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Juggling the somber and the hilarious, the sacred and the profane, and tragedy and triumph, Spike Lee is firing on all cylinders here.

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Ballad of Narayama

"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 (11/26/1995)

Q. In the ads for "GoldenEye," someone named Bonnie Churchill of something called the National News Syndicate is quoted as saying, "On a scale of one to four, 'GoldenEye' gets seven stars!" What is your reaction to this new critical math? (Charlie Smith, Chicago)

A. If Ms. Churchill ever sees a great movie, she's going to blow a gasket.

Q. Whatever happened to the investigation regarding the "Hoop Dreams" non-nomination incident? Is it still in progress or has it been resolved? (Gary Currie, Montreal)


A. Although the Motion Picture Academy has reformed the rules for the documentary category for next year, no re-run of the 1995 race is planned, despite the Entertainment Weekly article suggesting that some members of the nominating committee may have deliberately acted to skewer the chances of "Hoop Dreams." It's some consolation for the filmmakers that many millions of viewers were able to see the film recently when it played on PBS.

Q. We were at the local theater recently and saw the posters for "The Journey of August King." They show two young people in historic times. The movie stars Jason Patrick and Thandie Newton. Both characters appear to be black, but I told my friend that Jason Patrick is white. Have you seen the movie? (Harris Allsworth, Chicago)

A. In the movie, Jason Patrick plays a young white man who gives aid to a runaway slave. I checked out the one-sheet at a multiplex, and agree with you that the poster artists have subtly altered the artwork to make both characters appear black, perhaps because they think this will increase the movie's ticket sales. On a related note, the recent movie "Picture Bride" was about Japanese-Americans in Hawaii. On the box of the video release, the characters have inexplicably become white. This was pointed out to me by the film's director, Kayo Hatta, who based the film on the life of her grandmother, tells is intensely unhappy about the cover art.

Q. I read some time ago that the novel "The Dork of Cork" was being made into a film, but I can't find it listed among the upcoming releases. Do you have a progress report? (Sean McHugh, Three Oaks, Mich.)

A. The movie is coming out soon, under the title "Frankie Starlight." It's the story of a dwarf born to a French mother and an American father and raised in Ireland, where he becomes a local legend. I would love to sit down and have a cup of Irish tea and a friendly chat with the marketing genius who thought a nebulous title like "Frankie Starlight" would sell more tickets than "The Dork of Cork," a title that almost compels you to seek out the movie.


Q. We saw "To Die For" today in a nearly empty theater. I had no trouble laughing out loud. But we also recently saw a live theater piece with no more than a dozen folks in the audience, and it was difficult to laugh out loud there, even when it was very funny. What kind of dynamic do you suppose is at work? (John Banks, Tucson, Ariz.)

A. Laughter is a form of communication, which explains why we seldom laugh at funny movies we are watching by ourselves--unless they strike us as

Q. I'm reading the weekend movie returns, including the number of theaters and returns per theater, and I'm thinking, the average blockbuster now plays in 1500 to 2000 locations in the U.S. and Canada. That's a lot of film stock! What happens to all those prints at the end of the run? Do they send them overseas, destroy them, what? Robert Haynes-Peterson, Boise, Idaho)

A. Prints in good condition are used in English-speaking overseas markets and in discount houses, and later on the campus, military and revival circuits. Foreign markets where dubbing is used get new prints. As prints wear out, they are recalled by the studio and destroyed.

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