Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
A remarkable tale of immigrant success, wrapped around a crime story.
Q. After reading your review of "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," I note that you are the only critic I know of who feels that the increasing darkness of the series is a barrier, as opposed to a credit, to the series. I wonder, do you feel that a lot of critics' enthusiasm for "darkness" and "realism" in today's fantasy filmmaking is misplaced? Do you yearn for more innocence and joy in films where it is clearly an asset and not a liability?
Ben McMaster, Australia
A. Several critics complained about the film's gloominess, and Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote: "There's a really good one-hour movie here, but you'll have to blast through 138 minutes to find it." I have nothing against darkness and realism, but the earlier Harry Potter was an adventure comedy, not an ominous descent into Voldemortism. What would the kids who love the early Potters think if they entered the series here?
Q. A unique thing happened while I was watching "Transformers." I was not drawn out of the reality of the scenes by the digital effects. Certainly there were digital effects present, but Michael Bay handled them with a different mindset than most contemporary action directors. My biggest issue with computerized F/X is that it breaks the magic of movies by isolating the action from the drama. By staying close on his digital subjects, slowing down and limiting their movements, and maintaining human perspective within the shots, he was able to produce some amazing effects.
Vincent Santino, Burbank, Calif.
A. I confess than when a Chevy Camaro turned into a towering robot, I was drawn out of the reality.
Q. Here's a strange connection. The anecdote in the opening graph of your "Rescue Dawn" review (Dieter Dengler's recollection about the childhood encounter with the World War II pilot flying past his German home) sounds like an almost-exact depiction of a scene in Spielberg's "Empire of the Sun." The scene is when young "Jamie" -- a British boy interned at a Japanese detention camp during World War II -- sees a P-51 Mustang streak by while a U.S. strike team commences strafing an airfield inside the camp. The sequence goes into slow-motion and the young Jamie clearly makes eye contact with the passing fighter-pilot. The irony: "Jamie" was played by a young Christian Bale, star of "Rescue Dawn."
Alex Hummel, editorial page editor, Oshkosh Northwestern
A. I think the record for that kind of synchronicity is held by Jennifer Connelly, who stood alone at the end of a dock in three movies: "Dark City," "House of Sand and Fog" and "Requiem for a Dream."
Q. "The Return of the Jedi" features two versions of the Wilhelm Scream. One is the standard version heard in all of the "Star Wars" films (which occurs I think during the battle on Jabba's sail barge). The second one is a live performance of the scream done by Ben Burtt in person, in a cameo role, Burtt being the sound man who "discovered" the Wilhelm scream.
This scene takes place after Harrison Ford, the Princess and Chewie take over the Empire's base on the forest planet. Burtt appears dressed as an imperial officer and tells Han to freeze. Han chucks a box at him, knocking him over a ledge and presumably to his death, at which time he performs a hilarious Wilhelm rendition.
Pat Hines, Boston
A. I was going to retire the Wilhelm Scream as a topic after last week's Answer Man, but didn't want to deprive readers of the sight of the man who sent it screaming through more than 175 movies. A compilation of screams is on YouTube.com:
Q. Thanks for mentioning "Poultrygeist"! Not only have we finished shooting the 35mm musical horror film, it's premiering in both Montreal and Korea this weekend. Variety's review concluded that it was "a veritable Cluckwork Orange! It takes up where the punctured glutton in Monty Python's 'The Meaning of Life' left off," and Creature Corner's review hailed the rough cut as "Without a doubt, the best film Troma's ever produced, and certainly Lloyd Kaufman's most accomplished."
Andy Deemer, producer, "Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead"
A. Variety added, "Anyone who's seen 'Nightmare Alley' or 'Freaks' knows that men sometimes bite the heads off chickens, but how often do Godzilla-like chickens bite the heads off men?" The flaw in that sentence is "Godzilla-like," which interrupts the comic rhythm.
Q. Regarding your discussion about the earliest example of "The Shot" of characters walking together toward the camera: The famous shot of the four main characters walking together from "The Wizard of Oz" meets the criteria.
Brook Elison, Salt Lake City
Q. In response to your challenge to provide a list of the 100 greatest Dead Teenager Movies, Horror Bob and Egregious Gurnow of HorrorReview.com, along with myself, have come up with such a list at cstl-cla.semo.edu/gurnow/dtm.htm
Nate Yapp, editor, Classic-Horror.com
A. Very admirable. First on your list is "Scream," which doubles as a satire of Dead Teenager Movies. "Halloween" is No. 8. "Jaws" is only No. 41, although to be sure, adults were eaten, too. I can hear you panting for breath as you get to No. 100 on your list, "Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers."
Q. Do you agree with Metacritic.com's policy of listing 2.5-star reviews as positive? They don't seem to constitute endorsements for most critics.
Rebecca Ballien, Norridgewock, Maine
A. For me, 2.5 stars, or 62.5 percent, is negative. For Metacritic, anything above 60 is positive, and between 60 and 40 is "mixed." Rotten Tomatoes sidesteps the problem by counting reviews, not stars; a movie has to have 60 percent favorable reviews to be "fresh." I like both sites.
Q. I'm sorry if I sound foolish, but was that recent transcript on your Web site of Ann Coulter on "Hardball" real? Or was it meant to be a joke? I am not a fan of Coulter; I am just curious.
Jared Snyder, Anacortes, Wash.
A. It was Ann Coultist on "Curveball." In the movies, they say the characters are fictional, although inspired by actual events.
Q. Have you had a chance to see the newly restored Alejandro Jodorowsky DVD collection? Do you feel "El Topo" has held up well over the years? I am 30 years old and discovered "El Topo" about 10 years ago via the black market and fell in love with it. I am curious what someone's reaction is who saw it when it was first released. And do you think that Allen Klein and Alejandro making up is a sign of the end of times?
Richard Hunt, Seattle
A. The violent and bizarre "El Topo" has become one of the most famous of "missing films," scarcely seen since its release in 1970. John Lennon saw it, loved it, convinced Beatles manager Allen Klein to buy it, and it became a cult hit. But when Klein and Jodorowsky had a falling out, Klein pulled the film and refused to let it be seen for decades, vowing it would be released only after Jodorowsky's death. They finally made peace in 2004. When I interviewed Jodorowsky at Cannes in 1990, he told a bitter but hilarious story about their feud, which I'll tell again when "El Topo" becomes a Great Movie in the near future, joining Jodorowsky's "Santa Sangre" on my GM list.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
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