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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 (03/24/1996)

Q. Re: Richard Corliss' review in Time, where he accused the Coen brothers of making fun of Minnesotans in their movie "Fargo." As a 23-year resident of the Coen brothers' home town, it was crystal clear to me that their portrayal of Minnesota culture was derived from their love of it, not to make fun of it. Not that it wasn't hilarious. When Marge was standing out in the field saying "this execution-type thing" probably wasn't committed by "anyone from Brainerd," the 900 people who packed the Uptown Theater in Minneapolis for last Saturday's 4:30 p.m. show laughed longer and louder than I'd ever heard from a movie audience in this state. Maybe Corliss should stop making judgments about who's making fun of whom when he has no clue about the sense of humor he's critiquing. (Seymour Uranowitz, St. Louis Park, Minn.)


A. Hey, like I always say, you can't make an omelet without breaking a few Minnesotans.

Q. How can a movie have a guest star? As a one-time event, isn't one actor in a film as much a "guest" as the next actor in the same film? (Jonas M. Grant, Bloomington, IN)

A. I'd never thought of it that way before, but you're absolutely right.

Q. I heard at one point that when a director wants to disavow himself from a particular directing job he will use the pseudonym "Alan Smithee." Can you confirm this? I noticed that the new "Hellraiser" film has this individual credited with its direction. (Jeffrey W. Bowden, Winston-Salem, NC).

A. You are correct. To quote the Cinemania Web site, "Alan Smithee is nothing more than a pseudonym -- a commonly used smokescreen for the identities of filmmakers who, out of embarrassment or protest over the outcome of their work, have chosen to remove their name from the official credits of a given film." And Jeffrey Graebner of the CompuServe Showbiz Forum informs me: "It is reported that the real director of the new "Hellraiser" is special effects expert Kevin Yagher, who is probably best known for designing the cryptkeeper puppet for HBO's 'Tales from the Crypt' series."

Q. Is "Two Thumbs Up" a copyrighted phrase? I'll tell you why I ask. This past weekend I joined a new video store here in Ontario, and noticed that certain video cases had stickers affixed to them with two Mickey Mouse-type cartoon thumbs pointed up, and a phrase which said "two thumbs up--critics' choice." Are these in fact official Siskel & Ebert choices, or is my video store trying to pull a fast one on me by capitalizing on the goodwill associated with you and your esteemed colleague's critiques? (Mark Solomon, Toronto, Ont.)


A. The video store is pulling a fast one. "Two thumbs up," as applied to movies, has indeed been registered by Siskel and myself, and although filmmakers are free to apply it to films that have been so honored, we have not licensed any video stores to do an in-house promotion, and we don't authorize any stickers.

Q. I have an extensive laserdisc collection, and I'm concerned that with the suggestion of a new format of CD-sized discs that may replace the current laserdisc size, my collection may become obsolete. What are your feelings on this upcoming change? (Edric Yam, Toronto, Canada)

A. The real target of the new DVD discs is not the laserdisc, but the video tape. The video industry wants to persuade consumers to buy, not rent discs, and will reportedly price the new movies in the same general range as music CDs. Laserdiscs will continue to be manufactured for the foreseeable future, I understand, and Pioneer will offer a "combi" laser and DVD machine that plays both formats. As a laserdisc collector, you're well-positioned. I understand from Fred Thomas, the Chicago home video guru, that the new DVDs are much higher in picture and sound quality than tape, and "almost" as good as laserdiscs.

Q. Why is it that the awful reviews are always so much more fun to read--I'm speaking in generalities, here--than the equally positive ones? (Andy Ihnatko, Westwood, Mass.)

A. Because it's difficult if not impossible to be funny about something that's good. The equation seems to run: bad = funny good = serious great = solemn masterpiece = zzzzz

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