Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
A remarkable tale of immigrant success, wrapped around a crime story.
Q. I read your review of "Million Dollar Baby." As a huge Clint Eastwood fan, I thought to myself I might take my children, even though they are a little young. So I consulted another critic, Movie Mom, and was quite upset when the plot was revealed. I've been robbed! Tom Brandenburger, Madison State, S.D.
A. Movie Mom is Nell Minow, who probably felt the information was useful for parents, but there should have been a "spoiler warning." Don't let anyone spoil this great film for you.
Q. Billie "The Blue Bear," who is Hilary Swank's most fearsome boxing opponent in "Million Dollar Baby," made a real impression on me. What's her story? Greg Nelson, Chicago
A. Lucia Rijker, a Dutch-African, was four times world kickboxing champion and an undefeated junior welterweight champ.
Hilary Swank tells me: "Physically, she's this incredible powerhouse, and yet she needed to balance out boxing, so she became a Buddhist. The boxing Buddha, I called her."
A. If time is hanging heavy on your hands, my friend Carol invites you to join her ukulele club.
Q. "Hoop Dreams," the 1994 documentary about two Chicago inner-city kids who dream of playing in the NBA, is one of my all-time favorite films. I was saddened to learn of the death of Arthur Agee's father, Arthur "Bo" Agee Sr. The film showed Arthur Sr. going through a transformation: He escaped the drug life and became a minister. It is good to know he was interviewed for the forthcoming "Hoop Dreams" DVD. My heart goes out to the Agee family. Justin Rielly, Lawton, Okla.
A. His family has the consolation of knowing he died clean, sober and making a contribution to society. I was fortunate to meet his wife, Mrs. Sheila Agee, a warm and brave woman, and I recall a comment Gene Siskel once made: "There are thousands in the crowd for the basketball games, but when she graduates as a nurse's aide, the room is almost empty. She's the movie's real heroine."
Q. In response to Matt Sandler's query asking you about who is the world's most beautiful woman, you foolishly answered Aishwarya Rai instead of "my wife." I hope you bought a huge bouquet and a box of chocolates for Mrs. Ebert after you realized your mistake. Vicente Salazar, Espanola, N.M.
A. Matt Sandler asked about women, not goddesses.
Q. Finally I have read in the American media about Aishwarya Rai. I agree with you, she truly is the most beautiful woman in the world, but what are the chances of her ever being mentioned on People magazine's list? Scott Hunter, Toronto
A. Only a matter of time. The British celeb mag Hello! did an online poll, and the results were:
However, Reuters reports, when Amitabh Bachchan won the BBC's online poll to discover the greatest superstar of all time, he explained: "This proves Indians do nothing else but surf the Web."
Q. I watched "Metropolis" (1927) recently. In the second scene, where the sons and daughters of the powerful are frolicking in the garden, we see the bare back of a woman. I immediately thought of the recent flap over seeing very much the same thing during an opening for "Monday Night Football." What was acceptable in a silent film of 1926 is not acceptable in 2004 America? Tim Stack, Westminster, Colo.
A. You know, I'll bet any scene from "Metropolis" would have drawn protests from football fans.
Q. The Motion Picture Academy recently announced the top 12 contenders for the 2004 best documentary Feature category. One of the finalists is "Tupac: Resurrection," which was released in 2003. Call me crazy but I thought to be eligible for a documentary Oscar this year, your film must be released between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31 of this year. How did a film that came out November 2003 get nominated this year? Dennis Earl, Hamilton, Ontario
A. Bruce Davis, executive director of the Motion Picture Academy, replies: "The feature and short documentary categories, along with a couple of others that involve heavy viewing loads for the groups determining the nominations, have always had a different eligibility year from the 'standard' categories. With last year's shift of our show date into February, the difference has become even greater: though the calendar year remains the eligibility period for dramatic features, the year for documentaries runs from Sept. 1 to Aug. 31. 'Tupac' didn't become eligible until the current (77th) Awards year."
Q. I was happy to see your mention of Fred Astaire in your review of "House of Flying Daggers." For years now I've told friends they should watch a Jackie Chan movie the same way they would watch a Fred Astaire film. The fight scenes and dance numbers are the bits you've come to see; the plot is just a framework.
The fights/dances were carefully planned and blocked out, and Astaire and Chan both make great use of "found props" in their numbers. If I were a director, my dream project would be to get Jackie Chan and Michelle Yeoh to star in a musical together. Absolutely no fight scenes -- I'd want them to be Fred and Ginger for the 21st century. Siobhan Doran, Chicago
A. There is a distinction between the elegant choreography of many Asian martial-arts movies, most recently "House of Flying Daggers," and the ugly, chopped-up martial arts sequences in routine action movies, where so many cuts and close-ups are used that we get no sense of the characters moving through space and time.
Q. In your review of "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events," you described Meryl Streep's character as being "literally afraid of everything, a condition I believe is called phobiaphobia." This is not the correct term. I am not a psychologist, but I have watched "A Charlie Brown Christmas Special" many times and "pantophobia" is the diagnosis that Lucy gives to Charlie Brown at her 5-cent psychiatry stand. Dain Fagerholm, Seattle
A. I was afraid of that.
Q. In your review of "The Sea Inside," about Ramon Sampedro, a quadriplegic who wants to die, you say: "If a man is of sound mind and not in pain, how in the world can he decide he no longer wants to read tomorrow's newspaper?" I say: What is the point of living a life where one is always going to be dependent on others? That is the kind of life that is useless and is therefore not worth living. Hans Bottenberg, Waterloo, Iowa
A. We are all dependent on others every moment of every day, and few of us would live for long if dropped into the wilderness. Nor would we be useful there, except to ourselves. Most of the contributions we make to each other are created with our minds. The greatest physicist since Einstein is physically helpless. Heather Rose could move one finger of one hand, and she wrote and starred in "Dance Me to My Song," a great film.
The Seattle writer and film critic Jeff Shannon recently wrote me: "Despite considerable pain and anguish for a variety of quad-related reasons, I agree with Ramon Sampedro's cause, but I cannot share his attitude for one simple reason: I look at life the way I look at a good movie -- I can't wait to see what happens next."
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
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