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By the time we get to Phoenix, he'll be laughing

Read Ebert's tribute to Gene Siskel, who died ten years ago, here.

Q. Help me settle a bet. First, you and Siskel were on "Opening Soon at a Theater Near You." Then the show was renamed "Sneak Previews." Then you went to "At the Movies," and "Sneak Previews" continued with other critics. Then you went to "Siskel & Ebert," and "At the Movies" continued with other critics. Then Gene died, and it became "Ebert & Roeper." Then you and Roeper left the show, and it became "At the Movies," with more other critics. Do I have that straight? Ron Barzell, Los Angeles

A. When we left "Sneak Previews," we couldn't take the title with us, so we came up with "At the Movies." When we left that show, the rights to the name stayed at Tribune Broadcasting, and they continued it with Rex Reed and various co-hosts from 1986 to 1990.

Siskel and I decided to name the next show after ourselves, so no one could use the title. Same with me and Roeper. We were now at Disney, where the full name of our original show was "Siskel & Ebert & the Movies," using two ampersands to make it clear we weren't ripping off "At the Movies." When Roeper and I left, Disney began a new show named "At the Movies," but I have no idea if they have the legal right to use that title. I know PBS still guards its rights to "Sneak Previews." Another chapter to this saga will begin when Richard and I shortly announce a new movie review program.

Q. In your review of "Gran Torino," you write: "When he gets to know Thao, the teenage Hmong who lives next door, he takes him down to his barber for a lesson in how Americans talk. He and the barber call each other a Polack and a dago and so on, and Thao is supposed to get the spirit. I found this scene far from realistic and wondered what Walt was trying to teach Thao. Then it occurred to me Walt didn't know it wasn't realistic."

You'll be amused to read what was reported in the local paper about Ted Widgren, the 90-year-old owner of the shop used in the movie. Widgren watched some of the filming from the back of his shop -- and at one point, they had to briefly halt production when Widgren was caught talking under his breath after the barber swore at Eastwood in one scene. "I was most surprised with the barber," he said. "I wouldn't say that." Douglas Mooney, Detroit

A. On the other hand, maybe Walt Kowalski's barber knew him so well he was just humoring his favorite customer. It sounded like they'd done that routine before.

Q. At the end of your review of "The Wrestler," you said that it was not on your year's best list for long and complicated reasons. If you have some time to spare to share these reasons with a fellow movie geek, I would love to know them. Dmitry Voronov, Toronto

A. Of course I do consider "The Wrestler" to be one of the year's best films, and said so in my review. It was not on my list for reasons having to do with a mistake I made using the cut & paste feature of my word processor. That's the boring part. How I did that, since I am a word-processing whiz, would be the complicated part, but I don't think you have time for it.

Q. Has there ever been a good Alan Smithee movie? Rod Lurie, Los Angeles

A. Smithee's inept work has butchered films by such greats as Sidney Lumet, John Frankenheimer and Dennis Hopper. Now the next generation, Alan Smithee Jr., has been accused of messing with a Sam Raimi film. Alan Smithee, of course, is the pseudonym authorized by the Directors Guild of America when a member objects so much to the treatment of his film that he wants his own name removed from it.

The best Smithee story involves the 1998 comedy "An Alan Smithee Film Burn Hollywood Burn." (That's right, no comma.) It was directed by Arthur Hiller ("Love Story") from a Joe Eszterhas screenplay, and was about a movie director whose real name was Alan Smithee, Therefore, you see, when he made a film, it seemed like somebody else was disowning it. Now comes the punch line. Arthur Hiller was so angry with the way Buena Vista mangled his film that he demanded his name be removed from it. Therefore...

Q. You wrote: "It's like the dilemma of the 10 hot dogs and eight buns: You can never come out even at the end." Well, of course you can come out even: eight packs of hot dogs and 10 packs of buns yields 80 of each. Scott Schwartz, New York

A. You could form a buyers' club right there in the supermarket.

Q. As a high school teacher, father, husband and "Star Wars" fan, I must register my offense at your "Fanboys" review. My involvement with the "Star Wars" fandom lifestyle has brought me countless memories and friendships. It has opened the door to relationships with my students and colleagues I would otherwise been ignorant of. I am among a legion of "Star Wars" fans. It's time you stopped posing for your fellow critics.

You've obviously caught a lot of flak for your favorable review of "Star Wars -- Episode I: The Phantom Menace." Perhaps you're slinging mud at what appears to be an easy target as a means of earning back some credibility. Look at the breadth and depth of the community you alienate. We are doctors, lawyers, teachers, priests, authors, actors, accountants, custodians, social workers, construction workers and more. We are too big to be dismissed. Matthew Schnaare, via e-mail

A. I have received a lot of unhappy feedback from that review, in which I wrote: "Anyone who would camp out in a tent on the sidewalk for weeks in order to be first in line for a movie is more into camping on the sidewalk than movies." I have now learned many things about myself, most of which I cannot print here, although they solved the puzzle of what I would do with a third thumb. I was unfair in referring to all fans, when the ones I was thinking of were the heroes of "Fanboys."

Q. Has Joaquin Phoenix lost it, or what? Greg Nelson, Chicago

A. I watched him on "Letterman" and was appalled. There are theories that he was deep in the character of his new hip-hop persona, behaving strangely for his buddy Casey Affleck's new documentary, channeling Andy Kaufman or whatever. I doubt if that particular hip-hop personality is going to inspire many fan clubs.

More seriously: He was on the show to "promote" his new film, "Two Lovers." All he did was assure that his bizarre behavior will be referred to in most of the reviews of the film, which opens here Feb. 27.

He had no right to do that. Independent, original films have a hard enough battle without their stars putting on psycho shows. He had no right to do it to James Gray, who directed it and co-wrote it with Ric Menello. No right to do it to his fellow actors Gwyneth Paltrow, Vinessa Shaw, Isabella Rossellini and the others. No right to distract from the film itself, which was selected for the official competition at Cannes and is running at 83 percent on the Tomatometer. I don't care if he did it deliberately or mistakenly. He should have stayed at home.

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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