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Movie Answer Man (12/29/2002)

Q. I have a question about your discussion of Blockbuster and the content-sanitizing of the DVD of "Y tu Mama Tambien." Have all DVD versions of "Y tu Mama" been edited in content or only the ones sold and rented at Blockbuster? (Ken Gelwasser, Hollywood FL)

A. Blockbuster is offering only the sanitized version. Some stores are offering both. What you want to look for is the unedited theatrical version, which is being sold online at and sold and rented at and

Q. During your recent appearance on Charlie Rose, you made the following statement: "If I laugh, I have to tell you it's funny. I went to see 'Jackass,' a shameful movie. I laughed all the way through it. I mean, I have to tell you that." This was a shocking thing to hear. I anticipated your review of "Jackass: The Movie," and none was given. Why did you not write a review and then specifically cite this movie in your interview? (Jeff Griffith-Perham, Norwood MA)

A. In October more than 40 major movies opened, and I reviewed all of them, On two weekends in a row, I published 12 reviews. On Oct. 25, one of those weekends, I took a pass on "Jackass," but reviewed these films: "All the Queen's Men," "Auto Focus," "Bloody Sunday," "The Comedian," "Das Experiment," "Ghost Ship," "The Grey Zone," "Naqoyqatsi," "Paid in Full," "Real Women Have Curves," "The Truth About Charlie" and "Waking Up in Reno." Have I received one single e-mail thanking me for these reviews? Nope. Only complaints that I did not review "Jackass."

Q. I work part time at a Blockbuster Video store. I tried to get this job because I love movies and while the job didn't pay as well as some others it offered five free rentals per week. I completely agree with nearly everything you said about Blockbuster. If they didn't give me the movies for free I wouldn't go there. Because of all this, when I saw the Answer Man question about the spread of full-frame (pan-and-scan) DVD titles, I was thrilled. This is something that has always bothered me. I cannot stand to watch pan-and-scan movies and had always loved the fact that most DVDs came as letterbox by default. But you write, "The chains give their customers little credit for intelligence, and, incredibly, still believe many of them do not understand letterboxing." While I would love to believe this, I can tell you, the chains correct in their assumptions. I can't count how many times per day people come up to me and ask if we "have the DVDs without those black bars on the top and bottom." The vast majority of these same customers have no idea and actually believe letterbox cuts off the top and bottom, not understanding that pan-and-scan cuts off the sides. I try to explain the truth to them but they usually don't care. The assumption that the general public deserves more credit is sadly untrue. (Mike Fortier Jr., Worcester MA)

A. I can understand why people with small screens might resist letterboxing, which is why I see nothing wrong with offering the choice of letterbox on one side of a disc and pan-and-scan on the other. It would not be that hard to offer an in-store demo of the difference. Here, recommended by reader Joao Solimeo of Valinhos, Brazil, is a web site with an excellent explanation of letterboxing:

Q. What can be done to make people (especially teenagers) act properly in movie theaters, and increase the level of cinematic literacy? I ask this because of my appalling experience last night watching "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers." Back when I was in high school, we would socialize at pizza joints. We would talk nonstop, laugh uproariously, make calls from a pay phone, switch seats and tables. Now, here in Jupiter, Fla., teenagers do these things inside movie theaters, except they use cell phones instead of pay phones. While "The Two Towers" was onscreen, teenagers in the audience chatted away, swapped seats, laughed at their jokes, and made and received cellphone calls. I'm pretty sure that a girl in my row called a friend sitting about 10 rows back. I was floored. Do parents teach their kids even rudimentary manners? Equally disturbing is what happened in two key scenes in the movie. Moviegoers laughed when Gollum suffers from his split-personality episodes. I wish "The Two Towers" could have been released as an NC-17 movie to keep the morons out. From now on I'll watch big movies late on school nights. (Holden Lewis, Jupiter, Fl)

A. Cell phones have no place in a movie theater, and anyone who uses one there should be required to wear a badge saying, "I am an inconsiderate moron." The time is coming when theater chains will be forced to take action against audience misbehavior, because it is alienating so much of its customer base. With big pictures, perhaps some multiplex screens could be set aside for the civilized.

Q. I heard a teaser on the radio which promised to reveal the most disliked film in the past 20 years. Before the revelation, I wondered what high-profile recent film it would be. Perhaps the irresponsible "Jackass." But no, exit polling condemned "Solaris" with an "F" for all ages and genders. Doesn't the exit polling just indicate the studio has lured in the wrong audience with two trailers, one a promise of a love story and the other of ominous adventure? (Walter Scott, Schaumburg, IL)

A. It was a very good movie, but the ads pitched it to basically the same audience described above in the message from Florida. "Solaris" (2002) is a love story, but on a more thoughtful and subtle level than some audiences can appreciate. Matt Singer of Morganville, NJ, writes: "I saw 'Solaris' this weekend, and while I was interested and involved throughout, most of the audience I saw it with was not. About a third of the way through, people started to leave. " If they walked out, that means they didn't understand the premise well enough to care how it turned out. Yet the premise is clear to any attentive viewer. Many audience members have no interest in narrative development, and attend only for shocks, thrills and laughs.

Q. I like the idea that James Bond, like the characters in "The Simpsons" and "The Family Circle," exists in an eternal present. The world around him is subject to time, but he and his supporting cast never age or change. In the newest movie, Q's warehouse includes the stiletto shoe and rocket backpack from previous Bond adventures. It made me wonder if Bond is supposed to be able to "remember" that he tangled with Dr. No back in the 60s. Or does time somehow contract around Bond - so that the adventures in his movies happened, not over the past 40 years, but only over a decade or two. Does Bond's universe know he doesn't age? Does Bond know? (Nick Califano, Deer Park NY)

A. Yeah, and Tarzan is getting way up there.

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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