#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

#309- Destry Rides Again

Quick recap: Destry, played by James Stewart, plans to whip a Wild West town into shape without the use of guns or regular beatings.

Who could say no to someone with such sharp fashion sense?

Fun (?) fact: In a continuation of me not always being able to tell Gary Cooper from James Stewart, Cooper was originally offered the role but turned it down because he wanted more money. Even movie executives were aware that the two actors are basically interchangeable.

Seriously, James Stewart is adorable and I kind of love him now.

My thoughts: We’ve got another Western! This one is different because it apparently parodies the classic Western, although I didn’t really see that. Most of the movie, especially the beginning with everyone shooting their guns in the air and punching random people, reminded me of a few weird trips to Six Flags. I guess the characteristic of Destry not owning guns was different, but he seemed to threaten with them a lot or just make his other deputies do it for him. I thoroughly enjoyed myself,don’t get me wrong, and I was glad to see this was much more lighthearted than the spaghetti Westerns I’ve been watching as of late. But it’s the plot holes that eventually got to me, as they always do.

The main lesson in Destry Rides Again, if there is one, is that violence isn’t always the answer. Destry’s father was a sheriff with a huge reputation of whipping towns into shape and here comes his son who doesn’t carry guns, always has a story about someone who learned a lesson and prefers milk over alcohol. But the thing is, the audience never really sees  Destry’s plan come into action so it’s hard to tell whether violence would’ve worked just as well. The villain, Kent, bullies everyone from the beginning and Destry always throws him off somehow, like conceding Kent has won a ranch in an obviously fixed poker game. It made me think there was a huge complicated plan to win the ranch back but there really wasn’t. Destry decided to focus on finding the body of the previous sheriff to indict Kent but even that continued to backfire. The only thing he had a hand in was wooing Frenchy, the town’s loose woman and causing her to rally the women to put a stop to the madness. It was a great twist and I loved how pissed off the wives were, but that wasn’t Destry’s plan. He couldn’t have known that would happen. And yet, at the end of the movie he is considered a hero and loved by all.

I really loved James Stewart’s portrayal of Destry. I thought the ‘aw,shucks’ personality would grate on me, but it never did. Marlene Dietrich, who played Frenchy was also great, although the musical numbers didn’t do much for me. She really played up her accent so the songs were hard to understand sometimes. Still, the performances were entertaining and I enjoyed watching something a little light for once.

Final review: 4/5

Up next: The General

 

#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

 

#299- Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Quick recap: A naive man becomes a senator and learns very quickly how much of a cesspool DC is.

Fun (?) fact: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was considered controversial to Americans who felt that it showed the government in a less than positive light. Meanwhile, Nazi Germany and other Socialist countries refused to screen the film because they felt it showed Democracy working as it’s supposed to.

Me: just stick to that Simpsons episode
Also me: bring in Trump

My thoughts: People always say, ‘greatest thing since sliced bread!’ and it makes me wonder what people compared awesome stuff to before sliced bread. Same concept goes for this movie. What did people compare DC drama to before this movie? I’m sure there were books and political cartoons, but this movie is just so perfect for so many situations. Back in the day, reporters had to go out and look for a comparison. ‘Gulliver’s Travels?’ they would say, hesitantly. ‘That sort of fits, I guess.’ But then, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington came out. ‘ This article practically writes itself!’ the same reporters said and left their typewriter to go swim in their giant piles of money.

I’m not sure if this is an unpopular opinion or not, but Jefferson Smith (played by James Stewart), did not do a very good job as Senator. He came in with an idea for a law that would only benefit a very small percentage of the population but would certainly benefit his home state. The senators against him wanted a dam in the same area, which is actually not that bad of a plan, considering this was the Depression and jobs were desperately needed. Surely there were more important pieces of legislation to debate besides a camp for boys? Despite all this, it’s hard to not get caught up in Smith’s excitement about being a part of the government. Despite my current bitterness for anything concerning politics, I couldn’t help but cheer him on. He was fighting the Political Machine, something that even in 2017 we haven’t figured out how to do.

Yes, this movie was ridiculous but it really does sell a person on Democracy. I’ve been so angry these days with the political climate so it was a nice reminder that some things never change. The only part of the movie I didn’t love was the love subplot. Jean Arthur as Saunders was such a badass. She really ran the show and would’ve made for a better senator than Smith, but of course she gets relegated to Love Interest. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is in fact a romance- between the people and Democracy, and that should’ve stayed the focal point. As it is though, still a very powerful movie.

Final review: 5/5, and yes there were spinning newspapers galore!

Up next: #300