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

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

 

Dalton Trumbo Sketch by M.R.P. - Jay Roach, historical accuracy, subtle acting

Caricature Sketch by M.R.P.
[High-res prints available here]

Introduction:

The 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 Boy to Alfred Hitchcock’s later middle-age in Hitchcock to Howard Hughes’ entire adult life in The Aviator.

With this in mind, it was nothing short of a breath of fresh air to enjoy the realism in Jay Roach’s Trumbo, 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: January 2nd, 2020 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

Introduction:

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 Soup, 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: January 2nd, 2020 by Daniel Podgorski

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

Planes, Trains and Automobiles as the Only Thanksgiving Classic

 

Introduction:

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles movie poster - John Hughes - Thanskgiving, sincerity, restraintI 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 Restaurant and By the Light of the Silvery Moon).

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 Automobiles.

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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: January 2nd, 2020 by Daniel Podgorski

[Film: My Dinner with Andre, Louis Malle, 1981]
Glorious Disagreement:

The Energetic, Artistic Tension in Louis Malle’s My Dinner with Andre

 

My Dinner with Andre movie poster - Louise Malle, Wallace Shawn, Andre Gregory - conversation, analysis

Introduction:

In the world of film, the works labeled ‘bold’ are often those which showcase shocking events, or put a spotlight on something that most people would rather not see. In such a context, it is an odd fact indeed that one of the most daring and excellent films of 1981 was a movie about two characters sitting down to dinner and having a conversation with each other in real-time: My Dinner with Andre, directed by Louis Malle and written by the two primary actors. Its daring nature, of course, comes from the elegant simplicity of its premise (though also from the far-ranging content of its writing), but that leaves the source of its excellence still to be accounted for.

Folks who have not seen My Dinner with Andre may hold the understandable-yet-mistaken notion that perhaps the film succeeds because the characters tell an exciting story, full of vibrant characters, like some kind of staged reading. In fact, the conversation is not a traditional narrative; the conversation is rather more similar to, well, a conversation. One of the men, the eponymous Andre (played by Andre Gregory), shares some recent biography and some philosophical notions, and the other man, Wally (played by Wallace Shawn), responds to Andre’s ideas. So, what is it that makes this movie work so well?

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[Film: My Dinner with Andre, Louis Malle, 1981]
Glorious Disagreement:

The Energetic, Artistic Tension in Louis Malle’s My Dinner with Andre

was last modified: January 2nd, 2020 by Daniel Podgorski

[Film: The Crying Game, Neil Jordan, 1992]
Identity, National and Gendered:

How Neil Jordan’s The Crying Game Talks About Violence, as Compared to the Fiction of Patrick McCabe

 

Introduction:

Neil Jordan Sketch by M.R.P. - The Crying Game - gender identity, nationalism

Caricature Sketch by M.R.P.
[High-res prints available here]

Well, I know that I said in this week’s Tuesday Tome article that I would wait for a later week to consider the thematic overlap between Patrick McCabe’s novel Breakfast on Pluto and Neil Jordan’s movie The Crying Game, but when I noticed that Terry Cavanagh, the developer behind this week’s Mid-week Mission, was also Irish, I just decided to keep the Irish motif going. (This will probably be a short-lived pattern; if only I had saved some of my primary comments about C.S. Lewis for this week’s Friday Phil!)

As I also alleged in the McCabe article, the conflicted relationship in contemporary Irish art between ‘the traditional’ and ‘the modern’ is emblematic of an Ireland struggling to maintain a sense of its heritage while embracing an intellectual skepticism toward that heritage’s violence and anti-modern sensibilities. In particular, just like Breakfast on Pluto, The Crying Game expresses that relationship with the complexities of gender identity standing in for the modern and forms of Irish nationalism standing in for the traditional.

The nature of this article is such that it requires spoiling basic plot details of The Crying Game, so you should only continue reading after this paragraph if you either do not mind spoilers or have already seen the film. I also recommend, although it is not strictly necessary for understanding my case, reading my article on Breakfast on Pluto before diving into this one.

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[Film: The Crying Game, Neil Jordan, 1992]
Identity, National and Gendered:

How Neil Jordan’s The Crying Game Talks About Violence, as Compared to the Fiction of Patrick McCabe

was last modified: January 2nd, 2020 by Daniel Podgorski