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Scorsese does Hitchcock

Q. My wife and I saw "Awake" with some friends the other night. I knew nothing about the movie, and wasn't thrilled when I heard it was a thriller with Jessica Alba. I figured it would be a typical superficial piece of garbage aimed at teenagers. I went anyway to be with my wife. I was very pleasantly surprised. I liked that the twists were delivered with subtlety, and I wasn't able to predict one of them.

I also was impressed with the maturity and substance the film carried. The pace and tone reminded me of David Mamet, especially in how nothing is what it seems. The film kept morphing from thriller to romance to comedy to drama and back to thriller. Usually, this means a film has an identity crisis. In this case, it's completely intentional and serves the purpose of threading us along on an unknown journey. Or what should be unknown. As you pointed out in your review, "the trailer and poster ads criminally reveal a crucial plot twist." Now I understand why I liked it and my wife didn't. She had seen the previews and knew what was coming. As a result, I enjoyed the movie more, because I didn't watch the idiotic trailer.

Here's my question: Does the director have any say in how his film is presented in the ads and trailers? Is he at fault or is it out of his control? I mean, why would a director make a film that depends on secrets and then let the secrets be revealed in the advertising? Hitchcock would have a cow. Justin J. Francis, San Jose, Calif.

A. I am certain the director, Joby Harold, had a cow or maybe a small herd. The Weinstein Company shot itself in the foot. Too bad it missed.

Q. I have not seen "The Mist," but understand from reviews that it was set in a seaport town in Maine, with much of the action taking place in a grocery store. Imagine my surprise when the print ads in today's papers show a scene of two people looking out of a grocery store (note grocery cart at lower right) at the burning ruins of a large city full of ruined skyscrapers. Is the ad grossly misleading, or did the reviews leave out some important plot details? Tom DeLorey, Blue Island

A. Either the ad people did not see the movie, or the characters are looking at a sneak preview of "Mist 2." The movie also comes from the Weinsteins, whose advertising department has apparently moved on to giving away the ending of the next film.

Q. I remember back when "Million Dollar Baby" was in release, you campaigned vehemently against anyone in the media releasing the spoilers.

But in a recent Answer Man column, you spoiled the ending of "The Sixth Sense" for me, which I understand is a film that's famous for its surprise twist at the end. Even though the film was released seven years ago, I had the film on a rainy day list and planned on watching it some day. Was this an error on your part or do you feel that after a certain amount of time, you'd have expected everyone to see "The Sixth Sense"?

If so, is there a general expiration date to when movie critics can freely talk about the ending to a film? Does this apply to classic films like "Psycho," "Cool Hand Luke," "Citizen Kane" or "Bridge on the River Kwai," whose twist endings are a big part of the story? Orrin Konheim, Arlington, Va.

A. It's a judgment call. I think the statute of limitations on "Sixth Sense" spoilers has run out. But if a film is old enough, it's "new" to many viewers, so I would be shy about revealing too much about "Psycho."

Q. Am I the only one who has noticed Josh Brolin shot a dog in both "American Gangster" and "No Country for Old Men" this year? Laurence Yap, Toronto

A. Yes. Except Josh Brolin.

Q. I can find nowhere (IMDb, etc.) the name of the actor who played the part of the old, sleazy diamond merchant in "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead." He had the best line in the movie, supplying the moral of the story. He had brief scenes with Philip Seymour Hoffman and then Albert Finney. Paul McConnell, Albuquerque, N.M.

A. Mark Urman, president of ThinkFilm, replies: "Leonardo Cimino is the old jeweler. I am my own IMDb!" I agree it is a notable performance, and Cimino is a fabulous character actor. He has played mostly Mafioso types, plus the pope, and been in everything from "Waterworld" to "Penn & Teller Get Killed."

Q. When "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" came out, I read your review and accepted the 3½ stars. Not that 3½ is anything to sneeze at, but I've seen it several times since, and honestly, it reminds me of the Vanity Fair comment on Nabokov's Lolita: "The only convincing love story of the 20th century." Like many movies, it has its flaws, but is this possibly a rare case of the flaws enhancing the wonderful rather than hobbling it? Another example is "The Big Lebowski," a three-star wonder on the Ebert-o-Meter. Would you consider keeping a list of movies you substantially upgrade (or downgrade) upon reflection, including ones like "The Brown Bunny"? It would be a neat way to see how a movie ages in your eyes and mind. David Whitehead, Baltimore

A. "The Brown Bunny" was upgraded after major changes involving cuts of 25 percent, making it a substantially different movie. But some of my Great Movies began life at 3½ stars, so there is chance for redemption. I would rather just let original reviews stand, even including my mistakes, than go in for retrospective revisionism.

Q. What do you think has prompted the Criterion Collection to release "Armageddon" on DVD? I've always admired Criterion for its selection of films, but why "Armageddon"? Anoop Raj, Philadelphia

A. Actually, "Armageddon" is a superb example of its type, I smiled.

Q. Have you seen the Scorsese short film paying homage to Hitchcock? Talk about thrilling! Do you think Marty captures the essence of old Hitch?

It's at: Chase Holland, Tampa, Fla.

A. What a discovery! Scorsese begins with three pages purported to be from a lost Hitchcock screenplay (with a page missing), and re-creates them in the style of the Master. Yes, he uncannily captures Hitchcock's visual style, pace, tension and the sound of a Bernard Herrmann score.

Scorsese speculates (idly?) that this would be a way to "restore" the missing footage from Von Stroheim's "Greed," since its screenplay survives. I immediately thought of the lost ending of Welles' "Magnificent Ambersons." Well, why not? A profound student of the cinema like Scorsese could make a convincing Wellesian production, and it would be better than the ending we have now, which also isn't by Welles.

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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