#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

 

#289- Forbidden Games

Quick recap: Two children cope with the horrors of war by creating a pet cemetery (but not the Stephen King kind).

What a lovely romp this movie was!

What a lovely romp this movie was!

Fun (?) fact: The movie was originally shot as a short but was then changed to feature length. By that time the actress who played Paulette had lost her baby teeth so for many scenes she wears false ones.

The boy called this owl 'The Mayor' and now I want to change my cat's name

The boy called this owl ‘The Mayor’ and now I want to change my cat’s name

My thoughts: Picture it: A board room, somewhere in France. Let’s go with a board room in the Eiffel Tower because that’s about the only landmark I know. In walks René Clément, director of Forbidden Games and the writer for the screenplay, Jean Aurenche.

René: Alright, I like the plot of the film, but I feel like it should be more sad. Children growing up in World War II is depressing, but we can do better.

Jean: What if we kill off the girl’s parents?

René: It’s a start. I like where you are going with this, but let’s dig deeper.

Pierre, the custodian, who has apparently been standing in the corner of the room this whole time: Kill a puppy.

René and Jean stare at Pierre for a moment, stunned.

Pierre: And then have an old lady throw the dead puppy in the river as the little girl watches. The little girl will fish the dead puppy out of the water and then carry it around for awhile while crying.

René: Break out the champagne, Jean! We have a hit on our hands!

 

As this totally accurate scene shows, Forbidden Games is another depressing war film. It’s sweet how the boy, Michel, takes care of the little girl Paulette, but there’s just so much that is sad.And then you add in all the dead animals and I could barely watch many scenes. There’s a particularly sad exchange between the two children as Michel explains to Paulette that her parents are dead and have been buried in a mass grave. She reasons it is because they are cold and need a spot to warm up and that’s where the idea of a cemetery is born. It was heartbreaking to watch that and it doesn’t help that those two kids are just about the cutest I’ve ever seen. For now, though, let’s turn back to that board room in France as René and Jean try to write an ending to their movie.

René: I think we’ve hammered home the point that war is hell with all those death scenes. How about a happy ending to give the audience a break?

Pierre, who still hasn’t left his corner, spits on the ground in disgust.

Jean (stammering): Paulette has to leave Michel’s family and is reunited with a distant Aunt?

Pierre walks over to Jean and slaps him in the face with all his might. Jean, holding back tears, stands up.

Jean: How about Michel is about to be beaten within an inch of his life and Paulette is taken away to live in an orphanage? She waits at the train station and sees all these reunions around her. Someone yells the name, ‘Michel’, which causes her to run away from the nun, in search of the only person alive who cared for her.

Everyone in the room high fives and opens another bottle of champagne. Pierre nods ever so slightly and leaves the room, his job done.

He returns seconds later to gather the trash from the bin, remembering his real job, nods again, and walks out.

Final review: 4/5. Depressing as hell, but an interesting perspective at least

Up next: Glengarry Glen Ross

 

#288- The Night of the Shooting Stars

Quick recap: Told through the perspective of a little girl, a group of Italian villagers flee their town from Nazis. Along the way to find Americans to liberate them, they decide that they are going to fight back however they can.

Fighting the Germans. What could go wrong?

Fighting the Germans. What could go wrong?

Fun (?) fact: The scene where the Germans bombed the church filled with villagers was based on real events. After some research years later, it was discovered that it was the Americans who were behind the accidental bombing. Oops.

My thoughts: Let me tell you, there is nothing that brings in the Christmas spirit more than a war film, featuring children, no less. I’m not much of  a ‘Christmas’ person to begin with, so it didn’t have much effect on my near non-existent cheer. Not that it would anyway, because out of the bunch of films I have watched so far featuring World War II, this one can almost be described as optimistic.

Almost. Mind you, there is still a lot of death happening to a lot of people you get attached to. But most of the death comes from fighting the Nazis and Fascists, which, by the way, really sucks that Italy had to fight two evil powers during the war. Everyone had it bad back then, but from what I’ve seen, Italian war films are generally the most depressing because it’s so difficult to grasp the amount of suffering the villagers went through. Night of the Shooting Stars further drives this point home as I watched the journey of these families as they fleed their town and homes. It made me wander where all that courage came from. I have no idea the first thing I would do if war came to my town. I’d like to say that I could muster up something deep inside to fight and keep going, but I don’t know. And these villagers didn’t know either, until it happened to them. The scenes where the people ran through the wheat fields to escape the fighting were the most heartbreaking for me. Here were these old women, impeccably dressed , crawling on their hands and knees, just trying to survive. It was almost too much at times.

But as I said before, this film is not just blood and gore and sadness. I think by putting this through the eyes of a 6 year old girl, the audience can see the optimism and hope. During the final battle scene, the little girl imagines her neighbors as Roman soldiers, defending their people. In reality, these are a bunch of people with weapons that barely work and little to no experience fighting. But to the little girl, they are heroes and they save the day. The Night of the Shooting Stars is based of Italian lore that once a year in August, shooting stars streak across the sky and if you make a wish, everything will come true. It was enough to keep her going and something for me to think about when times are rough.

Final review: 4/5

Up next: Forbidden Games