[Film: Brazil, Terry Gilliam, 1985]
1984 with a Sense of Humor:

The Surreal, Wonderful, and Haunting Humor of Terry Gilliam’s Absurdist Masterpiece, Brazil

 

Terry Gilliam Sketch by M.R.P. - Brazil - Tom Stoppard - absurd dystopia satire

Sketch by M.R.P.

The holiday season has come to a close, and everyone is back at the office. What better time to talk about Terry Gilliam’s masterful critique of bureaucracy run amok in his 1985 film BrazilBrazil - Terry Gilliam - Tom Stoppard - absurd dystopia satire? Coincidentally, the satirical events in Brazil take place during the holiday season as well, but the buffoonish consumer society of Brazil‘s universe continue their holiday shopping and eating with bombs going off in the same room.

It is no surprise to me that this movie makes use of tropes from absurdist drama, such as exaggeratedly out-of-order priorities and juxtapositions of high culture and low culture (or refinement and violence), as Terry Gilliam and his erstwhile co-writer Charles McKeown collaborated on Brazil‘s screenplay with renowned absurdist playwright Tom Stoppard (who you may know as the writer of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and co-writer of Shakespeare in LoveBrazil - Terry Gilliam - Tom Stoppard - absurd dystopia satire). Indeed, the entire movie dances with dark comedy as it finds joy in showing us tragic and despicable horrors, and I find joy right along with it.

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[Film: Brazil, Terry Gilliam, 1985]
1984 with a Sense of Humor:

The Surreal, Wonderful, and Haunting Humor of Terry Gilliam’s Absurdist Masterpiece, Brazil

was last modified: May 8th, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Film: Stand by Me, Rob Reiner, 1986]
Unromantic Nostalgia:

The Fantastic Rendering of Childhood in Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me

 

Stand by Me movie posterIt’s time once again for a movie recommendation, and what better film to recommend for the holiday season than a sensitive coming-of-age story about four childhood friends seeking a corpse? The film in question is Stand by MeStand by Me, directed by Rob Reiner and starring Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O’Connell as young friends Gordie, Chris, Teddy, and Vern, respectively.

Stand by Me is undoubtedly one of the disproportionately few truly great films in the staggeringly immense catalogue of movies based on the writing of Stephen King. It is a grounded and realistic story of a weird-yet-simple adventure. Yet the impressiveness of its achievement is not its success as a King adaptation; the impressiveness of its achievement is its success as a movie about childhood. For every piece of writing King has penned and seen turned terrible on the big screen, there are at least five failed attempts to capture the experience of childhood, which is Stand by Me‘s greatest strength.

As tempting as it is to dissect what makes this movie great in minute detail, I intend to instead keep this one spoiler-free in the hopes that any and all interested parties will find a way to watch it. Instead, I want to talk about what sets this movie apart from all those other attempts to capture childhood.

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[Film: Stand by Me, Rob Reiner, 1986]
Unromantic Nostalgia:

The Fantastic Rendering of Childhood in Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me

was last modified: January 18th, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Film: Trumbo, Jay Roach, 2015]
History Less Exaggerated:

The Excellent Subtlety of the Acting and History in Jay Roach’s Trumbo

 

Trumbo movie posterThe vast majority of biographical films follow a predictable and often unsatisfying formula: select a figure whose name will be instantly recognizable to every prospective viewer, then play up any and all personal struggles, peculiarities, and family problems of that figure as much as conceivably possible. Examples of this strategy swell to my mind in abundance, from John Lennon’s youth in Nowhere BoyTrumbo to Alfred Hitchcock’s later middle-age in HitchcockTrumbo to Howard Hughes’ entire adult life in The AviatorTrumbo.

With this in mind, it was nothing short of a breath of fresh air to enjoy the realism in Jay Roach’s TrumboTrumbo, which tells the true tale of acclaimed Hollywood writer Dalton Trumbo’s imprisonment and blacklisting for his communist political leanings. By ‘realism’ I do not mean to imply that Trumbo’s historical accuracy is any better than the other films named above (some key details of its depiction of Edward G. Robinson are almost certainly fabrications). Indeed, I had limited knowledge of the Hollywood Ten prior to seeing Trumbo, and even less of Dalton Trumbo himself (despite my previous enjoyment of some of the films he wrote).

Rather, I mean that the characters are not bizarre, lascivious caricatures of the figures involved, but are instead nuanced and lively representations. On the strengths of its actors, its unique restraint in the biopic genre, and the modern resonance of the American paranoia depicted, Trumbo succeeds as a great and thoroughly enjoyable movie.

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[Film: Trumbo, Jay Roach, 2015]
History Less Exaggerated:

The Excellent Subtlety of the Acting and History in Jay Roach’s Trumbo

was last modified: April 1st, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Film: Duck Soup, Leo McCarey, 1933]
Jokes that Hit their Marx:

On Duck Soup, One of the Greatest Comedies of One of the All-time Greatest Comedy Troupes

 

Groucho Marx Sketch by Dusty - Duck Soup - Marx Brothers - Harpo Marx, Chico Marx, Zeppo Marx

Sketch by Dusty

Comedians and entertainers in motion pictures took at least 50 years after movies entered the mainstream before shaking loose of their direct Vaudeville influences. One of the consequences of this fact is that we have a lasting record of the talents of some—though, as far as I can tell, not even close to all—of the greatest Vaudeville acts.

One such great was an act consisting of a family of comedians and musicians operating a variety-show-style performance under the heading of ‘the Marx Brothers.’ Their antics found a natural match in the narrative format of the movie industry, and they became hugely successful, producing 13 feature films in a career spanning decades.

Perhaps their greatest success (though not financially, in its time) is a film called Duck SoupDuck Soup - Marx Brothers - Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Chico Marx, Zeppo Marx, which today stands on the American Film Institute’s list of the greatest 100 American films of the past century (in addition to being in the top 10 of their list of the 100 greatest comedy films of the past century). Duck Soup is a comedy classic from some of the all-time masters of early (anarchic) movie comedy, and no one with an interest in classic cinema, movie comedy, or theatrical comedy should miss out on watching it.

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[Film: Duck Soup, Leo McCarey, 1933]
Jokes that Hit their Marx:

On Duck Soup, One of the Greatest Comedies of One of the All-time Greatest Comedy Troupes

was last modified: April 15th, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Film: Planes, Trains and Automobiles, John Hughes, 1987]
A Thanksgiving Given:

Planes, Trains and Automobiles as the Only Thanksgiving Classic

 

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles movie posterI very nearly turned this Thursday Theater article into a list of 10 Thanksgiving movies for you to check out, but after some deliberation I realized that I could only cobble together 3 movies that were both actually relevant to the holiday and passable enough to recommend (if you’re curious, the other 2 movies are the movie version of Alice’s RestaurantPlanes, Trains and Automobiles and By the Light of the Silvery MoonPlanes, Trains and Automobiles).

In truth, I probably should have seen this coming, since there are fewer than 10 Christmas movies which meet both criteria for me. So, instead, I’m cutting out the passable or kitsch options and focusing on recommending the one movie which I feel deserves to be associated with the holiday in perpetuity: John Hughes’ Planes, Trains and AutomobilesPlanes, Trains and Automobiles.

In between the wild successes of, beforehand, his brat pack films and Ferris Bueller and, afterward, the first two Home Alone films, one of John Hughes’ directorial projects was an odd-couple travel movie called Planes, Trains and Automobiles. The movie, like most great family films, would be an exercise in didactic moralizing if not for the sincerity of its presentation and the humility of its execution. As such, I think watching Planes, Trains and Automobiles could stand alongside listening to Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant” as one of the few worthwhile contemporary additions to the Thanksgiving tradition schema.

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[Film: Planes, Trains and Automobiles, John Hughes, 1987]
A Thanksgiving Given:

Planes, Trains and Automobiles as the Only Thanksgiving Classic

was last modified: March 14th, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski