#307- Spartacus

Quick recap: Born a slave in Roman times, Spartacus leads a rebellion to free all people.

Look, no one’s denying that it’s torture. But jumping over blades is a great workout, I bet.

Fun (?) fact: Screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, feeling saucy, originally wrote a scene in which Crassus seduces Antoninus by asking if he preferred ‘snails to oysters’. Seeing as that is blatantly sexual, the whole thing was cut until the restoration in 1991. Although the film had survived, the audio hadn’t. Tony Curtis, who played Antoninus was up for dubbing the lines but Laurence Olivier, who played Crassus was not, seeing as how he was dead. His widow remembered that Anthony Hopkins did a spot on impression of him, though, so he filled in the few lines.

Just a dude oiling another dude and talking shellfish. No biggie.

My thoughts: My movie opinions are absolutely swayed by how I choose to view them. A movie watched on a cell phone late at night is not the same as sitting in a dark theater. There have been plenty of films on this list that I would’ve given a much higher rating to had I watched them with an audience or at least somewhere on a big screen. Spartacus is proof of this. I had the privilege of seeing at the Music Box Theater in Chicago, a wonderfully old place. Before the movie started, we were treated to a man playing the organ, which set the mood for the epic we were about to watch. From the second the names flashed on the screen, people clapped and cheered and I knew I was in the perfect place. I wish all movie experiences could be like this one was.

At over a 3 hour run time, Spartacus is a true epic. It’s directed by Stanley Kubrick which I never would’ve guessed, although his attention to detail is very obvious here. I was entertained every second, which is a very difficult feat to pull off in these long films. I can’t think of any scene that felt out of place or filler material. The acting was phenomenal, of course, especially Kirk Douglas (Spartacus) who was able to make me forget about his chin for a few moments.

The more I stare at it, the weirder it looks

I didn’t know much about the movie going in, except for the famous ‘I am Spartacus’ scene ( which was kind of cheesy,tbh), so I had no idea how it would end. After the big battle, I kept expecting a miracle to happen, maybe with Varinia saving the day or something. I loved how dark it got in that final scene, Varinia holding up their son to a dying Spartacus on the cross. As much as I would’ve loved for them to live happier ever after, it was so much more powerful this way. And, honestly, it makes the film Braveheart look like garbage. The plot is basically the same with both heroes sacrificing themselves at the end, but I really sympathized more with Spartacus, who felt a need to free his people, compared to William Wallace who only fought once his love was killed.

Spartacus is meant to be seen like I watched it a few nights ago. I can imagine Stanley Kubrick spitting in disgust at the thought of how we mostly watch movies now. It should be an experience. Something to value.

Final review: 5/5

Up next: Pickup on South Street

#303- Faces

Quick recap: A man leaves his wife for another woman. She, in turn, picks up a younger man at a bar while out with friends. Everyone stays miserable.

There’s also a lot of uncomfortable laugh scenes.

Fun (?) fact: Considered one of Steve Buscemi’s favorite movies, an actor I love. But Faces also inspired Robert Altman, who I definitely don’t like, so I feel like these facts cancel each other out. Carry on.

What a fun party! I hope there’s some cringeworthy dancing about to go on.

My thoughts: Many times I watch a trailer and the first thing that comes to my mind is, ‘ What kind of person would watch this?’. So, as a public service I’m going to list the sort of audiences that will appreciate Faces. Feel free to watch if you:

  • liked Mad Men, but felt that it was a little too soft on women
  • love watching drunk people talking about random things and yelling loudly
  • hate the Middle Class and wishes there were more movies about how miserable everyone is
  • you love the ‘dissolved marriages’ genre ( See also: La Notte and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?)
  • you just really love random laughter, that sometimes borders on psychotic

The style of Faces was its strongest point for me. At first, it seemed like a documentary but now I think it’s more similar to a home movie. There were some really confusing scenes because there is no music, no voiceover, and no real transition from moment to moment. But it also made the film seem more real, like I was really watching these two people become more and more miserable. I also liked that this was a ‘slice of life’ film, meaning that there is no background given on either character. I’d like to say that the main character Richard Forst is a Grade A asshole, but maybe his wife Maria has her own issues. There are a few hints, however, that just show Forst is Don Draper but without charm.

The characters were all believable and many of the actors were just random  people invited to the set. All this being said, I never connected with anyone. I found myself watching two miserable people without feeling anything about either of them. When reading up on Faces, several commenters said that this movie has many layers, and maybe that’s true. But watching two sad people was enough for one viewing and I don’t feel like digging any deeper.

Final review: 2/5

Up next: Fantasia

#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.

 

#292- The Graduate

Quick recap: A recent graduate, played by Dustin Hoffman, gets caught between a sweet girl and her mother who he happens to be sleeping with.

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Fun (?) fact: Mrs. Robinson and Benjamin are actually only 6 years apart in real life.

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My thoughts:I know most people love Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate and his fumbling and bumbling is supposed to come off as romantic and adorable, but I was completely turned off anytime he opened his mouth. I don’t know what it is about his voice in this film but it grated on my very last nerve. He just sounded so dopey most of the time, like one of those idiot cartoon villains who, for whatever reason, the mastermind keeps around. I just don’t get the appeal.

 I think this is one of those movies I would’ve enjoyed much more had I first watched it when I was 20 or even 25. As I wasn’t around in 1967, I don’t know what audiences thought about Benjamin and Elaine’s relationship, but I can’t imagine girls wanting something like that. I mean, the guy was having an affair with her mom, then on the first date took her to a strip club which made her so uncomfortable she cried, and then stalked her relentlessly. True love? No. That’s creepy. The affair he had with Mrs. Robinson also creeped me out, so basically this movie is about how to be a predator.

The saving grace for The Graduate is the music. I almost went out that night and bought a Simon and Garfunkel album I loved it so much. I never thought I would be a fan but each song fit so perfectly into each scene. I’d watch it again just for that. Also because I laughed every time the line ‘Hello darkness my old friend’ came on. It makes me want to carry around a boombox and put that song on blast anytime I’m sad so people will truly know what I am feeling.

The dialogue is another strong reason for watching this film. It was very snappy and reminded me of Manhattan several times. It could’ve also been because of the creepy relationships, though.

Final review: 3/5

Up next: The French Connection