Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
A remarkable tale of immigrant success, wrapped around a crime story.
Q. A few minutes ago I read Stephen Hunter’s 2001 review of “2001: A Space Odyssey” and almost vomited. Here’s an excerpt: “Now, seen in the actual 2001, it’s less a visionary masterpiece than a crackpot Looney Tune, pretentious, abysmally slow, amateurishly acted and, above all, wrong." A crackpot Looney Tune? Amateurishly acted? Wrong? What does that even mean, "wrong?" Wrong about what? Is this guy seriously criticizing this 1968 film for not exactly predicting all of the inventions of the new millennium? How could a Pulitzer-prize winning critic miss the point so badly? (Robert Ford, Coquitlam, BC)
A. I don't ordinarily print letters disagreeing with other critics, and Stephen Hunter is one whose work I respect. Disbelieving what you quoted, I went to the Washington Post website and found a page for the review, but no review. The quote you supply is also used on Metacritic.com, so it's apparently accurate.
If so, it reminds me of a helpful lecture I supplied to a young film critic for a Chicago TV station who was new at the job: "Film criticism is all opinion, and always subjective. There is no right and no wrong. That having been said, Phil, it is nevertheless WRONG for you to state that 'The Valachi Papers' is a better film than 'The Godfather.'"
Q. Just writing to correct an error in your recent review of the movie "17 Again". You said: "She (Scarlett) thinks it's strange that he looks exactly like the boy she married at 17. He explains he is the son of an uncle, who I guess would have to be Old Mike's brother, so it's curious Old Scarlet never met him, but if she doesn't ask that, why should I? This is incorrect. Actually what he says is that he is (Uncle) Ned's son and that it had been a surprise to Ned as well to find out that he had a son. (Monica Drake, Georgetown, ON)
A. To those who haven't seen the film: Matthew Perry, whose marriage to Scarlett (Leslie Mann) has failed, magically finds himself in the present time but inhabiting his 17-year-old body (Zac Efron). Eager to mend his marriage, he poses as his son's new friend from school. He looks exactly like the boy Scarlett married, because he is the boy Scarlett married. Monica Drake has explained why Scarlett didn't know her husband's Uncle Ned had a son. This explains everything except what Uncle Ned will say when Scarlett calls him to chat about his son.
Q. The narrator of the original series "Planet Earth" BBC series was David Attenborough, not Patrick Stewart. I'm probably not the first person to email about this, nor am I likely the first to complain that they have taken the greatest documentary series that I have ever seen and cut it up into a feature length film. (Brandon Budelman, Albany, NY)
A. And Sigourney Weaver did the American version. I am happy to run this correction to my review of "Earth," because it provides an excuse to supply the greatest statement I have ever overheard in a public place. This was in the Academy Club in London, run by Auberon Waugh, and as it happens Sir David was at the next table with a friend. He said, "So there we were, off the coast of Syria, surrounded by copulating whales, with guided missiles staring down our throats, and what do you think happens but..."
Q. What's your take on the new subgenre of mockumentaries made by Sacha Baron Cohen, such as "Borat" and the upcoming "Bruno" movie? I've gotten into debates with several friends about the people he chooses to interview in character. Sometimes his interview subjects are ordinary people who, either out of deep-seated bigotry or a desire to play along with the interviewer, express appalling prejudices on camera. Many people are troubled by this aspect of Cohen's work, arguing that the mockery of ordinary people smacks of elitism. My view is that Cohen is doing society a service by revealing just how easily average people will express shocking and hateful views on camera to a total stranger. Many of the people he interviews do come off looking spectacularly foolish, but it's hard for me to sympathize with them too much since they did sign a release allowing the footage to be used. (Donald White, Falls Church, Va.)
A. It is astonishing to me how some people are willing to have themselves viewed in public. Cohen's recruits, Jay Leno's jaywalkers, Jerry Springer's guests--you'd think they'd cringe being seen that way. Apparently (a) they don't know how they come across, (b) they don't care, or (c) they'll do anything for their 15 minutes of fame. If they really said it and signed a release, I say it's okay for us to laugh at them saying it. Is it elitist? Of course it is. Show me a man who doesn't want to be seen as elite, and I'll show you one who doesn't have to worry.
Q. I recently read an article in the paper that attributed the following quote to Jean Harlow: "Is that a pistol in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?" My sister says this is an exact quote from a movie and she thinks Mae West said it, but we couldn't find anything on the Internet. Do you know the quote, who said it for sure and what movie this comes from? (Janice Moore, Arlington Heights, IL)
A. It was indeed the very same woman who said, "Beulah, peel me a grape." Mae West first uttered the immortal pistol line in "She Done Him Wrong" (1933). Her double entendres helped inspire movie censorship, of which she said: "I believe in it. I made a fortune out of it." She got away with saying incredible things in general-audience movies. For example, "A hard man is good to find." "Anything worth doing is worth doing slowly." "The only good woman I can recall in history was Betsy Ross. And all she ever made was a flag."
Q. Regarding "The Soloist." Lopez [the columnist played by Robert Downey Jr] couldn’t fix this homeless musician and did not understand him, and his wife said "Just be his friend." For me, this was a perfect description of the entire movie. No, we do not understand Nathaniel’s mental state. Yes, there will most likely be no major change to his mental health in his or our lifetime. He is what he is without explanation. He is odd, scary, interesting and an incredible musician. Music seems to absorb him, bring him joy and some level of peace. Music can do that for some and Lopez seems to also be one of those beings. So as to your question as to why Lopez hasn’t had enough? Nathaniel (Jamie Foxx) really has become a friend, someone worth Lopez’s time, energy and caring, a fellow human being with much to offer. I am so sorry that you did not think Nathaniel was worth his or our time. I think that was the crux of this movie. (Sandra Donahue, Quincy IL)
A. I regret it if I gave that impression. Nathaniel is worth the columnist's time and our time, but I am not sure the movie found a successful way to demonstrate that.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
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