#302- Braveheart

Quick recap: A mostly fictitious tale of William Wallace, the man who (maybe?) freed Scotland from England.

Fun (?) fact: ‘Braveheart’ was actually Robert the Bruce’s nickname, not William Wallace’s. He, unlike Wallace, is considered a Scottish hero and many Scots were angry with the way he was portrayed in the movie.

Come to think of it, they probably don’t care for Groundskeeper Willie either

My thoughts: Oh, Braveheart, my first ‘grown up’ movie I fell in love with. Speed was actually first, but there was just something more mature about a hunky, shirtless Mel Gibson than a bus that couldn’t slow down. Knowing what I know now about the film’s take on historical events as well as what I’ve learned about Mel Gibson, I worried that Braveheart wouldn’t have the same impact as it did on 11 year old Me. Fortunately, it totally holds up.

I don’t know if it’s a fair comparison, but in my mind, Braveheart and Shawshank Redemption are always grouped together. Both are ‘epics’ and both are universally loved. Despite the MANY historical inaccuracies, it was hard not to fall in love with Braveheart all over again. It’s an uplifting film (um…besides all the blood and torture) like Shawshank ,and a message that any toddler could grasp. And as much as I don’t want to admit it, it’s the kind of movie that sticks with you long after it’s over. Mel Gibson may be an ass in real life, but he is a hell of an actor. He absolutely nails the role of William Wallace. It’s those blue eyes, I think. How does he do it?

Treating Braveheart like a folktale (think Robin Hood) is the best way to go about enjoying this movie. William Wallace is larger than life and there are several nods to this in the film. I was a little put off by the fact that Wallace essentially freed Scotland because his wife was murdered but I think the point is that the desire was in him all along. I’m glad that it still holds up, over 20 years later, even if it is mostly not true.

Final review: 4/5

Up next: Faces

#301- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Quick recap: Benjamin Button is born an old man and ages backwards, from a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

 Fun (?) fact: There are several nods to the concept of ‘backwards’ in the film- a hummingbird, which is the only bird able to fly backward, and a hurricane which spins in the opposite direction depending on the hemisphere.

Even if I had hated this movie, I’d watch it again and again for young Brad Pitt

My thoughts: Before anyone else says it- logically,I know that 32 isn’t that old. I’ve never wanted to be one of those people that lied about my age or tried to ‘stay’ 25 until I was 50. But a few weeks ago, while in a hotel room getting ready to go out, I had a freak out about aging. I was blow drying my hair and noticed a (to me) huge patch of gray that had definitely not been there a couple of weeks ago. It was such a sudden change to my body and it took me by surprise. I don’t feel old but there was something about seeing myself age that terrified me. I’ve seen The Curious Case of Benjamin Button before, back when it was in theaters, and at the time, all I remember was being impressed by the special effects. Had I watched this movie two months ago, I would’ve felt the same. But seeing it now, at this weird time in my life, it just means so much more.

By my estimation, the first 2/3 of the movie is largely forgettable. It’s not bad, but it’s also not profound. My main motivation for continuing to watch was to see how Brad Pitt would look next and when he would finally stop looking so old. The movie picked up towards the end as I finally understood the importance of the relationship between Benjamin and Daisy, his true love. I had grown tired of their ‘will they, won’t they’ issues and when they finally hooked up, I kept waiting for the shoe to drop and both to realize that this would never work. But that’s not what happened. The last 1/3 of the film explores the true consequences of aging- the fear of being a burden and the regret of missing out on life. The way Daisy cared for Benjamin in his last few years, until he was just a tiny infant was beautiful and spoke to the longing most people have-for someone to love them no matter what. Aging isn’t going to stop, nor should it, but it also shouldn’t keep us from opening up to those who truly care.

 

Final review: 4/5

Up next: Braveheart

#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.

 

#293- The French Connection

Quick recap: A pair of cops go after a drug smuggling cartel with a connection. A French connection, if you will.

I like my coffee like I like my cops- flawed, with a bit of sass

I like my coffee like I like my cops- flawed, with a bit of sass

Fun (?) fact: Lee Marvin, current Night Vale Resident, was initially offered the role of Doyle but turned it down because he didn’t like cops. He went on to star in other roles and is just about to celebrate his 30th birthday.

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My thoughts: The French Connection reminds me of my non-existent days in the hood, where the drugs were rampant and everyone was just trying to get by in Brooklyn. I’ve never really gotten into cop films or tv shows (except The Rockford Files because of that sweet French Horn solo), but it gives me the same nostalgia as most Westerns do.

Plot-wise, the movie is pretty direct. The cops are trying to catch the drug cartel, but the audience knows who it is because we’ve been watching them from the beginning. It was just a matter of the two finally meeting each other. I was really curious what The French Connection meant until the opening scene, which is set in France. That’s when I realized that there is LITERALLY a French connection. I always like titles that just tell it like it is.

I enjoyed Gene Hackman especially, but everyone did a fine job in the film. The story is based off of real events, although I think only loosely. The duo reminded me of a podcast I’ve recently gotten into, called Stranglers, about the Boston Strangler of the 60s. Although the story itself fascinates me, I mostly love hearing from these old retired cops and the lengths they went to in trying to catch the killer. Much like those cops, this drug case consumed Doyle, to his detriment. I won’t give away the final scene but it didn’t really surprise me. Throughout the movie I kept wavering between whether I should root for Doyle or not, but I think it’s just the way things were done back then. He really wanted to solve the case and get the drugs off the streets and was willing to do anything to make that happen.

I’ve described your stereotypical cop film so far,yet there is something about it that just stands out for some reason. For me, I think it’s the combination of gritty landscape and ominous music. I love films from this decade and The French Connection fits in perfectly for that time period. It’s also a good reminder that despite what certain politicians think, things have gotten better and the War on Drugs is over.

Final review: 4/5

Up next: Boogie Nights