Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Roger Ebert Movie Love Questionnaire

I generally try to avoid posting questionnaires and quizzes, but once a year I'll fill out something that's caught my interest to help me reasses my media junkie status.  This year, I'm going with the "Movie Love Questionnaire" that was given to the writers over at Roger Ebert's site a few years back. 

1. Where did you grow up, and what was it like?

I grew up in Southern California, Orange County.  Very suburban, very safe, and too quiet for some of my friends, but I didn't mind.  I was a bookworm, and then a nerd, very academically focused all the way through school.  I had caring, busy parents, and a younger brother who I more or less got along with.  There was a good community of other second and third-gen immigrant families to keep us in touch with our roots, and some of the best weather in the entire country.

2. Was anyone else in your family into movies? If so, what effect did they have on your moviegoing tastes?

Both of my parents liked movies, and eventually got into the habit of renting a few video cassettes from the $1 place every week.  However, they were never more than casual viewers.  They didn't track movies the way I did, or anticipate particular ones.  My dad was very vocal about not liking particular types of films and got fussier about his preferences with age, but would end up watching just about anything we put on.  My mom just didn't like the ones with too much cursing, or the horror films that were so dark "you couldn't see anything!"

3. What’s the first movie you remember seeing, and what impression did it make on you?

The first movie I saw in a theater was "Oliver & Co." in 1988.  I vaguely remember a few Disney movies before that, particularly "Dumbo," which we had on VHS.  I've been a lifelong Disney addict and animation enthusiast as a result.  I still feel absolutely no shame in watching children's films by myself.

4. What’s the first movie that made you think, “Hey, some people made this. It didn’t just exist. There’s a human personality behind it.”

The Coen brothers' "Raising Arizona" had such a distinctive style and sense of humor.  I knew to expect certain things from Disney and Steven Spielberg films, but only in terms of quality.  I never associated them with a particular artistic voice.  It wasn't until I was in high school that I was exposed to more films for grown ups, and started noticing that they would reflect their director's personalities.  Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" was another one, with this very calculated atmosphere of menace that I grew to associate with him.

5. What’s the first movie you ever walked out of?

I have yet to walk out of a theatrical movie.  Even "The Stupids" with Tom Arnold. 

6. What’s the funniest film you’ve ever seen?

The movie I had the best time at was "Borat," which I first saw in theaters a college crowd.  I need an audience to fully enjoy a comedy, as I'm far less self-conscious in a group setting.  "Borat" is far from my favorite comedy, though.  "Trading Places" makes me laugh more consistently - really anything involving young Eddie Murphy does, while "Raising Arizona" and "Groundhog's Day" are far, far more entertaining as a whole.  However, there's no denying that "Borat" got me laugh harder than anything I've seen since.

7. What’s the saddest film you’ve ever seen?

I've watched "Grave of the Fireflies" multiple times, but now that I'm older and have small children in my life again, I don't think I'll be able to revisit it anytime soon.  "Fireflies" cuts so deep because it's so personal, so well-observed, and so matter-of-fact about the tragedies that befall its young protagonists.  There's no attempt to make any larger points about war or violence - it's simply concerned about the fate of a boy and his sister, who have the misfortune of being children in wartime.

8. What’s the scariest film you’ve ever seen?

Oddly, it was a trailer to the 1994 "Nostradamus" film that gave me the worst nightmares when I was younger.  I saw it in front of a print of "Pocahontas" when I was in Taiwan, and something about the apocalyptic tone (I was paranoid about apocalypses when I was a kid) and the strange environment spooked me in the worst way.  I couldn't stop thinking about it for weeks.  Today, as a grown up, I'd say "The Shining" and Zack Snyder's "Dawn of the Dead" remake still get to me.  I wish Snyder would go back to making horror movies.

9. What’s the most romantic movie you’ve ever seen?

It's got to be "Gone With the Wind."  The antagonism between Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler is what really made that movie for me, and helped me to understand that a good romance could be just as exciting and involving as any adventure story.  

10. What’s the first television show you ever saw that made you think television could be more than entertainment?

My parents were very careful about the kind of programming me and the younger brother watched when we were young.  It was all "Sesame Street" and "Mr. Rogers" for ages.  Meanwhile, I mostly remember them watching the nightly news and "60 Minutes."  So it was quite a while before I understood that most people watched TV for entertainment instead of information and education.  Now, the first television show that I understood to have some real artistic ambitions was a 1988 Chinese-language miniseries about the Last Emperor that my relatives sent us on recorded VHS tapes.  I don't remember all that much about it, except that my parents treated it as something Very, Very Important.

11. What book do you think about or revisit the most?

I had a copy of the "Watchmen" graphic novel stashed at my parents' house for years, that I'd reread over the holidays whenever I visited.  Then the film version came out, and I didn't like it.  As a result I've had many contentious arguments about my position, and the book inevitably gets brought up.  I got a bit sick of it at all one point, and just avoided any talk of "Watchmen" entirely. 

12. What album or recording artist have you listened to the most, and why?

Popular music was never my forte.  I think I owned a grand total of one album - They Might Be Giants' "Flood."  Everything else was movie soundtracks, musical recordings, and some classical.  My favorite recording artist is still Weird Al Yankovic, because he's awesome.

13. Is there a movie that you think is great, or powerful, or perfect, but that you never especially want to see again, and why?

I have a substantial list of films like this, usually the ones that are very emotionally overwhelming.  I've already mentioned "Grave of the Fireflies," but I'm also wary of "Dancer in the Dark," "Requiem for a Dream," "Johnny Got His Gun," and "They Shoot Horses Don't They?"  They get me entirely too worked up for me to really enjoy them.

14. What movie have you seen more times than any other?

The animated "Robin Hood" that Disney made in the '70s.  My brother and I learned to use the VCR with our copy, and watched it constantly.  One summer it practically became daily viewing.

15. What was your first R-rated movie, and did you like it?

My parents were fairly permissive when it came to movies as long as they were watching with us, so I saw R-rated films pretty early on as a kid.  "Conan the Barbarian" was one of my mother's favorites, and I liked it too.  The first R-rated film I remember seeing in a theater was the Beethoven biopic "Immortal Beloved" with Gary Oldman.  That one had several embarrassing instances of unexpected nudity, which was awfully distracting.  I'd gone with my mother and preteen brother, and everything afterwards was just awkward.

16. What’s the most visually beautiful film you’ve ever seen?

There are some great candidates, but I'm going to have to go with "Fantasia," namely parts of the "Nutcracker Suite" and "Night on Bald Mountain."   There's nothing more breathtaking than traditional animation done by old masters at the height of their craft.

17. Who are your favorite leading men, past and present?

Jimmy Stewart, Dustin Hoffman, Johnny Depp, and currently Michael Fassbender

18. Who are your favorite leading ladies, past and present?

Audrey Hepburn, Julie Andrews, Kathleen Turner, and currently Tilda Swinton

19. Who’s your favorite modern filmmaker?

Hayao Miyazaki, which is a bit ironic as I don't think there's anything particularly modern about him.  He and his films have this quality of timelessness that is very rare, and very precious.

20. Who’s your least favorite modern filmmaker?

Michael Bay.  There are worse, but few are so visible and influential in their excess.

21. What film do you love that most people seem to hate?

I'm not sure what so many people had against Wally Pfister's "Transcendence."  It's got a lot of flaws and a crummy ending, but I liked its treatment of AI and the cautionary messages about trusting too blindly in science and technology.  Also, the production was just fabulous to look at.

22. What film do you hate that most people love?

Most raunchy comedies don't do it for me.  "This is the End" was absolutely insufferable and I have no idea how It made anybody crack a smile, let alone laugh.

23. Tell me about a moviegoing experience you will never forget – not just because of the movie, but because of the circumstances in which you saw it.

The one and only time I was ever carded going to a movie was in 1999, upon the release of "Eyes Wide Shut." I went with a group of friends who were curious about all the controversy over the adult content, and none of us were really sure what we were in for. Coming out of the theater, after two and a half hours of obtuse erotic imagery, and very little of the actual nudity or graphic sexuality many were hoping for, I remember one friend vocally expressing his displeasure with the film. I countered that "I kinda liked it."

He responded, wearily, "You would."

 And thus, on that day a pretentious cinema geek became self-aware.

24. What aspect of modern theatrical moviegoing do you like least?

Sadly, it's too expensive for me to go as often as I'd like.  The ticket prices in my area have risen to the point where I've stopped going casually.  I always plan out long in advance what movies I want to see in theaters.  Even the second run places are mostly gone - I used to love going to $1 or $2 screenings of random flicks that were already on video.

25. What aspect of moviegoing during your childhood do you miss the most?

I miss the social aspect.  Matinees used to be cheap enough that I'd go to movies like "Lord of the Rings" or "Titanic" multiple times with different friends.  I don't feel like I can justify that anymore.

26. Have you ever damaged a friendship, or thought twice about a relationship, because you disagreed about whether a movie was good or bad?

No.  My mother disliked "Amelie," which disappointed me, but that's about it.  People have different tastes and reactions to media that can be very unpredictable.  I don't think it really says anything about the individual, unless their response is particularly abnormal. 

27. What movies have you dreamed about?

I've had dreams about being in a movie, or dreams that unfolded like a movie, but not specific movies.

28. What concession stand item can you not live without?

All of them.  I traditionally sneak in my Junior Mints.

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