#369- Kiss of the Spider Woman

Quick recap: A man imprisoned for homosexuality is locked up with a political prisoner. The two develop a very deep bond despite horrible conditions. Think of it like the Odd Couple except not funny and someone dies. Cheers!

Fun(?) fact: Sônia Braga, who played several roles in the ‘film within a film’ part of the movie, spoke no English at the time. Instead, she memorized her lines phonetically.

Yes, Virginia, there really is a spider woman

My thoughts: It’s been difficult to decide on a direction for this movie because it is all over the place. It’s sweet at times, painfully sad, funny and also a mystery? But in the end, it just didn’t work for me. I’ll start by saying that I loved William Hurt and his performance is the reason I’m giving this film any points at all. The way he tells the ‘film within a film’ plot was magical and well worth sitting through the rest of this pile.

I think the many directions this movie takes is why I’m so hesitant to embrace it. If it had stayed a story about a gay man falling for his prisoner roommate who is very masculine, that would be fine. If it had just been about an unfair justice system and regime, that also would’ve worked. Hell, if it was just about William Hurt’s character Luis actually being an informant, that would also be compelling film. But all of these things plus two movies within this movie? There’s just too much to focus on. Luis himself is a mess so I get it to some degree. And I enjoyed not knowing what would happen next because of that. It felt more realistic to not predict what Luis would do after he got out of prison. At the end of the movie, however, I still hadn’t decided on how I felt about his character. Was he ever in love with Valentin or was it all an act so he could be released early? I guess if you look at the ‘film within a films’ it would seem as if he really did fall in love and saw himself as a sort of martyr. That would also explain the ending, which I won’t spoil for once.

I loved the way the scenes from the past were weaved in with the present, as well as the silent movie throughout the various scenes. It all made Kiss of the Spider Woman compelling to watch, even if the end wasn’t satisfying.

Final review: 2/5

Up next: Pierrot le Fou

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#368- Project A II

Quick recap: Having not seen the first Project A, I have no idea why Dragon (Jackie Chan) has so many enemies. I also have no idea how he was able to go from the Navy to Police Sergeant but that’s also a thing, apparently. Maybe it’s his ridiculously good martial arts skills?

 

It’s easier just to name who doesn’t want Dragon dead

Fun (?) fact: The peppers Dragon ate and then spit in his hands to rub in his attackers’ faces were real

My thoughts: I absolutely love discovering subgenres within a genre. My first realization of this came very early on in this list when I learned ‘foreign’ isn’t a genre, except to win an Oscar. And now I’ve expanded my horizons to learn that there are different kinds of Martial Arts films. Before this list I had only ever seen Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which is so vastly different than this movie that they shouldn’t be mentioned in the same realm.

Project A II was a lot more fun for me to watch than previous films of similar fighting plots. There is an underlying humor I didn’t always understand but still very much enjoyed, especially during the fighting scenes. It’s one thing to film people punching and kicking people but Jackie Chan adds all these elements that show he is enjoying himself but is also a master. My favorite scene was when Dragon went to confront the big mob boss that ran the district he was policing. He had a few friends with him and it was obvious how outnumbered they were. Yet that didn’t stop Dragon from trying to kick as much ass as possible and also have time to show off. The restaurant they fought in became a sort of playground for both sides as they used everything from couches to the bar to the walls to attack.

This movie is about as straightforward as it gets: good guy comes to town to defeat bad guys. Yet I found myself getting lost in the new characters and trying to figure out who was really the villain. At some point I gave up and just enjoyed the ride. I’m fairly sure events in the film take place in the early 1900s but some of the costumes look like something out of Miami Vice and the soundtrack is full of synthesizer. Jackie Chan knows what we are here for though and he delivers exactly that over and over. Just don’t think too hard and you will love this movie.

Final review: 4/5

Up next: Kiss of the Spider Woman

 

#367- Cairo Station

Quick recap: So, there’s this station, see? And it’s in Cairo. And there are a lot of crazy characters who work there, such as Qinawi the disabled newspaper seller, Hanuma, who illegally sells Pepsi (I think?) and her fiance Abu Siri who is a decent guy, mixed up in all the madness.

This was a gorgeous cast of people

Fun (?) fact: There isn’t much out there about this film, unfortunately. The best fact I could find is that Youssef Chahine is the director as well as the main character, Qinawi.

My thoughts: Proof that I know next to nothing about the world around me, I was shocked by how modern Egypt looked in Cairo Station. There was plenty of traditional clothing but there was also a very Western looked that I wasn’t expecting. It reminded me of the book Persepolis and how modern Iran was before the Islamic Revolution. Granted, this was only a tiny slice of life in the city but I would’ve loved exploring the underground scene and up-and-coming rock and roll acts.

What I wouldn’t have loved back then? A creepy guy like Qinawi hanging around. It’s genius how the director showed Qinawi’s creepiness throughout the entire movie, even in the first couple of scenes, and yet because he was disabled, I overlooked everything. The pinups that decorated his shack? He was lonely and wanted a woman. Spying on Hanuma as she dressed? It was only because he was worried about her. Buying a knife and repeatedly stabbing a woman? Ok, that’s when I started to have suspicions. But really, I found it so progressive to have the main villain as a mousy disabled guy that everyone pities. And that all the women in the film were creeped out by him but their husbands and boyfriends didn’t believe them. Time and time again, these women were told that they must’ve done something to deserve the lascivious stares and were ignored. It wasn’t until the very end of the film, as Qinawi had kidnapped Hanuma that everyone jumped into action.

Although the main plot was interesting and unique, the subplots were difficult to follow at times. There was one about a union forming and another about a young girl being ripped away from her lover. It was hard to figure out what I was supposed to focus on at times, which I guess is the point of filming in a busy train station. I did love the various ‘artsy’ close-up scenes and dramatic music but it all felt too much sometimes.

Final review: 3/5

Up next: Project A II

#366- Tabu: A Story of the South Pacific

Quick recap: Matahi and Reri are lovers who live in paradise. Everything is perfect, except for the fact that Reri has been chosen as a Forever Virgin as sacrifice to the gods. Oops.

Finally sinking in how messed up this whole thing is

Fun (?) fact: I assumed ‘Tabu’ to either be a lost island in the South Pacific, or some very complicated ritual a select group of natives followed. Turns out, it literally means ‘taboo’, as in, Reri becomes off-limits, or tabu, to other men. What a let down.

look at that………scenery!

 

My thoughts: Do you remember when you first discovered National Geographic magazine? You were probably in 5th grade or maybe middle school and the first time you opened one up you told yourself it was just for the articles since you wanted to be an archeologist, after all. But inevitably there was always, ALWAYS some photo shoot about an Amazonian tribe who had never heard of the concept of clothes and that, unfortunately, would be the exact second your teacher chose to walk by. That, my friends, is how this movie felt to watch. I tried my best to pay attention to the plot as best as I could but like that very first National Geographic photo spread many years ago, the tribe….aesthetic…..was hard to ignore.

Despite this movie being made in 1931, it’s not the worst when it comes to representing an indigenous tribe. Director FW Murnau filmed in the South Pacific and hired mostly locals. The beginning of Tabu is about as stereotypical as you can get with youths running around naked and just enjoying nature. But at the same time, it just didn’t feel exploitative . It surprised me how a silent film about a non-white group of people could come off as so humane. For example, there is a huge feast for Reri before she heads out to be a Forever Virgin (meaning no man can ever look or touch her again) and of course the girl is absolutely devastated. I loved how fed up the elder was that he had to deal with such drama, but it felt realistic. And so did Reri and Matahi’s relationship. They really seemed to care for each other, even though both were super naive when it came to being an adult.

As I went over the basic facts with my nine year old the next morning, as I sometimes do, I realized that this is actually a very tragic film. Almost 90 year old spoiler alert: Matahi and Reri run away to a different island only to be tracked down by the elder rather quickly. He threatens to kill Matahi if the girl doesn’t give in to her fate and she finally agrees because she loves him so much. Matahi refuses to give up however and follows her ship as far as he can until he finally succumbs to exhaustion and drowns. So basically the movies ends on a downer, except for the gods, who finally got their Forever Virgin.

Final review: 3/5. The nudity is pretty good too.

Up next: Cairo Station