Thursday, February 05, 2009

TARDY AS USUAL: Dennis Submits His Answers to Professor Kingsfield's Hair-raising Quiz

God help me, I’m so late with these answers to Professor Kingsfield’s Hair-raising, Bar-raising Holiday Movie Quiz that I can’t imagine incurring anything but the quizmaster’s wrath at my arrogance in dragging my feet so. But I submit them nonetheless, and before I do, I want to thank everyone who has already done the work before me, especially Jim Emerson for inspiring me to get off my polished duff and get my assignment done as well as his promotion of the quiz and procurement of answers from visitors to his own site. Most happily, he even got a list of responses from an honest-to-God dean of cinema, Richard T. Jameson, whose answers I gladly offer now before I offer my own. Here they are:

1) What was the last movie you saw theatrically?
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (press screening in December)
On DVD or Blu-ray?
Kid Galahad (1937).

2) Holiday movies— Do you like them naughty or nice?

3) Ida Lupino or Mercedes McCambridge?
Ida Lupino. (Does anyone ever answer MM?)

4) Favorite actor/character from Twin Peaks
Miguel Ferrer.

5) It’s been said that, rather than remaking beloved, respected films, Hollywood should concentrate more on righting the wrongs of the past and tinker more with films that didn’t work so well the first time. Pretending for a moment that movies are made in an economic vacuum, name a good candidate for a remake based on this criterion.
Great question, but I'm way late with this, so I'm taking a pass.

6) Favorite Spike Lee joint.

7) Lawrence Tierney or Scott Brady?

8) Are most movies too long?
These days, yes, absolutely.

9) Favorite performance by an actor portraying a real-life politician.
I assume we're omitting, say, Lincoln (so not Henry Fonda). And people playing themselves (so not Fred Dalton Thompson in Marie). Let's say Michael Parks as Robert Kennedy, The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover. OK, that's what I get for being too precious--I just peeked at Jim Emerson's answers and he's quite right: Philip Baker Hall's Nixon, Secret Honor.

10) Create the main event card for the ultimate giant movie monster smackdown.
......Mercedes McCambridge's Exorcist demon vs. Ona Munson's Mother Gin Sling

11) Jean Peters or Sheree North?
Sheree North. Especially Don Siegel's Sheree North.

12) Why would you ever want or need to see a movie more than once?
What are you, a Palin supporter?

13) Favorite road movie.
Im Lauf der Zeit.

14) Favorite Budd Boetticher picture.
Seven Men from Now.

15) Who is the one person, living or dead, famous or unknown, who most informed or encouraged your appreciation of movies?
Andrew Sarris.

16) Favorite opening credit sequence. (Please include YouTube link if possible.)
I Know Where I'm Going!

17) Kenneth Tobey or John Agar?

18) Jean-Luc Godard once suggested that the more popular the movie, the less likely it was that it was a good movie. Is he right or just cranky? Cite the best evidence one way or the other.
JLG's point applies, more often than not.

19) Favorite Jonathan Demme movie.
Melvin and Howard.

20) Tatum O’Neal or Linda Blair?

21) Favorite use of irony in a movie. (This could be an idea, moment, scene, or an entire film.)
......The sublime last few seconds of Christmas in July.

22) Favorite Claude Chabrol film.
La Femme infidèle.

23) The best movie of the year to which very little attention seems to have been paid.
In Bruges, though everyone I know loves it. Awards-wise, Wendy and Lucy, though critics have mostly done right by it.

24) Dennis Christopher or Robby Benson?
Robert F. Lyons.

25) Favorite movie about journalism.
All the President's Men for real; His Girl Friday for surreal.

26) What’s the DVD commentary you’d most like to hear? Who would be on the audio track?
May I plead that I'm not that into DVD commentaries, period (question mark).

27) Favorite movie directed by Clint Eastwood.

28) Paul Dooley or Kurtwood Smith?
Not being a That '70s Show habitué, I didn't get this for a moment. For years my screen-saver crawl was KS's "I am enhanced."

29) Your clairvoyant moment: Make a prediction about the Oscar season.
It's well-embarked as I answer (2/4/09), so ... Michael Shannon takes best supporting actor away from Heath Ledger.

30) Your hope for the movies in 2009.
Obama shames Hollywood into renouncing CGI.

31) What’s your top 10 of 2008? (If you have a blog and have your list posted, please feel free to leave a link to the post.)
So many 2008 movies won't get released till 2009 (most of the best stuff I saw at Toronto) that my Ten Best is largely a bunch of placeholders:
The Edge of Heaven
A Christmas Tale
The Secret of the Grain
......Let the Right One In
I've Loved You So Long
Wendy and Lucy
In Bruges
The Visitor
Tell No One

Thanks for participating, Mr, Jameson. It was an honor having you take part. (I hope you’re right about #29 too.) Now it’s time for me to take the plunge and go for the good grade. I hope no one takes my submission here as a signal that the due date has officially passed. I’d love to see many more answer lists drop in the comments column-- I never get tired of reading them. Please keep ‘em coming. And now, with no further stalling and hesitation, my answers:


1) What was the last movie you saw theatrically? On DVD or Blu-ray?

Theatrical: Notorious, the Biggie Smalls story, which is in most ways a pretty standard-issue biopic—well-performed, dependent on cliché, and not above ladling on sentimental (and somewhat opportunistic) hero worship—that is somewhat redeemed by the dynamic performance of Jamal Woolard in the title role. The first half is much better at cluing in a hip-hop-ignorant audience as to what made Christopher Wallace’s raps special, and it’s alive with the kind of energy that accompanies the crackle of creativity on the rise. The second half, however, reveals the petty small-mindedness behind the East Coast-West Coast hip-hop wars and ends up, for all the portentous dramatics (and Angela Bassett’s absurdly overemphatic concluding narration), feeling like much ado about nuttin’.

On DVD: Bertrand Tavernier’s It All Starts Today, an excellent movie about a beleaguered kindergarten teacher working against overwhelming forces in a poverty-ravaged province of France. I’ll be writing more about it soon.

Revival: A great ‘70s double bill of Hickey and Boggs, starring Robert Culp and Bill Cosby, and Freebie and the Bean, starring Alan Arkin and James Caan. I have long sought out H&B and to finally see it on the big screen was a real treat. I will say that this sun-bleached L.A. noir, written by a young Walter Hill, was not the instant forgotten classic of my most intense preconceived notions, but that’s far from saying it was a bummer. It was just not as far-reaching and deeply felt as I was hoping it would be. Though he showed a steady hand here and an admirable tendency to play up the dissimilarities between this tough piece of work and the more popular I Spy format audiences undoubtedly were expecting, director Culp never helmed another feature, which, on the evidence of this solid action movie, is our loss. The real revelation, at least for me, was Richard Rush’s Freebie and the Bean. This one got scathing reviews upon its release in 1974 (Leonard Maltin deemed it “repellent”) and for the one screening I had of it back in 1975 the shadow of its co-feature, Blazing Saddles, dampened even its potent demolition derby antics and post-Archie Bunker racially oriented character comedy for me. But in 2009 it looked like a much better movie than the one preserved in my memory-- hilarious, screamingly well-choreographed in the stunt department, and featuring three pieces of acting—from Alan Arkin, James Caan, and Valerie Harper as “Bean’s Wife”—that are textbook examples of how to create strong characters amidst a Hollywood comedy most would have never deemed to take at all seriously. If this movie ever gets a proper DVD/Blu-ray release it might have a chance of reclaiming a spot in the ‘70s car culture pantheon right alongside the likes of Smokey and the Bandit, Death Race 2000 and Gone in 60 Seconds.

2) Holiday movies— Do you like them naughty or nice?
I like ‘em both ways. There’s room on my shelf for It’s a Wonderful Life and Bad Santa, Meet Me in St. Louis and The Ref. After all, aren’t most holidays themselves a mixture of naughty (or unfortunate) and nice anyway? So why not reflect that?

3) Ida Lupino or Mercedes McCambridge?

Mercedes McCambridge made unforgettable impressions in Johnny Guitar and The Exorcist (“It wants no straps”), but I would not be following my heart if I didn’t choose Ida Lupino who, as it has been noted here by others, was a pioneering and very strong director in the 40s as well as a brilliant character actress. And she was the warden in the very first women-in-prison movie I ever saw too (the ABC Movie of the Week, Women in Chains), so I have to give her credit for helping to lead me down that nasty path as well.

4) Favorite actor/character from Twin Peaks

Well, there’s the terrific one-two punch of Harry Goaz (Deputy Andy) and Kimmy Robertson (Lucy Moran), and it’d be almost impossible to answer this question without at least mentioning Kyle MacLachlan and Ray Wise. But whenever I hear those twangy strains of Angelo Badalamenti’s music, I have to admit the first person I usually think about is the tragic, and tragically beautiful, Josie Packard, so divinely embodied by Joan Chen (She ended up trapped in a doorknob, for God’s sake! And for what? ‘Cause she liked Sheriff Truman?) I also cherished my time spent in the diner with Peggy Lipton’s Norma Jennings. Who wouldn’t develop a cherry pie addiction with her serving it up?

5) It’s been said that, rather than remaking beloved, respected films, Hollywood should concentrate more on righting the wrongs of the past and tinker more with films that didn’t work so well the first time. Pretending for a moment that movies are made in an economic vacuum, name a good candidate for a remake based on this criterion.

Even though I remember the original version quite fondly, I wouldn’t mind a new satiric sensibility being made to bear on Clair Huffaker’s novel about the last great Native American uprising, Nobody Loves a Drunken Indian, which was made by Carol Reed, of all people, into the 1970 movie Flap starring Anthony Quinn, Victor Jory, Claude Akins and Shelley Winters. Maybe Sherman Alexie could take a whack at the screenplay and turn it over to an ethnographically minded filmmaker like Michael Apted or Walter Hill. Or if we’re talking Hollywood narrowcasting, how about a live-action version of Jonny Quest stylistically retrofitted to the Hanna-Barbera aesthetic a la the Wachowski’s Speed Racer?

6) Favorite Spike Lee joint.

It took a while, but Kevin Olson finally mentioned the one that I love most-- Crooklyn. That was a beautiful, generous, painful portrait of a family which I suspect was very close to Lee’s heart. In general, Lee’s stylistic indulgences and tendency toward ranting as opposed to writing have always tarnished his obvious talent for me. But I still think very highly of 25th Hour. And School Daze (in the pantheon on the strength of "Da Butt" alone). And Do the Right Thing, of course.

7) Lawrence Tierney or Scott Brady?

Tierney and Brady were two billy goats gruff, brothers in spirit and in the flesh. I knew of Brady first from genre fare like Destination Inner Space, Journey to the Center of Time and Fort Utah. (He was also in Johnny Guitar, and his last role was the sheriff of Kingston Falls, the little town besieged by Joe Dante’s gremlins.)
But ultimately I have to say Hats Off to Larry, for Dillinger, Born to Kill, Andy Warhol’s Bad, Tough Guys Don’t Dance, The Naked Gun (he was the manager of the Anaheim Angels during the baseball game sequence!), Reservoir Dogs (“Okay, ramblers, let’s get ramblin’”) and Chris Gore’s hilarious Red. Tierney was a true character masquerading as a character actor, and as such was unforgettable.

8) Are most movies too long?

I’m definitely of a mind that a good movie is never too long—I’d love to see the version (near five hours?) of Nashville from which Altman whittled his 2½-hour masterpiece—and that a bad movie overstays its welcome almost immediately—I never thought Zach and Miri Make a Porno would end, and it’s a comparatively brief 101 minutes. A two-hour running time is an arbitrary benchmark anyway. When a movie like Zodiac sucks me into its vortex the last thing I’m doing is watching the clock and thinking, “Gee, this would have been great if it could only have been cut by a half-hour.” At the same time, some of my favorite movies are ones that, by today’s standards of length, practically qualify as haiku-- Curse of the Cat People lasts barely 70 minutes.

9) Favorite performance by an actor portraying a real-life politician.

It’s hard to imagine a great performance being less concerned with impersonation and more with burrowing into a venal soul—and finding a sliver of unexpected sympathy—than Philip Baker Hall’s conjuring of Richard Milhous Nixon in Secret Honor. (It’s a piece of acting that puts honorable but less-inspired work like Frank Langella’s Nixon—in Ron Howard’s movie, anyway—in its place.) Nixon is perhaps the most caricatured political figure in recent history, and that Hall never goes to physical/vocal similarities in order to access his portrayal is remarkable in itself—think how difficult it was for the cast of Oliver Stone’s W to avoid that trap, particularly Thandie Newton as Condoleeza Rice. But Hall delivers the Nixon we think we know anyway—corrupt, paranoid, lost in a maze of historical obsession—and then expands on that image to expose secret “knowledge” of the man underneath the well-worn mask. Anthony Hopkins was in his own way brilliant as Nixon, in a movie that I think has never quite received its due—it’s probably Stone’s best, and perhaps his weirdest—but Hall belongs on a different plane entirely. Outside of watching Nixon himself in the Frost interviews, or reading the memoirs that the man himself pitched in order to make the case for his own posterity, there’s no better point of access to this man that the portrayal Hall offers in Secret Honor. Hall’s is the Nixon we deserve after the national nightmare he provoked. As this president’s legacy still ripples through our national consciousness 34 years after his resignation, this is the portrait the man himself could never consciously expose to the light, even if hints of it were always there, like his own perpetual 5:00 shadow.

10) Create the main event card for the ultimate giant movie monster smackdown.

Well, there’s always Lawrence Tierney and Scott Brady.

But seriously, folks—how about Eiji Tsubuyara’s three-headed Ghidrah versus the five-tentacled octopus from It Came from Beneath the Sea, grudge match refereed by Ray Milland and Rosey Grier as the Thing with Two Heads? Or how about a Sahara-sized “terror-rarium” populated by the giant creatures from Tarantula and Them! (super-sized ants) in a no-holds-barred battle for insect/arachnid supremacy? (The winner would get to eat those little scorpion-torturing tots from the opening of The Wild Bunch!)

11) Jean Peters or Sheree North?

I do love Jean Peters, especially in Pickup on South Street and Anne of the Indies. (Thanks, Peter!) But there’s no replacing Sheree North in my heart, especially, as Mr. Jameson has so astutely noted, Don Siegel’s Sheree North. (She was impossibly sexy and sharp in Charley Varrick-- and she also starred for the director in Telefon and The Shootist.) Ms. North’s was a face and voice from my childhood that I cannot recall ever not being absolutely in love with. My best friend Bruce tells a wonderful story, which he has related a couple of times here, of meeting her while employed at a Santa Monica bookstore in the mid ‘80s, and the way he tells it Ms. North was exactly how I always hoped she’d be—friendly, modest, self-effacing and still quite lovely.

12) Why would you ever want or need to see a movie more than once?

I doubt this see-a-movie-once-and-be-done-with-it notion originated with Pauline Kael, but she perhaps most famously perpetuated it. Kael has been a great influence on me as a person who takes appreciating movies seriously, but I’ve never been able to get behind her on this one. Seeing a great movie, or even just a good one, or sometimes even a bad one, can reveal moments or themes or thoughts or ideas that escaped your view the first time around and that can expand the experience of the movie and what it’s trying to do in your head. But of course probably the most interesting thing about seeing movies more than once is seeing films that meant a lot to me as a youngster or a young man and finding out how they seem different to me as an adult. Because as we have to acknowledge, it’s not the movies that change—except for the increasingly common instances of the “Director’s Cut,” they are encased in the celluloid skins in which they were originally released to the world. It is we who are different, and seeing a movie again after a long time can reveal as much about how we have changed, about the people we were and the people we are, than just about any other art form. I think of seeing Nashville at the relatively green age of 15 and not being ready for it at all. Three years later I saw it with just a smidgen more life under my belt and it seemed suddenly like a movie I could access, be seduced by, be overwhelmed by, and I gladly surrendered. Since then I’ve seen the movie 10 or 12 more times, and each time, though the movie is “the same” movie, it is also significantly different because I have changed. I love that reflective quality of the movies, the best and the worst of them; seeing them more than once is part of the pact the movies and I have made, and I don’t see that ever changing.

13) Favorite road movie

The road movie is a favorite genre of mine, one that evokes the ambience of the road and the countryside-- what it feels like being there-- as much as of travel, of forward motion, whether or not the destiny is known. One really good road movie, by this definition, that I revisited recently is Electra Glide in Blue, which ends on one of the most indelible, haunted images of the road (a highway, specifically, going through Monument Valley) I’ve ever seen. Another is Charley Varrick. Neither movie, however, necessarily fits the classic standard of a road movie in the same way that, say, Vanishing Point or Duel or even Kings of the Road does. But if I had to pick one—and it seems that I do—I’d have to say Two-Lane Blacktop for the total picture, with a genre shout-out to Race with the Devil for sheer velocity. (Both star Warren Oates, as good an emblem of the road as there is.)

14) Favorite Budd Boetticher picture.

Without a second’s hesitation, The Tall T, followed closely by Seven Men from Now.

15) Who is the one person, living or dead, famous or unknown, who most informed or encouraged your appreciation of movies?

The obvious answer is Pauline Kael. Nothing was ever the same for me after I bought a paperback version of Reeling (the Warner Books version with the orange rainbow design on the front, the first of at least five different copies I’ve owned) from the now-defunct Koobdooga Bookstore in Eugene, Oregon in 1977. It’s a story I’ve told before and probably will again. I’ve had other film professors that were influential in their own way as well, of course, and one in particular, William Cadbury, who encouraged me to write and made me believe that I could do it well and with purpose.

But the one person who encouraged my earliest interest in the movies, and in classic Hollywood in particular, was my paternal grandmother, Rina Trevisan Cozzalio, seen here in 1936 at age 15 (inset) and in 1939 at age 18, just after she got married. She loved all the old stars and never missed an opportunity to tell me about the movies she loved when she was young. Her house was the only one in our family that had cable TV when I was a child, which meant that in order to see some of the vintage titles that aired on stations out of Portland and San Francisco I ended up watching them with her in her living room. She’s also the one adult other than my parents who took me to the movies when I was too young to go by myself, everything from Roy Orbison in The Fastest Guitar Alive to The Singing Nun and The Greatest Story Ever Told. (She’s also the one who, years later, accompanied me to see Mandingo and Drum.) I might have still learned about the movies later on in life, but it was my Grandma Rina’s influence and encouragement which reinforced my growing interest, which said to me that my interest wasn’t just frivolous, that the movies could, and should, have a special place in my heart. And each time I see one, especially a classic film from Hollywood’s golden age, I always like to think that somewhere she’s watching with me and getting a kick out of the fact that I still love them the way I do, the way she did.

16) Favorite opening credit sequence. (Please include YouTube link if possible.)

Viewers of a certain age will remember well the K-Tel record ads that were pitch-perfectly parodied in the opening credits of Nashville, almost always the first movie I think of when I think of brilliant opening credits. (The actual credits extend over Haven Hamilton’s recording session and Opal’s visitation of another studio in which the gospel choir is letting the praises fly.)

I love the fevered hyperbole used to promote even the most unknown of the film’s many great cast members: “…the all-time great Dave Peel!” And of course this: “Be the first on your block to marvel at the magnificent stars through the magic of stereophonic sound and living-color picture right before your very eyes without commercial interruption!” God, what a great beginning to a truly great movie.

17) Kenneth Tobey or John Agar?

These guys presided over so many movie monster memories and nightmares and late-night double features when I was a kid that I’m having difficulty making a choice. Though I saw him in The Thing (from Another World) and It Came from Beneath the Sea long before, my first conscious awareness of Kenneth Tobey came in Billy Jack, where he was cast as a racist deputy sheriff, the epitome of Establishment Evil, and in my mind he’s never quite shaken that bad first impression. John Agar, on the other hand, started off in Fort Apache, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Sands of Iwo Jima, and he went on to become the stoic face of American ingenuity in the face of a slew of giant Universal Pictures monsters, everything from Tarantula to Revenge of the Creature and The Mole People. He made such an impression on me that I swear he was in every Universal monster movie, even though, dammit, he wasn’t. (That was Richard Carlson in the original Creature from the Black Lagoon and Craig Stevens battling The Deadly Mantis.) I don’t care. John Agar it is.

18) Jean-Luc Godard once suggested that the more popular the movie, the less likely it was that it was a good movie. Is he right or just cranky? Cite the best evidence one way or the other.

I think there’s little doubt that Godard is a crank who often says outrageous things just to hear the sound of his own voice, and there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that there are as many bad obscure movies in existence as there are lousy ones that have captured the public imagination, or their dollars at least. I think I first heard Godard’s “theory” posited by Richard Corliss in a Time magazine article considering the phenomenon of Platoon. It was Corliss’ contention (a correct one, I think) that Platoon was affecting people because of its programmatic, melodramatic nature as much as any universal truths it was accessing and that Godard might have had a point in regard to this specific picture. But I often think about Godard’s comment when a movie like Forrest Gump somehow seeps its way into popular consciousness. It’s a sweeping, sarcastic, somewhat cynical generalization to be sure, but that doesn’t mean it’s not occasionally accurate.

19) Favorite Jonathan Demme movie

Either Citizen’s Band or Melvin and Howard, though I’ve probably seen Stop Making Sense twice as many times as I’ve seen either of those two films. I’ll say Citizen’s Band because that was the first one I ever saw, in a completely empty movie palace in downtown Eugene, on the bottom half of a double bill with American Hot Wax. I suffered through Floyd Mutrux’s movie two more times just to see the Demme picture again.

20) Tatum O’Neal or Linda Blair?

I had crushes on both of these young ladies during their primes (when they were somewhere in the vicinity of 10-13 years old!). I also met Linda Blair about 10 years ago, and she was lovely and friendly. But Tatum O’Neal held her own with Kristy MacNichol in Little Darlings, and she’s in the greatest movie about baseball ever made, The Bad News Bears-- her pitches look good too. Advantage: O’Neal.

21) Favorite use of irony in a movie. (This could be an idea, moment, scene, or an entire film.)

It’s revealing how often I’ve come back to Altman and Nashville in this quiz. I did not design it to be so. Answer: Haven Hamilton’s “200 Years,” written by Richard Baskin and Henry Gibson, which contrasts shirt-sleeve patriotism and earnest country/western sentimentality with the garish personal style and harsh professionalism of superstar Hamilton (Henry Gibson) as well as the unflinching national portrait to come in the film itself:

“My mother's people came by ship
And fought at Bunker Hill
My daddy lost a leg in France
I have his medal still
My brother served with Patton
I saw action in Algiers
Oh we must be doin' somethin' right
To last 200 years.
I pray my sons won't go to war
But if they must, they must.
I share our country's motto
And in God I place my trust.
We may have had our ups and downs
Our times of trials and fears.
But we must be doin' somethin' right
To last 200 years.
I've lived through two depressions
And seven Dust Bowl droughts
Floods, locusts and tornadoes
But I don't have any doubts.
We're all a part of history
Why Old Glory waves to show
How far along we've come 'til now
How far we've got to go.
It's been hard work but every time
We get into a fix
Let's think of what our children faced
In two - ought - seven - six.
It's up to us, to pave the way
With our blood and sweat and tears.
For we must be doin' somethin' right
To last 200 years.”

22) Favorite Claude Chabrol film.

Les Biches. I also really liked Story of Women, though I really need to see Le Boucher.

23) The best movie of the year to which very little attention seems to have been paid.

Just a cursory glance down my own list reveals that the movie is most probably Shotgun Stories, though I think a case could be made that despite the critical laurels bestowed upon it, Wendy and Lucy, without a major presence in any of the critic group awards, is in its way just as overlooked.

24) Dennis Christopher or Robby Benson?

Ciao, bambini! Dennis Christopher all the way. The good will generated by Breaking Away alone has covered a multitude of sins and unmet expectations ever since that movie came out. (Anyone care to recall Fade to Black?) Robby Benson is married to Karla DeVito, I’ll give him that, but One on One is no Breaking Away.

25) Favorite movie about journalism.

Jeez, who writes these damn questions? Uh… dammit… I hereby invoke the Spineless Host Clause and submit a quadfecta (??!!) of the following titles (in alphabetical order, from A to Z: Ace in the Hole, All the President’s Men, His Girl Friday and Zodiac. I haven’t seen it all the way through, but I suspect that Sam Fuller’s Park Row may be a contender as well, which would make it a quintfecta, right?

UPDATE February 6 10:21 a.m.: I saw Park Row last night. It's officially a quintfecta. This is a terrific, punchy movie, one of Fuller's best. Keep an eye out on the TCM schedule for it, because, incredibly, it's nowhere to be found on DVD at the moment.

26) What’s the DVD commentary you’d most like to hear? Who would be on the audio track?

Several years ago I answered a similar question by suggesting that I’d like to hear Jesus Christ’s thoughts on The Passion of the Christ. I still wanna hear that commentary track, but I feel compelled to come up with a different answer this time around, so I’ll say Brian De Palma, who I believe has never recorded a commentary for one of his movies, talking themes and style and structure on a Dressed to Kill DVD.

27) Favorite movie directed by Clint Eastwood.

Robert Fiore suggested in his answers that the better question, given Unforgiven’s status in the Eastwood oeuvre, might have been, what is the second-favorite movie directed by Clint Eastwood? I think Robert’s right-- Unforgiven is the clear answer to the question as written. And I’m a big fan of Eastwood, the star and the director, even though I can clearly see that some of his movies are, shall we say, better than others… just like every other director and/or star I can think of. But some of the movies Eastwood has directed are near and dear to my heart almost to the degree that Unforgiven is—I wouldn’t want to do without Play Misty for Me, High Plains Drifter, The Outlaw Josey Wales, The Gauntlet, Bird, White Hunter Black Heart, A Perfect World, Space Cowboys, Million Dollar Baby, Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima or Gran Torino. (On the other hand, I don’t have a lot of use for The Eiger Sanction, Honkytonk Man, Sudden Impact, Heartbreak Ridge, The Bridges of Madison County, Absolute Power, Blood Work or Changeling.)

All of which brings me to my answer. It may not be the second-best Eastwood-directed movie, but there’s something about Bronco Billy and how it distills and comments upon the Eastwood persona that is, in its own way, just as effective and analytical and deeply felt as his first Oscar-winning masterpiece. Damned few stars could find the humor and the sincerity in Bronco Billy’s advice to the “little pardners” and “buckaroos” who make up the core audience for his traveling cowboy act: “I don’t take kindly to kids playing hooky. Every kid should go to school, at least up through the eighth grade.” (The kicker is that the kids who obligingly lap up Billy’s lecture then gingerly remind him that they’re not playing hooky, that it is in fact Saturday, and their hero nods sheepishly and carries on.) The movie is as likable and good-natured as anything the director has ever done, and its gentle endorsement of a value system that would gain traction and invite critical examination during the Reagan era (the movie was released during the summer of 1980) makes it even easier, more pleasurable to draw connections to the classic Hollywood forms (westerns, screwball comedies) that it slyly references. Bronco Billy seems fascinatingly of its time and completely out of it, and it’s one of Eastwood’s movies that most rewardingly holds up to repeated viewings.

28) Paul Dooley or Kurtwood Smith?

I had two angry, frustrated fathers in mind when I thought of this one—Dooley’s perpetually perplexed car salesman in Breaking Away and Smith’s repressive taskmaster in Dead Poets Society-- as points of comparison for the two actors. But once again, when it comes to answering my own question I am annoyed at the gall it takes to force someone to choose between two powerful screen presences as these. The relationship between Dooley and Christopher in Breaking Away most accurately reflects the one between my dad and I, at least up until my adulthood—Smith more closely gets at my dad in his role as Red Forman in That ‘70s Show, so much so that when I ran into him at a fish market here in Glendale several years ago I was seized with fear and intimidation, and no matter how much I wanted to say something to him in appreciation of his work I couldn’t bring myself to do it. They are both brilliant. But Paul Dooley, based on his work as the beleaguered Ray Stoller, who ultimately takes pride in his son’s achievement and his acceptance of his townie roots, wins the day. Refund? Refund?!! Refund??!!

29) Your clairvoyant moment: Make a prediction about the Oscar season.

The big surprises being hinted at by Sid Ganis for the Oscar telecast will, whether they are successful and/or entertaining or not, will be derided at water coolers everywhere the following morning as the Second Coming of Rob Lowe, or at the very least the Second Coming of Oscar Bumper King, Peter Coyote. And whether they are or not, the telecast will be declared by conventional wisdom as the worst yet. Oh, and The Reader will win more than one Oscar.

30) Your hope for the movies in 2009

That the actual movies end up actually being more interesting than they seem right now.

31) What’s your top 10 of 2008? (If you have a blog and have your list posted, please feel free to leave a link to the post.)

Oh, all right…

BONUS QUESTION (to be answered after December 25):

32) What was your favorite movie-related Christmas gift that you received this year?

I got lots of keen movies, but the best combo was getting Blu-rays of Speed Racer and the restored Godfather Saga to go along with my new Playstation 3, which apparently holds the keys to the universe and can do anything…



Uncle Gustav said...

Perhaps this will prompt you to see Le Boucher.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Ray, it's on my calendar in ink. Between now and June that means I'll only have to see about four Chabrol films a week to get up to snuff!

Claude Chabrol Blog-a-thon at Flickhead's house in June, everybody!

Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

I suffered through Floyd Mutrux’s movie two more times just to see the Demme picture again.

I'd gladly suffer through American Hot Wax ten times that two and more. Best rock 'n' roll film ever made.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Ivan, I just remember AHW being kinda dull and flat up so close to Demme's movie. I love the one-sheet though. It's been hanging on a wall in my various apartments and houses for years. You're saying this is another of those movies I didn't much care for as a kid that I should see as an adult? Okay! (I do like Tim McIntyre.)

Ivan G Shreve Jr said...


I've just always had a soft spot for AHW--it's by no means the most accurate R&R film, but it just feels right.

We are in complete agreement re: Handle With Care, though. Why that one hasn't made it to DVD yet is a question I'd dearly love the answer to.

Dave Franson said...

#1 on my list of things I forgot to say in my post to the original quiz:

"But of course probably the most interesting thing about seeing movies more than once is seeing films that meant a lot to me as a youngster or a young man and finding out how they seem different to me as an adult. [...] It is we who are different, and seeing a movie again after a long time can reveal as much about how we have changed, about the people we were and the people we are, than just about any other art form."

Works for books, too!

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Absolutely, Dave. Turns out there's a lot more going on in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn than just a raft ride down a river!

Anonymous said...

Good call on Freebie and the Bean - I rewatched it recently, and I reckon Shane Black used it as the model for most of his movies, the edgy racial banter and the mixture of serious violence and wild humour holds up brilliantly. The relish with which the film's final killing is carried out is pretty hard to read as anything other than homophobic, though, which might account for some of the neglect it's suffered since release.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Paul, thanks for your thoughts. It’s hard not to think about that last killing pretty seriously, especially given that attitudes toward homosexuality were generally still pretty dismissive, fearful and downright hostile in most mainstream movies of this period.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that F&TB is not among those movies that could be considered homophobic—clearly Freebie’s disgust, and Bean’s befuddlement, toward the character in question is meant to be shared by the audience to some extent. But as I discussed with a friend afterward, it seems to me this movie was done a disservice by the documentary The Celluloid Closet in how that documentary takes only the shooting of this character, who is in drag, and uses it out of context as Exhibit “A” in the case against Hollywood’s intolerance and fear directed at the gay community. I think that it is significant that the character is presented throughout the film not as demented but as thoroughly confident, not to mention a lethal fighter—he puts the hurt on Freebie pretty definitively with his martial arts abilities— all qualities usually not present in the typical depiction of gays at the time as mincing, weak and with one eye on all the little boys on the playground.

It is probably not incorrect that the character’s homosexuality is meant, out of intent or complacency, to stand side by side with the other aspects that could be checked off in the “evil” column, but I think it’s slightly unfair for The Celluloid Closet, and others, to have suggested that we’re to relish the character’s death because he’s a fag and not because he’s the most clever, deadly criminal in the movie, regardless of his sexuality.

WelcometoLA said...

"I haven’t seen it all the way through, but I suspect that Sam Fuller’s Park Row may be a contender as well.."

What the hell, son?

Anonymous said...

When you see "Le Boucher" (and you will -- you must! -- because it is an essential life experience), you will sense why I put Stephane Audran in a sequence of close-ups with Claudia Cardinale in "Once Upon a Time in the West," Robert DeNiro in "Once Upon a Time in America," Julie Christie in "McCabe and Mrs. Miller," and Julie Christie in "Petulia," here:

Kevin J. Olson said...


I'm glad you love "Crooklyn", too. It's such an underrated film. I really should watch it again soon (it's been a few years) and do a write-up on it. I remember only being like 13 when it opened in theaters and thinking what a great movie it was. It took awhile for me to revisit it (mostly because Spike Lee Joint's tend to leave a bad taste in my mouth), but what I found when I came back to the film was something genuine; a family picture made by a family (Lee's sisters, Cinque and Joie, wrote the screenplay).

It's refreshing to have this type of genuine film in the middle of Lee's, otherwise angry (or as you say, ranting), oeuvre.

The film also has two amazing performances from Alfre Woodard and the-always-great Delroy Lindo.

I hope more people (re)visit this film.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Larry: I got pulled away from Park Row when I was making your dub and never got back to it. But I could do that tonight...

Jim: Le Boucher is number-one on my Netflix queue, which has been startlingly inactive for the last four months. I sense a change in the air... Thanks for the link!

Kevin: Did that whole squeezed-anamorphic visit-to-the-relatives sequence in Crooklyn freak you out a tad the first time you saw it? Having grown up with a small-town movie theater projectionist, I just assumed somebody forgot to put the right lens on the projector at the reel change! But once I realized it was intentional, it seemed brilliant to me. What a great way of visualizing a child's alienation-- one of Lee's wacky stylistic moves that really works.

And I totally forgot to mention Lee's When the Levees Broke, probably the definitive portrait of the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

Kevin J. Olson said...


Yes! That scene always made me uneasy. When I initially saw the film, I remember it being a very weird experience. I loved the film, but I remember thinking that I must have been sick while watching it. It wasn't until I re-visited the film much later that I noticed the stylistic effect (I don't think I would have known such a thing at 13), and was immediately taken back to the uneasy, borderline nauseous feeling I had in that theater.

A lot of the stuff seen through Crookyln's POV made me, the first time I saw it.

It's a rare moment in a Lee film where something out of his visual bag of tricks works. I'm usually put off by his style (especially in "Summer of Sam" and "Bamboozled"), but here it works.

Anonymous said...

The best part of the quizzes is reading the answers.

I am still waiting for the Fay Spain-Yvette Vickers smackdown. Or am I the only one?

bill r. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bill r. said...

I feel bad that I thought Le Boucher was fine, but nothing to get too worked up about. The only other Chabrol film I've seen is This Man Must Die, which I preferred.

Also, when I took this quiz, I was completely stumped about my favorite opening credit sequence, and didn't really give an answer. I have one now: The Exorcist III. This link consists of the first 9 1/2 minutes of the film, but that's okay, because you at least need the first minute or so of build-up to the credits to get the full impact. (And again, I don't know about the word "favorite", but this right up there.)

Ali Arikan said...

I am so glad you chose Paul Dooley, too. I love that man.

Anonymous said...

Dennis> Wow, I never realised F&TB was an iconic homophobe movie, I just watched it all the way through and thought, well, this is a pretty good-humoured movie with no real axe to grind until - hmm, slow-motion killing of gay character... it just feels weird and out of context, I certainly don't think there's an agenda and I do like the film a great deal (even the peculiar gay scenes) until that point. Of course, the case could be made that Freebie thinks that the gay character has killed The Bean, and therefore the whole ending is a crime of passion and F&TB could be read as a tragic romcom... but, nah, it just feels a bit overtly nasty and gloating.

Now that I know The Celluloid Closet made a point of attacking the movie, though, its Mandingoesque status as a great unseeable American classic is more understandable.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

"The case could be made that Freebie thinks that the gay character has killed The Bean, and therefore the whole ending is a crime of passion and F&TB could be read as a tragic romcom..."

Paul: The tag line does read, "Above all... it's a love story." :) That subtext-- the laying out of a professional partnership as very much like a romantic relationship-- seems pretty strong here.

Anonymous said...

It's lovely to see those pictures of your Grandma Rina: I remember those bright, watchful, intelligent eyes so well. I hadn't remembered her love for old movies, but I certainly can't forget that look in her eyes.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Thanks, Anonymous (if that's really your name). For all she went through in her life, those eyes were pretty indefatigable.

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