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Movie Answer Man (08/04/1996)

Q. In your review of "A Time to Kill," you wrote that it was "a skillfully-constructed morality play that pushes all the right buttons and arrives at all the right conclusions." Okay, close your eyes. Now imagine the two rapists were killed by three hundred white men with a rope. Now imagine the two rapists were black. Does it still arrive at all the right conclusions? (John Lampkins, Los Angeles)

A. The movie is about two redneck rapists killed by the father of the young black girl they have raped. I intended a shade of irony in my comment, but you make a strong point. It is always wrong to take the law into one's own hands, something that "A Time to Kill" obscures by stacking the emotional deck. We understand why the Samuel Jackson character did what he did, and we sympathize with his feelings, but he did kill those men. When the crowd is cheering the "innocent" verdict at the end of the film, anyone with respect for the law should feel a little queasy; the movie can be seen as a "politically correct" defense of revenge.

Q. I recently viewed "Phenomenon" in a new multiplex with the new sound technologies (whatever they are). Anyway, about half-a dozen times during the movie, I heard a low-pitched rumble, which lasted for a few seconds each time. I kept thinking there was about to be another earthquake. Was this some kind of device to keep viewers alert? (John Ritzert, Indianapolis, Ind.)

A. I was immediately reminded of "Sensurround," the bass rumble effect supplied for the movie "Earthquake," which had to be turned off at one Chicago theater after it jarred plaster loose from the ceiling. But my fellow film critic Rich Elias, of Delaware, Ohio, thinks it may have been the sound track of "Twister" leaking in from the next theater: "Twister Boom is a major problem at many thin-walled multiplexes."

Q. Re your low rating of "Striptease" and your high rating of Heidi Fleiss movie. Think it may be related to your feeling uncomfortable good lookig, beatiful bodied, talented women with brains. As well as a sad delight when viewing people with severe personality disorders i.e. the madam movie about Fleiss. Think about it. (Dr. Name Withheld, via CompuServe).

A. Frankly, I doubt you are Dr. Name Withheld, and I suspect you are Dr. Withheld's son, logging onto his CompuServe account while he is out saving lives. This message has all the earmarks of having been written by someone in junior high who still has a lot of work to do in the areas of spelling, grammar and punctuation. In any event, I will simply tell you that my reviews are based on the quality of the films, not the quality of the bodies in them. One day when you are older you will understand. For analysis of the bodies, you can try the reviews of Joe Bob Briggs, whose work can be found right there on CompuServe. Keep an ear out for your dad.

Q. While browsing through the neighborhood video store recently, I noticed a sign advertising the pending release of the "Director's Cut" of a recent blockbuster. I have seen the term "director's cut" quite often in the last few years but, to be honest, don't understand the concept. Aren't ALL final versions of movies the "director's cut?" I thought that the picture was the director's baby, beginning to end. If this is not the case, then who does actually have the final say regarding what will end up on the big screen--the studios? producers? grips? Have you seen many (any) "director's cuts," and are they actually better than the originals? Should I devote my life to tracking these down? (Denise Leder, Las Vegas)

A. Some directors have the right of "final cut" but many do not. However, the words "director's cut" do not always mean that the theatrical version was not the director's desired cut. They may indicate that (1) if the director had his druthers, the movie would have been an hour longer, or (2) that sex was taken out to qualify for the R rating and is now back in. Even in the case of directors with enormous clout, a studio contract may specify that they must deliver an R-rated film, and so last-minute cuts are common as part of the MPAA rating process.

Q. I am a part-time film extra with 25 films since 1986, starting with "The Color of Money" and including "Rookie of the Year," "Gladiator," etc. I am now retired. My big question: What chance does a mostly unnoticed film extra, commonly known as "background actor with no lines," or stooge in crowd scenes, have as perhaps a bit actor with lines, name on credits, etc.? I love show business. "Background! Lights! Camera! Action! Roll 'em! Cut!" are music to my ears. But how does an extra get to be an actor? (Herbert Bussewitz, Chicago)

A. Can you act? If you can, there are two possibilities. (1) You might be given a line or a bit of business on the spur of the moment if a scene calls for it and you look the type. (2) You could offer your services free to film students and other filmmakers on small budgets. They have all the young volunteers they need but often need older characters in their movies. Post a notice on the bulletin boards of campus film departments. If one of those kids becomes the next Philip Kaufman, William Friedkin, Andrew Davis or Robert Zemeckis (who all have humble Chicago filmmaking origins), they might remember you.

Q. In "The Nutty Professor," when the professor puts a frozen TV dinner in the microwave, my 7-year-old nephew noticed that he forgot to remove the foil first! Add this Hollywood mistake to the list. (Elaine Procento, Hoffman Estates, Il.)

A. That professor, what a nut.

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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