#326- Badlands

Quick recap: There’s nothing quite like young love: Going on a cross country adventure together,  being wrapped up in the very essence of the other person, going on a shooting spree after violently murdering your girlfriend’s father. So sweet.

That Martin Sheen was quite a looker back then

Fun (?) fact: Martin Sheen’s sons, Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez, have uncredited roles as boys playing under a lamplight.

EVERY.SINGLE. TIME Emilio Estevez’s name is mentioned, this clip comes to mind

My thoughts: Usually, I try to crank out a review about a day after watching the movie. I like it to be fresh on my mind as I add my All Important Opinion to this tiny space on the internet. This time, however, life got in the way, so it’s been about three days since I watched Badlands. Had I stuck to my schedule, I would’ve given this movie a negative review with plenty of sarcastic comments thrown in for good measure. As it is now, more time means more opportunities to think about what I watched and I’ve  come to an understanding that  Badlands really is an exceptional film.

As the credits rolled the other night, I would describe my mood as ‘unimpressed’. I really enjoyed Sissy Spacek’s performance, especially considering she was in her 20s perfectly playing a teenager. Her diary voiceovers were so unnerving because she sounds every bit like a normal girl having her first romance, but here she is, on the lam with the guy who murdered her father as well as several other people along the way. She mostly gives off an air of boredom, as if small town life in South Dakota was the worst so why not join a killing spree? My nonchalance was mostly due to the inevitability of the ending, I think. Of course Kit and Holly couldn’t run forever and seeing as how I disliked the two of them as a couple, I was relieved when it all went down and both were captured. My mistake in dismissing this movie was the focus on the characters and their relationship instead of literally everything else in the film.

Seeing as this is a Terrence Malick film, it should go without saying that Badlands is gorgeous. Despite the horrible and sometimes needless killing, everything about the drive Kit and Holly made was beautiful. I’ve always had a fantasy of driving West but this film has me thinking that North might be the best direction to go. As for the theme, it really resonated with me how the entire country lived in fear of Kit and Holly until they were caught, and then he became a celebrity of sorts. He got his comeuppance in the end with a trip to the electric chair but Malick really captured America’s obsession with true crime and how we are constantly in a state of fear and adoration over the same people.

Final review: 4/5

Up next: Drugstore Cowboy

 

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#325- The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Quick recap: An aging senator recounts his younger days in the town of Shinbone and the tale of the man who shot Liberty Valance.

Is THIS the man who shot Liberty Valance??
No. That’s actually Liberty Valance

Fun (?) fact: There’s no set reason why director John Ford chose to film in black in white but the prevailing idea is that both John Wayne and James Stewart were playing characters 30 years younger than their actual ages and it would’ve really shown in color.

You’d think this would be the man who shot Liberty Valance because here he is shooting a gun but once again, WRONG

My thoughts: I’m afraid I’m starting to get a little burned out on James Stewart. He always seems to play the good guy, even when he’s accidentally an asshole. This film is perfect proof of that. Spoiler Alert: Stewart, who played Ransom Stoddard was not actually the man who shot Liberty Valance. To his credit, he didn’t know about it initially and the man who ACTUALLY did the killing gave him his blessing to go on being the legend, but still. Tom, played by John Wayne, was the real man who shot Liberty Valance and this story is about him.

As far as I can tell, having watched a total of two John Wayne films to date, Tom is your basic character. This movie is even the first time Wayne refers to someone as ‘pilgrim’ so that was a fun surprise. And it made sense, because Ransom made a pilgrimage to Shinbone after his run-in with Valance, albeit against his will in the beginning. Tom is a tough guy with a heart of gold and all he really wants is to settle down with his girl Hallie, who SPOILER ALERT, is not his girl at all. Much to everyone’s surprise, apparently, she is a strong independent woman who would like to choose her own destiny. Destiny that leads to Ransom. So, really, this is a classic case of jealousy but the weird kind of jealousy that involves shooting and allowing someone to continue on to Washington to become a decorated senator while you die drunk and alone.

Unlike the moral ambiguity of the paragraph before, Lee Marvin as Liberty Valance is a straight up evil guy. Absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Like, he truly terrified me and that’s saying something. His comic opposite was the Marshall Link, who had some funny spots but when you stop and think about all the people he allowed to die because of being a coward, is much less funny.

Although Westerns typically all follow the same format of good guy/bad guy fight, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance manages to weave in a bunch of moral questions. Lee Marvin is absolutely bad but are Tom and Ransom absolutely good? Does it matter? And what does that do to one’s legacy? In a way, this is the western for people who aren’t too sure about westerns. Give it a chance.

 

Final review: 5/5

Up next: Badlands

 

#324- The Big Chill

Quick recap: A group of former college friends reunite at a funeral for Alex, a friend who committed suicide .

starring Jeff Goldblum!

Fun (?) fact: Kevin Costner was cast as dead guy Alex and he originally filmed some flashback scenes. Most of it was cut however by the time the movie was released. All that’s left is a few seconds of Alex’s corpse being dressed for the funeral.

such a performance

My thoughts: Remembering my experience with Diner, I was reticent to watch The Big Chill. I knew it had something to do with the 60s and I wasn’t in the mood for a bunch of flashbacks and nostalgia porn. I mean, I get it. I love the 90s and I would totally be down for a movie with references I personally know. But someone else’s nostalgia just isn’t the same. Luckily this movie does a great job staying in the present but dropping little reminders, like the music, to set the tone.

My initial lack of enthusiasm for The Big Chill stemmed from the large ensemble cast. A large group of characters who shared a long history meant that I would have to sit through each backstory and ‘connect’ with each person. Thankfully, that’s not what happened. There’s never an explanation how everyone met each other but there are a few clues about the various relationships. One thing I disliked was how the women were welcomed into the group but their relationship to the men was mostly a previous or current romantic one. The men were successful- a businessman about to go big, a journalist, a movie star and a radio psychologist. But the women mostly just talked about various relationships and kids and subpar husbands. Seeing as how I never really had a huge group of friends I hung out with in college, maybe that’s just how it goes. And maybe there wasn’t enough time to flesh out all the characters. Either way it just felt like the women got the short end of the stick in this group of friends.

Despite the premise of friends reuniting at a funeral, The Big Chill isn’t as sentimental as it could’ve been and I appreciate that. There’s the usual mix of montages and heartfelt discussions you find in these kinds of movies but it never goes full on schmaltzy. Alex’s suicide weaves in and out of conversations and it all felt so genuine, as if these were a real group of friends. In the end, as everyone began to depart it was nice to think of them all staying in touch after such an emotional meeting but there’s a hint that things might’ve just gone back to the way they were, much like real life. I prefer that ending over a definite answer that everyone’s life had changed.

Final review: 4/5

Up next: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

 

#323- Sunset Boulevard

Quick recap: Joe Gillis is hired by an aging film star to help her get back into show business. As with most things in life, it goes horribly wrong.

me, moving closer to Thanksgiving break

Fun (?) fact: This will probably seem more ‘basic fact than ‘fun fact’, but Gloria Swanson, who played Norma Desmond was an actual silent film star back in the day and her servant Max was an actual director back then. All those pictures Norma has in her mansion are real life photos of Swanson back then.

My thoughts: How in the WORLD did Gloria Swanson not win a Best Actress award for her role in this film? People love to hate on the Academy, and although I’m mostly ambivalent about what a group of people seems worthy, this is a true outrage. There was a lot to love about this movie and believe me, there will be gushing later on, but it is Swanson who makes Sunset Boulevard into the classic that it is. Everything about Norma Desmond is so wonderfully over the top that it makes every scene pure gold. I was lucky enough to watch this movie on the big screen and every time Swanson appeared, a group of guys behind me cheered. When she said something sassy, I could hear them gasp audibly and say out loud,’ oh NO!’. Anyone who can invoke such a response 67 years deserves all the awards and praise.

I LOVED this movie. Oh my god, did I love this movie. I loved it in the way that after it was over, I was sad for awhile because I can’t imagine how I was able to function in life up to this point having not seen Sunset Boulevard before.  It was just that good. The story, the characters, the shocking twists and turns, all of it. And not only that, but it really brought to life how traumatizing it was for films to switch to sound. We see it ( or maybe mostly I see it) as a merciful thing to move to talking, but it really was an art form in its own right. It reminds me of the silent actor Raymond Griffith  in All Quiet on the Western Front. He had lost his voice due to illness as a child and sound coming to film meant the end of his career, even though he was a considerably popular star. Several silent film era stars were asked to star as Norma Desmond but a few had mental issues and others had turned into recluses. For all the glamour we see, Hollywood can be a really sad scene.

Final review: 5/5. Go see it if you haven’t yet.

Up next: the Big Chill