Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
A remarkable tale of immigrant success, wrapped around a crime story.
Q. John Travolta says in "Swordfish" that the front companies set up by the government had $400 million in the bank in the mid-80's, and "fifteen years later," it has grown to $9.5 billion. That's 24% interest compounded annually. Aren't these flaws distracting when they appear in an otherwise completely plausible movie? (Bennett Haselton, Seattle, WA)
A. You're saying "Swordfish" is an otherwise completely plausible movie? Would that include the scene of the bus full of hostages dangling from the helicopter? In a movie like this, 24 percent is a modest return.
Q. I just wanted to point out that in your review for "Swordfish," you quoted a song as '50,000 Volts of (bleeping)." The word in the song is not the f- word, it is "funk." (Chris Frazier, Seattle WA)
A. I hate it when these singers don't enunciate clearly.
Q. Is it legal for someone to rewrite a script and improve it after the movie is out? Or is it even ethical? One guy did such for "Star Wars -- Episode I: The Phantom Menace." (Richard Sol, Los Angeles CA)
A. There are at least three "corrected" versions, either revising or all but eliminating the character of Jar Jar Binks. One is a rewritten screenplay. Another is a reedited version of the video of the film, shorter and with some scenes rearranged. Of course this is against the law, but George Lucas seems to be taking it pretty well, perhaps because this kind of fan activity is a compliment, and enhances interest in the film. There's detailed coverage at www.zap2it.com
Q. Wouldn't Sen. Joe Lieberman's proposed legislation making it a crime to advertise R-rated movies to those under 17 mean that the MPAA would have to become an official regulatory body, necessitating Congressional oversight, appointments, funding, and public access to proceedings? (Dave Harbinson, Atlanta GA)
A. Yes, among countless other obvious and undesirable complications. This legislation, co-sponsored by Sen. Hillary Clinton, is so idiotic it deserves comparison with the "Star Wars" missile shield.
Q. I couldn't help but laugh at the recent incident involving "David Manning," the fake critic invented by Sony. Did they actually think they could get away with it? It makes me wonder how many of these other "Quote Whores" actually exist. Do these executives actually think the moviegoing public is that dumb? (Bill Treadway, Jr., Astoria NY)
A. Yes, and they're right. Quotes in ads sell tickets, even if the quotes are from critics no one has any reason to trust. Here's my question in the aftermath of the Manning scandal: Has anyone ever actually seen Jeff Craig of "Sixty Second Previews" at a movie? For that matter, does anyone know what "Sixty Second Previews" is? I ask in all sincerity.
Q. I have just seen a TV ad for "Atlantis: The Lost Empire," and I think I have witnessed history. Among the critics' blurbs was "Adventure." Just that one word: "Adventure." I recorded the spot on TiVo and studied it. There are actually three one-word reviews: "Awesome" (Stephen Type Too Small to Read), "Action" (Katie O'Grady of KPTV, Portland, and "Adventure" (Gary Schrendel of KGTV, San Diego) This development has huge implications that I can just barely grasp. If the size of a single atom of film criticism--the unit which you can't make smaller without a huge explosion--is now one single word, what chance does a critic have? (Andy Ihnatko, Westwood, Mass)
A. In my own review, I use the phrase "animated adventure," but that's probably too inside baseball for the average viewer.
Q. Why do guys like action and fast movement in movies? What's with blowing things up real good and flipping cars? (Troylene Ladner, Jersey City, New Jersey)
A. We are hard-wired that way at birth, but can overcome our low tastes and become admirers of fine movies, simply by taking a vow never to attend a movie with a trailer featuring that guy who always intones, "In a world--where..."
Q. I read in David Poland's web column: "American Multi-Cinema is test-marketing a monthly movie pass in Omaha and Oklahoma City, allowing the holder to see a movie a day every day of the month for just $17.50 on Omaha and $14.50 in Oklahoma City." How do you think they can do this, and do you think it will work? (Susan Lake, Urbana, IL)
A. Poland adds that the chain plans to pay the studios their usual share of each admission. How does this make economic sense? It's a brilliant demonstration of the bottom line of movie exhibition: Theaters make most of their money at the refreshment stand. Since most heavy movie-goers presumably already go on weekends, this will bring them out during the slower nights of the week, and AMC will turn a profit from the popcorn and candy.
Q. Regarding Ryan Vlastelica's question about two identical movie phone numbers: The range of phone numbers reserved for fictional use has been reduced from 555-XXXX (10,000 numbers) to just 555-01XX (100 numbers). A repeated number is only a 1-in-100 coincidence, and really more likely than that because writers will like some numbers more than others. (Mark Brader, Toronto ON)
A. Quite true. All movie phone numbers must fall between 555-0100 and 555-0199.
Q. I understand that Alfonso Arau's remake of Orson Welles' "The Magnificent Ambersons," based on Welles' original script, will premiere this summer at the Munich film festival. (Lee Gordon, Irvine CA)
A. This I look forward to seeing. I never saw the point of Gus Van Sant's shot-by-shot remake of "Psycho" (1960), but here we have a classic film whose ending was butchered by the studio against Welles' wishes. So a remake of the complete screenplay is a fascinating experiment.
Q. You and your readers have complained that many spoil the movie by telling too much of the story. Ad guys sometimes don't have respect for the film or for the viewers. This year, however, I am amazed by the advertising genius behind the "A.I." campaign. The trailers are vague and mysterious, especially the early Internet ones. The web sites, phone numbers, and e-mails that you can access if you follow clues from the trailers are brilliant. They actually tease you and make you thirst for more. (Jeff Hollander, Nevada City CA)
A. My idea of a great campaign. Evoke the spirit of the movie instead of cannibalizing the good parts.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
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