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. I looked at the mysterious face in the funeral scene of "The Godfather" last night (Answer Man, Dec. 2), and I think I can explain it. Before Michael stands up, you can see a glare on the lens, but it is not discernible as a face because it is on a white background. When Michael shifts, so that his suit provides a dark contrast, the glare depicts the face of his mother, who in the scene immediately preceding is seated next to him. Presumably, the actors remained in place for the closeup shot of Michael (Coppola mentioned the shots were done in a hurry), and what we are seeing is a fluke of light, distortion, shadow, and lens peculiarity; the flared edge of the lens picks up the light from just out of the frame. (Mike Spearns, St. John's Newfoundland)
A. Many readers wrote in with theories, but you hit the ghost on the head. After two AM readers spotted the face, I queried Francis Ford Coppola, and he requested Kim Aubry, producer of the "Godfather" DVDs and his VP of post-production and technology, to look at the scene. Aubry writes: "Look closer, especially at the preceding shots. It's Morgana King (who is sitting next to Pacino) being reflected, probably by a filter in the matte box, explaining the orange hue. Look again even more closely. What is less explained: Why is she chewing gum at her husband's funeral?!? Francis and I just studied this little scene on the DVD, and her gum chewing was especially vexing to him and amusing to me. (Of course, she thought she was off camera.) We get so much bogus stuff that it was fun to check out a real one, and it turns out not to be an artistic trompe l'oeuil, but a GOOF! Love it!"
Q. I played a role in the film "Fargo" and was disturbed recently to learn that someone died in Minnesota apparently while searching for the money Steve Buscemi buries in the roadside snow in the film! Is this tale, like the film, "based on a true story," or is it REALLY true? (Gary Houston, Chicago)
A. Yeah, you played the irate customer who didn't want to pay extra for the rust-proofing. "Fargo" opens by saying it's based on a true story, but the Coen Brothers reveal at the end that it's fiction. The story of the death is true. Reuters reports that a 28-year-old woman told police in Bismarck she had traveled to North Dakota from Tokyo to search for the buried treasure. She took a bus to Fargo, a taxi to Detroit Lakes, and then hitched a ride out of town, where her body was found. "We've narrowed it down to a couple of possibilities--either a (prescription) drug overdose or an exposure death," Detroit Lakes police chief Cal Keena told Reuters.
Q. Here's a quote from Michael Medved's 3-star review of "Behind Enemy Lines:" "Roger Ebert and other establishment critics have made fun of the movie because it held its world premiere on the USS Carl Vinson, the same massive aircraft carrier shown in the film. Sorry, Roger; that's a reason to admire the movie, not to scorn it." (Paul West, Seattle, WA)
A. Apart from his quaint notion that the location of a movie's premiere is a reason to admire it, Medved deliberately misrepresents me. Here's what I actually wrote: "The premiere of 'Behind Enemy Lines' was held aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson. I wonder if it played as a comedy. Its hero is so reckless and its villains so incompetent that it's a showdown between a man begging to be shot, and an enemy that can't hit the side of a Bosnian barn."
Q. I thought I was keeping up with current events, but I don't recall hearing that France had decided to rejoin NATO? (John R. Quinsey, Dania Beach FL)
A. I described the NATO superior in "Behind Enemy Lines" as a French admiral. France is a member of NATO but does not contribute troops. The character of Admiral Piquet has what sounds like a French name and accent, and I jumped to the wrong conclusion. The actor (Joaquim de Almeida) is Portuguese, but the movie doesn't say where the character is from.
Q. What is the name of the film that was about a Soviet tank and its crew during the war with Afghanistan? (G.T. Golden, Cherry, NJ)
Q. In the Ebert & Roeper review of the new "Almost Famous" DVD, Stillwater, the band in the movie, was referred to as "fictional." I'm from Michigan and remember the band vaguely. They were apparently quite real. I searched the Web, and at the Michigan Daily site found information about the real band (the photo shows how dead-on the casting was). So--was there a real band called Stillwater, upon which Cameron Crowe's characters in "Almost Famous" were based? (Travis Charbeneau, Richmond VA)
A. Writer-director Cameron Crowe replies that you and the Michigan Daily have been deceived by a fictional band: "Your question man has dug up a bit of, shall we say, authentic fiction that originated from our Vinyl Films website. The 'Almost Famous' Stillwater from Troy, MO is actually a composite of four or five bands I toured with back in the early 1970s- a little Lynyrd Skynyrd, a lot of the Allman Brothers, some Eagles, some Neil Young, and a large dose of Led Zeppelin. Many of the events in the movie, and some of the dialogue, actually happened while I was covering those bands. For example, when we showed 'Almost Famous' to Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin last year, at the point Billy Crudup says 'I never said I was a 'golden god,' Plant happily cried out, 'Well I did!' And he was right."
Q. I visited England last November and saw "Memento." The movie wasn't released in the US until April. Does that make it 2000 film not a 2001 film? Last year's "Croupier" wasn't allowed Oscar nominations because it was made in 1998 and shown briefly in another country. Will the same thing happen to "Memento?" (Alec Kerr, Lovell ME)
A. No problem. John Pavlik, a spokesman for the Academy, says "Memento" is eligible for the Oscars because its first showing outside the U.S. took place within the year 2000. "Croupier" was ineligible because it was shown overseas TV prior to its overseas theatrical release.
Q. In the movie, "A Christmas Story," what is Little Orphan Annie's secret message to Ralphy? (Tamara Benedetto, Ferndale MI)
A. "Be sure to drink more Ovaltine."
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...