Thursday, July 09, 2015


Better late than never, right? That one rarely worked on my teachers in high school, and almost never at the university level. But it’s all I’ve got, so I’m trotting it out in the hopes that my loyal readership will just look the other way. Whichever way you look, these are the answers I’ve got, my responses to the fiery inquiry at the heart of Ms. Elizabeth Halsey’s Rotten Apple, Hot for (Bad) Teacher Summer Movie Quiz! Have at ‘em, and don’t grade me too harshly! It's still summer, right?

         1)    Name a line from a movie that should've become a catch phrase but didn't 

“Well, you can do what you want to us, but we’re not going to sit here and listen to you badmouth the United States of America! Gentlemen!”

2) Your second favorite William Wellman film

With this question I find myself echoing the refrain of several folks who have undertaken this quiz: It appears I am woefully undernourished when it comes to William Wellman. I’ve only seen eight of the 83 directorial credits listed on his IMDb page. I wish The Boob (1926) were one of them so I could claim it as my second favorite, something I would consider doing on the basis of the title alone. But I’m all about integrity here, so I’ll stick to the ones I know. Nothing Sacred is the clear favorite in my book. And as much as I like Night Nurse (1931), The Public Enemy (1931) and Wings (1927), I award second place to The Ox-Bow Incident (1946), a marvel of tension and the dense interpersonal politics of conscience clocking in at a lean 75 minutes. (Take that, Quentin Tarantino.) The one Wellman I haven’t yet seen that I am most keen to? I’ll say Westward the Women (1951), though now it might really be The Boob.

3) Viggo Mortensen or Javier Bardem?

Bardem delivered one for the ages as Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men and he was almost as good in John Malkovich’s The Dancer Upstairs,  but his supporting turns in Skyfall , The Counselor and Vicky Christina Barcelona were pitched at the level of the movies themselves--  overkill, druggy camp, low-gear sexy, respectively, and all less than inspired. Mortenson, on the other hand, has not only the eye candy credit in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but also weird and/or searing turns in pictures like The Indian Runner, Carlito’s Way, The Prophecy, A Perfect Murder and Gus Van Sant’s Psycho retool. (IMDb also says he starred as Jimmy Kowalski in a TV movie remake of Vanishing Point—whaaa????!) But Mortenson gets my vote on the strength of lead performances in his two movies for David Cronenberg—A History of Violence and Eastern Promises—plus The Road and one especially close to my heart, Hidalgo. And I’m very keen to see him in Lisandro Alonso’s Jauja.

4) Favorite first line from a movie

There are a lot of really good examples in the comments section of the original quiz post (like Weigard’s example from Billy Wilder’s One Two Three). But for me, no opening line in any movie so succinctly encapsulates, given the context, the shadows within the story to come quite so perfectly as the one Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola crafted to open their 1972 classic:

“I believe in America.”

5) The most disappointing/superfluous “director’s cut” or otherwise extended edition of a movie you’ve seen? *

I’m really not much of one for keeping up with altered versions of beloved or otherwise familiar movies—I have a hard-enough time just keeping pace with everything I’d like to see, current releases as well as past classics, to find time to sit around comparing the theatrical cut against the director’s cut or the unrated extended version or whatever the marketing department happens to choose to call it. And I’m also not interested in having my memories of the original film jumbled with other versions, which may have excised (and sometimes for quite justifiable reasons) elements or scenes that I love or remember well, particularly if it’s a movie I’ve seen several times in its release form. All of which means the “special edition” of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1980) is probably the one I’m most familiar with and the one that strikes me as the most egregious example of what can happen when a director (with or without the studio’s insistence) begins to second-guess himself. Spielberg’s decision to let us see the inside of the mothership, after crafting a sense of mystery and emphasizing the elements of communication between humans and an unknown alien species over the entire film, is clearly meant to augment the awe generated by the original cut, but it only deflates that mystery, justifying all by itself the famous show-biz edict to leave ‘em wanting more. The “special edition” is actually three minutes shorter than the theatrical cut, which means that other scenes inside the film were also tightened, replaced or excised altogether. I can’t even trust my recall of what’s in what version anymore, thanks to the proliferation of this “special edition” in the ‘80s. But some of my favorite moments of Spielberg doodling in the margins—I’m thinking mostly of the scenes involving Roy Neary and his family—have been spoiled by the presence of overwrought additional scenes (Neary’s son screaming “Crybaby! Crybaby!” at his dad) that I wish weren’t cluttering up my memory bank.

6) What is the movie you feel was most enhanced by a variant version? *

Even though what the meaning of a director’s cut really is remains pretty fluid in the age of digital video, especially when it comes to reconstructing a film based on the notes of an artist who is no longer among the living, I can say that both Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1974) and Once Upon a Time in America (1985) are both movies which have benefited from the home video-inspired retooling of their bowdlerized theatrical cuts. Sergio Leone’s movie is available in a newly reconstructed four-hour version, which I haven’t seen but which reportedly is magnificent and as close to Leone’s original vision of his final film as we’re likely to ever see. And the history of Peckinpah’s movie and the endless tinkering and reshuffling that it has been subject to is a fascinating story unto itself, as witnessed by Paul Seydor’s recent book The Authentic Death and Contentious Afterlife of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid: The Untold Story of Peckinpah's Last Western Film.

But I also hold in very high regard Oliver Stone’s Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut. And even though I realize that I’m probably more in love with the theatrical cut, the extended version of 1941, which doesn’t move as swiftly as the choppier version originally released in 1979, at least has one classic sequence left out of the shorter version—Christmas tree salesman Hollis “Holly” Wood (Slim Pickens) being set upon by kidnap-minded Japanese sailors who are all somehow disguised as seasonal pines.

7) Eve Arden or Una Merkel?

For Mildred Pierce alone (oh, and Stage Door, and Cover Girl, and That Uncertain Feeling), but also for so much more (and I would even include in that bounty her stint on the ‘60s sitcom The Mothers-in-Law), it’s all about Eve. Though I do love Una too. Una, Arden? Arden, Una? What a choice…

8) What was the last DVD/Blu-ray/streaming film you saw? The last theatrical screening?

Blu-ray: Maps to the Stars, by which I was pretty much floored. Who knew that Cronenberg’s clinical cool would be such a perversely apt match with Bruce Wagner’s turned-to-11 bile-infused Hollywood satire? And a publicity shot of Julianne Moore in this role should be forever placed in Webster’s next to the word “fearless.”

Streaming: Django Unchained, which I was surprised to discover didn’t have much impact a couple of years removed from its release. (I’d only seen it once theatrically before seeing it again this week.) When it was over, my wife remarked, “Well, that seemed kinda silly,” and reflecting on the movie’s various excesses and the vague sense of being a little too big for its britches-- the movie begs for the crispness that the late Sally Menke  always brought to even the director’s talkiest pieces—I had to agree. There are plenty of things to like, still—Christoph Waltz and Samuel L. Jackson among them-- but the movie doesn’t have even close to the formal or textual audacity of Inglourious Basterds and it trots when a good, sturdy gallop would better suit the moment. And I’m still puzzling over QT winning the screenplay Oscar for this— the structure seems lumpier than usual, and there’s not a single exchange of dialogue here that’s in the same league as the least of the many memorable confrontations in Inglourious Basterds

Theatrical: The Wolfpack, Crystal Moselle’s supremely empathetic, defiantly non-exploitative documentary about the Angulo brothers, a group of siblings brought up in a Lower East Side Manhattan apartment completely shut off from the outside world, whose vision of the way the world works (and, as it turns out, their inspiration for striking out on the own outside the walls of that apartment) is derived entirely from the movies.

9) Second favorite Michael Mann film

My favorite has to be The Insider, so I’ll bestow honorable mention status upon The Last of the Mohicans (1992). It strikes me that these two are the ones that stand furthest apart (excepting maybe The Keep) from what I’ve come to think of as the Michael Mann Existential Hero Formula. So does my high regard for his Miami Vice feature automatically classify it as a guilty pleasure, even though I feel no guilt at all about enjoying it?

10) Name a favorite director’s most egregious misstep

I don’t know if they could be called Brian De Palma’s most egregious missteps—I might reserve that label for the potentially career-killing trifecta of The Black Dahlia, Redacted  and  Passion—but it seems to me that the one-two punch of Scarface (1983) and Body Double (1985) might qualify on some level. De Palma followed a career and style-defining run of films, from Sisters (1973) through Blow Out (1981) with the overscaled, sloppy excess of Scarface (from an Oliver Stone screenplay), which was the focus of an intense battle between filmmaker, studio and the MPAA, who originally saddled the movie with an “X” rating, presumably for violence. (The movie also hit high-water marks for swearing—IMDb cites uses the word “fuck” in Scarface, including its derivatives, at 226, for an average of 1.32 “fucks” per minute—and the vacuuming-up of a certain powdered narcotic.)

De Palma took the rating battle personally—in interviews he railed against what he saw as the MPAA’s overly stern tsk-tsking of his movie, and vowed that if they wanted a “X,” next time he’d give ‘em one. The presumable result of the director’s outrage, Body Double, found him being self-conscious about his own body of work for the first time, making “a De Palma movie” instead of one from the charred and blackened heart. (I wrote about the movie at length here.

From here on out there would be masterworks (Casualties of War, Carlito’s Way, Femme Fatale), top-drawer Hollywood work for hire (The Untouchables, Mission: Impossible) and bizarre misfires (Wise Guys, The Bonfire of the Vanities) along the way. But I look at the Scarface/Body Double combo as the point when De Palma, a master of cinematic control, began to sense a shift in the Hollywood paradigm within which he’d functioned as an independent voice for a decade and responded not with focus or even rage, but with a sort of infantile contempt unbecoming such a master manipulator of image and sound.

11) Alain Delon or Marcello Mastroianni?

Delon’s better looking, and he shared the screen with Claudia Cardinale in The Leopard, but Mastroianni has the Fellini connection, and he shared the screen with Claudia Cardinale in 8½. Advantage: Marcello!

12) Jean-Luc Godard famously stated that “all you need for a movie is a girl and a gun.” Name one other essential element that you’d add to the mix.

Snarky answer: A whole bunch of unexposed film.
Serious answer: A good reason to make one.

13) Favorite one-sheet that you own, or just your favorite one-sheet (please provide a link to an image if you can)

This one hung in my rooms for years, throughout college and beyond. 

I also like this variation.

14) Catherine Spaak or Daniela Giordano?

I first encountered the undeniably lovely Daniela Giordano in Mario Bava’s satisfyingly strange sex comedy  Four Times That Night, but I can recall ever seeing her elsewhere only in the 1970 spaghetti western Have a Nice Funeral, My Friend! Sartana Will Pay! But Catherine Spaak started off on a high note in 1962, with Dino Risi’s Il Sorpasso among her first efforts. In addition to lots of Italian sex comedies, she also has Dario Argento’s Cat O’ Nine Tails, Antonio Margheriti’s (say it like Eli Roth) Take a Hard Ride, Damaniano Damiani’s A Complicated Girl and, of course, her tag-team comedy with Claudia Cardinale, Certo, certissimo, anzi... probabile, a.k.a. Diary of a Telephone Operator. For all that, and those awesome glasses, advantage Catherine!

15) Director who most readily makes you think “Whatever happened to…?”

The name that immediately pops to the top of my brain is Bill Forsyth. After a string of wonderful comedy/dramas in the ‘80s, including That Sinking Feeling, Gregory’s Girl, Local Hero, Comfort and Joy and Housekeeping, he made the largely ignored Burt Reynolds comedy Breaking In in 1989, followed it with the almost universally reviled Being Human (1994) starring Robin Williams, took another five years to come up with a sequel to one of his breakthrough films, Gregory’s Two Girls (1999) and has not been heard from on screen since. He won a lifetime achievement award from the Scottish branch of the British Film Institute in 2009, for which occasion he made a short film:

A quote on his IMDb page may provide a clue as to his diminished output over the past 15 years:

And so the passion ultimately fizzles out because of the limitations of the goal; because movies are really not that important. At the very end of the day you're sitting with an audience of four or five hundred people and all they want is to be entertained. You see we're dealing with a medium which really only wants to involve itself in the superficial manipulation of emotions.”

Be all that as it may, based on Local Hero alone, I’m sorry there aren’t twice as many Bill Forsyth films as there are.

Here's a good piece on Forsyth from the New York Times.

16) Now that some time has passed… The Interview, yes or no?

Speaking as someone who hated Pineapple Express and had only marginally more tolerance for This Is the End, I thought The Interview was terrific, and it’s not even the weirdest James Franco comedy I’ve liked. (That award goes to Your Highness.

17) Second favorite Alberto Cavalcanti film

If Went the Day Well? (1942) is my favorite (and it is), then second place must go to his nifty noir They Made Me a Fugitive (1947) starring Trevor Howard and the indescribably luscious Sally Gray. I disqualified Dead of Night (1945) because Cavalcanti was one of four directors on that omnibus film, but it’s still damn good.

18) Though both displayed strong documentary influence in their early films, Wim Wenders and Werner Herzog have focused heavily on the documentary form late in their filmmaking careers. If he had lived, what kind of films do you think Rainer Werner Fassbinder, their partner in the German New Wave of the ‘70s, would be making now?

With Berlin Alexanderplatz as exhibit #1 in evidence, I’d like to think he’d have a home at HBO or Showtime or one of those joints making the sort of long-form TV that has everyone glued to their iPads these days.

19) Name a DVD you’ve replaced with a Blu-ray. Name another that you decided not to replace. 

I happily replaced my MGM Midnite Movies double bill of The Vampire Lovers (1970) and Countess Dracula (1971) with Synapse Video’s lush, feature-packed Blu-rays and will never look back. Synapse also put out gorgeous Blu-ray transfers of Twins of Evil (1971), Vampire Circus (1972) and Hands of the Ripper (1971), all of which grace my bookshelf and which make my house the place to be in Glendale if you have an itch for some early ‘70s Hammer!

And I don’t see any point in upgrading my Jackass: The Movie, Jackass 2 and Jackass 3-D collection to Blu-ray. Picture quality is not the raison d’etre here, and those shiny Blu-ray discs will just get smudged with all manner of debris anyway.

20) Don Rickles or Rodney Dangerfield?

Who do you think, dummy? The Man with the X-Ray Eyes! Casino! Kelly’s Heroes! Toy Story! Run Silent, Run Deep! Beach Blanket Bingo! CPO Sharkey! Come on! Advantage: Mr. Warmth!

21) Director who you wish would hurry up and make another film

The answer to this one and to #15 seem as though they might be interchangeable, but I don’t necessarily think so. Bill Forsyth may have discovered that the creative fire that kept him going 30 years ago is too difficult to light now. So what we’d get if Bill Forsyth churned out another movie might be (would most likely be) more on the uninspired order of Being Human than another uniquely entrancing creation like Local Hero or Comfort and Joy or Gregory’s Girl. 

It might be cheating a bit to say Hou Hsiao-hsien, since The Assassin has already screened at Cannes and it's just a couple of months away from hitting the States. So I’ll say Walter Hill, whose recent Bullet to the Head proved he’s still got the chops. He just needs a stronger screenplay.

22) Second favorite Michael Bay film


The great American satire Pain & Gain gets my top spot here, so the runner-up award for Michael Bay’s second-best film is Bad Boys II, which is a movie that has a lot of junk in it—it’s two and a half hours long. How could it not?—but is still a lot of fun, especially when everybody starts flinging fast-moving cars at each other. Missing the second-place cut by a hair is Transformers: Dark of the Moon.

23) Name a movie that, for whatever reason, you think of as your own

National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978) for the obvious reasons. For perhaps less obvious ones, Federico Fellini’s Amarcord (1974) and Boris Ingster’s Stranger on the Third Floor (1940), which I saw on the second half of a late-night Sinister Cinema double feature back in the early ‘70s. It made me feel like I’d discovered a movie no else knew about. Which wasn’t true, of course, but it still made me love the movie even more than I would have already. (I call up the great opening title music in my head whenever life doesn’t seem quite dramatic or urgent enough…)

24) Your favorite movie AI (however loosely you care to define the term)

Right now it’s a toss-up…

25) Your favorite existing DVD commentary track *

I will put in one very decisive vote for the commentary track featuring Steven Soderbergh and Lem Dobbs on the DVD for The Limey. There’s a time and place for friendly back and forth, and then there’s a time for a screenwriter to confront his director about choices made that he disagrees with. This commentary track is the time for the latter.

And I will also make room to urge you to listen to Richard Harland Smith’s informative and enlightening track on Kino’s recent Blu-ray remastering of the 1940 Poverty Row production The Devil Bat. The movie itself is unlikely to impress anyone who doesn’t already have a taste for horror marginalia or a fond memory of watching it on late-night TV as a kid, but Smith, a more-than-worthy host and raconteur, will open up this Bela Lugosi sort-of classic to you like no one else could. (Above: Richard hanging out with one of his many acolytes.)

26) The double bill you’d program on the last night of your own revival theater

There are so many combos floating around in my head, some of which wouldn’t be quite right for the last night of a presumably beloved cinema. But I think a movie that stretches back to the silent era and points a poison pen toward the heart of Hollywood, combined with a movie that revels in the form of epic Hollywood (and international moviemaking) as well as the audacious use of those forms to unexpected ends, which itself concludes with the burning of a big, beautiful movie house, would seem to fit the requirements of the evening.

May I suggest Sunset Boulevard and Inglourious Basterds?

27) Catherine Deneuve or Claudia Cardinale?

Well, unlike Alain Delon, Marcello Mastroianni or Catherine Spaak, as far as I know Catherine Deneueve never made a picture with Claudia Cardinale, so…. Like there was ever a contest here! Advantage: Claudia!



Jeff Gee said...

I do like the idea of closing down the movie theater with a movie where a movie theater gets destroyed, although I think I would opt for Matinee over I.B..

The glasses prompt me to switch my "pass" on Catherine Spaak v. Daniela Giordano to Catherine.

Givemeanunusedname said...

Daniela Giordano! But I am biased - I actually run a tribute page (the only one for her) on facebook. I'm in contact with her and she is aware of it- Feel free to "like" it.

Love your blog man- I like a lot of the films you post about!

Anonymous said...

I guess you've never seen ROXIE HART, another great William Wellmancomedy.