The Zero Theorem
Terry Gilliam's first science fiction film since "12 Monkeys" is an inventively designed but oddly inert satire on technology, God and the future of humankind.
Q. In your Great Movie review of "Casablanca," you refer to Claude Rains' character as subtly homosexual. I thought that his character was portrayed as a complete, though effete, womanizer. William Dienna, Wayne, Pa.
Q. I live in a small city in Tennessee, which means the local theaters get mainstream films almost exclusively. If a movie comes along that I want to watch, I have to go alone because my friends aren't interested, or go with my wife and hear her snore. As someone with a great love for movies ever since childhood, I feel a sense of melancholy at the thought that the works I love the most might be lost to my generation. What is going to happen to Bergman's and Antonioni's films now that they've died? Do I belong to an extremely small minority? Frank Multari, Cleveland, Tenn.
A. Yes, and you always will. Some people have tastes, most have appetites. But here's encouraging news: Studio Briefing on IMDb.com recently reported, "Theaters showing mainstream movie fare were mostly empty over the weekend, a traditionally slow period at the box office. On the other hand, those showing art-house fare were doing a land-office business."
Q. Kudos to your reader who identified the "Flipper Giggle." It came to my attention when the sound clip was used in a segment of the Simpsons' "Treehouse of Horror XI," the segment called "Night of the Dolphin." It must have been used four or five times; enough to draw attention to itself. Since then, I've noticed the same giggle in other shows and movies. Will Seabrook, Baltimore
A. Frank Teelucksingh of Port of Spain, Trinidad, offers some history: "I believe that the Flipper Giggle was first recorded by the great Mel Blanc for the TV show 'Flipper.' Dolphins, of course, do not actually make this kind of noise and certainly do not make it with their mouths. They make sounds through the blowhole on top of their heads. Mostly whistles and clicks."
And Tom Schwedler of Redlane, Calif., thinks the Flipper Giggle was also used for the gopher in "Caddyshack."
Q. I, too, loved "The Lives of Others." While the way the film looks and the acting are both superb, for me, it was the subject matter of the story I most admired. However, we had different takes. You referenced current politics; while for me, the film resonated because of its accurate depiction of life in a communist country, subject matter that Hollywood has almost entirely ignored, despite the fact that there is over 70 years worth of material. Hollywood has produced countless movies about the anti-war movement during the 1960s, McCarthyism and the evil actions of the U.S. military and CIA. However, where are the movies about Armando Valladares' time in a Cuban prison or Walter Duranty's lies about the Ukrainian famine? Jorge A. del Rio, Singer Island, Fla.
A. A point well taken. The most effective anti-communist films are made by directors who lived under communism; often, they use codes, as in Istvan Szabo's masterpiece "Mephisto," which is set during the Nazi occupation of Hungary but could as well be told about the communists.
Q. Additional (sad) information related to the movie "The Lives of Others," which you just reviewed: Ulrich Muehe, the actor playing the lead (Stasi officer Gerd Wiesler), passed away July 22 at age 54.
He suffered from stomach cancer but kept this secret until the week before his death. Maybe this information could be added to the review to honor this extraordinary actor. Sven Hader, Wiesloch, Germany
A. That he knew this adds poignancy to every one of his scenes.
Q. In the race for Israel's official Oscar entry, it was a contest between Toronto festival favorite "The Band's Visit" and local box-office smash (and Berlin Film Festival Silver Bear winner) "Beaufort" (a superb war film). Then "The Band's Visit" swept Israel's Ophir Awards (our equivalent to the Oscars), which means it will be the Israeli submission to the Oscars. But many here in Israel are asking if "The Band's Visit" has enough foreign language in it to qualify as an Oscar nominee? Is there enough Hebrew and Arabic within the English dialogue, or will the film be disqualified? Yair Raveh, film critic, Pnai Plus, Tel Aviv
A. I asked Bruce Davis, executive director of the Motion Picture Academy, and he replied: "The rule for the foreign language category is that more than half of the dialogue (literally 51 percent) must be in a language or combination of languages other than English. As you can imagine, this sometimes leads to some complex measurements, and nearly every year, there is a submission whose eligibility is finally determined by academy staff members sitting in our Goldwyn Theater with stopwatches."
Q. In a recent debate with some friends, the question of whether it's possible to see all of the "classic" films was raised. I submit that although it may be physically possible, in reality, even the biggest film fans have not seen every single classic film ever made.
Am I wrong? Have you seen every classic film from every country, genre, time period? Jay Cheel, St. Catharines, Ont.
A. Certainly not. And even those with encyclopedic knowledge, like Martin Scorsese, David Bordwell, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Dave Kehr, Bertrand Tavernier, Michel Ciment, Kevin Brownlow and the great Pierre Rissient have not. Too many movies, too little time. A good place to gain a toehold might be myGreat Movies books, or 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die by Steven Jay Schneider. Or start working your way through the DVD catalogs of the Criterion Collection, Kino, Milestone and Facets Multimedia. Plus, if you have an all-zones DVD player, the British Film Institute.
Q. Some of your readers have been desperately searching for a Region 1 copy of Ousmane Sembene's "Moolaade." Look no further than Canada. We've had the movie on DVD for about two years now. Buy a copy online, because it's worth it. David Friend, Toronto
A. It's also coming out soon from New Yorker Films.
Q. There are phenomena that exist only in movies and not in real life: telephone numbers beginning with 555, cars smashing into fruit carts during chase scenes, the instantaneous busy signal when the offscreen party hangs up, the smoke-and-water factory, characters toting suitcases that are obviously empty, and catastrophes that compel extras to run back and forth in front of the camera instead of out the nearest exit to safety. What are some others? Do these bits have a name? Ted Hild, Springfield
A. I like to think of them as entries in Ebert's Little Movie Glossary.
Q. I recently purchased a copy of "Taxi Driver." Early in the film, Travis visits a porno theater. He walks next to the screen, but the image is blurred.
Was it this way when the film was originally released, or was this done for the DVD release? Do you have any way of knowing who's to blame for this idiocy? This is really offensive; this guy walks around taking drugs, buying weapons of all kinds, saying all sort of disturbing things, kills a bunch of people, and we care about sex, the only harmless image in the movie? Gabriel Nostel Dominguez, Buenos Aires, Argentina
A. As I recall, it was that way to begin with. There are two ways to look at it: (1) Hard-core porno would have crippled the film's distribution chances, and (2) since Travis is in focus, a film in the background would be out of focus unless a deliberate decision was made to use deep focus, which would be a nightmare to light, unless you inserted the background as an optical shot, which would look obvious and distract from the purpose of the scene.
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Part ten in Scout Tafoya's The Unloved series tackles "The Village."
A photo gallery offering snapshots from The Ebert Dinner at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.