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. Sight & Sound has recently released the results of a poll asking what the best films of the last 25 years are. What do you think of the results of this poll? (M. Lingo, Bodega Bay CA)
A. Sight & Sound is the magazine of the British Film Institute. Because so few recent films made their September 2002 list of the top 10 films of all time, they asked for votes on films of the past quarter-century. The results: 1. "Apocalypse Now" (Francis Ford Coppola); 2. "Raging Bull" (Martin Scorsese); 3. "Fanny and Alexander" (Ingmar Bergman); 4. "GoodFellas" (Martin Scorsese); 5. "Blue Velvet" (David Lynch); 6. "Do the Right Thing" (Spike Lee); 7. "Blade Runner" (Ridley Scott); 8. "Chungking Express" (Wong Kar-Wai); 9. "Distant Voices, Still Lives" (Terence Davies); 10. (tie) "Once Upon a Time in America" (Sergio Leone) and "A One and a Two..." (Edward Yang).
The top 10 directors were: Martin Scorsese, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Wong Kar-Wai, Abbas Kiarostami, Michael Mann, David Lynch, Pedro Almodovar, Francis Ford Coppola, and a tie between Spike Lee and Ingmar Bergman.
All polls are a matter of apples and oranges. I miss such titles as "Pulp Fiction," Kieslowski's trilogy ("Blue," "White" and "Red") and, on the director's list, where is Robert Altman? But it's a good list, especially compared to the idiocy of the recent Zagat survey of 1,000 films, which is based on the premise that the other people in Blockbuster have better taste than you do.
Q. Larry Clark, the director of the controversial teenage sex movie "Ken Park," recently got into a fight with his British distributor and the film was pulled from the London Film Festival. What's the story? (Greg Nelson, Chicago)
A. Clark wrote an e-mail about the incident that was forwarded to me by his publicist, Reid Rosefelt. Greatly condensed, it says that Clark grew angry at his British distributor, Hamish McAlpine, during a dinner at which McAlpine said Sept. 11 was the best thing that ever happened to America, and continued by praising Yassar Arafat and making disparaging comments about Israel and Jews. When he praised Hamas, Clark wrote:
"I said what about the innocent little children and babies who get blown up? He said, 'they ------- deserve to die' and I lost it and punched him in the nose. I hit him a few more times. He went to the hospital with a broken nose and I went to jail for four hours before they let me go. He now says he will not release 'Ken Park' and pulled the film from the London Film Festival. ... But, if I had awoken this morning after listening to him last night and hadn't hit him, I don't think I could have looked at myself in the mirror."
McAlpine later told the London Guardian, "I was not prepared to put up with the presence of a racist man." McAlpine thought Clark was racist because he was anti-Palestine, and Clark thought McAlpine was racist because he was anti-Israel. Clark is taking anger management classes. The film is without a British distributor.
Q. One plot point from the otherwise fine new Bond movie "Die Another Day" was not resolved: Just what exactly ARE "African Conflict Diamonds?" I was unable to find out ANY information about them on an internet search after watching the movie. Do they exist or is this a MacGuffin invented by the screenwriters? If they do exist, how are they different from ordinary diamonds, since, as I recall, the characters in the movie mentioned that these particular diamonds are highly illegal. (Ed Vaira, San Diego CA)
A. They are diamonds illegal to buy and sell because they come from (i.e., are stolen in or from) conflict areas. A March 2001 UN report says: "The General Assembly recognized that conflict diamonds are a crucial factor in prolonging brutal wars in parts of Africa, and underscored that legitimate diamonds contribute to prosperity and development elsewhere on the continent. In Angola and Sierra Leone, conflict diamonds continue to fund the rebel groups..."
Q. In your review of "Die Another Day" you said Bond says "My friends call me James Bond" and Jinx replies, "Well that's a mouthful." That is incorrect, the lovely Halle Berry actually replies "Well that's a mouthful" when James Bond tells her he is an ornithologist. (Yusuf Artam, Wayne NJ)
A. You are completely correct. I scribbled a note in the dark and double-checked the quote at imdb.com without noticing that it appears the way I quote it only in the trailer-- where nothing is ever the same as it is in the movie.
Q. What do you think of self destructing DVDs? With disposable movies, the late fees that video chains rely on will dry up. Imagine a world littered with disposable copies of "The Mummy Returns." On the other hand, think of all the time I'll save not returning DVDs. They'll make fine coasters or you can throw them away like a frisbee. (Mike Breiburg, Studio City CA)
A. Technology described at Flexplay.com provides a "limited-time viewing window beginning after it is removed from the packaging." Once you open the DVD and watch it you throw it away, eliminating the return to the store. This may be a mixed blessing for video stores, because returning the old movies is often when you get inspired to rent new ones. It could however provide a competitive edge if a single video chain licenses it and advertises no-return DVDs.
Q. Every once in a while during a movie I notice a little black oval in the upper-right hand corner of the picture. It seems to only be there for one or two frames, and then it's gone. I originally thought that it was just an imperfection that can develop when films start to wear, but then I noticed it on movies even during the first show of the day. What is this oval? (Jon Paine, Provo UT)
A. That's the signal that a reel is ending and the projectionist needs to switch to the other projector. However, many booths these days put the whole movie on one big real, making "reel changes" unnecessary.
Q. I was just wondering if you caught last week's episode of "Curb Your Enthusiasm," which featured a food critic who was obscene, crude, and had a trademark "thumbs-up, thumbs-down" method for his show. As I recall, you gave Larry David's "Sour Grapes" a zero star review. Is there any satisfaction or pride in knowing that some writer-directors take your reviews so personally? (Scott Mertz, Omaha NE)
A. Larry David may have been aiming at critics in general, not at me, since "Sour Grapes" scored a perfect zero among major critics on the Tomatometer. There is a reason for that. "Sour Grapes" was a terrible movie. "Curb Your Enthusiasm," on the other hand, is a wonderful TV show and I like it a lot. I did wince when the critic's thumbs got broken.
Q. In the film "Punch-Drunk Love," I noticed several moments when bands of color appeared during scenes. Do you feel that these bands of color are supposed to signify something, that they are unintentional or that they were created by the cinematographer for artistic purposes? I have my own theory that the glares, which appear in a variety of colors, actually symbolize the emotions being experienced by Barry, the main character. Any thoughts? (Ryan Lisee, Voluntown CT)
A. If that is your theory, then that is what they symbolize, for you. There is never a right answer to the question of what something symbolizes, because symbolizing, of necessity, takes place in the mind of the beholder, not the creator. See below.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
A tribute to Doris Day.