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The latest redblog frequenter to become a member of the Readers Who Rock club is Doug B. Doug started playing Freeze Frame last July and has ranked several times in the recent past. After interviewing him, however, I gotta wonder why in the heck he doesn’t comment more — not just play FF, but leave honest-to-goodness comments. Because it turns out he has a true love of all things cinematic… and a connection to our very own Locke Peterseim. Read on for the details!
Posts as (username): Doug
Location: Boise, ID
Occupation: Math Professor
So tell us, Doug, how did you find out redblog?
So… How did I find out about you? I don’t watch many movies these days. I read more than I watch, but I used to obsess over movies. My grad school – the University of Iowa – had an amazing film series. You can ask Locke. I was there for six years and some semesters I think I saw every film they screened. It got so I was anticipating the publication of each new semester schedule. It listed the movies for the semester, had a few screen shots, and gave one-paragraph synopses. Reading those was when I started to love reading about movies. As a reader in general, I’m drawn by a writer’s voice and aesthetic viewpoint. As a reader of movie reviews I found two writers whose commentary was more fun than the actual movies – Janet Maslin in The New York Times, and Locke Peterseim in the The Daily Iowan. (In my earliest days in Iowa City I stumbled onto Radio Free Iowa, so I was already primed when Locke showed up in the DI.) Grad school was a long time ago. I’ve slowly wound down my movie watching, but I’ll never give up reading reviews and commentary.
Years later, I found my way onto Facebook, and someone I was connected to — who’d also attended Iowa when I was there — posted a link to a piece by Locke. I clicked it. And that’s how I found redblog.
I read dozens of old posts before I made the connection with those kiosks in grocery stores. Like I said, I read a lot. But I don’t get out much.
Wow, that’s a great story. And I agree that Locke is one of the best! I’m so glad the power of Facebook reunited you with his writing. Take THAT, social networking haters! OK, so moving on… are there certain types of movies that you prefer to see in the theater versus watching at home?
They’re all better in a theater — even a not very good theater. I like intimate screening rooms for delicate indies. I saw Lars and the Real Girl in the 20 seat room at Boise’s only art house with a couple of friends and just enough audience to give it that feeling of a shared experience. Some stuff needs a screaming mob for full effect. I went to the IMAX for the opening of 300. I don’t think I would have bothered to see it in any other venue. I certainly wouldn’t have liked it as much. Other films need a more subtle version of the mass experience. I saw each of the Lord of the Rings trilogy on opening night so I could bask in a theater full of worshipful geekdom. Waifish goth-guys and -gals re-costumed as elves were a big plus, too.
Rom-coms are intimate couple’s things with my wife. If we see them in theaters it’s because we’re out on a date. We’re pretty insular so it’s easy for us to forget there’s an audience when we’re out together. For a long time after we saw it About a Boy was our all-time favorite date movie. We saw it at Edwards 21 but it felt like it was just for us.
Do you prefer a packed theater or a nearly empty one, or does that depend on the movie?
Depends on the movie, why I’m seeing it, and who I’m with. (See above.) I saw Serenity on back-to-back nights, opening weekend. The first night I don’t think I noticed the audience much. The second night the audience reaction was part of the show. Think of the scene when Wash died. Everyone in the theater lurched back in their seats and gasped at the same time. Same film, same scene, two completely different experiences for me.
What kind of experience do you like or hope to have when you watch a movie?
The simple answer is I want to disappear into the story. Not just suspension of disbelief, but suspension of the whole real world. Also, there are some specific things that a movie can do that no other art form can mange.
Every once in a while you see a film that is so transporting, so visually and emotionally powerful, that it drives you into the back of your seat and pins you there for two hours. While the credits are rolling you start to shake a little, and your legs are unsteady when you get up. Those are good. It’s not like I expect it or even want it that often, but it’s a thing that only a movie (or maybe an opera) can do. Saving Private Ryan was like that the first time. It used overwhelming force, and it needed an audience and the big screen to have that much effect. Farewell My Concubine did it, too, and unlike Ryan it still works when I see it on video.
I like a movie that can deliver non-stop, delirious, fun. Shrek was like that. I love crisp, crackling dialog. I’ll see and like anything by Tarantino (but weirdly I don’t like Mamet so much). I like movies that have a complex emotional arc. Transamerica was like that. It was my official favorite film (and my wife’s) for two or three years after we saw it. You can also get this from any of the last half-dozen films by Pedro Almodovar.
I like a movie that is truly, or even just trying to be, something new in the medium. The Matrix isn’t deep but whole genres left one visual era and entered another when that came out. From a fine art perspective, the films of Peter Greenaway count. For a while it seemed like Paul Thomas Anderson and Baz Luhrmann were trying to invent something new with each of their films. I try to catch anything they do just to check in on what they’re up to.
Truth is, there is very little about the medium and the uses it’s been put to that I don’t have deep affection for. I can find something to love in most of what’s out there.
That’s a very well thought out answer, Doug! Which means I’m sure you’ve pondered long and hard over this next question: What five movies would you want on a deserted island and w?
Only five. Can I count a season of television shows as one? (If so, Season 2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.) I’ve listed some memorable experiences above, but maybe this question is more about re-watchability: Farewell my Concubine. Anything with enough complexity that repeat viewings add more and more: The Godfather. Can I have I and II as one? How about an all-time great: Dr. Strangelove. I’ll need some sci-fi, so I’ll take Blade Runner. (Like The Matrix, a movie that made the next 10 years of movies look like they were trying to recapture that look.) For the last one I’ll combine killer dialog, light comedy and a lovely romance: Shakespeare in Love. If I can’t have Buffy I’ll take the 1990 Cyrano de Bergerac.
You can’t take Buffy — that’s TV! So Cyrano it is for your fifth. I’ll let you slide on having Godfather I and II as one pick. Now tell me, who’s your favorite movie hero?
Cyrano de Bergerac, especially if this means I get all the remakes, including Steve Martin in Roxanne and Janeane Garofalo (way hotter than Uma) in The Truth About Cats and Dogs. If I can’t have all the Cyranos, I’ll take Depardieu’s 1990 version.
I chose Cyrano because, for some reason that particular device – communication that finally really gets through, but only because the hearer mistakes the speaker for someone else – always gives me the shivers. I admire the sacrifice the writer makes. It’s fun to watch Roxanne fall in love, but what’s most impressive is that’s falling in love with a writer’s voice. I’m a sucker for a great writer.
And your favorite villain?
Favorite villain has to be Darth Vader in episodes IV, V and VI. Most movie villains are just straw men for the heroes to destroy. Others are more like foils. A few, like Sauron in LOTR, are almost abstract they are so remote from the story. Vader is a central character in his own right, and his story arc across the first three films is just about perfect. (Episodes I, II and III spoil the mystery with too much back story, along with other numerous errors of writing and acting.) Vader was just plain scarier than anything I’d seen when those movies came out, so he sticks deep in my memory in a way that no other villain does.
Stephen Maturin: Master and Commander. Some of those novels are as much his story as they are Aubrey’s. I should admit that part of why I would like to see his story on screen is simply to see more of those ships.
I’ve got nuthin’ against more ships. Here’s another biggie: Who’s your favorite actor and why?
I don’t have a single standout. In the English speaking cinema alone there is an astonishing wealth of talent — far more than the current level of writing in the film industry can make use of. You can see a lot of really good acting wasted on average screenplays. Fortunately, television is now a huge outlet for excellent writing. But sticking to film: there was a generation of great actors, some of whom are now more like cartoons of their past greatness (yes, you, Jack N), or just plain coasting (Bobby D). From this generation are two that, so far as I have seen, have never done work that wasn’t superb. Bobby Duvall. Gene Hackman.
The reason this isn’t a flat-out answer is because there are more that are that good, or were: Dustin Hoffman, Peter Sellers. There are younger actors who I will probably look at the same way when they have more career behind them: Ed Norton, Robert Downey Jr. Also, I’m no great fan of scenery chewing. A great example of the kind of acting that I really like is Peter Fonda in Ulee’s Gold.
I’m going with Meryl Streep. But again, the supply of talent in the industry is enormous, and for women the writing of lead characters is pathetic. So much so that there are probably great actresses all over California and New York whose potential we will never see. Somehow Meryl gets a huge share of the decent film roles. Maybe someone else is just as good, but somehow she never gets cast, so I haven’t seen her work. Susan Sarandon always seems to turn in excellent work, but doesn’t display the range. Or maybe she just doesn’t get offered parts outside of what I think is her range? Catherine Keener is terrific, but her roles are rarely central. I would love to see more of Felicity Huffman on the big screen.
Oh, and if I didn’t mention it earlier, I’ll watch anything with Janeane Garofalo, and probably drool a little.
Any actors or actresses you can’t stand?
Not really. Stallone is hard to watch, but mostly it’s the material. Copland was just fine. There are a lot of comedians who get the mandatory movie package but their acting is just their comedy and it doesn’t work. Tim Allen and Martin Lawrence come to mind.
Any TV actor or actress you’d like to see on the big screen?
Easy! Micheal C. Hall. I hope he beats the cancer. If he did films I would bump him to the top of my list of the best working actors in film. Second choice would be Felicity Huffman, but she has done a little film work already.
Good news, Hall is now cancer-free. And if you haven’t seen it already, he plays very bizarre villain in Gamer (currently in redbox kiosks). Now let’s move on to movie music: what are your favorite movie soundtracks?
I’m not a big soundtrack fan. I have Rocky Horror and Little Shop of Horrors. Those both date to a film-going and music-listening period that is distantly past by now. I don’t think I’ve listened to either in a long time. I have the soundtrack to The Mission, but hey, who doesn’t? Weirdly, as much as I loved the film, I don’t have the album Stop Making Sense.
If you could live in any movie, meaning that the people, places and events in the movie became your reality, what movie would you choose?
LOTR. Every time I read those books as a kid I always wanted to live in Middle Earth.
I agree! If you could be any specific character in a movie, who would you be?
Aragorn, probably, but Merry and Pippen are good, too.
The balcony scene in Cyrano, and the suicide at the end of Farewell my Concubine. Matthew reciting Auden’s poem at Gareth’s funeral in Four Weddings, but maybe that’s just the poem.
Laugh till you hurt is more something that happens the first time you see it, not on repeated viewing. I had trouble staying in my seat, I laughed so hard at Shrek the first time. On later viewing it’s just regular funny, but still very good. Apatow hit that mark with The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
Here are some memorable visuals, for whatever reason: The Enterprise rising behind Khan’s ship when Kirk outmaneuvers him at the end of Star Trek II. (For classicists, the fog scene in Master and Commander is probably better.) The aerial sequence of the lighting of Gondor’s mountaintop signal fires in The Return of the King. Anything with running horses. Racing scenes from Seabiscuit, for example. Carroll Ballard’s sense of movement can be, for me, perfection on film: yachting scenes from Wind, geese flying with an ultralight in Fly Away Home. Wordless romance: the Chinaman’s first finger curling touch of Jane March (Marguerite Duras’ character) in L’amant.
There are some hard-core movie deaths that stay with me. When the door of Capt. Miller’s LT drops and the first 50 cal bullet kills a GI in Saving Private Ryan. Later, the scene where the released German soldier kills the Jewish soldier in a knife fight, whispering to him as he kills him. That was the most intimate and gruesome death I’ve ever seen depicted on film, and easily the most memorable scene from the movie. Spielberg has a knack for showing you a war death in a way you’ve never seen or imagined. In Schindler’s List, Göth’s execution of the Jewish engineer after she tells him how to design his building.
Actually, I could probably do this for a long, long, time. So I should probably stop.
All of Monty Python’s Holy Grail.
“We’re gonna need a bigger boat,” Jaws.
“That’s some bad hat, Harry,” Jaws.
“You know how to whistle, don’t you? You just put your lips together and blow,” Bacall to Bogart in To Have and to Have Not.
“You can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!” Dr. Strangelove.
“Game over, man!” Aliens.
I once had a thing for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s one-liners, but this was before “I’ll be back,” and then everyone was quoting him.
And although I don’t think of this as a movie quote: “One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them, one ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.”
What’s the best film you saw in 2009?
Probably Inglorious Basterds. I think that if I saw it and Where the Wild Things Are again, I would pick the latter. My wife and I saw Wild Things in a theater just after we lost our favorite pet. Wrong movie at the wrong time. It still haunts me a little. I should probably rent it.
Lately I have a hard time answering the question, “What’s your favorite movie?” Things don’t pop to mind like they once did. That’s kind of sad because I ask other people that question a lot. I’m a college teacher. At the beginning of every semester I collect 3×5 cards from my students with their name and a little info about their major, and I ask for their favorite movie. I have hundreds of these cards by now. Semesters start in August or January, so the big summer movie or the big December movie is fresh in everyone’s minds. It’s nice that I see a really wide range of answers anyway. Last fall I got The Hangover, of course, and this spring a fistful of Avatar’s. But I also had a student say Seven Samurai. That movie is 50 years old. The kid was 18. Cool.
Are there any upcoming movies you’re really looking forward to?
I’m starting to get an itch for Iron Man 2. I didn’t see the first one, but I heard great things. I’m planning to rent 1 and see 2 as a DIY double feature. I hear that my favorite small screen director, Joss Whedon, is getting involved in a project to bring more of this source material to the screen. Since I don’t have the comics I’m going to have to see all the movies to get ready for Joss.
That’s all I’ve got for ya, Doug! It’s clear you’re a huge film buff, so I’m glad that you found your way to redblog by some twist of Iowa-inspired fate. We look forward to more of your thoughts in the comments section… especially since Iron Man 2 is almost here. Here’s hoping for a fantastic summer season that will give your students plenty of new “favorite movies” to list once your August semester rolls around.
If you’d like to meet our other Readers Who Rock, you can do so here.