#330- Amarcord

Quick recap: stories of various residents in an Italian city in the 1930s

same, most days

Fun (?) fact: Amarcord is a phonetic translation from the Italian phrase ‘A m’arcord’, which means ‘I remember’.

The scene I’m mostly likely going to remember

My thoughts: Seeing as this is my 3rd Fellini film, Amarcord is a make or break film in regards to how I see him as a director. I was confused but amused by both Juliet of the Spirits and 8 1/2 which is as good a review I’m willing to give Italian cinema. I enjoyed Amarcord the most of the 3 and was proud that this time there was no confusion, except for reading trivia afterwards and learning that there are several scathing rebukes of fascism. Oops.

Without sounding too dramatic, I was completely in love with the movie from the very beginning. I always try to go into a film without knowing much so that I can make an unbiased judgement so I fully thought ‘Amarcord’ was some woman. The first part of the movie starts with a bonfire to celebrate the start of spring and then there’s a scene at a religious school. I patiently waited for ‘Amarcord’ to show up and I grew more excited to see how all the characters would all connect. And then I eventually realized that this was more a vignette style of story rather than one centered on a handful of characters. Somehow this realization made the movie infinitely more interesting and I wish that I could go back and watch the beginning again so I can soak up everyone.

Growing up in a small town, I could connect to this Italian town somewhat. My tiny Texas town was decidedly less depraved than this one but there were ‘characters’ that stood out and tall tales that have been passed down for generations. And even though it’s become somewhat of a trope, I loved how Fellini used seasons to indicate the passage of time. Small towns live on traditions and this one is no different. Also, I totally wish mine had an endurance car race like the Mille Miglia or a boat expedition to see the new luxury cruise. We mainly just had parades and football games, although those came with their own set of problems for the locals to discuss again and again.

Even though there is a sad scene, the movie ends with a wedding, as the seasons drift right back toward spring. The whole experience was lovely and makes me wonder if I have been too harsh on Italian cinema recently.

Final review: 5/5

Up next: The King of Comedy

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#329- Three Kings

Quick recap: Set during the Persian Gulf War, a group of military men head out on a rogue mission to find gold

It’s Maeby from Arrested Development!

Fun (?) fact: I’m just going to quote this straight from the IMDb trivia page:

During the editing stages, David O. Russell attended a fund raiser for George W. Bush at a Warner Brothers executive’s house. Russell walked up to Bush and said, “Hi, I’m editing a film that will question your father’s legacy in Iraq.” Bush shot back, “Well I guess I’m going to have to go back there and finish the job.”

Yeah.

The man sure can dodge a shoe though

My thoughts: War is hell, you guys. Yadda yadda yadda. If you watch Three Kings like I did, though, you’ll become jaded towards all things war. I’ve never considered myself a pacifist but this movie had me questioning all sorts of things- like, what really is the point of war? Is it ever really necessary? And who can we trust to keep things in line? Let me tell you something, an existential crisis was not what I had planned for the holiday break.

Despite the snazzy script and slick cinematography, Three Kings is fairly scathing look the Gulf War. Casting the likes of George Clooney, Ice Cube and Mark Wahlberg makes it seem like this is a buddy heist romp, but it’s actually a complicated story. The beginning of the film, which is set at the end of the war, plays out like I imagined it really did- a bunch of confused but happy 18 year olds quick to pat themselves on the back for a job well done even though they didn’t do much. I was put off by the careless attitudes of the three kings (even though it’s really 4 guys) as they started out on their journey, although I knew that was the point- to show that no one really understood what was going on. By the end of the film, everyone learns a valuable lesson about war being hell and so on but it was frustrating how many lives were lost before that point hit home.

I think my main issue with the movie was George Clooney’s character Archie Gates. He has a Bugs Bunny quality about him- always one step ahead and a scheme to get out of trouble. I think I was supposed to cheer for him and the men but I just couldn’t. I know they did the right thing in the end but there was so much that was wrong to get to that point. It just showed how flawed the system is. And I think what taints this movie more is that 4 years after Three Kings was released, we were back in Iraq dealing with the mess we left. War isn’t just hell. It’s bullshit.

Final review: 2/5. Kept my attention but disagreed with almost everything else.

Up next: Amarcord

#328- Umberto D

Quick recap: A sad old man makes sad choices about his dog.

This movie is sad.

Fun (?) fact: Most of the actors in the film weren’t professional. The main character, Umberto, was played by a professor of Linguistics and the maid was played by a woman who had shown up to the audition to support her friend.

PSA: Don’t watch this movie if you have a heart

My thoughts: I’m starting to catch on to the idea that if an old Italian movie is on my list, it’s going to be sad. Even movies like 8 1/2, which are supposed to have comedic elements end up leaving me in a state of depression I can’t shake. And don’t even get me started on Rome, Open City. Good lord, that movie should come with a warning.  So, when you look at films like Umberto D from this perspective, it’s downright pleasant considering what it could’ve been.

The movie starts with a protest by old men whose pensions aren’t enough to sustain them. One of those men is of course, Umberto. His story is especially sad because his only companion is a dog who loves and trusts him unconditionally. There’s a bigger story here about how the elderly are treated and the lengths some of them go to in order to survive, but, let’s be real, all I cared about was the dog. At one point, Umberto is going to be evicted from his apartment and knowing that he can’t support his companion, looks to find a caretaker. The only one in his price range refuses to take the animals out for walks and keeps them in deplorable conditions. The poor dog shivers at the sight of the bigger dogs and it broke my heart to see Umberto have to make such a hard decision. In the end, he decided to look for another solution. I was relieved but that scene showed me that there were no easy answers.

Some other solutions  Umberto tries: checking himself into a hospital until his pension check arrives and he can pay his rent, giving his dog away to a little girl who played with him and the most heartbreaking- trying to take his and the dog’s life on the railroad tracks. Luckily, the dog freaked out and ran away at the last second because I wouldn’t have been able to endure the other result. The movie ends with Umberto and the dog walking through the park. Nothing is resolved- neither of them have a shelter or food, but they are both still alive and they are both together, which is I guess the moral of the story? Honestly, I’d just rather not think about this movie anymore if I don’t have to.

Final review: 4/5 But good luck being able to sit through this without calling your doctor and being prescribed an anti-depressant.

Up next: The Right Stuff

#327- Drugstore Cowboy

Quick recap: Bob (played by Matt Dillon) and his crew spend their days getting high and robbing pharmacies. It’s all fun and games until dogs are mentioned a someone puts a hat on a bed.

subtlety is overrated

Fun (?) fact: I couldn’t find much trivia for Drugstore Cowboy, unless you are into which celebrities love this movie. I did learn, however, that a hat on a bed as a sign of bad luck is totally a thing and has been for awhile.

also starring Baby Heather Graham!

My thoughts: Movies about drugs educate me in a way the DARE program did not. I always expected saying no was going to be a bigger deal than it actually ended up being. That’s two years of my life spent on learning how drugs are bad when someone could’ve just shown me the toilet scene in Trainspotting or the arm in Requiem for a Dream and would’ve been scared straight. And if I’m being completely honest, that Muppet All-Stars special was pretty damn terrifying.

I’d never want to disappoint ALF

Until Drugstore Cowboy, I never realized how much work was involved to stay high. That was literally all Bob and his crew did: rob pharmacies and get high. And sometimes they got high in order to rob more pharmacies. At one point in the film, detectives get wise as to their illegal operations and so the crew sets out on a cross country trip in order to-you guessed it- get high and rob more pharmacies. But they couldn’t just stash their….stash, so they bagged it up and sent it ahead of them so that there would always be plenty of drugs when they needed them. Director Gus Van Sant never makes a morality call about the crew’s life choices and instead leaves the audience to draw their own conclusion. Once Bob decides to get clean and get a real job, it’s not clear whether his life has improved. The same can be said for his former crew. I appreciated this perspective because I could focus on the characters rather than whether or not doing drugs was a good idea or not.

That being said, for no reason in particular, I just didn’t really like Drugstore Cowboy. The music was good, acting was good, the storyline moved at a reasonable pace, but I never really got into it and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. At times it felt like van Sant was trying too hard to get into the indie market with his film, but that’s also just who he is as a director. I wish I had better reasoning as to why this film rubbed me the wrong way, but sometimes that just happens.

Final review: 2/5

Up next: Umberto G