The most surprising thing about "The Martian" is how relaxed and funny it is.
Q. I've just read your review for "Sunshine" (2007), and I'm confused. You say that according to Isaac Asimov, the human body can survive in the cold vacuum of space for longer than I might think. I was under the impression that, in space, a naked human would initially freeze to death, and then summarily explode.
Ali Arikan, Istanbul, Turkey
A. Asimov and Sir Arthur C. Clarke, both scientists, explored this question in fiction. And www.damninteresting.com reports: "Though an unprotected human would not long survive in the clutches of outer space, it is remarkable that survival times can be measured in minutes rather than seconds, and that one could endure such an inhospitable environment for almost two minutes without suffering any irreversible damage."
In terms of NASA's experience, in a test gone wrong in 1965, a subject in a vacuum remained aware for 14 seconds.
Q. I know that you were greatly moved by the two films "Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills" and its sequel, "Paradise Lost 2: Revelations." I thought you might be interested in this news story from Memphis.
William Kane, Brooklyn, N.Y.
A. The films detailed the trial and conviction of three teenagers for the 1993 murders of three 8-year-old boys. All three defendants were found guilty and are still in prison, one on Death Row, although compelling evidence suggests they are innocent. The films suggested that because the teenagers liked heavy metal music, they were victims of local hysteria about satanic rites. You sent me a link to WMC-TV in Memphis, which reports a new defense team has discovered that DNA evidence available at the time failed to link any of the defendants to any of the victims, but did link Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of one of the victims.
Hobbs is not to be confused with John Mark Byers, the stepfather of another of the boys, who, I wrote, all but tried to turn himself in during the second film. Bite marks were found on one of the boys; Byers had his teeth extracted after the deaths and told investigators it was done earlier. Now Janice Broach, the WMC-TV reporter on the story, writes me: "Hobbs' ex-wife said he had a partial plate he locked in a box when he got some new teeth. It is all very strange."
Q. What do you think about the decision of some newspapers to break the embargo and run early reviews of the latest Harry Potter book, just because a few copies copy got loose?
Laura Hunt, Chicago
A. It's not fair. The papers that jumped the embargo got their copies through skullduggery or accident, and assumed that possessing a copy entitled them to the dubious distinction of reviewing the book early. Even worse, they spoiled the delicious suspense of Harry Potter fans, some of whom have become lifetime readers because of the books. With other papers, you're not surprised, but did you ever think the New York Times would stoop to using a loophole to be early with a book named Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows? I say it's dirty pool.
By the way, the book, with an initial press run of 12 million copies, has no chance of appearing on the New York Times' best-seller list. Michael Giltz blogs on the Huffington Post:
"[In 2000], the Harry Potter books -- a once-in-a-lifetime publishing phenomenon -- were dominating the best-seller lists, with three titles ensconced in the Top 15 at the same time. It just wasn't fair, moaned publishers of more 'serious' fiction. It kept more deserving titles off the list, titles that people would never hear about, said bookstore owners. And so in a rash, indefensible decision, the New York Times decided to banish children's books solely to their own separate list."
Ebert again: Next step for the Times should be to banish genre crime fiction to a separate category. Currently, all 15 of its fiction best-sellers are thrillers involving murder, cops, etc. You'd never guess serious fiction still existed. Of course, what would you do with a book like Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union, which considers crime in a (serious) comic novel? Maybe they should simply have a list headed "Best-Selling Books We Think Are Worthwhile."
Q. In your review of "Talk to Me," you say, "Howard Stern, whether he knew him or not," owes a lot to Petey Greene. In fact, Howard worked in Washington, D.C., during Petey's era, so he got to experience "P- Town" firsthand. Not only has he expressed his admiration for Petey on air, he even appeared on Petey's television show (in blackface) and traded racial slurs with Petey in a satirical exchange the likes of which may never be seen on public airwaves again. Rest in peace, Petey.
Daniel Alvarado, Arleta, Calif.
A. I should have known. Problem is, Stern is on satellite radio, our Sirius radio is in the car, and I haven't been driving a lot.
"The Herald's movie critic, Jeffrey Westhoff, seems to be woefully out of touch with pop culture.
"The 'Transformers' movie's $155 million seven-day haul is the biggest non-sequel opening in box-office history. Numbers like that usually mean positive word of mouth on the film is huge, and people are going back.
"A friend of mine, Steven Spielberg -- he's pretty smart about film -- said Westhoff's review was idiotic. Westhoff's a critic who actually reviewed his dislike for the director, rather then reviewing the movie, like his job description prescribes. Westhoff talks about the director being an 'egomaniacal hack.' Well, I don't believe I've ever had the pleasure of meeting Westhoff, though it sounds like he knows me. If Westhoff actually did know me, he would find me to be a pretty down-to-earth, nice guy.
"I implore the editor to give Westhoff a little relaxation and sunshine, clear his head, let him rediscover that moviegoing is supposed to be a fun experience.
"Maybe even help him get rid of his hatred."
Michael Bay, Los Angeles
Submitted by Charlie Smith, Chicago
A. Spielberg, a nice, down-to-earth guy, is more than a friend of Bay's; he's a producer of "Transformers." I've never had the pleasure of meeting Bay, but I did like his movie more than Westhoff did. I gave it three stars, while it only scored a "rotten" 56 percent on the Tomatometer. Westhoff's review is smart and funny and wonderfully well-written, although perhaps the words "egomaniacal hack" were incautious. I am glad Bay defended himself against that charge in McHenry County, although he still has a lot of ground to cover.
Q. I'm not a "Transformers" expert, but I do know that "auto" as a word root is not short for "automobiles," but rather "for or by oneself or itself." Hence its use in the word "automobiles," where "mobile" means movement. "Autobots," I would guess, are bots that perform actions for or by themselves, where "bots" are simply mechanical devices or software programs that carry out tasks. Yes, of course.
Matt Mercer, Los Angeles
A. You are correct. What a coincidence that autobots are made from autos.
Q. I originate from Liverpool and I am a big fan of the Beatles. I went to the theater to see that great movie "Talk to Me." Well, I saw the poster for the upcoming Dane Cook/Jessica Alba movie "Good Luck Chuck" and I was offended! I am all for freedom of speech, but I find it offensive that the famous John Lennon/Yoko Ono photo where both of them are entwined has been parodied for this tasteless poster. As you may know, this particular photo was taken hours before John was gunned down, and is considered sacred by John Lennon fans.
Heather Dean Caine, Los Angeles
A. And just think what has been done to the "Mona Lisa" and "American Gothic" in advertisements over the years.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
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