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Stray Dogs

Tsai Ming-Liang's first feature in five years is a mysterious and alienating series of tableaus about the fragility of flesh and the smallness of humanity.

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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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Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

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Stray Dogs

Tsai Ming-Liang's first feature in five years is a mysterious and alienating series of tableaus about the fragility of flesh and the smallness of humanity.

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Movie Answer Man (02/02/1997)

Q. Ever since my wife and I saw "Big Night," we have been wondering where the restaurant in the movie is located. We know it's near water and have speculated that it might be City Island in New York, as I believe the population is very Italian there. How I can find out? (Bob Bonoff, Stamford, Conn.)

A. In your dreams. The restaurant interior was built on a sound stage. The exterior was built on the street where the movie was filmed, in Keyport, N.J., on the Jersey shore. But it didn't lead to the interior, or to that amazing menu.

Q. What'd ya think of that commercial on the Super Bowl showing Fred Astaire dancing with the vacuum cleaner? (Harris Allsworth, Chicago)

A. Not much. Special effects were used to remove Astaire from "Royal Wedding" (1951), where he danced with a coat rack, and insert him in a TV commercial, where he danced with a Broom Vac. Rights to use Astaire's image were sold by his estate. I was reminded that when the late Ginger Rogers was honored at the Kennedy Center, Astaire's widow refused permission to use any clips of Astaire in the tribute. What would Astaire have thought about those two decisions? A man who could dance on the ceiling would have no difficulty spinning in his grave.

Q. Recently in the Answer Man you said an "Independence Day" sequel was a certainty. The company of the director and producer, Centropolis Entertainment, has a web site that says otherwise. They claim they aren't doing a sequel because (a) earth's already blown up, so where's the sequel? (b) they are not creatively interested in such a project, and (c) they doubt they'll allow others to make the sequel for them. Also, they are now working on 1998's "Godzilla." So, is ID42 really still on? (Jonas Grant, Van Nuys, CA)

A. I went back to the same Fox spokesperson who told me there would be an "ID42." She now says, "It will depend on whether there is a great script. The filmmakers will not make a final determination until that time. although they have stated they are certainly open to the possibility. So the freakoid on the net is wrong." The filmmakers and the freakoids are, of course, one and the same, but I think I get the point. By the way, the Earth did not get entirely blown up, so there's still work to be done.

Q. I caught the NPR report on quote whores--the "critics" who eagerly supply film studios with favorable quotes long in advance of a movie's opening. It included an interview with Susan Granger. They didn't talk to Jeff Craig of "Sixty Second Preview," but I imagine he thought the report was "a riveting, non-stop thrill ride!" There was much debate over why studios solicit quotes like this. Seems to me if it wasn't making money for them, they wouldn't do it, despite the smug assurances of some of the interviewees that the silly quotes "aren't fooling anyone." No? (Leon Lynn, Milwaukee, WI)

A. In the old days, movies ads simply stated their bold claims. "Passion! Adventure! Excitement! The Most Thrilling Adventure of the Decade!" These days the ad guys figure such claims are more convincing if they come in quotes and were allegedly said by "critics." As a rule of thumb, any critic quoted in an ad more than a week before the movie opens is a quote whore--unless he works for a monthly or weekly publication with an early deadline, or actually made his statement in print or on the air. Legitimate critics do not supply quotes directly to publicists, nor do they scoop their own reviews by sharing the highlights before publication day.

Q. Joe Eszterhas is making a movie named "Directed by Alan Smithee," in honor of the pseudonym used by directors who want to remove their names from a film. Who was the first person to use the pseudonym Alan Smithee, and for what movie? Any reason why the name Alan Smithee was chosen? (Gary Currie, Montreal)

A. According to Theresa Fitzpatrick of the Directors Guild of America, research in the Aug.-Sept. 1992 issue of the "DGA Magazine" reports that the pseudonym was first used in 1969 for "Death of a Gunfighter," which had two directors, neither one wanting to claim it. The name was coined by DGA council member John Rich, who recalled, "It was going to be Alan Smith. I added the 'ee' at the end to make it more unusual sounding." In return for DGA authorization to use the "Smithee" name, "a director who feels maligned must not air his grievance in the press."

Q. We have too many bugs flashing on our TV screens. Last night while watching TV I had the stupid network bug flashing in the lower right, the rating in the upper left, and even bigger was this huge winter storm warning complete with snowflake artwork. I'm so sick of these damn things popping up. They should just show the rating before the show starts. HBO flashes a screen for a few seconds before each movie and it clearly states whether there is graphic violence, strong language, sexual content, nudity, etc. Very simple, easy to understand. I don't see what the big deal is, anyway. When I was a kid my parents let me rent movies like "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and I wasn't scarred for life. The problem with network TV is that it's too tame. Where are these risque shows people are talking about? I'd like to watch one. "Millennium" is sort of violent, but Fox has always flashed a huge warning before that. And back to the weather warning. The local news weatherpeople have gotten out of control and need to be stopped! Not only did they leave this huge warning on the screen, which was about 10 times bigger than necessary, but several times each hour they'd reduce the picture by a third and have gee-whiz graphics down the side while the school closings rolled along the bottom. Of course the commercials aired without any distracting annoyances! (Robert A. Mason, Cleveland, Ohio)

A. Commercials are distracting annoyances.

Q. Thanks for reminding viewers on your annual "worst of" list that the awful "Striptease" is based on the nearly-perfect novel "Strip Tease," by the wonderful crime novelist Carl Hiaasen. Since we both agree that Demi Moore's performance sinks the movie, my question is, if you could remake the film, who would you cast in the role of Erin Grant? I've always pictured Sandra Bullock in the role, myself. (Lucius P. Cook, Chicago) Q. I'd also have chosen a reality type, like Bullock, Lili Taylor or Janane Garofolo. It's a comic character role, not an overtly sexy heroine. In his novel, Hiaasen describes the "modest dimensions" of Erin's breasts, and says her appeal is based on her ability to connect with the audience, not on her looks. One of the unfortunate aspects of Moore's approach to stripping is that she strutted arrogantly on the stage, deliberately distancing herself from the audience. Not Erin's approach at all.

Q. Ever since my wife and I saw "Big Night," we have been wondering where the restaurant in the movie is located. We know it's near water and have speculated that it might be City Island in New York as I believe the population is very Italian there. How I can find out? (Bob Bonoff, Stamford, CT)

A. I'd also have chosen a reality type, like Bullock, Lili Taylor or Janeane Garofalo. It's a comic character role, not an overtly sexy heroine. In his novel, Hiaasen describes the "modest dimensions" of Erin's breasts, and says her appeal is based on her ability to connect with the audience, not on her looks. One of the unfortunate aspects of Moore's approach to stripping is that she strutted arrogantly on the stage, deliberately distancing herself from the audience. Not Erin's approach at all.

Q. Thanks for your coverage of the Sundance festival. But you also mentioned Slamdance, the "outsider" festival that operates independently in Park City. Did they have winners, too? (Baxter Wolfe, Arlington Heights)

A. "The Bible and Gun Club," a comedy by Daniel J. Harris about Bible salesmen at a convention in Las Vegas, won first prize. The audience award for most popular film went to Michael Davis' "Eight Days a Week," about a teenager who camps beneath the window of his beloved all summer long. Nicholas Hondrogen's "Perfect Moment," in which 80 people talk about the most unforgettable moment in their lives, won the audience award for docs. And the Ilford award, given by the film company for the best black-and-white film, went to the short "Angryman," by David Baer, who promoted it by handing out fake parking tickets.

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