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. I just saw "Better Luck Tomorrow" and enjoyed it tremendously. However, most of my friends were disappointed by the ending. I myself would have liked to see more of the characters' reactions to the killing (especially Ben's after Stephanie chooses him). Then I read in a review that Ben's concluding voice-over narrative was modified from the version shown at Sundance in 2002, ostensibly to soften the ending and make the film more palatable for a wider audience. What was different in the original version? (Brian Wong, New York NY)
A. When I saw the film at Sundance, Ben considers turning himself into the police, but says, "I couldn't let one mistake get in the way of everything I'd worked for. I know the difference between right and wrong, but I guess in the end I really wanted to go to a good college." I thought this ending struck the right note of irony and cynicism. When I talked to director Justin Lin at the Wisconsin Film Festival last month, he said that Paramount and MTV had given him money to complete the film the way, he implied, he originally wanted to. I like the current ending but miss the impact of the original ending. I think the DVD should include both.
Q. The 15th anniversary celebration of the film "Bull Durham" was canceled by the Baseball Hall of Fame because actors in that film have recently exercised some freedom of speech. Haven't actors learned from the McCarthy era that actors, writers (i.e., people who have the public's attention) don't have the same rights as citizens and are still subject to blacklisting, or don't they care? (Manuel Sutton, Chula Vista CA)
A. Celebrities who speak out politically are made into targets as a way of discouraging dissent. I have not heard a single thing Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins (the stars of "Bull Durham") have said about the war, but I have heard countless attacks on them for saying it. When you attack the messenger instead of the message, you are essentially saying, "Since you disagree with me, shut up." This is profoundly anti-American.
Q. I haven't heard anyone mention that "Phone Booth" is very much like "Liberty Stands Still" with Linda Fiorentino and Wesley Snipes. Snipes is the sniper, and Linda Fiorentino as the person stuck on the phone (cell phone in this case). The sniper forces her to cuff herself to the hot-dog cart she is standing next to. (George C. Glanzmann, Buena Park CA)
A. It's often the case that similar films come out at about the same time. "Liberty Stands Still" (which I have not seen) came out first, playing on cable in August 2002 and then going to video in October. "Phone Booth" premiered at the September 2002 Toronto Film Festival but a theatrical release was delayed because of the uncomfortable similarity to the case of the Beltway Sniper (this did not seem to deter Lions Gate, producer of "Liberty"). "Phone Booth" went into production first, in November 2000; "Liberty Stands Still" started shooting in February 2001.
Q. I've seen "Bend it Like Beckham" but still don't understand what "bend it" means. Is it a British phrase or a soccer phrase? (Kenny Hom, Campbell CA)
A. It is a British soccer phrase. David Beckham, "the Michael Jordan of British soccer," is said to be able to bend the flight of the ball to his will, much as Jordan seemed able to fly.
Q. As the leading Imax 3-D filmmaker (meaning I have made more of them than anyone else: 5 out of 24), I have followed your comments on this new form with much interest. I totally disagree with your point of view, yet I find myself in agreement with your review of "Ghost of the Abyss." Mr. Cameron shot "Ghost" like a 35mm 3-D film, not like a large format 3-D experience. Contrary to the 3-D of old, Imax 3-D is a totally new language of cinema. In the past, 3-D filmmakers created an window enabling them to use the space behind that window and in front of that window. In Imax 3-D, the screen is so big, the audience is barely aware of the frame around the picture and there is no need for a "window." The filmmaker tries to create a filmic space and then transport the audience into that filmic space and let it decide where to look. The challenge with Imax 3-D is that it is such a new language, the grammar still needs to be developed. With "Ghosts of the Abyss," Cameron uses the feature film language and transposes it to the giant screen. It does not work and it stands in the way of the full enjoyment of the audience. Why, for example, converge the camera on Bill Paxton, making it very uncomfortable to even try to look at the other characters around the table? Had the filmmaker shot with parallel cameras (on of the few basic rules already established for large format 3-D), the 3-D space would have been even more impressive and the audience would have been transported into the room and be able to decide who to look at. (Ben Stassen, Brussels, Belgium)
A. The true IMAX 3-D movies, involving those $200 glasses with the built-in stereo headphones, are indeed much more impressive than the plain vanilla approach of Cameron. Another factor: There was obviously no room for the big IMAX cameras in his miniature sub, not to mention in his little robots Jake and Elwood, and he shot in high-def video, which gives him a good picture, but not one comparable to the native IMAX process, which uses a much larger negative. I concede that true IMAX 3-D looks much better than any previous 3-D process, but remain unconvinced that 3-D is necessary in cinematic storytelling. It is a mistake when the medium distracts from the message.
Q. I was saddened by your need to lash out against the filming of "Chicago" in Toronto. It is easier to take shots at films made in Canada, than to understand that some of the finest crews in the world are based in the great country to the North. I worked on Chicago for five months. One simple point to be aware of: Your crews get more money to do less than we do. (Adam Nahanni, Toronto)
A. I doubt if they do less, but they are paid more, given the value of the Canadian dollar and the difference in the labor union situation. When Gord Sim, the Oscar winner for set decoration on "Chicago," was backstage in the press room, he was asked by a Toronto friend of mine about the oddity that "Chicago" was filmed in Toronto. He replied somewhat evasively by praising the great crews in Toronto. I remarked that "Chicago" has great crews, too. Let's face it: If it cost 25 percent more to film in Toronto than Chicago, he would have been praising the Chicago crews. I have nothing against films shot in Toronto, a city I love. But if a musical named "O Canada" were currently being filmed in Chicago, how would that make you feel?
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...