How to Fix a Drug Scandal
Rarely have I been more frustrated by a documentary production’s formal choices and how they interfere with the engaging content of the story they’re trying…
Q. Having relocated to Madison, Wis. from NYC a little over a year ago I knew I would have to wait along with the rest of the country for movies to open. The problem is that the waits have gotten longer and longer. Here are a few films that are not showing here yet, although they have been reviewed in national publications and the stars have made their rounds on the talk shows: "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," "The House of Mirth," "Quills," "Before Night Falls," "State And Main" "O Brother, Where Art Thou?." Meanwhile, here is what's still sucking up good theatre space in my new hometown: "Charlie's Angels," "Remember The Titans," "Little Nicky," "Men Of Honor," "Bedazzled" and "Unbreakable!" Please feel some pity for me and help me understand what the studio thinking is behind all this. (Richard Thomas, Madison WI)
A. Most of America faces the same dilemma, and is waiting for the same movies. Many movies open early on a few screens for Oscar consideration, but don't go wide until the holiday blockbusters begin to fade toward the end of January. The theory is that they generate buzz in the meantime. The most amazing fact in your letter is that "Bedazzled" is still playing in Madison. Maybe the studio forgot to ask for it back.
Q. I heard that Paul Thomas Anderson was going to cast Adam Sandler in an upcoming film. I simply can't believe it--Paul Thomas Anderson making an 89 minute comedy! How can this be? (Fletcher Smith, Pasadena MD)
A. Because he wants to. The quote about wanting to make an "89 minute comedy" comes from Anderson himself; it would certainly be a change of pace after "Hard Eight," "Boogie Nights" and "Magnolia." The web site www.ptanderson.com says Anderson has been warming up by writing skits for Saturday Night Live, and quotes Philip Seymour Hoffman as saying he and Emily Watson will also be in the cast. Adam Sandler is a gifted performer who has appeared in films I did not happen to like; I'm looking forward to this project, especially if he doesn't sound like he's trying to talk with a gerbil in his mouth.
Q. Do you have an update on the fate of Tyrene Manson, the star of the documentary "On the Ropes?" Her Golden Gloves career was ended when she was jailed on dubious drug charges, although her parole board allowed her to attend the Oscars last March when the movie was nominated as best documentary. (Susan Lake, Urbana IL)
A. Tyrene Manson is another victim of shabby criminal courts and draconian drug laws. A tiny amount of cocaine was found in a house she shared with other adults, including an uncle who had a drug conviction. There was no evidence she had ever used or sold drugs. After a legal defense that seems (in the film) laughable, she was separated from her two children and imprisoned. Her case has been followed by Diane Mellon of Park City, Utah, who informs me: "Tyrene was denied parole in the fall of 2000, and on Thanksgiving Day she married George Walton, another fighter featured in the film. The ceremony was at the Leviticus Church of God in Christ, where she has a work-release job, and the ceremony was officiated over by Pastor Pullings. Pastor was always there for her, and assisted her during her trial as well as the time she has been incarcerated. He is just 50 years old, and suffered a heart attack two days after the wedding. We are all praying for his full recovery. Tyrene will not come before the parole board again until the fall of 2001. She is still in a halfway house two nights a week."
Q. I recently saw a preview of the upcoming movie "Pearl Harbor." I noticed from the preview that while the Japanese planes are in the air ready to bomb Pearl Harbor, everyone is outside participating in activities. The children are playing in the yard and the leading characters are making love in the ocean. How can all this be going on if the bombing of Pearl Harbor happened at 8 a.m. in the morning? (Jason Baxter, Kingwood TX)
A. Do you find yourself having a lot of late nights?
Q. I imagine that as a critic you don't have to pay for most of the movies you see. I don't hold it against you, but when you review a film, do you take into account that you might have felt different about it if you'd had to pay for it? (Joshua Alpern, Ann Arbor MI)
A. I pay for it with two hours of my life. Also, have you looked at the cost of parking?
Q. I have noticed a lot of laughter during serious movies. During "Cast Away" audience members were constantly laughing during Hank's seclusion on the island, often when he was talking to his friend Wilson. I get the feeling that audience members do not know how to react to a certain scene and they instead react with laughter. (Daniel Lowe, Edmonds WA)
A. You may be right. Inappropriate laughter usually means (1) something in the movie makes the audience feel uncomfortable; (2) in an age of irony, the sincere has become amusing, or (3) you are at the Brew & View.
Q. The movie "The Green Mile" used the tagline, "Not all prisoners are bad; not all guards are good." This got me to thinking. When was the last time a prison movie depicted the guards as good? I'm not referring to a single good-hearted guard subverting an evil system, but a genuinely sympathetic portrayal of prison guards in general. I checked out the Internet Movie Database, which had five pages of movies with the keyword "prison." Of the titles I recognized, all portrayed the guards as corrupt, sadistic, racist, etc. This seems to be especially true since the 1960's, but even in older films the guards seem to have portrayed as an evil, menacing force. (Edgar Burke, Johnson City TN)
A. Of course "The Shawshank Redemption," from the same author and director as "The Green Mile," also has some sympathetic guards. Otherwise, the only movie I can think of with good jailers is "Quills," where Joaquin Phoenix plays the Marquis de Sade's sympathetic warden. He is soon replaced by a sadist, of course, although perhaps de Sade considered that an improvement.
Q. On the first day of the new millennium, as a fan of "2001: A Space Odyssey," I was led to your web site in search of a review. I noticed a slight technical error. You write about the scene when a bone is thrown into the air by prehistoric man and is transformed into a "space shuttle." In reality the space shuttle is a nuclear bomb orbital platform, according to "The Making of Kubrick's 2001," edited by Jerome Agel. (C Mathew Curtz, San Diego)
A. You are correct. Of course a space shuttle and a bomb platform might look very much the same. If you have to read the book to find out what it is, then on the basis of the film's interior evidence it could be either, or neither. I should have said "space platform," which would have covered me.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
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