The film, while well-made on a technical level, feels more like a collection of moments than a full and satisfying narrative.
Q. I was watching an ad for a Taco Bell tie-in with "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider," during which several scenes from the movie were flashed, among them the scene where Lara Croft is leaped on by the giant robot. I noticed that the pistols that were supposed to be in her hands had been digitally erased from this scene, so it just looked like she was waving her clenched fists at the robot. Were the guns taken out to make the scene appear less violent? (James Culver, Spokane WA)
A. Obviously. One problem with the digital revolution is that films become infinitely malleable. There is no longer a definitive image, but only a continuing process of fine-tuning for different audiences. In this case, the ad was changed from a fair fight to a one-sided assault, with the woman not as warrior but as victim.
Q. I noticed something about the commercials for "Baby Boy." The Jody character used to say "I love you girl; you got my son and you probably gonna be my wife"--which is what he says in the movie. But recently the ads were changed to omit the "probably." I can imagine why they changed it but I'm not sure it's ethical. (Geeha Leem, Berkeley CA)
A. Completely unethical, since the word "probably" is the key to the sentence, and an insight into Jody's character.
Q. When I noticed an ad with lots of rave quotes for "Scary Movie 2," I couldn't help but look closer. Most are the usual bits of hyperbole from people you've never heard of, but then I saw one attributed to Jack Matthews of Newsday---a reputable critic. His quote reads, in full: 'It's inspired by 'The Exorcist,' 'American Pie,' 'Raging Bull,' 'Hannibal,' 'Charlie's Angels,' 'Mission: Impossible,' 'What Lies Beneath,' 'House on Haunted Hill,' CBS' 'Survivor,' NBC's 'The Weakest Link' and Firestone's collapsible tires." At no point does he actually offer any opinion about the actual film; all the quote does is list many of the subjects that are so ineptly parodied. Could this be the wave of the future for movie ad quotes? Are studios so desperate for name quotes in the post-David Manning era that they are now using strictly informational sentences, hoping people don't realize the difference between fact and opinion? (Peter Sobczynski, Liberty Newspapers, Chicago)
A. The movie was released by a branch of Miramax, which recently asked me if they could use a quote from my negative review of "The Closet." The quote was: "Turns the tables on 'La Cage aux Folles'." And so it does, but not at the same level of achievement.
Q. On the 4th of July, American Movie Classics ran a special called "Grilling With the Godfather". All day long they played "The Godfather" and "The Godfather, Part II" along with a documentary special. While watching the films I noticed something. Each film has its share of graphic violence which was left almost intact. But all the swearing, nudity, and the sex scene between Sonny and his girl were censored and cut heavily. Why is it that sex, nudity, and swear words are viewed as more obscene than someone getting a bullet right between the eyes or a guy being shot right in the eye? Why bother show "The Godfather" if it can't be enjoyed the way Coppola meant it to be? (Woodrow Williams, Bolingbrook, IL)
A. It seems especially imprudent of AMC since so many people know those movies virtually by heart. How many complaints would they have received for showing them uncut? My guess: Fewer than for censoring them.
Q. I have a bone to pick with the Criterion Collection video label. I recently rented their DVD of "The Seven Samurai," and seeing this incredible film was one of the defining experiences of my movie-watching life. Naturally I had an appetite for other Kurosawa films, and decided my next rental would be "Yojimbo." The DVD mentioned it was filmed in "Tohovision." The notes listed it as being in the "original" 2.35:1 aspect ratio, which was how the movie was presented. But during the opening credits, the lead actor's name was displayed in block letters as TOSHIRO MIFUN. The missing "E" represents quite a bit of the image that was cut off. This leads me to believe that Criterion is deceiving us by not presenting the complete image, yet calling it the "original" Tohovision. Are my suspicions correct? (Cameron J. Ladd, Los Altos CA)
A. Being able to see a film in its original aspect ratio has become one of the selling points of DVD, and Criterion is traditionally fanatic on this score. I asked Peter Becker, president of the Criterion Collection, for his response, and he says: "The cropping you see seems far more pronounced during the title sequence than it is throughout the rest of the film. The element Toho furnished us for 'Yojimbo' included the English language title sequence, in which the film titles are outside of the safe action area. This has the effect of emphasizing a very slight cropping at the edges of the screen (overscanning) which is inherent in all standard television sets. We have since developed a much clearer line of communication with the technical experts at Toho and do not expect this problem to recur in the future."
Q. Although the actors strike never happened, I'll bet a number of lousy films were green-lighted out of panic and uncertainty, just so studios would have something out there. If enough sub-par movies do make it to theaters, will this put a major crimp in the Oscar-nominating process, or will they just reduce the number of nominees in the categories? (Spencer Brister, Owensboro KY)
A. You are a hopeless idealist. Sub-par movies already force out many of the best films at Oscar time (example: "Gladiator"). What may happen is that the panic productions turn out to be better than they might have been, because six layers of producers didn't get a chance to second-guess the original scripts.
A video essay about Mortal Engines, as part of Scout Tafoya's ongoing video essay series on maligned masterpieces.
This is the most purely entertaining season of Stranger Things to date.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...