Tsai Ming-Liang's first feature in five years is a mysterious and alienating series of tableaus about the fragility of flesh and the smallness of humanity.
Q. In the review that you and Siskel did of "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer," you said the movie drained years, even centuries, out of the human "time pool." I did some calculations and learned that it's worse than you feared.
Let's say a bad movie makes $50 million. I'll round the ticket price out to $10. I suppose that's 5 million people who saw it. If the movie is 90 minutes, then 7,500,000 hours are wasted. A year is only 8,760 hours. So, the bad movie has wasted 856 years. The average lifespan in the U.S. is a mere 75 years. Therefore, the equivalent of 11 entire lives are completely wasted away because of this movie. This is a low example. Many movies make far more than $50 million, are longer than 90 minutes, and are watched repeatedly on DVD. Ticket prices are usually under $10. So in conclusion, not only does making a bad movie vaporize years of potential community service, it is mathematically equivalent to committing mass murder. Will Lugar, Tulsa, Okla.
A. The horror! The horror!
Q. After I went to see "Watchmen" earlier this year in the supposedly IMAX format, I realized I might need a primer on what true IMAX and the true cinema experience entails. As I usually see movies in "normal" format, I wasn't particularly impressed by the IMAX format and decided never to pay that premium again. Maybe a Theatre Wall of Fame (always remain positive) could be added to your Web site? It might prove a great reference for those on the lookout for a good theater nearby at which they know their film is portrayed in the best possible way. Volkert Doop, Washington, D.C., and Norway
A. It is ironic that IMAX, a company founded to provide a top-quality alternative to standard projection, has lowered its traditional standards and the value of its famous name. A true IMAX film is in 70mm, and is seen on a vast 72' x 53' screen, with all stadium seating. Now theaters advertised as IMAX are occupying modified multiplexes, where their standard screen has been only somewhat enlarged and the projection is digital. To charge extra for this IMAX experience is false advertising. A true IMAX theater is still a great place to see films such as "The Dark Knight." If the IMAX theater you're considering has opened somewhat recently, check it out carefully.
Q. Around the first of the year, responding to the plague of newspaper downsizing, David Poland of Movie City News ran a list of movie critics with full-time jobs in the United States. It had 144 names on it. Now it's down to 141. Your reaction? David Manning, Los Angeles
A. I was cast into a well of depression until I received this message from Joe Leydon of Houston, who reviews for Variety, the MovingPictureBlog and other publications:
"Wouldn't you agree that, as late as the early '80s, and maybe later, there really weren't that many full-time film critics in the U.S.? I remember at the time I finally got my full-time gig -- in 1982, for the Houston Post -- someone pointed out to me that more people were full-time pro baseball players than there were full-time film critics."
Ebert again: I am now advising aspiring movie critics to go into baseball.
Q. As a reviewer and a fan of film in general, what is your opinion on knowing the running length of a film that you're watching? Would it be best for viewers to not know how much is left in a film or how long they've been watching? I know I am guilty of checking my watch when I am seeing movies, but I feel like it can really ruin the suspense of a movie if we know things must be resolved in the next five minutes. James Pooley, Bedford, Mass.
A. Can't you sort of sense when the movie's at that point anyway? I proudly wear the Official Movie Critics' Watch, the Timex Indiglo with large numbers in the New York typeface, I believe. Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times turned me on to it.
Q. Bill Paxton has a dream project: To direct Jimmy Fallon in "the ultimate Buster Keaton biopic." Cameron Crowe cast Fallon in "Almost Famous," and that worked out pretty well. Fallon's partial resemblance to Buster is noteworthy, so this suggests an intriguing gambit similar to casting Robert Downey Jr. in "Chaplin." Paxton directed "Frailty," to which you gave a four-star rating. So what do you think? Should a risk-taking studio make Paxton's dream come true? Jeff Shannon, Seattle
A. With Paxton and Fallon involved, assuming it's a good script, I don't see the risk on a studio's part. The risk on their part is that some executives have probably never heard of Buster Keaton, the greatest actor-director in the history of the cinema, and that includes Orson Welles, who they also haven't heard of. I read an article by Ralph Keyes saying journalists should cut back on their "retro talk" because younger readers are not familiar with their references, like Beaver Cleaver. If writers had never mentioned names I'd never heard of, what would I have ever learned? So here, in defiance, are two names in retro talk: Buster Keaton. Orson Welles. Believe me, I could go on.
Q. I am disappointed by your review of "Fast & Furious." You gave away the fact that Michelle Rodriguez dies early in the movie. Seeing that she died within the first 20 minutes, it was kind of ruined for me. Given that she is billed fourth on IMDb, I would not have expected her to die so soon. She is also all over the trailers and even the ad on your Web site calling her one of the "original cast," thus I believe this was a faux pas on your part, in revealing her death is the reason he returns to L.A. I believe you could have said he returns for the death of a friend, but not a character that is plastered on all of the movie posters for the movie. Kyle Cieply, Greenville, S.C.
A.You make a good point. On the other hand, the advertising gave you the wrong impression. If her early death had been a surprise, like the top-billed Janet Leigh in "Psycho" (1960), that would have been a real spoiler. But if they bring her in for a bit part...
Q. I went to see "Knowing" only because of your review. I really enjoyed it. When I saw all the negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes (only 15 percent on the Tomatometer), I was surprised. I felt like they weren't reviewing the movie as much as the premise behind it. I don't agree with the premise, but I thought it was a really good movie. I even paid the way for many of the students in my ethics class to see it. They LOVED it. Critics are still free to write whatever they want; however, I feel that they should review the movie and not judge it on its theological/philosophical premise. Would you agree? Do you feel frustrated or intimidated when you are out there by yourself? Cal Ford, Corsicana, Texas
A. Not when I'm right. I am heartened that a lot of moviegoers seem to agree with me. "Knowing" has passed $70 million at the box office and is holding up well. I wrote a blog entry about it that so far has attracted 812 comments, all of them literate and intelligent (a rarity on a blog) and a large majority of them are favorable. The premise is of course preposterous, but that's hardly a first for a sci-fi thriller. The Tomatometer, by the way, has doubled to 34.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
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