In the end, everyone had advice for this story. That's what happens when people who write stories for a living become the subject of a story.
Steve Ramos, head film critic for CityBeat, wanted to make sure the obvious disclaimer -- just because we write about films for a living doesn't mean we know everything -- was high up in the story. TT clinkscales, a freelance critic (like me) and all-around nice guy (unlike me), merely asked that I go easy on him in the story.
Going in, I just wanted not to embarrass myself. I thought I would point out in a clever way that the words "trivia" and "trivial" are one letter away from each other.
In the end, we all got our wish. Mostly.
We three critics took to the Independent Film Channel (IFC) "Film Fanatic Challenge" at Million's Café on a recent Wednesday night. Essentially, a touring game show that hits a few nightspots as it rolls through towns, the IFC Challenge pits bar-goers against each other with questions about cinema, independent and otherwise. Local publicists invited film reporters in the area to compete and -- when we realized it was held in a bar and included the possibility of free drinks -- the CityBeat film writers obliged. I was volunteered to document the proceedings for posterity.
The action began at 9 p.m. A decent crowd at Million's politely watched but seemed less inclined to participate. Perhaps the introduction of some professional film writers scared them.
How wrong they would be.
It was decided that Steve, tt and I would first compete individually against random bar-goers and then, if we were to win our rounds, we would compete against each other in a showdown.
The first round pitted me against the pleasant Holly Phitts from Pleasant Ridge. It was no blow-out, but I ended up on top by round's end -- no thanks to a brain-freeze on which actor played Dr. Sayer in the 1990 film Awakenings. I guessed Robert DeNiro, knowing as soon as I answered that DeNiro played the patient and Robin Williams was, in fact, the doctor.
Asked how I was to compete against, Phitts later said, "You were more than I could handle. But I guess for competition you don't have to be too good when you're playing against me."
Next up was tt, who played against a fellow who looked remarkably like Chris Penn from his Reservoir Dogs days. In fact, we would never learn his name and would refer to him only as "Chris Penn" the rest of the night. It was a fairly unceremonious round, with tt winning easily.
However, he did miss a "gimme putt" question when the chipper hostess asked, "Sean Penn played Jeff Spicoli in what 1982 comedy?" One second passed. Two seconds passed. TT could only shake his head and admit, "How am I missing this?"
When the hostess revealed the answer, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, tt bowed his head in shame, and Chris Penn announced that he was not yet born in 1982. In fairness to tt and to make good on my promise to "be kind," it should be noted that tt nailed a tough question later in the round without missing a beat. What movie's tagline was, "Love is here to stay and so is her family?" My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
Steve roared out of the gate in his round, against an opponent who said he preferred to remain nameless. It might have been the only time the man spoke that night.
Steve made quick work of a broad array of questioning. "Bicentennial Man." "Harry Burns." "Last House on the Left." Steve was spitting out answers with ease and pointing out additional trivia as he went. The one question he let go unanswered was about the male lead in Blue Lagoon; tt speculated that Steve indeed knew the answer (Christopher Atkins) and was just ashamed to admit it in public.
"Where would you like to take us next, player four," the hostess asked.
"To the bar!" Steve bellowed.
In the end, the three film geeks from CityBeat won our qualifying rounds and were pitted against each other (and against Chris Penn, for the fun of it) in the final showdown round.
Steve chose the "Grab Bag" category and requested the highest point question right away. "Go large or go home," I said.
What was late actor John Belushi's first film? No guesses. Steve said, "John Belushi's dead?" TT waited it out for the first hint and got it: Animal House.
The next "Grab Bag" question: What was late actor John Candy's last film?
"John Candy's dead, too?" Steve quipped.
I stuck my neck out and guessed Uncle Buck. Wrong. You have to try to separate yourself, I said to no one in particular. Chipper hostess gave the first hint: It's the meat on an Egg McMuffin. "Canadian Bacon," tt nailed it.
I started booing loudly, knowing tt was just milking the hints. After botching Spicoli, he was all about the safe play.
Chris Penn awoke from his beer-coma long enough to get the next question: Chris Farley's last film was Almost Heroes. It might've been the most difficult question of the night.
From there, Steve flashed the form that got him to the showdown, knocking down questions like bowling pins. I guessed his Stoli and tonic wasn't as strong as my Blue Moon draft. TT stood quietly the rest of the round, presumably happy with this point total and the belief that he hadn't embarrassed himself. I tried in vain to hang with Steve, only once successfully buzzing in before him.
In the end, the final score of the critics' showdown was ugly and unsurprising. Steve won with 400, tt had his safe 275, I took in 125 and Chris Penn brought up the rear with -175.
It was a spirited and fun competition, as good a diversion as you'll find in a Cincinnati bar during August. The event moves downtown to Madonna's Bar for its final stop in Cincinnati (9 p.m.-midnight Aug. 18-20 and 25-27). It's worth noting that everyone in attendance can register for a chance to win an iPod that night.
I feel compelled to concede that the best man won the night. But, you know, it's only trivia and just because we're critics doesn't mean we know everything. Just ask tt about Jeff Spicoli. ©
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