Friday, April 6, 2012

MARCH MADNESS: QUARTERFINALS

Dr. Strangelove (1) vs. Duck Soup (3)


FIRST HALF: CHARACTERS

        “Dr. Strangelove” has one insane character – Gen. Ripper. He is upset that fluoridation is harming our “precious bodily fluids”. He sends a flight of B-52 bombers to bomb the Soviet Union. Gen. Turgidson is a Curtis Lemay type jingoist who wants to win a nuclear war. Dr. Strangelove is a Werner Von Braun type of ex-Nazi scientist who has trouble remembering that the President is not der Fuhrer. The rest of the characters are normal people thrust into abnormal situations.

      “Duck Soup” has three outlandish characters. Groucho plays the President Rufus T. Firefly as an insult hurling cad. Chico plays Chicolini as a punning imbecile. Harpo plays Pinky as a adult brat. In other words, the same characters they always play. The other characters are all stock. The real standout is Zeppo as Bob Roland. What an incredibly complex character. Just kidding.

First half score: Strangelove - 46 Duck Soup - 40

SECOND HALF: SATIRE

        “Dr. Strangelove” is considered to be one of the great satires of war and nuclear war in particular. It was so cutting that some conservatives accused it of being leftist in its condemnation of Mutually Assured Destruction. The debates in the War Room on how to handle a nuclear crisis are hilariously chilling because they anticipate the insanity of an actual crisis.

        Surprisingly, “Duck Soup” has a similar theme: how a crisis can escalate into full-blown war. Of course it takes a different path to get to the explosions. The overall satirical theme is exploited for silly wordplay, sight gags, and slapstick, but in all the frantic action the point is made in a bludgeoning sort of way. Where “Strangelove” is Aristophanesesque, “Duck Soup” would make Plautus proud.

Second half score: Strangelove - 50 Duck Soup - 38

ANALYSIS:

        You will laugh more at “Duck Soup”, but that does not make it a better comedy. The characters are stronger in “Strangelove” and the satire is sharper. They are very much of their time period. “Strangelove” could not have been made in the 1930s and “Duck Soup” would have flopped in the 1960s. Neither would do well today. Most moviegoers are not smart enough to get satire like “Strangelove” (note the performance of “In the Loop”) and people do not want messages with their silliness as in “Duck Soup”.

FINAL SCORE:


DR. STRANGELOVE - 96


DUCK SOUP - 78


MISTER ROBERTS (5) vs. GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM (7)

FIRST HALF: CHARACTERS

      “Mister Roberts” has four main characters. Roberts is the noble warrior wannabe who cares for the crew and battles with the captain on their behalf. The captain is an incompetent martinet. The Doc is wise. Ensign Pulver is comic relief as the wolf in sheep’s clothing. The rest of the crew are comfortable stereotypes. Although all the main characters have been seen before, they fit the plot perfectly.

      “Good Morning, Vietnam” has one amazing character – Cronauer. Of course, the character is actually Robin Williams playing himself, so a lot depends on if you like his schtick. Tuan is an interesting character as the Viet Cong friend. He puts a sympathetic face to the enemy. Hauk is crucial as the humor-impaired superior. Dickerman (the station manager) is a cliché of the villainous, stick in the mud officer (excuse me, non-com). The most unorthodox character is General Taylor who is not portrayed as incompetent or hide-bound. He is refreshingly open to Cronauer’s antics because it boosts morale.

First half score: Mr. Roberts - 42 Good Morning, Vietnam - 40

SECOND HALF: SATIRE

       “Mister Roberts” is not really a satire, it is more of a service comedy. There is some satire of the officer class, but it is subtle and obvious. No new ground is broken, but that was not the intention of the movie. The movie does not make you squirm and it has no message to convey. It is meant to entertain and does that admirably.

      “Good Morning, Vietnam” is not purely a satire, but it definitely has satirical elements. It has a martinet, old school superior (Dickerson) similar to the Captain in “Roberts”. We’ll call that a tie. GMV goes beyond MR by satirizing conservatives versus liberals and pro-war versus anti-war. Of course, the movie is clearly liberal and anti-war. When it’s not masquerading as a Williams’ stand-up act, it has some shots to take at the War, but I think most of its audience did not leave the theater thinking they had seen a satire.

Second half score: Mr. Roberts – 32 Good Morning, Vietnam - 35

ANALYSIS:

This was a tough call. The movies are so different and both do their job well. Their main characters are equally strong. It comes down to the fact that GMV is funnier than MR and has more to say about the military and war. It is not necessarily a better film, it is simply a better war comedy.

FINAL SCORE:


GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM - 75


MR. ROBERTS - 74



STRIPES (8) vs. MASH (6)

FIRST HALF: CHARACTERS

       “Stripes” revolves around two screw-ups who do not adjust well to the Army. Winger (Murray) is a glib troublemaker and Ziskey (Ramis) is his smug straight-man. They remind me of Hope and Crosby. The rest of the unit are your typical heterogeously humorous mixture – the hick, the psycho, the jolly fat guy, etc. Capt. Stillman is from the officers are incompetent buffoons school. No extra points there. Sgt. Hulka is your typical Hollywood drill sergeant, but the movie deserves credit for pulling a character from a serious war movie (e.g., “Full Metal Jacket”) and not making him comical.

       “MASH” has more well developed characters. Hawkeye, Trapper John, and Duke are similar in their anti-military attitudes to Winger. The supporting characters are better developed than in “Stripes”. Major Burns and “Hot Lips” are good foils for the trio. Father Mulcahy, Lt. Col. Blake, and Radar are not as strong as in the TV series, but make more of an impression than most of Winger’s comrades.

First half score: MASH - 46 Stripes – 40

SECOND HALF: SATIRE


       “Stripes” is not a satirical film. It is mainly aimed at 14 year old boys and that audience is not known for getting satire. “Stripes” is low-brow humor and it is undeniably entertaining, but it has no important message to convey. With that said, it does poke fun at boot camp and incompetent officers. It also features an armored, multi-weapon RV designed for urban warfare. It is doubtful that the screenwriters meant that to be criticism of the Army’s Research and Development, however.

       “MASH” is a satirical, dark comedy. It is clearly anti-military. All the “positive” characters are unhappy with rules and regulations. All the “negative” characters (Burns, Hot Lips) are military toadies. The movie treats the Army apologists brutally. The movie uses the setting of a military hospital to criticize the insanity of war. The darkness is a deep shade of red.

Second half score: MASH - 45 Stripes - 33

ANALYSIS:

      You can argue that “Stripes” is a funnier movie. Of course, that depends a lot on your tolerance for Bill Murray. However, this tournament is to determine the “best” war comedy, not necessarily the funniest. It is clear that “MASH” is a better movie. It is a more important movie and that deserves some consideration. The makers of “Stripes” would probably admit that they had no message to deliver and were not trying to make the greatest war comedy of all time.

FINAL SCORE:


MASH - 91


STRIPES - 73


TO BE OR NOT TO BE (2) vs. TROPIC THUNDER (13)

FIRST HALF: CHARACTERS


       “To Be Or Not To Be” has a variety of interesting characters. Josef Tura stands out as the hammy actor. His wife Maria is not exactly loyal to him, but she is bravely helping the Resistance. Sobinski is a bit boring as the Maria-infatuated pilot. Ehrhardt is the buffoonish Gestapo commander. Silitsky is appropriately slimy as the traitor.

       “Tropic Thunder” goes over the top with most of its characters. Speedman is the action star who is trying to revive his stalled career and is full of actor insecurities. Lazarus is the method actor who immerses himself in his role to the point of getting his skin tinted. Portnoy is the drug addicted funny man. The list goes on. Virtually every role is a parody.

First half score: To Be or Not to Be - 42 Tropic Thunder - 47

SECOND HALF: SATIRE

       “To Be or Not to Be” satirizes acting troupes and Nazis. That’s an odd combination, but it works well. Benny’s Tura pokes fun at many leading men and their enormous egos. His marriage to Maria is a satire of Hollywood marriages. The movie daringly makes fun of Nazis at a time when the Germans dominated Europe. It makes them malevolent, yet laughable.

       “Tropic Thunder” is a biting satire of actors also. It takes on several stereotypes as mentioned in the character section above. It paints with broad strokes, but there must have been some actors squirming when they watched it (I’m talking to you Schwarzenegger/Willis/Stallone and Crowe/Day-Lewis). The movie also brilliantly satirizes war movies, in particular Vietnam War movies like “Platoon” and “Apocalypse Now”.

Second half score: To Be or Not to Be - 44 Tropic Thunder - 48

ANALYSIS:

       This is a battle between old school satire and modern satire. “To Be or Not to Be” was actually controversial when it came out. That is hard to believe today. It appears pretty tame compared to recent satires. In comparison, “Tropic Thunder” is the most recent film in the tournament. My how far war satire has come! Your opinion on which of these movies is a better comedy will tell a lot about your sense of humor and your age. In my opinion, the characters in TT are hilariously outlandish and that is acceptable in a satire. In addition, TT is the best (only?) satire of war movies and the skewering of sacred Vietnam War movies is spot on.

FINAL SCORE:


TROPIC THUNDER - 96


TO BE OR NOT TO BE - 86

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