Sunday, March 11, 2012

Underrated Showcase Sundays: Quiz Show


Underrated Showcase Sundays is a pretty straight-forward: every Sunday I'll shed some light on a film which I think doesn't get enough love. The showcase will be largely unstructured (well, compared to my other reviews) and will often just be random thoughts. It doesn't matter if I've seen it before or not. Tonight's instalment is one I've seen twice before, and had to go to a whole different country to get myself a copy of it on DVD (that sound more dramatic than what it actually happened).



Right in the midst of my huge obsession with Ralph Fiennes, I found two films of his that I had never heard of before: Strange Days hiding on the thriller shelf at Blockbuster and Quiz Show, which I queued up. Each of them were distinctly great films, offering a look at Fiennes just after his work in Schindler's List - a.k.a the best performance of all time. While Strange Days had him playing the fast-talking, smooth yet kinda seedy street hustler, Quiz Show has him playing a role completely different to anything he has ever done: the vulnerable, well-to-do pretty boy who acts his way into the heart of millions. If you look at Fiennes' filmography, you'll find it rich with varied characters and films, but one performance and film that sticks out for me the most is his Charles van Doren in Quiz Show.



I'm not entirely sure about how Quiz Show fared back in its day...I probably wasn't even a little sea monkey back then. But I know for sure that this would be the kind of movie that they'd laud as 'Oscar bait' these days: a stylish film telling a true story that we all can't believe ever happened, with an equally stylish cast to match. However, back in 1994, while it was nominated for four Oscars (Best Picture), it had to contend with the mega year of movies: Forrest Gump, Pulp Fiction, Three Colours: Red, Four Weddings and a Funeral and the once flopped but now classic The Shawshank Redemption. It is probably because of that fact that Quiz Show, the flawlessly done story of the Quiz Show scandals of the 1950s, has not enjoyed the post-1994 success that it should have. Which is a shame, because this film would work as a perfect companion piece to The Social Network - all about faking it until you make it, landing yourself in hot water, trying not to be the bad guy. Yes, it is The Social Network for before computers were but a fragment of ones futuristic imagination.


Quiz Show succeeds on almost every level: the script, the way the narrative is presented, the direction from Robert Redford (whose career seems to be slowly declining), but especially the great performances. It is hard to pick the stand out: Ralph Fiennes succeeds with his charm, his vulnerability and of course his un-earthly good looks that the camera is obviously making love to; Paul Scofield is perfect, helping his son along in a tricky situation; John Turturro breaks hearts as the misunderstood awkward genius Herb Stempel; even Martin Scorsese, of all people, gets a cameo. The film reaches a high point where Charles van Doren gives his "flying on borrowed wings" speech before Congress. It is such a beautiful end to a surprisingly dirty movie, showing what really went on behind the seemingly harmless quiz shows. The verdict is that you must see this movie - it definitely ranks as one of the very best that 1994 had to offer, and it had sure had some competition.

What I got:

16 comments:

  1. I bought this one without even having seen it, and I will admit it is a good - even great - film. Robert Redford is an excellent director, though his 1980 film ORDINARY PEOPLE is his best. This one comes pretty close too. It is one of countless great movies of 1994.

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    1. I still haven't seen Ordinary People, but it is in my queue. I wonder how it'll compare to this one!

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  2. I don't think I used the words "Oscar bait" in the mid-90s, but I think I probably viewed the film in similar terms back then. I remember it being good, but maybe a bit too transparent with its aspirations to be considered Serious Drama, as if it were determined that you should know how good it was. Mind you, I haven't seen it since it came out, I might be more charitable to it now.

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    1. I know what you mean, but I did think a little differently than you.

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  3. I absolutely agree. This is an under-the-radar film for whatever reason, and it shouldn't be. It's smart and beautifully filmed.

    I also love that you gave some props to Strange Days, an unappreciated noir-punk.

    Huh. Does this mean I'm a Ralph Fiennes fan?

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    1. Strange Days is awesome, awesome, awesome. I wish more people would see it that way!

      And it does...but probably not like me. There are only a select few of his films that I haven't seen.

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  4. I love this movie so much and high five! - I also saw it along with Strange Days because of my obsession with Fiennes. I love movies that create wonderful tension just based on strong characters and great dialogue, much like with my other favorite - Frost/Nixon.

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    1. High five to you, too! They're both great. And Frost/Nixon is a great movie to compare it to. I wouldn't mind catching up with that one again, actually!

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  5. I've heard about this movie for a long time, but never got around to renting it or buying the DVD. Maybe I will soon, it sounds wonderful! Great post!

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  6. While I much prefer A River Runs Through It, I also think this is an extraordinary film. I really liked the way Redford was able to capture the tone of that period as well as the performances of Ralph Fiennes and John Turturro.

    Plus, there's a great cameo from Martin Scorsese. Redford had a good run as a filmmaker that I think ended with this though The Horse Whisperer was actually a pretty good film.

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    1. Redford captured the tone of that period quite well. That's one of the things I liked most about it.

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  7. Happy Monday!! I just wanted to spread some love down to NZ Stevee!

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  8. You did good job. Keep it on with this type of post.

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You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.

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