The most surprising thing about "The Martian" is how relaxed and funny it is.
Q. In "The Men Who Stare at Goats," my friend says they used special effects to make the goats keel over, but I say they used those special Fainting Goats. R.Z. Barzell, Los Angeles
A. Fainting Goats are a protected species. They only employ them to train the regular goats.
Q. Has "2012" finally put an end to the advancement of special effects? Ever since the early days of black-and-white monster movies and stop-motion, each year our holiday seasons have been accompanied by an effects movie more impressive than the last. Over the years, it's been great fun watching filmmakers competing to outdo one another in the wake of improving technology, creativity (and budgets); a big part of the fun for me was the anticipation of what they'd pull out next.
I am genuinely worried that this long-running tradition has finally come to an end. There no longer seems to be anything considered "unfilmable" with today's resources -- as proved so hilariously by Roland Emmerich in "2012." Has the special effects subgenre finally hit a dead end? Is "2012" as far as we are likely to go, in a visual sense? Perhaps now Hollywood will be forced to redirect its attention to the writers' room. Simon Gray, London
A. Too soon. Earth was destroyed, but the universe was untouched.
Q. I am a journalist with Mirror Evening newspaper, Beijing, China. I've seen your review on the movie "2012," which is well-written, and I would like to ask you to make some comments on the Chinese elements in movie.
"2012" and its stunning special effects have raised heated discussions among Chinese filmgoers, mostly because of its Chinese elements. For example, Chinese people appear in the film's opening 10 minutes, when an officer tells survivors of an earthquake the government will help them rebuild their homes. When the protagonist and his family land in Tibet, a Chinese officer says in fluent English: "Welcome to the People's Republic of China." This is where the modern Noah's arks, by which the human race escapes from being destroyed, are being built. Could you comment on the Chinese elements used in the film? Shelby Liu, Mirror Evening, Beijing
A. It's bad enough that you hold a trillion dollars of our debt. Can't you at least respect the tradition that the world is always saved by an American, preferably a vice president?
Q. I heard that Warner Bros. and Christopher Nolan are going to make an announcement of the next "Batman" film in January 2010. Do you think any other director will ever do such a good job on the "Batman" franchise like Mr. Nolan? Do you think that "The Dark Knight" deserved more Oscar nominations, including best picture, best director, best adapted screenplay and best original score? Will "The Dark Knight" be included someday in your Great Movies collection? Ben McCarthy, Cambridge, U.K.
A. Nolan certainly made the only "Batman" film that's a Great Movie candidate, so he's out in the lead for the next installment.
Q. I showed Guy Maddin's "Brand Upon the Brain!" to my philosophy class last night. Their homework for next week was to apply Platonic and Aristotlean views on art and figure out what the hell it's about.
I asked Guy if he wanted me to tell the students anything before I showed his movie, thinking he might just say "tell them to have fun" or something; but instead he wrote me a frickin' novel-length e-mail, ha-ha. His remarks took so long to get through that the class ran overtime! Dr. Jeff McLaughlin, Thompson Rivers University, Kamloops, British Columbia
A. Having studied my own review of the film, I regret I cannot help you with your question. Please ask Mr. Maddin to give his permission to run the message here, and my readers will help. All of them are philosophers. Only yesterday one informed me that I am Nothingness.
Q. I was talking to someone about my favorite review of a bad movie ("North"). I wanted to read her the paragraph of how much you hated the movie, but it is not included in the review that is online. I Googled "I hated, hated," etc., and I found the opening paragraph. Why isn't it on the online review? Are your other reviews online somewhat different from what was in print? Sanford Sklansky
A. Still looks like "hated, hated, hated, hated, HATED" to me: http://j.mp/5KfsWM.
Q. I saw your review for the new movie "The Twilight Saga: New Moon." You have a lot of nerve!! I remember when you and Siskel reviewed the movie "The Accidental Tourist" and gave it four stars, and with that recommendation I went and saw it, and you know what? It was the BIGGEST PIECE OF **** known to man! I decided from that day that I would not listen to you or Gene Siskel and save my money. So, for the next year or so, I did not go to the movies and today, I use my formula: wait two months after a movie comes out and spend the $1 at RedBox to rent it if I dare. Thanks, Roger, thanks for making people not want to go to the movies. Joe Flambe
A. Hey, in the case of "New Moon," that was the least that I could do.
Q. I agree wholeheartedly with your dislike of "The Twilight Saga: New Moon." I think Hollywood should be ashamed for exploiting not only this genre, but kids all across the world for greed.
Furthermore, I take issue with the genre -- i.e., vampire love -- itself. To me, it amounts to nothing more than soft-core porn for children. Think about it. Vampirism is a fetish for many people (not me, thank God). And exposing children to that particular element of vampires amounts to borderline inappropriate sexual abuse, in my opinion. Michael Lesesne Jr.
A. Including the children in the movie.
Now available in stores and for sale online: Roger Ebert's Movie Yearbook 2010.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
An interview with Michael Shannon on Freeheld, 99 Homes, Boardwalk Empire, and more.
A comparison of Frank Costello in The Departed and Whitey Bulger in Black Mass reveals weaknesses in the latter.