Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
A remarkable tale of immigrant success, wrapped around a crime story.
Q. The neo-Nazi terrorists in the film version of the "The Sum of All Fears" were radical Muslim terrorists in Tom Clancy's book, but as you noted in your review, the change was made in order to avoid offending people. What's your take on all this? Has the Muslim terrorist in movies gone the way of the Indian marauder? (Stephen Athanson, Blue Ridge VA)
A. Mainstream Hollywood will not willingly offend any large group of ticket-buyers. Without the always-dependable Nazis, it would be left without stock villains, and would be forced to create good guys from scratch.
Q. Your review of Jennifer Lopez's "Enough" writes of the color-coding of good and bad guys. The role of the villain Kingpin in the upcoming "Daredevil" movie is performed by Michael Clarke Duncan. In the comics, Kingpin was a big, fat white man who vaguely reminded me of Boss Hogg in the comics; do you feel the casting of a black actor in a traditionally white villain role indicates some change in Hollywood's current attitudes towards extreme political correctness? (Chris Walsh, Vancouver BC)
A. I hope so, although of course a comic villain isn't a bad guy in the same sense as the villain in a serious action picture. Morgan Freeman often talks about his frustration at not being able to play villains (he wanted to play Hannibal Lecter) because producers are shy of showing African-Americans in a negative light. He observes: "The villain is often the best role in the movie."
Q. I noticed at the beginning of "Sum of all Fears" that they are naming Russian diplomatic officials and "Elena Rhyzkov" is repeated a few times. Elena Rhyzkov is the name of the Russian scientist in "Sneakers" who catches Robert Redford. Not only that but the actress who played Dr. Rhyzkov in "Sneakers" is the pregnant woman in that scene in "Sum of All Fears." This can't just be an amazing coincidence can it? (Nathan Koob, Stillwater OK)
Q. What happened to the lawsuit or court injunction to prevent the new Austin Powers movie from being called "Austin Powers in Goldmember"? (Jim Carey, Warrenville IL)
A. MGM sued on the grounds that the title infringed on its James Bond franchise. According to the Internet Movie Database, the suit was settled with the following terms: (1) MGM has approval of any other Bond-like Austin Powers titles, (2) the trailer for the new James Bond movie, "Die Another Day," will be shown with New Line's "Goldmember" and "Lord of the Rings."
Q. While "Undercover Brother" is a very funny film, there is one problem that puzzles me. There's a running joke that black people don't like mayonnaise. While I agree that black people wouldn't be caught dead watching 'Friends,' never in my life (and I've been black all my life) have I heard that black people don't eat mayonnaise. What are those jars of mayonnaise doing in my fridge? (Sergio Mims, Chicago)
A. The movie argues that black people prefer hot sauce, leading me to wonder, what is the Undercover Brother's recipe for potato salad?
Q. In the last Answer Man, you discussed Amanda Peet's chances of an Academy nomination for her small role in "Changing Lanes" by referring to Beatrice Straight's win for "Network." However, you neglected to mention Dame Judi Dench's win for Supporting Actress for "Shakespeare in Love," during which she was on screen for all of 7 or 8 minutes. At the time, this was considered the shortest amount of screen time for any Oscar winner. I'll have to rewatch "Network," but I think Dench wins. (Todd Restler, Ardsley NY)
A. Who had the shortest Oscar-wining performance? The AM turned to Tim Dirks, proprietor of the Greatest Films website (www.filmsite.org), which has comprehensive info on hundreds of great American movies. His reply:
"Beatrice Straight as Louise Schumacher in 'Network' (1976) appears in three scenes that equal about 7 1/2 minutes of total screen-time, with eight speeches totaling 260 words. Judi Dench as Queen Elizabeth in 'Shakespeare in Love' (1998) appears in four scenes that equal about 10 minutes of total screen time, with 14 speeches totalling 446 words. Verdict: The Best Supporting Actress Oscar-winner with less screen time AND less dialogue is Beatrice Straight in 'Network'.
Q. I've read many complaints about the digital version of "Attack Of the Clones." I would imagine we're at the beginning of a new era, and imperfection is to be expected. Yes, at this time digital movies cannot match the quality and nuances of film. However, there are many advances to be made, The quality of the films 100 years ago wasn't up to standards of today, and the digital films twenty years from now will not likely bear much resemblance to today's. Give the technology a chance! (Greg Weinstein, Augusta GA)
A. Oddly enough, however, the films of 40 years ago, especially the 70mm films, were better than the standards of today. Meanwhile, a bombshell new research report by Credit Suisse Bank reports that digital is not yet ready for prime time, and gives high marks to a system it finds superior, easier to install and much less expensive--none other than my longtime favorite, MaxiVision 48.
Q. In "Y Tu Mama Tambien," I can't figure out if the beach "Heaven's Mouth" really exists. The boatman, Chuy, mentions it, but I can't tell if this is an amazing coincidence, or if Tenoch sneakily asked him to label the beach as such for Luisa's benefit. I have seen the movie twice now and still am not sure. (Andrea Pollack, Houston TX)
A. Elisabeth English of IFC Films replies: "The actual beach is on the west coast of Mexico and is located in Huatulco, Oaxaca."
Q. I read the question asked in the last Answer Man column about who would win in a fight between Maximus and William Wallace. I started thinking: Who would win in a fight between James Bond and Ethan Hunt? (Jacob Barksdale, Birmingham AL)
A. Ethan Hunt.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
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