Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
A remarkable tale of immigrant success, wrapped around a crime story.
Q. I've been wondering, how do they decide which fast-food restaurants get tie-ins to which movies? Currently, Burger King has "Toy Story," Taco Bell handled the first "Batman" movie but McDonald's took over the next two. Subway has been stung twice--with "Coneheads" and "Beverly Hillbillies," but rebounded nicely with "Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls." (Willie Holmes, Chicago).
A. Studios have marketing departments which strike deals with the ad agencies of the fast-food chains. Big money is involved. Sometimes a chain guesses right, sometimes wrong. The benefits go both ways: The chain plugs the tie-in products in its ads, and moviegoers (especially kids) want to collect the Batman mugs, or whatever.
Q. I am curious about when Alfred Hitchcock first started doing cameos in his films. My father has recently given me videos of the first ten Hitchcock films, such as "The Lady Vanishes," "The Thirty-Nine Steps," and "Juno and the Paycock." Do you know when he first started making his brief appearances? (Ann Alquist, Butzbach, Germany)
A. Hitchcock's first cameo was in "The Lodger" (1927), and his walk-ons subsequently became famous. When he filmed "Lifeboat" (1944), it appeared he had outsmarted himself--how could he do a cameo appearance in a movie set entirely at sea? Walk on the water? His solution: You can see him in a "before and after" ad for a diet cure, in a newspaper being read on board.
Q. I was disappointed by your comment about an "Ayn Rand wet dream" in your review of "Richard III." Whatever your beliefs about her philosophy or her fiction, Rand is rapidly becoming one the foremost thinkers in recent American history. As such I would think the author of Atlas Shrugged would command a little more respect. I am probably being over-sensitive but I find there are so few people in this world who honestly deserve respect that I will vehemently defend those who have actually earned it. (Jason M. Fortun, Minneapolis)
A. I wrote in the review, "Many of the scenes are placed inside and outside a vast 1930s Art Deco power station, which looks like the set for an Ayn Rand wet dream." If you have ever been to London and seen Bankside Power Station, with its single towering chimney, you'll know what I mean. Ayn Rand would probably have enjoyed the line.
Q. Can you tell me why the date of every movie appears in Roman numerals? (Jean M. Dunne, Riverside, Ill.)
A. Copyrights are in Roman numerals on movies to make it harder to instantly determine the date, thus extending their shelf lives.
Q. I'm curious. I occasionally tend to write in the first person in reviews. I saw in your book your feeling on that, and I tend to agree, but many people I've talked to believe that as a 20-year-old college student, it's a bit of hubris on my part to use it in my reviews, since I'm not established like yourself. Advice? Comments? Suggestions? Recipes? (Will Leitch, The Daily Illini, Urbana, Ill.)
A. All reviews are tacitly written in the first person anyway, since they are the opinion of the person who is writing, and make no pretense of objectivity. So go ahead and write that way. And be thankful the "editorial we" has bitten the dust.
Q. In an Answer Man last month, you mentioned the tags saying "When in Southern California, visit Universal Studios," which directors used to have to stick on the end of their Universal pictures. It seems director John Landis got the last laugh. At the end of "Animal House," when they tell what became of each character, they say Babs became a tour guide at Universal Studios. Then, after the credits, the tag "visit Universal Studios" tag was appended with "(Ask for Babs)." The same gag also appeared on the tag after Landis' "The Blues Brothers." (Dan Margules, Sam Diego, Ca.)
A. And tell Babs, for me, that you'll see her next Wednesday.*
Q. I just saw "12 Monkeys" tonight, and one thing in particular really bugged me about it. Bruce Willis' whiskers were of varying length, throughout the same day. Sometimes longer stubble, then shorter, then longer. Arrrrggghhhh!!!!! (Steve Ferrarini, Paso Robles, Ca.)
A. Give him a break. Here is a guy who is being jerked around in time, from 1999 to 1990 to 1996. He hardly even knows what year he last shaved in--let alone where to set the Stubble-Meter on his electric razor.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
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