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The General (1926)

The overarching theme of the AFI Top 100 List, for me at least, is that these are a bunch of movies that I never in a million years would have even thought to watch.  Not that there is something about them that I find specifically boring, or offensive, or what have you…they just never would have caught my eye.  A number of them, including The General, have ended up being quite good films and I’m glad I’ve taken the time to watch them. I suppose that’s a no-brainer remark, they are on the Top 100 list, so someone’s  bound to like them.  I am finding that it is nice to discover so many enjoyable stories from films I would have never bothered to pick up otherwise.

Buster Keaton plays Johnny Gray– a man who loves two things: his locomotive and his lady.

The civil war starts, and being a southerner, Johnny’s lady friend expects him to enlist in the army.  He tries to enlist, but they refuse to take him because he will be more helpful to the South driving trains.  After receiving some mistaken information that Johnny didn’t even get in the enlistment line, his lady friend (ok, I can’t remember her name) tells him that she won’t speak to him again until he’s in uniform.

Johnny then gets entangled in a mass of mis-adventures, in which he chases down and heads off a maneuver by the Northern Army, learns some secret information about their plans, then chases them down, heads off their attack and saves the day.  All the while, the audience is awash in laughter because Johnny is accident prone and hapless.

I had never seen a Buster Keaton film before this, and everything I knew about Keaton I learned from Benny & Joon.  Keaton is skillful and hilarious, but he never gets so over the top to be ridiculous.  I really would like to see more of his films, you know, with that copious free time I have.

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Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Young sometimes-lovers tear through the Depression Era Midwest, robbing banks, and leaving corpses in their wake.

That’s all I have to say about Bonnie & Clyde, because there wasn’t much more to the movie than that.  Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Gene Hackman, and Gene Wilder all put forward good performances.  The characters were entertaining, but not particularly engaging or funny.

The ending is surprising but also, well, not surprising.  I suspect the level of sex and violence may have been shocking for its time, but it’s not a shocking film under 2011 standards.

It wasn’t a waste of my time, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to watch it again.  I’d give it 2.5 of 5 stars.

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Gone with the Wind (1939)

Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.

A 4 hour movie full of melodrama and racism? Next time I’ll pass.  Scarlett O’Hara is the worst kind of obnoxious.  There are some self-absorbed, destructive characters that I get wholly wrapped up in.  Not her. I wanted to punch Scarlett in the face, and that’s about it.  Rhett was mildly interesting, but not 4 hours worth of movie interesting.  I had to watch this in 3 sittings, because it was so ridiculously long.  This is a short review because there was nothing I could get into about this film.

If you love Gone With the Wind, please share why.  I don’t see it.


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All About Eve (1950)

I discovered this morning that quite a few of the AFI Top 100 films are available on Netflix streaming.  My life is feast or famine– if I have time to watch anything at all, it’ll present itself in a weekend (like this one) where the focus is getting lots and lots of laundry done, so I’ll have time to watch a solid 5 or 6 films at a go.  Then the week will start again, and my life will resume its usual insanity, and I won’t have time to watch a film for a good 6 weeks.

I’ve never seen a Bette Davis movie, and thought she looked unfriendly and boring.  The only thing I knew about her was that “Bette Davis Eyes” song from the 80’s. I was impressed to see how witty and lively she really is.  The film was funny, but had plenty  of drama.  It’s not a clean fit in either the “comedy” or “drama” genre.

Bette Davis plays Margo Channing, an enormously famous theater star, with all the spontaniety, moodiness, and charm you’d expect.  She’s demanding and high maintenance for sure, but I wouldn’t call her a diva.  She’s that one friend everyone has that makes a huge to do out of everything, and can be demanding and stubborn and frustrating, but is also such enormous fun that you can’t help but keep her around.

Margo’s best friend, Karen, is the wife of the famous playwright who writes all of Margo’s scripts.  Karen notices that a young, mousy girl waits to see Margo enter and exit backstage at every single performance.  Karen strikes up a conversation with Eve and Eve confesses that she’s Margo’s biggest fan, and has seen every single performance of the play.  Karen is impressed with Eve’s devotion, and invites Eve in to meet Margo in the dressing room.  Margo, so absorbed with her own celebrity, thinks Eve is charming (instead of creepy, which is how I suspect the audience must have perceived her). Margo hires Eve as her assistant, and takes her under her wing.

Eve spends the rest of the film conniving and ladder-climbing, wrangling her way onto the stage, trying to steal husbands, and generally doing everything she can to become the brightest star in the theater.

The film, above all, is witty.  Language is employed cleverly, and the dialog is never trite.  Although the main characters are all at some level celebrities, they’re all surprisingly relatable.  Margo’s the high maintenance friend, Karen is the friend that is unendingly loyal but sometimes a bad judge of character, Eve and Addison are the self-absorbed snakes that convince you they really want to help you, but are looking for every opportunity to advance themselves.

Marilyn Monroe also had a small part as an aspiring Hollywood star in a party scene.  With all her pinup fame and post-mortem idolization, it’s easy to forget that she really could act, and is a delight to watch on screen.

Even though I knew I’d never seen All About Eve before, I find myself a few times feeling like I had already seen the film.  All About Eve  wasn’t the first work to operate on the “student-becomes-the-master” and “country girl/big city” themes, and it’s a far cry from the last.   I realized I was just connecting it with other films that followed the same themes.  Although not entirely a direct example, David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive was what came immediately to mind, but I’m sure I’ve seen plenty of other films that operate on the same ideas.

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Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

As I dropped this DVD into my player, I was wondering whether the AFI Top 100 movies really exhibit the best American cinema has to offer, or whether these were all the popular films from the reviewers’ childhoods, and they picked them out of nostalgia.

Singin’ in the Rain answered this question handily.

This is one good movie.

My synopsis won’t do the film justice, because the plot is only one small component of the whole film. This film is entertainment. The singing! The dancing! The bright lights! Sure, there’s a story, but THE SINGING! THE DANCING! THE BRIGHT LIGHTS!

Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont are film stars in the silent pictures.  The tabloids believe they’re also deeply in love…but it’s actually all a show and Don detests Lina.  Don by happenstance meets Kathy and they fall wildly in love within 20 minutes.  The talkie pictures come to Hollywood, but Lina’s screeching, obnoxious voice ruins their first attempt at a talkie film.  Don, his pal Cosmo, and Kathy pull together a plan to remake the film as a musical, and splice in Kathy’s voice in place of Lina’s. Leading up to the film’s opening, Lina has done all kinds of vile things to steal all the credit and shove Kathy out of the limelight.  At the film’s wildly successful premier, Lina makes another ham-handed attempt to steal all the glory for herself, and her fame crumbles (deliciously) all around her.

Since this is a happy film, Don gets his girl, and everything is right and the world is wonderful. Hooray!

So that episode in Glee where Mr. Shu’s dreadful wife is talking about how Singin’ in the Rain is Mr. Shu’s favorite movie when he’s sick, and it always makes him feel better….that totally makes sense. This film is so light, and happy, and wonderful and fun. It can only make you feel better.

Even Mr. Beez ASKED ME TO PAUSE IT WHEN HE HAD TO STEP OUT OF THE ROOM. He liked this movie! He hates almost every movie I pick out!