Just Getting Started
Just Getting Started never really gets going. It only kept me thinking, “Is this ever just going to finish?”
I was surprised that your review of "Dawn of the Dead" (2004) was positive. While I agree the first seven minutes of this remake are pure genius, the rest of the movie fell well short of entertaining. The main reason for my dislike was the updated version of the zombies.
What I want to ask you is this: What do you prefer: the new "raging" zombies or the slower-moving "lumbering" ones in the original version? The fast-moving, sprinting zombies are NO FUN! They're not scary and they have no character.
I always liked the slow-moving yet ever-so-persistent ones. They added so much to the tension. You can hide, but sooner or later they're gonna get you. And in that process you can sit and think about it. Slow, absolute doom. I can recall countless zombies from the original "Dawn." The baseball uniform zombie, the nurse zombie, the Hare Krishna girl. The list goes on and on. I can't see why people need their zombies to be ultra-fast. Aren't the living dead enough to be scared of? Tim Pudenz, Graettinger, Iowa
A. I agree with you. But we live in an age of speed-up and dumb-down. Another thing the new version lacked was wit.
Jim Emerson of Seattle writes: "One of my all-time favorite movie lines is from the 1978 version. Two guys are on the roof of the mall, looking at the zombies wandering around inside, and one of them wonders why they're coming here. 'Some kind of instinct, memory, something they used to do,' one guy says. 'This used to be an important place in their lives.'
"That's what the whole movie's ABOUT! (That and finding an excuse for a zombie to put his arm into one of those automatic blood-pressure machines and then get his arm ripped off so the reading can go down to zero.) What is "Dawn of the Dead" without the satire?"
Q. The movie that beat out "The Passion of the Christ" as the biggest box-office draw is the remake of "Dawn of the Dead." This is clearly a more egregious display of graphic violence than "Passion," yet I have seen few if any objections to the violence from reviewers, whereas that seemed to be a primary objection to "Passion."
I think it's because the violence in "Passion" was not gratuitous and because it had meaning and people found it repulsive (as they should) but in "Dawn," it's back to cartoon violence to which we have become desensitized. What do you think is going on? Jim Densmore, Ramona, Calif.
A. That's exactly what it is. The violence in "Dawn of the Dead" is not real in any sense, and has no meaning or significance. The violence in "The Passion of the Christ" comes with a context. Lots of readers questioned my opinion that "The Passion" was "the most violent movie I have ever seen," citing "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (2003) and other titles. But the effect of movie violence depends on subjective factors, including the purpose the filmmakers had in using it.
Q. Something in your most recent Answer Man column struck me as incredibly arrogant. You wrote: "'Lost in Translation' was applauded by 94 percent of the 190 critics monitored at www.rottentomatoes.com, and by 97 percent of the major critics. Does that mean critics are (a) out of touch with popular taste, or (b) have better taste than the customers at Sean O'Connell's video store? Before you answer, remember that the mission of a good critic is not to reflect popular taste but to inform it."
I'm one of those people who found "Lost in Translation" tedious and overrated. However, I'm also a film student and must concede that it was well-constructed and beautifully shot. But implying that somehow I, and thousands like me, are somehow lesser than the all-knowing, all-seeing critics who reviewed the film positively is ridiculous. Whether you enjoy a film is largely based upon how it "hits" you, not on logic. "Translation" just didn't hit me (in fact, it missed completely). Does this mean I should drop out of film school and start prepping for a career in used-car sales? Jesse Hill, Boston
A. I got a lot of messages like yours. Andrew Glasgow of Birmingham, Ala., wrote, "You write about how many critics think 'Lost in Translation' is God's gift to film -- and how they, and you, just by sheer weight of numbers, could not possibly be wrong. Maybe next time be a little more open about the feelings of others." And Greg McClay of Lowell, Mass., wrote: "All opinions say more about the person than the subject they are talking about. Are you seriously implying that there is something wrong with somebody who didn't like 'Lost in Translation'? If so, then what does that say about you?"
Two readers have an intriguing theory. Sarah Metcalfe of Ottawa, Canada, writes: "I loved 'Lost in Translation' in the theater and encouraged all of my friends to see it. Every single one who saw it on video was bored by the movie. To me, much of the humor and interest was in Bill Murray's expressions and reactions. Is there a possibility that this would be lost on the small screen?" And Edward Rosenthal of Roslyn Heights, N.Y., writes: "It's just better in a movie theater. There's pretty much universal agreement that big action movies should be seen on the wide screen, but it's been my experience that quiet, character-driven movies also benefit from this environment, even though this may sound somewhat counterintuitive. In a dark and quiet theater, free of the distractions of home viewing, you can concentrate and appreciate this type of film much more."
I wonder if that's it. The movie drew me in and enveloped me, and the big screen had something to do with that. As for my original reply -- well, it was ill-considered. You're not wrong just because you disagree with me.
But we film critics didn't hold a meeting and conspire to like the movie. A remarkable 97 percent individually and independently admired it. We must have seen a different movie -- and maybe we did, since we saw it on the big screen. Theater audiences generally liked the movie; video audiences hate it. Strange.
Q. What's your take on the call to crack down on smoking in the movies? Maybe we can treat product placement and unhealthy eating with the same seriousness, too? Paul West, West Hollywood, Calif.
A. Call me un-PC, but I believe movies reflect human behavior and should not be sanitized to match some do-gooder agenda. A movie is good or bad on its own, and the less interference with a director trying to get his ideas onto the screen, the better.
Q. In your review of "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" on "Ebert & Roeper," you said that it was great that Charlie Kaufman has continued to write after the death of his brother Donald. I wasn't quite sure if you were joking, but Charlie Kaufman never had a brother named Donald; that was simply a fictitious character in his film, "Adaptation." Donald Kaufman was also credited with writing the screenplay with Charlie, and was nominated for an Oscar, leading to the controversy of a fictitious person being nominated for an Academy Award. Just thought you should know. Andrew Kelley, Washington D.C.
A. I knew. I was making a little joke.
Q. Regarding the recent rise of Movies for Moms -- that is, theater chains setting aside certain screenings for parents with infants and toddlers -- what do you think of parents who would subject their impressionable tykes to age-inappropriate fare such as "Monster"? One theater chain is actually showing that ultra-gory (though excellent) title during its Movies for Moms slot. Celeste Lengerich, Fort Wayne, Ind.
A. The idea of Movies for Moms is a splendid one, saving the cost of baby-sitting and allowing moms to see the new movies. But if it is true, as some contend, that playing Mozart can raise the IQ of a baby in the womb, what effect can "Monster" have on young children who can see and hear, if not comprehend? Surely they can pick up on the emotions -- the anger and violence -- and they can also sense the anxiety aroused in their mothers.
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