A heartfelt but scattershot documentary that tries to get inside the mind of Donald Trump's America, but mainly succeeds as a snapshot of the 2016…
Q. You make a good point in your review of “A Perfect Getaway” that many filmmakers can’t seem to resist giving away the entire plot or best jokes in their trailers. The trailer for “Valkyrie,” for instance, practically showed the entire film, saving me the time and expense of going to see it. As a history buff, I would have loved to have seen “Valkyrie,” but the endless trailer spoiled it for me. Why do you think so many filmmakers are hellbent on spoiling their work by giving away the story in previews? Bob Downes
A. My long-standing theory: Trailers use exactly the same principle as supermarket demonstrations that supply a sample of cheese on a toothpick. Once you eat it, you know exactly how the cheese will taste. All you lack is having eaten the whole cheese.
Q. Did you catch the closing credits of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”? (I’m referring to the initial cast credits, not the crawling credits that list cast members in order of appearance.) Timothy Spall’s name appeared prominently and by itself about halfway through. He appeared in two scenes for no more than three seconds each, one in which he answered a door and the other when one is slammed in his face.
Listed last and sharing screen space with two other names? Bonnie Wright, who played Harry’s love interest Ginny (and who has also been in more “Harry Potter” films than Spall). I know credit order is usually determined by a mix of screen time and star power, but this is beyond crazy. I’d like to think perhaps several of Spall’s scenes were cut long after the credits were designed, but the character he plays is in the book for just as long! Erik Dresner, Elmhurst, N.Y.
A. Credits are a matter of delicate negotiation involving agents. My guess is that Spall personally doesn’t much care. But his agent might have argued he is a true star and deserves a good billing. Conversely, some actors like Bill Murray often take no billing at all, which is a form of reverse status.
Q. In reading your review of “The Hurt Locker,” in which you laud Jeremy Renner’s performance and predict an Oscar nomination, I got to thinking about those very categories of best actor/actress. For this role, Renner has taken an original character and crafted his own unique persona. It has occurred to me that this type of performance is, if not more difficult, at least quite different from, say, Sean Penn as Harvey Milk, because Harvey Milk was a real person with a pre-existing persona.
I’m not saying there isn’t great skill involved in carrying out that type of role; I’m merely wondering if the distinction is significant enough to warrant consideration when the merits of various performances are discussed — or, even crazier, to warrant two different categories (i.e., something akin to the two separate screenplay awards — one for original, one for adapted).
In fact, the more I think about it, the more it seems like there may be an inherent advantage in portraying a non-fictional character, because the actor/actress is likely being judged on the accuracy of his/her impression of that character as much as anything else (“Wow, Sean Penn does a really convincing Harvey Milk”). Meanwhile, Renner has no accuracy to strive for, no photos or videos of the real William James to study. The role is his to mold, for better or worse.
A look back at how these awards have played out in recent years seems to lend credence to my point: Penn’s performance as Milk, Whitaker as Idi Amin, Hoffman as Capote, Foxx as Ray Charles, etc. And on the women’s side, Cotillard as Piaf, Mirren as Queen Elizabeth, Witherspoon as June Carter Cash, Theron as Aileen Wuornos, and so on. Again, not trying to take anything away from these performances, but I just feel like there is something worth talking about here. Roy Gilberg, Berkeley, Calif.
A. Points do seem to be awarded for impersonation. However, Sean Penn won for his completely original character in “Mystic River,” and look at Daniel Day-Lewis in “There Will Be Blood.” And look at Meryl Streep. Although she is known for her accurate evocations of such real people as Julia Child, all 16 of her Oscar nominations came for either original characters or those with whom few audiences were familiar.
Q. What’s your reaction to the Tokyo Film Festival rejecting “The Cove”? The film won’t hit my town until next month, but I have been following it with interest. I didn’t realize that Japan was restricting artistic expression as much as the Chinese these days. Can anything be done to shame the organizers of the Tokyo Film Festival into changing their mind? K.V. Anderson, Fort Collins, Colo.
A. The documentary is strongly critical of the Japanese practice of luring dolphins to a trap by using sonar, then selling some of the animals to theme parks and labeling the (mercury-tainted) flesh of the rest as whale meat. The film has been widely acclaimed (94 percent on the Tomatometer at Rotten Tomatoes.com). The motive of the festival seems all too transparent.
Q. In your review of “The Time Traveler's Wife,” you wrote: “One thing’s for sure: It’s hard to explain how a gene for time travel could develop in the Darwinian model, since it’s hard to see how an organism could ever find out that was an advantage.”
Not so hard at all. Mutations occur; those that are not advantageous are less likely to be passed on. Advantageous mutations are more likely to become prevalent in the general population, but a mutation does not have to be advantageous to be passed on — the organism merely needs to survive long enough to reproduce. Whether precursor mutations are needed for the time-travel gene is not clear. Scott Rothstein, Massapequa, N.Y.
A. And how could you be sure they were precursors, given the nature of time travel? The film argues that such genes could not be successfully be passed down, as demonstrated in the case of the couple’s first child. Time travel is fortunately impossible, but if it were, I wonder how the Darwinian selection process would take place.
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