie's actual music won't sell a picture. So they grab music from an earlier hit, hoping it will subtly remind you of a movie you liked. Or, in this case, of trailers you hated.
Q. I would like know why movies are not released on video in the versions that are shown on network TV, or inflight movies. As Christians, my family finds almost anything without a PG rating and even some with PG ratings objectionable. I was recently on a flight to Seattle from Kansas City and saw the movie "The Firm" on the U.S. Air flight. The movie had been edited and nothing objectionable was left, but the story line did not suffer. (Mike A. Stephenson)
Q. I have heard that Tom Cruise has signed up to play the Vampire Lestat in a movie version of Anne Rice's novel. Rice is adamantly opposed to this casting, and, having read all the novels, I must agree with her that Cruise is a particularly poor choice. Perhaps if a few people like me wrote to the studio in question, the execs there would reconsider. (Hiram Daitch, Champaign-Urbana, Ill.)
A. Tom Cruise is the number one movie star in America. Any executive would be crazy to pull him off the picture because of letters from disgruntled Anne Rice fans. Also, having seen Cruise triumph in the difficult role of Ron Kovic in "Born on the Fourth of July," I'm inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Q. What are your ten all-time favorite Women In Prison films? (M. Scott Partee, Peachtree City, Ga.)
A. Before I complete my list, I'm waiting for "The Leona Helmsley Story."
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A photo gallery offering snapshots from The Ebert Dinner at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.