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Movie Answer Man (09/09/2001)

Q. Upon reading your 3-star review of "Ghosts Of Mars," I went with a date to see this film. "Ghosts Of Mars" is a travesty, a film destined for the bottom of the direct-to-video release barrel. It is unoriginal (like the fifth film in the last two years set on Mars), unexciting (not one genuine scare or clever action sequence), badly written (they continue to shoot the bad guys despite the fact that they are more dangerous that way) and poorly acted (not one actor transcends the dialogue they were given). The only consolation I could offer anyone involved with the making of this film is that "Ghosts Of Mars" will be easily forgotten. You said the film "delivered on its chosen level." What level was that? The bad movie level? If a film can receive a complimentary review and rating for simply setting its sights low, how can I know when a 3-star movie is truly a good movie or a bad one with no ambitions? (David Boostrom, St. Louis MO)

A. I would suggest ignoring the star ratings (which are relative, not absolute) and just reading the review. I believe my review of "Ghosts Of Mars" accurately described the movie, and explained my reasons for liking it. Three stars for me means "recommended in the context of this review." A review is a personal, subjective opinion, not intended to predict your reaction, but I think you saw the same movie I described.

Q. I just got back from watching the movie "Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back," and one thing that stood as a pillar of offense and ignorance was Chris Rock. As you know he plays the part of a thoroughly racist movie director who continually slams his capable, undeserving white staff with racist comments and spews off unending streams of ethnic slurs. Is it just me, or is this entirely not funny? I noticed this same racist riff with Chris Tucker in "Rush Hour 2," as did you in your review. Why not comment on it in your J&SB review? And what's with the current trend for these black so-called comics to insult whites incessantly in movies? I felt offended, and I don't get offended easily. (Being Persian-American, I get a lot of flack from bigots anyway.) (Michael Shareghi, Thousand Oaks, CA)

A. I mentioned Rock's riff in my discussion of Tucker in "Rush Hour 2," and didn't feel like repeating it. I am not a censor and believe all speech is protected, but I also reserve the right to be offended, and inane "comic" racist monologues are losing their charm. The sad thing in both cases is that the victims were in fact Chris Tucker and Chris Rock, whose characters come off looking like the butt of their own jokes. There is nothing more fatal for a comedian than to appear to be out of touch and off-key, and these performances were embarrassments.

Q. You've rightfully rallied against theaters that lower the foot-candles on their projectors in order to save on electrical costs. I've noticed that films are literally getting harder and harder to see at my local multiplex, and it's only after I rent the DVD that I can truly see what the director and cinematographer meant for me to see. What is the proper foot-candle level that projectors are supposed to emit, and if I complain about a noticeably dark picture, is it possible for the projectionist to change the projector without stopping the film? I want to make my dissatisfaction known at the multiplex, but I want to have enough information to know what I can reasonably expect the miserly theater managers to do. (Jed Blaugrund, Sherman Oaks, CA)

A. It's a scandal that many theaters, while sparing no expense with their state of the art refreshment stands, show noticeably dim pictures. You want to sound like an expert, so I consulted one. Steve Kraus owns the Lake Street Screening Room, where Chicago critics enjoy superb projection. He replies: "The brightness of a movie screen is measured in foot-Lamberts (a measure of light reflected off the screen), not foot-candles. The measurement is taken with the house lights off and projector running without film. The standard set by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers is 16 fL +/- 2. There are several likely reasons why a theatre may have a dim picture. Some hold off replacing the very expensive xenon bulb until it simply won't start, having racked up so many hours that the inside of the bulb has blackened and the picture has dimmed. In some cases the bulb may be misaligned. A small error can make a huge difference in brightness and sometimes unskilled persons may replace a bulb without knowing how to properly align the new one. In other cases the theatre designers simply did not specify a sufficiently powerful lamphouse and power rectifier. In rare situations, depending on the particular equipment at that theatre, it may be possible to simply turn a knob to raise the brightness, but then only if they are not already at maximum and it's simply not possible at all on many projection lamps without interrupting the show. Replacing an aging bulb and many of the alignment adjustments cannot be made while the show is underway and depending on the projectionist, may require a visit from the service technician."

Q. In recent movies about people in the past, many of the characters say "hey" as a form of greeting instead of "hi." This happened for example in "The Cider House Rules," where it was way out of character. (Diana Morley, Napa CA)

A. And of course "hello" itself only came into use with the introduction of the telephone. Now that movies set in medieval times use songs by Queen on the soundtrack, this is perhaps only a technicality.

Q. I was wondering if you read Jeff Wells column on about "Citizen Kane." I think he has a point, that it doesn't have the same power on today's audience like it did in the past. "Kane's" reputation is so huge that I think many people who view the movie for the first time are disappointed. Indeed, it may be time for "Kane" to be retired as the greatest movie of the 20th Century, so another movie can have a shot at being Number 1 in the 21st Century. (Tony Wang, Calgary AB)

A. The thing about a movie like "Citizen Kane" is, you may be disappointed the first time, but as you watch it 10 or 20 times, you grow progressively less disappointed as you are able to appreciate its riches. One might argue that the greatest films teach us to appreciate them, while lesser films simply cater to our desire for immediate gratification. Great films make audiences better; bad films make audiences worse. Any list of the "greatest films" is of course silly, but "Kane" amazes not only as an artistic triumph but as a technical breakthrough and a symbol of a director allowed to express his vision without second-guessing by mental midgets.

Q. I recently rented HBO's "Sex in the City" TV show on DVD. There is an alternate language track in Spanish. I noticed that the profanity, vulgarities and slang in the English version are not in the Spanish version. This sanitizing causes it to lose its spice. I have noticed this on other alternative language DVDs as well. Why is this? (Dwayne Williams, Orlando FL)

A. As a general rule, Spanish subtitles are sanitized compared to original English dialogue, as a bow to the generally Catholic countries where their audiences originate.

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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