#411- The Naked Spur

Quick recap: Howard Kemp hunts for a man who killed a deputy in Kansas. Along the way he makes an alliance with an old grizzled miner and a creepy guy who was dishonorably discharged from the Army.

Fun (?) fact: The Naked Spur supposedly takes place in 1868, yet the jacket James Stewart wears wasn’t available until 1935. I really hope someone got fired for that blunder!

Also starring Janet Leigh, pictured here with her love interest/father figure , Ben.

Thoughts and observations:

  • To start with a positive, I think I’ve finally learned to tell James Stewart and Gary Cooper apart. Progress!
  • How to tell this western apart from the others I’ve watched so far? That’s more of a struggle.
  • I thought the psychological elements were entertaining, the scenes where the bad guy Ben tries to separate 3 the three men by appealing to their vices. But I also feel like that’s been done so many times in so many ways by now and this movie wasn’t the first to start the trend.
  • This is also one of those movies where I severely disliked everyone for various reasons. James Stewart’s ‘righteous anger’ schtick gets old fast and by the end I was just hoping that he would take Ben’s body (oops. SPOILER) and leave Lina stranded. Anything but the formulaic ending where he falls in love and gets married.
  • The scenery for the film was gorgeous and the score added a nice touch to an otherwise ho-hum movie.

Watchability score: 3/5

Up next: The Producers

 

#410- Cyclo

Quick recap: A young man is robbed of his cyclo, a bike he uses to transport people around Ho Chi Minh City. Unable to pay his debt, he is forced to work for a criminal organization. His older sister is also brought into the gang to be a sex worker.

Fun (?) fact: Cyclo was both made in and banned in Vietnam.

Thoughts and observations:

I don’t know a lot about gangsters or criminal organizations but I do enjoy most movies about the subject and of course, The Sopranos. This gang in Vietnam is NONE of that. Maybe a few people at the very top have money but almost everyone else involved is just trying to survive, which really takes the fun out of everything. The loads of animal violence also made Cyclo just a downer of a film all around.

The concept of a young man working for the mob to pay off a debt isn’t a new one by any means but I was surprised by how much of the plot takes a back seat to the unrelenting poverty everywhere.None of the characters are given proper names, which I think is a really smart way of conveying that their story is just one of many in the city. It’s not that I didn’t care about the brother and sister and wanted them to escape the mob, but that we the audience knows this is just one story of many.  This is not the kind of film that makes you want to jet off to Vietnam. At the same time, though, I didn’t feel like the director was making a moral judgement about the people. He’s not saying this is a country that needs aid and it’s also not inspiration porn about people pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. It’s just reality and that’s hard to swallow for me. There are some really beautiful and strange scenes throughout Cyclo and the mixing of poetry added to the dreamlike state I felt I was in at times. It really is a gorgeous film that I think accurately described what was going on in Vietnam in the 90s. But it’s also incredibly dark and the animal violence was almost too much at times.

 

Watchability score: 3/5

Up next: the Naked Spur

#409- Solaris

Quick recap: A psychologist is sent into space to check on a few astronauts who have basically lost their minds.

The Brain Ocean was mesmerizing but honestly I get the same effect when I use a LUSH bath bomb.

Fun (?) fact: Two notable people who disliked this film: the director himself, Andrei Tarkovsky and the author of the book ‘Solaris’, Stanislaw Lem. Lem is known for using humor and satire in his novels and said he did not write the story about ‘erotic problems in space’.

I’m getting more of a 90s rave vibe than futuristic astronaut

Thoughts and observations:

Mixing Sci-Fi and Horror is a sure way to get me pumped about any movie. Since I don’t do any research prior to viewing, all I knew was the title was Solaris, which sounds menacing enough. I watched the first half hour glued to the screen, seeing everything as a clue for whatever lurks on the space station. I filed away every tiny detail, from the boy being scared of a horse to the 10 MINUTE driving scene, expecting a fully satisfying reveal. I think the scene where Kris Kelvin asks when liftoff would happen as the camera pans to a dark sky and the scientist replies that he’s already in space was the exact point I decided to lower my expectations.

As is explained in the beginning of the film (I think), Solaris is a planet that is also an ocean and the ocean is actually a brain. And everyone has just decided that this is a thing and it’s a little weird but fine. Meanwhile, astronauts keep getting sent up there only to report about crazy hallucinations they are having, instead of the Brain Ocean they are supposed to be studying. Kris Kelvin has been tasked to go into space and figure out why everyone keeps dying or going insane. Almost immediately after landing and walking around, he starts seeing ‘guests’, which are basically the Brain Ocean’s way of communicating? They look like real people but they aren’t. Instead, the Ocean invades people’s thoughts and dreams and creates a physical manifestation. One scientist I think had children, and the other was some Little Person. Kelvin, on the other hand, wins the jackpot and gets a manifestation of his wife, who died by suicide 10 years prior.

If you are still thinking that all of these elements surely lead into some kind of horror trope like I was, go ahead and be disappointed. Solaris is more philosophical than anything else. It explores what being a person is and how our minds store memories. For example, Kelvin says he loves his wife, Hari, but admits that he didn’t really love her when they were together. Does this manifestation bring about his true thoughts or is the manifestation only what he wanted his actual wife to be? Space is just about the only setting for this setup, yet there are many times I forgot that they were even on another planet. Most of the time it just felt like a typical haunted house, except the ghosts were mildly annoying people. Hari’s character was the most interesting to me, as she started out glued to Kelvin (because it was basically his thought after all) and eventually learned to be separate, although never an actual real person.

There is a ‘twist’ at the end that I liked and for once I won’t spoil it here. It wasn’t scary, but eerie instead and about as close to a payoff to all that ‘suspense’ I kept thinking I noticed.

Watchability score: 3/5. I’m wavering at a 4 because this movie has been on my mind a lot after watching it, but I don’t want to rewatch any time soon.

Up next: Cyclo

#408- Guys and Dolls

Quick recap: Oh boy. So basically, all the guys want Nathan Detroit to find a place to host his gambling night but all these girls -dolls, if you will- keep mucking things up.

Fun (?) fact: There are very few contractions used for the dialogue. This was to make the characters’ lack of education noticeable, even though they tried to cover it up.

Brando and SInatra did not get along well during filming. Knowing he hated cheesecake, Brando kept flubbing his lines purposefully during the diner so that Sinatra would have to keep eating.

Thoughts and observations: 

  • This is the first time I can say definitively that the movie version is so much better than the live version. Usually I prefer live because it’s so hard to replicate the energy. But when you have Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra in starring roles, how could anything else compare?
  • The dancing is absolutely stunning and the craps game in the sewer might be my favorite number of all time. Brando’s singing, however………at least he admitted it was awful.
  • The chemistry between Brando’s character, Sky Masterson, and Jean Simmons as Sarah Brown was also a high point for me. I wasn’t feeling it at first but the scene where Sarah sobers up at the fountain in Cuba was so sweet and believable. The wedding at the end was a bit of a left turn seeing as how they had just started dating but this was the fifties after all, so why not?
  • My least favorite part of the film were the Hot Box scenes with Adelaide. Were cats sexy back then? Was that really a thing? With lyrics such as ‘talk to me pretty/ ‘Here kitty kitty!/ and pet me poppa, poppa pet me nice’, I could barely look at the screen. The later number ‘Take Back Your Mink’ was a little better because it involved stripping, which is sexier than cats, I suppose.
  • I recognized a couple of the songs, mainly ‘Luck Be a Lady’ but most didn’t stick out to me. That being said, I felt like the music was really well integrated with the story. Yes, people burst into song but even when they moved, it was very graceful and purposeful so singing just made sense in this world. I especially enjoyed the gamblers at the mission and how they were able to keep their gruffness even as they sang.

Watchability score: 5/5. The more I think about it, the more I love it!

Up next: Solaris