Sunday, October 4, 2015


Got to take the latest quiz from Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule. I encourage you to take it, too.

1) Favorite moment from a Coen Brothers movie
Got to be from The Big Lebowski, although I also love O Brother, Where Art Thou. How about this moment that never happened when Walter Sobchak answers Donald Trump?

2) Scratching The Ladykillers, Intolerable Cruelty and The Hudsucker Proxy from consideration, what would now rate as your least-favorite Coen Brothers movie?
Burn After Reading, which I liked not at all. My least favorite Coen Brothers movie, bar none.

3) Name the most underrated blockbuster of all time
I think Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was unfairly slagged. I'd rate it as the third best of the four Indiana Jones movies, well ahead of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

4) Ida Lupino or Sylvia Sidney?
Ida Lupino, I guess, but I can't say I've ever given her much thought.

5) Edwards Scissorhands—yes or no?
Yes. As usual, Tim Burton has trouble telling a story, but it's sweetly sentimental and visually brilliant.

6) The movie you think most bastardizes, misinterprets or does a disservice to the history or historical event it tries to represent
1965's The Battle of the Bulge gets every detail of the World War II campaign hilariously wrong, but it's The Birth of a Nation, D.W. Griffith's racist fantasy about the Civil War and especially Reconstruction, that did history and the nation the most lasting damage.

7) Favorite Aardman animation
Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, although my favorite line comes from the Wallace & Gromit short A Close Shave:

"Won't you come in? We were just about to have some cheese."

"Oh no, not cheese. Sorry. Brings me out in a rash. Can't stand the stuff."

"Not even Wensleydale?"

8) Second-favorite Olivier Assayas movie
I've heard of him because he directed Irma Vep, which was inspired by one of my favorite silent movies, Les Vampires. But I've never seen it or any other Olivier Assayas film.

9) Neville Brand or Mike Mazurki?
Mike Mazurki for his turn as Moose Malloy in Murder, My Sweet

10) Name the movie you would cite to a nonbeliever as the best evidence toward convincing them of the potential greatness of a favorite genre
Silent movies aren't so much a genre as a separate medium, but I'm willing to stretch the point. I'd say the comedies are the most accessible. Go with either Chaplin in The Gold Rush or Keaton in The General. If comedy isn't your bag, maybe The Passion of Joan of Arc, which even though it was made in 1928 is intense and startlingly modern.

11) Name any director and one aspect of his/her style or career, for good or bad, that sets her/him apart from any other director
Howard Hawks and the way he uses songs in non-musicals to advance character and heighten emotion.

12) Best car chase
Bullitt, the first true car chase and still my favorite

Bullitt: high-speed chase by LividFiction

13) Favorite moment directed by Robert Aldrich
Donald Sutherland inspecting the troops in The Dirty Dozen

14) The last movie you saw in a theater? On home video?
In the theater? Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation which I thought was a very solid action flick, if for no other reason than because it's the only one where the heroine has the good sense to take off her high heel shoes before kicking bad-guy ass. On home video? I watch so many movies, I lose track. The last one I hadn't seen before was Page Eight, a low-key British spy movie starring Bill Nighy as a career intelligence analyst for MI5 who finds himself doing something he's probably never done before — telling the truth.

But really, Lost in Space on Blu-Ray has been my consuming passion lately.

15) Jane Greer or Joan Bennett?
Jane Greer, one of my all-time favorites. As I've said many times, she's the only femme fatale I would let shoot me. I wrote about her here.

16) Second-favorite Paul Verhoeven movie
I sat through RoboCop and Total Recall in the theater, and saw Starship Troopers, Basic Instinct and parts of Showgirls on cable. Trying to choose between them is like sifting manure for my favorite piece of undigested corn. No thank you.

17) Your nominee for best/most important political or social documentary you’ve seen
Hemingway would say that if you select the details of your story carefully enough, the politics are already in it — no need to state them explicitly. Here are some notes for an unwritten essay about The Endless Summer, my all-time favorite documentary and implicit social commentary:

Adrenaline is the drug of choice for most Americans these days (that, and self-righteous bile). And of the over-the-counter mood-altering agents, it's also the most overrated, a jangling noise that drowns out any quiet thought of our own mortality.

But Monkey, you may well ask, who wants to contemplate their own mortality? Nobody, admittedly. The end of everything — knowing death is coming — is our unique curse as a species. But it's also our blessing. Do you think an animal is ever aware of a perfect moment, the fleeting in-between when the doing is done and we exist in harmony with the elements, and when, if you listen quietly enough, you can even hear the music of the spheres. The world keeps turning, of course, and the perfect moment ends almost as we become aware of it, but because we're aware the moment will end, we know just how special, how precious, how fleeting those moments are.

In this time of constant distractions, there's something quaintly charming about the notion that a four-foot curl off the coast of South Africa was once thought of as the perfect wave. These days surfers ride fifty-foot monsters in the middle of the ocean, waves they can only reach at the end of a towline, and riding them is more akin to falling off a mountain than anything your father ever did on a surfboard.

I imagine The Endless Summer, Bruce Brown's 1966 documentary about an around-the-world search for the perfect wave, has as much in common with today's surfing scene as flying a kite does to space travel.

Maybe that's why I like it.

18) Favorite movie twins
Lindsay Lohan gives my favorite performance as movie twins in the re-make of The Parent Trap, essentially playing four roles — an American, a Brit, the American pretending to be a Brit and the Brit pretending to be an American. But Twins, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito, is my favorite movie about twins.

19) Best movie or movie moment about or involving radio
Ralphie Parker feverishly decoding an important message from Little Orphan Annie in A Christmas Story

20) Eugene Pallette or William Demarest?
Eugene Pallette, the froggy voice comic genius in such films as My Man Godfrey, The Adventures of Robin Hood and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

21) Favorite moment directed by Ken Russell
Ann-Margret being hosed down with baked beans in Tommy.

22) All-time best movie cat
Among the "big" cats I like, the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz is my favorite, with Bagheera from Disney's animated The Jungle Book second. My favorite "cat" cats are Si and Am from Lady and the Tramp. Real, flesh-and-blood cat? Dunno. Pyewacket from Bell Book and Candle?

23) Your nominee for best movie about teaching and learning, followed by the worst
Among my favorites that have something vaguely to do with education are:

National Lampoon's Animal House in which no one learns anything.

A Little Princess, the 1995 re-make of a Shirley Temple movie (which was a re-make of a Mary Pickford movie), none of which, as Katie-Bar-The-Door always points out with a certain amount of vitriol, are faithful to the classic Frances Hodgson Burnett novel of the same name. But I haven't read the novel, so I can watch it with fresh eyes. They're all set in a girls' boarding school.

Ferris Buellar's Day Off, which is set in high school, but it's not really about teachers, except a few glimpses of how truly uninspiring the bad ones really are.

Star Wars, which has a classic student-teacher relationship at its core — Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi. Great movie, even if George Lucas has spent the last thirty-eight years crapping on his masterpiece, like Da Vinci deciding Mona Lisa needed a moustache.

And almost anything with Mary Pickford in it, particularly Stella Maris, Poor Little Rich Girl and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.

None of which really answers the question.

Worst? Who cares.

24) Name an actor/actress currently associated primarily with TV who you'd like to see on the big screen
Walton Goggins. He's had small parts in the movies, but his turn as Boyd Crowder in TV's Justified proves he's ready to play the main villain in a Tarantino or Coen Brothers movie.

25) Stanley Baker or David Farrar
Baker was in The Guns of Navarone, Farrar was Mr. Dean in Black Narcissus. Neither could act his way out of a wet paper bag.

26) Critic Manny Farber once said of Frank Capra that he was "an old-time movie craftsman, the master of every trick in the bag, and in many ways he is more at home with the medium than any other Hollywood director, but all the details give the impression of a contrived effect."

What is the Capra movie that best proves or disproves Farber's assertion? And who else in Hollywood history might just as easily fit his description?

Manny Farber's an idiot — probably no film in the camera. To take the most fantastical medium there is and suggest by his criticism of Capra that film makers should strive for unselfconscious realism would strip movies of their unique strength, the ability to show the world as it isn't. I won't take the bait.