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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 (11/15/1998)

Q. The Answer Man tweaked the silly title "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer." When it comes to stupid sequel names, personally I find it impossible to outdo "The Neverending Story II." (Michael Jennings, Sydney, Australia)

A. I dunno. I was browsing in a video store just yesterday, and came across "Steven King's Sometimes They Come Back," and its sequel, "Stephen King's Sometimes They Come Back...Again."

Q. How is the effect of bullets hitting a windshield accomplished--especially when an actor is sitting behind the windshield being "hit" by the bullets? (Keith Silcox-Ingersoll, Ontario)

A. I asked Steven Poster, expert lensman and an editor of American Cinematographer, who replies: "When an actor gets shot through a windshield and the audience sees the bullet go through the glass, a small pellet is shot from a device called a Trunnon Gun mounted inside the car and hooting away from the actor (wouldn't want to make any mistakes). This device is remotely triggered simultaneously with a 'bullet hit' mounted on the actor. These bullet hits are small explosions mounted on a steel plate with plastic bags filled with movie blood and then taped to the actor under the clothes. If the entire windshield is to blow, a small explosive device is mounted on the glass out of camera range. When it is exploded the entire windshield cracks and crazes but doesn't fall out because of the safety glass. This is called a full breaker. Sometimes it is combined with a Trunnon gun to make it looked like the bullet took out the entire window."

Q. What is the status of the 1954 classic "The High and the Mighty," starring John Wayne and Robert Stack? It seems to have disappeared from view. (George Harrison, San Carlos, CA)

A. I understand that Martin Scorsese attempted to sponsor a restoration of the film, but could not obtain permission from Wayne's son, Michael, who controls the estate's films. It is now feared the movie may be lost.

Q. I recently saw "John Carpenter's Vampires" and have to admit that I enjoyed it. However, I felt the film had a strong misogynist tone that made me a bit queasy. I refer to Daniel Baldwin's constant slapping around of Sheryl Lee's character. I'm not a diehard feminist, but I was pretty offended. (Lindsay Nelson, Austin, TX)

A. It all depends on how you look at it. He treated her very badly if she was a woman, but she got what she deserved if she was a vampire.

Q. Thanks you for your criticism of "The Siege." The movie is not about entertainment, but about denigrating the image of Arab-Americans in particular and Muslims in general. This movie was made to create a psychological association between terrorism and Islam. I can see nothing in this film other than hatred. It serves no purpose other than creating a dark and ugly image for a beautiful religion. Being a Muslim, I found this movie offensive because of the correlation drawn between my religion and violence. (Louay Hallak, Chicago)

A. Many of those who enjoyed the film would not have enjoyed seeing their own religions and ethnic groups treated in the same way.

Q. In your Answer Man book, you say that you like to sit twice as far back as the screen is wide. How do you determine the width of the screen, and then translate that into distance from the front? Do you estimate the width, or ask the management? And then, do you physically pace off the distance? (Steve Hoffman, Seattle, WA.)

A. I just do a simple triangulation, employing a pocket sextant.

Q. Unless a really good song comes out the rest of the year, my favorite from a film in 1998 is clearly Public Enemy's "He Got Game" from the Spike Lee film of the same name. The song has the great lyrics and sound of the best of PE songs, and it is truly inspired by the movie. But is it even eligible for Best Original Song. Though there are new lyrics and beats, the song heavily samples Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth." If PE is disqualified for sampling, Aerosmith's "I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing" from the wretched "Armageddon" may be the favorite--another blatant example of a non-movie-inspired song (it sounds like it was written in the 80's for Bon Jovi.) If it wins and "He Got Game" (as "original" and integral to its film as any song this year) loses, a hypocritical injustice will be done. Am I correct? (Robert Sterling, Los Angeles, CA)

A. Spike Lee, whose opinion of the Academy is well known, tersely replies: "It has no chance of being nominated."

Q. Regarding the Answer Man's long-running discussion of the decline of the words "The End" at the ends of movies: My favorite was the use of "Fin" at the end of "A Fish Called Wanda." (Julia Moore, Akron, OH)

A. Heh, heh. Dennis Thompson of West Palm Beach, Fl., points out that "Madeline" also ends with "Fin," which would make sense for a film set in France. He adds, "My daughter asked me what it meant and I said "the end," to which she replied, "We better go, then."

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