Q. I read that "Paranormal Activity," which reportedly cost between $11,000 and $18,000 to make, blew out the opposition pictures with multimillion-dollar budgets. Some of my friends have liked it, but I'm wondering ... Greg Nelson, Chicago
A. The movie proves once again that horror is the only genre that transcends budgets and the star system. The horror itself is the star, and if you're scared, you don't ask what the budget was. But the film's box-office performance inspired me to ask its producer, Steven Schneider, about his philosophy. After all, he has a degree in philosophy from the University of London. Why, I asked, did Paramount make its decision to bet real money on his little sleeper? He told me:
"Credit for Paramount's decision to release the movie goes to a number of individuals who saw it for what it was and believed in what it could be. From the acumen of producer Jason Blum to the vision of Paramount topper Adam Goodman and his VP Ashley Brucks, to the salesmanship of IM Global's Stuart Ford and the dealmaking of Linda Lichter and CAA agents Martin Spencer and Brian Kavanaugh-Jones. And of course the incredible marketing team at Paramount, headed by Josh Greenstein and Megan Colligan, and others such as Amy Powell and Amy Mastriona. Not the typical true Hollywood story, but because Oren Peli made such an incredible little movie, everyone rallied around it and ... here we are!"
Note to Steven: You might want to shorten that list a little for your Oscar acceptance speech.
Q.I noted your four-star review of "A Serious Man," the new Coen Brothers film, and was thinking of the new book by your Sun-Times colleague Cathleen Falsani, The Dude Abides: The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers. Cathleen calls "A Serious Man" easily the most overtly religious of all their films. She is also the "Dudey Satva" of Dudeism (the tongue-in-cheek -- but 60,000-strong -- "religion" based on the theology and ethics of the Coens' "The Big Lebowski"). Kelly Hughes, Chicago
A. I knew of Cathleen's wonderful book but didn't register that she's so instrumental in Dudeism. I discover on Wikipedia: "Dudeism encourages the practice of 'going with the flow' and 'taking it easy,' believing this is the only way to live in harmony with our inner nature. It aims to assuage feelings of inadequacy in societies which place a heavy emphasis on achievement and personal fortune. Consequently, simple pleasures like bathing and bowling are seen as preferable to the spending of money as a means to achieve happiness and spiritual fulfillment."
Q. You mentioned a continuing interest in the story of the trail-blazing aviator Amelia Earhart. You may be interested in a radio program that aired on WBEZ this morning about the search for Amelia Earhart. It talks about the part that a young girl at the time played in recording a transcript which she discovered, to her horror, were Earhart's distress calls being broadcast on short-wave radio. Raymond G. Riesterer, Chicago
A. NPR's "The Story" Web site pointed me to this page, which reproduces the incredibly touching notes written by young Betty Brown: http://j.mp/4lhtcs .
Q. I've heard most foreign films playing in French, German, Spanish and Italian-speaking countries are dubbed into the local language rather than subtitled. Is this true? I'm thinking about moving to Spain. Dubbing is such a crude, destructive practice, it's hard to believe it's routinely employed in supposedly sophisticated Europe. Are great performances in great films being obliterated by second-rate local actors? Can it be that the distinctive voices of Katharine Hepburn, John Wayne, Sean Connery, Rosie Perez and Steve Buscemi are unknown to European audiences who think these iconic actors sound just like the grocery clerk down the street? Rich Gruber, New York City
A. Quite so. In cities such as Paris, the original version ("V.O.") will play, but elsewhere in a country, it's dubbed all the way. I think it might have been Peter Bogdanovich who told me his John Wayne impression fell flat at a dinner party in Rome because no one at the table knew what John Wayne sounded like.
Q. Are porno filmmakers breaking the law when they "borrow" their titles from legitimate, mainstream productions and produce such works as "Breast Side Story," "Chitty Chitty Gang Bang," "The Sexorcist," "On Golden Blonde," "Load Warrior" and "Saturday Night Beaver"? Steven Spielberg allegedly made no secret of his disapproval over "Shaving Ryan's Privates," but where is the legal line drawn? Obviously, no one is going to confuse these XXX films with their original inspirations, so why can't everyone just laugh?
Alan Ball, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of "American Beauty," once admitted that he was honored when he discovered "American Booty." In fact, he appreciated the gag so much that he bought a bunch to give out as gifts. No word yet on what David Fincher thought of "The Curious Case of Benjamin's Butt." Kevin Fellman, Phoenix
A. I've requested a ruling from the Motion Picture Academy of Farts and Appliances.
A. Just caught the movie "An Education" and really loved it. I noticed something I haven't noticed before: "Rated PG-13 for smoking." It's a great movie and I'm thrilled that kids under 17 can see this -- but smoking? Of all things, smoking?
After knowing a few friends who were involved with older men (not at 16, more around 20), I thought Peter Sarsgaard nailed how his character looked and facially reacted to this much younger girl. I only met one of my best friend's older involvements at a holiday event, but he looked and reacted to her in exactly the same way: a combination of excitement over someone new (read: young), nervousness, guilt and lust. Sometimes all in the scope of five minutes. After seeing movies like "Lolita" (both versions) and some of the few other movies that somewhat deal with this topic, Sarsgaard was the only actor I've seen utterly nail the facial expressions. Far and above the rich character he played, he brought a lot of subtlety to that part. Jennifer Grandy, Chicago
A. Actually, the MPAA rating specifies "for historical smoking." You might confuse that as meaning, "Few smokers in history have smoked this much," but actually it means, "Kids, your stupid grandparents did this in the olden days."
Q. I need to share this blasphemous rumor with you; it is said Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire will co-star in a remake of "The Third Man." Can't we just all agree that some movies are sacred? Hisham Teymour, Mount Prospect
A. My instinctive reaction was to throw up. On second thought, I'll reserve judgment until I see this shameless project. Some remakes are good enough to stand beside their originals; Herzog's "Nosferatu," for example. The screenplay is allegedly being written by Steven Knight, who wrote "Dirty Pretty Things" and "Eastern Promises," two splendid films. The original film was written by (*cough*) Graham Greene. A director isn't set.
But it's not the story, is it, so much as the look and feel and sound of that supreme masterpiece. Can a remake even be contemplated without zither music and the immortal "The Third Man" theme? Will the tilt shots and oblique POV angles be preserved? Will the classic chase through the sewers of Vienna, with one (1) off-screen gunshot, be preserved? Will it be shot in color, when "The Third Man" is one of the most black and white films of all time? And what actor dares to invoke Orson Welles as Harry Lime? The undertaking seems foolhardy.