The film breathes exhilarating life into its tired premise, thanks to some dazzling action choreography, stylish visuals and–most importantly–a vintage anti-hero performance from Keanu Reeves.
Q. The original trailer for "Series 7: The Contenders" was most disturbing. It seemed to be a serious movie about people killing each other as a game. Then I saw a different trailer. The tone had changed. Perhaps because I'd read about the movie being a dark comedy about the "survival"-type shows on TV, I knew more of what it was about. It's interesting that the new trailer came out just after the recent high school shootings. It's also interesting because one of the stars has been on TV talking about how this movie is NOT for children but only for adults. But the ads are clearly aimed at kids. (Carol Iwata, Chicago)
A. No matter how grim or challenging the subject matter of a movie, the ads and trailers often try to present it as a jolly good time. Often the filmmakers cannot be blamed; the studio makes ads representing the movie they wish had been made, rather than the movie that was actually made.
Q. You have been victimized by the movie ads again. Whose quote do I see on an ad for "See Spot Run" but yours, calling the film "a series of slapstick comedy adventures." Allow me to recall a Dennis Miller rant, where he mentioned he could say "I'd rather be in a gas chamber than watch this movie again," and the studios would shorten it to 'A gas!'." (Adam J. Hakari, Barron WI)
A. I originally wrote: "a series of slapstick comedy ventures [not "adventures"] in which Gordon is humiliated and besmeared while the dog races about proving it is the most intelligent mammal in the picture." Here's another quote they could have used: "Movies like this demonstrate that only the best will do for our children." Or, in my full version, "Movies like this demonstrate that when it comes to stupidity and vulgarity, only the best will do for our children."
Q. While watching "Lady and the Tramp II" with my 3- year-old, I saw previews for "The Hunchback of Notre Dame II," with a new love interest played by Jennifer Love Hewitt. This must've been one of Victor Hugo's lesser known works. (Mike Holtzclaw, Newport News Va)
Q. With DVDs making up at least half of the total stock of rental stores, it's clear that DVDs are taking over. But I have to ask: what's the projected market life cycle of DVDs? How long before they're replaced by the next great media technology? (David Barnes, Menlo Park CA)
A. Michael Schlesinger, vice president of Sony Pictures, replies: "No one can say with any certainty. After all, in 1980, did anyone seriously believe that the LP would become virtually obsolete in barely five years? All I can offer is an educated guess, which is yes, DVD probably will be around for quite a spell. The industry, realizing how it screwed up by positioning the laserdisc as a high-end item, has gone all out to make DVD the medium of choice for Everyone. If it were to abruptly introduce another format anytime soon, I sincerely believe consumers would rise up in revolt."
Q. I caught up with "The Grinch" recently, and while I wasn't all that moved by it, there was one scene which made laugh hysterically. When we looked outside the window of a Who-Christmas party, we saw all the adults putting their car keys into a fishbowl. The first thing that popped into my mind was a 70s key-party a la "The Ice Storm." Please tell me that Ron Howard decided to inject some subversive swinging reference into a children's film. (Devon Gallegos, Los Angeles CA)
A. A studio rep responds: "Unfortunately, Ron Howard is busy in pre-production for his new film and is unavailable for comment. However, during a press junket a similar question was overheard in regards to the keys in the bowl. The unofficial response was that Mr. Howard said it was put in to promote responsible driving."
Q. Theatres make most of their profits on concessions, correct? Why are they always understaffed, with long lines? Selling just two bags of popcorn would pay for a new employee for an hour. (John Daleiden, Phoenix AZ)
A. My film critic friend Jim Emerson of Seattle once managed theaters. He replies: "It's a matter of economics. Theaters want to have as few people as possible on the payroll. While the feature is running, exhibitors don't want to pay for unproductive down-time. There are usually 10 minutes of trailers and advertising, giving customers extra time to get their goodies before the feature begins."
Q. Why is it that all movie admission prices are the same even though each movie costs a different amount to produce? If one movie costs $10 million to produce and another costs $50 million to produce, shouldn't the admission price reflect this? I believe I should not have to pay the same amount to see an art film as a big production film. (Becky Wilson, Mission KS)
A. Would you spend $40 to see "See Spot Run?" Seriously: Instead of being concerned with unit costs, like the car industry, the movie industry corrects for budgets by the anticipated size of the audience. No studio is likely to spend $100 million on a film it doesn"t expect to gross much more than that. As for the theaters themselves, they make most of their money at the refreshment stand.
Q. In your review of "Down to Earth," you make a reference to the old Hollywood joke about the credits in "The Taming of the Shrew" (1929), which supposedly read "screenplay by William Shakespeare, with additional dialogue by Sam Taylor." I've seen the recut 1966 version of the film, and there is no such credit. Is this pure myth, or are there variant prints floating around out there with this credit? (Michael Harrison, Santa Fe NM)
A. I've heard the story countless times, and double-checked the credit on the Internet. I'm sure you're right about the version you saw, but for an overall verdict I turned to Tim Dirks, whose www.filmsite.org is a trove of accurate info about movies. He tells me controversy rages: "The legend is debunked on the Internet Movie Database by James Moffat of Melbourne, Australia, who says the credit line is 'pure myth.' But The IMDb's listing for the film prints the credit information. Leonard Maltin's Movie and Video Guide says, "This is the film with the infamous credit, 'By William Shakespeare, with additional dialogue by Sam Taylor.'" And Baz Luhrmann, director of "Romeo + Juliet," confirms the credit in an interview at www.middleenglish.org."
Q. Re your item about cell phones in theaters: The Canadian government has recently announced plans to research legalizing signal jamming technology to block cellular phone signals in restaurants, theatres, libraries or other locations. It's a shame when what's essentially a simple case of etiquette has to be enforced. Have the times become desperate enough to justify the extreme measures? (Leigh Emshey, Vancouver, B.C.)
A. Yes. Cell phones make slaves of their owners, who are powerless to avoid annoying innocent bystanders.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
An appreciation of "1941" and interview with Bob Gale.
An appreciation of filmmaker, writer and actor L.M. "Kit" Carson, a singular talent.
A review of Paul Thomas Anderson's "Inherent Vice" from the 2014 New York Film Festival.