#305- Man of the West

Quick recap: Gary Cooper plays former outlaw, Link, who must go back to his wild west gang when his train leaves him and two other passengers behind.

probably thinking about why he keeps getting thrown into roles he is too old to play

Fun (?) fact: Gary Cooper was 10 years older than Lee J. Cobb, who played his surrogate father, Dock Tobin.

And these two were supposed to be the same age, according to characters in the movie

My thoughts: As you have probably picked up on, Gary Cooper’s age was an issue for me in Man of the West. Now, before I get into my spiel, I just want to go on record and say that I am not ageist. There are plenty of  actors who have played meaningful roles, if not some of the best roles of their career when they were in their 50s and 60s. Gary Cooper did a fine job in this film, in fact. But the role shouldn’t have been given to him. And it really wasn’t his to begin with, looking at trivia. Jimmy stewart was originally cast but he had a falling out with the director and seeing as how there were literally only two men in Hollywood at the time, Cooper was chosen. I don’t know, maybe this is Gary Cooper’s thing, being in a role meant for a much younger man. He did the same thing in Sergeant York, but that was mostly because the real Sergeant York insisted on him. A few years after Man of the West Cooper would be dead so maybe he wanted one last role. I don’t know, but it really took away from the impact of the film, seeing him fit into something not meant for him.

Story wise, Man of the West was no better or worse than other Westerns I have seen. It was darker than I expected, especially that rape scene at the end.  A lot of innocent people died and in the end, good triumphed, so no surprises there. What did surprise me was that I thought I was going to see a buddy movie, from the synopsis I read. The singer Billie and the Gambler Sam were Link’s companions when he was stranded by the train. I thought the three of them would become best pals and fight the bad guys together, but that’s not at all what happened. As soon as Link introduced him to his old gang, Sam was told to dig a grave and Billie was told to strip. Zero fun was had by all. I really did like the role of Link, despite his age. Cooper added a lot of depth to the character and there was this melancholy mood of his that really resonated with me. I’m glad there was a happy ending, but with almost everyone dead, I don’t know how happy it really was.

Final review: 3/5

Up next: Forrest. Forrest Gump

#303- Faces

Quick recap: A man leaves his wife for another woman. She, in turn, picks up a younger man at a bar while out with friends. Everyone stays miserable.

There’s also a lot of uncomfortable laugh scenes.

Fun (?) fact: Considered one of Steve Buscemi’s favorite movies, an actor I love. But Faces also inspired Robert Altman, who I definitely don’t like, so I feel like these facts cancel each other out. Carry on.

What a fun party! I hope there’s some cringeworthy dancing about to go on.

My thoughts: Many times I watch a trailer and the first thing that comes to my mind is, ‘ What kind of person would watch this?’. So, as a public service I’m going to list the sort of audiences that will appreciate Faces. Feel free to watch if you:

  • liked Mad Men, but felt that it was a little too soft on women
  • love watching drunk people talking about random things and yelling loudly
  • hate the Middle Class and wishes there were more movies about how miserable everyone is
  • you love the ‘dissolved marriages’ genre ( See also: La Notte and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?)
  • you just really love random laughter, that sometimes borders on psychotic

The style of Faces was its strongest point for me. At first, it seemed like a documentary but now I think it’s more similar to a home movie. There were some really confusing scenes because there is no music, no voiceover, and no real transition from moment to moment. But it also made the film seem more real, like I was really watching these two people become more and more miserable. I also liked that this was a ‘slice of life’ film, meaning that there is no background given on either character. I’d like to say that the main character Richard Forst is a Grade A asshole, but maybe his wife Maria has her own issues. There are a few hints, however, that just show Forst is Don Draper but without charm.

The characters were all believable and many of the actors were just random  people invited to the set. All this being said, I never connected with anyone. I found myself watching two miserable people without feeling anything about either of them. When reading up on Faces, several commenters said that this movie has many layers, and maybe that’s true. But watching two sad people was enough for one viewing and I don’t feel like digging any deeper.

Final review: 2/5

Up next: Fantasia

#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

#301- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Quick recap: Benjamin Button is born an old man and ages backwards, from a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

 Fun (?) fact: There are several nods to the concept of ‘backwards’ in the film- a hummingbird, which is the only bird able to fly backward, and a hurricane which spins in the opposite direction depending on the hemisphere.

Even if I had hated this movie, I’d watch it again and again for young Brad Pitt

My thoughts: Before anyone else says it- logically,I know that 32 isn’t that old. I’ve never wanted to be one of those people that lied about my age or tried to ‘stay’ 25 until I was 50. But a few weeks ago, while in a hotel room getting ready to go out, I had a freak out about aging. I was blow drying my hair and noticed a (to me) huge patch of gray that had definitely not been there a couple of weeks ago. It was such a sudden change to my body and it took me by surprise. I don’t feel old but there was something about seeing myself age that terrified me. I’ve seen The Curious Case of Benjamin Button before, back when it was in theaters, and at the time, all I remember was being impressed by the special effects. Had I watched this movie two months ago, I would’ve felt the same. But seeing it now, at this weird time in my life, it just means so much more.

By my estimation, the first 2/3 of the movie is largely forgettable. It’s not bad, but it’s also not profound. My main motivation for continuing to watch was to see how Brad Pitt would look next and when he would finally stop looking so old. The movie picked up towards the end as I finally understood the importance of the relationship between Benjamin and Daisy, his true love. I had grown tired of their ‘will they, won’t they’ issues and when they finally hooked up, I kept waiting for the shoe to drop and both to realize that this would never work. But that’s not what happened. The last 1/3 of the film explores the true consequences of aging- the fear of being a burden and the regret of missing out on life. The way Daisy cared for Benjamin in his last few years, until he was just a tiny infant was beautiful and spoke to the longing most people have-for someone to love them no matter what. Aging isn’t going to stop, nor should it, but it also shouldn’t keep us from opening up to those who truly care.

 

Final review: 4/5

Up next: Braveheart