Prof. Van Helsing's Spring-Break Quiz: Special Expanded Collector's Edition

Program note: I've finally added my long-overdue, verging-on-irrelevance reply to our survey of overlooked and underrated movies in the comments section of that post. Look for a full digest, complete with insightful analysis and pithy commentary, in a day or two (which, in ADS-speak, might be a week or two).

I’ve been debating about whether publish my response to Dennis Cozzalio's latest movie-lover's quiz as a blog post. I did the last one, but I had just started the blog and was desperate for content.

Actually, not much has changed.

On the one hand, I’m starting to worry that the content is getting too film-heavy, (or at least to list-heavy) at the expense of other things I’d like to blog about. And, yes, I’ll totally cop to the assertion that lists and quizzes and memes are the blog equivalent of Jiffy corn muffin mix—instant content that’s almost as good as written-from-scratch.

The thing about Dennis’ quizzes, though, is that they’re skillfully constructed to tease out a respondent’s personality. So, in a way, someone reading my quiz answers is likely to get as much insight into my loveable middlebrowness as they could ever want. To borrow (and slightly alter) a line from High Fidelity: What you like speaks volumes about what you’re like. Combine that with the fact that Dennis has gotten so many more responses to this quiz than earlier ones—meaning the likelihood of my comments showing up in the digest drops off precipitously—and it’s really all the rationalization I need.

Given that I’ve had a month or so to mull over some of these questions, this includes not only the answers I posted to Dennis’ site, but a few of the minor epiphanies I’ve had since. They'll be marked with a ** just in case the brilliance of the answer doesn't clue you in.

So, wooden stakes and/or #2 pencils at the ready. You may fire when ready:

1) What film made you angry, either while watching it or in thinking about it afterward?

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.

George Lucas finally plumbs the greatest possible depths of soulless, emotionally sterile, misanthropic, anything-Ewan-can-do-CGI-can-do-better “filmmaking.” If there’s ever been a more criminal squandering of acting talent and epic mythology, I haven’t seen it.

Even now, thinking about it makes me angry. Very, very ANGRY! [/Marvin the Martian]

The thing that’s so galling is how, if you watch The Empire Strikes Back and parts of Return of the Jedi, you see glimpses of what might have been, had Lucas not been sucked into the quagmire of his own hubris. Take his characters and his broad-strokes vision and let real artists—or at least craftsmen—take over filling in the details that give it life and authenticity. Hire someone like Lawrence Kasdan to transform Georgie’s bloated prose into actual dialogue. And let someone with real people skills direct; hell, a trained gibbon (or even Bret Ratner) could probably get better performances out of actors than Lucas did.

2) Favorite sidekick

The Sundance Kid (See question 16)
Jack Ridley (Levon Helm) in The Right Stuff (See question 12)
Buddy (Ving Rhames) in Out of Sight (see question 13)

**I can’t believe I didn’t think of this before:

Marty Feldman as Igor (“Actually, it’s proununced ‘EYE-gor.’”) in Young Frankenstein. Duh.




“Could be worse.”


“Could be raining.” [thunder, torrential downpour]

3) One of your favorite movie lines

I’m trying really, really hard not to come up with one of the usual suspects (“I’m shocked, SHOCKED…”)

“Ooh, Rhapsody has two mommies” from Best in Show.
Has the added benefit of being improvised.


“It is fate, Vicar. But call it Italy if it pleases you.”
A Room with a View.

“If Jesus came back today and saw all the things being done in His name, He’d never stop throwing up”
Hanna and Her Sisters

“I do not avoid women, Mandrake. But I deny them my essence.”
Dr. Strangelove

“What wouldn't I give to be spat at in the face?!”
Monty Python's Life of Brian

“Look at the size of that boy's head. It's like an orange on a toothpick. A virtual planetoid. Has its own weather system. I'm not kiddin', his head's like Sputnik: spherical, but quite pointy in parts. HEAD! PAPER! NOW! Move that melon of yours and get the paper if you can, haulin' that gagantuan cranium about. Oh, that was offsides, wasn't it. He's gonna cry himself to sleep on his huge pillow.”
So I Married an Axe Murderer

4) William Holden or Burt Lancaster?

William Holden, mostly for The Bridge on the River Kwai. Yes, I’m biased. Let he who’s without sin cast the first stone. Heh.

**TCM aired a bunch of war flicks over memorial day weekend, including From Here to Eternity (which I’ve seen) and The Bridges at Toko-Ri (which I’ve never seen and I taped). So I got a little bit of an A/B comparison between the two. Eternity is a way better film, but I’m sticking with Holden.

5) Describe a perfect moment in a movie

I know it’s a little cliché, but the Houston hoedown/fan-dance scene from The Right Stuff really ties up all the themes of that film in a way that I consider perfect. (In the interests of full disclosure, I should point out that is my favorite movie of all time, bar none.)

What makes it so special is the cross-cutting that depicts the fundamental core of the story: The celebration of Mercury Seven’s not-quite-earned fame contrasted with stoic, faceless obscurity of Chuck Yeager actually putting his anonymous hide on the line in yet another limelight-free test flight. Even as Cooper tries to wax philosophic and give Yeager his props, when he’s lobbed the custom-made softball: “Who was the best pilot you ever saw?”, he has no choice, no control over the trajectory his life has taken. He has to fall back on his aw-shucks, rat-racer schtick: “You’re lookin’ at him.”

6) Favorite John Ford movie

The Quiet Man (It’s the only John Wayne movie my wife will deign to watch. We’re all about the compromises over here at Casa Middlebrow.)

7) The inverse of a question from the last quiz: What film artist (director, actor, screenwriter, whatever) has the least–deserved good reputation, artistically speaking. And who would you replace him/her with on that pedestal?

Julia Roberts. I’m convinced she gives off some pheromone that makes directors and critics, to say nothing of Joe Sixpack, see her in this hallowed light. But I just don’t get it. I guess I have some kind of Juliammunity. I don’t think she’s a bad actress, per se, and she’s not unattractive. I just don’t consider her the ne plus ultra of leading ladies.

The hard part of this question is offering a superior substitute. Sandra Bullock? I know she’s kind of on everybody’s (at least everybody taking this quiz) shit list, on account of Crash, but I’m almost always enamored of her performances, particularly in comedic roles. Bridget Fonda, maybe? Or, how about Janine Garafolo? She probably couldn’t have pulled off Pretty Woman, but would a world without that movie really be so bad? I think a Janine Garafolo Erin Brockovich would have been really interesting. ‘Course, I don’t begrudge Julia EB; I just wish Soderberg hadn’t been so smitten with her that he miscast her in—and tainted—an otherwise outstanding Ocean’s 11.

8) Barbara Stanwyck or Ida Lupino?

Stanwyck. I know there’s something I should appreciate about Lupino, but color me ignorant. Plus, Barbara Stanwyck was so, so bad—in the best possible way—in Double Indemnity. The original femme fatale. (Probably not, but she made a hell of an impression on me.)

9) Showgirls--yes or no?

I don’t know why, but every time I read this question, the following exchange from Monty Python’s “Bookshop Sketch” comes to mind:

“Do you have ‘A Sale of Two Titties’?”

“Definitely NOT.”

So, I’m gonna go with that: No.

10) Most exotic or otherwise unusual place in which you ever saw a movie

The best I can come up with is Platoon, dubbed in Italian, in a theatre in Vicenza, Italy, where I was an Armed Forces Radio DJ. That said, reruns of the original Star Trek in Italian were far more entertaining:

Spock: Interessante, Capitano.

Bones: E mordo, Geem!

I mean, to think that Spock, the universe’s most emotion-less being, is supposed to be using the most passionate and emotive form of spoken communication ever invented—it’s a conundrum of Escher-esque proportions. And don’t even get me started on how Scotty is supposed to do Italian with a Scott’s burr. They made it work though.

11) Favorite Robert Altman movie

Gosford Park. I really liked Short Cuts, too, although that film confirms my thought from the previous quiz: Andie MacDowell is poison to any movie. Great director? Awesome script? Fabulous co-stars? Doesn’t matter. The minute she opens her mouth, the spell is broken. It’s especially bad when you can’t even hold your own in a scene opposite Lyle Lovett.

12) Best argument for allowing rock stars to participate in the making of movies

My first thought was Sting. Playing opposite Meryl Streep in Plenty gives him enough big-screen cred to balance out the stunt-casting roles (Dune, The Bride).

But I’d be remiss in my duty if I didn’t call attention to Levon Helm’s outstanding (and very un-rock-star) turns in Coal Miner’s Daughter and, especially, The Right Stuff.

With Sting, you always know you’re watching a rock star; watching Jack Ridley crack wise with Chuck Yeager at Pancho's, it never even enters your mind that this is the voice of rock standards like “The Weight” and “The Night They Drove Ol’ Dixie Down.”

**Of course, I have to give a shout-out to my man David Byrne for True Stories.

I’m not sure if John Cougar Mellencamp’s Falling From Grace is a point for or against, but I like that film if for no other reason than, by including John Prine’s “All the Best,” it introduced me to one of the national treasures of American singer-songwriters.

13) Describe a transcendent moment in a film (a moment when you realized a film that just seemed routine or merely interesting before had become something much more)

When Jack Foley (George Clooney) comes out of an office building and jerks his tie off and throws it to the ground, in Out of Sight, I knew this wasn’t just another by-the-numbers Elmore Leonard adaptation. During the scene, there’s a lens flare, and a this cool, funky, Lalo Schifrin-esque track comes up under the action, all of which is punctuated with a freeze frame so perfectly retro it could have come from the opening credits of a 1970s private-eye drama.

There are many more transcendent moments that add up to a film that’s so much more than I ever expected from the one sheet or the previews. Which says as much about the casting as the writing or the direction; every character that’s introduced is just pitch-perfect. All the proof you’ll ever need to support the old saw about how there are no small parts, only small actors. The chemistry between the leads is crackling. And the whole thing is peppered with just the right amount of cinematic seasoning—a jump cut here, a blue filter there, and lots of non-linear narrative—to remind you that there’s a movie lover making a movie for movie lovers. The more I watch it, the more satisfying it becomes. It’s always my first recommendation when the conversation turns to movies that surprise you with how unexpectedly good they are.

(For those of you scoring along at home, this is the very spot on which I started formulating my underrated movies survey.)

14) Gina Gershon or Jennifer Tilly?

Gina Gershon. But only in an anybody-but-Jennifer-Tilly sort of way. I can’t actually think of a single film I’ve seen Gina Gershon in. My favorite Jennifer Tilley performance is in Monsters, Inc. So what does that say?

15) Favorite Frank Capra movie

Since the question is ‘favorite,’ I have to say It’s a Wonderful Life. It Happened One Night is artistically superior, but I truly never tire of the former. Meaning no matter how many times I watch it, it just owns me. Especially now that I have a young ‘n. I basically can’t even think the words “Zu-zu’s petals” without tearing up.

16) The scene you most wish you could have witnessed being filmed.

This might sound like a cop-out (and it might very well be) because I simply can’t think of one. But, while I’ve never been on a movie set, I have worked on enough commercial and music video productions to know the excruciating ratio of shooting time to screen time, not to mention the pervasive drudgery of setting up and waiting. And waiting. And really, what I like most about watching movies is that suspension of disbelief, letting the wonder play out. I love the magic; I don’t really want to know how the trick is done. So I’m going to choose blissful ignorance. Or, as Iris Dement sings/says, “Let the mystery be.”

All that to one side, I’d love to have hung around during any scene from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. This is why I love commentary tracks and “making of” documentaries. Because you get to see how a scene came together, without it being spoiled in the context of the finished film.

17) Robert Ryan or Richard Widmark?

It may be because my intro to Widmark came in Coma, but I’ve just never liked him. He’s always seemed really creepy and unpleasant somehow. That said, I couldn’t name a single Robert Ryan picture without consulting IMDb. Having done that (and having the requisite “Oh, that guy!” moment), I’ll definitely go with Ryan.

18) Name a movie that inspired you to walk out before it was finished

Highlander II: The Quickening; Wild Wild West (Barry Sonnenfeld, what were you thinking? And even more vexing: how did you get Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branaugh to participate in such a fetid dung heap of a movie? My guess is something involving compromising photos with farm animals. Shame on you all.)

19) Favorite political movie

Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

"Why can't women go to the stoning, Mum?"
"Because it's written, that's why!"

20) Your favorite movie poster/one-sheet, or the one you’d most like to own

Star Wars (pretty obvious, right?)

Mother, Jugs and Speed

The latter because I was a Bill Cosby fan. And I—or at least the 11-year-old projectionist version of me—really dug the art direction.

21) Jeff Bridges or Jeff Goldblum?

Even though Goldblum should be a shoe-in for his participation in The Right Stuff, I’ve gotta give Bridges the nod for breadth and variety.

22) Favorite Ken Russell movie

Lair of the White Worm. Amanda Donohoe topless in tighty-whities. Need I say more?

23) Accepting the conventional wisdom that 1970-1975 marked a golden age of American filmmaking in which artistic ambition and popular acceptance were not mutually exclusive, what for you was this golden age’s high point? (Could be a movie, a trend, the emergence of a star, whatever)

Al Pacino and Dustin Hoffman both peaked during that period—or were still on the ascent, anyway. Hoffman became, I think, the more rounded, versatile character actor, whereas Pacino sort of turned everything into an Al Pacino role. Not necessarily bad, but not as actor-ly, in my opinion. Each has had his share of missteps and I’ll always maintain—Best Actor Oscar be damned—that Pacino was miscast in Scent of a Woman. But whatever. If you eliminated either of their bodies of work from ’70 to ’75 (or ’69, so you could include Midnight Cowboy), the film world would become a pretty bleak and desolate place.

24) Grace Kelly or Ava Gardner?

Ava Gardner. She’s from North Carolina (my adopted home). And she was good enough for Frank, that’s good enough for me.

25) With total disregard for whether it would ever actually be considered, even in this age of movie recycling, what film exists that you feel might actually warrant a sequel, or would produce a sequel you’d actually be interested in seeing?

Well, just to tie the whole thing up in a nice little bow, I’ll refer back to question one and say remake the Star Wars prequels done properly with a director (or directors) who can balance epic storytelling without 3-D character development and genuine intimacy. Peter Jackson, Quentin Tarantino, and Steven Soderberg, maybe?

My long-overdue, verging-on-irrelevance reply to my own survey of overlooked and underrated movies. DON'T MISS IT!


Mister Underhill said...

My favorite scene in the right stuff is the closing that ties right back to the beginning. I suppose, really, there are a lot of basically perfect moments in that movie, such as when he takes up the test plane and breaks the ceiling record, when he first breaks the speed of sound, when gordo learns the pictures are of all the dead pilots, and the one you mentioned.

Still not my favorite movie of all time, but it's obviously fantastic and amazingly well made with nothing to complain about.

That Little Round-Headed Boy said...

Brow, FALLING FROM GRACE is a good movie. McMurtry script: Speck, he's a force of nature.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

I'd completely forgotten about Falling from Grace. I do remember it being well reviewed too, and I wonder if it was just the general disinterest at the box office that discouraged Mellencamp from making any more movies.

Mr. M: Though there have been about twice as many responses to this quiz as any one before it (thanks to a couple of fortuitous links by some pretty well-read sources), I have a feeling that the likes of you and TLRHB and other regulars will still be amply represented in the upcoming Tolstoy-length digest of answers. Many of the responses were of the one-or-two-word variety, and while that's all well and good, I personally gravitate toward the wordier, wittier, more well thought-out responses, and that's where you guys come up aces. Thanks for revisiting your answers too. I'll be keeping an eye on this post as well as your original answers when the time comes!

fish said...

Highlander II is a truly evil movie. The first was real fun and the second one tainted my soul.

Mr. Middlebrow said...

Mr. U:
It's funny how I've learned to differentiate between "favorite" and "best" when it comes to movies. Still, while THE RIGHT STUFF might not be anyone's idea of the best movie ever made, it bugs me that it gets overlooked and left off of lists like the AFI 100 best. How's TRS not one of the 100 best movies?!

Yeah, I need to learn to trust my critical faculties a bit more. FFG is a good movie, by gum! Mellencamp is a triple-threat: He sings, he paints, he directs. (He also fights authority, but authority always wins.)

Thanks for the reassurance. Wow--103 comments and counting! You really landed a whopper with this latest quiz. Looking forward to seeing how you handle this one.

Yeah, HIGHLANDER II was a heartbreaking betrayal of all the promise delivered by the first one. It should have been subtitled, THE HASTENING to better reflect the premature exodus of audiences. When we walked out, it's like the building was on fire. I was pretty much soured on sequels after that.

Mister Underhill said...

Oh and highlander II was just a downpayment on the horrible sequels to follow!

TRS is up there on my list of great movies, but it just isn't the top of the list. there's a lot to choose from. It's my brother's favorite, btw.