James Berardinelli's ReelViews

Frequently Asked Questions

Here is a selections of the questions I'm most frequently asked via e-mail, and a variation on the answers I typically give:

Who are you?

Presumably, this is more or less a request for biographical information. In a nutshell, here's a quick sketch of who I am and where I have been... I was born in September 1967 in the town of New Brunswick, New Jersey (USA). I spent my early childhood in the town of Morristown, NJ. I started writing when I was about 9 years old, and suffered through the traumatic experience of reading chapters from my stories in front of my entire fourth grade class. Around that time, I moved to Cherry Hill, NJ, which is where I endured my junior high school and high school years. During that time, I showed an equal aptitude for writing, science, and mathematics. Although my "first love" was writing, too many tales of starving authors scared me off that path, so I decided to sell out and go to college to become an engineer. I attended the University of Pennsylvania from 1985 through 1990, obtaining both a BS and MS in Electrical Engineering. Putting my education to good use, I went to work for a company called Bellcore (now re-named with the moniker of "Telcordia Technologies") and spent the next 15 years working in a variety of fields, including fiber optics, video testing (for which I commuted weekly to Chicago for 40 weeks), and software systems. My day job is currently with Telcordia; I make enough money to pay the mortgage, keep up my home theater, finance film festival trips, and buy the 20 gallons of gasoline I need each week to attend screenings. I got married during the summer of 2004.

As for my "film history"... As a child, I did not spend much time in theaters. In fact, the first movie I remember going to was Jaws, at a drive-in. I fell asleep about 15 minutes into it, long before things got interesting. I was 7 years old at the time. The next film I saw, and the first in an indoor theater, was King Kong, in 1976. By that time, however, I had watched a huge number of classic horror movies on TV. As I entered my teen years, I saw more films, but not many. Probably 5-6 per year, and I never went alone (the idea of going to a theater by myself seemed strange). The three movies I recall standing in the longest lines for: 1979's Star Trek: The Motion Picture, 1980's The Empire Strikes Back, and 1982's Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. I really started getting interested in film when I was at college; my then-girlfriend liked to see at least one movie per week, and I accompanied her. After I graduated, my pace slackened off a little. In 1991, the year before I started reviewing, I saw about 30 films. The number jumped up to 180 in 1992, when I wrote capsule reviews for my own use. Starting in 1993, when I "went public," I began seeing between 220 and 250 theatrical releases per year. Until early 1997, I did this as a paying consumer, until, finally, I did something about becoming accredited. >

For those (literally) hundreds of people who have asked for a picture, here it is. This is semi-new photograph, and looks better than the grainy one I previously posted. Now everyone who wants to I.D. me at a film festival knows what I look like. (It has already come in handy on several occasions.)

Did you say you're married? Really? A nerd like you? Can I see your wife?

Her name is Sheryl, and we met because of this website. To condense our story, she contacted me with a fan letter about three years ago. We began corresponding, which led to phone calls, which led to a meeting, then long-distance dating, an engagement, and a marriage. (This will not, however, result in ReelViews opening a dating service.) She shares my love of movies, although is not as fanatical. She doesn't write reviews, so we're not in competition. Click on this link for a picture.

What are your credentials for reviewing movies?

Academically, I don't have any (I took writing classes in college, but not any film criticism courses). But I have a great love and appreciation for movies, and have seen about 7000 of them (including between 200 and 300 theatrical releases in each of the last 14 years, plus about an equal number on video). I have also devoured countless books on film and film history, and audited several college-sponsored film symposiums. Personally, I don't believe that anyone needs a "formal" film criticism education to review films, and I think it's the height of arrogance to believe that's the case. One of the great things about movies is that almost everyone has an opinion, and it's rare that any two will be the same. Film criticism is not surgery - you don't need a degree to be an effective practitioner of it.

Do you know Roger Ebert?

I suppose the reason I get asked this so often is because of the nice testimonials he has given about my site. Actually, at the time he wrote the first of those, I didn't know him (at least not personally). Since then, however, I have gotten to know him fairly well, seeing him a time or two each year.

How do you see so many movies?

The number is dropping. In my early years as a film critic, when I didn't have a life, reviewing 250 films per year was a breeze. Fast-forward to 2004, and it's down to about 150. That's still a lot, but the responsibilities of family and home-ownership consume time. Typically, I see two or three movies at weekday/weeknight screenings, then sometimes an additional one on a Friday or Saturday.

Do you see movies early?

Some of them. There tend to be conflicts in advance/press screenings, so it's not always possible to get reviews out before opening day. I'd be in much better shape if I could clone myself. [This is not to be interpreted as a job offering for an assistant, but thanks to the few who have offered over the past couple of years. If I ever truly go commercial, I may reconsider.]

What is a "Theatrical Aspect Ratio"?

Before I started including this information in reviews, one of the most frequent requests I received was to add the "theatrical aspect ratio" as part of the header information. Inserting this single line, however, has caused a great deal of confusion, since a lot of people don't have a clue what a "theatrical aspect ratio" is. Put simply, it's the ratio of the width of a projected movie to its height. A 1.85:1 ratio means that the movie is 1.85 times as wide as it is high. Typical ratios are 1.33:1 (television, Academy), 1.66:1 (European), 1.85:1 (flat), and 2.35:1 (widescreen). There are others, but these are the most common. I get the aspect ratio by eyeballing, so there are occasionally slight discrepancies. For example, I can't tell the difference between a 1.78:1 and a 1.85:1, so I lump both into the latter category.

How long have you been reviewing movies?/What is the first movie you reviewed?

I wrote my first "official" review in January 1992. It was of Grand Canyon. Those familiar with my reviews will note that it's not in my public archives. The reason is quite simple: it's an embarrassment (you'd have to offer good money to wrestle a copy of it from my personal archives). In fact, I'm rather displeased with just about everything I wrote before October 1994 (many of the archived reviews from '93 and '94 have been edited and updated). The first "available" review is of Enchanted April, which, despite some updating, is still pretty close to what it originally was. The first review ever posted to the Net was Scent of a Woman.

What other critics do you regularly pay attention to?

To avoid offending anyone, I will refrain from naming names (because I will forget someone). But I peruse Rotten Tomatoes and often click randomly on reviews when the excerpt looks interesting. The only "big" name I regularly consult is Roger Ebert. I often don't agree with him, but I almost always enjoy his writing.

How do I contact Celebrity X?

I have come to hate this question, because I get asked it so often. (Actually, people typically ask for the e-mail address of a certain celebrity, which, even if I knew it, I wouldn't give out.) The rec.arts.movies FAQ has a functional procedure that involves calling the SAG in LA (213-954-1600), getting a contact address (usually an agent) for a celebrity, then writing to that address. Caution: since I have never tried this, I can't vouch that it works.

I really enjoy Movie Y. Where can I find a copy of it on video?

This is another question I wish people would stop asking. I'm not a video store. You would have far more success asking at your local video store than me.

What is your favorite movie?

See my Top 100.

Who is your favorite actor/actress/director?

I hate this question. I used to answer it, but I have gotten tired of doing so, and I always forget half a dozen people. Suffice it to say that I like more of Hitchcock's movies than anyone else. I think Grace Kelly is the most beautiful woman ever to be filmed. And I believe George C. Scott has given the best performance of any male actor nominated for an Academy Award.

Do you write anything other than reviews?

Yes. Then again, doesn't everyone? Actually, I have gotten a substantial amount of e-mail asking for a clarification of that statement and perhaps a sample, so here goes... I have written several dozen contemporary short stories, most of which are partially auto-biographical. At this time, I'm not willing to share these with my Net audience as a whole (they're a little too personal). However, I have a series of fantasy novels, at least one of which I may make public in the future (a link from ReelViews will be prominently displayed). I don't pretend that these novels are masterpieces of narrative fiction (they are, after all, genre tales and subject to certain mandatory conventions), but they should be reasonably entertaining for anyone who enjoys that sort of thing.

Are there any more books coming?

The next volume of ReelViews is due out in the summer of 2005. It will contain about 100 new reviews and some content that is not available on the website (features on director's editions on DVD, and a large collection of easter eggs, along with my opinions of each). My hope is to get a novel published a year or two after, but it's difficult to find the time to write it.

I sent you an e-mail. Why didn't you respond?

I usually only respond to e-mails if a reponse is requested. If you write a quick note of praise or thanks, I read and appreciate it, but usually don't send anything back. I usually ignore hate mail. Depending on how amusing it is, I may or may not read it. There are a few questions I ignore. Those are: "Will you/Did you see/review Movie X?", "Why isn't Movie Y in your Top 100?", and "How do I become a film critic?" I get them so often that it becomes monotonous to answer.

Which film festivals might I have seen you at?

I only travel to Toronto anually. I used to go to Sundance, but gave that trip up because I hate Park City and the festival. Starting in 2006, I hope to become a regular at Telluride. My grand scheme is to combine that with Toronto for two weeks of cinematic gluttony. We'll see if it happens.

Which chat rooms do you spend time in?

None. Despite meeting my wife on-line, I have never been in a chat room in my life.

Do you share links?

Currently, no. I simply don't have time to update my "links" section on a regular basis, so it sits in limbo. Some day, I may either take it down or revamp it.

Do you still write Commentaries?

Now, they're called "ReelThoughts." Contributions are irregular, but I still write them.

What is your "circulation"?

Between 70,000 and 80,000 hits per day.

Did I see you at a Phillies game?

Groan. Possibly. My love of baseball is waning with every non-playoff season.

What do you think of the AFI "Top 100" lists?

The AFI lists are interesting as a curiosity, but no more. Their value as a means of determining "the best" of anything is questionable, since there are no objective categories by which film can be judged. (Any critic who claims to be objective or to be striving for objectivity is either hopelessly na´ve, deluded, or a liar.) Thus, their only real purpose is to be used as a marketing tool and a means to get television ratings. For my personal "Top 100" list, go to Top 100.

Will you review my screenplay or a videotape of my movie? Will you stop by my website and tell you what you think?

No. Sorry, but it's a time issue. (Although I occasionally make exceptions for websites, but no promises.)

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