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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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Movie Answer Man (04/20/1997)

Q. I stood for a long time in front of the poster for "Inventing the Abbots," which shows five or six of the major characters piled into the front seat of a car. Something was wrong. Suddenly I realized: There isn't room in the front of that car for all the bodies connected to the heads! The heads are so close together that they apparently do not possess shoulders, arms, chests, torsos, etc. What's up? (Emerson Thorne, Chicago)

A. I also stood for a long time in front of the poster. I think you are right. The beautiful Jennifer Connelly is in the center of the pile, smiling right at us, but if you study the layout she seems to have no body; it looks like her face was popped into the middle of the artwork like a cherry in a fruit cocktail. The wonders of computer graphics.

Q. If you could create a "must-see" list of films for the ardent film-fan, what would they be? Films that are so important that it is impossible to have an intelligent discussion about the cinema without having seen these seminal works? The list could include films that are important to the history of film, and to film as it exists today, not necessarily just films that are still popular, or 100% grand. (Robert Haynes-Peterson, Boise, ID)

A. What are the basic films that everyone must absolutely have seen in order to avoid appearing completely out of the loop? The first five that come to mind are "Citizen Kane," "Casablanca," "2001: A Space Odyssey," "Battleship Potemkin" and "Star Wars." Then something by Keaton, something by Chaplin, something by Fellini, something by Hitchcock, and something by Bergman. (For example, "The General," "City Lights," "La Dolce Vita," "Vertigo," and "Persona.")

Q. On a talk show before the Academy Awards, Rex Reed spoke of what he called the biggest Oscar scandal in history: Jack Palance said the wrong name--Marisa Tomei--when reading the winner of Best Supporting Actress! Reed claimed the actual winner was Vanessa Redgrave for "Howard's End." But considering the magnitude of the mistake, there was never a correction and history is now written. Is there any truth to this? (Joseph Gonzales, Waco, TX)

A. That's an urban legend that has been circulating since 1992. The accountants for Price, Waterhouse, who have memorized the name of every winner, are poised backstage ready to race out and make an on-the-spot correction should anyone mistakenly (or deliberately!) announce the wrong winner--which would be hard to do, since the presenter is reading from a card that has only one name written on it.

Q. Just got the video for "Fargo" and saw a quote from you and Gene Siskel on the cover, saying, "There won't be a better film than this all year!" Is this a new thing, or something you have being doing for years? I noticed Gene had one on "Crumb," where he also said he wouldn't see a better film all year. Is this like a little "in" game, that allows you at the end of the year to say "See, I was right!"? (Erik Solberg, Des Plaines, IL)

A. That was Gene's quote, and "Fargo" should not have quoted both of us. I had no way of knowing in March 1996 if I would see a better film all year. Gene must be psychic, however, since I didn't see a better film all year.

Q. You said in your review of "Persuasion" that it may take a while before we figure out that the story is about Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds. Now the movie is on video, and, yes, it took me an inordinately long time to figure this out, largely because the couple pictured in a passionate embrace on the cover of the box are not Root and Hinds! The woman appears to be Ione Skye, and the man's head is down, so all we can see are his (very 90s) floppy bangs. Is it legal to put people on a video box who don't even appear in a video? (Sheila Casey, Los Angeles, CA)

A. Making big but baseless claims for movies is an art form that goes back to the birth of the cinema. I've seen several video boxes that misrepresented the contents, including "Picture Bride," which made the Asian-American heroes look Caucasian, and "The Journey of August King," which made both of the leading characters look black even though one was white. The theory seems to be, "Give the customers what you think they want, even if you don't have it."

Q. In several movies I have seen people sinking into wet concrete. Doesn't anyone in the movie industry realize concrete is heavier than water, and people can float in water? (David G. Sobun, Chicago)

A. Where were you when Jimmy Hoffa needed you?

Q. Do reviewers sit through the end credits, unlike most film-goers? And if you did, did you catch the tongue-in-cheek statement at the end of "Cats Don't Dance?" Something to the effect that "No animals were harmed in the making of this movie, though some had to be erased and redrawn." That was cuter than ID-4's "No aliens were harmed." (Alan Wagner, Eugene, Oregon)

A. I like the little extras at the ends of comedies, although sometimes those bloopers and out-takes they stick in strike me as so unspontaneous that I wonder if they were scripted.

Q. Have you heard about Crichton's Ratio? It specifies that for every $10 million invested in special effects, $100,000 must be subtracted from the price of the screenplay. (Joseph O. Holmes, Brooklyn. N.Y.)

A. The way I heard it, for every $10 million invested in special effects, ten IQ points have to be subtracted from the intelligence of the screenplay.

Q. In some movies, most of all in cartoons. you see the brand mark 'ACME'. Can you please tell me the meaning of these four letters? Is it an abbreviation, or is it a secret circle? (Ernest! Vienna, Austria)

A. The word comes to English from Greek, where it was spelled "akme," and had the same meaning it has in English: The acme is the point of perfection. Cartoons have so thoroughly devalued the word, however, that few companies use it any more, probably because they fear that customers will think they specialize in sneezing powder, invisible ink, and spring-mounted coyote launchers.

Q. While searching for something to watch on TV recently, I came upon (horror of horrors) a colorized version of "Casablanca." Did you know that this had been done? I am one of those individuals you wrote about in your "Great Movie" review who was born "decades after the movie was originally made," meaning that most of the movies that I have seen have been in color. However, I fell in love with "Casablanca" in its original form; the black and white is very much part of the "texture" of the story that is told. Why have these people who colorize movies never realized that it is impossible to improve upon perfection? (J. Rosser Matthews, Williamsburg, VA)

A. Because, by definition, anyone who would colorize a movie has no idea what perfection is.

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