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What's shakin' with these videocam movies?

Q. I just watched "Cloverfield" and found the shaky-cam ruined the movie for me! I know it was supposed to give the feeling of being there, but I felt the director took it WAY too far. As you noted in your review, Hud "couldn't hold it steady or frame a shot if his life depended on it." Not only did it make me ill, but it ruined the whole movie for me.

The technique can be effective. The opening scene of "Saving Private Ryan" comes to mind, and in the camp during "Children of Men." But I am worried that Hollywood, which jumps on anything successful and tries to duplicate it, will start spawning multiple shaky-cam movies. Sean Tuck, Colorado Springs, Colo.

A. Feature-length films with that technique have a limited future, which already may have been sufficiently explored. It also has been pointed out that there's a logical error in the "Cloverfield" use of the technique. Why does Hud so consistently focus on his friends rather than the monster? Doesn't he know that Eyewitness News pays the big bucks for the money shot, not the reaction shot?

[Editor's note: George A. Romero's "Diary of the Dead," which also employs this consumer-video shaky-cam approach, opens Friday, Feb. 15 in limited release.]

Q: Speaking of movies that have the perfect cast ("Juno" and "Bonnie and Clyde" have been mentioned so far), "Get Shorty" tops my list for that exact reason -- every single actor seems exactly right for his or her role, right down to Bobby, the limo driver. Joel Boonstra, Grand Rapids, Mich.

A. How about "The Grifters"? Going back a few years, "The Third Man" or "Treasure of the Sierra Madre." Among French crime movies, "Touchez Pas au Grisbi." With Westerns, in its weird way, "Johnny Guitar." Musicals? "Singin' in the Rain." Science fiction? "Dark City." Comedy? "The Producers" (1968).

Q. As a postscript to your search for movie characters wearing bear suits, with "Jackass the Movie," do panda suits count? But what I really want to know is, where have all the gorilla costumes gone? From the 1940s to the 1980s, there was a simple formula: guy + gorilla suit = instant comedy.

This trend peaked in the 1960s, when random gorilla-suit guys could barge into a movie with little or no explanation. Perhaps a serious film scholar can trace the evolution of gorilla-suit comedy from "Africa Screams" (1949) to "Trading Places" (1983), perhaps its last gasp. Joe Blevins, Arlington Heights

A. Myself, I've always had a soft spot for donkey costumes, with one person in the front and another bringing up the rear.

Q. In an AM column, you suggested a couple of options to enjoy DVDs from other regions: (1) The most obvious one, buying a Region 0 player, (2) "with some creative Googling, you can discover the code to unlock the zones on your own DVD machine."

But alas, this wouldn't necessarily solve all your problems: You would still be dealing with the PAL vs. NTSC video encoding issue. So the best solution is indeed a region-free player with PAL to NTSC conversion built in. Juan Carlos Toro, Toronto

A. True, and that's what I have. The cost is around $60. PAL is about 25 percent superior to NTSC, which explains why TV always looks better on vacation out of North America, Wiki says, unless you're in the NTSC lands of Japan, the Philippines, South Korea or Taiwan.

Q. Is all this concern about finding the Apu Trilogy based simply on trying to find it on DVD? Because I had absolutely no difficulty finding the trilogy on VHS (released by Sony Pictures Classics), all in very good condition.

I found "Pather Panchali" and "The World of Apu" at a used-video store in Naperville for only $1.50 each (an incredibly lucky find on my part, I admit), and "Aparajito" cost me about $10 on eBay. Of course I would prefer to have these films on DVD, but I can see no dramatic benefit DVD would bring over VHS, as opposed to the difference between watching, say, "Blade Runner" on VHS instead of DVD. Newton Tomlinson, Westmont

A. I have it on VHS, too, and the experience of watching it certainly didn't keep it out of my Great Movies Collection. VHS tapes have been marked down so far that it's a good way to begin a low-cost video collection (Amazon literally has resellers offering them for pennies, plus postage and handling, of course, which is maybe how they squeeze out some dimes).

Q. Here's a bit of ironic science: Three days before "The Bucket List" was released, I was watching "Mythbusters" in which an experiment was conducted to see if two people could have a conversation in the middle of a skydive. It was found that with the wind rushing past your ears so fast, it would be impossible to hear the other person. You noted that the movie had many misconceptions; was this one that you had noted? Jerry Roberts, Birmingham, Ala.

A. If a movie gives me two 70-something terminal cancer patients who are skydiving, who am I to tell them they can't hear each other?

Q. You know, sometimes I wonder what's going to happen when actors like Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken and Steve Buscemi decide to retire (if any of them ever do, let's don't forget these are Natural Born Actors). And who do you think THEY replaced? German Gabriel Nostel Dominguez, Buenos Aires

A. Well, I've often said it's a rare movie that couldn't be improved by the addition of Rosie Perez. Jack Black has a lot to be said for him. Mos Def is growing on me. If she ever stops growing more beautiful, Marisa Tomei may mature into another Shelley Winters. Tilda Swinton has a nice line in comedy, but now she's in all this serious stuff. You can't improve on Timothy Spall. What I'd like to see is Oldman, Walken and Buscemi in the same movie, but it might be like one of those Marvel Comics showdowns where all the superpowers cancel one another out.

Q. With the awards season in full swing, and the Oscars coming up, "Zodiac" has been noticeably absent. There's been no mention of it for best picture, best director, best screenplay or best supporting actor (for Robert Downey Jr.). Do you think the production company shot itself in the foot by releasing it so early in 2007? Chris Osborne, Tallahassee, Fla.

A. With rare exceptions, award winners tend to open later in the year; Oscar season is said to begin at the Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals. But it's not necessarily that academy voters have short memories. The Oscars are frankly seen by the studios as a marketing device, and unless a movie is still in theaters, ripe to be brought back, or coming out on DVD, the studios tend not to push it.

Q. Where is Roger Ebert's Movie Yearbook for 2008? The 2007 edition was released in November 2006, and I'm eagerly awaiting to get both the 2008 edition and the new collection of four-star reviews. Michael Weitz, New Orleans

A. There isn't a 2008 yearbook because I was not reviewing on a daily basis from July 2006 to about May 2007. My book of four-star reviews, which is now in stores, is a "special edition" to fill the gap. The 2009 Yearbook will contain all the reviews from late 2005 through June 2006, all the reviews I wrote in later 2007 (173), and all from 2008 through about June, so it will be fatter than usual.

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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