#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

#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!

#281- Deliverance

Quick recap: 4 men go on a canoe trip and end up being hunted by hillbillies.

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Fun (?) fact: According to IMDb, more than 30 people drowned in the Chattooga River after the movie came out because they were trying to recreate different scenes.

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My thoughts: Bonus fun fact- I still have the ‘Dueling Banjos’ melody in my head. It’s better than my usual mashup of the Ducktales theme song/Mentos commercial, but I’d still like to move on from it, all the same. So. Deliverance. This movie is in the category of Movies People Unnecessarily Warn Me About, like The Exorcist. Yes, there were disturbing scenes, but it was no more or less disturbing than other movie I have watched on this list

Before I spew my actual thoughts about the film, I have a confession to make. Saturday Night Live’s Celebrity Jeopardy is one of my favorite things ( like most people, I assume), but I never really understood the Burt Reynolds impersonation until this movie. I haven’t seen many films that he is in but after watching Deliverance, I realize that I don’t need to in order to understand who he is. And, tangentially, what was up with that vest Reynolds wore? What was it made of? It seems like the kind of clothing that would chafe you until you were driven insane, but this is Burt Reynolds we are talking about, so maybe he was in his element.

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You could stand to show a little more chest hair, Mr. Reynolds

So. Deliverance. It didn’t do much for me, although I can appreciate turning so common, like a river, into something so sinister. I guess I’m meh about the whole thing because I was expecting more disturbing scenes than I got. Literally the only thing I knew about this movie was the rape scene, and although it was rough, it didn’t bother me like the one in Man Bites Dog did. Maybe because it’s a man, more people are shocked? On the other hand, this movie did not make me want to go jump into a canoe anytime soon. I’m not really a fan of being in the water anyway, but watching Deliverance made me all the more weary to go camping or some other similar adventure.

Final review: 2/5. I think my ambivalence comes from my dislike of most of the characters. Burt Reynolds was never supposed to be likeable, but I didn’t really care what happened to any of them.

Up next: Horrorfest marches on