#369- Kiss of the Spider Woman

Quick recap: A man imprisoned for homosexuality is locked up with a political prisoner. The two develop a very deep bond despite horrible conditions. Think of it like the Odd Couple except not funny and someone dies. Cheers!

Fun(?) fact: Sônia Braga, who played several roles in the ‘film within a film’ part of the movie, spoke no English at the time. Instead, she memorized her lines phonetically.

Yes, Virginia, there really is a spider woman

My thoughts: It’s been difficult to decide on a direction for this movie because it is all over the place. It’s sweet at times, painfully sad, funny and also a mystery? But in the end, it just didn’t work for me. I’ll start by saying that I loved William Hurt and his performance is the reason I’m giving this film any points at all. The way he tells the ‘film within a film’ plot was magical and well worth sitting through the rest of this pile.

I think the many directions this movie takes is why I’m so hesitant to embrace it. If it had stayed a story about a gay man falling for his prisoner roommate who is very masculine, that would be fine. If it had just been about an unfair justice system and regime, that also would’ve worked. Hell, if it was just about William Hurt’s character Luis actually being an informant, that would also be compelling film. But all of these things plus two movies within this movie? There’s just too much to focus on. Luis himself is a mess so I get it to some degree. And I enjoyed not knowing what would happen next because of that. It felt more realistic to not predict what Luis would do after he got out of prison. At the end of the movie, however, I still hadn’t decided on how I felt about his character. Was he ever in love with Valentin or was it all an act so he could be released early? I guess if you look at the ‘film within a films’ it would seem as if he really did fall in love and saw himself as a sort of martyr. That would also explain the ending, which I won’t spoil for once.

I loved the way the scenes from the past were weaved in with the present, as well as the silent movie throughout the various scenes. It all made Kiss of the Spider Woman compelling to watch, even if the end wasn’t satisfying.

Final review: 2/5

Up next: Pierrot le Fou

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#368- Project A II

Quick recap: Having not seen the first Project A, I have no idea why Dragon (Jackie Chan) has so many enemies. I also have no idea how he was able to go from the Navy to Police Sergeant but that’s also a thing, apparently. Maybe it’s his ridiculously good martial arts skills?

 

It’s easier just to name who doesn’t want Dragon dead

Fun (?) fact: The peppers Dragon ate and then spit in his hands to rub in his attackers’ faces were real

My thoughts: I absolutely love discovering subgenres within a genre. My first realization of this came very early on in this list when I learned ‘foreign’ isn’t a genre, except to win an Oscar. And now I’ve expanded my horizons to learn that there are different kinds of Martial Arts films. Before this list I had only ever seen Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which is so vastly different than this movie that they shouldn’t be mentioned in the same realm.

Project A II was a lot more fun for me to watch than previous films of similar fighting plots. There is an underlying humor I didn’t always understand but still very much enjoyed, especially during the fighting scenes. It’s one thing to film people punching and kicking people but Jackie Chan adds all these elements that show he is enjoying himself but is also a master. My favorite scene was when Dragon went to confront the big mob boss that ran the district he was policing. He had a few friends with him and it was obvious how outnumbered they were. Yet that didn’t stop Dragon from trying to kick as much ass as possible and also have time to show off. The restaurant they fought in became a sort of playground for both sides as they used everything from couches to the bar to the walls to attack.

This movie is about as straightforward as it gets: good guy comes to town to defeat bad guys. Yet I found myself getting lost in the new characters and trying to figure out who was really the villain. At some point I gave up and just enjoyed the ride. I’m fairly sure events in the film take place in the early 1900s but some of the costumes look like something out of Miami Vice and the soundtrack is full of synthesizer. Jackie Chan knows what we are here for though and he delivers exactly that over and over. Just don’t think too hard and you will love this movie.

Final review: 4/5

Up next: Kiss of the Spider Woman

 

#363- The Killing Fields

Quick recap: As I may have mentioned one or two times before, war is hell. Journalist Sydney Schanberg is momentarily stuck in Cambodia during the mass murder cleansing campaign ‘Year Zero’ along with his friend and translator, Dith Pran. While Schanberg is eventually rescued, Pran, a native Cambodian, is left to fend for himself in a country now hostile to its citizens. OH! AND THIS IS A STORY BASED ON TRUE EVENTS.

I made the mistake of Googling ‘The Killing Fields’ . Don’t do that.

Fun (?) fact: Haing S. Ngor, the actor who played Dith Pran has a tragic story that almost rivals the one told in the movie. His wife died during childbirth during the Cambodian cleansing campaign because even though her husband was a doctor, seeking his help would mean the Khmer Rouge finding out about him and murdering him. Ngor eventually escaped to America and was chosen to play Pran. He was later murdered in what many people believe to be a revenge killing for speaking out against the Cambodian atrocities.

My thoughts: Time to let my American ignorance shine through as I admit to knowing next to nothing about Cambodia’s history before this movie. I had heard of Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge but I had no idea how evil it all was. The killing Fields is a tough movie to stomach for several reasons, but for me there is a lot of guilt and anger that this piece of history was never discussed or mentioned in school. As evidenced from this movie, though, Americans alive while this happened weren’t aware of the atrocity either. The final scene of the movie explains that as of 1984, the film’s release, Cambodia was still recovering. Even today, there are remains that have yet to be identified.

History lesson aside, This movie was just as powerful as I expected it to be. The Killing Fields is told in two parts: the first part is about Sydney Schanberg and his crew trying to make it out of Cambodia and the second part focuses on Dith Pran’s struggle to survive as he is left behind. As much as I liked Schanberg, the performance felt a little heavy handed at times. It never crossed over into him being the victim thankfully but it got close several times. Pran’s part of the film had my full attention. The real Pran coined the term ‘Killing Fields’ when he stumbled into a body of water lined with thousands of bodies, people murdered from the regime. That scene has stuck with me several days later.

What I appreciate most about this movie is that it never feels sanctimonious or preachy about the plight of the Cambodians. The story focuses on these two friends and how they navigated such a terrible time in our world’s history. Looking at the suffering close up really drives home how horrible it all was and I was better able to grasp the atrocities. The conflict reminds me a lot of Syria and the images shown daily of the refugees and dead children. Will we hear of stories like this in 10 years and feel the same shame and regret that we didn’t pay attention sooner? Time will tell.

Final review: 4/5

Up next: Ikiru

 

 

#347- Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Quick recap: A group of students navigate a year of high school without much regard to actual learning.

Fun (?) fact: Before he was the lovable scamp we know today, Nicholas Cage got on everyone’s nerves during the shooting of Fast Times at Ridgemont High. He bragged about his famous uncle Francis Ford Coppola and declared he would be more famous than anyone else. He finally shut up when people started doing Apocalypse Now impressions around him.

My thoughts: As much as I’d like to say I was the Spicoli, Stacy, or Linda of my high school, in all actuality I most closely identified with Brad’s friend, Arnold. He was the one listening to Brad’s problems and trying to be cool but instead just ended up burning the hamburger patties and taking a restroom break at the worst possible time. Watching Fast Times at Ridgemont High as a teenager, I never could shake the feeling that I was doing it all wrong. Not that I wanted to get pregnant or show up stoned to class, but there was a part of me that yearned for a quintessential high school experience American cinema had taught me was so important to have.

As an adult who has finally learned that there is no such thing as normal, I can finally embrace this movie for what it is: a teenage fairy tale. Maybe it’s not all that realistic, but it sure is entertaining and definitely captured the 80s spirit I pretend to know anything about. Thinking back on the various high school movies I’ve watched on this list alone, I think I’d much rather attend Ridgemont High than say the high schools in Grease, American Graffiti or the Breakfast Club. The kids are just as nuts but at least they feel and talk like real teenagers.

In a way, Fast Times at Ridgemont High is kind of a depressing movie.

Stacy- loses virginity to guy much older than her and then gets knocked up by a guy who doesn’t care about her

Spicoli- constantly embarrassed by his History teacher

Mark- his best friend sleeps with and then knocks up the girl he is in love with

And the list goes on. But through a different lens, these are all seen as typical teenage problems and nothing to be too concerned with. After all, being an American teenager just means having the most traumatic things happen to you but it’s cool because summer is almost here! Maybe I made the right decision in staying out of drama after all.

Final review: 5/5

Up next: A Man Escaped