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"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 (07/23/1995)

Q. Don't we pay enough to attend the movies? More and more theaters are showing TV commercials before the previews. I used to boo during theater commercials, but my wife threatened to divorce me if I continued. Moreover, the audience, unfortunately, did not join my boos as I had hoped. I complain to theater managers, but the decision to show ads seems to be out of their control. -- Larry Brown, Lincolnwood, Ill.

A. I feel the same way, although I do enjoy the previews of coming attractions, and they're commercials, too. In the old days, theaters would show cartoons and short subjects as a bonus, but these days it's all cash-oriented. By the way, MGM has just re-released 34 of its classic shorts (by Robert Benchley and Pete Smith, among others) on laserdisc. Those were the days. Do you ever get the feeling that everything is just sort of slowly running down?


Q. I hate what I call the Letterbox Bait and Switch Tactic. On video, this is the annoying practice of letterboxing a film's opening credits and then switching to pan and scan for the rest of the movie. This allows the viewers to see exactly how much of the frame they will miss for the next two hours. -- Charles W. Strader, Baton Rouge, La.

A. Yeah, if they're going to cut out 50 percent of the movie, they don't have to rub our noses in it. Another reason why all knowledgeable video viewers insist on the letterboxed version.

Q. I have been in a lot of discussions lately about whether Gary Sinise, in "Forrest Gump," lost his legs in either an escalator or traffic accident. -- Carla Turner, Keizer, Ore.

A. Sinise has both of his legs. He was "amputated" byspecial effects. This legless rumor has been dogging him ever since the movie came out, but you are behind the curve if you are still asking about it a year later.

Q. In "Species," when Sil, the alien, drives the stolen car laden with gasoline into the electric transformer, her abductee is tied and gagged on the passenger side. She hopes the authorities will think it is her. Assuming the body was supposed to be burned beyond recognition, wouldn't authorities have noticed that the body had moved, gagged and bound itself? Moreover, I couldn't for the life of me figure out why Sil cut off her thumb and put it in a briefcase in the car; if the fire was enough to consume the body of her victim, then it would have consumed the case and thumb as well. -- Elliott Norse, Redmond, Wash.

A. A smarter alien would have known that. But Sil is the star of a movie in which an alien species figures out a way to establish itself on earth, and then does nothing with that triumph except to jump out from behind stuff and scare people. Here is another problem with the same movie: If the alien grows so rapidly that she changes from a pre- adolescent girl into a sexy 20ish swimsuit model within a few days, why does she then stop at that stage, instead of continuing to mature until she looks like Ma Kettle? Could it have anything to do with the movie's reliance on plenty of topless scenes?

Q. Variety reported this week that Trimark Pictures is planning three movies starring the comedian Carrot Top. The company's vice president, Phil Goldfine, was quoted as saying, "We think that Carrot Top is the next Pauly Shore." The NEXT Pauly Shore? AARRGGHH!!! What do you think? -- Kevin Burk, Bonney Lake, Wash.

A. What do I think? I think Carrot Top should sue.


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