#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

 

 

 

#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

#294- Boogie Nights

Quick recap: Eddie is a mostly unremarkable 17 year old whose one special talent skyrockets him to porn stardom.

John C. Reilly is a national treasure

John C. Reilly is a national treasure

Fun (?) fact: Boy, did Burt Reynolds hate Paul Thomas Anderson while filming this movie. The two constantly fought throughout the whole thing, and after watching a rough cut, Reynolds said he regretted ever signing on. He ended up being nominated for several awards and many people think it’s his best role of his career.

Fitting  that I watch this movie after purchasing a pair of rollerblades. I'll never be near as graceful as Heather Graham though.

Fitting that I watch this movie after purchasing a pair of rollerblades. I’ll never be near as graceful as Heather Graham though.

My thoughts: Boogie Nights was a treat from beginning to end, which I realize is the corniest thing I could say about a movie about porn, but it’s true. Looking through the list of actors, I mentally squealed with each name- William H. Macy, Julianne Moore (my crush), Don Cheadle, THE Philip Seymour Hoffman (whom I will always love) and….Mark Wahlberg. Yeah, that last one didn’t do much for me. I have nothing against Marky Mark or his Funky Bunch, but he’s never been on any of my favorites list, unless you count Favorite Siblings of Members in New Kids on the Block. But Mark Wahlberg surrounded by actors I do genuinely love totally did it for me. I can’t say that I’ll ever really warm up to him, but I can at least say he has talent.

The entire movie is wonderful but I especially loved the feel of the movie. The 70s were such a good time for music and fashion and Anderson did an incredible job getting it just right. Sure, some of it was exaggerated because we are talking about porn stars here, but every scene still felt realistic and made me wonder if I was actually watching something based on a true story.

I don’t think I’m spoiling anything in saying that Boogie Nights doesn’t end as horribly as I thought it might. I know next to nothing about the porn industry, except for a longform article about James Deen I read one time. I remember that it seemed like way more work than I expected it to be and that was a little disappointing. Boogie Nights shows off the fun but I don’t think it ever takes the road of glamorizing what went on. Not that Anderson should be the morality police, but where’s the drama in watching sexy people have fun? I think I was most surprised by the transition of film to video cassettes in the era and how that affected the industry. Porn has always had a seedy history but before home movies, directors at least strived to make something of quality. It’s an interesting perspective that never occurred to me before watching the movie.

boogienightspants

Final review: 5/5

Up next: Gandhi

 

 

 

#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