Friday, October 17, 2008

The Great Train Wreck Quiz Concludes

The Great Train Wreck Quizery has come to a close, with a shockingly close finish!

Winner: Jason Ray with a score of 37.
Second place: Joe D'Augstine (of Film Forno) with a score of 36.5.
Third place: Jerry Bates with a score of 23.

Thanks to everyone who participated! You'll find the answer key below with some commentary on the films.

Answer Key:

Films with an asterisk are train wrecks. Those without them feature train wrecks.

*Mystery Train – Jarmusch’s musician-studded anthology film has a couple of strong moments, but it can’t stay on the rails long enough to make any sort of coherent or lasting impact.

*Pearl Harbor – Several sequences with trains, but air and sea are the transports of choice for this island military base infamous as the site of a national tragedy and the subject of an artistic travesty.

Ballad of a Soldier – Beautiful anti-heroic Soviet socialist realism film primarily set aboard a train. The protagonist isn’t in it at the time, but it gets bombed by the Germans.

The Train – Perhaps the archetypical action movie with train wrecks, John Frankenheimer’s WWII film follows Burt Lancaster and his French Resistance cell as they try to stop a Nazi (Paul Scofield) from making off with France’s greatest works of art.

*The Apple – Set in the mid-90’s as only the 80’s could imagine it, this musical about hippies rebelling against a fascist glam-rock record label is a delicious feast of kitsch overkill and cult pretentions. I put it next to Ballad of a Soldier to trick people into grouping them together as musicals.

The General – Still my favorite Buster Keaton comedy with a rightfully famous shot of the titular train diving into a river.

Spies – Fritz Lang’s spy epic may not be quite as good as Dr. Mabuse, but it’s a masterpiece nonetheless. The dastardly climactic train wreck is a classic.

The Wheel – Abel Gance’s 4.5 hour marathon tale of trains and incest is not likely to be everyone’s cup of tea. One highlight, however, is the heavy symbolism and rapid montage of the train crash scene.

Arsenal – Dovzhenko’s Ukranian montage experiment is an obtuse artistic implosion for many, but I kind of like it… and it uses a train crash to symbolize the failure of naïve, headless revolution.

The Bad Sleep Well – Thanks be to Criterion for bringing deserving attention to this underrated corporate thriller by Kurosawa. It includes a downbeat finale in which a character’s “accidental suicide” is handled by putting his alcohol-soaked car in the way of a speeding train.

*Six Days Seven Nights – This misconceived romantic comedy about a plane crash is a complete train crash.

The Fugitive – This oft-referenced adaptation of a TV show now plays, fittingly, all the time on TV. The protagonist, Dr. Richard Kimble, partially owes his escape to his prison bus getting smacked into by a train.

*The Avengers – Audaciously horrendous spy thriller about an evil genius who dresses his henchmen as teddy bears, arms himself with mechanical bees and blackmails the world with weather. I count myself lucky; the original cut ran more than an hour longer than what made it to the screens!

*Zardoz – Simultaneously one of the best and worst films of the 1970’s (depending on your perspective) this pulsating philosophical mishmash of inspired madness includes Sean Connery in a ponytail, a giant floating stone head, Wizard of Oz references and a final battle inside a crystal… but no train wrecks.

*Boarding Gate – One of the few films I’ve seen in theaters recently where people actually walked out, this Michael Madsen / Asia Argento thriller ranges from uncomfortable to excruciating. Yet it somehow manages to be a fascinating failure.

*Heaven’s Gate – I’ve already ranted at length, but this notoriously self-indulgent western flop was, in my opinion, unredeemed by its longer, even more indulgent director’s cut.

*Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Terry Gilliam, Hunter S. Thompson and Johnny Depp seems like a perfect combination, but the result is like mixing three jigsaw puzzle together. Not without its zany moments though still quite disappointing.

Tideland – Although many critics billed this as a train wreck, I consider it a fantastic evolution of Gilliam’s aesthetic. Besides, it somewhat self-consciously ends with train wreck.

*Jubilee – Derek Jarman’s cult riff on royalty and punk culture transports Queen Elizabeth I into a dystopic future, but fails to do anything interesting with the premise. Raucous noise and nose-thumbing ensues.

Back to the Future Part III (1990) – Popular threequel takes us to the old west where everyone’s favorite mad scientist, Doc, races a train off a cliff in order to reach the speed necessary for time travel.

*Camp Nowhere (1994) – Miserable, but thankfully forgettable, family-fodder flick that contributed nothing to film culture except a target for sarcastic references and Jessica Alba.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit – This impressive mix of slapstick comedy, noir mystery and cartoon animation has drawn me back dozens of times. It has a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it train crash near the very end when the dipmobile smashes into Toon Town.

Night on the Galactic Railroad – This beloved children’s tale of a space train that transports souls to heaven had enough weirdness already without the director making the characters cats and the chapter titles Esperanto. There’s some confusion over whether the train crashes into an iceberg, but the context is clear that it is actually an ocean liner and some creative animation. While I actually think the film is rather pleasant, its glacial pacing has led some to dub it Night on the Paralytic Railroad.

Steamboy – This epic anime is a bit overwrought, but how could any steampunk film do without a steam engine, in this case crashing into a car driven by villains near the start of the adventure.

*Polar Express – A misguided CG adaptation of a children’s book that jettisons all the charm and doesn’t even crash, except metaphorically.

Horror Express – This Christopher Lee horror film plays like “The Thing” aboard a train, but without any of the talent or production values. It ends with the locomotive going over a cliff and I say good riddance.

Final Destination – I can’t really stay made at sloppy, contrived horror films especially when they are just an excuse for endless near-death cliffhangers, including a train pulverizing a car whose engine has died.

GoldenEye – Actually one of my favorite bond films, due mostly to its celebrated videogame adaptation. GoldenEye features a train that explodes just moments after Bond’s ejection.

*Octopussy – A low-point in the James Bond franchise (during the already mediocre valley of the Roger Moore era), this one also gave the series its most embarrassing title. Its long train sequence almost ends in an explosion, but Bond defuses the device in time.

*Casino Royale (1967) – Somehow the dream-team cast on this James Bond comedy never gels, hampered by one of the most nonsensical scripts ever scribbled and frightfully inconsistent directing.

*Antz – This lazy, ingratiating animation enjoyed mild success despite being overshadowed by “A Bug’s Life,” which wasn’t even one of Pixar’s best.

The French Connection – I’ve never been terribly in love with this influential police drama, but it does have some great scene, including the climactic chase of an elevated train and its abrupt stop… by another train.

*Quintet – Robert Altman was able to breathe new life into many genres with his inspired revisionism, but this overstuffed frozen SF bore was DOA.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – One of my favorite westerns and a favorite for many others, too. The dashing bandit duo use too much dynamite trying to crack a payroll safe and end up blowing up a boxcar.

*The Newton Boys – Richard Linklater’s attempt at a straightforward genre flick is clumsy and lackluster, less a spectacular failure than a drawn-out derailment. It features a famous real-life train robbery, but no destruction results.

*Destry Rides Again – While it’s far from the first or last time that a comedy western misconstrued stupid for funny, “Destry Rides Again” marks a low point for me in the once-popular cycle.

Closely Watched Trains – How could I not sneak a Czech film onto the list? Its surprising tone-shifting ending features the most last-minute train destruction on the list.

The Namesake – A train crash is the stimulus for an Indian’s journey to American and his odd choice of Gogol for his son’s name. Mira Nair’s film is typically safe and overrated, but confident and ultimately satisfying.

Zentropa – Lars von Trier’s early post-war art-noir is a mesmerizing, heady and deeply underappreciated. The indecisive hero plants a bomb aboard a train, but later goes back to defuse it… only to have it blow up anyway.

*Lady in the Water – My mixed feelings towards Shyamalan tipped over the edge in this misguided self-congratulatory fantasy involving narfs (because mermaids were copy-written?), a giant eagle and an apartment building full of gag-worthy acting.

Unbreakable – Surviving a train wreck proves to be the telltale evidence of superhero powers for Bruce Willis in Shyamalan’s dark, thoughtful thriller. It has a great ending twist, spoiled within minutes by a whimper of a conclusion.

*Hudson Hawk – Though this shockingly misconceived action-comedy should have set off sirens at every point in production, producers nevertheless threw $65 million at it, thus proved they were every bit as stupid as the script. Not based on a comic book, but I placed it here because it feels like it was.

*Batman and Robin –Joel Schumacher stabbed millions of Batman fans in the eyes and ears over and over again and yet still walks our streets a free man. Won’t somebody think of the children?

Spiderman 2 – Though Peter Parker saves all the passengers of a NYC elevated train hurtling towards disaster, the front compartment crashes through a barrier and derails.

*Spiderman 3 – It has a fight in a subway, but a passing train only takes minor damage from the villainous Sandman’s face getting rubbed into it. In that scene as in most of the others, this threequel proves to be a catastrophic accident achieving laughter and tears for all the wrong reasons.

Danger Diabolik – Fantastically kitschy Italian jewel thief comic adaptation with tons of inventive wit. The hero makes off with Italy’s national supply of gold by dropping a train into a river.

The Greatest Show on Earth – Often derided as a rambling garish extravaganza, it’s poetic justice that this circus tale winds up smashed on the tracks.

Bridge Over the River Kwai – Alec Guiness plays a British POW who’s so proud of the fruits of his forced labor – a railroad bridge for transporting German supplies – that he can’t bear to blow it up. I won’t spoil what happens next, but you can probably guess.

*Around the World in 80 Days (1956) – I’ve already lambasted this star-studded wreck, but it deserves another kick in its bloated belly. It does feature trains fairly prominently, but they don’t crash: they just reach the end of the line.

*Crash (1996) – Not to be mistaken with the Oscar-winning 2004 film about class and race, Cronenberg’s earlier work is a bitter cocktail of car wrecks (sorry, no trains) and deviant sex that almost captures the controversial vision of J. G. Ballard’s book.

Special groupings (0.5 pts each):

WWII films: Pearl Harbor, Ballad of a Soldier, The Train
Silent films: The General, Spies, The Wheel, Arsenal
Starring Harrison Ford: Six Days Seven Nights, The Fugitive
Starring Sean Connery: The Avengers, Zardoz
Adaptations of 1960’s TV shows: The Fugitive, The Avengers
Directed by Terry Gilliam: Tideland, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Time Travel: Jubilee, Back to the Future Part III
Starring Christopher Lloyd: Back to the Future Part III, Camp Nowhere, Who Framed Roger Rabbit (Note the first two also both star Tom Wilson).
Animated: Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Steamboy, Night on the Galactic Railroad, Polar Express (Note that the middle two are both Japanime)
James Bond films: Goldeneye, Octopussy, Casino Royale
Note that for the next three connections, the villain in one movie will be a protagonist in the next.
Starring Woody Allen: Casino Royale, Antz
Starring Gene Hackman: Antz, The French Connection
Starring Fernando Rey: The French Connection, Quintet
Starring Paul Newman: Quintet Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Westerns: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Newton Boys, Destry Rides Again
(OR alternatively) Train robbery westerns: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Newton Boys
Foreign films (no point awarded): Closely Watched Trains, The Namesake, Zentropa
Directed by M. Knight Shyamalan: Lady in the Water, Unbreakable
Starring Bruce Willis: Unbreakable, Hudson Hawk
Comic Book Adaptations: Danger Diabolik, Batman and Robin, Spiderman 2 & 3 (Sorry, no credit for just pointing out shared actors/directors/crew for the Spiderman movies)
Best Picture Oscar Winners: Bridge Over the River Kwai, The Greatest Show on Earth, Around the World in 80 Days

Points possible: 25 wrecks + 25 non-wrecks + 20 groupings = 50 + 10 = 60


Mad Dog said...

Watching Darkman has convinced me that Raimi had to have known what he was doing in Spider-Man 3, since Darkman is like Spider-Man 3 times five.

FilmWalrus said...

I agree with our judicial branch that premeditated crimes deserve even harsher punishments.

Molly said...

gaaa! I fell into my busiest week in ages and forgot to send in my quiz. ah well, don't think I could've brought much competition. congrats to winners.