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Movie Answer Man (10/15/1995)

Q. You didn't like "The Usual Suspects" because of the ending. I liked the ending, the dark atmosphere director Bryan Singer created, the acting (especially by Gabriel Byrne, Kevin Spacey and Chazz Palminteri), and the movie as a whole. The last time I had this much fun at the movies was at "Pulp Fiction." Maybe you should ask random people from the audience, because you could be the only one who didn't like the trick ending. (Mike D'Alessandro, Acton, Mass.)

A. I'm a critic, not a pollster, and I think a lot of mischief is done to the movies these days because the studios poll sneak preview audiences, and then re-edit movies based on their reactions. In the case of "The Usual Suspects," I am certainly in the minority. This is the most-debated film since "Pulp Fiction," and I have received countless communications from its fans. The ending left me feeling let down and manipulated. There is a difference between the chronological trickery in "Pulp Fiction," which plays fair, and the narrative trick in "The Usual Suspects," which strikes me as arbitrary. You're right about the acting, though; in this movie and "Seven," Kevin Spacey develops a very particular screen presence--also seen in "Glengarry Glen Ross" and "Swimming with Sharks."

Q. I just read your review of "Assassins," where you talk about the character's names, and I thought you might like to know that Elektra (spelled with a "k") is a comic book character in the DareDevil series (written by Frank Miller, the same guy who did "Dark Knight"). She is one of those assassin/ninja maybe it makes sense??? (Joe Long, Redmond, Wash.)

A. So that's where they got the name! And here I thought it was a reference to the title character in plays by Sophocles and Euripides. In psychiatry, the Electra Complex reflects a young woman's attraction to her father and hostility to her mother, but there are, of course, no mothers in "Assassins."

Q. In your "Assasins" review you mentioned using a table for protection from an explosion. In almost every action film ever made, there is at least one scene where someone takes cover from gun fire behind a object completely inadequate for the task. (Usually an overturned table, frequently an interior wall next to a door.) Bullets easily pass through these objects easily if a villan is taking cover, but are magically stopped in the case of the hero. (Larry Jones, Ontario, Calif.)

A. Yeah, in cop movies they always draw their guns and stand on either side of the door--so they won't get hit if the desperado inside shoots through the door. If the bad guys had any brains, they'd shoot through the walls.

Q. I read that we miss 43 percent of a widescreen movie when we see it on TV, but this never takes into account that TV "overscans" the picture. Six percent of the image is lost around the edges of the tube. That means viewers miss 56 percent of a scope picture. It gets worse. The TV engineer's alignment chart shows the "safe title area"--the center part of the picture that must contain all text, to be sure it's readable. Recalculating with this chart shows that as much as 66 prcent of a widescreen movie may be cut away! (Scott Marshall, East Windsor, NJ)

A. Yeah, but what's left can be terrific. Just last week I was enjoying Charlton Heston in "Ben," Omar Sharif in "Doctor," and Kubrick's great sci-fi picture "20."

Q. What is your personal preference in seating within a theatre? I have heard so many different opinions, I'd like yours. (Tom Jacobs, Vernon Hills, Ill.)

A. I follow two consistent rules: (1) Sit twice as far back as the screen is wide. (2) Sit on the "outboard" aisle seat--in other words, across the aisle from the center section. That way, there will be no one between you and the screen.

Q. I saw "To Die For" the other day, and thought that class and ethnicity were as significant as themes in that movie as TV and the media. I have not, however, read any reviews mentioning the class dimension. I had largely the same reaction when I watched "Quiz Show" last year. Am I somehow holding repressed Marxist yearnings or has no one else noticed? (David Rhee, Berkeley, Calif.)

A. An interesting point. Nicole Kidman's ambitious TV weatherwoman looks down on her Italian-American in-laws, and despises the lower-class teenagers she recruits to help with her crime; the way she puts down the Joaquin Phoenix character is especially wounding. And in "Quiz Show," there is the subtext that the patrician WASP (Charles Van Doren) is hated by one of the Jewish characters (Herbie Stempel, the defeated contestant) and envied by the other (Richard Goodwin, the investigator), in both cases because of the world he represents. When class and ethnicity are the buried subjects of movies, critics don't always comment or even notice--perhaps because in our democracy we like to believe such prejudice doesn't exist.

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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