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 "Trade," about child sexual trafficking, you raise the issue of how or why such a serious subject should be made "entertaining." I believe you answered that question in your last line when you stated that "the movie seems to have an unwholesome determination to show us the victims being terrified and threatened. When I left the screening, I just didn't feel right." As an adult survivor of these atrocities, I felt that this movie gave a realistic expose of human trafficking. Do you think that a movie like "Trade" needs to try even harder to be entertaining so that viewers can move beyond indifference and allow themselves to be emphatically disturbed as you were, yet find enough relief in the lighter entertaining moments to actually leave feeling moved in a sad but wholesome way? Nancy F., Chicago
A. It's complicated. My friend Gene Siskel had a real issue about movies showing children in danger. I think it all depends on the danger and how it shows the children. Certainly it should not linger on the elements that are most exploitative.
Q. Your last Answer Man column mentioned the Flipper Giggle, and that reminded me of a sound effect I've noticed in dozens of TV shows and movies over the years. Very often when there are children playing in the background of a scene, the same sound effect will be used. It originated on "Little House on the Prairie," and if you listen to the shouts you can clearly hear Melissa Gilbert yell out, "Nellie! Noah, catch up!" It's actually a fairly short sound clip, and in a few longer scenes it really distracted me to keep hearing the same shouts at Nellie and Noah every 15 seconds. Joe VanPelt, Richmond, Va.
A. The Prairie Players on top of the Wilhelm Scream and the Flipper Giggle brings a whole dimension of cut-and-paste to the concept of sound editing.
Q. I recently rented "Zodiac," which got me thinking about an annoying trend in recent movies. I have noticed that many films in recent years, whether they are science fiction, horror, drama or comedy, look green. Do directors seriously want their films to look like "The Matrix?" Or is there some other reason behind this new way of shooting films? I don't have a problem with black-and-white films, which I love, but there is nothing exciting or interesting about all this green we are seeing in films today. Christopher Zeidel, San Luis Obispo, Calif.
A. Controlling the palette to tilt toward greens, blues and sepia are all ways of suggesting b&w and avoiding the unwanted lift from the sun colors. It's a tactic. Having just seen a new film named "Control" that was filmed in black and white, I am reminded that it is a classic and beautiful medium, and less distracting than worlds of green or blue.
Q. Regarding an item in your Answer Man column, there is not a movie but there is a play called "Corpus Christi," about a Christ figure who is gay. It is by Terrence McNally. It has been widely condemned by the sorts of people who typically condemn such things. While it is not McNally's best work, it is certainly relevant artistically. I had the pleasure or displeasure of discussing this play on "The O'Reilly Factor" when it was being presented locally. You can imagine the tone of that. Steve Penhollow, arts and entertainment reporter, Fort Wayne Journal Gazette
A. Since it is believed that Jesus never had a sexual experience, isn't it sort of academic (or theological?) that he abstained from both genders and not just one?
Q. I was watching "The Producers" on Turner Classic Movies the other night and afterward Robert Osborne made a comment that I have to tell you about. He said that while he thought it was a great comedy, he found the only flaw was the beatnik character of Lorenzo St. DuBois (L.S.D.) played by Dick Shawn, which he felt dated the picture. He said that while it was funny in 1968, today it seems a little tired in light of other, better portrayals of hippies and beatniks that would come along later. I dunno, I think of film as a time capsule of attitudes and images and ideas of the times in which they are made. I think the character puts a stamp on the film so that we understand with clarity that we are watching a movie made in 1968. Jerry Roberts, Birmingham, Ala.
A. That's what I think, too. A movie cannot be made outside of time and is funny on its own terms or not at all.
Q. Wouldn't it be great if someone were to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the release of "2001: A Space Odyssey" next year by striking new prints and showing the movie on IMAX screens across the country? What a fantastic experience that would be! Bob Bowman, San Francisco
A. This idea seems almost inevitable. And remember that the film was shot in 70mm, so it would look even better.
Q. Re your answer regarding the Official Rule of Critic's Conduct on the matter of bathroom breaks: I am astounded at your admission that you leave a movie theater to use the washroom during a screening. I am a lawyer. I am not allowed to simply excuse myself during a court appearance. Quite apart from my professional responsibility, I know that so many important moments in trial are fleeting, for example during cross-examination. Properly examining a film, I would argue, requires the same steadfast attention. And should you argue the feat is impossible, I note that I had previously held my own personal record of never leaving a theater to use the facilities. It lasted from Burton's "Batman" in 1989 to Nolan's "The Prestige" in 2006. Ryan Austin, Vancouver, B.C.
A. What was it about "The Prestige" that made you have to pee? The Chinese Water Torture trick, perhaps?
For an expert opinion, I turned to my college pal Robert Auler, the Goliath-slaying legal giant of Urbana-Champaign, Ill., and author of the forthcoming novel Keep and Bear Arms. He replies:
"In court, a judge is usually old enough to have a bigger prostate than the lawyers do. Also, being a public employee, he is never loath to find an opportunity to stop working if only for a few spurting moments. I've only been denied a pee break once, and that was in my final argument in a major murder case. The judge had heard whispers from more senior colleagues that this defendant was to get no breaks. Guess he interpreted that literally.
"The Canadian lawyer knows damn well that he's comparing sprinklers with fire hoses. Witnesses come and go (*pun notice) and so do lawyers. An insider maxim is that a trial lawyer's first loyalty is to his bladder. There are emergency stratagems. Even faking a paroxysm of coughs, hiccups or heart rhythms can get you a bathroom break. Not so for the Answer Man in these days of automated projection."
Q. I read your review of "The Darjeeling Limited" [directed by Wes Anderson] with interest, and I was hoping that you would point to the fact that a lot of the music of the movie is derived from the music of movies by Satyajit Ray (above), many pieces composed by the master himself. Is there any other precedent for this: a great director who was a terrifically accomplished music director as well and his music being used as the background for a Hollywood release? Santanu Chakrabarti, New Brunswick, N.J.
A. It's very rare. With the release of the Apu Trilogy on DVD, the master's work is coming into the hands of a new generation, but why have many masterpieces such as "The Music Room" and "The Big City" still not been released on DVD?
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...