Monday, July 1, 2013


The 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list has officially become the over 1100 Movies You Must See Before You Die if you include viewing all the movies from all the editions of all the books. In order to catch up with some more of the recent listings, I was going to have a “21st century films month!,” but since I’ve done that already, I’ll just call this “Son of 21st century films month!” since I can’t come with anything better..

Son of 21st century films month! (Post 1 of 12)

Slumdog Millionaire

I’m sure the original pitch to the studio for Slumdog Millionaire went something like : We’re going to have a movie set in India that has lots of scenes of poverty and suffering in it. Oh, and did I mention we don’t have any stars. It will be a big hit, really!

But it really did become a big hit. And even won the Best Picture Oscar for 2008! It’s downright inspiring to see the lowly “chai wallah” slumdog and his search for his true love while relating all the questions in of a game show to his life. My favorite charcter was the sleazy yet engaging game show host played by Anil Kapoor, who I think should have been given some Oscar consideration himself while they were handing out so many other awards to this picture. His character does make make me wonder if they really torture contestants such as Jamaal who gets too many questions right. Of course, I certainly can’t picture Regis Philbin or Alex Trebek using thumbscrews or a torture rack backstage.

Speaking of Alex Trebek: This really doesn’t have much to do with Slumdog Millionaire, but I’ll take this opportunity to make a note on that American institution Alex Trebek, long-time host of Jeopardy!.

During the American TV game show renaissance (AKA the 1970’s) Alex Trebek was just one of many quizmasters, such as Wink Martindale, Jack Barry, Allen Ludden and Jim Lang. Alex hosted an interesting show called the Wizard of Odds, where you try to guess the odds of occurrences in a survey sort of like in Family Feud. The curly-headed, thick mustachioed Trebek always seemed like a used car salesman to me. This image was further amplified in the show High Rollers!, where designated dice tosser Ruta Lee (who apparently had no talent for rolling dice) would try to roll certain numbers for contestants after they answered the relatively simple questions posed by your host, Alex Trebek. I always thought there was something a little shady about that show and it wasn’t as fun to watch as The Joker’s Wild or The Match Game. Alex even hosted some game show, which I can’t remember the name of, where the lightning round involves Alex and the contestant riding a glass elevator up to the next floor to participate in the lightning round of some kind. That is really the only thing I can remember about the show.

Of course, the Rolls Royce of game shows from the 60’s to the 70’s was Jeopardy!, where the contestant was given the answer and the contestant had to supply the question. It was fast and it was smart and you didn’t have to feel like you had to take a shower after you finished watching it, like if you did if just watched an episode of Let’s Make a Deal.

The host was the fast-talking and erudite Art Fleming, a man who could have easily been cast as a senator if he had been an actor during the Jeopardy! years. Art definitely had a Cronkitian air of authority to him, and was someone who commanded respect. I was pretty young when Jeopardy! went off the air, but I knew it was a sad day.

In the 80’s, they decided to bring Jeopardy! back. When I heard who the host was my reaction was, “Alex Trebek? Are you kidding? This isn’t Hollywood Squares! This isn’t The Newlywed Game! This…is…Jeopardy!!” But I gave it a chance. And you know, Trebek was good. He was quick. He was clear. He was fair. He was good at showing empathy for about two seconds when a contestant answered a question incorrectly (Ohhhh!) before quickly moving on to the next question. And don’t miss a question incorrectly about Trebek’s native Canada, or he will admonish you. So I completely changed my mind about Trebek. He is now an American (and probably Canadian, too) institution. Now that Trebek has done the show for almost three decades, I honestly can’t imagine anyone else doing it.

Additional Jeopardy bibliography:

A.J. Jacobs, One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World, One chapter of The Know It All has a section of A. J.’s interview with Alex Trebek. When A. J. later tries to get on Jeopardy!, he is disqualified because of his interview with Trebek. He has to settle for an appearance on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire
? instead.

Ken Jennings, Branniac, From the man who won 74 Jeopardy games in a row, this book has a lot on his Jeopardy! Experience. as well as trips to an awful lot of long trivia nights.

Bob Harris’s Prisoner of Trebekistan, is a very funny and engaging book on his experience as a Jeopardy! Contestant.

What was this blog supposed to be about again? Well, no time. Jeopardy! Is about to come on. Can’t keep Alex waiting!

Alex Trebek and Ken "74" Jennings


  1. I think that you and I watch Jeopardy too much! And today I am sucking at it. Too much Japanese stuff. That's my excuse today.

  2. I think the dance number during the closing credits should have won an Oscar for "Best Wink at the Audience"!

  3. Additional Jeopardy Trivia:
    I was once a contestant in the now-cancelled swedish version (but I didn't win).

  4. Nicolas, if you have a tape of that-I'd like to watch it! Though it's unlikely I'd know any answers (or questions).

  5. I actually think I have an old VHS tape collecting dust somewhere. If it ever gets digitalized I promise to send it to you!