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. Is it me or is John Cusack the most underrated actor in American movies right now? He has never received an Academy Award nomination, nor has he starred in any blockbusters (he did have a supporting role in the Nicholas Cage vehicle "Con Air") but he seems to lend quality to everything in which he appears. Why do you suppose he fails to capture the recognition he deserves? (Tim Tremain, Vancouver BC)
A. Right now Cusack's "High Fidelity" is getting enormous recognition, and he was the key to "Being John Malkovich," last year's best film. In many ways, including even his appearance, he reminds me of my favorite actor, Robert Mitchum--a superb professional and a gifted artist, who fit into his roles so effortlessly that he didn't attract the kind of attention given to actors who sweat and strain.
Q. During the Oscar presentation for best live action short, my sister and I heard a man's voice speaking over the music and titles. During the first nominee, the voice said, "That's not it", then during the third, "Not it either," and finally, after the nominee, the voice said , "That's the one." Oddly enough, it was. We have no idea where the voice came from. Jude Law was presenting, but he shouldn't have known. (Rebekah Askeland, Bolingbrook IL)
A. Ric Robertson, executive administrator of the Academy, replies: "Before Jude Law announced the name of the nominees, he said 'One of the films has the most interesting title of the nominees this year.' As his co-presenter said the title of the first nominee, he said, 'That's not it.' He kept saying that till the title of the last nominee came up, 'My Mother Dreams the Satan's Disciples in New York,' and then he said 'That's the one.' Coincidentally, that's the film that won the award."
Q. James Wong's "Final Destination" featured characters named after directors of suspense or horror films. Joe Dante used a similar tribute in "The Howling," naming characters for directors of werewolf movies. Are there other films that have used this in-joke? (Ed Fik, Canyon Country CA)
A. In-jokes involving character's names are more common than we know, since some of the names are not famous. Here's a list of the horror-related last names in "Final Destination:" Browning, Rivers, Horton, Lewton, Weine, Schreck, Hitchcock, Chaney.
Q. Why didn't they mention Stanley Kubrick in the Oscars segment remembering movie people who passed away last year? (David Crucy, Yonkers NY)
A. Kubrick was included in last year's tribute. An actor they did forget this year, however, was DeForest Kelley, the beloved "Bones" of "Star Trek."
Q. I read that Tobey Maguire's character in "Wonder Boys" mistakenly lists Alan Ladd's death as a suicide, that Paramount has apologized to the Ladd family and will remove the line from the video release. Does this mean that if a person is important enough he can have lines removed from films if he doesn't like them? The line is also in Michael Chabon's novel. Should Villard Books also remove it from the text? (Jason Ihle, New London, CT)
A. Alan Ladd Sr. was not a suicide. Chabon might have been trying to make a point by having the character get it wrong, but it is a big mistake for a small payoff. You would not have to be "important" to get a line like that changed, but in Hollywood Alan Ladd Jr. certainly is--and well-liked, too.
Q. You mention in your "Ghost Dog" review a killing in which Forest Whitaker fires a gun up through a drain, killing a man in the bathroom. This may well draw its inspiration from the fabled death of one of Japan's greatest samurai, Uesugi Kenshin, who revived the practice of single combat between respected samurai opponents during the 16th century. Officially he died of an apoplectic fit while in the lavatory, but there is a tradition that a ninja had hidden himself in the cess pit and killed Kenshin with an upward thrust of his spear. Think there might be something to it? (Bryan Hodges, Memphis, TN)
A. Yes, but thanks to advances in plumbing, Ghost Dog only had to stand in the basement.
Q. I saw a news item that must have you plenty discouraged. Here is a partial quote: "Do movie critics' reviews matter to the success or failure of a movie's box office success? According to a study released today by Copernicus, a global marketing strategy and research firm, the answer is a resounding no. 'What critics think about a movie,' according to Dr. Kevin J. Clancy, CEO of Copernicus, 'is surprisingly unrelated to domestic box office sales...what critics think is bad may have tremendous upside potential'." Your response? (Greg Nelson, Chicago)
A. Duh! I wonder how much it cost to produce results that have been common knowledge for as long as there have been movie critics. Our job is to suggest, however imperfectly, that the best movie in town may not always be the most successful. If Dr. Clancy automatically attends the top-grossing film, I recommend my reviews to him, urgently. On the other hand, anyone who uses the phrase "upside potential" may be beyond help.
Q. In your review of "Here On Earth" you said the village was a little "too Norman Rockwell" and they must have built it for the movie. I live approximately 10 miles from where this movie was filmed in Welch, MN. I can assure you that this is what Welch looks like. They may have built the diner, since they had to blow that up, but the rest of it was very real. (Georgia Lee, Red Wing, MN)
A. My apologies to the citizens of Welch, who live in a really sweet little town.
Q. I haven't seen the movie "Such A Long Journey," but I believe that Gustad's son Sohrab gets an admission call from the Indian Institute of Technology not the Illinois Institute of Technology as you say in your review. This is important to the plot because the Indian Institute of Technology is the premier institute for engineering in India , and it is almost every Indian parent's dream that their child is accepted at IIT. Being an Indian and having gone through that stage myself, I can understand how Gustad must have felt. (Swaminathan Anantha, Chicago IL)
A. You are quite right. I heard "IIT" and as a Chicago chauvinist assumed "Illinois Institute of Technology."
Q. Why does everyone who mentions Warren Beatty's Thalberg award keep talking about Beatty being the only individual nominated for best picture, actor, director, and screenplay for the same film? I thought Orson Welles did this with "Citizen Kane," and Woody Allen with "Annie Hall." Are my record books wrong? (Stephen Moulds, Nashville TN)
A. Jack Nicholson got a little carried away in his introduction.
Q. Did you notice the figure in the window of the castle during the final shot of "The Ninth Gate," as Johnny Depp walks toward the light? I'm guessing the obvious--Satan. (John Silver, Greensboro NC)
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...