Trial by Fire
The film plods at points, trudging along, and there are a few misguided narrative "devices" tacked on, but still, "Trial by Fire" bristles with anger.
Q. My favorite scene in "The Island" is when Ewan McGregor congratulates Scarlett Johansson on being chosen to go to the island. He then leans over and whispers to her, "I'm sorry I didn't get to know you better." This is an obvious allusion to "Lost in Translation," designed to inform us once and for all what Bill Murray whispered to her at the end of that movie. Abraham Leib, Bellevue, Wash.
A. But how do you know that's what he said? When Sight & Sound magazine interviewed "Lost in Translation" director Sofia Coppola and asked her what Bob whispers to Charlotte at the end, she replied: "Someone asked Bill, and he said, 'It's between lovers.' I love that answer." She was asked if she had written lines for the scene, and said: "I wrote some stuff but I wasn't happy with it. There was dialogue but it was really sparse. Ultimately I liked it better that you don't hear it, that you can put in what you want them to say."
Q. I just read your review of "Stealth," where you wondered how a pilot could eject from a plane going Mach 1, 2 or whatever, but then have the plane explode and debris fall to earth on top of him, not farther ahead. You cite Newton's Laws. Well, when an object in motion is ejected, that new object continues to move at the same speed and in the same direction as the original one until some outside force, such as friction from contact with air, slows it down. When the pilot ejects from the plane, he is still moving at the speed of the plane. Depending on when the plane exploded, it is possible that the debris might rain down on him. Peter Papachronopoulos, Manchester, N.H.
A. I heard from many readers making the same argument, as well as producer Robert Swanson of Delta Max Productions, who has himself ejected from a jet fighter. Two things seem true: (1) If the pilot ejected at such a speed, the impact with the air would tear him to shreds; (2) If he survived, or the plane was going slower, the air would slow him down a lot right away, not even accounting for his drag chute, so it is unreasonable to believe that a pilot descending by parachute would still be directly beneath the falling parts of a plane that does not explode for a few more seconds.
Q. You believe that showing the bombing of a high-rise in "Stealth" was in bad taste because of 9/11. This is not the role of a movie critic. Movie critics fail when they are NOT open-minded and become melodramatic about what is right and wrong. For example, some might argue that George Bush should be imprisoned for crimes against humanity (innocent people killed in Iraq and lies about weapons). Would Mr. Ebert be able to criticize a movie that deals with this issue? Probably not if he uses his "bad taste" conservative scale to be a judge rather than a critic. Marlene DiFiori Locke, Maryland Heights, Md.
A. First time in a while I've been called a conservative. I believe movies can deal with 9/11 or any other subject, but I reserve the right to have an opinion about how they do it. I felt there was something unworthy about a goofy special effects thriller that showed the United States bombing a Rangoon high-rise from above, so it would fall down in its own footprint. The shot of the falling building is uncanny in the way it resembles the falling Twin Towers. I don't think the movie has earned the right to use that imagery.
Q. There's a conspiracy theory on the Internet about "The Aristocrats," claiming that the World's Dirtiest Joke, which is the subject of the movie, is the creation of Penn Jillette, and the backstory was created to perpetrate a hoax on the movie audience. Do you think Penn is punking us? Victor Ireland, Redding, Calif.
A. You sent me to slumbering.lungfish.com, where Lore Sjoberg offers two reasons for thinking the movie is a hoax:
"First, Penn Jillette. If anyone was going to make up a dirty joke, then fool millions of people into thinking it's a super-secret comedian thing, it would be Jillette.
Secondly, I can't find any evidence that the joke was posted to the Internet before 2001." But since authentic footage shows Gilbert Gottfried telling the joke at a Friar's roast in 2001, a hoax would have involved great foresight and patience, plus the total cooperation of all 100 comedians in the film.
And Gregory Kirschling describes it in Entertainment Weekly as "an ancient dirty joke out of Vaudeville days." Isn't the "Aristocrats" joke really a version of a joke everybody knows, about the man who goes to be treated for a rash on his arm? "What do you do for a living?" the doctor asks him. "I work at the circus, giving enemas to the elephants," the guy says, adding disgusting details about how he administers the enemas. "Quit your job and the rash will clear up," the doctor says. The guy replies, "What? And leave show business?"
Q. What do you think of the new digital format agreed to by the studios? In the past, you have said digital projection was not as good as the current 35mm film format. Is the new format the same as the former digital format? Do you think the new format will help or hinder film piracy? Mike Coleman, Round Lake
A. The digital projection system that was being touted four years ago, at a cost of $100,000 to $150,000 a machine, would today seem woefully substandard. Those promoting it claimed it was "as good as film." New digital projectors are much better, and the studios think they can save money on the cost of film prints by switching to digital. Still uncertain is: (1) Who will pay for the still-expensive projectors? (2) Will widespread digital distribution be an invitation to piracy? (3) How will the public react to buying tickets to moves they can essentially see at home at about the same projection quality?
If the movie industry had true visionaries among its most powerful executives, Maxivision 48 would be given a try. It shows movies at 48 frames a second, uses only 50 percent more film than currently, and because of a patented method for moving the film through the gate, eliminates scratching and jiggles; it would cost only $12,000 per screen to install the equipment. The picture is four times as good as current film projection, and that would provide a powerful incentive for people to see movies in theaters. I've heard genuine enthusiasm from people who've seen movies like "Batman Begins" and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" on IMAX screens, and I know that audiences do respond to picture quality. If one industry leader announced a movie in Maxivision, there would be a stampede to the format because digital would be instantly upstaged.
Q. There exists an audience-fueled campaign to encourage the Academy to recognize Bill Moseley's performance as Otis Driftwood in "The Devil's Rejects." In addition to an online petition (www.petitiononline.com/otis78), fans are collecting signatures at theaters and rock concerts. Do you know of any previous instances when the public has taken an Oscar campaign into their own hands on behalf of an actor? Louise Fenton, New York, N.Y.
A. The nearest thing I can think of is the campaign arguing that Michael Crawford should star in the film version of "Phantom of the Opera." But surely the Academy should begin by voting a posthumous Oscar to Groucho Marx's performance as Otis Driftwood in "A Night at the Opera." My own feeling is that if Bill Moseley has other plans for the night of March 5, 2006, he shouldn't rush out to change them.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
A tribute to Doris Day.