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Holding off on showing the monster

Q. I've read your statement many times that the best film experience is in a real theater with a real audience. So, do you consider the screening room where you see films that you are reviewing a "real theater with a real audience?" And if not, I'm just curious as to how many films you've seen at "real theaters" with "real audiences" in, say, the last month or two (not counting film festivals.) I very well admit I could be wrong, but I have a hunch that, like many of us, the answer would be not too many. (Mark)

A. In terms of big studio films, I've seen most of them in real Chicago theaters, usually the AMC River East, Kerasotes Icon Showplace, Regal Webster Place or Landmark Century. I see most art, indie and documentary films and some big studio pictures at the flawless Lake Street Screening Room, which seats about 60. Believe me, when it's filled with Chicago film critics, that's a real audience.

Q. In his essay "What We Don't Talk About When We Talk About Movies," Armond White had this to say: "Permit an insider's story: It is said that 'At the Movies' host Roger Ebert boasted to Kael about his new TV show, repeatedly asking whether she'd seen it. Kael reportedly answered 'If I want a layman's opinion on movies, I don't have to watch TV.'" Any truth to this anecdote? Something tells me that the way Kael meant it was probably more innocuous than White makes it sound. Also I love how White describes it as an "insider's story" and immediately after refers to it as hearsay. (Nicholas Bernhard)

A. There seems to be a logical problem here: In White's hearsay version, Pauline allegedly said this to me. Therefore, who did he hear it from? I never, ever "bragged" about our show to Kael or "pressed" her to watch it. I didn't have the chutzpah. On one occasion, when there were three different movie review shows on TV, Pauline was quizzed about them on a talk show and said, "At least Siskel and Ebert know what they're talking about."

Q. I rely on your reviews to help me decide whether to see a film. You used to review all movies. Lately, I can't find a number of the newly released movies reviewed by you. I am in Baltimore, MD and we don't get the newly released films as fast as NY, Phillly or Washington. Therefore, I don't think that you have not had the time to review some of these new movies. I am curious to know why you stopped reviewing all movies. (Diana Feldman)

A. Sigh. I never reviewed "all" movies. I try to review most of the major releases, and also as many art and indie films as possible. These days the studios don 't always screen new movies for critics, because they suspect the reviews will be negative. Sometimes I go to see those in theaters; sometimes the word is so negative about them I start focusing on next week. I'm not lazy; so far in 2011 I've reviewed 249 new films.

Q. I belatedly read your review of "Transformers: Dark of the Moon," and I was confounded by the cast list. Shia LaBeouf? Sure. Frances McDormand? Hang on. JOHN MALKOVICH? What the...? My question: is there a point where actors, great ones, just don't see the point of passing up a million dollar check? Should we hold it against them for doing so? I would love to hear your thoughts. Steve Martin springs to mind. (Matt Loehrer)

A. Yes, there often come such points. One actor told me why he made an especially stupid movie: "The pay was right, I wanted to spend a month in Paris, and no one I know will ever go to see it."

Q. If you hated the first "The Human Centipede" movie so much, then why did you watch the second one? (Yu Sheng Wu)

A. That's what I get paid for. I'd have a perfect job if I only went to movies I thought might be good.

Q. Do you believe that our cinema is losing its artistic integrity and originality in favor of rehashed ideas, contrived formulas and the fixation of remakes, prequels, sequels and reboots? (Cody Nelson)

A. Now that you ask, yes.

Q. When adapting a screenplay from something that has already been created, i.e., a play, comic book, anime series, TV series, or book, do you think it is better to have the script go closer to the source material, put more emphasis on character interaction and development, or go down the middle road and do both? (John M Parrinello Jr, Dayton, NJ)

A. The only responsibility of the script is to produce the best possible film. Those who think it must be "faithful" seem to treat adaptation like marriage. Fans of some sources, like a comic book or a TV series, will be outraged by any changes, but adaptation can also mean improvement.

Q. I read your review of the current version of "The Thing." It seems to me that modern horror films depend more on the "gross-out" than on genuine suspense. You mentioned the film "Alien." To me, the most frightening scene was the one where Captain Dallas goes looking for the creature in the air shaft. We see two dots (Dallas and the creature) slowly approach each other on the sensor screen. The crew screams through the radio for Dallas to get out now! but he can't see anything. The dots get closer... closer... closer... and then vanish. The first time I saw that scene I was practically climbing up the back of my chair, the suspense was so intense. My question is this: in today's climate of going for the gross-out instead of building suspense, do you think that a young director (like Steven Spielberg was when he filmed "Jaws") would today be allowed to not show the monster until an hour or so into the movie? (Juanne via

A. His producers were opposed to it even then. He knew that the better set-up he provided, the better pay-off he'd get. It helped him make the film his way because they had enormous difficulties controlling the mechanical shark, and so it was helpful to delay its entrance.

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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