Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
A remarkable tale of immigrant success, wrapped around a crime story.
Q. Rob Schneider is one of the biggest actors in what I call the Stupid Movie Genre, and I never pay money to see these films in the theater or to rent them. These films do cater to the lowest of our culture. But what Tom McCullough from Indianapolis wrote in the last Answer Man column that really cheesed me off: "I live in Indianapolis, and I know there's a bunch of 'Deuce Bigalow' fans in this town. They're beer-guzzlin', dope-smokin', truck-drivin', pit-bull-ownin', head-shavin', ball-cap-wearin', crime-commitin' jack-ass psychopaths."
I told my girlfriend early in our courtship when discussing my movie tastes, "On my DVD wall, I'm as proud to have 'Pootie Tang' as 'Citizen Kane.' " But I certainly wouldn't apply any of the adjectives to myself that Tom from Indiana does to the fans he knows. A person shouldn't try too hard to defend Stupid Movies, but I'll be darned if the people who like them shouldn't be defended from statements as ignorant as those of Mr. McCullough. Jason Millward, Northville, Mich.
A. I was with you right up until "Pootie Tang." The point is not to avoid all Stupid Movies, but to avoid being a Stupid Moviegoer. It's a difficult task, separating the good Stupid Movies from the bad ones, but if it saves you from seeing "Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo," it's worth it.
Q. I sincerely regret having given the makers of "Chaos" my money. This film is an excuse to graphically film two rapes and several murders under the guise of art. Which brings up an interesting dilemma. I was one of those people who were upset with George Bush Sr.'s dismissal of "Trainspotting" as a worthless film when he hadn't seen the film. An aide to the ex-president rationalized this with the reply, "You don't have to look in every single trash can to know there's garbage inside," or something along those lines.
At the time, I thought the comment was ignorant and pandering to the right. I still think it is, as I found "Trainspotting" to be a powerful indictment of not only the drug culture (a baby dies as a result of the adults' addiction) but also of our consumer culture.
But "Chaos" raises the question: Although the comment was wrong in its original context and said for political purposes, is there any merit to what that aide said? Does every trash can have to be peered into?
I saw "Chaos" because I didn't want to be in what I thought was the intellectually indefensible position of dismissing or criticizing a film without having seen it. But now I've played into their hands and given these morons exactly what they want: Attention and money just because they were willing to be more socially abhorrent than any filmmaker to date. Rob Olmstead, Chicago
A. The critic peers into the trash can so that you don't have to, as long as you trust the critic to describe the trash accurately. What happens, though, is that even a review like mine probably sells some tickets. In theory, the service to readers outweighs the benefit to the film.
Q. I am finding myself more and more attracted to "slow" movies. Slow. That's the word I want to use -- I'm not going to shy away from it, even if my co-worker at the video store wants me to use the word "deliberate."
"Vera Drake," "The Station Agent," "Lost in Translation," "The Story of the Weeping Camel" and most recently, "Off the Map" are all slow, but I get completely enamored with simple observation of character. I can tell I am sold on one of these movies when I find myself feeling sad to see it end, despite being steadily led to its resolution.
"Schulze Gets the Blues," which was your video pick on Ebert & Roeper last Saturday, was "slow" from beginning to end, but had the director been more conventional with track shots and pans, I would have been bored. Instead, after sedately absorbing the final moments of the film, I found myself leaping off the couch at the end crying, "That's it?!" and accidentally waking my roommate. I wanted more, and completely loved the melancholy ending. Brandon Tomasello, Jacksonville, Fla.
A. A slow movie that closely observes human beings and their relationships can be endlessly fascinating, while a thriller with nonstop wall-to-wall action can be boring, because it is all relentlessly pitched at the same tone.
Q. What will happen with the wonderful family film "Duma"? I know it was on a test run here, but will it be released elsewhere? Katy Petersen, Chicago
A. Keep your fingers crossed. It was held over for a fourth week in Chicago, although Dan Fellman, vice president of distribution for Warner Bros., says the last week's grosses were disappointing.
All the same, he says the studio will release the film Sept. 30 in 40 Los Angeles theaters, "giving us a chance to market the film to a wide audience and use all we have learned from previous campaigns."
Incidentally, "Duma" is scoring a perfect 100 on the Tomatometer.
Q. My 18-year-old daughter and I went to the Loews Cineplex Theater to see "Hustle and Flow," starring Terrence Howard. I along with other moviegoers had metal detector wands waved across our bodies by security guards. Other security guards checked inside purses and backpacks.
My daughter and I noticed that while there were other movies being shown at this same theater, such as "Herbie: Fully Loaded," "Madagascar" and "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," this procedure was not done for those movies. People I told about this incident said they would have asked for their money back. Why do you think this screening was done? Linda McEwen, Chicago
A. It might appear that racial profiling was involved in selecting "Hustle and Flow" for the security routine, but my guess is that, objectively, it was the most pirateable movie at the theater. The other titles you mentioned had been in release for some weeks.
I have personally been wanded at press screenings, once had my turkey sandwich examined to see if it concealed a camera, and have noticed security people with night-vision goggles peering at me. Since on opening day you probably could have purchased a bootleg video stolen from a "Hustle and Flow" screening, the concern is real, but my suspicion is that most high-quality piracy is done in Hollywood labs.
Q. Your reader Andrew Leib notes that in "The Island," Ewan McGregor whispers to Scarlett Johansson: "I'm sorry I didn't get to know you better." He believes this speech is "designed to inform us once and for all what Bill Murray whispered to her" at the and of "Lost in Translation."
I have a copy of the script dated September 2002; it reads as follows:
Bob: Why are you crying? Charlotte: (sincere) I'll miss you. (He kisses and hugs her good-bye.) Bob: I know, I'm going to miss you, too. (He holds her close.) Professor Nate Kohn, University of Georgia, Athens
A. So now we know what the Murray character would have said, if Murray and director Sofia Coppola hadn't decided it was better for the audience not to hear their final words.
Leaving something out is often more effective than putting it in; in his "Grizzly Man," Werner Herzog listens to the tape of Timothy Treadwell being killed by a bear, but doesn't play it for us. In his "The White Diamond," he shows a man lowered by rope to videotape the legendary cave behind a waterfall, but doesn't show us the tape. In all three cases, what isn't there is a challenge for our imaginations.
Q. Regarding your comments on Jessica Simpson's early education in Texas, you should see Jay Leno's "Jaywalking" segment. A lot of young Californians are apparently getting the same quality of education as Ms. Simpson. John Marzan, Manila, Philippines
A. I suppose it's a whole lot better in your state.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
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