There’s a pleasant, old-fashioned feel to Alpha.
Q. In your review for "The Dark Knight," you say that the Joker is a product of his father's poor treatment, but that's just one story he uses to explain his scars. Another is that he did it for his wife, and Batman interrupts before he offers a -- most likely -- different story. I think the point was that he doesn't have a cause. Who's wrong here? Samy Amanatullah, San Diego
A. I am. I should have mentioned all of his dubious stories, instead of sampling.
Q. Did you notice that the "Wall-E" robot bears a striking resemblance to the robot in "Short Circuit," a movie reviewed unfavorably by both you and Gene Siskel at the time? Although "Wall-E" is the better movie (I liked "Short Circuit," too, as a child), I would think that "Short Circuit" deserves credit as the inspiration. Willy Yu, Los Angeles
A. The robots certainly resemble each other in their personalities, tank treads and binocular optical equipment, although Robot No. 5 (aka Johnny 5) has a laser beam and electronic gizmos where Wall-E has a trash compactor. But yes, they seem to spring from the same evolutionary tree.
Variety's Peter Debruge, who did a story on the comparison, writes me: "Just thought I'd share a 'Wall-E' insight: Pixar's been hearing the 'Short Circuit' comparison a lot, but one thing director Andrew Stanton tried to avoid was the 'dude in a suit' performance style for the character (or puppet-style 'Fozzie Bear acting'). So, yes, they both have binocular-style eyes and tank treads for mobility, but that's more coincidence than influence (if anything, they kept those features despite the fact that they'd been featured in a corny Steve Guttenberg comedy from the '80s).
"Basically, Stanton and company tried to design Wall-E to fit his function. Look how his arms work, for instance: He doesn't have shoulders or elbows, although he's flexible enough to do far more than scoop up trash. EVE's resemblance to Apple i-devices, on the other hand? Definitely not an accident."
Q. This may be some sort of marker of our times: DOC Films at the University of Chicago ends its synopses of certain films with the words: "This film does not exist on DVD."
A. Astonishing. It says something about DVD producers, but even more about DOC Films, the nation's oldest film society.
Q. Years ago, I saw a movie involving a captive in a shed fed each day by a guard. The captive finds a bullet and makes a hole in the heavy door. He places the bullet in the hole, and when the guard unlocks the door, he hits the primer of the bullet, which fires and hits him in the chest, killing him. The captive escapes. I only saw this movie once, probably in the early '60s. Any ideas of the title? We need more like it. David R. DeSau, Neskowin, Ore.
A.. How many more like it do you think we need, before we start groaning, "Oh, no! Not again! The old bullet-in-the-door routine."
Q. With so many films being drawn from TV series lately ("Get Smart," "Sex and the City," "The X-Files") and comics (too many to mention), I've heard quite a few debates about which films best handle the transfer. It seems that the winners are most often the films that are either most faithful to the original creation ("The Dark Knight," thematically and stylistically, though hard-core fans may disagree) or the least faithful ("Get Smart," "From Hell").
Would this suggest that brave filmmaking is more likely to succeed critically? If so, is this strange, since a risk is supposed to be risky? That is, has Hollywood been so careful in recent years that we're just happy to see someone going all out for it, skewing genuine criticism? John Collins, Melbourne, Australia
A. What's in the middle? The sort of faithful? The good films you mention leap beyond their origins, the lesser ones like "SATC" simply try to repeat them.
Q. If a fantasy film like "Lord of the Rings" can be nominated for the best picture Oscar, why not "The Dark Knight"? Surely, if there ever was a comic book blockbuster to be nominated, this would have to be it. It's got an acclaimed director, music composers and a fantastic cast. The whole production was executed so well. I suspect that there may be some kind of comic-book stigma attached to the film that would hurt its chances. Dallas Rabot, Auckland, New Zealand
A. I would be astonished were it not nominated.
Q. I went to see "Mamma Mia!" and as a 65-year-old ABBA fan, I loved it. It was refreshing. No violence. Loving, exciting, entertaining, what a movie should be. Don't berate a movie just because you don't like it. As a critic, you should be intellectually honest and not self-serving. Tom Kilpatrick, Nashville
A. But that's exactly what I do: Berate a film because I don't like it. Would it be more intellectually honest for me to lie and say I did?
Q. What is the title of the horror movie where a vampire is impaled by a cello endpin through the heart? Where might I get a copy?
A. I don't know, but we need more like it.
Q. Regarding the age differences of onscreen parents and their children, the most egregious recent example I can think of was in "Alexander" (2004), where Angelina Jolie (29) is the mother of Colin Farrell (28).Tina Scuccimarri, Midhurst, Ontario
A. This is becoming the Question That Will Not Go Away. Other readers write in:
Devin Tuffy, San Francisco: "One of the most obvious cases would be brothers Groucho and Zeppo Marx playing father and son in 'Horse Feathers.' "
Chris Meadows, Springfield, Mo.: "In 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,' Sean Connery was (and still is) only 12 years older than Harrison Ford. And in 'Drunken Master II' (aka 'The Legend Of Drunken Master'), Anita Mui plays Jackie Chan's mother but is actually 9 years younger than he is."
David Teigland, Salt Lake City: "I always think of Angela Lansbury and Laurence Harvey in 'The Manchurian Candidate.' Lansbury was only two years older than Harvey. Her performance, though, made the relationship completely believable."
Ali Arikan, Istanbul, Turkey: "In Laurence Olivier's 'Hamlet,' Olivier was born in 1907, yet Eileen Herlie, who played Gertrude, was born in 1920! And here is an interesting postscript: Herlie also played Gertrude in a 1960s Broadway production of 'Hamlet' with Richard Burton in the titular role, and she was younger than him, too (by five years, in fact)."
Q. Why do some movies come on DVDs with "embedded" subtitles, i.e., without the possibility of turning these subtitles off? I've recently experienced this, trying to watch the French version of "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly." The subtitles, when unwanted, can be very distracting.
A. I've never encountered a DVD like that, but I completely agree with you. What the French call the "V.O." ("version originale") should always be offered, with subtitles optional.
Q. I was so impressed with "The Dark Knight" I saw it again, just to make sure my appreciation hadn't been influenced by all the hype. I went the second time with entirely my own eyes, and to test my theory that so much of its success is the result of the Answer Man's fellow Chicagoan, the cinematographer Wally Pfister.
Everything about this movie -- the writing, the direction, the performances, and even before that, the courage to set out in such an unorthodox direction -- is as great as it is only as a result of the cinematography. My question then: Do you think the cinematographer, in this particular alchemy, could have been anyone other than Pfister?Jimmy Jacobs, Columbia, S.C.
A. There are a lot of great cinematographers, but Pfister has worked with director Christopher Nolan three previous times ("Memento," "Batman Begins," "The Prestige") and is on the A-plus list. He and Nolan obviously have deep rapport.
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