A soggy, slushy mess.
Q. Why has no acclaim gone to David Kross, who brilliantly played the young Michael Berg in "The Reader"? The courtroom scene when he realizes what Hanna has done, tears streaming down his face, is heartbreaking. Yet he's received virtually no mention. It's as if Kate Winslet did the movie by herself. She was great, [yet] there is no doubt this young man was so moving and went through so many emotions onscreen but he has not once been mentioned. Natasha Davidson, Los Angeles
A. Yes, he was the other actor in many of the scenes Kate Winslet won the Oscar for, and he was very gifted. Only 17 when filming began, he had to learn English for the role. As a German actor, he may not have inspired U.S. distributors to push his career with an Oscar campaign.
Q. I was watching "The Thing" (1982) the other day and started to think. There are movies that engross you and you don't think about anything else. With "The Thing," (1982) what does it for me is the music. At the beginning, there is a simple "dunn, dunn" sound repeated over and over that creates tension throughout the whole opening that caused me to get lost in the sequence. Is there one thing that tends to do that for you? Jeff Schindler, Durham, N.C.
A. You're right, it's often the music, reaching us below conscious thought. I was looking at the new version of "Last House on the Left" the other day and I realized I was already feeling uneasy and all I'd seen were some trees.
Q. I'm a student at the University of North Carolina. I aspire to become a filmmaker. Lately, however, I've been feeling film is going down the tubes. We have a generation of actors and directors making remakes so horrible I feel that they're taking down the magic and beauty of cinema. Sometimes when I see movies like "Slumdog Millionaire," "The Dark Knight," and "Wall-E," I am given a sense of hope. I feel I have to save film, and it's been an overwhelming feeling that has gotten me depressed and agitated. Do you think film is still good and that it will continue to inspire filmmakers to come? Tallman Boyd, Chapel Hill, N.C.
A. Living in North Carolina, you can take heart that two of the truly great younger American directors, Ramin Bahrani (born there) and David Gordon Green (graduate of the North Carolina School of the Arts), have deep North Carolina connections. Green's "George Washington" and Bahrani's forthcoming "Goodbye Solo" were both shot in and around Winston-Salem; Bahrani won the Critic's Prize at Venice 2008. See them to witness brilliant, wonderfully photographed films made on limited budgets. You may be inspired.
Q. Jack Nicholson is usually front and center at the Oscars. Where was he for the 81st Academy Awards? Doug Dobbs, Kingfisher
A. Well, the winner of the most male acting Oscars in history is not sick, if that's what you're thinking. Tom O'Neil of the Los Angeles Times speculates he was at home watching the Lakers. Might have been unseemly if he had been seen at the game.
Q. On the Oscars, the camera's constant movement during the "In Memoriam" segment was obnoxious and distracting and prevented the TV viewing audience from seeing the faces and names of those who had passed. Why not stick to the usual format and give the audience the chance to reflect on those we've missed? Joe Pezzula, Los Angeles
A. Some loved the Oscarcast, some hated it, but everyone agreed the "In Memoriam" segment was a train wreck, even if Queen Latifah gave a lovely singing performance. As one bizarre camera angle followed another, viewers could not even see some of those being remembered. The show's director, Roger Goodman, should have realized his mistake, bailed out of his game plan, and cut to full-screen. The montage itself was beautiful. You can see it full-screen in a clip at the bottom of my anti-Oscar-snarking blog here: http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/ 2009/02/hunt_not_the_snark_but_ the_sna.html
Q. I read an article about Tyler Perry's "Madea" films being a social phenomenon among black people. The critics hate them but their audience loves them. ALL of Perry's films have earned less than a 5-star rating on IMDb, which is not critic-driven, yet most of them have been box-office hits. How do you explain this? Is it that reviewers are mostly white so they just don't "get it"? Or are these films just a pretext for black people to gather as a community and see themselves in a mirror that Hollywood has refused them for too long? Is it Phase 2 of Blaxploitation? Benoit Méthot, Montreal, Quebec
A. Actually, a fair number of black critics also dislike them. I gave a one-star review to "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" and was branded as a racist on two Chicago radio stations, apparently by callers who had never read another of my reviews about films with black actors or themes. (Five of my "best films of the year" in the decade before the movie fell into that category.) I knew nothing about the character of Madea and nothing of Tyler Perry's enormous popularity, and maybe I didn't "get it," but I thought it was a bad movie. "Madea Goes to Jail" has so far grossed nearly $70 million despite its 27 percent (one star) rating on the Tomatometer. Here's what I think. I love movies, and if people spending their money have a good time, that makes me happy.
Q. After reading your "Fanboys" review, I was upset and angry. As a diehard "Star Wars" "fanboy" who is far from "socially inept," I must say that if you think the film is a "celebration of an idiotic lifestyle," then you should go to a "Star Wars" convention and say that to every single person there, and let's see what they'll say to you. If you have a "good reason" for saying what you said, feel free to reply. Alex D. Geslin, Greeley, Colo.
A. Well, the film is a celebration of an idiotic lifestyle. To me, that would involve driving to California to break into Skywalker Ranch and steal a print of the new "Star Wars" movie, but first making a detour to Iowa to have a rumble with some detested "Star Trek" fans. That's the film. As for real life, I now know from countless readers that "Star Wars" fans devote much of their time to raising funds for sick kids. I hadn't realized that, and I applaud it. I reserve the right to consider it idiotic to live in a tent on a sidewalk for several weeks to be first in line for the next "Star Wars" movie.
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