The Big Sick
Finds that laughter-through-tears sweet spot, often in the unlikeliest of places.
Q. I have a love for laserdiscs because they are letterboxed (most of the time), but rarely is a tape that way. The only way for me to see them is to have a friend of mine use his laserdisc player and copy the movie for me so I can watch it in its widescreen splendor. Do I have a potential problem with the FBI? (David Ingersoll, Philadelphia)
A. You've read the warning, David, and you know that your crime is punishable with a fine of up to $10,000. Of course, no individual has ever been nabbed by the FBI for copying a video for personal use. So, by signing your name to your letter, you may become the first.
Q. The year 1996 will mark the 50th anniversary of the release of "It's a Wonderful Life." And it is my humble opinion that if ever an event deserved to be honored with a commemorative stamp, this is the one. I am planning to submit such a recommendation to the Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee. My request: Would you send me your favorite scene from the film? (Rich Bysina, Lombard, Ill.)
A. I like the scene where Donna Reed loses her bathrobe, and Jimmy Stewart ends up talking to the shrubbery.
Q. Is it true that certain "The Little Mermaid" videos are going to be collector's items because of the cover art? A video store owner told me that the artist included an obscene detail in the towers of the castle. The picture does kind of look like what people say it looks like. I heard they changed the art on later cassettes and so the early cassettes will be valuable. (Jayne Kranc, St. John, Ind.)
A. Thank you for enclosing a Xerox copy of the offending castle turret. You are right. It does kind of look like what people say it looks like. As yet there is no collector's market for it, however.
Q. Why must films these days OVERKILL with modern makeup techniques? Billy Crystal and Julie Warner aren't convincing as old people in "Mr. Saturday Night." It just looks like bad make-up. This irks me even more with bios, such as "Chaplin." In the early scenes Robert Downey looks like Chaplin, because he acts like Chaplin. At film's end, however, the attempt to exactly duplicate Chaplin's appearance is grotesque. Paul Muni didn't need to look like his screen bio subjects to act like them. (David F. Stein)
Q. How has video tape changed the way people watch the movies? Do other people try to fast forward a movie in the theater? How has video tape changed the way movies are made? Are movies made for theatrical release shot with one eye on the tape release? I am sure you get the general idea. (Scott Dalziel)
A. If you really have a method for fast-forwarding the movie while watching it in a theater, please get back to me.
Q. Have the critics have now explicitly joined the marketing conspiracy surrounding "The Crying Game?" I can't shake the image of film critics across the country tittering as they leaf through thesauri to perpetuate the film's secret. Has this movie blurred the line between critics and marketing agents in the same way it blurs so many other lines? I'm a great fan of Neil Jordan and of the film. Just, perhaps, excessively curious in a troublesome post-structural way. (Steve Solnick, Harvard University)
A. My feeling is that if I had revealed the secret in my review, readers would have been outraged. I assumed the Oscar nominations would essentially spoil the game, but they haven't as yet. Congratulations on getting into Harvard. At the University of Illinois, my alma mater, if we felt excessively curious in a troublesome post-structural way, we went to the chiropractor.
Q. Some time ago there was a movie in one of the cable networks in which a character got trapped in a time warp, and kept repeating the same day over and over again. I went to see "Groundhog Day" with Bill Murray, and it uses the same gimmick. What gives?
A. You are thinking of a 30-minute movie named "12:01," written and directed by Jonathan Heap, which played many times on Showtime and was an Oscar nominee in 1991. The film was based on a story by Richard Lupoff which was published in the December 1973 issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine.
Q. The newspaper adds for "The Crying Game" looks quite similar to the ads for "Blade Runner." Jaye Davidson poses exactly like Sean Young, except that in "The Crying Game" ad the character is holding a gun instead of a cigarette. Perhaps you could start having a weekly or monthly contest for identifying great efforts in movie recycling. (Abram R. Glazer)
Q. Are you aware that fractal full motion video (30 fps & fully scalable) is just about ready to come out? It is possible to get "Gone With the Wind" and a few others all on standard CD-ROM. You don't need special decompression equipment to view. (Jan R. Schwenk)
A. That's okay; I usually watch at sea level, anyway.
Q. I saw "Falling Down", and noticed something. No one's weapons were used in the way they were intended. The bat never helped the store owner, the knife didn't help the thugs, the guns from the gang-bangers missed their target, the rocket-launcher was never used by the neo-Nazi, and finally, the handgun did not protect the female police office, who was shot herself. Do you think that the author or director had a gun control slant on this plot? (Jeff Williams)
A. I think you're on to something, and even if you aren't, it was refreshing to see a movie in which the villains never hit anything and the heroes never missed.
Q. In one of the reports about the death of Lillian Gish, it said few of her silent films are available on home video. Is this so?
A. No. Splendid new restorations of "Birth of a Nation," "Broken Blossoms" and "Orphans of the Storm" have recently been released on laserdisc. On tape, most of her work is available, including "Way Down East," "Hearts of the World," "True Heart Susie," and many of the early D. W. Griffith shorts starring Miss Gish, as well as "The Wind" (1928), considered her finest silent performance. One source for many of these films is Facets Multimedia in Chicago (312-281-9075), which specializes in hard-to-find videos. Movies Unlimited in Philadelphia (1-800-523-0823) lists some 500 silent films in its catalog.
Q. In the opening credits of your TV show, Siskel buys a Tribune. You buy a Sun-Times. Both of you turn to your own columns, and then engage in a spirited discussion. Why are you arguing about what you wrote in your own columns? It would make more sense for you to read each other's reviews. (Adam Ritt, Evanston)
A. We are not arguing. If you read our lips, you will see that I am saying, "This is a brilliant review," and Siskel is saying, "I wish I could rewrite mine now that I've seen yours."