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. In your review of "Enough", you wrote "The day when the evil husband is black and the self-defense instructor is white will not arrive in our lifetimes." "Enough" was certainly reprehensible on most levels, and I am not defending its honor--but would you not have reacted even more negatively towards it if the husband was black and those two characters were white (and the screenplay remained the same)? Wouldn't you have said that the movie reinforces a stereotype that black men are violent and the white heroine has to seek help from other whites to escape him? Wouldn't a movie like that be even more racist? (Michael Lynderery, Toronto ON)
A. The movie was morally questionable no matter what the races involved. The color coding was simply another level of cynicism. My guess is the races could not be reversed without rewriting the screenplay, because without its politically-correct camouflage the characters would have had to be individuals and not stereotypes. One of the accomplishments of "Monster's Ball" is that it transcends race by creating characters so specific they represent only themselves.
Q. I'm wondering why or how your criteria for evaluating the "Star Wars" movies has changed so drastically. You were one of the primary defenders of Episode I, but four years later you seem to be criticizing "Attack of the Clones" for the same reasons people criticized "Phantom Menace." I'm confused how Episode I got a stellar 3.5 stars and Episode II got a deadly 2 stars. (Harry Kallow, Cambridge MA)
A. I was deluged with messages asking how I could dislike Two when I liked One? My reviews are based on my immediate reaction to the film I have just seen. To skew them in order to make them "consistent" would be dishonest.
Q. In an ABCNEWS.com article, "The digital death of film," you are quoted as stating that digital projection has yet to match the best that film can do. I'm a scanner technician (high-end digital color separation) at the National Geographic Society in Washington, DC. While we (pre-press division, magazine staff) deal here only with still images, It is our consensus that digital imagery, although rapidly improving, still has a long way to go to compare with film. It lacks the subtle, smooth transitions in the fine detail of film that allow for extreme magnification. While digital photography is good enough for many publications, we're not quite there yet. (Peter Beck, Accokeek, MD).
A. Thank you for words of sanity during the rush to throw away the celluloid heritage.
Q. Did the Academy create the Best Animated Film category for such films as "Spider-Man" and "Star Wars -- Episode II: Attack Of The Clones?" Do directors think the audience is so naive to believe there is no difference between Roger Rabbit and Jar Jar Binks? I love "Star Wars," I just wish Mr. Lucas would go back to using models and puppets, they were at least three dimensional. (Kellie Rheinschmidt, Madison WI)
A. I received lots of messages like yours, especially from people who resented the way Yoda was turned from a puppet who was a contemplative philosopher, into an action figure animated with CGI. However, listen to "Star Wars" aficionado Justin Olson of La Crescenta, Calif, who writes: "Despite all the blustering about digital effects versus practical effects, the dirty little secret that no one wants you to know is that both 'The Phantom Menace' and 'Attack of the Clones' are THE two biggest model (miniature) shows in the history of filmmaking. Hands down. Each of those great 2,000-plus CGI effects shots you say look better in DLP are in fact sometimes populated with dozens of practical miniatures, just like in the original trilogy of films. Please don't sully the names of hundreds of talented individuals who work very hard on these films in many new and time-honored ways. Some of these individuals are in fact the same people who worked on the original films."
Q. Is it fair to disparage a film that is designed, essentially, for children by stating that it has failed to entertain and illuminate adults? Every review of Episode II that I've read seems to forget, or ignore, that the script, acting, themes and visual design of the entire "Star Wars" saga are intended to be understood, and appreciated, first are foremost, by children. Of course the dialogue is somewhat trite to us -- but a child, even an intelligent one, needs to understand what is going on at all times, and complex, witty dialogue won't necessarily help. As Lucas said recently: "The fans have grown up. The films haven't." (Scott Spencer, Tokyo, Japan)
A. I disagree that the "Star Wars" films are marketed primarily to children. The teenage demographic is the marketing bulls-eye. Movies like "Harry Potter" and "Spider-Man," not to mention classics like "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "E.T." and "Babe" are aimed at a similar audience, and sparkle with well-written dialogue.
Q. No coverage from Cannes this year? (Brent Kinder, Lawrence KS)
A. On the day the festival opened, I was having shoulder surgery in Chicago. I hated to miss my first Cannes in 25 years, but the Sun-Times had splendid coverage by Barbara Scharres, director of the Gene Siskel Film Center.
A. William Wallace.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
A tribute to Doris Day.