rate the last movie you saw

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Paul MacLean
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Re: rate the last movie you saw

#3061 Post by Paul MacLean » Mon Sep 04, 2017 4:04 pm

Konichiwa...

Been watching a lot of Japanese movies (and couple of remakes of Japanese movies) recently...

Zatoichi vs. Yojimbo *1/2

Although the Zatoichi movies were immensely popular in Japan (apparently there were 26 in all), I had never seen any of them until now. However it was really Toshiro Mifune (rather than Zatoichi star Shintaro Katsu) who piqued my interest in watching this film. Despite the title however, Mifune is not playing "Yojimbo" from Kurosawa's films, but a self-serving thug who is nothing like that character ("Yojimbo" actually means "bodyguard", so it would be like casting Harrison Ford as someone called "Archaeologist" who wears a fedora and carries a whip, in an attempt to sucker-in Indiana Jones fans).

In any case, I quit on this film halfway through. Its plot (if you can call it that) is vague and convoluted. The film is also slow, and for a movie which is ostensibly an "action" film, there is little of it. Maybe the second half is one of the greatest action movies ever made, but I couldn't stick around to find out.


Hunter in the Dark *

Another convoluted bore, this one involving Tatsuya Nakadai (who had starring roles in several of Kurosawa's pictures) as a yakuza who...I don't know...this script was also very convoluted, and involved a high-born Samurai with amnesia. I gave-up on this halfway through as well. This being from 1979, there was also a lot of embarrassingly gratuitous nudity. Decent score by Masaru Sato though.


The Magnificent Seven **1/2

Despite owning the soundtrack since the mid 80s (well, technically it was the "Return of the Magnificent Seven" album) I actually never sat down to view this film until a few weeks ago. Given its reputation, I have to admit I didn't think it was especially great.

Kurosawa's original is an impossible act to follow of course; however, comparing the two films is hard to avoid. Despite the fact Seven Samurai was itself influenced by American westerns, there is much in Kurosawa's film which ironically doesn't transfer well to the old west. The idea of Samurai offering to help beleaguered peasants carries a lot more weight than hired guns doing likewise. Feudal Japan had an astringent class system -- where Samurai had the right to execute on the spot any peasant who did not bow to them. Thus, Samurai risking (and giving) their lives to protect people of a lower class is a hugely impressive and poignant gesture. The gunslingers in The Magnificent Seven take pity on the defenseless (well, except for the fellow who is led to believe there is goldmine near the village) -- but the Samurai of Kurosawa's film exhibit greater altruism, because in their culture, no one would bat an eye if they ignored the plight of those who are "beneath" them.

In Seven Samurai, the character of Kambei shows unexpected compassion and humility when he risks his life to save a peasant baby from a Bandit -- which suggests to the farmers he might be sympathetic to their predicament. In The Magnificent Seven, the peasants are impressed by Chris Adams because he escorts a casket containing the body of an unpopular man to a cemetery -- hardly as impressive an act as Kambei's.

In Seven Samurai, Kyuzo is a stoic, undefeatable swordsman, and one of the greatest in the land. Thus, his death at the hands of a gunman is bitterly ironic. There is no equivalent in The Magnificent Seven -- what irony is there when a gunman is killed by another gunman?

The grateful peasants in The Magnificent Seven also bid farewell to the surviving gunmen as they depart; in Seven Samurai, the farmers ignore their saviors, apparently hoping they will just leave (a reference to the way in which soldiers are historically venerated in wartime, but shunned once the battles are over).

I will say that the cast of The Magnificent Seven is enormously impressive. Yul Brynner is fantastic, as is Eli Wallach, and it's not hard to see why so many of the supporting players -- McQueen, Vaughan, Bronson, Coburn -- went on to be stars in their own right. And who doesn't agree Elmer Bernstein's score is one of the greatest of all time? (Jerry Goldsmith considered The Magnificent Seven the best western score ever written -- a compliment that is hard to refute.) However, I'd rate this picture as a "pretty good" western, but not a classic.


A Fistful of Dollars **

Sergio Leone's remake of Kurosawa's Yojimbo, which I also never actually sat down to watch until recently. I have to say it too pales in comparison to the original. Clint Eastwood is great (as always), but again, so much is lost transforming a samurai into a gunslinger. The spectacular climax of Yojimbo, where Toshiro Mifune -- armed with a sword and knife -- defeats gun-wielding Tatsuya Nakadai, is one of the great action scenes in cinema history. But it doesn't work nearly as well when you remove the sword from the equation. (Plus wouldn't the gunmen eventually realize Eastwood has some kind of metal shield under his poncho, and just shoot him in the head?)

Excellent Ennio Morricone score however.


Unforgiven (Japanese remake) *1/2

Unforgiven is certainly one of Clint Eastwood's best films, and as a fan of Japanese movies (and a martial artist myself) I was overwhelmingly excited to hear that a Japanese remake was in the works -- with no less than Ken Watanabe in the lead. Unfortunately this film is a total dud. It just lacks energy, and there's little to draw the viewer in. There's not much else to say, except that remaking American westerns into Samurai movies doesn't appear to work very well either. A huge disappointment.

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Paul MacLean
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Re: rate the last movie you saw

#3062 Post by Paul MacLean » Sat Sep 09, 2017 12:54 pm

Zodiac **

Eh. A somewhat interesting story -- but the plot gets convoluted, with too many characters, too many suspects and too many tangents. On top of that the story doesn't resolve in particularly satisfying way. I realize Zodiac is "a true story", but even pictures based on true stories often need to combine two or more characters into one, and excise (or even alter) details in the service of narrative cohesion. The film also relies a lot on CGI -- some of which is very convincing; other shots look thoroughly unreal (particularly some of the car interiors -- you'd think they could have just used a real car with a camera mount). However, the film is superbly well-acted, with not a missed note in any performance (Robert Downey, jr. in particular stands out).

David Shire's score is effective, but essentially themeless (no doubt on orders from David Fincher -- odd that he would hire a composer who won an Oscar for "Best Song" and then tell him not to write any themes).

Fincher is a fine director, but I often get the sense from his films that he thinks he is a better and more important filmmaker than he actually is. Zodiac certainly held my interest, but it's more an exercise in style than substance, and often feels like a slick, overlong episode of Dragnet.

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Re: rate the last movie you saw

#3063 Post by Paul MacLean » Fri Sep 15, 2017 11:34 pm

Been taking in some more Japanese movies...

Kagemusha: The Shadow Warrior **1/2

Akira Kurosawa's sometimes-impressive but clunky samurai epic from 1980. The film features Tatsuya Nakadai in two roles -- that of the warlord Takeda Shingen, and a common thief whose uncanny resemblance to the Shingen results in his being hired as a double (for use in hazardous situations where the lord's safety might be at risk). When Shingen is felled in battle, his brother and closest advisors decide to enlist the double to impersonate the lord for a period of three years, owing to the current political instability of Takeda clan (which would be at risk of disintegrating were it suddenly leaderless).

The script is excellent, and a fine work of historical fiction -- Takeda Shingen was a real warlord (though his impersonation after his death by a double is fictionalized). The thief skillfully assumes the role of the lord, even fooling Shingen's mistresses, as well as his young grandson. And as the thief is by nature a gentler and more compassionate man then Shingen, he forms a close bond with Shingen's grandson which was never possible for the real lord. The thief also comes to win the respect of those few (the high-ranking generals and Shingen's bodyguards) who are aware he is a figurehead and imposter. Inevitably, the three years come to an end -- with tragic results for both the thief and the Takeda clan.

Unfortunately, Kagemusha is very uneven film, which is disappointing for a picture made by someone of Kurosawa's stature. There are some immensely strong elements, but considerable flaws as well. The battle scenes have an almost claustrophobic quality, with limited coverage, and despite legions of costumed extras, don't look and feel as "epic" as one feels they ought. Apart from being disappointing, it is just odd to see this in a film by a man who had one of the greatest faculties for staging action of any director ever.

In fairness, production difficulties plagued this movie, in which Kurosawa originally cast Shintaro Katsu (star of the Zatoichi movies) as the thief / warlord — and then fired him the first day of shooting after an on-set row. Also, the supporting cast is populated by a number of well-known Japanese television actors, whose performances are occasionally hammy. Perhaps Kurosawa needed familiar faces to get funding, I don't know, but they do let the air of of the film a bit (and I suspect the presence of so many TV actors gave Japanese audiences the same feeling Americans got from watching The Bastard! :lol: ).

I'm sorry to say one of the most detrimental faults of the film is the score by Shinichiro Ikebe. Although unassailably well-written (Ikebe is an accomplished classical composer), dramatically it is a disaster. Apart from a few moments of effectively subdued, elegiac string-writing, the score is more often overly frenetic, loud and over-the-top, and renders a number of sequences unintentionally funny. The aftermath of the final battle features a trumpet soloist who plays with so much vibrato, it almost sounds like the theme from Chinatown (and destroys the scene).

I imagine the enthusiasm for Kagemusha must have been running high prior to its release. It was Kurosawa's first film in five years (and the first film featuring Samurai he'd made in eighteen). Being released under the prestigious banner of "George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola Present" must have generated considerable anticipation as well. Nakadai is wonderful in the film (it's hard to imagine Katsu would have been better), but despite some elements of true greatness, Kagemusha does not, in my estimation, number among Kurosawa's better work. Happily the director would acquit himself five years later with Ran (which proved arguably as great a film as Seven Samurai -- and was thankfully scored by Toru Takemitsu).

In all, I'd still rate Kagemusha as worth watching, but it does bear the earmarks of a "troubled production" and a director who is a bit out of practice.


High and Low ****

One of Kurosawa's non-historic movies, and one which, despite a Japanese setting, has universal themes which could take place in any culture. Toshiro Mifune plays a wealthy (and self-made) business owner, Kingo Gondo, who is threatened by a hostile takeover by the board of directors of his company. Having anticipated this eventuality, Gondo has shrewdly put money aside to buy the majority of his company's stock, and thus retain control. However, he receives a call from a kidnapper who says he has abducted Gondo's young son, and is demanding a ransom of millions. Entirely willing to pay the ransom with the funds he was going to use to save his company, Gondo suddenly finds himself in a troubling moral dilemma, when it is revealed that his son is safe -- and that the kidnappers abducted the son of his chauffeur by mistake.

High and Low is a riveting film, which operates on many levels -- morality play, thriller, mystery, an exploration of ethical obligations, and it offers perceptive observations about class and haves vs. have-nots. Made in the early 60s, during the most inspired period of Kurosawa's career, the writing, direction and acting are all up to the high standard one expects from this era of the director's output. Highly recommended!

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Re: rate the last movie you saw

#3064 Post by mkaroly » Sat Sep 16, 2017 12:22 pm

HIGH AND LOW is an outstanding film...agreed Paul!

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AndyDursin
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Re: rate the last movie you saw

#3065 Post by AndyDursin » Sun Sep 17, 2017 11:04 pm

BENEATH THE 12 MILE REEF

Oh man is this movie AWFUL.

Herrmann's score is great and all, and Twilight Time's Blu looks and sounds great, but what a dated if not laughable product of it's time.

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Re: rate the last movie you saw

#3066 Post by esteban miranda » Mon Sep 18, 2017 12:21 am

AndyDursin wrote:
Sun Sep 17, 2017 11:04 pm
BENEATH THE 12 MILE REEF

Oh man is this movie AWFUL.

Herrmann's score is great and all, and Twilight Time's Blu looks and sounds great, but what a dated if not laughable product of it's time.
I saw this for the first time a little over a year ago.
Certainly the Herrmann score is it's greatest asset, but it's like a Technicolor, Cinemascope B movie. Nothing great, but I've seen worse...

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Re: rate the last movie you saw

#3067 Post by esteban miranda » Mon Sep 18, 2017 12:32 am

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial - 3/5

First time I've seen it at the theater since...1982.
Loved it when I was 18. Liked it when I was 23. It's still good but the final 15 minutes are the payoff and it takes a long time to get there.
John Williams' score is 80% of the enjoyment.

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