#298- Once Upon a Time in the West

Quick recap: A mysterious harmonica player seeks revenge for the death of his brother and also protects a widow who has lost the only family she has ever known.

Henry Fonda as Frank

Fun (?) fact: When Henry Fonda was chosen as the bad guy, he arrived in Italy with dark contacts and a mustache. Director Sergio Leone made him get rid of the costume because he wanted the audience to recognize his blue eyes and be shocked Fonda was a bad guy.

Some of the scenes in this movie were some of the most beautiful I’ve experienced so far

My thoughts: Once Upon a Time in the West is a Western, but it’s on a different level of Western than our American versions. Think of Shane like Caillou and Once Upon a Time in the West as Game of Thrones. That’s actually a perfect analogy because that’s about as much as I hated Shane.

Sergio Leone directed this movie as well as The Good, the bad and the Ugly, so I knew what I was getting into, but still, this movie seems much darker. In one of the first scenes, bad guy Frank shoots an entire family, including a young boy. I thought Frank might take the boy in or something or at least let him fend for himself until someone discovered the massacre, but nope. The following scene as the widow looks at each body of her family was incredibly hard to watch. I’m not sure what I imagine when I think of the Old West (mainly because I don’t think about it too often) but it’s something darker than Rio Bravo but not as dark as this.

It’s difficult to put into words what I loved about this film because everything just fit together so well. It’s a masterpiece. The music is perfect and as I’ve mentioned above, the scenery is beyond amazing. Sergio Leone captured the desolation of the West in a way no one else has. The only thing I didn’t love was the plot. It was too complicated for what I’m used to for a Western. At the end of the day, Frank was a bad guy but also just a henchman for the powerful and rich. It’s a great metaphor for today but I guess I was wanting something a little more simple. Still, it’s an essential film. At the very least, watch the first 15 minutes or so as the bad guys wait for the train. You just can’t get better filmmaking than that.

Final review: 4/5

Up next: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. You better believe there will be plenty of Simpsons GIFS for that review.

 

#297- A Night at the Opera

Quick recap: It’s nothing but hijinks with the Marx Brothers! This time they get in on a money making scheme involving the opera.

Someone should’ve clued them in

Fun (?) fact: Producer Irving Thalberg made the mistake of leaving the Marx brothers in his office for several hours while he went to various meetings. When he returned, he found Harpo, Chico and Groucho completely naked and roasting potatoes in his office. Defeated, he sat down, ate one of the potatoes and never did that again.

Groucho, Chico, Harpo

My thoughts: The other day, my 7 year old told me in no uncertain terms that he hated black and white movies. My husband had shown him The Day the Earth Stood Still several months ago and according to him, it was super boring. Like any good parent in this situation, I went about trying to prove my child wrong- if it was the last thing I did.

My initial plan was to start playing A Night at the Opera and as soon as my kid became restless or started terrorizing the cats, I would turn it off. Then I would note how long he had made it and that would be the deciding factor in how I reviewed this movie. I didn’t account for the fact that he would absolutely fall in love with the film. He seemed bored at first ( Groucho was his least favorite) but anytime Harpo appeared, everything was good. Some of my kid’s favorite scenes:

Groucho ordering all that food for the stowaways

Everyone piling into the cabin

Harpo actually playing the harp

Harpo playing the trombone with a violin bow

And on and on and on. My son ate it up! It didn’t matter that there was barely a plot or that there were a few slow numbers we could’ve done without, the comedy more than made up for it. Had I watched the movie alone, the curmudgeon in me probably would’ve given it just a couple of points. Seeing this through fresh eyes made me appreciate it so much more. I think what astounds me most is how there are so many tv shows and movies marketed to kids nowadays but sometimes it’s the simple stuff they love the most. And Harpo.

Final review: 5/5

Up next: Once Upon a Time in the West

 

 

 

#296- Blazing Saddles

Quick recap: A politician is out to destroy a western town so that he can take over their land. He sends them the scariest thing he can think of- a  black guy.

Biden always knew how to cheer Obama up

Fun (?) fact: At the end of the movie, when the crowd pours out of the studio lot, a random guy in a sweater can be seen just standing there. He wasn’t supposed to be in the movie but director Mel Brooks couldn’t get him to leave. He finally gave up, gave the  man waivers to sign and let him stay.

and there’s Trump and Bannon. god, this movie is more topical than I realized

My thoughts: You know what kinds of movies I hate reviewing? Classics. And do you know what is even worse than a classic movie? A comedy classic, which Blazing Saddles definitely is. Add to that the untimely death of Gene Wilder and you’ve got the perfect combination of a film I wouldn’t touch with a 10 foot pole.

So, since I went ahead and lowered expectations for this review accordingly, I can freely say that I didn’t think Blazing Saddles was all that funny. I’m not really sure why. I sound so old saying this but I just don’t think vulgarity for the sake of vulgarity is all that funny. There’s that one scene when Hedley gets so excited he starts humping a statue and I’m sure people fell out of their seats when they saw that, but it just didn’t do anything for me. Trying not to sound to much like a school marm, I will say that the dialogue was snappy and there were some silly moments that made me smile. Not laugh,mind you, but smile. Also, Gene Wilder was wonderful.

I think some of my hesitation from this movie comes from all the racist stuff. I know it’s supposed to be satire but that’s kind of become a big deal again lately and seeing a bunch of white people hating a black guy just wasn’t the humor I wanted. It hit too close to home. It’s not like I can look at those scenes and laugh and think, ‘oh those silly people back then in the west. They were so backwards!’ because that’s literally what’s going on in this country right now. Not everyone, of course, but enough that watching Blazing Saddles just made me uncomfortable. That’s certainly not Mel Brook’s fault and if anything, I applaud him for thinking that we’d be able to watch this movie in 2017 and look at how silly everyone was.

Final review: 3/5. Sorry

Up next: A Night at the Opera

#295- Gandhi

Quick recap: It’s about the life of Gandhi.

Look. I'm going to do my best to not make a bunch of Clone High references but with a movie like this, sometimes it's what you have to do.

Look. I’m going to do my best to not make a bunch of Clone High references but with a movie like this, sometimes it’s what you have to do.

Fun (?) fact: I suppose I should be embarrassed for not knowing this beforehand, but Pakistan only became a country in the 1900s. I’ve always thought the whole India/Pakistan thing had been around for thousands of years.

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My thoughts: This won’t come as a surprise to many, but the independence of India was not a topic taught in depth in public school. I’m sure we learned about Gandhi at some point, but only as a footnote of important leaders. It’s a shame because I could’ve really used some context while watching this movie. I really enjoyed it, of course. It’s masterfully done. But there’s this nagging suspicion I have that the movie doesn’t tell the whole story and I should be careful in using it to understand such an important figure in the 20th century.

First of all, as stated above, Gandhi the film is perfectly done and if it were a fictional story, would receive my highest rating. Ben Kingsley is amazing and when researching photos of the real Gandhi, I was surprised by how much the two favor each other. The cinematography is also gorgeous. There were so many beautiful shots, from the scenes of the train crossing the country to the camera panning through the crowds watching Gandhi speak, it was all so beautiful. I especially loved that director Richard Attenborough attempted to shoot many scenes in the same places they occurred. India is a beautiful country and Gandhi really captures that.

As for the movie’s main subject, I just don’t know what to think. According to the film, Gandhi was practically a saint and (almost) singlehandedly brought about revolution and independence. It’s a neat story, but the truth is considerably more complicated. I’m inspired to learn more now to get a sense of what really happened and I love when movies do that to me. It’s one of the reasons I’m doing this list, actually. At the same time, I don’t want to get bogged down in too many of Gandhi’s faults. Leaders are flawed because humans are flawed. But even though we know this fundamental fact, people are still desperate for a true hero. Remember Ken Bone, the guy in the sweater who asked Trump a question during the debate? We LOVED that guy for about 15 minutes, until someone found his history. Then we became uncomfortable with the hero we created and we moved on to someone else. There needs to be a balance between hero worship and jaded apathy towards those thrust into the spotlight. Despite the less than glamorous details, Gandhi is seen as a promotor of non violent resistance, which I think has its place in such a turbulent time such as this. Let’s learn the lessons we need to learn, but not stop too long to worship.

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Final review: 5/5

Up next: Reservoir Dogs