Wednesday, March 29, 2006


Welcome to part two of the official round-up of questions for Professor Brainerd’s Christmas Quiz. It seems to take longer and longer with each new quiz to get these questions gathered into digestible form, even though this quiz is just a little over half as long as the last one from Professor Wagstaff. Why? Only my hairdresser knows for sure, and if you’re familiar with the male-pattern baldness that I pass off as a hairstyle, you’ll know just how far you can trust my hairdresser. So we’d best forget about precedent (and when I say “we’d,” I of course mean “I’d”) and instead worry only about the task at hand. In that spirit, let’s get on with it, shall we?

And since this is a class reunion of sorts, I thought might hand out a couple of awards to some of our participants. Pat yourselves on the back when I call your names:

FURTHEST TRAVELED TO GET HERE: Peet, all the way from the Netherlands
THE GEORGE WILSON GENIAL CRANKPOT AWARD: The Mysterious Adrian Betamax, of course
PURTIEST CONTESTANT: Call me biased, but it’s gotta be Thom McG (sorry, Snake!)

Okay, enough of this silliness. Let’s get on to the officially sanctioned silliness. In case you want to do a little catch-up work, you can access a complete list of my answers to Professor Brainerd’s Christmas Quiz here. And if you want to check out the group’s answers to the Celebrity Smackdown section of the quiz that I posted last week, don’t bother with that troublesome scrolling down– just click here for instant gratification. In the interest of time, I’ve recreated the questions and then provided the answers, with my own commentary attached onto the ends of individual answers ONLY when I just couldn’t resist.

Here was a chance to reach down into the memory bag and try to come up with a specific moment that brought it all into focus for you, and the responses, short, long and longer, were good enough to leave me wanting even more.

“It was around the time Titanic came out and I was sitting in a theater. I wasn’t watching Titanic, but it may have been an epic/big budget type movie and I remember as I left the theater I realized that I couldn’t remember what I was doing for the two hours beforehand. I had gotten lost in the story and had no concept of myself. I remember at that moment thinking I want to do this again and I want to make other people feel this way.” - Roscoe

“Somewhere between when I first saw Dr. Strangelove and A Hard Day's Night, Fall 1964.” - Peter Nellhaus

“I was in first grade and my folks let me go to Walt Disney’s Sword in the Stone with a friend from school. I been hooked on movies ever since. Plus, it did not hurt that my favorite cousin was the biggest movie buff in town.” - Murray

“When that giant f-ing ‘S’ blasts in at the same moment the music hits a crescendo at the beginning of Superman. That still blows me away.” - Snake Plissken
(Have you seen the trailer for Superman Returns yet, my friend? I’ll be curious to hear what you think...)

“It’s a tough call, but the earliest memory of my love for the movies seems to have been after seeing Family Plot and trying to find out all about this Hitchcock fellow.” - Machine Gun McCain

"Lily Tomlin shrinking in The Incredible Shrinking Woman amazed me as a kid. Even though I can’t remember anything else about the movie now, my parents then gave me more Lily Tomlin movies to watch, which led to Steve Martin movies, and so on until I was as full-fledged a cinephile as I could be, before I knew there was such a thing as a director.” - Nilblogette
(I think TISW still holds up pretty well. The suspense in the sequence when Lily falls into the garbage disposal is close to unbearable, and it’s still a pretty clever satire of consumer culture.)

“Wow. I'm not really sure. Probably my first ever movie in a theater, which was The Jungle Book. My dad took me when I was quite small. I ate all the candy he smuggled in well before the opening credits started. I can remember being impressed by the sight of the screen and the HUGE curtain, the smell of the popcorn, the way the seats flipped up...all of it.” - Beege
(Beege, I can most definitely relate...)

“I think the drive-in did it for me. I'm sure I've told this one before, but we lived on a farm (we weren't farmers, but we did have chickens; our house was rented from the farmers so my dad could paint and write, and it was a ramshackle place with mice and lots of creepy, creaky corners), and before my youngest sister and brother were born, Dad took us all in the Plymouth station wagon to the drive-in to see Day of the Triffids and whatever co-feature I slept through. We had the back seat folded down, with sleeping bags and pillows, we were all in our pajamas, the night was warm, we played on the playground under the screen until the movie came on (or more likely the previews, or cartoon, or whatever), then ran back to the car. The screen was enormous (well hey, I was four, but I'll bet it was), and the Triffids were terrifying (again, I was four), and the color, the music, the excitement of the story onscreen and of the experience. I could pick any of several other moments when I realized movies were my favorite thing, many of them indoors, but this is the earliest memory I have of realizing that there was nothing more fun or exciting than watching a movie.” - Blaaagh

“There were many different moments of discovery, at many different levels. I suspect I was probably hooked when my dad took me to see Star Wars at age 4. I still can remember looking at those Cantina creatures from my four-year-old eyes. Though admittedly, I wasn't movie-obsessed as much as I was Star Wars obsessed until much later.” - Brian

“The film that kicked me in the head and made me love the movies was when I was in the beautiful Chinese Theater and FELT it shake, rattle and roll during the movie Earthquake in SENSURROUND!” - Sal

“The earliest moment that I can recall is upon seeing 2001, at an afternoon matinee – I’d read the Clarke novelization, read The Making of 2001, had the soundtrack, but had yet to actually see the film, until the chance came during one of the re-releases in the mid-70’s.” - Robert

“I was a 12-year old on a trip through Canada with my parents. We went to a screening of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, along with my brother. I had been nuts about film for some time already, but that roller- coaster ride of a flick (the first Indiana Jones I ever saw) made me realize how deeply I was addicted to the movie experience. Probably because it’s a filmmaker’s tribute to the same addiction. Doom is still my favorite of the trilogy, despite what others say, and a testament to the glory days when Spielberg wasn’t ashamed to make Kate Capshaw scream like there’s no tomorrow. (He might still do it secretly if he's, like, really good in bed.)” - Peet

“The moment I knew I loved the movies was probably after seeing Disney's The World's Greatest Athlete at the Campus Theater across from Los Angeles City College. It was the first movie I remember that made me excited about movies. I'm sure it's a horrible "film," as I've never seen it again since I was a child. But it made me want to see more movies, which led, of course, to... Jaws!
(Actually, Thom, it’s pretty good, especially for early-to-mid 70s Disney comedies. If it ever comes out on DVD, I’m sure one of our daughters could provide a reasonable pretext for your buying it.)

“Never happened. Oh, wait, during Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Oh, wait, not that. Never mind.” - The Mysterious Adrian Betamax

“Sulking in the family room at age 13, having survived another day of middle school and gymnastics practice, eating Jell-O instant vanilla pudding straight out of the mixing bowl, and watching a worn-out videotape of the Kevin Sullivan Anne of Green Gables movie or its sequel for the tenth straight time, I realized that movies might well save me from myself.” - PSaga

“When the first battle cruiser surged across the screen in Star Wars.” - Sharon.

“Not a moment but an era: somewhere between 1976 and 1977, bookended by the De Laurentiis King Kong and Star Wars. To the best of my recollection, they were the first "grown-up" films (non-Disney) I ever saw. The latter and its pre-1997 sequels are, of course, responsible for me being in the business I'm in now (though not in the job I once dreamed about).” - Dave Robidenza
(One of the nice byproducts of the Peter Jackson King Kong is hearing a lot more people come out of the closet regarding their enjoyable of DeLaurentiis’s 1976 Kong. I saw it with my two best friends in high school, both of whom were slavishly devoted to the 1933 version, so much so that it was a foregone conclusion for them that any new version, and especially one that was as apparently sexed-up as this one, was going to be a bomb. We all went to see the 1976 Kong together, and although it took me a couple of weeks to get up the nerve, I finally risked some serious ridicule by admitting that I liked it, and quite a lot. I’ve always been embarrassed to recall that I didn’t come clean right away, but, hey, that’s high school peer pressure for you, I guess.)

“Sometime between summers of ‘75 and ’77. That’s a long ‘moment,’ I know. Through an odd combination of fate and nepotism, I landed a part-time job running the projectors at The State, an All Seats $0.99, second-run theater in Oregon City, Oregon. I was 11. Mind you, these were the waning days (at least at The State) of alternating, carbon-arc fired projectors running 20-minute reels. Remember the little cue dots that would flash in the upper right hand corner?

Not only did I get to see multiple screenings of kiddie matinee fare—Abbott & Costello meet the _______, lots of Disney live-action stuff, The Bugs Bunny Road Runner Movie, etc., I also got a survey course in ‘70s cinema: Jaws, Young Frankenstein, the early/funny Woody Allen (Love and Death and Take the Money and Run), and a raft of random mid-70s flicks: Thunderbolt & Lightfoot, American Graffiti, White Line Fever, Gator, White Lightning, Walking Tall, Food of the Gods, Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother, Dirty Mary and Crazy Larry, Mother, Jugs and Speed, Gone in 60 Seconds, The Eiger Sanction, Silver Streak, etc. Most of it was borderline to wholly inappropriate for a pre-teen. But it sure beat the hell out of a paper route. Especially since, along with wolfing down my weight in popcorn and soda (or pop as we called it then), I made enough money (@ $1.10/hr.!) to buy a sweet 10-speed. The bike is long gone but the impression of those movies on the screen in my head, along with screams of ‘Focus!,’ is as vivid as ever.

Of course, ’77 was also the Year One of my cinephilia, on account of a little indie sleeper called Star Wars. Which really just makes Revenge of the Sith feel all the more like a betrayal. WTF, George?! You were supposed to be the chosen one!

Fast-forward to 1986, when I discovered the Coen bros. I’m hooked for life.” - Mr. Middlebrow
(Mr. M, you had me at Thunderbolt and Lightfoot and kept me with White Line Fever, White Lightning, Food of the Gods, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry and Gone in 60 Seconds.)


“The new Batmobile.” - Snake Plissken

“Chuck Yeager’s A2 (leather flight jacket) from The Right Stuff.” - Mr. Middlebrow

“I would love to have a Zardoz mask – and the stone head to set out as a yard decoration.” - Robert

“I don't really long for any prop or costume, but I'd be more than thrilled to have, for example, the little piano Dooley Wilson played in Casablanca, which you and I saw at the Warner Bros museum on the tour in '99. Just looking at it made me imagine being there while they were shooting it and being among those people, in that time. I guess it might be cool to have the Pazuzu statue that Father Merrin faced off with in Iraq in The Exorcist--I could put it out in the back yard. haha--Pattie would insist on planting jasmine to grow all over it--in the unlikely event she even allowed it in the house.” - Blaaagh
(Imagine the yard decorating you and Robert could do together.)

“A Toho flying monster, preferably Rodan.” - Peter Nellhaus
(Nice one, Peter! I’d take Ghidrah, maybe Brian would take Godzilla, and we could stage a Monster Zero rematch in Robert and Blaaagh’s yard amongst the Zardoz and Pazuzu statuary.)

“I always liked that helmet ammo belt and tommy gun that Sgt Chip Saunders aka Vic Morrow used to wear in the TV series Combat.” - Murray

“Peter Fonda’s dark glasses from The Wild Angels.” - Machine Gun McCain

“Either Steve Martin’s dental equipment in Little Shop of Horrors, or Jeremy Irons’ gynecologist tools for use on mutant women in Dead Ringers. Wait, you say those are the same props?” - Brian

“The obvious answer would be either Luke's or Obi-Wan's light saber from Star Wars. The obscure answer would be the Sex Panther (By Odeon) cologne bottle and matching presentation box from Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.” - Dave Robidenza

“You know, now that I’ve got a cheese grater like the one Amelie de Montmartre uses, I’m cool in this category. Just don’t ask me what movie poster I most covet, whatever you do.” - Psaga
(I’m sorry, but you know what one of the questions on the next quiz is going to be, don’t you?)

“I'd like that picture taking box from Dressed to Kill. I love the movie and feel like, because De Palma was a science and math geek, he probably designed it himself.” - Nilblogette

“I don't understand wanting costumes. When I worked for a studio in the '80s, I'd go to used clothing stores in Burbank selling stuff worn once or twice by actors in movies and TV shows. Just looked like used clothes to me. Prop? Maybe that big silver ball passed around at that party in Sleeper?” - Thom McGregor
(Yeah, get that!)

“I would love to have one of those motion trackers that the colonial marines used to track the xenomorphs in James Cameron's Aliens.” - Sal

“I’ll take any of James Bond’s cars, with our without Q’s upgrades.” - Sharon

“The Aston Martin in Goldfinger. However, if Lesley Ann Warren's red T-Bird in Choose Me comes equipped with Lesley Ann Warren...” - Virgil Hilts

“A Legolas costume from Lord of the Rings, as long as Orlando Bloom is still inside it.” - Beege

“The miniature maze in The Shining, because I love to get lost in that movie. For some dark reason, the Lament Configuration Puzzlebox from Hellraiser is another thing that comes to mind.” - Peet
(Somebody make sure Peet doesn’t get anywhere near a pin cushion, okay?)

3) TAKE A FAMOUS ROLE AND RECAST IT (for example, Audrey Hepburn instead of Andie McDowell in Four Weddings and a Funeral)

Here’s part of what I said in my own answer to this question: “Virgil and Brian both latched onto the not-so-hidden subtext of my including this question, but if we’re gonna play this game, then I think Sal has the right idea—recasting roles with long-dead performers, or performers unlikely to ever be cast in an actual remake, so as to better detach oneself to an important degree from this all-consuming trend of remaking absolutely everything. Just to test the limits of an audience’s empathy, how about a Dr. Strangelove-era Sterling Hayden in the Bill Murray role, and Shelley Duvall, straight out of Brewster McCloud, as Scarlet Johannsen in a remake of Lost in Translation? If nothing else, Duvall could convince you of the woman’s desperation and boredom (and she’d certainly cast that movie’s opening credits in a decidedly different light), and Hayden could sell the hell out of that Suntory whiskey while making the protagonist’s attitude toward his Japanese hosts a hell of a lot more difficult to deal with or rationalize.”

Here’s how everyone else responded:

Murray wants to see Clint Eastwood take over duties from John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn; similarly, Peter had a dream back in te 70s of remaking Rio Bravo with James Earl Jones, Richard Pryor, Diana Ros and Michael Jackson; Snake wants to oust Anthony Hopkins from The Silence of the Lambs and install the O.G. Lecter, Brian Cox, whereas Beege would like to see Ralph Fiennes take a crack at the fava bean connoisseur; Sal says bring back Bruce Lee, at the age he would be now, as Mace Windu in the Star Wars prequels; Blaagh wants to see what James Dean would do as Luke Skywalker; Robert votes for Cruise and Kidman in a remake of Andrezj Zulawski’s Possession; Peet thinks Tim Burton’s Batman would have been even better had Michael Keaton played Batman and the Joker; Sharon would like to see John Hurt inserted into the first two Harry Potter movies as Dumbeldore; and Thom McGregor, truly a woman after my own heart, asks to see Carole Lombard in any role Charlize Theron or Halle Berry ever did. (Except maybe Monsters Ball, okay, Thom?)

And then there’s Machine Gun McCain: “Hugh Grant in the Henry Fonda role and Andie MacDowall in the Barbara Stanwyck role in a horrible remake of Preston Sturges’ The Lady Eve."

Nilblogette had this to say: “The other day, I was thinking, ‘What if Ben Stiller and John Cusack had become action heroes off of Hot Pursuit?’ Thus, maybe John Cusack instead of Tom Cruise in War of the Worlds. The Tim Robbins scenes might not have been as intolerable if his best friend John Cusack was opposite him.”

Finally, the two comments that best summed up this category for me. First, Brian:

“Let’s see, how about putting Robert Mitchum in DeNiro’s role in Cape Fear, or Tony Perkins in the role Vince Vaughn made famous in Psycho, or Michael Caine in the signature Marky Mark movie The Italian Job (he might be pretty good with Sly’s role in Get Carter or Jude Law’s role in Alfie too). And there’s this relatively unknown Lithuanian actor named Donatas Banionas who could have nailed Clooney’s part in Solaris if given half a chance… I think I’ve got the knack for this!”

And the last word goes to Virgil Hilts: “Isn't this precisely the problem with movies today?”

Julian Beck, Poltergeist II: The Other Side (Peet)
Ian McDiarmid, Return of the Jedi (Brian)
Owen Wilson, Zoolander (Peter Nellhaus)
Ken Norton, Mandingo (Snake Plissken)
Robert Davi, The Rise and Fall of Heidi Fleiss (Nilblogette)
Rodney Dangerfield, Natural Born Killers, Marcia Gay Harden, P.S., Welcome to Mooseport (Dennis)
Faye Dunaway, Mommie Dearest, Uta Hagen, The Boys from Brazil (Blaaagh)
Frank Oz, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (Sal)
Rachel Weisz, The Mummy (Thom McGregor)
Robert Downey Jr. The Gingerbread Man (Sharon)
Bobcat Goldthwait, Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment (Mr. Middlebrow)
William Hickey, Forget Paris (Dave Robidenza)
Wilford Brimley, Richard Farnsworth, The Natural
Paul Newman, Message in a Bottle (Beege)
Austin Pendelton, Christmas with the Kranks (Machine Gun McCain)
Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump (Murray)
Johnny Depp, The Ninth Gate, Secret Window (Roscoe)

The last word in this category goes to Psaga: “John C. Reilly’s terrific performance in Magnolia only increased my wrath toward P.T. Anderson and his mess of a movie.”
Psaga, you and Blaagh may commiserate while I go off and mope in the corner.


Rex Harrison, My Fair Lady, George Chakiris, West Side Story (Virgil Hilts)
Meryl Streep, The French Lieutenant’s Woman (Thom McGregor)
Joaquin Pheonix, Gladiator (Sharon)
Andie McDowell, Groundhog Day (Mr. Middlebrow)
John Travolta, Pulp Fiction (Murray)
Quentin Tarantino, Pulp Fiction (Peet)
Talia Shire, The Godfather (Dennis)
Vivien Leigh, Gone With the Wind (“She was so much better in Streetcar”) (Beege)
Edward G. Robinson,The Ten Commandments (Sal)
Mickey Rooney, Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Blaagh)
Dustin Hoffman, Rain Man (Robert)
Henry Fonda, War and Peace (Peter Nellhaus)

“Mickey Rooney as the bucktoothed, coke-bottle-spectacled, camera-lovin', speech-impaired "Jap" in the beloved Breakfast at Tiffany's. God, that character and performance make my skin crawl-- but then, that whole movie makes my skin crawl.” - Snake Plissken

“Mark Hamill in Return of the Jedi. Not that the Star Wars films were ever known for stellar examples of the thespian craft, but some of his line readings are high-school theater bad.” - Dave Robidenza

“I love Orlando, until cheesy, greasy Billy Zane comes along and puffs his chest and wiggles his eyebrows and ruins everything. Come to think of it, I love Twin Peaks until John Justice Wheeler comes along and wiggles his eyebrows at Audrey Horne and ruins everything. Damn that Billy Zane. (But bless the IMDb! Can any of y’all Hannibal Lecter fans recommend this gem from the Billy Zane oeuvre: Il Silenzio Dei Prosciutti [The Silence of the Hams]?)” - PSaga

“Trying to come up with an answer to this category I realized just how forgiving I am of “bad” acting in great movies. For example, as stilted and unnatural as many a Hitchcock actor might have seemed, such performances tend to have no ill effect on, and usually are beneficial to, his films’ overall impact. So I thought I’d use this space to beat up a little on a 'great' movie that many 'revere' but that I never connected with. I like The Gold Rush, I like Modern Times and I love The Circus, but City Lights just never did it for me (except for the boxing scene), and Virginia Cherrill‘s performance as the blind girl in particular is simply unwatchable (so to speak).” - Brian

“It seems too mean to say Walter Brennan in a whole bunch of great films, so I'll go with Rebecca Romijn in Femme Fatale. I do think Femme Fatale is a great movie, but she makes it hard to watch.” - Nilblogette

“See most of the Academy Award-winners of the past few years.” - Machine Gun McCain


The Warriors seems the clear favorite among our bunch, getting votes from Murray, Snake Plissken, Nilblogette, Brian, Sal (who also throws some love out to The Long Riders and Extreme Prejudice) and Robert (who also throws some love out to The Long Riders and Southern Comfort).

Southern Comfort also gets a mention from Blaagh, who qualifies his pick by stating that he’s really not much of a Walter Hill fan. Machine Gun McCain also picked Southern Comfort with no such qualification attached.

Streets of Fire showed some strength, getting picks from Peter and Mr. Middlebrow, who also threw in for 48 Hrs., as did Sharon.

Dave Robidenza splits hairs and offers up Aliens, since Walter Hill gets a story credit, as a way of avoiding being forced to choose Red Heat.

And Virgil picks one from the heart (and the solar plexus): Hard Times.
Here’s the Mysterious Adrian Betamax: “Walter Hill = hack. But I'll choose Brewster's Millions for fun.”

“I know that I respect him, but I'm not sure why. I guess it would be between The Long Riders, because of Ry Cooder's great soundtrack and the really cool long coats the bandits wore, and Streets of Fire, only because of the super-cool Willem Dafoe.” - Thom McGregor

And to finish thing off in this category, Peet draws a little blood, which is somehow fitting for this director: “Favorite Walter Hill movie? The one just before he started making them, when they were still called Sam Peckinpah movies. I feel Walter Hill has never made a movie that lived up to his obvious directorial flourish, which wasn’t so groundbreaking to begin with. I’m not a Hill hater; his movies just don’t stick with me.”


Zbigniew Priesner Bleu, The RZA, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (PSaga)
Thomas Newman, Meet Joe Black, David Amran, The Manchurian Candidate (Peter)
Rodgers and Hammerstein, The Sound of Music (“I make no apologies. It's F-ing great.”) (Snake Plissken)
John Williams, the Star Wars trilogy (Dave)
John Williams, 1941 (Dennis)
John Williams, The Empire Strikes Back (Brian)
John Williams, Jaws (Sal)
Riz Ortolani, Cannibal Apocalypse (Machine Gun McCain)
Randy Edelman, Trevor Jones, The Last of the Mohicans (Beege)
Jerome Moross, The Big Country, Bernard Hermann, Fahrenheit 451, Ennio Morricone, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Robert)
Taro Iwashiro, Memories of Murder, James Newton Howard, The Village, Cliff Martinez, Solaris, Alexandre Desplat, Birth (Peet)
Thomas Newman, The Shawshank Redemption, Meet Joe Black, Road to Perdition (Sharon)
Max Steiner, Gone With the Wind (Blaaagh)
David Holmes, Ocean’s Eleven, Philip Glass, Koyaaniqatsi, anything by Lalo Schifrin (Mr. Middlebrow)
Ennio Morricone, Days of Heaven, Jerome Moross, The Big Country, Mark Knopfler, Local Hero, Elmer Bernstein, The Magnificent Seven
Goblin, Suspiria (Nilblogette)

Wings of Desire, but that would be the entire SOUND track-- Nick Cave's songs, the orchestral track, voices going in and out, traffic and construction noise. And Being John Malkovich by Carter Burwell, spot-on perfectly suited to the weird, sad, hilarious, wistful film. Oh, and Danny Elfman’s score for Pee Wee's Big Adventure.” - Thom McGregor

And finally, the Mysterious Adrian Betamax: “Pick a favorite musical score from every movie ever made? Take a hike, buster! (The M.A.B. then capitulates- Ed.) I'll pick Casino Royale's score as the most brilliantly insane musical score from any movie. And it's not a great movie.”


Peter Nellhaus says, “The first time I saw Repulsion,” and if you’ve seen Repulsion not a whole lot more needs to be said. (If you haven’t, it’s on DVD).

Here’s what some of the rest of the class had to say:

“Either sneaking in (underage) to see Alien, and when the creature bursts out of John Hurt's chest, covering my ears, closing my eyes and understanding for the first time what "Rated R" meant. Also, watching Raging Bull in Hollywood, with just a few people in the audience, one of whom went into some kind of testosterone and/or drug-fueled rage of excitement during any bloodletting boxing scene. I thought we were all gonna die.” - Thom McGregor

“In the theater, my scariest moment actually shouldn't have been scary - the ghost flying toward the screen at the beginning of Ghostbusters. I was expecting a comedy! As legitimate scares go, the underwater scene in Argento's Inferno is just behind the old crone in bathtub in The Shining-- both are ghoul/water double threats.” - Nilblogette

“I was exposed to a great deal of horror films early on in life, so there are quite a few to choose from. I’d seen the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre” when I was but a wee one and it scared the daylights out of me.” - Machine Gun McCain

“I was 19 or so and had just moved to a new town (Klamath Falls) where we lived in a tiny apartment complex behind the old Tower Theater. My wife had not yet made the move so I was all by myself. I went to watch The Texas Chainsaw Massacre which just scared the living daylights out of me. I can remember being especially aware of my surroundings after watching that movie and I remember hurrying back to the apartment and locking, double locking, or maybe even triple locking if there is such a thing all the doors and windows of the apartment. It took several hours for me to calm down enough to get some sleep. Since this movie I have not watched but a handful of horror films.” - Murray

“My brother and I went to see Michael Cimino's Year of the Dragon at a multiplex in Monterey Park, CA. We were two of maybe a dozen non-Asians in a packed theater, and we weren't sure if we should leave the movie before the end credit roll or if we sit through all the credits and hope that the theater emptied out. In either case, we were sure we were going to get our butts kicked in the parking lot because a lot of people in the audience were not too happy with what they had just seen on the screen.” - Virgil Hilts

“There is an extremely chilling moment in Ole Bornedal’s Nattevagten (the superior Danish original of the lame Hollywood remake Nightwatch that starred Ewan McGregor), in which a girl investigates the room of somebody who is likely to be the story’s killer, and slowly but surely realizes he’s hiding behind the very door she entered through a minute before. It’s a moment that made all the hairs in my neck stand up, reminiscent to Nancy Allen’s bathroom scene in Dressed to Kill.” - Peet

“I went to see Carrie at the Bagdad Theater in Portland upon its release in 1976 (it was October, as I recall) with some of my buddies, and it was one of the most intensely emotional movies I had seen (funny as that sounds!)--but when her arm popped up out of the grave/pile of charcoal briquets at the end and grabbed hold of Amy Irving, I'm sure I was literally scared out of my seat, and I'm pretty sure I--well, not screamed, but let's say I let out a yell of terror. At least I was hardly the only one who reacted that way in the theater, nor was I alone among my friends in losing all semblance of composure.” - Blaagh

“The most scared I've ever been in a theater: When I was on a date with a young man and he kept putting popcorn in my ears and calling me ‘mom’. *shiver*” - Beege

“The blood-in-the-Petri-dish scene in John Carpenter’s The Thing. I've seen that movie half a dozen times, and that scene never fails to make me crazy with fear and tension. I almost can't take it.” - Snake Plissken

“The TV ads for The Exorcist were enough to give me nightmares as a freshly confirmed Catholic kid. Which might explain my general aversion to horror pics—especially anything satanic.” - Mr. Middlebrow

“The TV movie Dark Night of the Scarecrow (featuring Darkman's Larry Drake in a pre-L.A. Law mentally-challenged role) freaked my mother, brother, and I out so much that we slept in the same bed that night. And get your minds out of the gutter.” - Dave Robidenza

“Watching The Haunting, after coming come from school on an afternoon matinee – Alone. In the house. The sequence with the face in the wall and Julie Harris discovers that Claire Bloom has not been holding her hand. Not something I’d do again” - Robert

“I have a severe detachment from myself while watching a movie so I don’t get scared much, but I will go with the suicidal kid scene in The Sixth Sense.” - Roscoe

“In 1972 I was 11 years old and my father took my little brother and I to a drive-in theater, the old Whittier Drive-in, to see The Legend of Boggy Creek. The scene where one of the characters goes to the bathroom and is sitting on the toilet when suddenly this Bigfoot creature breaks the window in that room really scared the piss outta me.” - Sal (Your first encounter with interactive entertainment?)

"I remember going to a May Fair at my church as a kid. For some reason one of the entertainments there was that they were playing clips from (mostly) recent films on a screen set up in the choir room. I remember sitting through clips from Flash Gordon, a Superman movie and The Three Caballeros before they played a few scenes from Alien. It culminated, of course, with the scene where John Hurt’s chest gets ripped open. Terrified, I ran from the room and don't think I ever set foot in a theater playing a horror movie for at least ten years. The image of the alien coming out of his body haunted me until I finally watched the full movie on video at age 25 or so.” - Brian


Folks, I tried, I really tried to get this wrapped up tonight, but here it is, almost 2:00 am, and I’ve still got about 11 questions to cover. So, in the spirit of delayed gratification, I pray you hold tight for part three. Coming next: “Holidays, Hams, Crushes, Wishes and Everything In-Between.” And coming right after that– get your pencil sharpened for Professor Van Helsing’s Spring Surprise Midterm!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


There are a lot of country artists I came to know and love while sitting and drinking coffee with my grandma in her kitchen, listening to her tell stories of how she grew up, how she fell in love, built her house from the ground up with her husband, how they tamed their little corner of the world, how he died tragically, and how she managed to carry on. Those artists, and their subject matter, and their style of playing—roots country, honky-tonk and folk—all became intertwined, the tales of romantic entanglement, heartbreak and loss and religious redemption merging with my grandma’s own stories to provide the soundtrack for my vivid imagining of her life story. Buck Owens was one of those artists, and he died this past Saturday at the age of 76. Here are the first five reasons why I’ll miss him.

1) “(I’ve Got a) TIGER BY THE TAIL” (1964; Harlan Howard, Buck Owens) from the album I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail

A classic Bakersfield stomp. My grandma and I used to dance to this one in her living room-- one time we jumped up and down so hard that we loosened the stovepipe from the wall fitting.

I've got a tiger by the tail, it's plain to see
I won't be much when you get through with me
Well, I'm a-losin’ weight and I'm turnin’ mighty pale
Looks like I've got a tiger by the tail

Well, I thought the day I met you, you were meek as a lamb
Just the kind to fit my dreams and plans
Now the pace we're livin' takes the wind from my sails
And it looks like I've got a tiger by the tail

Well, every night you drag me where the bright lights are found
There ain't no way to slow you down
I'm about as helpless as a leaf in a gale, and it looks like I've got a tiger by the tail

2) “PHFFT! YOU WERE GONE” (1966; Susan Heather) from the album Too Old to Cut the Mustard, Buck Owens and Buddy Alan

Buck and Buddy cut this one in 1966, but it went on to greater fame when it was adopted as the signature tune for one of the most enduring comedy bits on Buck’s extremely popular country variety show Hee Haw.

I know that you loved me, here's my way of knowin’
The proofs hangin’ out right there on the line
When I see the snow and feel the wind blowin’
Your nighties huggin’ them long-johns of mine

The noises you made at our supper table
Your habits, my dear, were surely absurd
But how many times do I have to tell you
Soup is a dish to be seen and not heard

Where, oh, where are you tonight?
Why did you leave me here all alone?
I searched the world over and I thought I'd found true love
You met another and—Phfft! You were gone

3) “TALL DARK STRANGER” (1969; Buck Owens) from the album Tall Dark Stranger

Its imagery possibly influenced by the films of Sergio Leone, Clint Eastwood seemingly returned the favor with the tall, dark stranger of his own film, High Plains Drifter. And I don’t remember if Stephen King made specific mention of this song in his novel The Stand, but it’s hard to believe he didn’t at least have Owens’ song rattling in the back of his mind somewhere when he conceived of the terrifying Randall Flagg.

They say a tall dark stranger is a demon
And that a devil rides closely by his side
With no warning he can strike like the thief in the night
Then jump up on his pony and ride, ride, ride
So beware of a tall dark stranger...
So don't let no stranger hang around

4) “CRYIN’ TIME” (1964; Buck Owens) (from the album I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail

Another classic weeper that my grandma used to spin for me. She used to tell me that she thought Buck Owens looked kind of goofy, but his voice told a different story. I like to think this is one of the songs she was thinking of when she said that.

Oh, it's cryin’ time again
You're gonna leave me
I can see that far-away look in your eyes
I can tell by the way you hold me, darlin’
That it won't be long before it's cryin’ time

5) “ETERNAL VACATION” (1965; Buck Owens) from the album Dust On Mother’s Bible

Buck, like many a great country artist, knew about old-time religion, and it’s hard for me not to hear this one on the wind these days…

Some people are taking vacation traveling both far and near
Never stop and think about Jesus, never say him to have a care
It seems that I cannot be like them while on Earth life's burdens I bear
And I prepare to meet Jesus and rest eternally there
Yes, someday I'll take a vacation one that never will end

And now, thanks to the good folks at, Buck Owens and the Buckaroos, featuring Don Rich on guitar and harmony, Doyle Holly, Willie Cantu and Tom Brumley on the steel, from 1966— a live version of “(I’ve Got a) Tiger by the Tail,” just because.

R.I.P., Mr. Owens.

Monday, March 27, 2006


When I think of director Richard Fleischer, who passed away Saturday at the age of 89, I don’t necessarily think first of his films that those of my generation might be thought to naturally gravitate toward— the Disney epic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the effects packed adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage, or even the movie that came to epitomize major studio cluelessness and ineptitude at the end of the 1960s, 20th-Century Fox’s Dr. Dolittle.

The name Richard Fleischer instead brings to my mind a trio of pictures he did in the early to mid 70s—Charlton Heston discovering the secret of a popular food substance in an overpopulated future in the science-fiction thriller Soylent Green; the Charles Bronson action drama Mr. Majestyk, based on a screenplay by Elmore Leonard; and perhaps his most notorious film (if you don’t count Neil Diamond in The Jazz Singer, that is), the hit adaptation of Kyle Onstott’s brutal sex-and-slavery potboiler, Mandingo.

For months, after writing an essay which included an account of seeing the film as a teenager, I wondered if there was any serious writing on this movie, which has stuck with me for years and which, upon encountering it again as an adult, revealed itself to be a much more serious and intelligent film than I (or many film critics in 1975) ever gave it credit for being.

The answer to my question came this morning in discovering within the online pages of The Film Journal a Director’s Retrospective series of essays concerning the films of Richard Fleischer, published this past January. The first article, written by Zach Campbell, whose Elusive Lucidity blog can be found on the sidebar to your right, is entitled “Follow Him Quietly: Richard Fleischer and the Consideration of Metteurs-en-scène” and contains a quite-welcome look at Mandingo near its conclusion.

But even more detailed a consideration is Robert Keser’s “The Eye We Cannot Shut: Richard Fleischer's Mandingo.” Keser spends a healthy amount of space on the film’s methodology and its critical reception in 1975 before launching into an exhaustive, and convincing, analysis of Mandingo as social critique derived and informed by the mechanics and tropes of melodrama, “sans big speeches or messages embedded in the dialogue,” and gives Fleischer another chance to defend his film:

Not driven by literary respectability, Mandingo confounded critics who could not accept a serious statement about the socio-economic order in the form of a melodrama sans big speeches or messages embedded in dialogue. What’s more, the dramatic extremes of the plot… continually risk making the film look ridiculous, no less than the use of archaic vernacular—such as “wenches” (black women used as bed partners) and “suckers” (their offspring).

In his capacity as both director and co-scenarist, Richard Fleischer reacted with passion, defending his artistry against reviewers who were unable to address racist subject matter that felt too raw (and may still be so):

”The thing that is infuriating to me is that the critics become blinded by their own dislike of the subject. They may loathe the story, but then they say that the photography was bad, the sets were lousy, the costumes stank and that the writing was rotten. I can defend all of that. I can defend the direction, and everybody said the direction was terrible, inept. I really don’t think you can criticize a lot of things in the film as being badly done. You may hate what it is or what it says, but you can’t say it’s all rotten. It’s just not true.”

Indeed, this negative critical reception has shut
Mandingo out of the national conversation about race, yet its indictment of top dog morality seems more relevant than ever. With no villainous power-hungry individual as a repository of the plot’s evils and no true hero with a tragic flaw, the system itself is the flaw that entraps and destroys its participants. Mandingo bears poignant witness to how this impersonal and unforgiving economic apparatus closes its jaws on each player and then bites down.

The script’s genius*—not too strong a word—is to fuse melodrama into social critique, creating a hybrid where sexual relationships are poetic correlatives to economic ones, a credible match as procreation formed the basis of the business.
Mandingo is two entities at once: the economics contains the melodrama, while the potboiler is the repository of all the sexual conflicts and betrayals that reveal how the lucrative enterprise worked on a human level. As such, its pulp proves more useful than all the allegory and postmodern finger-wagging of Lars Von Trier’s Manderlay.

I highly recommend the writing of both Campbell and Keser as tributes both to a director most never considered with much seriousness while he was alive and making films, and to one film in particular whose reputation would surely be well served by a DVD release, if there’s anyone left in Hollywood with the nerve to put it back on the shelf.

(* Mandingo’s script was adapted from the Onstott book by scenarist Norman Wexler, who also wrote the scripts for Joe, Serpico and Saturday Night Fever.)

Saturday, March 25, 2006

OH, THE PLACES YOU'LL GO! Links, Screenings and Giggling Girls on an Otherwise Quiet Friday Night

It's a typical Friday night in the SLIFR universe-- lots of stuff to talk about, think about, write about and read about, as usual, and just as usual, practically no time to talk, think, write or read about them. But try I shall. I can hear my youngest daughter singing in her crib as I sit here typing in my bedroom. I put her to bed an hour ago (8:30 p.m.), and she's still not even halfway through her repertoire. (Right now she's going through heartfelt renditions of selected Bryan Adams songs from the soundtrack of the movie Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.)

Tonight I had the rare opportunity to read bedtime stories to my oldest daughter too. This is usually the exclusive province of my wife, who often falls asleep in bed with her, which is just the way my daughter likes it (and, I suspect, my wife too.) But tonight the Mrs. is working in the Burbank office. She's trying to get a jump on all the assignments she has to catch up on for the weekend and the beginning of next week. So her reading chores were shifted to me, and not before a copious display of tears were shed over the whole substitution matter by the little one, I must say.

I read to our youngest first, and our oldest had calmed down by the time I made it to her room. She found it extremely funny tracking the odd things that came out of my mouth as I tried to stay awake while reading a very long and verbose Strawberry Shortcake story ("That makes me berry, berry happy, Strawzzzzzzzzz.....") I would fall asleep for a brief second, sometimes utter a bizarre non sequitur, then snap back to awareness to the sound of her laughter.What I was saying didn't make any sense, but it was apparently hilarious. So I decided to play to my obvious strength in this situation-- absurd humor-- and turned the next book, a relatively innocent tome about Lilo and Stitch and photos Lilo has taken of her family and the Hawaiian paradise in which they all live, into a ridiculous fantasy in which Lilo illogically transforms into a super-villain bent on turning the Hawaiian islands into a frozen wasteland of snow and ice. It made absolutely no sense at all, but each crazy joke made her ache with laughter all the harder, until finally the "story" was finished, she was fully and truly exhausted, and had forgotten how upset she was about Mommy not being there for her this one night. She drifted off to sleep with no protest, but not before asking one last time, as she bravely fought off the quivering lower lip that threatened to overtake her beautiful little face again as it did earlier in the evening, just exactly how many more minutes until Mommy was coming back. I reassured her Mommy would come visit her when she got home, and that was all it took. Visions of her beloved mother, and Lilo blasting the island of Kauai with a super-sleet ray, carried her off to peaceful slumber, where she remains as I click-clack on the keyboard just a room away.

The weekend looks to be a fairly quiet one for our family. I'm going to try to get in an early-morning beach walk tomorrow with some pals. Then tomorrow night the two girls and I will be giving Mom the Saturday night off by high-tailing it to the Mission Tiki Drive-in for a screening of the remake of The Shaggy Dog. Not that Tim Allen as a sheepdog I'll be having a tough time keeping my eyes off the other screens-- one features a double bill of Spike Lee's new movie, a heist drama entitled Inside Man, and Dave Chappelle's Block Party, the other a tasty combination of Bruce Willis in 16 Blocks and the outlandish and terrific futuristic political thriller V For Vendetta, which I saw last Saturday night.

I'm really ready for a weekend of relative relaxation. But before I lay me down to sleep, I wanted to link you up to some good weekend reading, and tip you off to a couple of screenings coming up in the next few weeks, that will hopefully be of as much interest to you as they are to me.


Dave Kehr, in the New York Times, writes eloquently about Don Siegel in conjunction with an upcoming Siegel retrospective at the Film Forum in New York which runs through April 7.


I've meant to link to this for over a month now, and I'm finally getting to it. Aaron Graham, aka Machine Gun McCain, has a riveting report on the unproduced screenplay for the proposed second Jaws sequel at his blog More Than Meets the Mogwai. The screenplay, which was to have been produced under the National Lampoon banner and directed by Joe Dante, was called Jaws 3, People 0. It's one of those phantom film ideas that constantly keep you ruminating about what might have been. Machine Gun comes to a levelheaded conclusion about the script itself, but his is a very readable investigation into its strengths and weaknesses. And even if the script doesn't completely work, who's to say the resulting film would have been any wore than Jaws 3-D?


Over at Like Anna Karina's Sweater, Filmbrain presents a piece entitled "David Bordwell's Call to Arms." It goes a little something like this:

"Fellow film bloggers and critics take note — contemporary film criticism is failing. At least that's academic and author David Bordwell's opinion in an essay found in the latest issue of Cinema Scope. Entitled "Against Insight," it's a piece that will undoubtedly raise eyebrows and perhaps even bruise a few egos. And though it's not quite a polemic for a new criticism, Bordwell doesn't mince words, and there's more than a slight hint of J'accuse throughout the piece."

You can finish reading Filmbrain's thoughts on Bordwell's thoughts here.


Matt Zoller Seitz points the way toward a new horror film getting a lot of attention on the festival circuit. It's called Puzzlehead, and Matt sits down with director James Bai for an illuminating talk that will do nothing but whet your desire to see this one as soon as possible.


The buzz, or should that be hiss, on director David R. Ellis' upcoming feature Snakes on a Plane is getting downright deafening. And since this movie has people talking about it and its filmmakers' unique interaction with its Internet fan base so far in advance of its August 18 release date, you can expect SOAP to experience a uniquely pre-release backlash once footage starts getting circulated or people just get sick of hearing about it. (There was a report about the movie on NPR's All Things Considered yesterday, for God's sake!) But those of us who love Ellis' work on Final Destination 2 and Cellular have reason beyond the movie's obvious exploitation roots and assumed camp factor to have deliriously high hopes. And given that release date, I think I know where I want my birthday party to be this summer, hint, hint...


Hollywood Master Storytellers will present pioneering effects magician Ray Harryhausen at a screening honoring the 25th anniversary of the animator's last production, Clash of the Titans, at the Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood on Wednesday, April 19. In addition to Harryhausen, several of the cast and behind-the scenes personnel who worked on the film, including Harry Hamlin, will attend, as will Harryhausen's lifelong friend, author Ray Bradbury. Personally, I'd rather see Jason and the Argonauts or Mysterious Island on the big screen again, but any opportunity to see Ray Harryhausen speak is appreciated.


And speaking of screenings, the American Cinematheque has a very special night in store for Sergio Leone fans this coming Friday, March 31. They will be presenting, at the wonderful Aero Theater on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica, the director's cut of Duck, You Sucker (Giu La Testa). Available only on Region 2 DVD, this is a very rare opportunity to see Leone's epic restored to its original European running time, as there are still no announced plans for a Region 1 disc (though the Aero screening may, if we're lucky, pave the way for one). If it's not yet sold out, I hope to be there myself!


Finally, though restrictions on my time and brain cells prevent me from participating this time, I wanted to make sure everyone is aware that the next Blog-a-Thon is nearly upon us. Girish will be participating, and undoubtedly providing a long list of links to others who will be submitting pieces for the Abel Ferrara Blog-a-Thon coming up in just two days, on Monday, March 27. There should be a lot of illuminating reading available on films as varied, in scope and achievement, as Driller Killer, Ms. .45, Fear City, China Girl, Bad Lieutenant, Body Snatchers, The Funeral, The Addiction, Dangerous Games and a host of others. I'm not completely sold on Ferrara myself, but that's not preventing me from looking forward to all the insights and terrific writing that will surely be on tap for this, the latest installment in what is fast becoming a happy habit around these parts. (And don't forget, the Angie Dickinson Blog-a-Thon is on its way April 19.)

Have a great weekend!


V For Vendetta is, unless I'm forgetting or simply unaware of something fairly obvious, Hollywood's first shot at adapting a comic book (or graphic novel, if you must) that features its political content rather than its action set pieces front and center. I'm only just getting into Alan Moore's original book, but it's already fairly clear to me that one of the shakiest wires upon which the film must balance is the one from which the "superhero" element of the story must be served without watering down or rendering hopelessly silly that political content. The hyperstylized world of Moore's novel, illustrated by David Lloyd, allows, as most comic books must, for Herculean suspension of disbelief arrived at, once the graphic novel format is accepted, fairly easily. The movie, which takes place in three-dimensional space, has the same protagonist-- a terrorist operating beneath a Guy Fawkes mask who works to enact vengeance upon and otherwise render to smoking ruins the corrupt British totalitarian state in which he dwells. But in acting out scenarios that might play perfectly well on the page, the filmmakers-- any filmmakers-- risk throwing their intended tone completely off the scale with the slightest misstep.

It's a relief to report that, despite occasional lapses in that tonal balance, V For Vendetta is a strikingly successful achievement, a personal epic that risks alienating its audience by not delivering big action set pieces with metronomic regularity, by liberally dosing them with literary (and, in V's first big on-screen speech, giddily alliterative) allusions, and asking them to identify, in the post 9-11 world, with a "hero" for whom large-scale destruction and small-scale retribution are the only effective tools. It's a relief to experience a movie that doesn't shy away from the most troubling implications of its hero's actions, but instead uses them to not only stir up the audience's emotions but to also get them thinking about why they're reacting the way they are to acts which, in slightly different contexts, could be looked upon not as heroically revolutionary but instead simply destructive, possibly murderous. Of course, the raison d'etre for director James McTeigue and screenwriters Andy and Larry Wachowski in updating Moore's book from its Thatcherian roots (a move that has not pleased the notoriously dyspeptic author) is to encourage the perception of similarities between the repressive, dictatorial regime depicted in the film and the current climate created by waging an increasingly unpopular war for trumped-up or blatantly false reasons and the squandering of civil liberties in the name of national security that have been hallmarks of the post-9/11 Bush administration. V For Vendetta is being released into the world under the auspices of one of those giant corporations-- Time-Warner-- whose interests are of prime importance to those currently in power. But that hasn't dulled the filmmakers' instincts to bite the hand, or attack the sensibilities, of that which feeds them. They've delivered an incendiary entertainment that isn't satisfied with just mounting a vision of a dystopian nightmare-- the avenger V wants his revenge and to kick-start a new order, but he also wants his young charge, the initially politically neutral Evey, to connect the dots back to the roots of that nightmare-- our nightmare-- and that's what the filmmakers want us to do too.

V's mask, that of the 17th-century British seditionist Guy Fawkes, never falls away. (Fawkes, a radical Catholic who planned to blow up Parliament, thereby assassinating both houses and King James I, is burned in effigy in England to this day every November 5, the day Fawkes' "Gunpowder Plot" was foiled.) One of the biggest gambles in V For Vendetta is the handing-over of the film's sympathies to such a visually stylized character, effectively robbing the actor who plays him of an essential tool-- his face-- in the seduction of an audience to those sympathies. Fortunately, for us, Hugo Weaving is the man behind the mask, and he disarms a potential disadvantage by using his mellifluous voice and the subtlety of his body movements to convey what his face cannot. His greatest triumph is in creating a constant desire in the audience to see V's true face, and then inspiring us to hope that it is never revealed, for fear of reducing the richness of the mystery the actor has been able to spin from his circumstances. What Weaving does here is a marvel to behold.

As for his costar, I've never been too solidly in Natalie Portman's camp. Though she was perhaps the best thing about Ted Demme's Beautiful Girls, I thought the exploitation she endured under the watchful eye of Luc Besson (and I don't mean that in a responsible guardian kind of way) in The Professional was borderline criminal. But even through her emergence as a star in vehicles like Where The Heart Is, up through her tragically awful sleepwalk through George Lucas' green-screen universe, and even including her Oscar-nominated breakthrough adult role in Closer, I've never thought she was much of an actress. In V For Vendetta, Portman makes a convincing case for herself as a talented actress. Though barely rising above her familiar ingenue status for the film's first half (in the comic book Evey is introduced turning tricks), Portman has never been better than she is here in an extended sequence after Evey has been captured, shorn of her long locks, imprisoned and subjected to what seems like months of interrogation, torture and isolation. The actress and the film have been criticized for not making the politically reborn Evey more of a woman of action. But it seemed realistic to me that she should, even after her radical readjustment, still need time to find her feet, as it were. And Portman compels us through this dark reimagining of Evey's soul with much empathy and admirable fearlessness. She reflects the audience's ambivalence about supporting V's ultimate plan of destruction; we grapple with the implications for the future of the film's Britain right alongside her, while at the same time ruminating upon the revolutionary origins of our own country.

V For Vendetta is by no means perfect. When Evey's friend, a host of a national TV talk show, played by Stephen Fry, stages a brutal satire of dictatorial figurehead John Hurt (seen throughout the film mostly on video monitors invoking the spirit, if not the letter, of 1984's Big Brother), it seems a crucial misstep that he so arrogantly misjudges the dictatorship's willingness to come directly to his home and shut him down permanently. The incident is used to remind Evey of the abduction and execution of her own parents and lay the groundwork for her own imprisonment, but it's a narratively sloppy way to achieve those ends. Fry's character, who functions largely as a safe-and-sane harbor for the fugitive Evey, for all intents and purposes an above-ground mirror version of V, could have easily served as more than just a ill-thought-out plot device. (I'll be interested to see if the comic book makes the same mistake.) And as rich as the film looks (it was photographed by the late Adrian Biddle, who shot Brazil), it risks being written off as pedestrian and flat-footed when compared to the groundbreaking visualization of Frank Miller's Sin City at the hands of shallow cinematic virtuoso Robert Rodriguez.

But the way the scenarists, and in particular director McTeigue, fold in the various levels of back-story is inventive and reflective of the chronologically challenging way stories are told in comic books. The fate of Evey's parents, of V's forced participation in a viral conspiracy which results in hundreds of thousands dead, and his own rebirth by fire, and the fate of a gay actress, whose blissful self-awareness and love are destroyed under the government's brutalizing genocidal thumb, all dovetail with the main narrative line in a feat of unexpected resonance, resulting in several sequences that can only be classified as terrifically assured storytelling and bravura filmmaking. An essentially peripheral gay character, seen only in flashback, provides the film with one of its central metaphors ("God is in the rain") as well as its emotional center. V For Vendetta is a political thriller released by a major studio that openly anchors its representation of the repressed underclass, not to mention its sympathies, to the importance of the everyday life and ultimate fate of a lesbian. Now, that seems pretty radical to me. It's a measure of the film's command that it never loses its power to confound our preconceived notions of political expediency and expression, even at those points when its tone wobbles enough to make us aware of the absurdity of a man swooping through the streets of London in a mask, single-handedly doling out bloody justice and somehow escaping the ever-vigilant electronic surveillance that is the lifeblood of the dictatorship he means to destroy. That's the particular province of the comics, that they can sell such absurdities through the urgency of their imagery. Add to that urgency inspired acting, a nimble directorial touch and a passion to engage in a stream of explosive political currency-- a rarity for a film of any stripe-- and you have V For Vendetta.

(Screenwriter Larry Gross goes deeper into the mystery of V, for those who have seen the film already, in an interesting piece at the Movie City News site.)

Thursday, March 23, 2006


Wow, and I thought I was late with the answers to the last quiz!

When I finalized the questions for Professor Brainerd’s Christmas Quiz, I had this feeling that they weren’t all that good or interesting a group of queries, that the inspiration was running a bit low as I attempted to cram the quiz in with everything else before getting the family holiday vacation underway. Well, however uninspired the questions may have been, it’s my pleasure to report that the answers submitted easily supplied the wit and intelligence to make up for whatever shortcomings were built into the enterprise. That’s why you’ll see, in this version of the Quiz Roundup, that I frequently felt more comfortable just giving you the original answer as it appeared in the comments column– no need to jazz things up on my end, and I’d probably just muck it if I tried. So let’s turn the Wayback Machine back about three months (three months?!) and take a look at the best of the crop, the cream of the best, your answers to Professor Brainerd’s 2005 Christmas Quiz.

First off, the Celebrity Smackdown Section:

Charlton Heston vs.George Kennedy
A little closer contest than I would have guessed it might be– Heston’s politics were a factor for a goodly number of voters, though his appearance in Planet of the Apes seems to make up for the whole NRA thing for several of you. Kennedy got his props too, mostly for The Naked Gun, the Airport movies and, of course, his Oscar-winning performance in Cool Hand Luke. (I was hoping someone would mention Charade, but at least Sal remembered Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.) Anyway, in a close contest here’s how the tally shook out among those who had a preference (and there were some who just threw up their hands):


“As the saying goes: ‘Charlton Heston is an axiom of cinema.’" - Peter Nellhaus

“Charlton Heston has the edge with me because his movies have made a bigger impact on me (Moses, Ben-Hur, Planet of the Apes) and a whole host of westerns including The Big Country. He also has a one of kind voice that makes him easy to listen to whenever he narrates a film. George always seemed to play second fiddle to other major actors, but he always made that movie better if he was in it.” - Murray

“Charlton Heston or George Kennedy? I don't know either of them well. To me, Chuck is primarily a gun-toting Moses. But George Kennedy looks like a nice guy. I'll pick him.” - Beege

“Charlton, I love that guy, no matter my political/social disagreement with him--especially in The Omega Man, Planet of the Apes and Soylent Green. I'm telling you, I used to daydream of getting to meet him, when I was a kid. Finally I did go see him for a free noontime lecture at UCLA, and he was wonderfully affable and entertaining--and of course he delivered some bombastic Shakespearean speech, Prospero from The Tempest. Never half-assed, that guy.” - Blaaagh

“Heston, if only for his role in turning Touch of Evil into an Orson Welles movie (and, indeed, not only for that).” - Brian

“Ever since I saw Thunderbolt and Lightfoot George Kennedy literally stole my heart. In it he's masquerading as a ice cream man driving through a suburban neighborhood when he gets grilled by a smart-ass kid. George finally responds to this little smart-ass by telling him to go "fuck a duck." You gotta love him for that.” - Sal

“Charlton Heston to go hunting with, George Kennedy to go to Hometown Buffet with.” - Thom McGregor

“Kennedy both for his less obvious politics (allowing for the fact that they may be close to Heston's) and for his willingness to appear in the Naked Gun series. ‘The water's over there, Frank’ is one of my favorite throwaway lines that sends me into convulsions of laughter.” - Dave Robidenza

“Phil Hartman’s Chuck Heston bits on SNL (‘It’s people! Soylent Green is peeeeopllllle!’) pretty much did him in for me. Actually, Wink, I’d like to combine this question with the previous one and imagine for a moment that they swapped all their roles. I’d love to have seen Kennedy in Planet of the Apes.” - Mr. Middlebrow

Peter Cushing vs Christopher Lee
Whether you know them as Hammer horror greats or as veterans of the Star Wars trilogy, this contest inspired fierce loyalties and another tight race.


“Christopher Lee. Because his introduction of Meat Loaf on Saturday Night Live is simultaneously one of the best and funniest intros I have ever heard.” - Virgil Hilts

“Christopher Lee for a road trip to wine country in Northern California. Peter Cushing to maintain and manage the Death Star.” -Thom McGregor

“Like I’ve managed to concentrate any effort to study Hammer movies since Mr. Hand’s pop quiz. (Hey, can I get partial credit for identifying the Hammer connection?) Even though I’m not qualified to answer, I’m gonna say Christopher Lee, because Peter Cushing is nowhere to be seen in The Return of Captain Invincible.” - Psaga

“Time for a confession: I had NO idea who these guys were. I had to ask my geek husband, and he clued me in. Tarkin or Dooku...Tarkin or Dooku...gotta go with Tarkin. The name 'Dooku' sounds too much like 'Doofus'. Plus, well: Tarkin was just pretty damn cool for a bad guy.” - Beege

Ingrid Pitt vs. Barbra Steele
This one really separated the Famous Monsters of Filmland subscribers from the rest of the pack. But amongst those who knew their Black Sunday from their Vampire Lovers, it really wasn’t much of a contest:


“I do not recognize either of these gals. They must be mistresses of the dark, scary movies that I have avoided since The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” - Murray

“For those who don't know Barbara Steele or Ingrid Pitt, I recommend one film from each. Steele became the early ‘60s queen of horror in Mario Bava's Black Sunday. Ingrid Pitt was in some Hammer films in the early 70s. Countess Dracula has the most exposed breasts you'll see in a PG film!” - Peter Nellhaus

“I wasn't a huge Barbara Steele fan until I saw an interview with her and she is sharp as a tack.” - Nilblogette

“Steele. Those eyes!” - Machine Gun McCain

“Remington Steele.” - Beege

“Must go with Steele. From my North American perspective, Shivers beats TheWicker Man any day.” - Brian

“I gotta go with Barbara Steele. I'm a man, for Christ’s sake. If you’re a man, you gotta love Caged Heat...” - Sal

“Barbara has the eyes and the class, yet Ingrid wasn’t afraid to bare some skin. Who says I have to choose? The only correct answer is BOTH.” - Robert

“Sorry, my geek alert buzzer just went off, so I’m afraid I can’t answer that question. These ladies can’t hold a candle to Raquel Welch in One Million Years B.C. anyway.” - Peet

“Don't know either of them. So Pitt for olives, Steele for supporting structures.” - Thom McGregor

“Okay, you’re just making these up now, right? Just to flush out the posers?” - Mr. Middlebrow

“Barbara Steele, post-iron maiden, from Black Sunday (1960) is about as iconic, and strangely erotic, an image as Famous Monsters of Filmland ever repeatedly printed. But I never saw the movie until quite recently. Ingrid Pitt, however, was the stuff of prepubescent inspiration in such terrifically lurid and bosomy Hammer horror fare as The Vampire Lovers (1970) and Countess Dracula (1972), both of which hold up quite well as eros and as fright cinema some 35 years later.” - Dennis (Guess who cast the lone vote for Ingrid Pitt?)

Jason Lee vs. Jason Mewes
Setting Kevin Smith fans upon themselves didn't really turn out as bloody as I'd expected. I'd like to think that My Name is Earl played an unspoken role here, but never discount the power of Syndrome!


"Insofar as Mewes pretty much plays Jason Mewes in every single film he's ever been in, I'm going with Jason Lee. Plus, I thought he was sort of hot, pre-Earl pimp 'stache." - Beege

"Anyone who can smoke like that and still deliver his lines is always the better actor. Jay wins." - Sal

"Mewes! He’s a berserker!" - Thom McGregor

"The real me, who dutifully tagged along on the annual comicon pilgrimage with my fanboy significant other, who dutifully sat through all of Kevin Smith’s movies up to and including the horrible, horrible Jay and Silent Bob Striike Back but who was unceremoniously dumped before having to sit through 2004’s Jersey Girl, would like to be considered a conscientious objector and exempted from taking sides.My stoner persona, however, would obviously pick Jason Mewes." - Psaga

"Much as I love Mewes’ shamelessly id-driven Jay hitting on Linda Fiorentino as all life as we know it is about to be snuffed out, in Dogma, Lee’s performance as Buddy/Syndrome in The Incredibles (on top of the rest of his work) tips the scale in his favor." - Mr. Middlebrow

Madeline Kahn vs. Teri Garr
In the battle of the Mel Brooks muses, it really wasn't much of a contest. There's an awful lot of good will out there for Teri Garr, but it turns out that nobody serves up those schnitzengrubers like Madeline Kahn... (Of course, the Mysterious Adrian Betamax opts to abstain in the most entertaining way!)



"Argghh! You can't make me choose. No, I'm sorry, I can't choose one. This is even more difficult than Lee and Cushing." - Blaaagh

"Kahn. De Duva is the tiebreaker." - Virgil Hilts

"I guess I’m not American enough to answer that question." - Peet

"Kahn, by a Teutonic titwillow’s breadth." - Mr. Middlebrow

"Ick on both. Have slight fondness for Teri Garr for being involved in "One from the Heart," but really, is she an actress, or literally just the girl/woman next door? Madeline Kahn is annoying." - The Mysterious Adrian Betamax

Michelle Yeoh vs. Ziyi Zhang
Some saw this as a contest between young and old, some saw it as martial arts vs. dance, and one even saw it as a choice between dominant and submissive. It's hard to say that you could really go wrong either way, but voters did seem to have a clear preference.


"Zhang. Watch The Road Home." - Dave Robidenza

"Yeoh. I've seen Wing Chun." - Brian

"I’m going to take this battle back to the caverns of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. And I’m going to say… Ziyi Zhang’s Stockholm syndrome—sexy; Shu Lien’s unrequited love—sexier." - Psaga

"Michelle Yeoh. She is so amazingly beautiful, and looks so REAL." - Beege

"I think Ziyi Zhang is really cute and all, but a Chinese co-worker told me she's really bitchy in interviews with Chinese journalists, but nice to American journalists, and besides Michelle Yeoh is truly beautiful, soulful, intelligent and sexy in a grown-up woman way, so I pick her." - Blaaagh

"This seems to me like a choice between dominant or submissive. I choose Zhang today, but may regret it tomorrow." - Peet (After seeing the picture of Michelle Yeoh I posted next to my answer, Peet posted the following comment: "I warned you I might regret my choice tomorrow, and since you posted that picture of Michelle Yeoh, Ziyi Zhang suddenly seems a tad less interesting to me. But that's just today...")

"Yeoh can kick Zhang's ass on her most off, middle-aged day." - Thom McGregor

"Michelle Yeoh will hopefully kill Zhang Ziyi soon." - The Mysterious Adrian Betamax

Okay, if these answers are ever going to see the light of day, I'm going to have to call it quits and post these tonight. The rest of the answers, 20 in all left to go, will be revealed in two (perhaps three) forthcoming sections. I promise not to take too long making them available! The Celebrity Smackdown section was really fun, and I can promise you that there are many good and hilarious items left. Stay tuned!

NEXT: Falling In Love With the Movies, Great Performances, Not-So-Great Performances and the Fear Factor.

Monday, March 20, 2006


What was but a few days ago just a twinkle in Flickhead’s appreciative eye, brought on by a fortuitously timed post here and there, has become a bona fide international event. I’m speaking, of course, of the Angie Dickinson Blog-a-Thon, happening Wednesday, April 19.

We decided that, after having scaled the heights of such lofty subjects as Michael Haneke, Robert Altman, the upcoming Abel Ferrara Blog-a-Thon (this coming Monday, March 27), and, of course, Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls, that it was time to cleanse the palate, if you will, or as Flickhead put it, to get certain other priorities in order.

Ms. Dickinson has worked with some very interesting directors in her 52-year (52-year!) TV and film career, among them Howard Hawks, Samuel Fuller, John Boorman, Brian De Palma, Don Siegel, Arthur Penn and Roger Vadim. We think it is high time some words of admiration and examination were devoted to her beauty, her presence, her attraction for these directors and, oh, yes, her acting, a rather crucial aspect of her career which perhaps has not been given its proper due.

You are invited to join in with contributions, if her spirit so moves you. Those with their own blogs will, of course, post on their own sites. But anyone without a blog to call home is invited to submit your own piece (be it a paragraph or 20) to Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule by e-mailing me at I will collect up any submissions and post them alongside my own on April 19.

It’s the Angie Dickinson Blog-a-Thon, Wednesday, April 19! Mark your calendars!