24 April 2006

Marx (1933)

1933 - Duck Soup - I was glad to see Margaret Dumont return for this one. As the "fifth Marx brother," she plays the perpetually bemused/offended straight-woman to perfection. The reactions on her face to what Groucho says to her was, alone, enough to elicit some laughs.

Also honed to perfection was Chico and Harpo's schtick. The scene with the lemonade vendor is, by far, my favorite scene from the Bros. in the five Paramount pictures. Harpo enters a new level of insanity in this film when he arms himself with scissors. No feathers, cigars, hankies, hats or coats can possibly be safe.

I did have to stop the film about halfway to jump on the Internet and verify that Groucho did indeed spew a racial epitaph as the punch line of a joke. It turns out that the joke is a pop culture reference to a then-famous song. I found this blog post, which explains the complex back-story. Still, it's not something I wanted to hear Groucho say and it dampened the rest of the film for me somewhat. I spent the remainder worried the fun was going to be further diminished by thirties-style racism.

With this film, we say goodbye to Zeppo… not that it'll be noticeable when he's gone. I will say it was nice to see all four of the Bros. performing with each other, especially during the war song. But, I don't think Groucho's quips will be harmed much with the loss of his straight-man brother. Whether harm will come from the change in studios, I supposed I will find out. (8/10)

d. Leo McCarey

23 April 2006

OLR: King Kong (2005)

Outside of Kong vs three T-Rexes, I was mostly bored. (6/10)

d. Peter Jackson

19 April 2006

OLR: Gay Republicans (2004)

When compartmentalized thinking and self-loathing collide. (7/10)

d. Wash Westmoreland

18 April 2006

OLR: Why We Fight (2005)

Describes exactly what worries me most about my country. (8/10)

d. Eugene Jarecki

[you can watch all 99 minutes of it here]

16 April 2006

Guest OLR: 3 Women (1977)

Two irritating hours of waiting for a payoff that never comes. (4/10)

d. Robert Altman

15 April 2006

Guest OLR: California Split (1974)

Occasionally funny but bogged down by the pointlessness, which is typically where Altman's style tends to fail. (5/10)

d. Robert Altman

Marx (1932)

1932 - Horse Feathers - Moves along at an enjoyably snappy pace. This Marx Bros. film doesn't mess around. At the start, we dive directly into a scene with Groucho which evolves into a musical number sung by him. I love that in this musical, all of the songs are performed by the Bros. There's no troupe of dancing girls and the only sappy love is sung by each of the Bros. in a progressively funny manner. It was a little annoying that the accompanying off-screen orchestra tended to drown out Chico and Harpo's piano and harps song, however.

Little time is spent with the actual plot. A mere nine hours later, I can't remember the reason the villains wanted to win the football game so badly. I'd assume it was because they were gambling on it, but I have no idea why the widow -- who has a servant and a nice pad -- would need the cash. All of that doesn't matter in the least, as it was just a structure to support the Bros.' college antics.

Disappointingly, Harpo doesn't get anyone to hold his leg this time. Though, he very subtly changes his "Dog Catcher" hat into one that reads "Kidnapper" when he and Chico attempt to kidnap the ringers. Speaking of ringers, Robert Altman and comedy, I wonder if M*A*S*H is the direct grandchild of Horse Feathers? (8/10)

d. Norman Z. McLeod

Guest OLR: Images (1972)

Deeply unsettling, owing largely to John Williams' unnerving score. (7/10)

d. Robert Altman

14 April 2006

OLR: Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005)

Well put together, but lacks a certain amount of outtrage I’d like to see. (6/10)

d. Alex Gibney

09 April 2006

OLR: Rabid Grannies (1988)

Apparently, the director cut most of the gore out of the Troma cut, leaving behind boredom. (4/10)

d. Emmanuel Kervyn

OLR: Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Beautiful scenery and unique, for Hollywood, characters. (7/10)

d. Ang Lee

08 April 2006

Marx (1931)

1931 - The House That Shadows Built: "I'll Say She Is" - This is a five-minute-long segment in a promotional film from Paramount. Though the entire film itself is impossible to find, this short is on the Inside the Marx Brothers DVD. It's unnamed, so I borrowed the name from here. Basically, the Bros. enter into a casting office and annoy a theater director. Notably, Zeppo is the first to enter and speaks more lines in this 5-minute short that he has in the previous 90-minute films combined. More notable to me: Harpo manages the very difficult "double leg hold," using the director and Chico (and subsequently getting tossed to the ground). The short is much zanier that we've seen in the two previous films, which I think might be a sign of things to come. (6/10)

d. ??

1931 - Monkey Business - Hijinx from an ocean liner to a barn. One thing I noticed right away is that Groucho is physically wackier in this film. He dances and sings, meows and struts like a cat in heat, and uses his trademarked stooped walk to get where he's going. I like this change. Chico's unending song "Sugar in the Morning" from Animal Crackers makes appearance in both the opening credits and in Harpo's harp composition this time around. It seems like it might be the Bros.' theme song now. Both this film and "I'll Say She Is" reference and poke fun at Maurice Chevalier. Luckily, not knowing who this is doesn't diminish the laughs. You can easily infer that he was some famous dope who sang love songs. I doubt, 75 years from now, people would be able to make sense of, for example, the "Wassup!" jokes in Scary Movie. And, amazingly, Zeppo manages to actually work in this film as he takes over the male romantic lead. He even gets the girl at the end after a massive fist-fight (!) which begins when he dives off of a barn loft (!!) onto the bad guy . (7/10)

d. Norman Z. McLeod

OLR: Crash (2005)

This has to be the worst film to ever win best picture. (3/10)

d. Paul Haggis

06 April 2006

OLR: Magnolia (1999)

I'm a pretty hard nut to crack when it comes to fiction, but this film was touching. (7/10)

d. Paul Thomas Anderson

7 April - edited to add:

Interesting, given the subject matter, that a coincidence probably affected my appreciation of the film. Earlier in the day, I overheard an old woman talking to another person. She was reminiscing about her daughter's life. It became clear that the daughter had just died from cancer. As the woman spoke with great sadness, she often expressed regret over the decisions she had made that had affected the course of her daughter's life. What if she hadn't moved? Would her daughter have gotten into a better school and lived more to her potential? Her greatest regret was never telling her daughter about a benign tumor she had removed in her youth. The woman was deeply disturbed by the idea that her daughter had inherited this propensity for cancer from her. She feared that by never discussing it with her daughter, her daughter wasn't on the lookout for signs of cancer and, as a result, was diagnosed too late. "I killed my own daughter," she lamented. "Oh, God." She voiced this tormented last statement off-and-on until her taxi arrived.

When Earl gives his speech about regret, the memory of this overheard conversation hit me like a punch in the gut. Though the details were different, the sentiment was exactly the same. The speech ceased to become just a film narration given by an actor and became something realer. I see from the IMDB that Jason Robards also died from cancer just a year after Magnolia was released. I'd imagine he knew he was sick during filming and I have a feeling Earl's authenticity came from that.

I don't believe that coincidence is anything other than seeing faces in clouds, but both certainly make life interesting sometimes.

05 April 2006

OLR: Short Cuts (1993)

A well-shot soap opera populated with actors trying and failing to portray real folks. (4/10)

d. Robert Altman

This is not a dream.

This is not a dream... not a dream. We are using your brain's electrical system as a receiver. We are unable to transmit through conscious neural interference. You are receiving this broadcast as a dream. We are transmitting from the year 1-9-9-9. You are receiving this broadcast in order to alter all of the events you are seeing. Our technology has not developed a transmitter strong enough to reach your conscious awareness. But this is not a dream. You are seeing what is actually occurring for the purpose of causality violation.

OLR: Caligula (1979)

Tedious and kind of pointless, despite the hardcore sex and awesome headclipper. (6/10)

d. Tinto Brass & Bob Guccione

04 April 2006

Marx (1930)

1930 - Animal Crackers - The second and final film based on one of the Bros.'s vaudeville acts is not as successful as the first. This film feels much more stage-y than The Cocoanuts. It mostly takes place in a couple of big sets, Groucho has lengthy asides with a live audience that isn't there and scenes tend to be constructed using long takes with unmoving cameras. This theatrical heritage does give us an interesting moment in which Chandler flubs a line at the end of a lengthy take and Groucho deftly recovers to turn it into a gag.

Harpo and Chico's musical numbers aren't quite as great as they were in the previous film. Groucho's cracks didn't tickle my funny bone quite as much. Some of the humor in this film was a bit dated; I felt I missed more of it than in The Cocoanuts. Zeppo, again, is fairly useless, though he does get more lines this time around and actually got me to crack a smile during the note-taking bit with Groucho. Still, Harpo getting people to hold his leg will never fail to get me to laugh out loud. (6/10)

d. Victor Heerman

02 April 2006

OLR: Walk the Line (2005)

Not much for biopics, but good subject and good tunes. (7/10)

d. James Mangold

Marx (1929)

1929 - The Cocoanuts - The only Marx Bros. film I'd seen before this was, I think, Duck Soup. That was over a decade ago but the memories of the heavy guffaws it caused lead me to this particular chronocinethon. Going into this film, I was curious to see if I could still laugh at the Bros. Was their humor, at 76-years-old, too dated to understand? Already films like Austin Powers, at the ripe age of 7, are losing their comedic kick. No worries. Once past the obligatory love song, the scene between Groucho and Mrs. Potter had tears rolling out of my eyes. You need to be nearly as quick-witted as Groucho just to keep up with the jokes in this scene. It's easy to see why Margaret Dumont is the "fifth Marx Brother," as her utterly lost straight man is perfect for Groucho's rapid-fire wisecracks. The rest of the film never quite reaches such a comedic peak, though the scene in which Harpo begins randomly tearing people's mail in half had me laughing nearly as hard.

The songs are pretty bland -- with the exception of the bizarrely titled "Monkey Doodle Doo" -- but I found them watchable just to study 1929’s approach to sexuality. On the other hand, the Bros.'s songs were excellent. In particular, Harpo's harp composition was incredible. Chico's piano tune wasn't bad, either. Both play their instruments with a breezy flair that's fun to watch. Zeppo, however, was entirely useless in the film. It's easy to see why he takes off for behind-the-scenes later on.

A special raspberry to Universal, the worst major studio out there when it comes to DVDs. Their box set of the Paramount Marx Bros. films lacks special features and, judging from the shoddy image quality, appears to be complete unrestored. Universal: send an intern over to WB and have him takes some notes, for Pete's sake. (8/10)

d. Robert Florey & Joseph Santley