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The Maze Runner

What’s intriguing about “The Maze Runner”–for a long time, at least–is the way it tells us a story we think we’ve heard countless times before…

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20,000 Days on Earth

In his music, he routinely celebrates/deconstructs his public persona: brutalizer, coward, agnostic, and wannabe deity. "20,000 Days on Earth" is accordingly not a biography, but…

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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 (06/01/1994)

Q. I felt compelled to write after reading your glowing praise for the movie "Speed." I am all for checking my brain at the box office, but there is a limit to how much unbelievability I can accept. 1) No bus can make such turns at high speeds. 2) Does LAX have the longest runways in the history of airports? They must, because the bus never had to make a turn while Keanu Reeves was trailing underneath by a thin wire. 3) Why could Keanu accelerate the train, but not decelerate it? Doesn't every car on a subway have emergency brakes? 4) If the bomb were attached to the front wheels of the bus, wouldn't it have exploded as the bus was flying through the air? After all, the front wheels only move when the back wheels are propelling the bus. 5) No bus, and I mean no bus, could make that jump! (Peter Kahl)

A. What makes you think a bus couldn't leap a 50-foot gap in a highway? Martin Vasko, a San Francisco expert on the laws of physics, has supplied me with this analysis: "The landing area would need to be at least 6'2" below the takeoff area for a reasonable chance for success. On the other hand, if the bus took off at an angle, the landing area could be level with the takeoff area. At 55 mph this appears to require an angle of 7.2 degrees, which sounds small, but is rather steep for a road except in the middle of ramps, overpasses, and mountain passes. The odds are much better at 70 mph: you'd need at least 3'10" or at least 4.4 degrees. Higher speeds would be even better, but maintaining control upon landing might get hectic."

Q. A great scene in "Speed" was the first view of the approaching 50-foot gap, with a flock of birds in flight between the elevated sections of highway! This struck an extra chord of fear. I can't believe the cameras rolled for hours until these birds happened to be "caught" on tape. Were these not trained pigeons? (Jim Carey, New Lenox, IL)

A. Not only were the birds inserted with an optical effect, but-- so was the gap! The special effects experts began with a shot of an section of highway under construction, and altered it to make it appear there was a gap.

Q. Please don't tell us that they're going to do a movie based on the O. J. Simpson story. Tonya and Nancy were bad enough. (Cheryl Max, Chester, N.J.)

A. The TV executive who announces this inevitable project is probably going to have a priceless reason why it is the responsible and compassionate thing to do.

Q. What bothered me about "Reality Bites" was that all of the people in the movie were smoking. And they were smoking badly, the way people who don't really smoke in real life smoke when they have to for a movie. I'm not saying that all movies should be smoke free; people smoke, and movies often need to reflect that reality. In this case, however, it adds nothing to the movie, and is just another message to impressionable teens that smoking is cool. (Dale Kingsbury, St. Paul, MN)

A. The danger is that impressionable teens will watch the movie and learn to smoke the wrong way. At least with a Bogart movie you knew you were studying under an expert.

Q. I saw "Sugar Hill" in a theater in a very wealthy, mostly white, neighborhood in North Dallas. However, I was the only white person in the theater. Do you think that white people miss out on great movies such as "Menace II Society," "Boyz N the Hood," etc., because they are considered "black" movies? (Dmitri Pekker, Dallas, TX)

A. Without a question. And that means they are missing a lot of the cutting-edge filmmaking in America today. Spike Lee is one of our best filmmakers, and the Hughes Brothers' "Menace" and John Singleton's "Boyz" are two of the most important recent American films, explaining life in the big cities in a way that headlines and newscasts cannot even approach.

Q. I didn't care much for "Kalifornia" It wasn't the movie as the Kentucky license plate on the front of the car they were taking cross country. I am from Louisville and cannot remember ever seeing anyone from Kentucky being portrayed in a movie or on television as anything but poor white trash. Wherever I travel, people find out I'm from Kentucky, and I immediately become a hillbilly. I wonder if Tom Cruise has the same problem when people find out he is from Kentucky. (David M. Geary, Louisville)

A. I thought you were exaggerating the situation until I used a computer database to compile a list of movies set in Kentucky. It listed 14 titles, of which four were about horses, two were about the Civil War, and eight were about hillbillies. Or maybe only seven, since I'm not sure how to classify "Return of the Living Dead."

Q. I heard that the animators sneaked some secret frames into "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" Would you happen to know where the offending scenes are on the laserdisc? (James LaRosa, Long Island City, NY)

A. One such moment occurs when Baby Huey stalks off the set in the cartoon that precedes the actual film.

Q. I saw "D2," the "Mighty Ducks" sequel, and I think the filmmakers know next to nothing about hockey! At one point in the movie a character mentions the score of the game, and uses the word "points." Sorry, guy--anyone who has been to even ONE game knows you keep track of the score in goals. And what about the gimmick (featured in the commercials) of the puck flipping end-over-end to knock out the goalie. Pu-lease! A puck flipping like that is like a knuckleball: it doesn't fly straight, it dips unpredictably, and it comes in more slowly than usual, and certainly with less force than a regular shot. Again, anyone who's actually SEEN a puck flip would know better. (Andrew Coles, Toronto)

A. You bring up some interesting goals.

Q. I had the experience last evening of enduring "Bad Girls." A totally accurate title, I might add. There is something which does rather gnaw at my consciousness, however. On the "Today" show, this movie was given a week's preview, including interviews with all the stars. The "Today" interviews were better than the movie itself. Is it possible that NBC has a financial interest in some movies--those which are promoted on the "Today" show? (Jim Croy, Midwest City, OK)

A. "Today" and the other morning shows promise multiple interviews in exchange for exclusivity on new movies. Sometimes they guess right ("Speed" is a recent example), and sometimes they guess wrong.

Q. I saw "Four Weddings And A Funeral," and was very moved by the poem read at the funeral service. What is its title and author? (Susan Nolan, Chicago)

A. It is "Funeral Blues," by W. H. Auden, and an edition of his poems, tied to the movie, has recently been published in paperback.

Q. I noticed in the new Movie Answer Man, you did not correct your previous error regarding the final scene in "Schindler's List" (1993). (Andy Neumeyer)

A. Quite right. That was not Steven Spielberg's silhouette in the closing graveside sequence of the film, but Liam Neeson's.

Q. Just saw "When a Man Loves a Woman" with my wife, and agree that it's a four-star film. But the ENDING... Aaargh!!! I read your review before I saw it, but that still didn't prepare me for seeing this very real, believable and moving film going so completely off the wall so suddenly with a completely clueless and inappropriate ending. HOW DOES THIS HAPPEN to so many good films?? WHO is responsible for perpetrating this kind of cinematic assault? The front office people? The marketing pukes? Surely not the director? Who? And whoever they are, WHY do they believe we movie-goers are all such BRAINLESS DWEEBS that this is the kind of dreck we always want to see at the end of movies that try to deal honestly with the human condition? (Bill VanAlstyne, Aptos, CA)

A. I guess the theory was that the movie needed an "upbeat," happy ending--as if the triumph of the heroine's recovery from alcoholism was not upbeat enough. So we got that silly Andy Garcia speech and the big kiss with Meg Ryan in the middle of an AA meeting. As I mentioned in my review, the movie should have ended one speech sooner, with her remarks. It never stepped wrong until then. So why was the idiotic final speech put in? Frankly, Bill, because they believe you moviegoers are BRAINLESS DWEEBS.

Q. I was watching "The Sons of Katie Elder" on TBS a couple of weeks ago, and some of the fight scenes looked like the Duke had watched too many old silent movies. He was moving REALLY fast. Last night, I was flipping channels and noticed a message that said "This film has been time-compressed to fit in this time slot." Just what, exactly, is "Time compression?" Is it the same as "this film has been edited for television," or just another one of Ted Turner's "innovations," like colorizing? (David Little, Baton Rouge, LA)

A. Time compression is a technique for speeding up film in a way that is allegedly not noticeable to the audience, so that a few more seconds or minutes can be crammed into a time slot. TBS claims they don't do it. The technique is used all the time for commercials.

Q. Is there any movement to get the Pulitzer Prize committee to present an award for film, since they already do books, theater, and photography? (Gary Tellalian, Los Angeles)

A. None that I know of, but I think it's a good idea.

Q. I recently saw the film "The Greatest Show on Earth", which was 1952's Oscar winner for best picture. While I did not think it was a terrible movie, it might be one of the less deserving Oscar winners. I have to admit that I fell asleep before it was over. Just wondering what are some of your other "least favorite" Oscar winners? (James Hinkle, Boston)

A. I've always thought "All the King's Men" was overrated. "Around the World in 80 Days" was more spectacle than cinema. "Mrs. Miniver" and "Oliver!" (1968) seem weak today. And how could the Academy have selected "How Green Was My Valley" (admittedly a good movie) over "Citizen Kane" (1941)?

Q. I wish whoever is dyeing all those people's hair red would find a new profession. I've never seen so much bad hair as there is in movies lately. Look into it. (Guenveur Burnell, Kent, OH)

A. I'm on the case.

Q. Is there anything you can do to convince the studio to release "Schindler's List" on a priced-for-sale basis? So far I have heard the video is a dual cassette costing around $140 with the laser disc costing $50. A cheaper video price would obviously make the video a better seller. (Neal M. Greenberg, Monmouth Junction, NJ)

A. Jeffrey Graebner of the CompuServe ShowBiz Forum replies: "The video release of "Schindler's List" was officially announced earlier this week and it is unlikely that the price structure will change now. The VHS tape will be $99.95 with a "deluxe set" available for $139.95 (this set will include the soundtrack CD, a paperback of the novel, and a photo book of stills from the film). The laserdisc will be $49.95 for just the movie or $139.95 for a deluxe set (they haven't specified what will be included). From what I've read, Steven Spielberg really wanted the video to be released at a lower price, but simply couldn't convince MCA/Universal to do so."

Q. The press keeps talking about how "Jurassic Park" (1993) has outgrossed "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial," and how "Aladdin" is the all-time top selling video. If inflation would be taken into account (i.e., use the dollar value at the time of Charlie Chaplin's Modern Time for instance), which film would now be the top grossing film? Should the videocassettes editions be included in the calculations? People lined up for more than a year to see "Star Wars." "Jurassic Park" had a strong three months and then the video came out. Sylvain DeSeve, St.-Laurent, Canada)

A. The best way to measure popularity would be by head-count, but who knows how many people saw "The Birth of a Nation," or one of the many re-releases of "Gone With the Wind" (1939)? Jon Woolf of the CompuServe ShowBiz Forum points out that since ticket prices have doubled since "Star Wars" came out in 1777, it would be Hollywood's first $400 million film if it came out today.

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