#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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#372- Beauty and the Beast

Quick recap: Stockholm Syndrome is alive and well in this classic fairy tale of a Beauty being made to fall in love with a Beast.

me, knowing that Monday is just around the corner

Fun (?) fact: Many, many people preferred the Beast to his alter-ego prince that he transforms into at the end of the film. Upon viewing this movie, actress Greta Garbo is said to have screamed, ‘ Give me back my beast!’

Now he’s just another white guy!

My thoughts: Of all the Disney princesses, I think Belle is my favorite. It used to be Ariel but at some point I realized how very stupid she is and so she was eliminated from the ranking. Sorry, 5 Year Old Me. This version of Beauty and the Beast is not sanitized like the cartoon version but there are still many similarities between the two. In fact, Walt Disney wanted to do a cartoon version of the fairy tale back in the 40s but once he saw this film he thought it would be pointless. When the animated feature was released in the early 90s it had several homages to this version, like the castle design and the magical items.

I wasn’t all that impressed with this movie right after watching it because it just seemed like yet another fairy tale brought to life. But, some of the scenes have really stuck with me, almost to the point of wanting to rewatch because I think I missed so much the first time. For one thing, there is a wonderful horror element I didn’t know existed but it totally fits. All of the candles in the castle are held up by torsos and arms and the statues have eyes that blink and follow Belle but they never talk or interact with her in any other way. When she arrives to take her father’s place, I love how she glides down the corridor, mist billowing around her and blowing the curtains. And then there is this sexual element that I completely missed (which also explains why I didn’t date much in college). As the Beast falls for Belle, his hands start smoking when she is near. He is literally hot for her. And there is a bunch of symbolism about him giving her his ‘key’ to his ‘treasure’ which just went over my head completely. Put it all together, though, and you get this fairy tale that has so much more depth than I gave it credit for at first. There are a few nit-picky things about the plot that confuses me, such as why it was so easy for Belle to break her promise to the Beast when she knew how evil her sisters were. But every story has its holes so I’ll just let it be for once and just enjoy a good tale.

Final review: 5/5

Up next: Judge Priest

 

#370- Pierrot le Fou

Quick recap: Ferdinand Griffon is tired of his bougie lifestyle so he takes off with ex-girlfriend, Marianne, who is maybe wanted by terrorists or something. Whatever the case may be, the two of them leave a trail of dead bodies in their wake and enough symbolism to last me the rest of this list.

I wish I knew how to quit you, French New Wave cinema

Fun (?) fact: Here is what director Jean-Luc Godard said about his film, in the most French way possible :  “it is not really a film, it’s an attempt at cinema. Life is the subject, with [Cinema]Scope and color as its attributes…In short, life filling the screen as a tap fills bathtub that is simultaneously emptying at the same rate.”

My thoughts: As I sit here drinking my canned wine after a full meal of hot dogs and potato chips, I cant help but feeling a little offended that Godard hates American culture. To be fair, it is American cinema he hates, although I doubt he felt anything sentimental towards the actual citizens. And so Godard set out to make a film that both satirized and showed his love for all things America. Which I think he did. Or did not. Hell if I know, actually.

Pierrot le Fou is the weirdest film to describe because although it has a linear plot about two lovers on the run, I never understood what they were running from or why they were killing so many people. But then I read up on trivia and saw that it was a satire and it kind of reminded me of the first time I saw Austin Powers. I thought the movie was hilarious but I only understood about 40% of it because I had never watched a James Bond film before. That’s what this movie is. If I had watched the films Godard was referencing, I think I would’ve understood what was going on a little better but since I didn’t, I just kept waiting for something to make sense. There are a few funny elements in the film but many of them are dark so I wasn’t sure if it was French humor or something else. I like to imagine audiences back in the 60s watching Pierrot le Fou and cackling every time Ferdinand reads a book or when Marianne pulls out her dog purse. But to me, I felt left out of the joke.

That’s not to say that I was bored to tears or anything by this movie. The colors are gorgeous and so are the actors. I kept watching to see what would happen, even if I didn’t understand every little thing going on. The dialogue spoken was also confusing, like watching the Thin Red Line again. If I had turned off subtitles and just watched the action, I think I would’ve walked away from this with a much higher regard for Godard.

Final review:2/5

Up next: Toy Story

#369- Kiss of the Spider Woman

Quick recap: A man imprisoned for homosexuality is locked up with a political prisoner. The two develop a very deep bond despite horrible conditions. Think of it like the Odd Couple except not funny and someone dies. Cheers!

Fun(?) fact: Sônia Braga, who played several roles in the ‘film within a film’ part of the movie, spoke no English at the time. Instead, she memorized her lines phonetically.

Yes, Virginia, there really is a spider woman

My thoughts: It’s been difficult to decide on a direction for this movie because it is all over the place. It’s sweet at times, painfully sad, funny and also a mystery? But in the end, it just didn’t work for me. I’ll start by saying that I loved William Hurt and his performance is the reason I’m giving this film any points at all. The way he tells the ‘film within a film’ plot was magical and well worth sitting through the rest of this pile.

I think the many directions this movie takes is why I’m so hesitant to embrace it. If it had stayed a story about a gay man falling for his prisoner roommate who is very masculine, that would be fine. If it had just been about an unfair justice system and regime, that also would’ve worked. Hell, if it was just about William Hurt’s character Luis actually being an informant, that would also be compelling film. But all of these things plus two movies within this movie? There’s just too much to focus on. Luis himself is a mess so I get it to some degree. And I enjoyed not knowing what would happen next because of that. It felt more realistic to not predict what Luis would do after he got out of prison. At the end of the movie, however, I still hadn’t decided on how I felt about his character. Was he ever in love with Valentin or was it all an act so he could be released early? I guess if you look at the ‘film within a films’ it would seem as if he really did fall in love and saw himself as a sort of martyr. That would also explain the ending, which I won’t spoil for once.

I loved the way the scenes from the past were weaved in with the present, as well as the silent movie throughout the various scenes. It all made Kiss of the Spider Woman compelling to watch, even if the end wasn’t satisfying.

Final review: 2/5

Up next: Pierrot le Fou