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. How do Pinocchio's nose holes grow? 1. They grow bigger. 2. They do not grow and end up in the tip of the nose. 3. They do not grow and stay where they are, in the end of the nose. 4. Pinocchio has no nose holes at all. This looks like a very stupid question, but for over a week it has been the main topic of a lot of biology students in Holland during lunch break. (Maarten van Haaren, Lierderholthuis NL)
A. Pinocchio has no nostrils at all. However, when his nose grows long it does gain branches, leaves, and a bird's nest.
Q. I was watching a Looney Tunes cartoon, and something struck me as strange. Whenever something heavy falls on a character, it's an anvil. Why an anvil? Anvils aren't exactly common anymore, yet they've been a cartoon staple for ages. Do you know what was the first cartoon to feature a falling anvil, who came up with it, and why? (Evan Talbott, Baltimore MD)
A. My friend Leonard Maltin knows all about such matters and is the author of Of Mice and Men: A History of American Animated Cartoons. He tells me: "I don't think there's any way of determining the first anvil to fall in a cartoon! As to WHY an anvil, it's just part of the cartoon lexicon; everything has to have a quick, identifiable visual symbol, and an anvil says 'heavy' in no uncertain terms. Tex Avery especially liked them and it wouldn't surprise me if he was the first to use one. He even figured out how few frames it would take to come out of nowhere and still be visible as more than just a blur; I think the answer was five frames, or about one fifth of a second!"
Q. What's your opinion on taking children to see "Princess Mononoke? I have three boys, the youngest just 11. He is mature for his age and has seen a fair number of movies with violence in them. (The scene of Luke Skywalker getting his hand cut off comes to mind.) He has never had nightmares from anything he has seen and I am sure he would enjoy the story line of "Princess Mononoke" immensely. I get so desperate trying to find good movies to take him to that I am pretty sure it would be worth the risk to take him to this one but I wanted to hear what you have to say. (David Fallon, Cleveland OH)
A. "Mononoke" would be okay for an 11 -year old. It is not excessively gory or gruesome--not a horror or violence film--just intense adventure. The story may be too complicated for smaller kids.
Q. I note that the Motion Picture Academy has again revised the rules for how documentaries are nominated for the Oscars. After myriad complaints, not least from Siskel & Ebert in the infamous "Hoop Dreams" scandal, the new system begins with 50 documentarians who are Academy members, dividing up the 60 or 70 eligible films, so that the same small group of volunteers isn't required to see all of them. After they trim the list to 12, the semifinalists will be screened in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco. All Academy members in those areas will then vote for the five nominees, if they qualify by attending most of the screenings. Do you think this will work? (Susan Lake, Urbana , Il).
A. Yes, I do. I think it is a fair and practical way around the previous problem of finding volunteers willing to sit through 70 films. (Under that process, audiences members would shine their flashlights when they grew impatient; such films as 'Hoop Dreams" and "Roger & Me" were not even seen in their entirety). My only suggestion would be that the screenings of the finalists should be open to the public (with Academy members admitted free). That would create an instant festival showcase of good documentaries, provide advance buzz for the finalists, and generate revenue, which could underwrite the process and be shared with the filmmakers.
Q. Far be it from me to criticize a movie as outstanding as "Being John Malkovich." However, I did notice one unmined comic possibility. In the film, John Cusack's character, says that he can't remember any movies that Malkovich has been in. He should have been able to remember at least one, "Con Air." After all, Cusack was in that movie too. (Mark Dayton, Costa Mesa CA)
A. True, and funny--but while Malkovich plays Malkovich in the movie, Cusack does not play Cusack.
Q. "Dogma"--good or bad? Kevin Smith claims to be a devout Catholic and says his film is pro-faith. I am a Catholic and I wasn't upset by anything in the script, but then again I know it is only a movie and shouldn't be seen as more. Smith himself has said that the Catholic League is more mad at Disney for originally owning the picture than they are at the movie itself--that their protest is more about Disney, and the movie is just a means. (James Coffey, Escondido, CA)
A. The Catholic League, a small but noisy organization run by William Donohue with no official sanction by the church, is currently gathering signatures on a petition asking Disney to dump its Miramax subsidiary . Since Miramax had already decided not to distribute "Dogma" as long ago as May, one would think the League would direct its protests against the film's current distributor. Surely its proper concern is the content of the film, not a company's business decisions? Why the obsession with Disney? Perhaps because there is more publicity to be gained by attacking a larger target.
Q. I live in the dorms here at University of Colorado and we have very fast ethernet connections and can download extremely large files in minutes. Because of this, everyone on my floor seems to be getting newly released films on their computers everyday, sometimes even before the movie is out. What do you think the impact on Hollywood will be when millions of Americans are downloading these illegal, pirated movies from the internet? (Chris Justus, Boulder CO)
A. Hollywood will try to stop it, with encryption, tracing, and legal punishments. It is theft, after all. My best guess is that a student is 10 times more
Q. After attending "The Insider" I was given a card asking me to call and participate in a survey about the movie. Curious, I called. Without identifying who was sponsoring the survey, which was automated, I was asked for my opinion of how the movie portrayed the Brown and Williamson tobacco company. Of course the movie only reinforced my negative feelings about tobacco companies in general, but the red flag went up, and I did not want to give them anything they could use against the movie maker. The whole thing was a little chilling. What do you think about this and a theatre that would allow it? (Ann Fallen, Surfaced FL)
A. The survey was sponsored by Brown and Williamson, according to Bloomberg News, which says the company will use the results in trying to decide whether to sue for libel. The story adds: "A spokesman for the tobacco company said that it did not disclose its name in order to prevent the results from becoming skewed." A Touchstone Pictures spokesman told me, "There is nothing statistically valid about this kind of telephone survey. In fact, it is set up so that it can be skewed by Brown & Williamson and others in the tobacco industry to generate the desired outcome by having employees and members repeatedly call the number." If I had been asked by the survey, this would have been my answer: The movie strengthened my preexisting conviction that they are selling a deadly product, know it, and lied about it.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...