Maitland McDonagh

Question: Why do some movies ...

Question: Why do some movies go directly to video? Is it because they're not good enough to open in theaters? — Nmicleiny

Flickchick: This is a more complicated question than you realize. First, a lot of movies people think are direct-to-video are cable movies, which tend to have lower budgets than theatrical features. When you're marketing a $75 million dollar movie, the name of the game is broad appeal and secondary sales, which is why so many movies today are simplistic and action oriented. Many Hollywood production executives and filmmakers subscribe to the view that when people shell out $10.00 for a ticket and another $5.00 for popcorn, they want to see something spectacular, so they spend big bucks on special effects (not just monsters, but car chases, airplane explosions, spectacular fires and crowd scenes). They also hire the biggest name actors on the market, on the theory that they'll help draw people into theaters. Pay cable (where you can have nudity, read more

Question: A few years ago, ...

Question: A few years ago, Anthony Hopkins signed to play James Maybrick in a movie about Jack the Ripper. What happened? — PCPhoenix

Flickchick: In 1993, Hyperion press published The Diary of Jack the Ripper: The Chilling Confessions of James Maybrick (1993), which purported to be the journal of an outwardly respectable Liverpool cotton merchant, a longtime drug addict living a secret life as the serial killer who came to be dubbed "Jack the Ripper." The diary was immediately attacked as a fraud and disavowed by most serious Ripperologists. But it was, pardon the pun, a ripping good read, and overlapped another sensational 19th-century murder tale: Maybrick's American-born wife, Florence, was accused of having poisoned him with arsenic. Today, the case against her is widely thought to have been extraordinary weak, but she was convicted and sentenced to death. Her sentence was commuted by Queen Victoria to 15 years in prison; she died i read more

Question: A few years ago my ...

Question: A few years ago my husband and I watched a low-budget movie in which the main character had a third arm growing out of his back. He started appearing in variety shows and freak shows, and did tricks with his three arms. It wasn't a horror movie — more a dark comedy — and neither of us can remember the title. — Petra

Flickchick: I can't imagine you saw anything other than The Dark Backward (1991), with Judd Nelson as the three-armed guy and Bill Paxton as his best friend.

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Question: In 1967, I saw a ...

Question: In 1967, I saw a B&W movie on TV, about a ventriloquist who hypnotized people and drained their souls to put into his evil "dummy." The scene that scared me most was the dummy alone in a room, opening its eyes and then slowly getting up and walking away to kill someone — truly spooky. Do you know the title? — Marcia

Flickchick: I'd say Devil Doll (1964). People often compare it unfavorably to the ventriloquist's dummy segment of Dead of Night (1945), but Devil Doll is pretty damned creepy in its own right, and unbelievably sleazy to boot.

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Question: Is The Godfather ...

Question: Is The Godfather based on a true story? If so, can I find additional information about the facts of the story? ? Maribel

Flickchick: Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather was based on the 1969 novel The Godfather, by Mario Puzo. Puzo, who was born in Manhattan in 1920, was almost 50 when the book was published, and had already had a long career in pulp magazine publishing behind him and had written two critically acclaimed but unsuccessful novels. Although no characters were modeled exactly on real people, Puzo is said to have partially based Don Vito Corleone on notorious mobster Frank Costello, as well as on Costello associate Willie Moretti. The character of singer and actor Johnny Fontaine was widely believed to have been based on read more

Question: I recently heard ...

Question: I recently heard that Dennis Quaid was in a band in the late '80s. Is this true? And if so, was it really New Kids on the Block? — Angela

Flickchick: I'm sure Dennis Quaid would appreciate the thought that he looks young enough now to have been in New Kids on the Block in the late '80s, but he was 31 in 1985 — way too old. His band was called The Eclectics, and they were actually signed to a major label, Capitol, before their 1990 breakup. The experience disillusioned Quaid for some time, but he has recently formed a new band called The Sharks.

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Question: I watch a lot of ...

Question: I watch a lot of old movies and came into one in the middle. It had no stars I recognized, other than two fabulous young dancers, African-American brothers who did unbelievable splits, often from great heights and after running up the sides of walls. The movie was about newlyweds who had to adjust to the fact that the husband was a trumpet player who traveled a lot. The movie was also about the rest of the band, and their catty wives and girlfriends. There were two famous songs in the movie — "Serenade in Blue" and, I think, "At Last." Can you tell me the name of the movie, the song at the end and the dancing brothers? — Ira

Flickchick: The dancers are the Nicholas brothers, Fayard and Harold. Nicholas, the younger of the two by three years, died last read more

Question: A couple of months ...

Question: A couple of months ago I saw some old, short Sherlock Holmes movies on a PBS station. They starred Ronald Howard as Holmes and H. Marion-Crawford as Watson. I can't find any information about either of them anywhere! — Diana D

Flickchick: You need to snoop around some of the extensive Sherlock Holmes sites on the Web: You know those die-hard fan types ? they're completists. For starters, what you saw weren't movies, but episodes of a 1954 TV series, produced in the U.S. but shot in France. There were a total of 39 episodes; most were original stories, but they were set at the end of the 19th century rather than updated (as many of the Basil Rathbone&#150Nigel Bruce Holmes movies were). The series ran on NBC in 1954 and 1955 as The Ne read more

Question: I recently learned ...

Question: I recently learned that the total number of voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is only some 6,000. Considering the thousands of working actors, producers, directors and other industry people, I was surprised it was so small. What do you have to do to become a member of such an exclusive insider's club? — NTT

Flickchick: The Academy is sort of like a country club ? you have to be invited to join. It was the brainchild of legendary MGM head Louis B. Mayer, who in 1926 ? a year marred (from a studio boss's perspective) by contentious union negotiations ? conceived of an industry organization that would mediate labor disputes. But it quickly evolved into something more ambitious and less single-mindedly union-busting in orientation. The organization was formed in May 1927 with a mandate to "advance the arts and sciences of motion pictures; foster cooperation among creative leaders for cultural, educational and technologi read more

Question: Do you know any ...

Question: Do you know any feature films or made-for-TV movies dealing with epilepsy or incorporating an epileptic character? — Friedhelm

Flickchick: There are at least three TV movies that deal directly with epilepsy and its effects both on those who have it and their families. ...First Do No Harm (1997) stars Meryl Streep as a mother whose son has epilepsy; she butts heads with the medical establishment because she wants to try a controversial diet (the ketogenic diet, which is high in fat and low in carbohydrates and protein) to relieve his symptoms, rather than relying on conventional drug therapy. In the 1986 Fight for Life, Jerry Lewis is a father fighting for FDA approval of a drug that might help his epileptic daughter. And in The Promise, also read more

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