Sunday, August 31, 2008

My Answers to Dr. Zachary Smith's Lost in the Space at the End of Summer Quiz

I neglected to post my responses to Dennis Cozzalio's Memorial Day quiz, a mistake I don’t intend to make again. Anyway, here goes:

1) Your favorite musical moment in a movie

It's tough to beat the moment in Once Upon a Time in the West when Henry Fonda's acid guitar riff melds with Charles Bronson's harmonica theme right when they finally come face to face.

2) Ray Milland or Dana Andrews

I like them both, but only one appeared in movies with both Anna May Wong (as an extra in Piccadilly) and Rosey Grier (The Thing With Two Heads, of course). Milland wins.

3) Favorite Sidney Lumet movie

I love Dog Day Afternoon, Prince of the City and The Verdict, but to my eyes it's all been downhill since 12 Angry Men.

4) Biggest surprise of the just-past summer movie season

Given my general disdain for Dreamworks animation, I had almost no expectations for Kung Fu Panda. But I was surprised how much I enjoyed it. Sure, it's predictable and fluffy, but it's also a lot of a fun, and a perfect vehicle for Jack Black's outsized personality. It's no WALL*E, but as family entertainment, it'll do just fine.

5) Gene Tierney or Rita Hayworth

Still Gene Tierney, just like it was last time you asked.

6. What’s the last movie you saw on DVD? In theaters?

Theatre: John Crowley's Boy A. The movie boasts a star-making lead performance by Andrew Garfield and yet another fine turn by one of my favorite character actors, Peter Mullan. Yet it felt too timid in coming to grips with the main character's violent past, as if it was too eager to make him sympathetic to go to the effort of making him complex.

DVD: Death Becomes Her. I watched it for a When Good Directors Go Bad column, and man was it well-suited to the feature. Unfunny and shrill, with lead performances that aren't half as diva-like as they need to be, and effects that were groundbreaking in their time but now come off as dated.

7) Irwin Allen’s finest hour?

I'm sure Dr. Smith would like me to say Lost in Space, but I can't not pick The Swarm.

8) What were the films where you would rather see the movie promised by the poster than the one that was actually made?

Much as I love Fargo, I'd be curious to someday see a movie that was animated entirely with needlepoint.

9> Chow Yun-Fat or Tony Leung

Chow's pretty cool, but Tony Leung is one of the great stars of our time- just as cool as Chow, but a much more versatile actor, and with star charisma to burn. And as badass as Chow can be, let's see him pull off the moment in Hero where Tony snatches the arrow out of the air.

10) Most pretentious movie ever

I'd say Cremaster 3, except that Matthew Barney vehemently insists that his movies are actually filmed sculptures or what have you. Which is in itself almost unspeakably pretentious.

11) Favorite Russ Meyer movie

Nothing against Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, and Faster, Pussycat, Kill! Kill!, but for me, the only choice is Up!, which is both totally insane and shit-hot brilliant. How can you not love a movie that begins with Hitler getting sodomized then killed with a piranha in his bath? You'd think it would be all downhill from there, but Meyer somehow maintains the madness throughout. It's as close as Meyer came to recreating his id cinematically, and if he made a masterpiece in his career, Up! is it.

12) Name the movie that you feel best reflects yourself, a movie you would recommend to an acquaintance that most accurately says, “This is me.”

I used to recommend Annie Hall to friends as a movie that finally "got" who I was, and I haven't found a better choice since then. So Annie Hall it is.

13) Marlene Dietrich or Greta Garbo

Garbo was great in her prime and never overstayed her welcome, but imagine what iconic turns we might have gotten out of her in middle age. Marlene wins this one.

14) Best movie snack? Most vile movie snack?

Whenever I'm out with my girlfriend we get Buncha Crunch, but when it's just me I'm partial to Peanut M&Ms. I can't abide the Plain, er, "Milk Chocolate" M&Ms, however- without the peanuts the magic is gone.

15) Current movie star who would be most comfortable in the classic Hollywood studio system

Well, there are plenty of stars today who might have succeeded as old-school studio stars, but how about a couple who might even have done better under the old Hollywood system? The first that springs to mind is Annette Bening, a fine actress who usually seems slightly ill at ease in her movies, largely because her acting style is more stylized than today's more "realistic" female parts generally call for. It's hard not to imagine her career following a similar trajectory as Rosalind Russell, from whip-smart characters such as Hildy Johnson in her younger years to tart middle-aged character roles as her career progressed. Another possibility is Hugh Jackman, who is generally far better than the action roles he's usually called upon to play. He would have been well-suited to unapologically rugged man's man roles such as those played by Clark Gable in his heyday. If nothing else, working during the golden age of screen musicals would have given him ample opportunity to show off his hoofing and crooning skills onscreen.

16) Fitzcarraldo—yes or no?

Yes, with a Burden of Dreams chaser.

17) Your assignment is to book the ultimate triple bill to inaugurate your own revival theater. What three movies will we see on opening night?

If my theatre has a 70mm projector- which of course it will- opening night would be 2001, Lawrence of Arabia, and Vertigo, although not necessarily in that order.

18) What’s the name of your theater? (The all-time greatest answer to this question was once provided by Larry Aydlette, whose repertory cinema, the Demarest, is, I hope, still packing them in…)

An obvious one, but I like the idea of naming my cinema "The Lumiere."

19) Favorite Leo McCarey movie

McCarey directed Duck Soup, but I've always considered that more of a Marx Brothers movie with McCarey manning the camera. For a better representation of his talent, check out the sadly-unavailable on DVD Make Way For Tomorrow, which demonstrates a real sensitivity with actors and a thematic complexity that's rare from any director of any period. That he made The Awful Truth that same year only speaks to McCarey's versatility.

20) Most impressive debut performance by an actor/actress.

I'm guessing you mean big-screen debut, right? Falconetti is obviously the right answer here, but I'd also like to stump for Andy Griffith's revelatory turn in A Face in the Crowd, which is even more of a shock today than it was when the film was first released. As Lonesome Rhoades, Griffith tempers the character's naked ambition with a cornpone charm (not for nothing is his theme song called "Just Plain Folks") that scarily anticipates this current presidency. It's scary stuff, and I've heard that playing the character so frightened Griffith that he promptly retreated to the safer, more cuddly Andy persona we all know today.

21) Biggest disappointment of the just-past summer movie season

That in spite of a new studio and a less constricting R rating, M. Night Shyamalan continued his downward spiral with The Happening.

22) Michelle Yeoh or Maggie Cheung

Much as I like Michelle, I'd have to say I've gotten more overall pleasure from Maggie Cheung's performances, especially in her work with Wong Kar-wai and Olivier Assayas. Sadly, she appears to be on indefinite hiatus now, so Michelle has plenty of chances to catch up, provided she makes more good movies and fewer The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperors.

23) 2008 inductee into the Academy of the Overrated

Scarlett Johansson must have an awesome agent, because considering how many movies by talented filmmakers she's stunk up in recent years, it's amazing she still has a career at all. Dear Hollywood- can we please make her go away, or at least start casting her only in bad movies so I won't be forced to suffer through any more of her "acting"?

24) 2008 inductee into the Academy of the Underrated

I can count on exactly two fingers the movies of movies I've liked in which Anna Faris appears (I'm not a Lost in Translation fan, sorry). But I don't I've seen her give a performance I haven't enjoyed. While I do wish she'd make more Brokeback Mountains as a way to throw a bone to those fans who aren't into the Scary Movie franchise, she's a damn fine comedian, with a sunny and endearing presence. Hell, I'd buy a ticket to see her in House Bunny if I wasn't afraid that would simply encourage her to make more garbage, but that's what Netflix is for, right?

25) Fritz the Cat—yes or no?

Uh... not yet?

26) Trevor Howard or Richard Todd

Haven't seen much of Todd's work, so Howard by default.

27) Antonioni once said, “I began taking liberties a long time ago; now it is standard practice for most directors to ignore the rules.” What filmmaker working today most fruitfully ignores the rules? What does ignoring the rules of cinema mean in 2008?

Cinema, especially American cinema, has become so homogenized that most of the movies have had all of their rough spots smoothed out. And while this certainly makes for easier going when you're watching a bad movie, it also makes movies in general far less interesting. So here's to Spike Lee, a director who follows his impulses even when they're not so good. A director who followed a popular comedy concert film with a TV satire that included copious amounts of blackface. Who made the first major Hollywood movie to address 9/11, only to follow that with a misbegotten issues-driven comedy combining such disparate plot strands as Enron, corporate whistleblowing, and fatherhood among African-American men. And who followed his biggest hit to date with a four-hour Katrina documentary that actually pointed fingers and named names. A number of directors nowadays have kept a similar maverick spirit, but of these, Lee's career is easily the most fascinating.

28) Favorite William Castle movie

I Saw What You Did is pretty amazing in its way. My jaw still drops every time I see the scene where John Ireland throws the knife at the girl. Part of me wonders how this scene could be real- how it could have possibly slipped past the arbiters of good taste. But thank goodness it did.

29) Favorite ethnographically oriented movie

How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman, a movie that takes the archetype of the "noble savage" and turns it on its ear. Director Nelson Pereira dos Santos' film tells the story of a French sailor who's taken hostage by a Brazilian tribe, and as we follow him, dos Santos encourages the audience to identify with the white hero instead of his captors. Consequently, our urges to see him rescued by a formulaic turn of events grows the more indignities the tribe visits upon him. We want him to escape, or for the "savages" to turn noble in order to spare his life, rather than subjecting him to the tribal ritual to which the film's title infers. But it never happens, which makes the movie a gloriously wicked joke on us, as we question the reasons behind our desire to see the white man triumph over his darker-skinned captors, when they were mostly minding their own business until the white man came along.

30) What’s the movie coming up in 2008 you’re most looking forward to? Why?

With last year's Zodiac, David Fincher made his best film to date, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button seems perfectly suited to his style and sensibilities. In addition, Brad Pitt grows as an actor the more adventurous his roles become, and the character of a man who ages in reverse should give him plenty of opportunities to show off new facets of his talent. There's a small chance this could fail, but I wouldn't bet on it being anything less than awesome.

31) What deceased director would you want to resurrect in order that she/he might make one more film?

Orson Welles. Throughout his career, Welles was always experimenting with the possibilities of film, even in his later years with the jazzy editing and kooky fiction/fact hybrid of F for Fake. The mind reels at the thought of Welles surviving to become a godfather to the indie film movement instead of just a patron saint, to see him examining the possibilities of digital video and newfangled editing software, and to have the opportunity to finally make movies in a film culture that revered him as a master instead of merely a has-been who slummed in wine commercials and voiceover work.

32) What director would you like to see, if not literally entombed, then at least go silent creatively?

Say what you will about Dr. Uwe Boll or Michael Bay- at least with their films you get a sense of the guys making them. Instead, I'd go after the king of uninspired big-budget hackwork, Stephen Sommers. Remember when he called Van Helsing his dream project because he considered himself "a horror buff"? No self-respecting fan of the horror genre would ever be caught dead enjoying a movie like Van Helsing, much less making it.

33) Your first movie star crush

I didn't start to really get into movies until I was in high school, and back then I didn't really go in for having crushes on the leading ladies. But all that changed my senior year, when a kindred spirit behind the counter at the local video store- one who knew of my adventurous, omnivorous palate- recommended a movie to me and my friends. "It's French," he said, "and you know what that means." The movie was Betty Blue, and from the beginning I was blown away not just by all the sex, but also by the actress who was having all of this sex- Beatrice Dalle. Yeah, I know- I was a weird kid even then. But something about her- whether it was her feral presence, her tempestuous emotions, or her untempered carnality- seemed completely new to me, and therefore terribly exciting. There simply weren't women like that in my world, and that she was in a movie promised something wholly different from my experiences up to that point. Betty Blue was also my first subtitled film, so I suppose I have Beatrice to thank for sending me down the rabbit hole of world cinema. But I'll also be grateful for helping me get through those lonely, anxious teenage years when it seemed like everyone but me was getting action. Even if the world I thought she was promising never quite made it to my neck of the woods, it nevertheless gave me something to help for.

To read other people’s responses to these questions, or if you’re interested in taking the quiz yourself, click here.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Famous Last Words, Round 3: The Winners

Last week's quote was taken from Nelson Pereira dos Santos' How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman.

Congrats to Victor Morton, Ben Herrera, and Alex E. for winning this round of Famous Last Words.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Muriel Awards 2008 FYC #1

With the fall movie season just around the corner, I figure it’s not too early to begin plugging some of my favorites for consideration in the upcoming Muriel Awards. And I can think of few better places to start than with Rebecca Hall’s revelatory performance in Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Hall first came to my attention in 2006’s The Prestige, in which she turned the role of Christian Bale’s troubled wife into a heartbreaking portrait of a woman slowly descending into madness because of her seemingly schizophrenic husband. But in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, she announces herself as a performer- and screen presence- to be reckoned with. As Vicky, the more sensible of the two titular friends, she initially finds herself along for the ride as Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) pulls her along on an excursion with hunky artist Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem). But as the film progresses, Vicky becomes the story’s emotional and thematic crux, torn between the tedium of her new marriage and the possibilities of sexy danger coming from Juan Antonio. A lesser actress might have made Vicky shrewish or fickle, but Hall subtly reveals her internal conflicts, such as the small stutter she uses when Juan Antonio propositions her over dinner, or the increasing chilliness of her conversations with her boyfriend/husband. In addition, she reveals a flair for Allen’s style of comedy (the way she tries to cover for a late-film mishap is pricessless) and demonstrates a real knack for the cadences of Allen’s dialogue- no small accomplishment, that. Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem have gotten most of the film’s press to date, but while they’re both very good, it’s Hall who owns the movie. Not only is she the closest Vicky Cristina Barcelona has to an Allen surrogate, but she’s also the best female lead of any Allen film since he last worked with Diane Keaton in Manhattan Murder Mystery. Really, she’s just about perfect here, and if Allen knows what’s good for him he’ll find a way to keep using her in his movies.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Famous Last Words 3.12

Last week's quote came from Russ Meyer's Up! Here's the final quote of the round:

“My friends will come to avenge me. No one of yours will remain on this land.”

Submit guesses to this e-Mail address no later than 11:59 PM Eastern next Wednesday. Good luck!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Criterion Watch, August 2008

With this edition of Criterion Watch (covering the November '08 releases), we've got the first wave of Criterion Blu-Rays. But first, the new Criterion titles for your enjoyment:

Woohoo! I guessed this one a few months ago, and while I already own this the original Paramount edition is bare-bones. It's a great movie, and definitely worth the upgrade, and in time for Christmas no less.

Guessed this one too, although I'm not really all that psyched for it. Doesn't seem up my alley. But you never know...

Another movie I already own, and another double-dipper for the Christmas list. Would be nice to have a copy of this without all the Tarantino yammering.

Not my favorite Wes Anderson movie by any stretch, but it's nice to see Criterion continuing their commitment to his work. Though it remains to be seen whether Darjeeling Limited will get the Criterion treatment.

Along with the latter two titles shown above, November also brings the following pre-existing Criterion titles in new Blu-Ray discs, for those so inclined:

Finally, this month's clue was a stumper. Any ideas what this might be?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Famous Last Words 3.11

Last week's quote came from Carl Th. Dreyer's Ordet. Here's this week's:

“I gave you orders never to play that record again!”
“Jawohl, mein herr!”

Submit guesses to this e-Mail address no later than 11:59 PM Eastern next Wednesday. Good luck!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

You three-headed, shape-shifting, son of a bitch!

I know I’ll take some flak for this, but I enjoyed the hell out of the 1999 Mummy remake. Great cinema it’s not, but it’s got a Velveeta charm that goes down easy, and no goals other than showing the audience a good time (any movie that begins with its leading lady knocking over a library full of book shelves clearly isn’t aching to be taken seriously). However, the sequel The Mummy Returns is a bloated mess that doesn’t have nearly enough fun with itself, and unfortunately the latest installment in the series, The Mummy: Curse of the Dragon Emperor, is closer to the spirit of the second film than the first. It’s an OK time-waster, but not much more than that.

Famous Last Words 3.10

Last week's quotation was taken from Max Ophüls' exceedingly awesome Letter From An Unknown Woman. Here's this week's:

“Now life begins for us.”
“Life, yes. Life… yes. Life.”

Submit guesses to this e-Mail address no later than 11:59 PM Eastern next Wednesday. Good luck!