In which I reappropriate RogerEbert.com's "Movie Love Questionnaire" as a writing exercise for myself. I haven't written anything aside from tweets and my weekly newspaper column in a long while, and felt like taking a stab at this.
Where did you grow up, and what was it like?
Wheeling, Illinois, in a subdivision of townhomes called Lakeside Villas. In the grade school days, it felt like I knew everybody in the neighborhood. There were a lot of all-day bike rides with friends, long summer afternoons and evenings at the clubhouse pool, and NES sessions in the finished, wood-paneled basement.
What if anything did your jobs contribute to your sensibility as a moviegoer?
I worked for Suncoast Motion Picture Company at Randhurst Mall in Mt. Prospect for a stretch of five years, including summer, winter and spring stints when I was home from college. This is when watching movies went from an enthusiasm to a lifestyle. The need to own every movie I liked on VHS (then DVD, then Blu-ray) started here, as did my massive amount of credit card debt.
Was anyone else in your family into movies? If so, what effect did they have on your moviegoing tastes?
Everyone in the family is into movies. It is not uncommon for the immediate family to carry on entire conversations in movie quotes. I didn't have to beg my parents to see stuff like "Return of the Jedi," "Aliens" or "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" — they wanted to see them just as much as (if not more than) I did.
What's the first movie you remember seeing, and what impression did it make on you?
"Raiders of the Lost Ark," at Wheeling's Twin Drive-In. Seeing Toth's face melt at the end of the movie is my earliest memory — not my earliest memory of seeing a film, my earliest memory, period. If that's not a lasting impression, I don't know what is.
first movie that made you think, "Hey, some people made this. It didn't
just exist. There's a human personality behind it."
Definitely the "Star Wars" trilogy. We had a hardcover copy of "The Art of Return of the Jedi," and I remember seeing a behind-the-scenes special about "A New Hope" at a very early age. I probably knew who George Lucas, Dennis Muren and John Williams were before I entered the first grade.
What's the first movie you ever walked out of?
Against my will, it was Disney's "The Jungle Book." My mother took my sisters and me to see it, and she got sick about a half-hour in. I later walked out of Soderbergh's "Solaris" because the picture quality was atrocious; we got free passes for a later date and decided to see a different movie. (I still haven't seen it.) The only movie that I would truly categorize as a walk-out was "Starsky & Hutch," a painfully unfunny experience. Thankfully, the Rohirrim were about to charge the Orcs at Pelennor Fields across the hall.
What's the funniest film you've ever seen?
I'm not sure, but I do know that, while the film (and its filmmaker) has faded for me since, my first experience with "Clerks" was a watershed moment. I had read about it in Rolling Stone months earlier, and Dan Benes and I spotted it in a Blockbuster on a Saturday night when we were tasked with babysitting his brother. We watched it twice, back-to-back, and started spreading the gospel at school the following Monday. When I went off to Eastern Illinois University in 1997, I made friends with the entire 7th floor of Carman Hall that first weekend by inviting everybody over to watch this crazy black-and-white movie I had that nobody had ever heard of.
What's the saddest film you've ever seen?
Two movies left me crying, drooling and pounding my fists into the floor: "Dancer in the Dark" and "House of Sand and Fog." I've seen the former four or five times since; I've never watched the latter again.
What's the scariest film you've ever seen?
"Poltergeist." Not even close. And it just keeps getting scarier. If we ever have kids, I imagine it will be damn near unwatchable.
What's the most romantic film you've ever seen?
"Once" feels like the right answer.
What's the first television show you ever saw that made you think television could be more than entertainment?
The first show that became a full-on obsession for me was "The X-Files." It was perhaps the first show that truly felt cinematic, which seems laughable now in the age of "Game of Thrones" and "Breaking Bad."
What book do you think about or revisit the most?
"Jurassic Park" by Michael Crichton, which is a bit of an embarrassing answer — but an honest one.
What album or recording artist have you listened to the most, and why?
John Williams, because he is the filmmaker (yes, composers are filmmakers too) most responsible for my love of movies. Metallica, because "Enter Sandman" came out when I was 12, so why wouldn't I be a Metallica fan?
Is there a movie that you think is great, or powerful, or perfect, but that you never especially want to see again, and why?
"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" is one of the best movies I've ever seen, but I have never been able to make it through a home viewing. It's just too painful an experience, and I'm not sure I can even articulate why.
What movie have you seen more times than any other?
Whatever it is, it has the word "star" in the title, I'm sure. In recent years, the answer is definitely J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek." I suspect that the answer is actually "Return of the Jedi," aka "Star Wars: Episode VI."
What was your first R-rated movie, and did you like it?
My dad showed me "The Blues Brothers" when I was 4 or 5 years old, and it has always been a family favorite. I loved the musical numbers when I was young. The first R-rated movie I saw in a theater was "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," with my dad and our neighbor, Bob.
What's the most visually beautiful film you've ever seen?
I am tempted to say "Avatar," but then most of you will stop reading this and never again take me seriously. The real answer is probably "Pinocchio," which I finally saw on the big screen in college. It was a breathtaking experience.
Who are your favorite leading men, past and present?
Tom Cruise. Leonardo DiCaprio. Jimmy Stewart.
Who are your favorite leading ladies, past and present?
Kate Winslet. Cate Blanchett.
Who's your favorite modern filmmaker?
This question is harder than I thought it would be. The easy answers would be Paul Thomas Anderson or David Fincher, but then I remembered that I didn't bother to see either of their latest films in the theater. (I would eventually be baffled by "The Master" and electrified by the American remake of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.")
Steven Spielberg seems like another obvious choice, but I still haven't slogged through "War Horse," and I think "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" ruined an unprecedented streak of risk and creativity for him that began with "A.I."
Right now, amazingly, the answer might be Gore Verbinski, even though I wouldn't call any of his films a truly great film. (I mean, he's made three pirate movies and a Lone Ranger movie, fer cryin' loud.) But I like him and the people he's chosen to be his constant collaborators, and he's certainly never made a boring film. I'm sure this answer will change once I see the Coen brothers' next movie.
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.
The third or fourth time I saw "Titanic" was at the Randhurst General Cinemas 16. A big group of us arrived more than an hour before showtime and were queued up in the hallway. With about 20 minutes to go, someone pulled the fire alarm, which delayed everything by another half-hour. We stuck it out and saw the movie anyway. A classmate of mine, Elizabeth Severson, started crying about halfway through the film and, as far as I know, never stopped — she was still sobbing when I dropped her off around 2 a.m.
What aspect of modern theatrical moviegoing do you like least?
What aspect of moviegoing during your childhood do you miss the most?
Going with my mom, who hasn't been to a theater since "Revenge of the Sith" in 2005. Her MS makes it hard to sit still for prolonged periods, so uncomfortable theater seats are a no-go. I would take my mom to the movies all the time, even in high school.
Have you ever damaged a friendship, or thought twice about a
relationship, because you disagreed about whether a movie was good or
Nothing comes to mind.
What movies have you dreamed about?
One of the most vivid nightmares of my life came after watching "Dazed and Confused," believe it or not. Ben Affleck and his pals were hunting me down, paddles in hand.
What concession stand item can you not live without?
I can live without all of them. I never eat at the movies.