Roger Ebert became film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times in 1967. He is the only film critic with a star on Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame and was named honorary life member of the Directors' Guild of America. He won the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Screenwriters' Guild, and honorary degrees from the American Film Institute and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Since 1989 he has hosted Ebertfest, a film festival at the Virginia Theater in Champaign-Urbana. From 1975 until 2006 he, Gene Siskel and Richard Roeper co-hosted a weekly movie review program on national TV. He was Lecturer on Film for the University of Chicago extension program from 1970 until 2006, and recorded shot-by-shot commentaries for the DVDs of "Citizen Kane," "Casablanca," "Floating Weeds" and "Dark City," and has written over 20 books.
Q. Sometimes I'll take a look at the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com) to see how people are reacting to a recent release. To my disbelief, people have rated "Lord of the Rings" the best movie of all time on IMDb's Top 250 list! I thought it was a good action/fantasy adventure but I wouldn't have even included it in my personal Top 100 list. After speaking with many people, I realize that most of those who consider it the best film are also fans of the books. I noticed the same reaction for "Harry Potter:" If the book is great, the movie must be great. Is it possible that movies in the future will simply be visualizations of a book? Will books in the future simply be "test script runs?" Will people rate movies based on how close the visuals and characters look and act like people think they are supposed to? I'm scared. (Bruce M. Arnold, University of Arizona, Tucson, Ariz.)
SALT LAKE CITY--Fans of the Sundance Film Festival's opening nights make bets with first-timers that Geoffrey Gilmore, the festival's director, will walk onstage and use these exact words: "It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to this year's Sundance Film Festival."
PARK CITY, Utah -- I have seen 11 films so far at this year's Sundance Film Festival, and the most affecting involves a couple of kids from a Chicago public housing complex who were given tape recorders by National Public Radio, and asked to record the story of their lives.
Q. A reader from British Columbia wrote to you saying that the first reel of "The Man Who Wasn't There" was in color when he saw it and you answered: "A mistake so big that if it had been a postage stamp instead of a movie, collectors would be fighting for it." Looks like it's not so rare. When I saw it in Toronto, the first two reels were in color. I thought it was by design and wondered why no reviews mentioned that. (Serguei Oukladov, Toronto ON)
Q. I looked at the mysterious face in the funeral scene of "The Godfather" last night (Answer Man, Dec. 2), and I think I can explain it. Before Michael stands up, you can see a glare on the lens, but it is not discernible as a face because it is on a white background. When Michael shifts, so that his suit provides a dark contrast, the glare depicts the face of his mother, who in the scene immediately preceding is seated next to him. Presumably, the actors remained in place for the closeup shot of Michael (Coppola mentioned the shots were done in a hurry), and what we are seeing is a fluke of light, distortion, shadow, and lens peculiarity; the flared edge of the lens picks up the light from just out of the frame. (Mike Spearns, St. John's Newfoundland)
Q. It's said no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" is an excellent film up here in Canada, as was "The Madness of George III." I wonder if the same can be said for the U.S. releases "Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone" and "The Madness Of King George." The point of course, is that these minor title details were changed for American audiences on the assumption they are too stupid to handle the concept of the philosopher's stone of alchemical fame, or to realize seeing George III doesn't mean you've missed parts I and II. Are these decisions made because the suits think I'm really dumb, or is it because they are? (Brady Sylvester, Red Deer, Alberta)
Q. When explaining why in my film "The Last Castle" we see none of the dead strewn in the prison yard after the film's climactic battle sequence, you wrote in the Answer Man that it would diminish Robert Redford's heroism to see that he was responsible for far more deaths than Gandolfini's character. The truth is this: There are no corpses because nobody was killed. We spent much of the movie establishing that the guards use rubber bullets and not live ones (at the very end of the battle, one of the guards switches to live ammo). Some men may have been wounded, but unless there were hit with direct shots to the temple (very hard to do with moving targets) they all would have survived. (Rod Lurie, director, Pasadena)
Q. Forget the theory that "K-Pax" was borrowed from the Argentinean film :"Man Facing Southeast." The idea of a psychiatrist examining a patient who claims to be an alien dates back even further. "Ghidrah, The Three-Headed Monster" (1964) stars Akiko Wakabayashi as the princess of Salgina. Upon hearing a mysterious voice, she gains prophetic powers and claims to be a Martian (Venusian in the Japanese version). She is taken to a psychiatrist played by the late, great Takashi Shimura, who comes to the conclusion that there is nothing wrong with her, but he refuses to accept the notion that she is an alien. (Brett Homenick, Spring Valley CA)
Q. Answer Man, demand a recount! In Entertainment Weekly's list of the "100 Greatest Film soundtracks ever," they have omitted Anton Karas' score to "The Third Man!" (Matt Jaycox, Chicago)
Q. Shortly after seeing the mildly amusing "Zoolander," I read your review. You wrote that it was in bad taste for the filmmakers to use Malaysia's prime minister as the target of the assassination attempt by the villains of the film. Three years ago, I read your review of "Wag the Dog," which got your highest rating. In "Wag the Dog," the U.S. Government fabricates and leaks false information about an Albanian conflict, going as far as to accuse Albanians of smuggling bombs into the United States from Canada. Might not Albanian-Americans feel uncomfortable seeing a film spreading lies about their native country? Yet nowhere in your review do you mention that this film might be offensive to Albanians. Am I missing something? P.S. No I'm not Albanian. (Ryan Lindahl, Toledo, Ohio)