#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

#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

#295- Gandhi

Quick recap: It’s about the life of Gandhi.

Look. I'm going to do my best to not make a bunch of Clone High references but with a movie like this, sometimes it's what you have to do.

Look. I’m going to do my best to not make a bunch of Clone High references but with a movie like this, sometimes it’s what you have to do.

Fun (?) fact: I suppose I should be embarrassed for not knowing this beforehand, but Pakistan only became a country in the 1900s. I’ve always thought the whole India/Pakistan thing had been around for thousands of years.

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My thoughts: This won’t come as a surprise to many, but the independence of India was not a topic taught in depth in public school. I’m sure we learned about Gandhi at some point, but only as a footnote of important leaders. It’s a shame because I could’ve really used some context while watching this movie. I really enjoyed it, of course. It’s masterfully done. But there’s this nagging suspicion I have that the movie doesn’t tell the whole story and I should be careful in using it to understand such an important figure in the 20th century.

First of all, as stated above, Gandhi the film is perfectly done and if it were a fictional story, would receive my highest rating. Ben Kingsley is amazing and when researching photos of the real Gandhi, I was surprised by how much the two favor each other. The cinematography is also gorgeous. There were so many beautiful shots, from the scenes of the train crossing the country to the camera panning through the crowds watching Gandhi speak, it was all so beautiful. I especially loved that director Richard Attenborough attempted to shoot many scenes in the same places they occurred. India is a beautiful country and Gandhi really captures that.

As for the movie’s main subject, I just don’t know what to think. According to the film, Gandhi was practically a saint and (almost) singlehandedly brought about revolution and independence. It’s a neat story, but the truth is considerably more complicated. I’m inspired to learn more now to get a sense of what really happened and I love when movies do that to me. It’s one of the reasons I’m doing this list, actually. At the same time, I don’t want to get bogged down in too many of Gandhi’s faults. Leaders are flawed because humans are flawed. But even though we know this fundamental fact, people are still desperate for a true hero. Remember Ken Bone, the guy in the sweater who asked Trump a question during the debate? We LOVED that guy for about 15 minutes, until someone found his history. Then we became uncomfortable with the hero we created and we moved on to someone else. There needs to be a balance between hero worship and jaded apathy towards those thrust into the spotlight. Despite the less than glamorous details, Gandhi is seen as a promotor of non violent resistance, which I think has its place in such a turbulent time such as this. Let’s learn the lessons we need to learn, but not stop too long to worship.

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Final review: 5/5

Up next: Reservoir Dogs

#276- Lola Montés

Quick recap: Lola Montés is based off the real life dancer and courtesan Lola Montez. The film jumps through several points of Montés’ life from her rise to fame, her various lovers and her sad ending as a spectacle at the circus.

 

 

reminds me of a certain courtesan who danced at the Moulin Rouge

reminds me of a certain courtesan who danced at the Moulin Rouge

Fun (?) fact: Back in 1955, audiences didn’t like that the movie jumped around chronologically so it was re-edited so that events were shown in order. Audiences liked that even less and the movie initially bombed at the box office, thus proving that this is why we can’t have nice things.

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My thoughts: Here’s a great ‘Yo Momma’ joke: ‘Yo Momma’s so easy that she became a sideshow freak because she slept with so many guys!’ Okay, that might not be a GREAT joke, but this is the 1800s we are talking about, so work with me on this. Lola Montés is a beautiful film about a disgraced woman who ends up in the circus, which is kind of a crazy place to end up. But it’s also kind of motivating? Like, I’ve done some stupid things in my life but I haven’t been made to join the circus yet so I’m at least doing something right.

For about 75% of the movie, I was convinced that this was one of the greatest films I have ever seen. There was so much symbolism and so many great metaphors about double standards for women. When men sleep around, they are considered heroes but when women do it, they are freaks. There’s a scene at the end of the film where men can pay a dollar to kiss the hand of such a sleazy woman. It’s beautifully tragic to see her standing there, behind bars as men stand in line for the chance to touch her. But at some point, I realized that no, this is literally about a woman who sleeps with rich white guys and joins the circus because she can’t find anyone to take care of her anymore. Still sad, but no longer tragic when it’s a literal circus and not a metaphorical one.

As beautiful as the colors and costumes were, the acting left a lot to be desired. Martine Carol, who played Montés, was the perfect fit for the role but at the same time she didn’t really do much except sit there and look pretty or sad. I think it’s why I didn’t go full force in feeling sorry for her. And the guys she hooked up with were certainly rich and very white, but I didn’t get that there was much going on in the relationship besides sex. Which is basically what a courtesan is,I suppose. Or maybe it’s just the bias I have towards another tragic courtesan who learned that the greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.

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Final review: 3/5. Not bad, but also meh.

Up next: HORRORFEST