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A few reviews

TM2YC

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Stray Dog (1949)
If it wasn't for the rough sound, 4:3 aspect ratio and black & white image, you could easily mistake this Akira Kurosawa detective drama as a totally modern noir. Toshiro Mifune plays an intense rookie cop who has his gun stolen and so gets partnered with an older, seasoned, more mild-mannered detective (Takashi Shimura) to help him get it back... and maybe his honour too. The search takes them down into the seedy underbelly of deprived post-war Tokyo during a punishing heatwave, where rice ration cards are swapped for weapons. The relationship between the two detectives is beautifully played, you couldn't ask for better actors than Mifune and Shimura. The visuals are so stylish, they're crying out for a Criterion blu-ray restoration one day.

 

mnkykungfu

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Alien 3 (1992)
I'd forgotten the laughable scene where the deprived prisoners are sitting round drinking bottles of Coca-Cola which they've somehow got, any excuse for product placement.
I'm with you on most of your comments on this one, but the Coca-Cola part totally hit with me as well. It fits with the cynicism of religion and corporate overreach, implying that in this future, of course Coca-Cola is easier to come by than water.

Same here, I loved that show. But, you didn't realize it was a Blue Thunder takeoff? It seemed obvious to me. I watched Air Wolf first, then watched Blue Thunder and realized where the TV show got its inspiration.
I wasn't allowed to watch the movie when I was young, and then by the time I finally saw it in my teen years, it was pretty tame and uninteresting compared to Cyborg, Nemesis, The King of New York, and all the other great B-movie stuff perpetuating on video. Never really gave it a second thought, though Air Wolf hit my kid brain at exactly the right time.
 

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For some reason I paid attention to a child's film that deserves no attention.
Albert (2016?)
On Paramount+
A Nickelodeon funded Christmas themed Toy Story ripoff in which plants are sentient, mobile, and capable of speech. Not content with remaining simply an existential crisis for vegans, the main character sets out to become the "Empire City Tree" , the biggest non copyright offending Christmas tree in the land. Along the way the little evergreen and his tiny palm tree girlfriend who believes in him go on a road trip, make enemies with a cactus, and eventually finish the plot. I checked out after the girlfriend died from too much cold weather but was revived instantly when a caring child gave up her scarf for the plant on the ground in the middle of a crowd in generic brand New-York-esque City.

Almost so bad it's good, ultimately off-putting. Avoid, even with children. There are some off tone fart and sex jokes that are simply dumb and make it unacceptable for REALLY little ones.
 

mnkykungfu

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Summer of Soul (...or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (2021)
The "never seen" before marketing and subtitle of this wonderful concert documentary is literally a lie because the concert was actually televised
I have no dog in this fight, but in the reviews of it I've heard, the point was that it was put together as a black response to Woodstock and was supposed to be a huge event, widely-covered, really breaking through Black culture to mainstream America. However, once the station had the rights, they decided mainstream America wouldn't be that interested in watching, and decided not to air the whole thing. It was very disappointing to the organizers. What was aired was only aired in limited markets at off times. So the African-American community felt that they were having a revolution, but there wasn't enough interest by white America to see it or show it. Hence the "could not" rather than "was not televised."
and it being sold as equivalent to "The black Woodstock" is also a bit of a stretch because it had about a 10th of the audience
This part was meant to be about the "who's who" of performers at the event. As there had been very few Black performers at Woodstock, the mission was to put together the kind of lineup for the African-American community that would make the Woodstock performers jealous. While the music at Woodstock is more my bag, I'd say that the lineup here probably was more titanic for the community.
 

TM2YC

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Summer of Soul (...or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (2021)
The "never seen" before marketing and subtitle of this wonderful concert documentary is literally a lie because the concert was actually televised
I have no dog in this fight, but in the reviews of it I've heard, the point was that it was put together as a black response to Woodstock and was supposed to be a huge event, widely-covered, really breaking through Black culture to mainstream America. However, once the station had the rights, they decided mainstream America wouldn't be that interested in watching, and decided not to air the whole thing. It was very disappointing to the organizers. What was aired was only aired in limited markets at off times. So the African-American community felt that they were having a revolution, but there wasn't enough interest by white America to see it or show it. Hence the "could not" rather than "was not televised."

My problem was that they choose not to explain that to the audience because "not" shown sounds more powerful than "was" shown. An amazing bit of TV being shown only once in the 60s/70s was not a rare occurrence and is a whole different kettle of fish to the film's implication that the footage was never shown and hidden away. Remember this was the era when the BBC would routinely broadcast Doctor Who once, then wipe the videotape because they didn't think it would have any permanent commercial or artistic value. The fact that the concert footage didn't suffer the same fate (videotape was super expensive) and was preserved for us to enjoy now, means a few people actually did recognise it's worth then.

There was a legendary bit of videotape of Hendrix from the same year (1969) rescued from being binned. The guy who saved it being interviewed:


and the amazing footage (colourised):


Pop culture stuff just wasn't valued back then, regardless of who it was.

and it being sold as equivalent to "The black Woodstock" is also a bit of a stretch because it had about a 10th of the audience
This part was meant to be about the "who's who" of performers at the event. As there had been very few Black performers at Woodstock, the mission was to put together the kind of lineup for the African-American community that would make the Woodstock performers jealous. While the music at Woodstock is more my bag, I'd say that the lineup here probably was more titanic for the community.

It's the way the film deliberately fiddled the numbers to make it seem as big as Woodstock, by combining multiple concerts that presumably had many of the same attendees and comparing that to the massive single Woodstock audience. It was trying to say that the two were equal. They weren't equal but both should have been celebrated. I'll reserve judgement 'til I've watched the Woodstock documentary but I have a hard time believing it could be better than the awesome musicians in 'Summer of Soul'.



The Hidden Fortress (1958)
'The Hidden Fortress'
isn't as epic as 'Seven Samurai', it's not as action-packed as 'Yojimbo' and nowhere near as stylish and refined as 'Ran'. It might be my least favourite of all of Akira Kurosawa's "Jidaigeki/Chanbara" films. That's not to say it's bad, in fact I rather enjoyed it but just less than all the others. I was also a bit disappointed after hearing all the "heavy influence" on 1977's 'Star Wars' comments over the years, to find that boils down to little more than it's also got a couple of bickering secondary protagonists who get mixed up in a war, involving a renegade princess. I couldn't detect any other major plot similarities.

A nice 'The Force Awakens' fan trailer:

 

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Matrix Resurrections. Since the movie is so new I’ll put this in spoiler tags, but I don’t feel the review is overly spoilery. But, fair warning, I didn’t like it.

I love the original Matrix. I really wanted this one to be a return to form. But I admit I was worried by the trailers. It’s not Neo as Keanu Reeves, an actor who starred in a “movie” called the Matrix 20 years ago, but it’s close. Just because you acknowledge that you’re repeating something doesn’t make it cool to rehash things. In fact the meta nature of it makes it decidedly less cool in my opinion. I had a hard time during the first hour deciding if this was intentionally a joke; a parody where the joke is on the audience. And then this movie, just like the first two sequels, gets bogged down in its own complexities and spends way too much time with characters simply spewing exposition. There’s no show and all tell. There’s a seed of an idea about the current culture of social media and conspiracy theories that is interesting but is so inconsequential to the plot as to be pretty much a throwaway. The original movie’s strength was in its simplicity, its finding a unique way to tell a familiar story. This sequel, like its two predecessors, is needlessly complex and often downright silly. A hard pan from me.
 

TM2YC

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Ron's Gone Wrong (2021)
I was super excited to see the next animated film from the team of Director Sarah Smith and co-writer (and long term comedy genius) Peter Baynham 10-years after their glorious ‘Arthur Christmas’. That movie was perfection on every creative level, so is ‘Ron’s Gone Wrong’ as good? Well no but it is excellent and I haven’t yet rewatched it every Christmas for a decade! For your typical Pixar type family movie, it’s a timely and surprisingly sharp satire on the generation of kids born into the age of ubiquitous social-media. The only bum note for me was having your standard “Jafar” type antagonist, a gleeful perpetrator of the Facebook-alike company’s evil deeds, leaving the tech whizz-kid figurehead (also called Marc) to come out the innocent hero. It would’ve been more truthful to have them be the same character. There are definite shades of ‘E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial’ and ‘Short Circuit’ to the premise, which puts it in good company. The “Insert Registered Name” / “Absalom!” joke made me laugh every time, I wish they had repeated it even more than they already did.


Then I had my annual rewatch of 'Arthur Christmas', then watched 'Ron's Gone Wrong' again! Good times.
 

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OK, I need to sit down and watch it then. My son watched it at least a couple of times on his own and reports it's good. Of course, he likes watching really dumb YouTube videos too...
 

TM2YC

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Someone to Watch Over Me (1987)
The opening helicopter shot gliding across the glowing lights of Manhattan and the pinnacle of the Chrysler building (in unbelievable close-up), across towards Queens is jaw dropping and symbolic of the clash of class at the heart of Ridley Scott’s ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’. Tom Berenger plays a poor working class cop assigned to protect upper class, wealthy socialite Mimi Rogers. Berenger’s character didn’t work for me, he’s not much of a hero, he doesn’t take his job seriously, he’s fairly lazy, unfaithful to his wife, not a great father and generally weak willed. Where as Roger’s victim is the stronger one, determined and (somewhat) principled. The premise reminded me of 1992’s ‘The Bodyguard’ which executes these elements much better with the protector taking the threat very seriously and the target being initially careless. Despite these script problems, ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’ is a fantastic looking 80s noir, with great performances, particularly from Lorraine Bracco.

 

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Drunken Angel (1948)
I’ve mostly seen Toshiro Mifune play loud and erratic Jidaigeki characters, so it’s nice to see him play the more subtle, brooding, taciturn “gangster with a heart” Matsunaga, in a bleak contemporary post-war Japan setting. He looks so cool in his sharp suit, black leather trench coat and slick back hair. Matsunaga is dying of consumption, which instigates an abrasive friendship with Takashi Shimura’s loud-mouthed but kind, drunken doctor. Akira Kurosawa constantly cuts back to shots of a disease and bacteria ridden mud puddle in the middle of the slum, symbolising both the corruption of Matsunaga's lungs and the malign Yakuza influence on the town. The overhead shot of Mifune toward the end is powerful and beautiful but I’m not exactly sure why, maybe it feels like the POV of a higher power.

 

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Black Rain (1989)
Unfortunately I wasted the first half of ‘Black Rain’ suspecting Andy Garcia was secretly the villain (I maintain all the clues were there!) so I didn’t have the requisite fondness for the character that I was supposed to. The script takes too long to get into the themes of honour and revenge and is slow to get into the shifting buddy-cop relationship between Ken Takakura’s dutiful “samurai” and Michael Douglas’ disgraced “Ronin”. Being directed by Ridley Scott and being set in neon 80s Japan, the film is fantastic to look at. Hans Zimmer’s score isn’t one of his more memorable efforts. I think there is a tight 90-minute Hong Kong style “heroic bloodshed” action film somewhere in here.

 

mnkykungfu

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^Garcia just gives off kind of an oily vibe, but it's a perfect match for Douglas' oiliness in this. That is a bummer, because as a teen I was so taken aback when his role doesn't go how you think it's going to. It was such an energizing impetus for the script. I had no idea at the time what this film was doing, that Takakura was the legendary bad boy Japanese actor who previously would have been in Douglas' role in an earlier Japanese version of this. So I didn't get into that relationship at the time, but I really appreciate it now.

Mostly I was just into the whole slick, gorgeously dirty exploitation aesthetic of this, a perfect capture of grimy early '80s neo-noir Japan. This is one of those films that's probably impossible to appreciate how influential its style was because now it just seems typical of a whole type. But in '89, it was Scott pilfering from another part of Japan (Shinjuku in Bladerunner, Hiroshima here) and then perfectly capturing the grimy appeal in such a way that Japanese filmmakers and Yakuza were then influenced by his portrayal! I put this movie up there with Alien, Bladerunner, Robocop, and Terminator as one of the Hollywood movies that reflected back and influenced Japanese film and anime for the next 20+ years (and Korean and Chinese as a knock-on effect).

Love the scene where the Yakuza underling has failed and meets with the boss to cut off his finger, which is all filmed with so much tension and pain, and then the boss angrily growls out "IS THAT ALL?":love:
 

TM2YC

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^Garcia just gives off kind of an oily vibe, but it's a perfect match for Douglas' oiliness in this.:love:

I find Garcia very likeable and charming. It was more the way Douglas kept going on about hating "suits" and Garcia makes a point of being in an expensive respectable suit, is eager for advancement and is encouraging the belligerent Douglas to play the "corporate" game. He's also a bit rascally and free with his money. It all seemed like hints to me that Garcia was going to be revealed as the real corrupt cop who is framing up Douglas....then it was ooooh, so I was just supposed to like the guy and his youthful carefree nature and oh... Douglas was what he appeared to be (at least on the surface). Not the first time my suspicious plot-solving mind has spoiled a movie.

I don't think I've seen Takakura in anything before, although 'Bullet Train' and 'The Yakuza' have been high up on my watchlist for a while.

Oh and I loved the bit where Takakura offers Douglas one memento of his partner and Douglas chooses his gun. A real moment of connection and understanding between the two characters.
 

TM2YC

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War Horse (2011)
This is about the 3rd or 4th time I’ve watched Steven Spielberg’s ‘War Horse’ and it’s gone up in my estimation each time, from a low initial opinion. It begins with a fairytale quality, then becomes increasing bleak and real before returning to romance at the end. I don’t think I’d fully appreciated before how closely we are supposed to identify Joey with Alby’s father. The cinematography is gorgeous, every other shot a painting, recalling the look of 'Gone With the Wind' and John Ford movies. The score is one of John Williams’ very best, an unapologetically emotional and lush experience, around another beautiful main theme, evoking the brass bands of the period setting. I still think it was a big mistake to cut away from Joey at two points (one of them for 10-minutes), the "war horse" should be the main character at all times, not the first of his owners.

 

mnkykungfu

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I don't think I've seen Takakura in anything before, although 'Bullet Train' and 'The Yakuza' have been high up on my watchlist for a while.

Oh and I loved the bit where Takakura offers Douglas one memento of his partner and Douglas chooses his gun. A real moment of connection and understanding between the two characters.
^Yeah, I didn't connect at all with the odd-couple buddy cop story on the first watch, I was just all about Douglas being a slick badass on a quest for revenge. It wasn't until years later when I watched Basic Instinct and my head cannon made his Detective Nick the same character as his Detective Nick here...a guy everyone says should've gotten promoted ten times if he didn't keep getting busted down for wild behavior. Then going back and watching Black Rain, I appreciated that Nick needs a partner like Masahiro (or Charlie) to rein him in. For his part, Takakura was a staple of '70s Japanese grindhouse cinema, playing Yakuza hardasses and badass cops not to mention the Golgo 13. I didn't catch on to his late stage playing-against-type turns until years later on a re-watch of Mr. Baseball, where I realized that for a Japanese audience, one of the central jokes is that you would never want to have this hardass as your coach, much less your prospective father-in-law!
War Horse (2011)
I still think it was a big mistake to cut away from Joey at two points (one of them for 10-minutes), the "war horse" should be the main character at all times, not the first of his owners.
This is a wonderfully-produced movie, but I found it hard to get emotionally invested in. I think you're right and the film can't decide whether it wants to be about the horse or the boy. It seems to want to be about both, but if it wanted to focus on their bond, it spent too long on the other owners. Maybe the story worked better in the novel.
 

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Hook (1991)
It’s hard to believe it’s been 30-years since my parents took me to see this at the cinema, I loved it then, I didn’t dislike it today. I can see more flaws though. It’s very set-bound and transitions between the lovely expansive matte paintings and the claustrophobic soundstage locations is jarring. It slightly breaks the fairytale spell conjured by the London opening scenes. John Williams music is distractingly similar to his later Harry Potter score. Dustin Hoffmann is a scenery chewing scream as Cpt. Hook. With a string of back-to-back hits like 'Hook', 'Aladdin', 'Mrs. Doubtfire' and 'Jumanji', it seemed like Robin Williams was the magical prince of early 90s family entertainment. I remember Spielberg 8-years ago saying he didn't like anything about 'Hook' to Kermode and Mayo but it’s far from bad.


The Spielberg comments on 'Hook' to Kermode and Mayo (19.20 in):

 

TM2YC

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Strange Days (1995)
Kathryn Bigelow’s
near-future Sci-Fi felt ahead of it’s time in 1995 and despite some of the technology and formats being utilised and proposed are obsolete now, it’s aged very well. The plot revolving around a "video tape" showing cops executing a black man during a traffic stop, was clearly originally commenting on the LA riots era but perhaps works even better for an age where everybody is filming each other on their devices and recording the activities of the cops as well. It’s a ‘Blade Runner’-esque, grungy, grimy, Noir mystery. I initially thought 1999’s ‘The Matrix’ was a side sequel because (apart from it also taking us into multiple realities) the latter film has a scene where a guy buys some kind of illegal mini-disc off of Neo like he’s a dealer, exactly like in ‘Strange Days’. Ralph Feinnes plays an endearingly shambolic and sleazy character quite unlike anything else he’s done. I’d forgotten that Fatboy Slim’s hit ‘Right Here, Right Now’ is based on a sample from this movie until Angela Bassett says the line.


This teaser trailer is strikingly different!:


This one is a bit more traditional:

 

mnkykungfu

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This teaser trailer is strikingly different!:

My friends and I were so excited for this...went to see it opening night on the strength of this teaser. Was hoping for a film directed in this style, featuring this character...a kind of cross between Trainspotting, Killing Zoe, and Johnny Mnemonic. We got none of that. It was none of that. I've never been able to bring myself to rewatch it, as overwhelming conventionality is the main memory I have of the film. Still waiting for a movie like that teaser.
 

TM2YC

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Bringing Out the Dead (1999)
I remember being underwhelmed when I saw ‘Bringing Out the Dead’ on a VHS rental back in 2000 but a couple of decades later, whenever people are discussing "underrated Scorsese” in his lengthy filmography, they'll often mention this one. So I was keen to give it another go but it’s never been released on blu-ray (although it was the last film released on Laserdisc). Thankfully Disney+ have a spectacular looking HD transfer of what looks like a high-contrast 35mm print. Seeing the intense theatrically lit (as if the characters are standing beneath heaven-sent spotlights), neon streets of New York (contrasting with the grim reality of the subject matter) in vibrantly coloured widescreen is a big part of the film’s kaleidoscopic atmosphere and probably didn’t come across on pan&scan videotape. ‘Taxi Driver’ comes to mind (also written by Paul Schrader) but the story and Nicolas Cage’s burned out paramedic are kinder and more hopeful, though no less dark. It’s one of Cage’s best turns, with plenty of subtle emotional depth but also plenty of room for him to display his unique brand of crazy.

 

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West Side Story (2021)
One thing that disappointed me about the 1961 film was that only the opening sequence looks like it's on location in a real city. Thanks to either modern technology, huge sets, or actual location shooting, Steven Spielberg's new film has no such problem. The whole thing is set in an edgy, half demolished slum, a perfect realistic contrast to the beauty of the dance choreography, music and Spielberg and Janusz Kaminski's elegant camera movements. I've heard a lot of criticism for Ansel Elgort but I can't see why, he's a bit like a young Marlon Brando. Sure, he's out-shined by young Broadway stars like Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez and Mike Faist but just because they are so, so good. They're somehow even better close-up movie actors than they are graceful dancers and passionate singers. The new 'West Side Story' is superior to the 1961 movie in every respect, so it might not be worth watching the original again.

 
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