Tuesday, July 23, 2013


Paul Clark and Steve Carlson have but two new inductees into the Muriels Hall of Fame that have yet to be announced, one perhaps an obvious choice, the other maybe not so obvious. You'll have to stay tuned tomorrow and Thursday to find out which undeniably great movies will find their place in the august, newly inaugurated institution. In the meantime, there were already six movies named to the MHOF before the new batch began taking up residence, and nine other new inductees that have already been announced. All 15 of these films have short but sweet considerations now available for your perusal on the Muriels blog, Our Science is Too Tight, each one penned by a different Muriels writer. Click on the links below to access terrific pieces on the following great movies that have already found a place in the MHOF:

THE SEVENTH SEAL (1957) (Phil Dyess-Nugent)

VERTIGO (1958) (Peter Labuza)

NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) (Scott Von Doviak)

 PSYCHO (1960) (Jamie Grijalba)

YOJIMBO (1961) (Cole Roulain)

LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962) (Andrew Bemis)

and these new inductees...

CASABLANCA (1942) (Hedwig van Driel)

THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC (1928) (Kenji Fujishima)

REAR WINDOW (1954) (Michael Lieberman)

M (1932) (Danny Baldwin)

LA JETEE (1962) (Glenn Heath)

SANSHO THE BAILIFF (1954) (Sam Juliano)

SUNRISE (1927) (Christianne Benedict)

THE THIRD MAN (1949) (Josh Bell)

Finally, for now anyway, there's my own piece, published today, to commemorate the induction of Jean Renoir's blissfully acerbic THE RULES OF THE GAME (1939), surely one of the greatest movies ever made. Here's what I wrote about this wonderful movie for the Muriels Hall of Fame.


Movies both good and bad have always sent out ripples which have caused the surface waters of cinema history to undulate and swoon and reflect their influence, however undue, benign, creative or destructive. The waves generated and felt by truly great movies, on the other hand, shift the contours of the surface, all right, but their real influence can be almost subterranean, affecting not only the way movies in their wake look and sound and feel, but also how the sensibilities at the heart of their creation can speak across oceans and generations.

When Jean Renoir’s Le regle de jeu (The Rules of the Game) was conceived, written and filmed, in a span between 1938 and 1939, France was a country torn in its political tolerance and responses to cataclysmic events on the European front that made the looming shadow of Hitler’s rise to power and influence ever harder to ignore. Renoir’s film, a comic roundelay of marital discord, class-generated disdain and general societal distraction decorated with a patina of good manners and brittle loyalties, sought to engage with its audience in a paradoxically airy manner, to diagnose and autopsy the corrosively blithe ignorance the director saw at the heart of the country’s, and indeed Europe’s, collective self-deception with a sort of romantic sleight of hand. (Renoir once famously characterized the movie as a portrait of a complex society dancing on a volcano.)

Renoir cast himself as the would-be fool, Octave, a caustic but affable bear of a man (quite literally a bear, at one point) whose allegiances to the various players in an ostensibly breezy farce of adultery, the sophistication of which becomes ever more apparently feigned and insincere, are almost immediately tested. (His friend LeChesnaye, lord of the manor, sees him, at least initially, less a fool than a dangerous poet.) Octave’s empathy-- 'Everyone has their reasons'-- extends not only to his wealthy hosts, who have invited each other’s lovers, Genevieve, a bored society wife and Andre, a famous (and famously lovelorn) aviator, along with several other friends to a weekend of frivolity at their country estate. He also shares the hearts of various members of the mansion’s staff, and the confusion of those empathies will fuel the tragedy at the heart of Renoir’s liltingly critical vision of cultural decadence and casual brutality. The film’s famous pheasant hunting sequence may be even more difficult to watch today than it was in 1939, but some of the sympathetic conversation in The Rules of the Game is similarly cutting. When LeChesnaye’s wife Christine discovers that her husband’s own betrayal, which has gone far more effectively hidden than the one she has rather openly cultivated with the aviator, it is Octave who justifies the deception by associating it with the general behavior of the times. "Everyone lies," he tells her, "pharmaceutical fliers, government, newspapers, the cinema. So why shouldn’t simple people like us lie as well?"

Reviled upon its release, Renoir’s movie can be felt in everything from the tacky violence of Larry Peerce’s The Sporting Club (1970), based on a Thomas McGuane novel, to Alan Bridges’ The Shooting Party (1985), to intimate epics of television drama like Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey and, of course, features like Gosford Park, written by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes. (One could go even further and suggest that the career of Robert Altman, director of Gosford Park, might not exist in quite the same way without the encouraging influence of Renoir stretching to inspire his own.) But what’s most striking about watching The Rules of the Game in 2013, what cements its stature as a truly great movie, is the degree to which its political and interpersonal acuity seem, aside from its period specifics, simultaneously of its time and also utterly contemporary. This 1939 film, made in the darkening path of perhaps the greatest evil the world has ever seen, can connect to contemporary audiences in surprisingly painful and biting ways. The sense of global malaise, isolation and insecurity—some of it inspired by technology of which Renoir could never have dreamed— which is a hallmark of our own very modern self-deceptions and distractions is effortlessly accessed here, making Renoir’s marvelously deft and witty movie seem as pertinent, and as impertinent, as it ever was.


Be sure to check up on the final two inductees announced to the Muriels Hall of Fame tomorrow and Thursday at Our Science is Too Tight. 


Monday, July 22, 2013


For a $200-million movie about robots beating up on generic giant monsters (and that's literally all it's about), the biggest surprise about Pacific Rim is how underimagined it all feels. This is especially shocking when considering that it comes from the fertile fantasy-inspired brain of Guillermo Del Toro. (Is the movie getting the benefit of the doubt in some circles because of how well-loved were his Hellboy movies, and Pan's Labyrinth, and The Devil's Backbone?) Pacific Rim is packed with visually incoherent, almost claustrophobic battles-- Del Toro goes for atmosphere by shooting everything in close, and usually at night, in the rain. The camera is never far enough away from the action to allow us to get our bearings, and after a few minutes I longed for a simple long shot. There is one early on (seen above), a glimpse of a Kaiju bearing down on a city, in which the camera holds still, and the shot communicates the horror of true scale, of being borne down upon by an unfathomably large beast-- but that shot is a rare and fleeting thrill among the visual noise surrounding it.

Two years later I can still remember sequences and images from the equally dumb, but deliriously silly Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon. But a single day after seeing Del Toro's dud I can barely remember a thing in it that isn't called Rinko Kikuchi, as a would-be robot pilot with lots of past trauma left to process, or Idris Elba, who couldn't not be imposing as the gleefully named Stacker Pentecost, leader of the robot resistance. (It's another annoyance that the movie never builds on the hopes raised by that name, which alone is as funny as Pacific Rim gets.) Both actors do their best to etch human impressions among all the artfully worn steel and clammy Blade Runner-style visual borrowings, but among all this noise it truly is a losing battle. (Charlie Hunnam, lead hunky robot pilot, is functional but really hasn't much to do besides look noble and good and hunky.)

There's nothing in Pacific Rim to match that horrifying metallic worm in Transformers: Dark of the Moon burrowing its way through buildings, or the sweat-inducing scene in which our heroes cling to life inside a toppling skyscraper, or some of the beautifully vertiginous images in which Michael Bay put 3D to use. As a trade-off, Pacific Rim offers a midsection pregnant with dull exposition, dumb comic relief (the motormouthed Charlie Day fares well as a breathless biologist, but Burn Gorman as his stuffy partner, channeling a bad Terry-Thomas impersonation, is only grating) and the clunkiest writing of the director's career. The would-be Agincourt-style inspirational speech with which he saddles Elba to rally the worn-down robot pilots ("We're canceling the apocalypse!") isn't even up to the level of Braveheart, let alone Shakespeare-- it's over almost as soon as it starts, and what's there fizzles like a damp analog circuit board.

But that's indicative of the movie as a whole-- Del Toro's monster mash makes a hell of a racket, but it goes nowhere, and not particularly fast at that. The sinking feeling I got from watching the trailers, which was dissipated somewhat by some of the decent reviews, came back very quickly as I waited for the endless battle sequences to amount to something-- anything-- but the conclusion of Pacific Rim ends up as routine as everything that came before it, and just as exhausting as well. Much has been made of Del Toro and how he links his cinematic genius here with the sensibility of a 12-year-old boy and his toy-inspired imagination, but after seeing the actual result of that marriage the enthusiasm seems more like rationalization to me. I'd rather see what inspired Del Toro-- the delirious, low-tech action sequences staged by Ishiro Honda and Eiji Tsuburaya-- than sit through another round of his Rock' Em-Sock 'Em Robots vs. Scary Horde of Interchangeable Terrors, and mostly for the reasons stated here. And so I shall...

By the way, Godzilla vs. Monster Zero is now playing on Netflix Streaming. I recommend it highly.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

MA’AM, THE DOG ATE MY COMPUTER! My Incredibly, Inexcusably Tardy Responses to Miss Jean Brodie’s Modestly Magnificent, Matriarchally Manipulative Springtime-For-Mussolini Movie Quiz

Well, nothing I can say could possibly excuse my unprecedented tardiness in turning in my answers to Miss Brodie’s Movie Quiz, which only posted on March 8, a skosh over four months ago. (I did use the word “inexcusably,” didn’t I?) But just know that this year has been fraught with enough perils that even a harsh glance and perhaps even the sting of a ruler across the knuckles would seem comforting in comparison, and it is those perils I blame for my distraction and general foot-dragging. I have come through, however, and hope that in light of the upcoming summer quiz (and there will be an upcoming summer quiz, students), you shan’t resent my godforsaken dilly-dallying too much.

So without further delay, here are my answers, sincerely submitted, with the reminder that the asterisk (*) indicates a question that has shown up in a previous quiz from somewhere in the almost nine-year history of these things. Nine years… I least I didn’t drag my feet that long! Here we go!

1) The classic movie moment everyone loves except me is:

The diner scene from Five Easy Pieces in which the alienated and entitled poor little rich kid played by Jack Nicholson boldly sticks it to The Man… in the personage of a wage-earning waitress who certainly has a lot more in common with The Oppressed than he does. When the actress who played that waitress, Lorna Thayer, died in 2005 I wrote about her and that scene in particular:

The waitress plays by the rules of the restaurant in refusing Nicholson’s order because if she doesn’t, she’s likely to lose her low-paying job and have to hit the pavement in search of another one that might not even be as good as the one she’s got. Rafelson and Eastman’s point might have gone down a little smoother had Nicholson demanded to see the manager and taken out his self-righteous frustration on him. But would our sainted antihero have had the balls to stand up to a man, perhaps one far bigger of frame and weight than him, in a similar situation? We never find out, because it’s easier and funnier to let Nicholson have his way with someone who’s sassy enough to spar with him a little but who won’t fight back when he loses his cool over a piece of toast.”

It’s a scene, like many others that become “classics,” which is pitched to the choir, but it began to sour for me as soon as I stopped laughing and thought about it from the point of view of anyone other than the boorish asshole at the eye of the movie’s hurricane of self-regard. Separated from that storm, the whole movie feels like a long whine muffled by a mouthful of silver spoons, that diner scene becoming a perfect microcosm of its pretensions.
2) Favorite line of dialogue from a film noir

I’m quite sure there are lines that are more emblematic of the qualities of film noir, but one that always tickles me in its hard-boiled, matter-of-fact gruffness comes in The Blue Dahlia. Alan Ladd sits down at a bar with Howard Da Silva and William Bendix, and Bendix orders bourbon, straight, with a bourbon chaser. Ladd asks the bartender for the same, and Da Silva underlines the order: “Two separate glasses. Get it?” To which the bartender replies without missing a beat, “Why wouldn’t I get it?”
3) Second favorite Hal Ashby film 

Well, since the number one has been very recently claimed by The Landlord (1970), a movie I deeply regret not having seen about 20 years ago so that I could have had 20 more years to appreciate how great it is, I will claim Shampoo (1975) for the number-two slot. Shampoo is a movie I first saw when I was still a bit too young to really understand how good it was, how incisive was its personally-infused political perspective. Ashby’s edges as a filmmaker seemed to be simultaneously ragged and diffuse, but these two movies together reveal not only a probing satirical sensibility (aided by brilliant writing from Bill Gunn and Robert Towne & Warren Beatty, respectively), but also a distinct regard for the humanity radiating through his films from all different, conflicting angles and philosophies, a penchant which ties Ashby, in time and in theme, to simpaticos like Robert Altman and Michael Ritchie. (I also have a real soft spot for Eight Million Ways to Die.)
        4)  Describe the moment when you first realized movies were directed as opposed to simply pieced together anonymously.*
      I’m sure that when I answered this question before, sometime back in the Pleistocene Era, I had a much different answer, one related, I’m sure, to some great moment in cinema history which, when I first encountered it as a green little movie buff, made my head spin with awe and ecstasy—“My God! This movie didn’t just happen… Someone made it happen!”  (If I had the inclination to look my original answer up, by God, I’m sure I could prove I’m right. But I don’t.) And the true moment is much less revelatory and dramatic than any such intellectual dawning anyway.

I was about seven or eight years old, and I was thumbing my way through an issue of Life magazine, when I came across a splashy, two-page color advert for The Green Berets. I was instantly attracted to it—at that age I coveted any sort of big ad like this, because to me, a nascent collector of movie ads culled from the Portland, OR and San Francisco newspapers, this was almost as good as finding a full-sized one-sheet folded up between the photo-centric stories of astronauts and Vietnam and the generation gap that were typically found in Life. As I scoured the credits at the bottom of the ad, I noticed that the star of the movie, John Wayne, was also credited as the director. How is such a thing possible, my eight-year-old mind wondered, that the guy who is in the movie, who probably has more screen time than anyone else in it, could also be the guy running around behind the scenes, telling people what to do while the scenes were being shot? Logistically, it just didn’t seem possible—directors were the guys who sat in chairs and yelled “Cut!” from off screen when the scene was finished shooting. How could John Wayne do that if he was also in the movie?! As I thought about that apparent rift in common sense I started noticing that The Green Berets was hardly the only instance of an actor directing himself – I had, after all, at least heard of Charlie Chaplin and Orson Welles by this point. (I would later also find out that The Green Berets wasn’t even Wayne’s first stint shouting orders through a megaphone.)

        From there it was only a matter of time before I understood the level of preparation it would require, assisted by an army of qualified craftspeople, in order to allow a director to step into the action himself, to realize a vision of the movie that had to have been conceived well in advance of the shoot, and that it wasn’t just one person pulling all the strings. When I finally saw The Green Berets I was impressed by its bigness (the local drive-in trumpeted on the marquee that “THE BIG ONE IS HERE!”), perhaps even more so because I had a little clearer idea of what it took to get it on the screen in the first place, and that somehow a director’s responsibilities could extend even so far as to gauging (again, with the input of trusted colleagues) his own performance in the film he’s making. Heady stuff this, which still wasn’t enough to prepare me for Paradise Alley and a decade’s worth of Rocky sequels. 

5) Favorite film book

The go-to answer for this question, ever since the fall of 1977, has been Pauline Kael’s Reeling, which I bought in its Warner mass paperback edition in the fall of 1977, the first of at least four editions of this book I’ve owned, replacements being made necessary by my wearing out of the cheap glue binding through excessive page-turning. But I also think Julie Salamon’s The Devil’s Candy is an excellent piece of reportage, mapping out in detail all the echoing voices reverberating around a doomed project (and inside the head of its director) and how the fate of any film in the marketplace can come to seem like its own little apocalypse.
6) Diana Sands or Vonetta McGee?

I find it very hard to argue with the work or the visage of the late Vonetta McGee—anyone who can claim Shaft in Africa, Blacula, To Sleep with Anger, Thomasine and Bushrod, Repo Man and Detroit 9000 on their resume, all while looking so fine and being so graceful and fiery on film, deserves a slot on the list of the most transfixing movie actresses ever. But Diana Sands belongs on that list too. Like McGee, who passed away at age 65 from cardiac arrest, Sands died at far too young an age. She was only 39 when she succumbed to leiomyosarcoma, and it’s probably because she was more active on stage than in films that she is less well known, especially to connoisseurs of Blaxploitation cinema, than is McGee. Her first big film was opposite Sidney Poitier in A Raisin in the Sun (1961), and in 1964 she famously won the role of Doris in The Owl and the Pussycat on Broadway opposite Alan Alda, in a pioneering instance of colorblind casting. But it took almost another decade for her to grab another memorable role on film, in Hal Ashby’s The Landlord (1970), where she was electrifying, sensual and poignant, often all at once, as a married tenement resident who falls into a relationship with Beau Bridges, the privileged (white) owner of her building. She also elevated everyone’s game in the Blaxploitation classic Willie Dynamite (1974) and was poised to take on the lead in Claudine (1974) before she became too ill to work. She was prickly and teasing and sharp, and effortlessly sexy in roles not necessarily fashioned to highlight the possibilities of her alluring presence. Even though she never had a prolific film career Diana Sands still gets my vote here-- for everything she was in her most memorable film roles, for everything simmering just beneath the surface in them that was never quite loosed, and even for the promises she left unfulfilled.
7) Most egregious gap in your viewing of films made in the past 10 years

I’m going to pick one oversight, unintended or deliberate, from every year since 2003. I still have not seen…

The Best of Youth (2003; Marco Tullio Giordana-- I’ve had the DVD for nine years)
Notre Musique (2004; Jean-Luc Godard)
Wolf Creek (2005; Greg MacLean)
The DaVinci Code (2006; Ron Howard)
La Vie en rose (2007; Olivier Dahan)
Che (2008; Steven Soderbergh)
The White Ribbon (2009; Michael Haneke)
Ondine (2010; Neil Jordan)
The Hangover Part II (2011; Todd Phillips)
This is Not a Film (2012; Jafar Panahi)
8) Favorite line of dialogue from a comedy 

Like all of these questions relating to favorite lines, for me this one seems entirely dependent on when the question is asked. Next week I’m sure I’d answer differently. But right now… A couple of weeks ago I introduced my daughter Emma, age 13, to the glories of Blazing Saddles, and the movie went over just about as well as I could have hoped. All the high points got a big response, of course (the campfire, Mongo comes to town, “The Ballad of Rock Ridge”), and many still sailed over her head (that's okay). But I think her biggest laughs might have come from Cole Porter on the railroad line, Alex Karras ("Ohh! Mongo straight!"), Bart's provocation of the KKK ("Where all the white women at?!") and the inimitable incoherence of Gov. Le Petomane ("These things are defective.")


As for me, I must have seen this movie 25 times now since that first fateful encounter in 1974, and though I still find the movie incredibly funny throughout, it seems that every time I see it something different hits my funny bone and causes it to vibrate out of control. This time it was the aforementioned governor, as embodied by Mel Brooks himself (channeling his inner Groucho Marx, of course). His reprimand to Hedley Lamarr, accidentally delivered to Bart and then self-interrupted, only to be delivered to Lamarr a second time, interruption duplicated, is one for the ages--  “Have you gone berserk?! Can’t you see that that man is a ni—Oh. Excuse me. Wrong guy. No offense. (Grabs Lamarr) “Have you gone berserk?! Can’t you see that that man is a ni--?”

But this time it was Le Petomane's acceptance of a very special honor that slayed me and sent me into a giggle fit that lasted long after the end of the scene.

LAMARR: “Just one more bill for you to sign, sir.”
LE PETOMANE: “What the hell is this?”
LAMARR: “This is the bill that will convert the state hospital for the insane into the William J. Le Petomane Memorial Gambling Casino for the Insane.”
LE PETOMANE: “Gentlemen, this—(Slips out of chair) this bill will be a giant step forward in the treatment… of the insane gambler!”

Blazing Saddles,
the gift that just keeps on giving.
9) Second favorite Lloyd Bacon film 

It’s gotta be Ever Since Eve (1937), a charming, second-tier screwball comedy with Marion Davies as a woman who dowdies herself down to get her bosses to give her secretarial abilities priority over her sex appeal. Robert Montgomery is on board as a lay-about writer who hires her, figuring her pinned-up style won’t distract him from his work, and then falls for her when he gets a glimpse of how she really looks. Will romance keep the book from getting finished on time? It’s up to Old Maid-Style Marion to make sure love doesn’t trip up a lucrative deadline!

Number-one Bacon? Kill the Umpire, with William Bendix and a script by Frank Tashlin! 
10) Richard Burton or Roger Livesey?

        I’ve lived with Burton for much longer—Liz and Dick even showed up on an episode of The Lucy Show, for crying out loud, when I was a kid—but I was never as impressed by Burton’s acting as I felt I was supposed to be, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf excepted, of course. (I’m hardly a Burton completest either—I only saw The Spy Who Came in from the Cold about two years ago, and I still have yet to see Villain, which I’ve heard good things about.)

But in a much shorter span of time Roger Livesey has bewitched me as an integral element in the meticulously woven worldview of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. The only non-Archers picture I know Livesey from is Basil Dearden’s delightful The League of Gentlemen, and though it seems impossible he was only in three films for Powell and Pressburger, when those three films are as spotlessly magnificent as I Know Where I’m Going!, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp and Stairway to Heaven (a.k.a. A Matter of Life and Death), notions of quantity become meaningless. I treasure Livesey’s rich, imperious, energetic, caustic and romantic performances in all four movies, and I look forward to a life of making myself much more familiar with everything else this fine actor had to offer in his long career.
        11) Is there a movie you staunchly refuse to consider seeing? If so, why?

Since I first started toying with the notion that there might be movies out there that I would never want to see, there have been several solid candidates for my own answer to this question. Back in the mid ‘70s there were two in particular that I would have guessed might never need airing on in the confines of my mind, and now, as I settle comfortably into my ‘50s I’ve seen them both. One, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salo: The 120 Days of Sodom (1975), was every bit as nightmarish as I imagined it might be, and probably worse-- at 15 I couldn’t possibly have conceived of some of the horrors Pasolini staged for his politically explosive adaptation of De Sade. But even if I regret eventually seeing some of those horrors, which Pasolini expertly staged with such ambiguous detachment, I don’t regret seeing the film—in fact, I own it—and I certainly believe it to be a work worthy of serious consideration.

The other movie, Snuff (1976), cultivated an air of ghastly transgression that was rooted entirely in cynical exploitation, and even when its main claim to notoriety was debunked the picture remained a sort of “Have You Seen It?” mile marker for a certain stripe of traveler along the path leading toward grindhouse completism. Snuff began life several years before it was actually released as The Slaughter, a low-budget horror cheapie shot in Argentina and “inspired” by the Manson killings which, at the time of the film's shooting, were only about a year past. The Slaughter sat on the shelf for several years until it was purchased by producer Allan Shackelton, who decided that the cherry on top of Michael and Roberta Findlay’s shitty cult murder movie would be a ready-made, controversial (and utterly nonsensical) new ending in which a pretty young crew member, ostensibly on the shoot of The Slaughter, is allegedly disemboweled on screen for real. Though the movie went a long way on the wretched fumes of this promotion, few who actually saw it came out believing they’d witnessed a real killing. 

Even so, Snuff retained the odor of rotted, forbidden flesh for decades, igniting suspicions of the existence of real snuff films that have never been proven. I recently saw the movie (it’s slated for an October 21 Blu-ray release through Blue Underground), and it’s an inept sham in its entirety, including the 75 gruelingly dull minutes leading up to its notorious, tacked-on climax. It’s no measure of disappointment to say that if the 37 years of increasingly extreme gore in American and European films, mainstream and outlaw, have taught us anything, it’s how to see through the phony geek show that concludes Snuff. What’s hardest to accept is that even in 1976 anyone could have believed this staged slaughter was in any way authentic. Those most outraged at the movie’s appearance in the marketplace probably took Shackelton’s carnival barker braggadocio at face value—“The bloodiest thing that ever happened IN FRONT OF a camera! Made in South America, WHERE LIFE IS CHEAP!”—without actually having seen the movie for themselves, and Shackelton himself apparently paid groups of people to picket screenings. I suppose desensitized grindhouse denizens, having paid to see a fake murder passed off as the “real thing” and then being forced to sit through something as enervating as Snuff to get to the payoff might, to paraphrase Fox Mulder, ultimately want to believe, for whatever reason. But thankfully, the only thing Snuff finally lives up to is the rank stench of its own cynicism.

When the answers to this quiz initially began posting several months ago, several people mentioned that A Serbian Film would be their go-to response, and I have no argument with that choice. I have read a morsel or two about the movie, enough to given me a sense that it’s not a place where I need to let my mind wander, and thankfully I have been given only just a suggestion of what happens in it—as yet no nightmares have been inspired by the involuntary elaboration of my imagination on horrors reported in any great detail.

But since I have only given but a cursory thought to that movie, I’ll submit as my final answer to this question the movie that I decided, after some internal debate upon its release in 2002, and again in 2010 when the opportunity again arose to see it theatrically, to skip altogether—Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible. But I almost didn’t skip it. In fact, I had been feeling a strange obligation to finally face up to this movie:

I told myself that yes, if… several of my trusted friends… held the movie in such high regard, perhaps it was time for me to live up to my cinephile duty and finally see it. After all, I saw Antichrist last week, another notorious act of Euro-provocation that filled me with dread going into the auditorium but which turned out to be horrifically beautiful. If I can take Antichrist, well, then… And who is to say that Irreversible wouldn’t turn out to be a similar surprise? I was kind of happy that I had finally found the courage to face up to this film, which seemed to hang over my experience as a filmgoer, as a film critic, with something of a ghostly, insistent quality. I mean, I am a curious person by nature. But is curiosity enough where a film like Irreversible is concerned?

It is times like these when I am most grateful for friends who… aren’t afraid to step away from what the movie geeks are up to and ask a simple question or two. A friend of mine got word that I was considering going to see the movie this coming Friday night and when I confirmed the information she said, simply, “Why?” As in, “Why would you want to put yourself through something like that?” I was momentarily taken aback because this person is herself a movie geek who always seems up for whatever comes down the pipe film-wise, a fearless, but not (as it turned out) indiscriminate moviegoer. I remember coming up with answers for her like, “Well, it’s time, I guess,” or “I feel like I should see it,” but as the words came out they didn’t sound very convincing even to me. The skeptical look never left my friend’s face. And I started to think about exactly why I felt I should see it. I already knew what I’d be in for. What about those original reasons for staying away, which always seemed so rooted in clear observation and separate from the rush of excitement surrounding the savvy technique of a filmmaker who may have mastered the art of manipulating and pummeling an audience for the simple reason that he wants to and knows how to get away with it, were suddenly unsatisfactory?”

If you’re interested in how I attempted to answer that question for myself, you can read the entire piece here. If not, then it will be enough for you to know that for me Irreversible is, like A Serbian Film, is a sight better left unseen.
12) Favorite filmmaker collaboration

This is another one of those posers the answer to which might conceivably change from week to week, and throughout cinema history there are certainly plenty of combinations to choose from. But right now I’d have to pick Peter Cushing and director Terence Fisher, for The Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula, Revenge of Frankenstein, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Mummy, The Brides of Dracula, Sword of Sherwood Forest, The Gorgon, Island of Terror, Frankenstein Created Woman, Island of the Burning Damned, Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell and, of course, their masterpiece, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed. (I could just as easily submit “Terence Fisher and Hammer,” or “Peter Cushing and Hammer,” or “Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee,” or “Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Terence Fisher” for an answer to this question too.)
13) Most recently viewed movie on DVD/Blu-ray/theatrical?

Theatrical:  Before Midnight (2013; Richard Linklater)
Blu-ray:  Side Effects (2013; Steven Soderbergh)
DVD: Phantom of the Paradise (1974; Brian De Palma)
Streaming: Hell House (2001; George Ratliff)
At work: Burn After Reading (2008; Joel Coen, Ethan Coen)  
14) Favorite line of dialogue from a horror movie

Speaking of Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, I recently had a chance to take my daughter Emma to see it on a double bill with Revenge of Frankenstein at the storied Egyptian Theater in Hollywood in celebration of Peter Cushing centenary year. It was her third or fourth go-round with the movie (we’ve watched it again together on DVD since that screening), and she particularly relishes Cushing’s shift into purely calculated, arrogant evil in this movie, no more so than in the scene soon after he moves into the boarding house operated by Anna (Veronica Carlson) and is subjected to a boorish, moralistic exchange between three or four of the house’s educated, stuffed-shirt residents. Cushing listens as they begin recounting rumors of a certain Dr. Frankenstein who, in concert with another doctor currently residing in a local asylum, apparently carried on an outrageous, blasphemous series of experiments aimed at reanimating the dead. Soon Cushing can take no more. After blithely challenging their medical credentials , and without raising his eyebrow by a hair or his voice even a fraction of a decibel, he turns to the men, who have to this point seen only his back, and offers this to the most vocal of them:

       “Had man not been given to invention and experiment, then tonight, sir, you would have eaten your dinner in a cave. You would've strewn the bones about the floor then wiped your fingers on a coat of animal skin. In fact, your lapels do look a bit greasy. Good night.”   

       He  blinded them… with science!       

15) Second favorite Oliver Stone film

To my mind director Oliver Stone, and the very notion of “an Oliver Stone Film,” peaked in 1995 with Nixon, in which the director, not unlike Robert Altman in Secret Honor, found an unlikely measure of sympathy for the Wit from Whittier by dissecting and projecting onto Nixon’s very public paranoia, using Stone’s well-known multimedia-oriented style to explore the ways in which the beleaguered president might imagine he appears to the world around him.

But it’s the director’s own film maudit, Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut, to which I give honorable mention status. Alexander Revisited is an expansion upon Stone’s reviled original theatrical cut, another spectacular examination of a troubled figure on the world stage, this one seeking to extend its boundaries rather than shrink away from it altogether, and the way Stone reshuffles the original film’s structure enriches its meaning and deepens the entire experience for the audience.

(Click here to read my 2011 interview with Stone on Alexander, Nixon and a few other things.)

And if I was giving out third place votes (which I suppose I am), I’d hand it over to Savages, which finds the director revitalized and operating in a strange, lurid vibe befitting the subject of Laguna Beach pot dealers warring with a expansion-minded Mexican cartel— it’s an action movie that is in a very specific way completely Stoned.
         16)   Eva Mendes or Raquel Welch?

         Would that all unsolvable, real world dilemmas were like this one.

17) Favorite religious satire

If we’re talking features, then I’d probably have to side with Life of Brian, probably the best and punchiest dissection of the divisive elements of religious dogma ever made. (Those who decried it as an act of blasphemy or a spitball hawked in the direction of faith saw a different movie than the one the Pythons made.) But if we can also mention religious satire contained within a feature, then one of my favorite moments (and maybe this one is blasphemous) is the great Panavision shot in MASH of the dinner party honoring the Painless Pole’s upcoming suicide. Our lovable dentist, emotionally sidelined by a bout of impotence, projects guilt (or failure, I suppose) by association when he assumes the position of the son of God and recasts the surgeons and staff of the 4077th, most of whom have hardly attempted to hide their contempt for the religious hypocrisy embodied by Frank Burns, as doting apostles in an completely non-divine association with practical human compassion. It’s a bitterly funny appropriation of religious iconography in service of distinctly secular ends which ends up perfectly encapsulating the movie’s perspective on its own angels of mercy.   
18) Best Internet movie argument? (question contributed by Tom Block)

The back and forth Bill Ryan and I had back in the waning days of summer 2009 on Inglorious Basterds. We both loved the movie, so it was hardly a Point/Counterpoint type of tussle (“Bill, you ignorant slut!”). But it pulled in an awful lot of satellite conversation, most all of it respectful, some of it highfalutin, and some high-ranking officials in the world of Film Criticism even got involved after a while. It’s the kind of blog-oriented exchange that seems to have been diluted in the age of Facebook, where one doesn’t have to wait for one’s comment to be moderated, and I miss the sort of immense satisfaction that I think Bill and I both derived from having undertaken it.
19) Most pointless Internet movie argument? (question contributed by Tom Block)

I would have to say that a recent exchange on Carrie Rickey’s Facebook page in regard to whether or not MASH qualified as an anti-Vietnam movie comes about as close to pointless a scuffle as I’ve engaged in in quite some time. But I would also nominate any argument submitted by any fan that hasn’t let the fact that he/she hasn’t actually seen the movie in question get in the way of his/her irrational passions.
20) Charles McGraw or Robert Ryan?

I always perk up when I see McGraw pop up in movies like T-Men, Border Incident, Blood on the Moon, Armored Car Robbery, The Narrow Margin and one of my favorites, Joe Dakota. But Robert Ryan is in a class by himself. Every one of the performances of his that I’ve seen feels lived in and informed by his experience (and often his troubles) like few other actors I can reference. I recently saw The Professionals again and marveled at what fascination there was in just looking at this guy on screen and thinking only about his face and how it reflected (and interpreted) what he was thinking about in regard to everything else that was going on. I said that Ryan’s performances felt lived-in; I also feel like I’m living in him whenever I see that craggy, weary-eyed visage, in good movies and bad. 
       21)   Favorite line of dialogue from a western

          Courtesy of writer N.B. Stone, director Sam Peckinpah and actor Joel McCrea as Steve Judd: “All I want is to enter my house justified.”       

 22) Second favorite Roy Del Ruth film

Number one is the inimitable Taxi! (1932) with Jimmy Cagney and a heartbreakingly beautiful Loretta Young, so number two has to be Born to Dance (1936). A quick shuffle through IMDb reveals that I really haven’t seen that many of Del Ruth’s movies, but no matter how many I have under my belt I just can’t pick The Alligator People…
         23)   Relatively unknown film or filmmaker you’d most eagerly proselytize for
      He’s a friend of mine, but even if that weren’t true, Nicholas McCarthy still made The Pact (2012), which is precisely the sort of measured, atmosphere-rich, yet still plenty demented horror film I wish more horror directors were interested in making. On evidence of The Pact and hints about his upcoming movie, Home, McCarthy seems more interested in approaching the genre as an auteur,  generating his own ideas and expressing his perspective on humanity through beloved forms, rather than simply gobbling up work refrying tried-and-true (and sometimes not-so-true) “classics.” It’s a tougher row to hoe, but the potential rewards for the horror genre, its traditions and its audience, not to mention McCarthy himself, might be far greater, and I think it’s going to be exciting watching this filmmaker reap the harvest.
       24)   Ewan McGregor or Gerard Butler?

         So far Butler hasn’t proven himself (to me, at least) as anything but a walking, talking Jack Link. The only time I’ve noticed him and not been annoyed is in Guy Ritchie’s surprisingly okay RocknRolla, unless, of course, you want to count his appearance in Tomorrow Never Dies as “Leading Seaman, HMS Devonshire”—but then again, I didn’t notice him in that movie. (Michelle Yeoh distracted me.)

McGregor, on the other hand, is a capable actor with a charming screen presence, as well as a fella who makes my wife swoon (I’m just relieved she swoons over someone who resembles me as much as McGregor clearly does). He also has a huge penis (again, the resemblance is uncanny), and he also once played a baritone horn in a movie called Brassed Off—I used to play the trumpet, but let’s not get caught up in horn splitting.

        Ewan McGregor is the clear choice here.    
       25)   Is there such a thing as a perfect movie?

       I don’t really think so—that quote on the header of this blog pretty much puts this question in perspective for me. But I do love the feeling that happens every once in a while, while a movie is spinning before my eyes and working its magic, when it seems like the possibility exists, and that can happen even when the imperfections of a movie couldn’t be more apparent. I actually prefer the pursuit of perfection to perfection anyway, whatever that might be and however that might manifest itself— it’s in the striving, the heights soared, the inevitable descent back toward earth and the occasional crash-and-burn where the real glories of the movies reside.  
       26)   Favorite movie location you’ve most recently had the occasion to actually visit * 


        I saw Car Wash about four times at my hometown drive-in back in the summer of 1977, in the days before I left that hometown and headed off to college, and it was that movie probably more than any other that fueled my imagination of what Los Angeles was going to be like once I moved here. (And I always knew that I would move here.) I’ve seen the movie countless times since, but when I caught it at the New Beverly a couple of years ago I was able to determine from the beautiful print they showed that the movie was shot on the corner of 6th Street and Rampart, at the outskirts of the downtown district, a location that I had driven past many times without realizing exactly where I was. I decided that the next day I would make a pilgrimage to the spot where so many of my first impressions of Los Angeles in the ‘70s were formed, and when I got there this is what I saw. 
        Of course the car wash is no longer there, but the neighborhood and the block is warmly recognizable nonetheless. It may sound silly, but there was a strange sort of comfort in sensing that even in a city which seems as transient and indifferent to its own geographical and architectural history as this one often does, some 30 years later the spirit of this raggedy, anarchic comedy should still be able to be detected in the city as it really is day to day. It may not be my most recent visit to a favorite movie location, but it is one of the only times I’ve actually sought out a spot simply on the basis of having seen it in a movie, and it was well worth the trip.

       27)   Second favorite Delmer Daves film 

        I like 3:10 to Yuma (1957) a bit better than Broken Arrow (1950)—maybe it’s Frankie Laine that gives the movie its edge. So the showdown between the slyly manipulative Glenn Ford and the earnest, stubborn Van Heflin will be my second choice, because my favorite Delmer Daves movie is The Last Wagon (1956), starring Richard Widmark, Nick Adams, Susan Kohner, Felicia Farr and Nick Adams.
       28)   Name the one DVD commentary you wish you could hear that, for whatever reason, doesn't actually exist
I still would love to hear Jesus (son of Joseph and Mary, not the guy played by John Turturro) get behind a microphone and let us know exactly what He thinks about Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. But for seconds, if He hasn’t just decided to evaporate the recording studio or somehow otherwise induced Armageddon, I’d throw on K. Ryan Jones’ Fall from Grace, an entirely enraging documentary about Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist troglodytia, and then we’d find out for sure just who God hates.
       29)   Gloria Grahame or Marie Windsor?

       I revere Marie Windsor’s appeal as a premier hard-nosed broad plenty, but I really think only the power of Barbara Stanwyck would be enough to make me choose against Gloria Grahame in this category. If you haven’t seen it, I refer you to her desperately moving monologue as a young woman awaiting the return from battle of her boyfriend who inadvertently inspires the central scheme of military deception in Ronald Neame’s The Man Who Never Was if you really need further proof as to how thrilling she could be on screen.
       30)   Name a filmmaker who never really lived up to the potential suggested by their early acclaim or success
Every new Paul Thomas Anderson movie must apparently be received or anticipated as if it’s a prefab masterpiece—There Will Be Blood and even more so The Master both seem like statues rather than movies, monuments to a vogue of self-seriousness that threatens to make me lose interest in Anderson’s career altogether. (I think Anderson’s hero, Robert Altman, would have been bored to tears by The Master.) Even though they are far from perfect, I bemoan the absence of the unruly, anarchic humor and buzzing hearts that power movies like Boogie Nights, Magnolia and Punch-drunk Love, to say nothing of the unassuming personal template of a movie like Hard Eight.
        31)   Is there a movie-based disagreement serious enough that it might cause you to reevaluate the basis of a romantic relationship or a friendship? *

        Again, having survived the arguments my wife and I had over Robert Altman in the earliest days of our dating lives, I don’t really think I can say that a disagreement over any one movie, or any work of art, would or should be enough to cause a rift that serious in any relationship. We might sometimes wish that our points of view on these matters ran a little more parallel these days, like they used to, but there’s nothing like a little history to make divergences like these seem a little less important. That said, I’m very grateful to the tag team of Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke for coming through yet again with the third chapter in their apparently blessed narrative experiment, Before Midnight, which is as close to a fiction version of the Apted Up series as we’ll ever likely see. Because if I’d come out of that theater last night any less enthralled than I genuinely was, it would have been couch-sleeping time for me,  I’m quite sure. And, oh, yeah, it’s probably worth restating here again, as I put my final period on this stack of tardy homework, that Ewan McGregor is a hell of an actor and darned good-looking too. Okay, I think we’re good.