#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

#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

 

#274- Enter the Dragon

Quick recap: Bruce Lee schools everyone with his sick moves.

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Word.

Fun (?) fact: Bruce Lee struck Jackie Chan in the face with fighting sticks and to make it up to him, promised that he could work on all of his movies. Lee died before being able to fulfill that promise.

The only move I know

The only move I know

My thoughts: Fighting movies aren’t really my thing, especially after watching Once Upon a Time in China.  I knew Enter the Dragon wouldn’t be as complicated, but I was still weary that the fighting and general ass kicking would get old after awhile. Fortunately, it did not. I think what sucked me in from the beginning was Bruce Lee. I was expecting a kung fu machine, but he was really funny at times and his acting was much more expressive than I thought it would be. Jim Kelly, who played Williams was a delight and I have half a mind to find all of his later films and watch them because he was so wonderful.

As I mentioned, Enter the Dragon is about as straightforward as it gets. Bruce Lee, who played Lee, is on a mission to take down Han, who is involved in everything from heroin smuggling to prostitute murders. The bad guy is a super bad guy, which is nice to just have someone who is evil and doesn’t have baggage as to why he is evil. Robert Wall plays Oharra, another bad guy with shockingly beautiful hair. Every time he was onscreen fighting, he looked like he had just finished a rehearsal set with the Bee Gees, which is actually a really great idea for a movie.

You won't be Stayin' Alive when I'm through with you

You won’t be Stayin’ Alive when I’m through with you

The only part of the movie that I didn’t love was the ending, when Bruce Lee went into full force ass-kicking mode. I loved the mirror scene, but shot after shot of beating up bad guys just didn’t do much for me. I appreciate how amazing Lee was and even though the effects might be 100% real, they take someone with an impressive amount of skills as well as restraint to pull them off. I can’t imagine anyone else in that role besides Bruce Lee.

Final review: 4/5

Up next: No Country for Old Men

#270- Raiders of the Lost Ark

Quick recap: Han Solo is in a race to find the fabled Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis do.

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Fun (?) fact: During filming, nearly all of the cast and crew contracted food poisoning at some point, except Steven Spielberg who only ate cans of Spaghetti-Os.

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My thoughts: As seems to be the case with really popular movies lately, this was my first time watching Raiders of the Lost Ark. I don’t really have a reason for not watching sooner, except that Adventure movies aren’t really my thing. This movie didn’t change that for me, but I can at least appreciate what it did to the genre.

I’m certainly not on the Spielberg Hate Wagon ( great band name, FYI), but his director trademarks can be tiresome. Thankfully, Raiders of the Lost Ark kept sappiness and deep seated daddy issues at bay. I am glad, however, that he stuck with his old pal John Williams to create a wonderfully memorable soundtrack. It’s not my favorite of their collaboration, but it was perfect for the movie and really amped up all the action scenes.

The action scenes themselves were the main ‘wow’ factor and I loved the homage to older adventure films where it seemed someone was in danger every few minutes. It’s delightfully ridiculous at times, but also amazing to see how perfectly executed everything is. And Harrison Ford was perfect for the role, of course. No one can play know-it-all ass like he can. Dare I say that I prefer him as Indiana Jones over Han Solo? I feel like I should soak myself in holy water for even thinking something so blasphemous.

My only complaint with the movie is a very minor, personal one, as most complaints tend to be. Being the geek I am, I was most on the edge of my seat during any conversation about the Ark of the Covenant. There’s so much history here! Archeology has interested me for a long time so I’m probably the only person out there who could’ve gone with more talking and less action.

Final review: 5/5 because of course!

Up next: Planet of the Apes