American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Q. This summer sees the release of "Mission Impossible." Other recently released films include "Sgt. Bilko" and "Flipper." What is your opinion of the spate of popular television shows being made into major motion pictures? Is Hollywood beginning to run out of fresh ideas? (Mark Dayton, Costa Mesa, Ca.)
A. The titles of old TV shows work like pre-sold trademarks, making the advertising pitch that much easier. In the fierce competition of the summer movie season, instant name recognition is an advantage. Look at the success of "The Fugitive," "Batman," "The Flintstones," "The Addams Family," etc.
Q. Re your Answer Man item about people talking during movies. Many years ago, I was in a theater watching "A Man for All Seasons." It reached the point when Sir Thomas More had been incarcerated, and, to indicate the passage of time, the camera showed a wall of the cell with a window on a winter scene that dissolved into a scene of spring. Up to that point, the people around me had been pretty quiet, but as that shot unfolded, a lady behind me said to her companion, "See? There are the seasons!" (Steve Kallis, Jr., Tampa, Fla.)
A. Only winter and spring? I hope she asked for her money back.
Q. As nobody got hurt, this is kind of funny. While "Twister" was showing at the Cineplex drive in outside Thorold, Ontario, they got hit by a--you guessed it--tornado. It blew the screen apart during a big thunderstorm. I can imagine the audience saying "How DID they do that?" or "Obvious fake!," etc. (Eric M. Davitt, Toronto, Ont.)
A. I can't stand people who talk during tornados.
Q. Often after the prizes are given out at the Cannes Film Festival, there are charges that the vote was rigged or the jury tampered with. Is there any truth to these charges? (Charles Smith, Chicago)
A. "They bent over backwards to avoid the slightest appearance of influence," jury member Greta Scacchi told me, the day after the awards were announced. "On the day of the awards, they locked us up in a villa in the hills above Cannes, and wouldn't even let us make or receive phone calls. There were armed guards at the doors. Gilles Jacob, the festival director, sat in on our deliberations, but didn't utter a single word."
Q. I read that James Spader had a quotable answer at a press conference at Cannes when he was asked about the lack of male nudity in his new film "Crash." But the answer was not quoted. What did he say? (Susan Lake, Urbana, Ill.)
A. Spader was asked why there was female nudity in the film but not male nudity. His reply: "The nudity takes place during sex scenes. At such times, male nudity is not visible--if you're any good at all."
Q. Re your item from Cannes about how stupid people are for taking flash pictures of a movie screen. They can't be any more stupid than the people who take flash pictures at night games from 200 feet up in the stands. Like the flash is going to illuminate the player way down on the field! (Andy Cappellano, Chicago)
A. They're related to the people who take flash pictures at rock concerts. I picture them eagerly opening their returned photos at the drug store and saying, "Gee, I wonder why these didn't turn out!"
Q. Having seen the movie "Mulholland Falls," which is surely intended as a parody of the old "Dick Tracy" comic strips, I'm moved to ask: Why can't modern actors get the hang of wearing fedoras? They look so awkward and self-conscious. They're subliminally ill-at-ease wearing hats, and it comes through. Men of the 1990s just can't wear hats with any kind of panache. Even soldiers wearing army hats or caps can't get them right. They look like I remember recruits looking the first few weeks after being drafted. In a month or so, they lose that "green" look and get the hang of wearing their caps--jaunty and casual. Maybe if today's actors wore a hat regularly for a break-in period they'd overcome that obvious greenhorn look. (G. P. Lucchetti, Oak Park, Il.)
A. This may also be related to the fact that the movie stars of the 1940s looked older in their 20s than today's movie stars look in their 40s. Robert Mitchum never looked young. Robert Redford never looks old.
Q. Though critics try to enter a theater without preconceived notions of what the film should be, what happens when a film is made from a monster best seller which everyone seems to have read? I was working in a warehouse when "The Shining" hit paperback, and every single guy in that warehouse (except one) read the book (two copies circulated until they fell apart). My then-girlfriend worked at a T-shirt shop at a mall, and everyone SHE knew read the book. My parents read it. My grandmother read it. My best friend who does construction read it. We all went out to see the film--and thought it sucked. It was the dumbed-down version of the book. In a case like this, isn't the public better serviced by an informed critic who has read the book? (W.C.Martell, Studio City, CA.)
A. Interesting question. I usually say I'm reviewing the movie, not the book, and that the movie's duty is to be a good movie, whether or not it's "faithful" to the book. When I know a book is going to be made into a movie, I avoid reading it, because I don't want to form preconceptions. But often I have read the book, and in those cases I can't help comparing my mental images with the screen images (I was particularly distracted during "Bonfire of the Vanities"). Not everything in a book will work in a movie, however, and in the last analysis I think it's the director's duty to keep what he can use and throw out or change the rest.
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A review of Netflix's new series, Lemony Snicket's "A Series of Unfortunate Events," which premieres January 13.