#373- Judge Priest

Quick recap: A judge dispenses good ol’ Southern wisdom with a lot of love and just a touch of racism.

Fun(?)fact:  Stepin Fetchit played Jeff Poindexter, a ‘stereotypical 19th century black male’ in Judge Priest. Despite mostly playing dim-witted characters on screen, Fetchit was considered very aggressive and cunning when it came to getting compensated like his white co-stars. He was one of the very first Black actors to fight for equal treatment in the entertainment industry.

My thoughts: If there is one thing I learned from this movie it is this: If you ever find yourself on trial in the Deep South, tell a story about your confederate great-great uncle while someone whistles Dixie. It’s apparently that simple. In fact, tying an issue somehow to the Civil War could really solve all of our current problems. See, many people in the South don’t believe that global warming and why should they? Right now it’s only affecting penguins and polar bears up north. However, rising oceans will become a problem very soon for states like Mississippi and Alabama, and there are a lot of confederate cemeteries there. Doing something about climate change pays honor and respect to those brave, racist soldiers!

Stepping off my soap box and back into this review, I really enjoyed most of this movie even though parts made me really uncomfortable. Judge Priest was a sweet guy and got along with almost everybody. And I think he was a good judge too, although mischievous ways, like paying Poindexter to play Dixie to tug at the heartstrings of the jurors is probably illegal. But still, it seems as though 19th century Southern small towns weren’t really concerned with following all laws, as long as justice was served at some point. The beginning of the movie has Jeff Poindexter in front of Judge Priest, accused of stealing chickens. It seems an easy conviction until Priest reminds the prosecutor about various times he did basically the same thing. Maybe that wouldn’t fly in a big city but in this instance, people were satiated with the outcome.

It’s hard to land on a true opinion about this movie because so much of it is steeped in racist culture. Poindexter and Priest are considered friends but he still bosses him around and has him do unethical things for money, like he’s a puppet. And Aunt Dilsey is a sweet housekeeper but very stereotypical in that she lives for taking care of Priest and her main social activities consist of cooking and going to church functions. Still, there are glimpses that the director very much knew that these black actors were capable of so much more but maybe the audience wasn’t ready. It’s surprising to see a film about the South not completely turn into African-Americans being the butt of all the jokes. But maybe I’m just surprised because the bar is set so low.

Final review: 3/5

Up next: Toy Story

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#371- Bringing Up Baby

Quick recap: A woman with a pet leopard forces a hapless scientist to fall in love with her. Congrats?

It happens to the best of us

Fun (?) fact: Bringing Up Baby was considered a commercial failure at the time. It was so bad director Howard Hawks was fired from RKO Pictures and Katherine Hepburn was considered ‘box office poison’.

All cats interrupt phone calls, no matter how big or small they are

My thoughts: Bringing Up Baby is the original ‘screwball comedy’ because literally everyone is insaneHoward Hawks, in discussing why the film did so poorly, hypothesized it was because there’s no straight man to calm things down. Everyone, from the constable, to the housekeeper and to the main characters has their own ridiculous personality. Susan, played by Hepburn, exists as pure chaotic energy. She’s the first Manic Pixie Dream Girl! Everything she does sets off consequences (usually negative) to those around her, especially David, whose only fault is that he engaged with her. After that, it was all over. From what I’ve seen, it’s this frenetic pace that also helped turned audiences off. It was too witty, there were too many jokes being thrown around and too many characters who needed the spotlight. I’ve seen all sorts of comedies and this movie was ridiculously fast even for me.

But I still loved it. The main draw for me is the attraction Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn had. They were perfect to play opposite each other. Grant was a seasoned Vaudeville actor so slapstick comedy was nothing new for him, but Hepburn had never done anything quite like this. I think what makes her so successful is that she truly enjoyed herself. You can see how much fun she is having causing all this trouble and seems perfectly at ease in front of the camera. It’s hard not to fall in love with her. I enjoyed all of the acting, really, because in this movie, there was no such thing as over the top. And of course the leopard was just icing on the cake. I was worried he would used to do tricks and would be seen throughout the whole film, but that wasn’t the case. He’s integral to the plot but he really isn’t shown all that much.

Despite how well Susan and David worked together, their romance made me all sorts of uncomfortable. I know that’s the joke but she really did ruin so much of his life in 24 hours, including the final scene when she destroys his life’s work in a matter of seconds. Still, he tells her that their time spent together was the happiest in his life so far so maybe this will be the beginning of changes for him. One can only hope.

Final review: 5/5

Up next: Beauty and the Beast

#368- Project A II

Quick recap: Having not seen the first Project A, I have no idea why Dragon (Jackie Chan) has so many enemies. I also have no idea how he was able to go from the Navy to Police Sergeant but that’s also a thing, apparently. Maybe it’s his ridiculously good martial arts skills?

 

It’s easier just to name who doesn’t want Dragon dead

Fun (?) fact: The peppers Dragon ate and then spit in his hands to rub in his attackers’ faces were real

My thoughts: I absolutely love discovering subgenres within a genre. My first realization of this came very early on in this list when I learned ‘foreign’ isn’t a genre, except to win an Oscar. And now I’ve expanded my horizons to learn that there are different kinds of Martial Arts films. Before this list I had only ever seen Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which is so vastly different than this movie that they shouldn’t be mentioned in the same realm.

Project A II was a lot more fun for me to watch than previous films of similar fighting plots. There is an underlying humor I didn’t always understand but still very much enjoyed, especially during the fighting scenes. It’s one thing to film people punching and kicking people but Jackie Chan adds all these elements that show he is enjoying himself but is also a master. My favorite scene was when Dragon went to confront the big mob boss that ran the district he was policing. He had a few friends with him and it was obvious how outnumbered they were. Yet that didn’t stop Dragon from trying to kick as much ass as possible and also have time to show off. The restaurant they fought in became a sort of playground for both sides as they used everything from couches to the bar to the walls to attack.

This movie is about as straightforward as it gets: good guy comes to town to defeat bad guys. Yet I found myself getting lost in the new characters and trying to figure out who was really the villain. At some point I gave up and just enjoyed the ride. I’m fairly sure events in the film take place in the early 1900s but some of the costumes look like something out of Miami Vice and the soundtrack is full of synthesizer. Jackie Chan knows what we are here for though and he delivers exactly that over and over. Just don’t think too hard and you will love this movie.

Final review: 4/5

Up next: Kiss of the Spider Woman

 

#367- Cairo Station

Quick recap: So, there’s this station, see? And it’s in Cairo. And there are a lot of crazy characters who work there, such as Qinawi the disabled newspaper seller, Hanuma, who illegally sells Pepsi (I think?) and her fiance Abu Siri who is a decent guy, mixed up in all the madness.

This was a gorgeous cast of people

Fun (?) fact: There isn’t much out there about this film, unfortunately. The best fact I could find is that Youssef Chahine is the director as well as the main character, Qinawi.

My thoughts: Proof that I know next to nothing about the world around me, I was shocked by how modern Egypt looked in Cairo Station. There was plenty of traditional clothing but there was also a very Western looked that I wasn’t expecting. It reminded me of the book Persepolis and how modern Iran was before the Islamic Revolution. Granted, this was only a tiny slice of life in the city but I would’ve loved exploring the underground scene and up-and-coming rock and roll acts.

What I wouldn’t have loved back then? A creepy guy like Qinawi hanging around. It’s genius how the director showed Qinawi’s creepiness throughout the entire movie, even in the first couple of scenes, and yet because he was disabled, I overlooked everything. The pinups that decorated his shack? He was lonely and wanted a woman. Spying on Hanuma as she dressed? It was only because he was worried about her. Buying a knife and repeatedly stabbing a woman? Ok, that’s when I started to have suspicions. But really, I found it so progressive to have the main villain as a mousy disabled guy that everyone pities. And that all the women in the film were creeped out by him but their husbands and boyfriends didn’t believe them. Time and time again, these women were told that they must’ve done something to deserve the lascivious stares and were ignored. It wasn’t until the very end of the film, as Qinawi had kidnapped Hanuma that everyone jumped into action.

Although the main plot was interesting and unique, the subplots were difficult to follow at times. There was one about a union forming and another about a young girl being ripped away from her lover. It was hard to figure out what I was supposed to focus on at times, which I guess is the point of filming in a busy train station. I did love the various ‘artsy’ close-up scenes and dramatic music but it all felt too much sometimes.

Final review: 3/5

Up next: Project A II