American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Q. The latest movie spin-off industry is the production of TV shows explaining how movie special effects are done. Magicians don't let the audience know how their tricks are accomplished, and I think Hollywood should keep their procedures a secret. It would make the effects seem more special! (Paul "Funn" Dunn, Bloomington, IL.)
A. Although I just gave a favorable review to the documentary "Special Effects," I think you have a point. Now that I've seen doc footage of technicians blowing up a model of the White House, every time I see the "ID4" TV commercial, I think "There's that model again" instead of "Jeez, I hope they were able to save Socks." Magicians have an old saying about their secrets: "The trick is told when the trick is sold."
Q. Which of the following do you think would end up being the better movie? (1) A movie written by the world's WORST WRITER and directed by the world's GREATEST DIRECTOR, or (2) A movie written by the world's GREATEST WRITER and directed by the world's WORST DIRECTOR? (Joey Berner, Houston Texas)
A. The better movie would be the one by the GREATEST DIRECTOR, because so much depends on visuals, editing, composition, tone, and other matters not influenced by the work of the WORST WRITER. On the other hand, a great script can easily be mangled by the WORST DIRECTOR, as I have been told many times over the years by people describing themselves as the GREATEST WRITERS.
Q. This weekend I saw John Sayles' wonderful "Lone Star," which shares a certain sensibility with the equally great "Fargo." Is Chris Cooper, who plays the lead, related to Gary Cooper? There is something similar in their screen presence and (to me, at least) in their looks. My wife didn't think they looked anything alike, however. (Paul Block, Delmar, N.Y.)
A. Your wife is right. They are no relation, according to the Microsoft Cinemania CD-ROM, which says Chris Cooper was raised on his father's cattle ranch and attended the University of Missouri with a double major in agriculture and acting ("It's always best to have something dependable to fall back on, son, in case the farm fails.") He also appeared in Sayles' "Matewan" and "City of Hope."
Q. I have seen videos of relatively recent movies for sale at a price of $16. When I have seen the same movies at video rental stores the price was $80 or more. Please tell me the reason for the drastic price reduction. (Miles Loegering, Credit River, Minn.)
A. Were the $16 videos by any chance being sold by jumpy guys on street corners, and did the video box cover art look slightly Xeroxed? Often you can buy videos of movies that are still in theaters, but beware: You're probably paying for a shoddy pirate tape. I once bought a copy of a "Jurassic Park" video from a flea market vendor, brought it home, and found that somebody had simply bought a ticket to the movie and filmed it off the screen with his home video camera. The sound track included the audience laughter, and occasionally somebody would get up to go to the refreshment stand, and walk in front of the camera.
Q. Can you suggest to studios that when they release a movie on videotape, previews for other movies are okay, but ads for the soundtrack of this movie that include clips from the film (giving away plot twists, punch lines, endings, etc.) should be moved to after the movie. That way, when someone rents the film, key ingredients parts aren't given away even before the opening credits start to roll. (John McCartor, Portland, Ore.)
A. This makes such good sense that I am amazed the studios haven't thought of it themselves. On second thought...not very amazed.
Q. I've heard many stories about how studios want "last-minute re-shoots" to "clear up confusion," "add more dramatic punch," and other nonsense. "Die Hard With a Vengeance" did re-shoots mere weeks before its premiere; "Star Trek Generations" went back to "more clearly define Kirk's death." If I'm not mistaken, the producers, actors, and directors should be taking extra care in trying to place these "re-shot" endings or sequences into the finished product as seamlessly as possible. But now the reshoots are starting to clash with the actual movie., and I'm starting to get mad. In "Striptease," the entire sequence at the end in the refinery must have been added late. Reason? Because, presumably seconds later, they're walking in broad daylight NEAR A CORNFIELD! While "Striptease" itself could have numbed the audience's mind to allow these details to slide, I'm hoping re-shoots don't show their cut-and-paste edges so prominently in the future. What are your thoughts? (Paul Fuhr, Milan Ohio)
A. I don't pretend to remember "Striptease" shot-by-shot, but wasn't that a sugar refinery? Was it connected to corn syrup and other corn byproducts? Just asking, since there were so many corn byproducts in the rest of the movie...
Q. In a segment on TV showing the making of "Hunchback of Notre Dame," Jason Alexander of "Seinfeld" was shown dubbing in the voice for the "Hunchback." He was being interviewed about his role in the picture--but when I read the credits for that part, Tom Hulce was named as the voice. What became of Alexander? Did they decide to replace him in the middle of the picture, or didn't it ever get off the ground?" (Henrietta Friedman, Skokie, IL)
A. Disney spokesman Peter Dangerfield of Iltis. Associates in Chicago says Jason Alexander is the voice of Hugo, one of the gargoyles. He was never contracted to do Quasimodo.
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A review of Netflix's new series, Lemony Snicket's "A Series of Unfortunate Events," which premieres January 13.