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. Upon your recommendation we went to see "King Pin. " The one intelligent and strong minded woman character was in a scene in which she fought with her breasts and spent time with an abusive boyfriend. There were so many gratuitous "let's put this in because it's a cheap laugh" scenes, such as Randy Quaid's character dancing in the strip bar dressed in a bikini and glittery makeup, that ruined the movie. The film makers started out with a decent black comedy about prosthetics, bowling and the Amish and just couldn't get any further. This was pure dreck.(Elisa Zuckerberg, New York)
A. I grant you the vulgarity, the sexism, the "let's put this in for a cheap laugh" scenes and even the dreck. But I laughed. Something about the movie's heedless spirit struck me as funny, and once I got hooked, everything seemed funny. It's a strange thing about "Kingpin." I've received a lot of mail, divided about evenly between those who thought it was hilarious, and those who wanted their money back. As a critic, I am at the service of my personal reaction. If I laughed, I have to say so. I can't suppress that information and lecture the filmmakers on their taste.
Q. What was the one best special effect that you saw in the movies this summer? (Frank Bellantoni, Danbury Conn.)
A. It's not in "Independence Day," "Twister," "The Rock," "Eraser," "Escape from L.A.," "Mission: Impossible" or "The Phantom." It's in a much smaller film named "Basquiat," the biography of a New York artist, and it shows surfers riding the waves in Hawaii in the sky above Manhattan skyscrapers. The reason I chose this special effect is because it shows something that is not intended to look "realistic." Some modern special effects are so realistic you don't even realize they're special effects; quite often, for example, the sky in "Twister" is given clouds or ominous coloring at times when twisters are nowhere in sight. Other special effects are obvious, but we're supposed to believe them: The helicopter chasing the train in "M:I," for example, or the flying saucers in "ID4." What I liked about the effects in "Basquiat" wasn't how good they were (they weren't all that great) but that they were original and thought-provoking. They used an artificial image to reflect the character's state of mind, and left it up to use to interpret it. In other words, the effects are the tools of the director's vision, when in the other films the effects essentially are the director's vision.
Q. I have a friend visiting from Moscow this month who says that cable TV over there has already broadcast videos of "Independence Day." How is that possible, when it hasn't even been released onto video in the USA? We make a stink about China pirating, but what about our good friends in Russia? (Sarah Frazier, Memphis)
A. Daphne Gronich, an attorney with 20th Century-Fox in Los Angeles, says the studios the studio takes all reports of piracy "very seriously." If ID4 played on Moscow cable, it was an illegal broadcast, and they are looking into it.
Q. Why must trailers and ads be misleading or gives away some of the movie's surprises? In "Courage Under Fire" part of the story revolves around an investigation to determine if Meg Ryan's character will be awarded a medal after she is killed in battle. In the TV ads Denzel Washington is seen placing a medal on a tombstone, which seems to imply that Meg's character does indeed get the medal. Another example was the movie "Terminator 2." In the beginning of the movie James Cameron is very careful not to reveal that Arnold's terminator is the "good" one' on the contrary, he leads us to believe that Arnold is still the "bad" terminator. However, the trailers for this movie talked about the "kinder, gentler" terminator, and essentially told us that Arnold was the good guy. If "Citizen Kane" had been made today, the TV ads would start with a shot of the "Rosebud" sled. (Gary Currie, Montreal)
A. And the ads for "Psycho" would show Norman Bates having tea with his mother. Let's not even think about the ads for "The Crying Game."
Q. As a student at the University of Mississippi, I was very upset by your incorrect spelling of the nickname for my school in your review of "A Time to Kill." The University is affectionately referred to as OLE MISS, not "Old" Miss. As Chancellor Alfred Hume said, "Gentlemen, you may move the University of Mississippi. You may move it to Jackson or anywhere else. You may uproot it from the hallowed ground on which it has stood for eighty years. You may take it from these surroundings which have become dear to the thousands who have gone from its doors. But gentlemen, don't call it Ole Miss!" I can only hope that Yankee ignorance was behind the error. (Kathy Vick, Oxford, Miss.)
A. A mistake like that can happen to anybody. Ah...in your quote from Chancellor Hume, did you by any chance intend to type "old" instead of "ole?"
Q. I have noticed that in Teri Garr's recent appearances she seems to have a limp. What happened? Was she in an accident? (Denise Mrks, Chicago)
A. Garr, a former dancer, has said she is rehabilitating from a degenerative back injury. As the consistently funniest guest on the Letterman program, she would be a natural as a talk show hostess.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...