Trial by Fire
The film plods at points, trudging along, and there are a few misguided narrative "devices" tacked on, but still, "Trial by Fire" bristles with anger.
Q. Do you ever cry at a movie? (Richard Kuzniak, Etobicoke, Ontario)
A. Yes. Not big sobs, exactly, but my eyes do grow moist two or three times a year. The strongest emotional reaction I've ever had was after "Do the Right Thing." Other recent movies that really affected me were "Schindler's List," "Leaving Las Vegas" and "Dead Man Walking."
A. Hollywood is filled with failures who are the children, nephews, cousins, lovers, etc., of the great. Cage, who actually changed his name to avoid being linked with his uncle, is a capable and daring actor, who has been splendid in such widely different roles as "Birdy," "Moonstruck," "Honeymoon in Vegas," "Guarding Tess," "Red Rock West" and "Wild at Heart." His work in "Leaving Las Vegas" makes him the front-runner for this year's best actor Oscar.
Q. At the end of "Dead Man Walking," Tim Robbins cuts back and forth between the murders and the execution. Do you think he was implying a sort of equivalence between the two acts? (Raymond C. Hollenbach, Campbellsville, Ky.)
A. Well, they were both executions, with the difference that the crimes were committed by ignorant psychopaths on drugs, while the lethal injection was done by the state, in our names.
Q. In your "Angels and Instincts" review, you observed that it is the first movie you can remember in which anyone is attacked by moths. How quickly you forget! There was "Mothra" and a bunch of derivative Godzilla films. (Steve Kallas, Tampa, Fla.)
A. Is it true Mothra ate holes in King Kong's coat?
Q. During Cage and Shue's desert retreat in "Leaving Las Vegas," "The Third Man" plays on a pool-side television set. Did you glean any metaphorical significance from this? (Michael Green, Tempe, Ariz.)
A. My guess: The director, Mike Figgis, loves film noir (his "Stormy Monday" is a homage to the genre) and "The Third Man" is one of the greatest. No other significance, except that in both movies a good woman persists in loving a self-destructive man.
Q. Where can I find the real identities of the Texans played by Larry Hagman, et al, that Nixon came to visit in Texas? (L. J. Jensen, Liberty Hill, TX)
A. There are no "real" Texans behind those characters. The scenes represented, in a general way, the influence at the time of the John Birch Society, and Nixon's disinclination to deal with them. They show Nixon as more moderate than some segments of his party.
Q. I notice that the inmate played by Sean Penn in "Dead Man Walking" is named Matthew Poncelet. Have you ever noticed how many Matthews there are in TV and the movies these days? I was nearly 16 years old before I EVER MET another person with the same first name as me, "Matthew." Now it seems to be as common as "John" used to be. And Hollywood has really picked up on it. There's Matthew Broderick ("War Games"") (OK, he's about the same age as me, so I guess I can't accuse him of stealing MY NAME"), Matthew Garber ("Gnome-Mobile"), Matthew Betz ("The Wedding March"), Matthew Groom, Matt Dillon ("Tex"), Matthew Modine ("Wind"), Matthew Penn ("Delta Force III"), Matthew Laborteaux ("Shattered Spirits"), Matthew Lawrence ("Eddie & The Cruisers II"), Matthew Marsh ("An Affair In Mind"), Matthew Perry ("Dance 'Til Dawn"), Matthew Faison ("Puppet Master 3"), Matt Schwimer, and more among the "brat pack" of TV sit-coms and movie newcomers. Either the name of the character is Matthew or the name of the actor is Matthew. They're going to USE IT UP! (Matthew J. W. Ratcliff, Villa Ridge, Mo.)
A. Quit belly-aching. A database search of "Microsoft Cinemania" reveals only 433 actors or characters named "Matthew," as compared to 1,314 "Rogers."
Q. Am I wrong or are there more and more movie scenes taking place in public restrooms in recent years? (David Tatai, Chicago)
A. You are quite correct. In fact Ebert's Little Movie Glossary covers this in three entries. The "Bathroom Rule," contributed by Eugene Accardo, states that no one in the movies ever goes to the toilet for the usual reasons, but instead uses the room to take drugs, commit suicide, escape through the window, etc. The Timely Bladder Syndrome, contributed by Kevin Wan, observes that the hero always goes to the toilet just before the good guys attack, and thus is able to observe while hidden, and make his plans. The Mandatory Latrine Scene, contributed by Donna Martin, observes that in all movies since 1980 with office settings, all major decisions are made by men of power while standing next to urinals and washbasins in the men's washroom.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
A tribute to Doris Day.