Tag Archives: dialogue

Tippecanoe and Movies, Too

Fed up with politicians’ monkeyshines? Can’t wait til the elections in November are finally over? Is that what’s botherin’ you, Punky?

Well, you’ve come to the right blog. Movies that point out the absurdities of elections, governments and political processes have become one of my favorite mini-genres. Blame it on Watergate: that was the big story around the time I was old enough to start paying any attention at all to any kind of news. Or maybe it was all those evenings watching “Laugh-In” with my politically-astute mom when I was a cine-tot. For whatever reason, to me real-life political topics almost inevitably swerve into the realm of farce.

So if you’re in the mood to just turn all those rascals out, here are a few appropriate flicks:

“In the Loop”: Be prepared to turn on the subtitles, and possibly stop and re-watch a few scenes, to get the hang of this one. Your efforts will be rewarded with hilarious dialogue, particularly the tapestries of high-speed, inspired Scottish profanity woven by Malcolm Tucker (played by Peter Capaldi).

“Idiocracy”: Imagine a world in which people believe that irrigating farms with Gatorade is a good idea, and the president’s name is Frito. Depending on your mood, this one will either console you by showing how much dumber the human race could be, or depress you by showing how much dumber the human race is likely to become.

“Dr. Strangelove”: OK, confession time: this post is really just an excuse for me to write about my favorite flick of all time*. “Strangelove” spells out all you need to do: just keep your bodily fluids pure, and never let the Russkies see the Big Board.

“C.S.A.”: What if the Confederates won the American Civil War? This one is horrifying and hilarious by turns. Whether this highly-detailed alternate history seems plausible to you or not, it’s at least thought-provoking.

“The Mouse on the Moon”:  You’re a tiny mythical country in need of a spot of cash for some new plumbing. What do you do? Hit up a couple of superpowers for the money by pitting them against each other, of course. Whimsical and dry as only the British seem to be able to do, with nods to Jules Verne and Georges Méliès in the look of the British rocket’s interior and the moon’s surface.

“Duck Soup”: Hail, hail, Freedonia! When disputes arise with your neighbor, do like Harpo Marx does: take off your shoes, roll up your pants, climb into that neighbor’s lemonade dispenser and make bicycling motions with your legs. (This is probably what really goes on behind closed doors at the U.N.)

“The Juche Idea”: If Christopher Guest made a film about North Korea, it might look like this. This mockumentary about a South Korean video artist in the land of Kim Jong Il includes the subtitle, “Your video ‘Dentures of Imperialism’ seems underdeveloped. It doesn’t quite make sense, and I’m not sure what the point is.” Well, that makes two of us, sunshine. If you have insight in to this one, readers, feel free to elucidate in a comment!

“Election”: This is what happens when you mess with destiny by trying to rig a high school’s election for class president. Reese Witherspoon‘s wide-eyed, straitlaced delivery of the phrase “It’s a travesty!” is just one of the delights of this cynical little flick.

“Four Lions”: Four dedicated but dimwitted Islamic fundamentalists decide to make a statement that London can’t ignore. What could go wrong? You’ll have a hard time getting this one out of your head. It’s an unsettling mix of the broadest British slapstick, and truly shocking bursts of menace and tragedy. Whatever humor remains by the end has turned an absurdist shade of utter pitch-black. (Watching with subtitles turned on is the only way to understand what’s going on in some of the scenes, especially those which layer Arabic insults on top of 21st-century UK slang.)

*Depending on the day, my favorite flick alternates between “Strangelove” and “Sunset Boulevard”.

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Father of the Wonk

Father of the WonkDads. They ask for so little for themselves, even on the day that’s dedicated to them. (Click here for gift ideas.)

My own dad is not quite the cinema buff that my mom was. So my fond memories of growing up with him include more things like a Saturday morning spent learning how to cross my eyes, and watching many drawings of horses – usually dressed in hats, collars and big wide neckties – emerge from his mechanical pencil. But here are a few movie-related experiences with my dad that helped shape the wonk I am today:

True Grit” (original and remake): As a teenager I came close to being nocturnal (thanks partly to my job at the local movie theatre). Coming home late one night, I found Dad still up and watching “True Grit”. “You gotta listen to this dialogue,” Dad said, and turned up the volume just in time for me to hear Glen Campbell say to Kim Darby, “A little earlier I gave some thought to stealin’ a kiss from you, although you are very young… and you’re unattractive to boot. But now I’m of a mind to give you five or six good licks with my belt.” That was all the reason I needed to stay up and keep watching with Dad. Growing up in Oklahoma, I had seen plenty of Westerns – both the TV and film varieties. And my mother’s interest in classic Hollywood movies had already introduced me to the idea that good dialogue was important to a film. But this kind of pleasingly quirky talk was not something I expected from horse operas. When Dad accompanied my husband and me to see the remake of “True Grit” in 2011, that scrumptious bit of verbage was one of the ones I was hoping that the Coen brothers would see fit to keep in, along with “A clumsier child you’ll never see than Horace; I bet he broke 40 cup” and “Son, your partner’s kilt you and I’ve done for him.”

“Cat Ballou”: This was the first movie I recall watching on the first VCR that my parents bought, around the time I started college. My sister and I had never heard of this film. But Dad had seen it when it first came out, and recalled a scene in which Lee Marvin, drunk, is mounted on his horse, also drunk, which has its front legs crossed and is leaning against a building while they both try to look nonchalant. So when I was home on Thanksgiving break, we gave it a look. It’s a hoot: Lee Marvin playing twin brothers, one of whom sports a prosthetic silver nose, Greek-chorus-style musical commentary by Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye, and … oh, go check this one out, or watch it again.

“Raising Arizona”: Another offbeat gem set in the American West. This was the last movie we went to see all together as a family before I left for college. Come to think of it, this was probably my first Coen brothers movie. We arrived at the showing a little late (very unusual for my punctual family), but took our seats, had a heck of a good time guffawing at lines like “Son, you got a panty on your head”, stayed just long enough into the next showing to see what we’d missed, then trooped out just as quietly as we had come.

“To Please a Lady”: Finding out that both my dad and I had seen this movie was a complete surprise. I plucked it off the DVD shelf at the public library, figuring that any movie with both Clark Gable and Barbara Stanwyck had to be just odd enough to warrant a look. The title made me think it would be geared for a female audience, but there’s a lot of auto racing in it. Clark Gable plays a midget car racer who performs in a “Thrill Show” owned by Joie Chitwood. I only recognized Chitwood’s name because it had come up not long before in conversation with my dad (a lifelong car enthusiast). An email to Dad revealed that he’d seen “To Please a Lady” when it first came out. Same movie, viewed 60 years apart, for different reasons.

… and a few flicks Dad wasn’t too crazy about: Most conscientious parents end up sitting through films they don’t much care for, just to please their kids. Mom and Dad both endured their share of Disney’s kid-focused extravaganzas. (Although my dad has expressed a fondness for “The Jungle Book”.) And during my especially awkward early-teen years, when I was old enough to be obsessed with sci-fi and fantasy, but too young to drive myself anywhere, who gave up irreplaceable weekend time to take me to the entire original “Star Wars” trilogy, “Flash Gordon”, and Ralph Bakshi’s version of “Lord of the Rings”? My dad.

If your pop is a cinema buff, treat him to an afternoon at the movies on Father’s Day. If he’d rather be doing something else, give your movie obsession a break and join him in that activity. Because whether you spell it “paterfamilias” or “far-ger”, you’ve only got one dad.

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