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American Sniper

American Sniper proves the dictum “never count an auteur out” by proving itself as Eastwood’s strongest directorial effort since 2009's underrated Invictus pretty much right…

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The Interview

Opportunities at rich satire flatten out into Hangover dude-dope-doodoo jokes, where the premise is that there’s nothing funnier than watching over-privileged grown men act out…

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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 (06/25/1995)

Q. I cannot believe you really liked "Congo." We usually agree with you. In this case--well, some movies have bad lines and great acting, some have great lines and bad acting. This movie had bad lines and bad acting. The special effects reminded me of a 1960s science fiction film. Maybe this movie would have been better as a spoof starring Leslie Neilson. My wife and I were looking at each other (and our watches) the whole movie in disbelief. (Martin I. Goodman, San Diego, Calif.)

A. I stand lonely but proud as almost the only film critic in America who correctly enjoyed "Congo" as a comedy. If it had starred Leslie Neilson, or had been named "Mel Brooks' Congo," that would have given others permission to laugh. I went right ahead and laughed anyway.

Q. On June 5th, Warner Home Video announced that an unrated director's cut of Oliver Stone's "Natural Born Killers" would be released to the home video market. On June 8th, Warner announced that the director's cut had been removed from solicitation to video stores. The director's cut was to have featured the three scenes cut from the theatrical version, plus 38 minutes worth of outtakes. No word on who exactly was responsible for pulling the plug. This whole story keeps getting curiouser and curiouser, no? (Ed Slota, Rhode Island)

A. Not so curious if you reflect that the furor over the Robert Dole speech peaked in the interim, and his chief targets were "Natural Born Killers" and Warner Bros. "We're trying to get a handle on what they're doing," Stone's spokesman Steve Rivers told me. "Oliver had a conversation with [top Warners exec] Terry Semel, who told him they were 'not withdrawing it, just tinkering with the release date'." Warner's own home video department did not return my calls. "Director's cuts" on tape and disc are premium-priced sets aimed at serious film viewers. Since the original release date was September 1995 and no new date has been announced, the studio may be planning to hold the release until after the November elections.

Q. You have written in the past about obscure critics who are quoted in TV ads because they praise every film, often before seeing it. Here is a new twist: The ads for "Judge Dredd" are filled with rave quotes--but there is no attribution at all under them! They are quotes that nobody has said! (Ashley St. Ives, Chicago)

A. I would trust nobody before I would trust "Sixty Second Preview."

Q. What exactly is a "spec" script and how does a "pay or play" deal work? (George O. Burkhart, Honolulu, Hawaii)

A. A "spec" script is written on speculation by a writer who hopes to get paid for it. "Pay or play" means the studio agrees to pay an actor, director, etc., for a film whether or not it is eventually made.

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