Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
A remarkable tale of immigrant success, wrapped around a crime story.
Q. One thing that really jumped out at me during the Oscars this year: the comparative screen time for the winners in the supporting and lead acting categories. I would bet that Cuba Gooding Jr. had more screen time than Geoffrey Rush, and that Juliette Binoche had more screen time than Frances McDormand. Now, don't get me wrong: I admired both Rush's and McDormand's performances. But since they respectively beat Billy Bob Thornton and Emily Watson, who appeared in just about every scene in their films, it feels like a cheat! (Chuck Rudolph, New York City)
A. The ways by which one actor goes into the Oscar lead category and another into supporting are murky indeed, and have much to do with studio politics. Geoffrey Rush's win was diminished for me by my perception that Noah Taylor, as the teenager, actually spent more time playing David Helfgott in "Shine" than Rush did. (I didn't use a stopwatch, so this is only subjective.) McDormand, on the other hand, dominated every scene in "Fargo" once she appeared on the screen at about the 25-minute mark. She is the first character you recall when you think of the movie.
Q. I note in Entertainment Weekly that David Lynch says, "My rule of thumb is, What Siskel and Ebert like, I don't, and vice versa. They're getting too warm in those sweaters. It's affecting their thinking." So are you going to take his advice and loose the sweaters? (Erik Solberg, Des Plaines, Ill.)
A. List of films David Lynch therefore doesn't like: "Fargo," "Pulp Fiction," "Crumb," "Hoop Dreams," "Leaving Las Vegas." List of films David Lynch therefore likes: "Happy Gilmore," "Little Indian, Big City," "Black Sheep," "Kazaam," "Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers." The sweaters seem to be working.
Q. Here's an interesting tidbit: MGM/UA has changed the title of "Mad Dog Time" to "Trigger Happy" for its video release. You can run but you can't hide, eh? (Ed Slota, Warwick, R.I.)
A. What? Change the title of the movie named by both Ebert and Siskel as "the worst film of 1996?" Don't they realize what a great ad campaign David Lynch could make out of that?
Q. In thinking about his "Lost Highway," I believe that David Lynch has created the movie equivalent of a Cubist painting. This makes sense to me since Lynch is also a painter. Cubism takes a subject, looks at it from many angles and dimensions (including time) and tries to represent this on a flat surface. It's occurred to me that a good alternate title for "Lost Highway" would be "Wife Murderer Descending a Staircase". (John Miller, Cambridge, MA.)
A. This makes more sense than most of the explanations I've read, and provides a way to explain the film's structure--even if that will disappoint those who have sent me their elaborate decodings of the film.
Q. Watched "Bound" on video. Pretty good. I've liked Joe Pantoliano since I saw him in "Risky Business," but now I understand he has a Mafia handle, "Joey Pants." I got this info from the former girlfriend of a guy who carries the bag from South Beach to Chicago. If you knew his name, your life wouldn't be worth a plugged nickel. This handle thing may have more to do with Joey's role on television's "EZ Streets" rather than his exceptional performance in "Bound." Do you know if any other actors have a similar honor? (R. P. Boblett, Collins, Miss.)
A. Yes, but your life wouldn't be worth two cents if I told you.
Q. Supposedly the new DVD machines and discs can offer a substantially (10%? 20%?) better picture than laserdiscs, but I expect it'll be some time before the kinks are worked out--just as with audio CDs when they were introduced. I borrowed a DVD player for a couple days, and was impressed. The picture (through the SVHS input of my TV) was definitely better than that of a tape made with my high-end SVHS deck or, for that matter, the image from my cable company. I have little experience with LDs, though, so I can't offer a useful comparison. Wondering what you think. (Paul Idol, Fort Lee, N.J.)
A. DVDs, of course, are the CD-sized "movies on a disc" with lots of neat bells and whistles: You can choose between the letterboxed and pan-and-scan versions of a movie, and select subtitles and dubbing in four languages. But the selling point is their high video and sound quality. I've installed a DVD machine and used it to switch back and forth between the DVD and laserdisc versions of the same movies. DVD looked real good: Rich colors and texture. Better than VHS tapes? Yes, sensationally. Better than broadcast and cable TV? Easily. Better than laserdisc? It was closer, but--yes. And the audio was clearly better. In the video fanatic discussion groups on CompuServe and the Net, people are divided. One professional says "A properly encoded DVD is better than Laser, period. Generally DVD is just a bit sharper than LD--particularly when it comes to leaves, small areas of detail, etc." Another complained, however, that the backgrounds seemed to "crawl" with little specks of moving color. I did not observe this. Maybe it depends on which movie you're watching, on which machine. If I had a choice, I'd watch a movie on DVD. If and when you decide to upgrade, I'd recommend a "combi" machine that plays both DVDs and laserdiscs, since there are thousands more laserdiscs available. In any case, you'll notice spectacular improvement over VHS tapes. One consideration: If and when HDTV finally comes in, a new generation of software and players will be needed--not just for DVD, but also for laser and tapes.
Q. My wife and I have been everywhere but to the moon, trying to obtain fake desk-size Oscar Awards. Have you any information on ways to obtain one? (Logenio Jones, Chicago)
A. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is ferocious in its defense of the copyright on the Oscar name and image. No TV show except the Oscarcast, for example, is allowed to use the word "Oscar" or "Academy Awards" in its title. Platoons of lawyers mail out warnings and legal ultimatums. The Oscar statuettes are manufactured in Chicago, but each one is numbered and inventoried and there are no extras. Commercial duplication is prohibited. You're more or less out of luck.
Q. Got to see "Smilla's Sense of Snow" the other night, and was quite proud of myself for figuring out --at least to some degree--what lay hidden in the Arctic. When I saw the name of the ship, "Kronos," my memory went into overdrive. I finally remembered it as the name of a '50s Sci-Fi flick about a machine that was sent to Earth from another planet. The sole function of this Kronos was to suck up Earth's energy and take it back to its own energy-starved planet. "Hmmm . . . Is that a clue to what's happening in THIS movie?" I wondered. Turned out it was! My own cleverness constantly amazes me. (Denise Leder, Las Vegas, Nev.)
A. I feel exactly the same way about my own cleverness.
Q. After hearing Billy Crystal read those terrible jokes from the Internet, I'm disappointed that MY submission didn't make the cut: "This year, the Academy established a web site just for the Oscars, and it was a tremendous success with fans of the telecast. After all, they're used to waiting four hours to get ten minutes' worth of information." (Andy Ihnatko, Westwood, MA).
A. My submission was: "To the person seated directly behind Dennis Rodman...this is Billy Crystal speaking."
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
A look at the entire "Alien" franchise, and a reappraisal of its unloved installments.
A review of the first four hours of David Lynch's "Twin Peaks: The Return".