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Guardians of the Galaxy

In many respects, “Guardians,” directed and co-written by indie wit James Gunn, and starring buffed-up former schlub Chris Pratt and Really Big Sci-Fi Blockbuster vet…

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War Story

Director Mark Jackson’s drama is a chilly study in grief starring Catherine Keener as a war-zone photographer shattered by her experiences in Libya.

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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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Movie Answer Man (02/19/1995)

Q. I have been following the comments about moviegoing experiences in America, Taiwan, etc. As a Brit, having just completed a trip to New York City, it amazes me why your cinemas are so backward compared to those in London. Why do Americans tolerate such awful service? We Brits are told how much we can learn from the service industry in the U.S., but the simple task of seeing a film can turn into a nightmare! Examples: (1) Why do New Yorkers enjoy queuing up for 45 minutes to purchase a ticket? (2) Once you've bought your ticket, why do you have to queue up again to wait for the cinema to open the house doors? (3) Then, when it's open, there's an almighty rush to find the best seat, and then you have to wait another half hour before the film starts! By contrast, in going to the movies in London, we: (1) Telephone cinema and book tickets on credit card. Best available seat numbers are given. (2) Get to cinema five minutes before film starts, collect tickets, go into the auditorium, usher takes you to your seats and film starts. Simple as that. No queues. No hassle. (Darren Tossell, London)

A. What you have observed is a uniquely New York phenomenon. Moviegoers in the rest of the United States do not usually line up for tickets, except, of course, in Los Angeles. The reason in both cities is the same: These cities are filled with exhibitionists who resent the fact that they cannot be seen in the dark. Accustomed to being televised from their ringside seats during Knicks and Lakers games, they go to fashionable movies early in order to display themselves in the queue. If the theaters pre-sold tickets and let everyone in quickly, they probably wouldn't go at all.

Q. I teach marketing at Concordia College. I understand that Viacom plans to use the 50 million customer base of Blockbuster Video, where two million transactions are recorded every day, to "reverse engineer" movies . In other words, scripts and stars will be determined by data gathered from marketing surveys. What do you think about this? (Craig C. Lien, St. Paul, Minn.)

A. If it were not absolute goofiness, I would be alarmed. Viacom is likely to lose millions on "reverse engineered" movies, because one of the problems in entertainment marketing is that people don't know what they want until they see it. "Star Wars" tested so horribly that Fox considered recycling the footage into a Saturday morning kiddie show. It doesn't take a genius (or a marketing survey) to know Tom Cruise or Whoopi Goldberg sell tickets, or that a Schwarzenegger science fiction film will probably do well. Beyond that, though, the marketers are likely to find people "want" movies similar to those they just enjoyed. This is the wisdom that gave us "Honey, I Blew Up the Kids." Marketing works for soap and fast food. But in a volatile area like popular entertainment, it provides obvious answers at great cost, while counseling against original proposals because the survey audience cannot relate to them. How well do you think "Pulp Fiction," "Silence of the Lambs," "Forrest Gump," "Schindler's List" or "Quiz Show" would have tested, as compared to such sure-fire backward-engineered projects as :Wagons East," "On Deadly Ground," "City Slickers II" or "Highlander III?" Viacom and Blockbuster specialize in selling what others have created, and they are good at that. They will discover it is much trickier to create what others will sell.

Q. You recently had a Q&A dealing with Bruce Willis's lack of a bypass surgical scar in the poker scene in "Nobody's Fool." You suggested that the director probably figured everyone would be too busy looking at the topless woman next to Bruce to notice that he didn't have a scar. Well, obviously YOU were too busy starring at Willis's naked companion, since he DOES have a surgery scar on his chest. It runs from his trachea to his navel. Yes, it is faded and covered by some chest hair (OK, a lot of chest hair) but that is to be expected 7 or 8 months after surgery. Just felt the record should be set straight, since it seemed startling that a veteran director like Robert Benton would make such an obvious error. Next time, maybe you should look at Willis instead. (Melinda Benson, 75460,2421)

A. If you think, for even one instant, that I'd rather look at a topless woman than a surgical scar...

Q. I have been following the comments about moviegoing experiences in America, Taiwan, etc. As a Brit, having just completed a trip to New York City, it amazes me why your cinemas are so backward compared to those in London. Why do Americans tolerate such awful service? We Brits are told how much we can learn from the service industry in the U.S., but the simple task of seeing a film can turn into a nightmare! Examples: (1) Why do New Yorkers enjoy queuing up for 45 minutes to purchase a ticket? (2) Once you've bought your ticket, why do you have to queue up again to wait for the cinema to open the house doors? (3) Then, when it's open, there's an almighty rush to find the best seat, and then you have to wait another half hour before the film starts! By contrast, in going to the movies in London, we: (1) Telephone cinema and book tickets on credit card. Best available seat numbers are given. (2) Get to cinema five minutes before film starts, collect tickets, go into the auditorium, usher takes you to your seats and film starts. Simple as that. No queues. No hassle. (Darren Tossell, London)

A. What you have observed is a uniquely New York phenomenon. Moviegoers in the rest of the United States do not usually line up for tickets, except, of course, in Los Angeles. The reason in both cities is the same: These cities are filled with exhibitionists who resent the fact that they cannot be seen in the dark. Accustomed to being televised from their ringside seats during Knicks and Lakers games, they go to fashionable movies early in order to display themselves in the queue. If the theaters pre-sold tickets and let everyone in quickly, they probably wouldn't go at all.

Q. I teach marketing at Concordia College. I understand that Viacom plans to use the 50 million customer base of Blockbuster Video, where two million transactions are recorded every day, to "reverse engineer" movies . In other words, scripts and stars will be determined by data gathered from marketing surveys. What do you think about this? (Craig C. Lien, St. Paul, Minn.)

A. If it were not absolute goofiness, I would be alarmed. Viacom is likely to lose millions on "reverse engineered" movies, because one of the problems in entertainment marketing is that people don't know what they want until they see it. "Star Wars" tested so horribly that Fox considered recycling the footage into a Saturday morning kiddie show. It doesn't take a genius (or a marketing survey) to know Tom Cruise or Whoopi Goldberg sell tickets, or that a Schwarzenegger science fiction film will probably do well. Beyond that, though, the marketers are likely to find people "want" movies similar to those they just enjoyed. This is the wisdom that gave us "Honey, I Blew Up the Kids." Marketing works for soap and fast food. But in a volatile area like popular entertainment, it provides obvious answers at great cost, while counseling against original proposals because the survey audience cannot relate to them. How well do you think "Pulp Fiction," "Silence of the Lambs," "Forrest Gump," "Schindler's List" or "Quiz Show" would have tested, as compared to such sure-fire backward-engineered projects as :Wagons East," "On Deadly Ground," "City Slickers II" or "Highlander III?" Viacom and Blockbuster specialize in selling what others have created, and they are good at that. They will discover it is much trickier to create what others will sell.

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