Movie Review – Midnight Run

Midnight Run (1988)
Written by George Gallo
Directed by Martin Brest

The 1980s was a decade rife with mismatched buddy comedies. 48 Hours paired the perpetually crotchety Nick Nolte against Eddie Murphy. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles centers on the tension between two traveling workers and their conflicts while trying to get home. Twins goes all-in on the drastic difference in visual appearance and personality of its leads. Lethal Weapon was an ur-text for the genre, the archetypal mismatched pair. Midnight Run has always seemed to have an outsized & loyal cult fanbase from what I can tell, and I have always wondered what the big deal was. It looks like any other buddy comedy to me. I had never seen this movie from beginning to end, so this viewing was my chance to try and understand the hype. 

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Movie Review – Withnail and I

Withnail and I (1987)
Written & Directed by Bruce Robinson

The world is falling down around their heads. That’s the pervasive feeling of this semi-autobiographical film about a pair of friends in London circa 1969. They aren’t wrong; we know this due to the gift of hindsight. The end of the sixties marked a headlong dive into austerity, the setting of the table that is now coming to fruition in the United Kingdom today under Tory rule. England post-WWII had been building a robust welfare state, with institutions like the National Health Service becoming admired throughout the Western world. However, the forces of greed constantly scan the landscape and see every opportunity to rape & pillage, to ensure their survival and luxury at the expense of the working poor. Bruce Robinson understood that the hedonism of the sixties was in many ways a distraction from the coming bleakness, a practice the establishment took people’s eyes off the reforms that began post-War. And so Withnail and I is a mournful, often funny, elegy on a time of such promise that has rotted on the vine.

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Movie Review – A Fish Called Wanda

A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
Written by John Cleese & Charles Crichton
Directed by Charles Crichton

While I haven’t ever really been over the moon for Monty Python, I have been a fan of A Fish Called Wanda since I saw it for the first time decades ago. It’s an almost pitch-perfect modern screwball comedy, mixing the romantic comedy and noir elements you might expect. The film is also an excellent satire on the differences between British and American demeanors. The characters are painted quite broadly, but it’s from that aspect that the comedy emerges. Situations are contrived and full of double crosses & betrayals, which gives the film its darkness. This is a comedy where an assassin is actively trying to kill an old lady throughout the picture, and someone gets crushed by a steamroller as a punchline.

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Movie Review – Monty Python’s Life of Brian

Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)
Written by Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin
Directed by Terry Jones

Throughout my life, I have attempted to sit down with the work of the Monty Python troupe and develop an appreciation. Every time I walk away with a bad taste in my mouth. That’s not helped by the apparent ignorance of many of its living members, John Cleese chief among them. It has led me to believe there really is nothing revolutionary or ultimately insightful about the comedy they were doing. In fact, they were just their generation’s continuation of a type of elitist comedic sensibilities that’s always had strong roots in the United Kingdom. So I sat down to watch Life of Brian, hoping that this, a satire of the life of Jesus, would be the thing that convinced me to enjoy them. Unfortunately, it did not play out that way.

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Movie Review – Young Frankenstein

Young Frankenstein (1974)
Written by Gene Wilder & Mel Brooks
Directed by Mel Brooks

Comedy films aren’t really known for their cinematography. Typically they are notable for set pieces or dialogue, which does make sense. Comedy is an intricately constructed thing when done right. However, Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder didn’t just want to make another comedy. They specifically wanted to make a comedy and an authentic tribute to a film from their childhoods that they loved. The result is one of the best-looking comedies ever made with a mix of techniques found in the 1930s and what would have been more contemporary blocking from the 1970s. Young Frankenstein may be the best comedy ever because it nails the visuals and is still uproariously funny.

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Movie Review – The Out-of-Towners

The Out-of-Towners (1970)
Written by Neil Simon
Directed by Arthur Hiller

Sometimes you watch a film that makes you feel seen. While watching The Out-of-Towners, my wife and I turned to each other about 15 minutes into the picture and laughed with full recognition. The two people on screen were way too much like ourselves, making this one of the best comedy experiences we’ve had in a long time. It takes a lot of security in oneself to admit that you have some awful, neurotic traits, but I’ve come to a point in my life where I have to be able to laugh at my flaws and do my best to improve in the ways that I can. However, it is hilarious to watch these characters, completely absurd people, in the middle of a simple yet infuriating situation that is still relatable fifty-three years later.

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Movie Review – A Shot in the Dark

A Shot in the Dark (1964)
Written by Blake Edwards and William Peter Blatty
Directed by Blake Edwards

By 1964, British actor Peter Sellers was a well-known name in the United Kingdom and the rest of the world due to his appearance as Inspector Jacques Clouseau in 1963’s The Pink Panther. Previously, Sellers had built a career starting as a member of The Goon Squad on British radio and then as an actor, most prominently in Lolita for Stanley Kubrick. At the start of 1964, audiences were shown Sellers’ full range of abilities in Dr. Strangelove, and at the end of that same year, got A Shot in the Dark. Clouseau was a populist character, a mockery of the police that gave the audience laughs over his pompous buffoonery. That’s the core conceit of the character is that he is an idiot who carries himself with unearned confidence and, when he is proven inept time and time again, persists in his methods. He is the perfect parody of a police officer. Filmmaker Blake Edwards wanted to keep the Clouseau money machine going, so he, along with William Peter Blatty (yes, the author of The Exorcist), adapted a French play about a stupid detective investigating a murder and simply made it Clouseau.

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Movie Review – Kind Hearts and Coronets

Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)
Written by Robert Hamer and John Dighton
Directed by Robert Hamer

“Ealing comedies” was an informal name for the comedy films released by Ealing Studios in the United Kingdom from 1947 to 1957. They were often associated with the post-War spirit of Britain, cheery & upbeat movies about simple misunderstandings without cynicism. Of course, that type of movie sounds dreadfully dull, but woven into the catalog was some darker fare. These comedies fit right in with the rest of the company’s work. The best of these films was Kind Hearts and Coronets, based on the novel Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal and centered on the story of an affable & witty serial killer.

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Movie Review – Harvey (1950)

Harvey (1950)
Written by Mary Chase, Oscar Brodney, and Myles Connolly
Directed by Henry Koster

In American media, the dichotomy between smart and kind is often raised. I think it’s important to note what “smart” means in these instances. To be smart in the United States is not to be intelligent. Intellect is an entirely different concept. American smartness is on par with the idea of cunning, being able to outwit others and ensure you are on top of the heap. We can see this in how people with a talent for capitalist exploitation are heralded as brilliant people. They are smart because they find a way to play the game, screw over people not as bright as them, and end up higher on the ladder of power. A smart person in America simply does evil and manages not to get caught. So, when Elwood P. Dowd says, “In this world, you must be oh so smart, or oh so pleasant. Well, for years, I was smart. I recommend pleasant”; it means something more profound.

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Movie Review – Bringing Up Baby

Bringing Up Baby (1938)
Written by Dudley Nichols & Hagar Wilde
Directed by Howard Hawks

Where It Happened One Night was a massive box office & critical success for Columbia Pictures; Bringing Up Baby was initially a bomb for RKO Pictures. It was a film explicitly written with Katharine Hepburn in mind and ended up being the culmination of a string of failures in her career at the time. For five years after winning her first Academy Award, the actress struggled to find work that connected with audiences. However, Hepburn would salvage her career three years later with The Philadelphia Story. As for Bringing Up Baby, it would find a new audience in the 1950s and is now revered as one of the great comedies of Hollywood’s Golden Age. 

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