Tag Archives: film critic

For the Love of Movies, Take Ebert’s Fun Quiz

Over at RogerEbert.com, a cadre of film critics continue the legacy of the late, great movie guru.

The work of Ebert’s wife, Chaz, and dozens of contributors, the site is packed with fascinating features.

One of my favorites is the Movie Love Questionnaire. It’s a detailed survey completed by each of the site’s regular contributors, revealing a glimpse into the tastes of the critics on a more personal level.

The answers to the questionnaire are always fun to read. I’ve often wondered if they’d be even more fun to respond to.

So here goes. It’s my turn to fill out the Movie Love Questionnaire. See my answers below.

If you’d like to take a crack at the questionnaire, I’ve included the list of questions to cut and paste at the bottom of this post. Respond in the comments section here or on the Facebook link, or email your responses to lavendervroman@gmail.com.

If this little experiment goes well, I might post some of the more interesting and insightful responses on the blog. Go ahead and bare your moviegoing soul. 

Movie Love Questionnaire:

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

I was raised in the Glendale area of Southern California and, after a brief stint in Fortworth, Texas, moved to Lancaster, California. My childhood was amazing, thanks to my fun, creative, intellectual parents and four siblings. They loved to read and discuss ideas and and encouraged imagination.

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

My family didn’t watch a lot of movies when I was young. We didn’t even have a television for a significant portion of my childhood. My parents were fans of classic film. I remember as a freshman in high school, spending the summer watching old movies on TCM with my mother. And my grandmother used to screen classics on video for me and my siblings, especially musicals, like “Singin’ in the Rain,” “My Fair Lady” and the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movies.

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

One of my earliest movie memories is seeing the 1982 “Annie” in the theater. I must have been about six. The funny thing is, I’ve never particularly liked that movie.

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.”

I saw “Star Wars” on television when I was about 14. I was a late bloomer when it came to discovering that universe but I fell really hard for it. I was curious about George Lucas and the making of the trilogy. I took out a subscription to Lucasfilm magazine so I could learn all the behind-the-scenes details. I don’t think the magazine had many subscribers at that point, but for me, it was the beginning of a lifelong interest in movies and how they are made.

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

As my mother tells it, my siblings and I walked out of “Sleeping Beauty” after deciding that Maleficent was too scary for us. Since then, I’ve only walked out of one movie — a Cameron Diaz comedy, “The Sweetest Thing.” I found it so distasteful and insultingly dumb that I left the theater about 20 minutes in. When I returned to the newspaper office, my editor made it clear that it wasn’t OK as a professional critic to walk out on a movie. There were many films I would have loved to walk out of over the years, but I never did it again.

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

“Bringing Up Baby.”

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

“The Bicycle Thief.” I can’t think of the ending without wanting to cry.

Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away” is lovely but it’s also surprisingly melancholy. My sister and I went to a screening of the movie around the time my father died and it struck a chord. I adore that film, but I still have trouble watching it.

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

I’ve always been haunted by “Picnic at Hanging Rock,” a creepy Australian movie I saw when I was a kid.

What’s the most romantic film you’ve ever seen?

“Casablanca” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”

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

“Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” It started off so silly and ended up so deep. And “Lost.” That series was so original, intricate and character driven.

What book do you think about or revisit the most?

I periodically reread Ray Bradbury’s “Dandelion Wine” and I always get something different from it, depending on where I’m at in life. I also keep coming back to Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights.”

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

It’s always changing. Right now, I’m hooked on Florence and the Machine because she’s so theatrical and gothic and twisted.

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

It’s probably a war movie, like “The Hurt Locker.” I can’t ride that emotional roller coaster twice.

What movie have you seen more times than any other?

It’s gotta be “Star Wars” or the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

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

I don’t remember how old I was, but my sister and our childhood best friend decided to sneak into our first R movie. My mom dropped us off, we bought tickets for some Pauly Shore flick and we crept into the only R-rated film showing, which was this terrible thriller called “Blink,” starring Aidan Quinn and Madeleine Stowe. I wish my first R-rated movie had been something cooler.

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

That’s an impossible question. There are so many visually beautiful films and the word “beautiful” is so subjective. Maybe Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.” Nothing has ever taken my breathe away quite like the ballroom scene.

Who are your favorite leading men, past and present?

From the past, Humphrey Bogart, Gary Cooper, Gregory Peck, Fred Astaire and Jimmy Stewart. From the present, Michael Fassbender, Tom Hardy and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Who are your favorite leading ladies, past and present?

From the past, Katharine Hepburn, Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly. From the present, Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Carey Mulligan, Emma Stone, Marion Cotillard and Noomi Rapace. And Meryl Streep, of course.

Who’s your favorite modern filmmaker?

Christopher Nolan is such an exciting director. I also love Sophia Coppola.

Who’s your least favorite modern filmmaker?

Michael Bay.

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

A lot of people hate “Lost in Translation,” but it’s one of my favorites.

What film do you hate that most people love?

“Titanic.” And I didn’t hate “Frozen,” by any means, but I think it’s highly overrated.

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.

All the midnight screenings I’ve been to for the latest installments of my favorite franchises, like Star Wars and Harry Potter, have been amazing. There’s so much anticipation and camaraderie. Every movie I go to with my husband, Nick, is a great time. On our first date, we saw a nature film at the California Science Center. It’s not too much of a stretch to say our marriage has been built on a mutual love of movies.

What aspect of modern theatrical moviegoing do you like least?

The rude behavior of fellow moviegoers.

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

Getting dropped off at the theater on a warm summer day and just staying there for hours.

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

It wasn’t until a few years after we were married that I realized my husband doesn’t like Alfred Hitchcock movies. To me, Hitchcock is the absolute master. I told Nick he was lucky because if I had known that, it might have been a deal breaker.

What movies have you dreamed about?

I would expect this to happen more often than it does. I’ve dreamed I’m writing a really fabulous movie script and when I wake up, it makes no sense at all.

What concession stand item can you not live without?

When I worked as a critic for the newspaper, I wouldn’t let myself indulge too often because I knew it would get out of control. I’m a huge fan of popcorn, though, and Sour Patch Kids, and Coke flavored Icees.

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Movie Love Questionnaire:

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

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

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

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.”

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

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

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

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

What’s the most romantic film you’ve ever seen?

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

What book do you think about or revisit the most?

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

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

What movie have you seen more times than any other?

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

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

Who are your favorite leading men, past and present?

Who are your favorite leading ladies, past and present?

Who’s your favorite modern filmmaker?

Who’s your least favorite modern filmmaker?

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

What film do you hate that most people love?

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.

What aspect of modern theatrical moviegoing do you like least?

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

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

What movies have you dreamed about?

What concession stand item can you not live without?

Photo: RogerEbert.com

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I’ll Always Give Thanks for the Movies

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, the time when we take stock of our lives and acknowledge the amazing gifts we’ve been given.

Like most well fed, well cared for, comfy Americans, I have more things to be grateful for than I can list, especially this year, as my husband and I welcomed into our home a magical and mysterious creature, a now 10-month-old daughter who keeps us on our toes.

On a more playful note, and with no disrespect intended to the One our thanks is owed, I’ve been reflecting on my many movie-related blessings. It may be silly, but film is an important part of my life, helping me celebrate what is good and process what isn’t, shining some light into a dark world.

I’m grateful that for 15 years I was privileged to work at my dream job at a local newspaper. Over the course of my career, I performed many different tasks, some of them tedious, but I never grew tired of writing about movies.

Being a film critic is, hands down, the best job ever. I got paid to drive to Los Angeles and see the latest releases before anyone else did. Most Friday afternoons, I’d pop my head through the door of my boss’s office and say, “I’m going to the movies,” before strolling out of the building long before quitting time.

Pondering over, analyzing, nit-picking and discussing films is my favorite pastime and I got to do it for a living, in print, which often resulted in lively debate with readers.

Though I worked on the fringes of Hollywood, I had the opportunity to indulge my passion for movies with a wide spectrum of assignments. I interviewed fans at midnight screenings, talked to actors and directors by phone, covered film festivals, went to museum exhibit openings, delved into Tinseltown history and maneuvered my way onto film sets in the middle of the desert.

I perturbed Steven Spielberg by sneaking onto the Palmdale set of “The Terminal” (at least that’s what his publicists told me). And I passed out right in front of “Man of Steel” star Henry Cavill at a local premiere (but that’s another story).

After all these adventures, I’m surprised at how much I don’t miss my newspaper job, but I do miss spending every day immersed in the silly, strangely satisfying world of Hollywood.

That’s why I’m thankful I still get to go to the movies fairly frequently, thanks to a pair of wonderful grandmothers who don’t mind babysitting. And I’m blessed to continue writing about what I love on this blog, so if you’re reading this post, thank you.

Going to the movies wouldn’t be half as fun without my two moviegoing partners in crime. My husband, Nick, and I spend almost every date night in front of a flickering screen. When I traveled to L.A. for screenings, he was usually at my side, even though those nights could be tiring.

He gamely allows me to drag him to “artsy” fare like “Nightcrawler,” sits through the documentaries I put on our Netflix queue, briefs me on the horror movies I don’t have the nerve to watch and makes sure I’m up-to-date on the latest action flicks.

Best of all, as we leave the theater, he listens patiently while I chatter away, deconstructing everything we’ve just seen. I don’t know if anyone else would be willing to put up with my pompous, opinionated rants.

When I can’t convince Nick to come along with me, I can always count on my fellow film buff, Kristy. She’s the one who goes with me on a Tuesday night to see “Laggies” or “Tracks” or “Boyhood” when no one else will.

When I worked at the paper, she often rode shotgun with me to those exhausting L.A. screenings, hashing out the merits or lack thereof of what we’d just seen during the long drive home.

Kristy and I are gearing up for Oscar season, our favorite time of year, when we spend much of our time tracking the results of awards shows, handicapping the various categories and checking off the list of films we have yet to see.

We also spend way too much time, energy and money organizing the best Oscar party ever, at which someone is always guaranteed to do something crazy, like run down the street wearing a trash bag or dress up like Jennifer Lawrence.

This brings me to the next item on my list of blessings — the fact that one of the best seasons of the year is rapidly approaching.

With the holidays looming, Hollywood is ready to inundate theaters with long anticipated, must-see movies, including “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1 (opening Friday), “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies,” “Exodus: Gods and Kings” and “Into the Woods.” It’s like Christmas. Wait, it is Christmas.

Even when January rolls around and the studios clean out their closets, resulting in one lackluster weekend at the box office after another, I’ll still have much to be grateful for, thanks to my go-to movies, the films that are a constant presence in my life, always there to comfort or enlighten or provide a bit of escape.

It’s not possible to list them all, but I’m grateful for the irrepressible hopefulness of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, the soulfulness of “Lost in Translation,” the gothic atmosphere of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rebecca,” the comedic brilliance of “Bringing Up Baby.”

I’ll never take for granted the perfection of “Casablanca” or “Almost Famous,” “Roman Holiday” or “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”

For these and so many other cinematic gifts, I will always give thanks.

Lavender Kristy trash bagsLavender Vroman and fellow film buff Kristy Rivas take a jog around the block in honor of “Silver Linings Playbook” at a 2013 Oscar party. 

Image at top: Lavender Vroman on one of her moviegoing adventures. Photo by Fawn Kemble.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Up All Night With Turner Classic Movies

Being a movie critic is the best job in the world. You get paid to watch films and, even better, to discuss them endlessly in a running dialogue with readers. I would never complain about the best job in the world, but it does have a down side. Keeping up with the latest releases, in theaters and on DVD, is an enormous, time-sucking task, so I rarely had the opportunity to go back and revisit old favorites.

As a kid, I was a voracious consumer of classic film. My tastes were cultivated by parents who weren’t afraid of movies shot in black and white or made before the ’80s. My grandmother would call us to her room to watch musicals like “My Fair Lady,” “Singin’ in the Rain” and that charming duo, Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. The result was that my little brother became obsessed with tuxedos, my parents were forced to listen to our renditions of show tunes on a loop during car trips and my siblings and I developed an enduring love for the classics.

That love never disappeared but it diminished during the 13 years I spent as film critic for a local newspaper. Sitting down and revisiting a gem made more than 30 years ago was a luxury of time I could rarely afford. Sometimes I’d fantasize that my boss would insist I take a year-long sabbatical to do nothing but watch Turner Classic Movies. That never happened while I was at the paper, but the fantasy did come true in an unexpected way.

At the end of December, I had a baby, a daughter who, as most infants do, required constant care through the wee hours of the night. As a new parent, I was subjected to a level of sleep deprivation so intense it made my head spin. Since my husband was working to keep that little mouth fed, I was on night shift and, let me tell you, those were some long nights. As any insomniac knows, there is no loneliness as profound as the loneliness of being awake after 2 a.m. As delightful as my new baby was, as I sat with her in my arms in the darkened living room, it was all too easy to cave in to the enveloping blackness, a despair that the morning would never come. I felt like I was the only person left in the world.

When I remembered Turner Classic Movies, the cable channel that shows vintage flicks all day and all night, a light broke through the gloom. My husband was bemused to see our DVR fill up with 1930s screwball comedies, war pictures and Westerns, Technicolor musicals, black and white melodramas, cheesy sci-fi oddities and legendary foreign films from the 1960s and ’70s — whatever struck my fancy when I stood at 4 a.m., blinking bleary-eyed at the television screen.

Hosts Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz became my best friends. The chiming sound of the late-night TCM promo was a cheerful beacon, cutting through my mental fog. I felt like a human being again. And I learned a lot.

I realized that I had never really paused to appreciate Sidney Poitier and his graceful mastery of acting. After a marathon of “The Defiant Ones,” “In the Heat of the Night,” “Lilies of the Field” and “The Slender Thread” — in which he spends most of the film on the phone with Anne Bancroft, trying to talk her out of suicide — I was left dazzled by his dignity and playfulness.

I rewatched 1947’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” a childhood favorite that is an entirely different animal from Ben Stiller’s recent, surprisingly wonderful remake, and laughed aloud at Danny Kaye’s physical comedy antics. A scene in which Mitty struggles awkwardly to move a chair while holding a teacup should be among the most celebrated moments in comedy, but I fear few people have even seen the film.

Diving into the deep end once again with that swimsuit-clad goddess — Esther Williams — a favorite of my grandmother, I marveled at how much bang these classics gave audiences for their buck. It wasn’t enough to simply tell moviegoers a good story, these films also delivered numbers conducted by famous orchestra leaders, solos by jazz or opera singers, tap dancing interludes or an elegant ballroom dance, a choreographed water ballet or a fashion show. The clothes were stunning. The settings were exotic. These were the days when people got dressed up to go to the movies and the studios were careful to give audiences what they wanted. Hollywood really knew how to put on a show.

What else did I learn during my late nights with TCM?

Everyone wore the most fabulous negligees to bed and the men wore ridiculous smoking jackets over their shirts and pants. Myrna Loy, Joan Crawford and every other leading lady worth her salt could not drift off to sleep unless she was swathed in a feminine cloud of silk, tulle, ribbons and lace.

I remembered why I love Doris Day movies, all that pert, wholesome perkiness mixed, like a dry martini, with ribald sexual innuendo. In contrast, as an adult, I found the beloved screwball comedy “His Girl Friday,” starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, to be much darker and more problematic than I recalled, a scathing but weirdly blithe indictment of media carelessness.

I discovered the rakish charms of Melvyn Douglas, a suavely mustachioed screwball comedy king who starred opposite Greta Garbo in 1939’s “Ninotchka.” I was struck again by the blistering chemistry of the radiant Katharine Hepburn and her on and off screen love, the rumpled but sexy Spencer Tracy. I never knew that Jimmy Stewart actually sang and tap-danced — albeit it briefly — in the 1936 Cole Porter musical “Born to Dance.” He wasn’t half bad.

I watched Rosalind Russell vamp it up in “Auntie Mame” for the first time ever. How is it possible that I existed without seeing this sublime comedy?

Other firsts for me included “The Red Shoes,” the phantasmagorical masterpiece that influenced Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan,” “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” with its mouth-watering production design, “The Bicycle Thief,” which crushed me with just about the saddest ending ever.

What I learned most of all is that the films of Hollywood’s heritage are indeed glorious. They are called “classic” for a reason. That isn’t to say they’re perfect. One of the things that astonished me was the rampant sexism and racism of Golden Age films, in which women are routinely punished for desiring a career over a husband and minorities are resigned to play dim-witted servants.

Despite their flaws, these movies have endured for decades, passed from one generation to the next like treasured artifacts. Scholars have attributed their magnificence to the great studio system that spawned them, to superior methods of writing, acting, filming and composing. Whatever the reason for their success, I think what makes an old movie truly great is not that it was shot in beautiful black and white or stars a timeless legend. It’s that the movie nudges us into feeling something deeply.

One particular lonely night spent with TCM stands out to me among the dozens and dozens of lonely nights. I was watching “Singin’ in the Rain,” lulling my baby to sleep to the watery sounds of the title song.

“What a glorious feeling. I’m happy again,” sang Gene Kelly, swinging himself around the lamppost in a scene that has been viewed millions of times by millions of people.

Once again, Gene Kelly splashed in a puddle. Once again, he sang. My heavy heart lifted.

Turner-Classic-Movies