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Balancing the brain

Q. In your anecdote in the "Silent Hill" review about children's brain activity and video games, you cite Dr. Leonard Shlain describing the monitoring of brain activity by young children learning to play video games: "At first, when they were figuring out the games, the whole brain lit up. But by the time they knew how to play the games, the brain went dark, except for one little point."

As if this was a negative argument! I read and write plays and films all day long. I went to "Silent Hill" yesterday to give my brain a break, which is why most people play video games (or watch stupid movies). There is a place for entertainment that discourages thought -- it gives us space to actually think.

Tommy Smith, New York City

A. That's exactly my problem. I watch stupid movies, and they make me actually think, and I write those reviews about brain waves. There is also a place for entertainment that encourages thought, I suppose, although then we would also actually be thinking. I am confused.

Q. Mass media twist the arm of most Americans today because most only know what they see and hear on TV or radio. I do not rely on just mainstream media. I'd like you to review "Loose Change." Considering you are a member of the mass media and since money is probably what motivates you in a day and age of greed and you are too busy of a man to reply to my one e-mail, please watch this online link if you have any real remorse for those lost due to what happened on 9/11.

Kyle Kern, no hometown provided

A. Readers can find the film by Googling "Loose Change video" and clicking on the first link. I have received countless messages urging me to see this film, which essentially charges that 9/11 was a hoax generated by the Bush administration to justify the invasion of Iraq. It questions whether commercial aircraft actually crashed into the Twin Towers, says United 93 may have been shot down by a missile, doubts a plane crashed into the Pentagon, etc. Some of the film's historical information is correct, but its conspiracy theory regarding 9/11 seems cobbled together with a mixture of unsubstantiated speculation, paranoia and pseudoscience.

Bredon Clay of DeKalb, Ill., writes suggesting "Loose Change" believers read an article in the March 2005 Popular Mechanics, which decisively demolishes the conspiracy theories (you can Google “Popular Mechanics 9/11” and click on the first link). On the same list are replies to the magazine's arguments. Another widespread conspiracy claim is that United 93 landed safely at Hopkins Airport in Cleveland. If it did, how can we account for the fact that all of the relatives of those on board believe it crashed? What happened to the survivors?

Q. I was bothered by your response to the reader who claimed he flew from Vietnam to San Francisco. He says he flew through SF and said that while on a plane he was asked where he was coming from. When he said "Vietnam," the person asked for a different seat assignment. You, in a snide way, said if he flew direct, why did the person need to ask? I don't think he ever said he flew direct to SF, or that he was speaking of the flight in from Vietnam. He could have very well meant his flight out of SF. It seemed biased on your part to immediately dismiss his claim.

Dave Viola, San Francisco, Calif.

A. The reader wrote: "I came back from Nam in June of 1968 and that was my first landing after leaving Nam." That sounds to me like a nonstop flight. However, perhaps he was referring to his ongoing connection from San Francisco, and did not make that clear, in which case you have a good point.

Troy Hinrichs of Riverside, Calif., writes me: "There were no direct flights from Vietnam to SF (or anywhere stateside). For one thing, it's too long, so the vet who lost his seatmate could have been coming from Tokyo, Manila, or any other spot in Southeast Asia, depending on where the rude seatmate boarded."

This is also quite true. The discussion began with a review of "Sir, No Sir!," a documentary about the Vietnam-era antiwar movement among servicemen on active duty.

Q. I am a student at the University of Northern Iowa, interested in becoming a film critic. Today, I was discussing "Good Night, and Good Luck" with an acquaintance. I happen to be a somewhat politically conservative man and hated the film because I thought it was smugly left-wing and pompous in the extreme. My acquaintance, who reviewed films in high school, told me that his journalism teacher instructed him to look at a film for what it was and how good it was at reaching its potential. For example, if a film is intended to be a left-wing parable, then judge it purely on those merits, or if it is supposed to be a light romantic comedy, judge it based on that. I thought about this, and am unable to agree. While "Good Night, and Good Luck" was certainly well-made, should I give it a good score despite the fact that I find its message and tone laughable and insulting? What would you say when asked how much a reviewer should inject their personal and political beliefs into a film?

James Frazier, Cedar Falls, Iowa

A. An ideal review would provide a good idea of the film itself, and also include your own opinions. If you disagree with a film's message, then you can observe that it makes its point effectively but is unworthy for political reasons. See the struggle I had over this very dilemma in reviewing "The Birth of a Nation" in the Great Movies section on my Web site. Or note in "Silent Hill" that I praised the film as "incredibly good-looking," which is true, and should be reported even in a negative review.

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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