Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
A remarkable tale of immigrant success, wrapped around a crime story.
Q. I recently saw "Almost Famous" for the third time. I was wondering what Penny Lane was carrying in the tackle box in the first half of the film. (Michael Ladowski, South Holland, IL)
A. Cameron Crowe, the writer-director of the film, replies: "It's a fashion statement. It's a radical idea for a purse, dreamed up by a girl with a lot of style and a lot of make-up. Thanks for noticing it."
Q. I read your positive review of "Unbreakable," proceeded to see this fantastic movie twice in three days, and then re-read your review. This time, I noticed that you listed the character names of the wife and child as "Megan" and "Jeremy." In the movie, their names were "Audrey" and "Joseph." I then read two more on-line reviews of the movie, and to my surprise, I found the exact same error with the names. My question is: how did you all make the same mistake? (Michael A. Weinstein, State College PA)
A. You are correct. The Internet Movie Database also has it wrong, probably because the names were Megan and Jeremy in the original script and publicity materials. A studio official explains, "It was a clearance problem. We couldn't get clearance on the original names." I don't always write down the names of all the characters in movies, trusting to the studio press materials and sources like imdb.com.
Q. While at the movies tonight I saw a trailer for "Cast Away," which revealed the ending of the movie. The next time you run into the marketing geniuses who decide these things, could you please do me a very big favor and beat them senseless with a large two-by-four? (Ed Slota, Providence, RI)
A. Louisa Aikin of Scottsdale is also annoyed: "The trailer gives away one of the big plot points--whether or not Tom Hanks' character manages to get home." And Aaron Widera of Long Beach writes: "Why would I or anybody who has seen the 'Cast Away' trailer now playing in theaters and available on the internet, pay to see a movie that I've already seen? I now know every important plot point, INCLUDING the ending. Is this trailer-as-spoiler trend ever going to end?"
Jeffrey Godsick, executive vice president for publicity and promotions for 20th Century Fox, responds to the Answer Man: " 'Cast Away' is not a film about a man's attempts to escape from a remote island. Instead, it explores his physical and psychological journey during his stay on the island, as well as the unexpected emotional challenges he faces upon his return."
Having seen the movie, I disagree with Godsick. The Hanks character spends most of the movie uncertain about his future, and so should the audience. But many studios now frequently tell the entire story, including the ending, in their trailers.
Q. The new Sandra Bullock movie "Miss Congeniality" contains eight thumbs-up gestures. This is a record for the number of thumbs in a single film. I have a theory that since the creation of the Ebert & Siskel program, Hollywood has strategically placed "thumbs-up" gestures in movies not only to subconsciously suggest to audiences they're watching a "thumbs-up" film, but also to suck up to a certain influential movie critic who has trademarked this particular digital communiquŽ. Sound nutty? Here's just a partial listing of thumbs up gesturing in recent movies: French Stewart in "Love Stinks," Famke Janssen in "House on Haunted Hill," Jessica Pare in "Stardom," John Travolta and Lisa Kudrow in "Lucky Numbers," Jesus Christ in "Dogma," Minnie Driver in "Beautiful," Damon Wayans in "Bamboozled," Robin Williams in "Father's Day," Kathleen Quinlan in "Breakdown," Rowan Atkinson in "Bean," Angelina Jolie and John Cusack in "Pushing Tin," Craig Ferguson in "The Big Tease," Jenna Elfman in "Keeping the Faith," Stephen Baldwin in "The Flintstones In Viva Rock Vegas" (plus a thumbs-up billboard cutout over the end credits), Joaquin Phoenix in "Gladiator," Lupe Ontiveros in "Chuck and Buck," Richard Dreyfuss in "The Crew," Eddie Murphy in "Nutty Professor II: The Klumps," Ginger the Chicken in "Chicken Run," Bruce Willis and Spencer Breslin in "Disney's The Kid," Tim Meadows (five times) in "The Ladies Man," plus Will Ferrell in "The Ladies Man," an unidentified army officer in "The Puppet Masters," and Mark Fuerstein in "Woman On Top." Want further proof? Check out the one-sheet for the movie "Bye Bye, Love" where a thumbs-up has obviously been inserted into a photo of the main cast. (You can tell it's inserted, because the hand seems too large for the people and it doesn't really seem to belong to anyone in the picture.) Is my theory sound, or have I been watching too many Shannon Tweed cable epics costarring Andrew Stevens? (Dann Gire, The Daily Herald, Arlington Heights)
A. I have subjected your valuable data to a penetrating statistical analysis. You name 23 movies. I did not review five of them. Of the 18 remaining, I gave 10 thumbs-down and eight thumbs-up. Of course, the thumb gesture in "Gladiator" may not count, because thumbs-up in Roman times meant what thumbs down means today. In response to your second question, Shannon Tweed and Andrew Stevens have co-starred in five movies, including the intriguing "Body Chemistry 4: Full Exposure." Anyone who knows they have co-starred in more than three is watching too many.
Q. A friend tells me that in "Key Largo" (1948), Edward G. Robinson makes a speech to Bogart that is timely right now. Here's how he quotes it: "Let me tell you about Florida politicians. I make them. I make them out of whole cloth just like a tailor makes a suit. I get their name in the newspaper, I get them some publicity and get them on the ballot. Then after the election we count the votes, and if they don't turn out right, we recount them and recount them again until they do." Is this on the level? (Margo Howard, Boston)
A. Your friend's approximation, which has been forwarded widely on the Web and was quoted Dec. 10 in the New York Times, is a shameless rewrite tailored to fit the news. The words "Florida," "recount" and "politician" do not appear in the correct quote.
Tim Dirks, whose Web site (www.filmsite.org) is an invaluable repository of movie descriptions and dialogue, tells me that Robinson (a gangster) is speaking to a roomful of characters (including Bogart), while trying to intimidate and ridicule the local deputy. Robinson says:
"You hick! I'll be back pulling strings to get guys elected mayor and governor before you ever get a 10-buck raise. Yeah, how many of those guys in office owe everything to me. I made them. Yeah, I made 'em, just like a - like a tailor makes a suit of clothes. I take a nobody, see? Teach him what to say. Get his name in the papers and pay for his campaign expenses. Dish out a lotta groceries and coal. Get my boys to bring the voters out. And then count the votes over and over again till they added up right and he was elected. Yeah - then what happens? Did he remember when the going got tough, when the heat was on? No, he didn't wanna. All he wanted was to save his own dirty neck. . . . Yeah, `Public Enemy,' he calls me. Me, who gave him his 'Public' all wrapped up with a fancy bow on it."
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
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