[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

[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: December 18th, 2017 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: December 21st, 2017 by Daniel Podgorski

[Film: The Merchant of Venice, Michael Radford, 2004]
Remakes are Not your Enemy:

Analyzing a Scene from Michael Radford’s Film Version of The Merchant of Venice

 

Introduction:

Antonio Reproaching Shylock - The Merchant of Venice - Michael Radford, William Shakespeare - 2004 court scene analysisIn an era when we lament the fact that the remake, the sequel, and the reboot have come to dominate the media landscape, it can be easy to forget that older forms of art (in particular, theatre) used to survive exclusively through their continual reinterpretation and re-presenetation. Since his death, William Shakespeare has arguably garnered more of such ‘remakes’ and ‘reboots’ than any other artist, yet there are still great, interesting, and even somehow new versions of his works every year, on the stage and on the screen.

It is worth pointing out, then, that a remake or reboot is only bad if it adds nothing new to the original work and does not present an interesting version of the original work. And if that seems like a tired point to you, then I would like to make that case in a new way (a remake of my own, as it were) by zeroing in on one of Al Pacino’s scenes from Michael Radford’s film version of The Merchant of Venice, and discussing why it works so well as a new presentation of older material.

The nature of this article is such that it requires spoiling basic plot details of The Merchant of Venice, so you should only continue reading after this paragraph if you either do not mind spoilers or have already seen the film (or read the play, or seen a staging, etc.).

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[Film: The Merchant of Venice, Michael Radford, 2004]
Remakes are Not your Enemy:

Analyzing a Scene from Michael Radford’s Film Version of The Merchant of Venice

was last modified: July 26th, 2018 by Daniel Podgorski