#310- The General

Quick recap:  Johnnie, played by Buster Keaton, is on a one man mission to rescue a locomotive from the Union soldiers who stole it. As always, hijinks ensue.

MRW school is getting close to starting again 

Fun (?) fact: This movie is based off of a much less hilarious incident during the Civil War. Union soldiers stole a train dubbed ‘The General’ and drove it north, all the while destroying power lines and train tracks. They were eventually caught by Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest ( who founded the KKK). The men were found guilty and hanged.

reality is a tad bit darker than I imagined it to be

My thoughts: I enjoyed The General much more than my last Buster Keaton film, Steamboat Bill Jr. I cheered on Johnnie from the very beginning because he was just so darn likeable. Than I realized he was on the Southern side of the war, meaning I was basically cheering for slavery. But then I remembered the North eventually won, so it’s ok to support a small victory like this.

Keaton made me laugh much more this time around, especially during a scene involving a cannon. For the first shot he is careful to put in the correct amount of gunpowder but when the cannonball nearly blows up his own train, he says ‘screw it’ and poured the whole keg of powder. There was only a minimum of slapstick in this film, although considering it is a silent film, most of the gags are still visual. The General seems like more of a mature film than other silent ones I’ve watched- the plot is succinct and action makes up a large part of the run time, because what’s the point in having several minutes devoted to watching the actors’ mouths move?

I was most surprised by how in depth I got to understand Johnnie’s character. Most silent films have archetypes that are easily identifiable but they don’t stick around for long. This movie is just the beginning to showcase how films can be used as a character study. The very first scene shows Johnnie hard at work as an engineer and then as he walks to his girlfriend’s house, two little kids follow him and mimic his every move. He doesn’t mind it, although he gets a little annoyed when he wants some privacy time with his love. It’s such a little moment but it says so much about his character. And the ending sealed the deal for me. Johnnie is finally hailed a hero and it was so sweet to see him finally get his recognition.

Final review: 5/5

Up next: Good Morning, Vietnam

#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

#306- Forrest Gump

Quick recap: A simple man somehow manages to do some of the most extraordinary things.

Another perspective

Fun (?) fact: The ping pong ball in each scene was CGI. It was added to meet the players’ paddles.

This, however, is entirely real

My thoughts: Do I really need to do this, serve up my thoughts on one of the most iconic movies of all time? I mean, come on, it’s Forrest Gump! Everyone knows this movie, even my 7 year old who has repeatedly asked for my husband and I to knock it off with the Gump impressions. Watching this movie as an adult,I’m glad to say that the sentimentality of the movie didn’t get in the way of me enjoying it as much as I did as a kid. All the same, there were a few things I picked up on this time around that flew over my head as a 9 year old:

  1. I wasn’t a big fan of Jenny this time. You can make the case that her abusive childhood caused her to cling to Forrest Gump and that’s probably true, but I still didn’t like the way she strung him on, only being there when she needed a protector. She took advantage of him so many times, throughout their relationship.
  2. I’m more amazed than anything that the director managed to fit so many events into this movie. Tying in the Watergate Scandal was a little much (if you remember, Gump called security about seeing a bunch of flashlights), but things really were that crazy back then. It was more comedic this time around, to see how Forrest could be roped into another world event.
  3. I don’t know anyone who dislikes Tom Hanks but I don’t think he is as amazing as people paint him as. That being said, he was phenomenal in this film and deserves all the praise. He made Gump into a sympathetic character that could’ve just been a punchline with a lesser actor. His role will go down as one of the best in cinematic history, guaranteed.
  4. I still love the music, as much as I did when I was young. I wouldn’t want to live in any other decade but if time travel was possible, I’d visit the 60s for the music and the 70s for the films.
  5.  I watched this movie in the theater and my mom made me close my eyes for the dirty parts. It’s funny because there were several sexual references she didn’t bother shielding me from, but rightfully knew they would go over my head. It always amazes me how much more sexual things are when I revisit them as an adult.

Final review: 5/5.

Up next: Pickup on South Street

 

#300- The African Queen

Quick recap: She’s a missionary, he a riverboat captain who delivers the mail to remote areas in Africa. Together, they team up to fight the Germans and maybe even fall in love.

Fun (?) fact: Katharine Hepburn was so disgusted with John Huston and Humphrey Bogart’s drinking during filming that she stuck to water only. As a result she got dysentery, which is some kind of life lesson I feel I should pay attention to.

My thoughts: In the hierarchy of Romantic movies, the ‘ uptight woman falls in love with spineless man’ is probably my least favorite. I was worried that’s what I was heading into with this film, but I’m so glad that ended up not being the case.

I loved Katharine Hepburn as Rosie and I would even venture to say she is one of my favorite characters I have encountered on this list. There was just something about her instant love of adventure that immediately endeared her to me. I’d like to think I would do the same in her situation, except picking leeches off the love of my life. Sorry. Rapids, yes. Germans, hell yes. Leeches, no. I also loved Hepburn’s chemistry with Humphrey Bogart’s Charlie. It was a little too much at times but the moments when they were just sitting together and enjoying each other were really sweet. He seemed to genuinely care for her and she for him. I didn’t buy the ending where their tiny little boat sank a German ship but my heart might have melted a bit when at the end they were able to celebrate the fact that they just got married.

The constant threat of danger got a little old after awhile but it also made for an entertaining film so I won’t fault the plot too much. The scenery was lovely and I really appreciated that they filmed on location. Anything less would’ve made this movie a laughing stock, I think. Still, it doesn’t make me want to pack up and trek through Africa anytime soon.  I love a good adventure but the director made it seem that I would be attacked the second I landed.

 

Final review: 5/5

Up next: In Retrospect Part 3!