Saturday, October 31, 2015

595. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

Running Time: 91 minutes
Directed By: Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones
Written By: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Michael Palin
Main Cast: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Michael Palin
Click here to view the trailer


Other considered subtitles for this post: "FIN", "FINDING MY HOLY GRAIL", "ONE THOUSAND AND DONE!"

Well, this is it. No matter what I do in the future, this is the end of an era, right here. Again, I don't want to take away from this movie, so a forthcoming post will detail all of my gushing and prideful statements about finishing THE BOOK, but for now...we're off to Camelot.

Again, outlining a plot here is almost silly, since I could basically just sum it all up in one sentence: The film is about King Arthur & his court and their attempt to locate the holy grail. End of story. In fact, a better way to write a review for Monty Python and the Holy Grail would probably just be to list some of my favorite lines, slap on a rating and call it a day. The first time I ever saw Monty Python and the Holy Grail, as I mentioned in my Life of Brian review, was when it was shown to me by my brother, who had it recorded on an old VHS tape. Going in, I knew nothing, except it was a comedy and as promised by my brother, a very funny one. The film started off with a gloomy hillside, a horse galloping in the distance - already unlike any comedy I'd ever known at that point. Soon, the "horse" shows himself to really just be two coconuts being clacked together and a grown man in a crown and sheath, with a beard, dressed up as King Arthur. I knew literally nothing and probably didn't get a lot of the jokes, but I remember laughing my head off at the scene with the black knight and the film had me at "your arm is off".

As also mentioned in my Life of Brian review, old favorites are hard to dethrone. There's something about revisiting a movie that you fell in love with at a young age. As I watched this, I was back in the old bedroom I once shared with my brother, our beds arranged in an L, ugly blue carpet on the floor and our little TV set that you had to get up to turn on. I saw so many great movies, for the first time, on that TV set - a set that would have to be included in my personal Smithsonian. Monty Python and the Holy Grail is an old favorite and I was really blind as to whether it held up or not. All I knew was that I enjoyed it again, I laughed, I remembered sharing laughter with my brother and this comedy has always been a good time at the movies. This TRUMPS Life of Brian, at least in my view.

Today, I found my holy grail - I managed to finish watching all 1001 movies in the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book and this was as good as anything to end it with. It was light, not serious at all, an old favorite that brought back memories and something I knew I liked. I'd have really hated to be ending my grand journey, dreading what I was watching. Seriously, if you haven't seen this, then it's a good thing I've really said nothing specific about the film, because I'd want you to go into it like I did - completely blind, knowing nothing about what you are about to see. Just be ready to laugh and if you don't get it, then you just don't get it - don't fret.

I feel like my mind is elsewhere right now. I can't stop thinking how unbelievable it is that I've just finished THE BOOK, something I wasn't sure I'd stick with in the beginning. I'm sorry for those of you who were looking for a really solid review of Holy Grail, but I just can't think of anything really intelligent to say about it. Comedies have always been hard to write about, let alone the one that is my final film from THE BOOK, when my mind is clearly not with a singular film, but rather the whole journey. In fact, if you were looking for a really solid review, then you kind of came to the wrong place, didn't you. I'm about 1 in 5 for solid reviews.

AND NOW....Some of my favorite quotes and yeah, some of them might not make sense as to why they're favorites, but these are some of the lines that always get me cracking up:

Brother Maynard: And Saint Attila raised the hand grenade up on high, saying, "O Lord, bless this thy hand grenade, that with it thou mayst blow thine enemies to tiny bits, in thy mercy." And the Lord did grin. And the people did feast upon the lambs, and sloths, and carp, and anchovies, and orangutans, and breakfast cereals, and fruit bats, and large chu...

You don't frighten us, English pig dogs. Go and boil your bottoms, you sons of a silly person. I blow my nose at you, so-called "Arthur King," you and all your silly English K-nig-hts

Wow, I totally JUST NOW got that K-nig-hts was meant to be the literal translation of knights. I always thought of it as "connigits" and figured it was some British insult that I didn't know about!

He was not in the least bit scared to be mashed into a pulp Or to have his eyes gouged out and his elbows broken To have his kneecaps split and his body burned away And his limbs all hacked and mangled, brave Sir Robin His head smashed in and his heart cut out And his liver removed and his bowels unplugged And his nostrils raped and his bottom burnt off And his penis...

Totally just heard the "nostrils raped" bit today and appropriately roared in hilarity. This is easily a film where I hear or see something new and funny that I didn't see the time before, every time I watch it.

There's a bunch of other stuff too that's to be looked forward to. All the black knight stuff, like I said, not to mention the conversation at the beginning about the swallows and little things, like the look on Eric Idle's face as he watches Prince Herbert shoot an arrow out the window. Priceless.

RATING: 7.5/10  It's a comedy, so a '7.5' is pretty much as good as a '10' in this case. I'll be back sometime this weekend with the final TOP 20 list and then after that, with a statement about my finishing of THE BOOK and details on where the blog goes from here. At this point, I'm not yet sure that it's completely sunk in that I'm done. I mean, six years is a long time to be working on anything and now it's all over. So let me let this sink in and maybe I'll have some more worthwhile words in a day or two.


October 31, 2015  1:45pm

652. Life of Brian (1979)

Running Time: 94 minutes
Directed By: Terry Jones
Written By: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin
Main Cast: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin
Click here to view the trailer


Number 1,000! Don't get distracted, don't get distracted....okay, I'm good.

I actually had a little trouble locating Life of Brian, as Netflix currently has it listed as "very long wait" and it's not available to rent on any of the streaming services (Amazon or YouTube, anyway). I managed to track down a copy that someone uploaded to YouTube and thus, we're all set. I chose to do Life of Brian first because I preferred to end with something familiar as opposed to something new, and I'd never seen Life of Brian, while seeing Holy Grail multiple times.

As is the same with Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Life of Brian is really just a collection of sketches, held together by a thin plot. In this case, the setting is bible times (as opposed to Holy Grail's medieval times) and the plot revolves around Brian Cohen, the baby who was born in the manger next door to Jesus. Later in life, around 33 A.D., Brian falls in with a group of Jews known as the People's Front in Judea, who are rebelling against the Romans. Brian, who earlier, found out he himself was actually Roman, his mother having been raped by the vicious Roman soldier Naughtius Maximus. Brian renounces the Romans and proudly proclaims himself a proud Jew, thus his new found affiliation. However, when the PFJ break into Pilate's quarters, the plan goes awry, Brian becomes a fugitive from the Romans and it doesn't end well for our hero. As is the same with Holy Grial, the six pythons play all the lead characters, Eric Idle, John Cleese and Michael Palin putting in serious overtime, playing a handful of roles.

Add Monty Python and the Holy Grail to the "list of movies my brother showed me". This was way back when we still shared a little bedroom and my brother had recorded the film onto a VHS tape. One night, he promised to show me something funny and thus, produced Holy Grail. In fact, you could just say that my brother introduced me to Monty Python period, because, believe it or not, despite liking Holy Grail, I never went on to see anything else from the Python creators. We'd always heard rumblings about something in one of their movies about "wolves nipple chips" and always joked about it as juveniles, but we never saw the film. Today, I'll proudly text my brother and tell him, "Finally saw the wolves nipple chips bit!".

As is usually the case when you see a first and don't see any subsequent chapters, you always stay loyal and true to the one you fell in love with first and that's the case here. Sure, I liked Life of Brian well enough, as it was a perfectly enjoyable way to spend ninety minutes, but I just kept thinking it was a poor man's Holy Grail. Sure the jokes were new, but they were in the same style and to be totally honest, I didn't laugh out loud once. I have a feeling I'm going to take a beating on this one...

Honestly, I REALLY wanted to like this one and hoped that it would make as strong of a first impression on me as Holy Grail did. However, I just flat out didn't like it as much. I would classify it as "somewhat amusing" and move on. Also, what was the deal with the alien spaceship bit halfway through the movie? Really weird and probably the moment where the film jumped the shark for me.

RATING: 6/10  Comedies are always hard to do reviews for, so we'll keep this short to avoid me rambling. Here's hoping Monty Python and the Holy Grail holds up and we end this thing strong.


October 31, 2015  10:48am

426. Prima della rivoluzione/Before the Revolution (1964)

Running Time: 115 minutes
Directed By: Bernardo Bertolucci
Written By: Gianni Amico, Bernardo Bertolucci
Main Cast: Adriana Asti, Francesco Barilli, Allen Midgette, Morando Morandini, Cristina Pariset
Click here to view the trailer


Well kiddies, today's the day. Sometime within the next seven hours - if everything goes as planned - I'll finish a journey that's taken me six years to  complete. It's hard to believe that it'll all be over, BUT, I don't want to distract from these last three film, so let's just do these three reviews and go from there. Read on...

To be totally honest, this won't be much of a review. THE BOOK states that the plot of Bertolucci's second feature, Before the Revolution is "simple". I, for one, didn't seem to know what was going on, which could have had something to do with the fact that I was very tired last night when I watched it. The whole film seems to center around the death of Agostino (Midgette), who dies within the first fifteen minutes of the film, by drowning and quite anti-climactically, I might add. He's the best friend of Fabrizio (Barilli) and the scene plays out not like, "Oh my GOD, he just died!", but instead like, "I guess that blonde kid who was onscreen a minute ago is dead now!?. It just sort of happens, it's not filmed and we only find out about it when Fabrizio shows up at a local watering hole and is told about what happened. Anyway, following the death, Fabrizio meets up with his estranged aunt Gina (Asti) at the funeral and the two begin an affair. I know, I know....EWW. But Adriana Asti is GORGEOUS, so it's a little hard to blame the guy. I mean that's really it. Sure, there's probably a whole bunch of political themes involved and inner conflict on the part of Fabrizio, as he has this affair with his aunt, but also has eyes for a girl his own age named Clelia. Plus there's the death of Agostino, which the characters are also coping with. The movie actually reminded me a lot of a Michelangelo Antonioni film, with characters walking around filled with self conflict. Perhaps my comparison is way off, but Antonioni DID come to mind.

Despite my misunderstanding of the plot and themes & ideas that seemed to fly over my head at high speeds, I didn't hate Before the Revolution. I realized early on that this wasn't going to be a film that I was going to enjoy for it's coherent storyline, so I decided to experiment a little and just watch it for other reasons: mainly score and cinematography. The score was done by Ennio Morricone, to much lesser effect than any of his other films. However, there were a couple of songs included by Gino Paoli and I loved them. They were immediately searched on YouTube and "liked" for future reference. There was also a jazzy little score about midway through, during a scene where Adriana Asti was scampering around the bedroom, barefoot and being very sexy and the music only served to highlight her presence. I have a feeling this brief piece wasn't done by Morricone, but I could be wrong. The cinematography, as has been the case in all Bertolucci films was phenomenal too. There was one scene where everything suddenly shifted to color and I found myself hoping it would go back to black & white, which it did. Needless to say, this film was shot in a beautiful black & white that only served to accentuate the loneliness and gloominess of the characters personalities. Like I said, I found myself not really GETTING the plot, but the for the first time, I was really able to appreciate a work for things other than story.

RATING: 4.5/10  Can't go too high or anything, because I'm always a guy who NEEDS good story, but I'll give it a notch below average for the aspects that I mentioned.


October 31, 2015  8:01pm

Thursday, October 29, 2015

430. Onibaba/The Demon (1964)

Running Time: 103 minutes
Directed By: Kaneto Shindo
Written By: Kaneto Shindo
Main Cast: Nobuko Otowa, Jitsuko Yoshimura, Kei Sato, Taiji Tonoyama, Jukichi Uno
Click here to view the trailer


In my town, trick or treating is taking place as I write this. Kids (and probably a lot of adults too) are currently dressed up, going door to door, celebrating the holiday that plays hosts to ghosts, goblins and all things scary. Meanwhile, I'm chillin' in my warm bedroom, doing my part by watching Onibaba. Read on...

Okay - for the first time in a few reviews, I can actually recount this plot intelligently, which is exciting. The film revolves around two women, a mother (Otowa) and her dauther-in-law (Yoshimura), who, during wartime in Japan, make their living by killing lost samurai and selling their gear. They take the bodies of the slain samurai to a giant hole, where they throw them in. From there, the girls take the gear - swords, armor, everything - to a merchant named Ushi (Tonoyama), who gives them millet in return. It should also be noted that they're son/husband (respectively), has gone off to war. Well, one night, just as mother and daughter-in-law are preparing for supper, a fellow soldier who accompanied their son/husband to war, returns. He tells them of his plight and ends by telling them that their son/husband is dead. The returning soldier is Hachi (Sato) and he's an obnoxious fellow, who, at first, tries to horn in on the girls' samurai killing business and when that fails, tries to convince the daughter-in-law to sleep with him. She refuses at first, but one night, when the old woman is fast asleep, she sneaks off to Hachi's hut and the two begin their affair. The following night, the young girl sneaks out again, but this time, the old woman follows her and finds out what she's doing. At first, she feels like the young girl is betraying the spirit of her dead son, but then the old woman starts to get aroused herself. Later, the mother goes to Hachi and propositions him for sex, but he turns her down. One night, while the young woman is with Hachi and the old woman is set to spy on him, she is approached by a man in a demon mask. He tells her right away that he's not out to harm her and that he only wears the mask because his face is so handsome, he didn't want it wounded in war. He asks the old woman for directions out of the reeds (where they girls live) and she begins to show him. However, since she knows the paths and he doesn't, she manages to lead him into the giant hole, where he falls to his death. I'll leave it at that...


Man, this was just what the doctor ordered! Finally, something to get excited about (not counting Throne of Blood, which I'd seen before) and a movie that gives me a perfect example of why I started THE BOOK in the first place - to find movies from other cultures, from other decades that I could appreciate, that I wouldn't have seen otherwise. By the way, this is yet another entry in THE BOOK, where whoever is writing the passage for Onibaba, seems to be forgetting chunks of the movie. When THE BOOK recounts the plot, it would have you believe that the mysterious, demon masked man who appears to the old woman has a far bigger role than he does and yet, THE BOOK makes no mention of Hachi when summarizing the plot and he should be considered a main character. Also, THE BOOK adds some stuff that either isn't accurate or else I was meant to assume it and didn't. THE BOOK notes that the masked, demon man is an A-bomb victim, hence the sores on his face when the old lady pries the mask off?! Ummm...huh? Wikipedia notes that the film is set in the fourteenth century, thus a-bomb victim wouldn't even be a thing. My take was that either the masked man lied about being super handsome and he was actually disfigured OR after prolonged use of the mask, once it was pried off of him by the old woman, it messed up his skin - THUS the same thing happened to the old woman when she wore the mask and it rained. That's one of the very few things I really dislike about THE BOOK - it's ability to muddle facts (including running times, release years and foreign titles) and forget things/add things that aren't true when summarizing the plot.

Anyway...more rhetorical questions/theorizing:

I kind of think it would've been better if the old woman would've drove the young girl away multiple nights AND THEN went to Hachi's house herself and since he'd have some pent up sexual urges to release, the old woman talks him into going to bed with her. So then you get this dynamic of the old woman and the young girl feuding over this guy and the demon mask playing into the woman's plot to keep the young girl away from, who she now considers, HER man. It actually seems like this was the old woman's plan, as there is a brief scene of her spying on a sexually frustrated Hachi. I LOVED the scene with the woman, in full demon regalia, watching the two make love in the grass, as the rain poured down. FANTASTIC SCENE! The woman sports a bit of a head cock that would later become synonymous Michael Myers in the Halloween movie - that cock of the head saying so much. A wonderment at young people in love, a sexual desire that she wishes she were experiencing herself. Has there ever been a film before that so perfectly blended both sexy and scary so well? It's definitely a hard cocktail to get right, yet Kaneto Shindo does it with ease. Definitely a really fun, really intriguing movie that feels like an extra long episode of The Twilight know, if The Twilight Zone had boobs.

RATING: 7.5/10  Kind of have to wrap up fast because I'm on my way out the door to pick up Ruth - but yeah, I'm very thankful that something I was able to really sink my teeth into came along and here's hoping the final three are just as enjoyable.


October 29, 2015  7:16pm

361. Meghe Dhaka Tara/The Cloud Capped Star (1960)

Running Time: 134 minutes
Directed By: Ritwik Ghatak
Written By: Ritwik Ghatak, from novel by Shaktipada Rajguru
Main Cast: Supriya Choudhury, Anil Chatterjee, Niranjan Ray, Gita Ghatak, Bijon, Bhattacharya


I ended up putting this one off for almost as long as I possibly could and wouldn't you know, it actually wasn't that bad...Let's jump right in it today...

Our main character is Nita, the elder daughter in an impoverished family, in India. When we first start, Nita is going to school, despite her family's meager income. The patriarch of the family is getting along in years and earns money as a professor. The mother stays home to take care of the homestead and the brother is a wannabe singer, who feels that he need not earn a living and instead, spend his days practicing for when he's a star. The rent is always late, bills can't be paid and there's almost zero rupees available for luxuries. So when the father takes a fall and breaks his hip, it is Nita who makes the ultimate sacrifice, quitting school and going to get a job instead. There are also two other siblings: a younger brother and sister to Nita, who are also of working age. When her younger brother goes off to work, away from home, the family is saddened by the news that he has had an accident. Nita, always ready to sacrifice for her family, goes off to stay with her younger brother in the hospital and while there, contracts tuberculosis. Meanwhile and many years later, Nita's elder brother actually makes it as a singer, who returns home to visit Nita after she has taken ill.

So yeah, nothing worth getting too worked up over and this is something that I could've watched months ago, as it wasn't nearly worth putting off until this far into the game. Like I've been saying, I REALLY REALLY should've set aside 50 or even a full 100 movies to be my grand finale, the second I started moving in random order. Oh well - live & learn. Anyway, as I was saying, this wasn't great or anything, as is rarely the case with Indian cinema (in my experiences), but not bad and certainly watchable and not the absolute hot mess that I was expecting. Why is it that I just can't get excited about Indian movies? I'm pretty sure it's because Satyajit Ray completely ruined it for me - as I was, at one time, looking forward to the Apu trilogy and that turned out to be completely not my style.

The Cloud Capped Star is kind of like It's a Wonderful Life, except even more of a bummer. I think that may be the other problem with Indian cinema. Even though I harp that I love a sad ending, I think subconsciously I want characters that I care about to turn out somewhat for the better. I don't like phony, tacked on happiness either, but there's such a thing as too much of a downer and that's what The Cloud Capped Star is. It is a little drawn out too, if you ask me. I mean, everything I outlined above, with the exception of highlighting Nita's love life is pretty much all that happens in the two plus hour running time. I think this story could've been done in a slightly more succinct manner and I think it would've been for the better. As it is, don't dread it...but don't go in expecting too much either.

RATING: 5.5/10  Better than average and really, that's saying something for an Indian film. I think I can say, pretty definitively, that Mother India was the best Indian film I saw from THE BOOK, period.


October 29, 2015  4:05pm

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

279. Senso/The Wanton Countess (1954)

Running Time: 123 minutes
Directed By: Luchino Visconti
Written By: Carlo Alianello, Giorgio Bassani, Paul Bowles, Suso Cecchi D'Amico, Giorgio Prosperi, Luchino Visconti, Tennessee Williams, from novella by Camillo Boito
Main Cast: Alida Valli, Farley Granger, Heinz Moog, Massimo Girotti, Rina Morelli
Click here to view the trailer


Here's hoping that Senso is the last movie that I have to SUFFER through for THE BOOK, although I don't have a good feeling about The Cloud-Capped Star or Onibaba, so I won't hold my breath.

Senso is like a piece of 19th century literature that somehow crawled up out of the page and manifested itself into a really boring, insufferable movie. It's about a countess who falls in love with an Austrian officer, during a time when Italy and Austria are at war. The countess is played by Alida Valli and the Austrian officer by Farley Granger (where did he come from - I don't expect to see guys named Farley popping up in European cinema). Anyway, the two have this big love affair and really the movie is centered around four meetings: First, they meet and hate each other, when the officer, named Franz Mahler, is challenged by the cousin of the countess', named Livia, to a duel. Franz denies the challenge and later meets up with Livia. They talk until dawn, falling in love that very night - but, of course, keeping it a secret. Then they meet again, much later, when they end up in bed together. Their third meeting comes after Livia leaves Venice, with Franz showing up on her balcony one evening and Livia later ushering him into a gran shed to hide. Their final meeting comes after Livia realizes (or finally accepts) that Franz has been using her the entire time, when she goes to him when he's at his lowest. And that's the vaguest plot summary you've seen in quite some time, I'm sure, but my mind wandered ruthlessly with this one, so that's as good as it gets.

This film combines a bunch of things I really can't stand with my movies: melodrama, 19th century pieces and world history. Okay, so three things...but still. One of the things I really can't wait for, post BOOK, is that my ability to quit a movie in the middle, when I'm hating it, will be restored. Sure, I'll probably never do it (because I'm a completist, at heart), but just knowing that I CAN will be nice. I hated nearly every second of this and am so glad it's over. Man, Luchino Visconti has really been erratic with his films. Take something like Ossessione, which is sexy, dark and intriguing and then you've got others like Senso and The Leopard, which are world history pieces, set two centuries ago and that are hard as hell to get through. Of course, there's also the brilliant Rocco and His Brothers, which was so good I'll happily be open to seeing more Vixconti, in hopes that they're as good as that one. For as beautiful as this film looked, it was just as boring and mind numbing. I really don't know how else to say it, so lets just leave it at that, shall we?

RATING: 2/10  I'll give it a couple marks, because it wasn't quite '1' level bad, but it WAS indeed mind numbing and good luck to future book doers getting through this steaming pile.


October 28, 2015  4:13pm

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

577. Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973)

Running Time: 115 minutes
Directed By: Sam Peckinpah
Written By: Rudy Wurlitzer
Main Cast: James Coburn, Kris Kristofferson, Richard Jaeckel, Katy Jurado, Chill Wills
Click here to view the trailer


There's chicken cooking in the oven and Ruth tells me I have about forty five minutes or so before the dinner bell rings. Enough time to knock out one more review for the movie that I was able to take in early this afternoon - Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. For the curious, I watched the restored version of the film, which runs 115 minutes, compared to the original 103 minute version.

It's another western kiddies, so it's horses, saddlebags, spurs, cowboy hats, boots, saloons, quarter shaves, outlaws, sheriffs and the norm. James Coburn is Pat Garrett, a former outlaw turned newly appointed sheriff of Lincoln. Kris Kristofferson is Billy the Kid, the resident outlaw of Lincoln and before the paint dries on the opening credits, he's in cuffs and captured via Pat Garrett. It doesn't last though, as he manages to escape the law, sneaking a gun during a visit to the outhouse and blowing away Garrett's deputies. And, it goes without saying, that this turns into a fugitive/captor situation and dammit, I'll be damned if there's much else to tell you...

I mean, yeah, it's a fugitive story, but it's a very unconventional one - something born out of wedlock when the Old West and the Hippie era bedded down one evening. Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid doesn't even seem like your run of the mill western. In fact, it feels more like Peckinpah & crew smoked a lot of pot, dropped a little acid and said "Hey, let's make a western!". It's a western where assembling a posse is just as common as having an orgy and self reflection seems to be a thing here, even though I'm pretty sure John Wayne never self reflected.

It's definitely a different type of movie and if you're a fan, I guess I get it. I, for one, didn't take to it. It's square peg didn't seem to fit my round hole....umm...that came out wrong. I like James Coburn as much as the next guy and I even dig Kris Kristofferson too (except seeing him clean shaven really threw me for a loop), so I kind of wanted to like this one. It was less than a month ago when Peckinpah's Straw Dogs finally made me see the greatness that COULD be Peckinpah, but unfortunately Pat Garrett... along with The Wild Bunch and "Alfredo Garcia" made me realize what Peckinpah's usual style is like and I don't think it's really for me. Here's my question though, since I just watch movies and rarely study the real life ins and outs: Was Peckinpah one of the guys who bridged classic Hollywood into the boom period of the 70s? Was he one of the guys that made blood, cursing and nudity more commonplace in film? He's gotta be, right?

RATING: 4/10  I'll give it some marks for originality, but it really did nothing for me and I'm glad it's behind me.


October 27, 2015  5:37pm

320. Kumonosu jo/Throne of Blood (1957)

Running Time: 109 minutes
Directed By: Akira Kurosawa
Written By: Shinobu Hashimoto, Ryuzo Kikushima, Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni, from the play Macbeth by William Shakespeare
Main Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Isuzu Yamada, Minoru Chiaki, Chieko Naniwa, Takamaru Sasaki
Click here to view the trailer


Finally, finally something GOOD comes down the pike, as I near the end of my project and not just something good, but something I wouldn't hesitate to call great. I've never been a staunch Kurosawa supporter, but I may have to take up his praise.

The story is apparently an adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth, but since I'm a Shakespeare virgin, that means nothing to me. The film is set in feudal Japan and is filled with samurai. We begin with the attack on the kingdom of Great Lord Tsuzuki (Sasaki). He is first given the news that his fourth and fifth fortresses have burned and that his first, second and third fortresses are under severe attack. As the news keeps coming in, it keeps getting better and better, ultimately ending with a report that General Washizu (Mifune) of Fortress One and General Miki (Chiaki) of Fortress Two have mounted a comeback, fighting back and winning the battle, thus saving the kingdom from defeat. Lord Tsuzuki calls for the two great Generals to come to him, following the news of their gallantry. While riding to Spider's Web Castle (Lord Tsuzuki's residence), the two Generals get lost in the woods and are visited by a spirit, who tells them that in the future, General Washizu will command first, the North Garrison and then become Great Lord of Spider's Web Castle. He tells General Miki that he will become General of the first fortress and that his son will go on to become the Great Lord of Spider's Web Castle. The Generals laugh about the prophecy at first, but upon meeting with their Great Lord, they realize that the words of the spirit are already coming true - the Great Lord naming Washizu commander of North Garrison and Miki commander of the first fortress. Enter Lady Asaji (Yamada), Washizu's wife, who fills his head with paranoia, prompting him to murder the Great Lord and take his place as Great Lord of the kingdom. This, of course, sets into motion even more deceit, uprising, war and bloodshed, in this great classic from Akira Kurosawa.


There's really not much to dislike here. Sure, words & phrases like "feudal Japan", "Shakespeare" and "Macbeth" may be intimidating to your casual movie goer and were certainly intimidating to me, a frequent movie goer, however, Kurosawa takes the story and makes it fun and very watchable. I have to wonder how many great stories I'm missing out on by not reading Shakespeare. Sorry, folks, all those "thous" and "thees" are not for this reviewer. If only director's in the vain of Kurosawa could tell me every story that I find bland, perhaps I'd be more open minded. Plot wise, one has to wonder if the prophecies would have come true if the spirit had kept his mouth shut. With no knowledge that he'd become Great Lord, would Washizu's wife have urged him to speed up his ascension to the throne? Surely, he wouldn't have killed Miki, thus Miki's son would have had no reason to begin an uprising on the Washizu kingdom. Therefore, maybe the spirit wasn't a spirit at all, just a mischevious old man who knew that stirring the pot could only lead to more mischief. An even further perhaps and maybe we can conclude that the spirit is the Devil himself - not so much telling the future, but just causing trouble.

I actually love the title - which with the mere mention brings to mind this kingdom that will forever be shadowed in a great bloodshed. The ending scene with the bevy of arrows flying at Washizu is a pretty much the only thing I remembered from my previous viewing of Throne of Blood, which was something like eight years ago. And why wouldn't the ending be the only thing I remember, as it's pretty great. We get Washizu both losing his mind and his life in a matter of minutes, as he can't take the thought that the trees are rising up to attack and certainly can't bear the arrows that are spearing their way through his innards. Seriously, that arrow that gets him through the neck, made me GASP - as if I myself had been shot.

Like I said, this is REALLY a hard one to hate. It's a rotund story, where the director just lays it out for us piece by piece. There's nothing confusing and while the Shakespeare stuff may be off putting to some, it seems as if Kurosawa knew that and was extra careful to make sure no one got bored. We're given each piece, along with all the information we need to keep the story moving along nicely and I'd say this film is the perfect length to boot, as anything longer COULD have been borderline overkill. Having said that, a part of me wishes this had been as epic as Seven Samurai, as I was really enjoying myself. To the Kurosawa lovers out there, I don't see 100% eye to eye with you, as I very much disliked Dersu Uzala and found other classics of his, namely Ikiru, Seven Samurai and Rashomon, to be more disappointing than good. However, both this and RAN were more than enough to make me want to see the rest of his filmography, post BOOK.

RATING: 8/10  Maybe it just took a night away from THE BOOK to get me to fall in love with the project all over again. When I saw this last, eight years ago, I didn't like it. Thanks to THE BOOK, I revisited and to success.


October 27, 2015  12:45pm

Monday, October 26, 2015

Steve Jobs (2015)

Running Time: 122 minutes
Directed By: Danny Boyle
Written By: Aaron Sorkin, from the biography Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
Main Cast: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg
Click here to view the trailer

Note: This might be a long preface, so I thank you in advance for bearing with me. Five days from now (max) I will finish up a project that has taken me six years to complete - the watching of all 1001 of the Must See Movies Before You Die. I'm not going to get into a whole reflection of the project now, because I'm not done and I'll save my thoughts on the overall journey for when I've actually finished. However, with the project coming to a close, it has forced me to think about the future of this blog. This blog was only ever met as a personal, diary of sorts, for me to keep and reread, something would allow me to sit aside a little time with each of the 1001 movies to reflect, record my thoughts, etc. However, I gained a bit of a following. Sure, compared to other bloggers, it's a meager following, at best - but to me, the eighty-four people who follow this blog and the few of you who take the time to type comments and see what I rate films, means the world to me. Also, I do, for the most part, enjoy doing the blog. Sure, there are times when I just want to watch a movie and not be forced to have an opinion, let alone one that makes sense on paper - but all in all, I like putting down my thoughts on movies. 

So what will happen to the blog once I'm finished with the final eight films? Well, this review will sort of be a glimpse (just a glimpse) into what will become of the blog. I'll outline my entire agenda for the exact intentions of my blog going forward, but to peel back the curtain just a bit, one thing you'll be getting going forward is random reviews. It's simple: If I see a film that I have a strong opinion on - either good or bad - and feel like I have something meaningful to say, then I'll write a review. Otherwise, I won't. Therefore, I may go months without writing a random review or there may be weeks where I write five or six. As far as the "random reviews" portion of this blog goes, that's the way I'm going to work it. Like I said, I have other ideas and I promise I'll put up a whole post dedicated specifically to outlining my ideas going forward and what I'd like the blog to become. Now then...this is review is sort of a bridge from what the blog has been, to what the blog will become...sort of a glimpse into...


Ruth and I decided, a few days ago, that in lieu of going out to the movies to see Steve Jobs, the new Danny Boyle film with early Oscar buzz, that we'd stay in and give yours truly the chance to knock off those final few movies that stand between me and 100% success on my journey. Anyway, one thing lead to another and a spur of the moment change of mind saw us heading out to the theater to see the movie about the computer visionary.

On a personal note, before getting into the meat & potatoes, there was something about the Steve Jobs trailer that just called to me. I somehow knew that when I saw this film that I'd like it, but since me and Ruth almost never go to the theaters, I knew it'd be a while before I got around to it. So, I decided to do the next best thing and head to the library to check out the Walter Isaacson biography of the same name. I don't get a whole lot of time to read, usually leaving a book in my locker at work and using it to help me pass the time during my lunch hour and the thirty or so minutes of time that needs killing before I punch in, in the morning. If I clear thirty pages a day, I'm lucky - as people waft in and out of our lunch room at work, not to mention the music that's filtered in from above; needless to say, there are distractions aplenty. Before heading out to see the film tonight, I had checked into GoodReads, on page 211 of the biography - up to the part where Jobs and Apple CEO John Sculley had their falling out, with the board backing Sculley over the overbearing, tyrannical Apple founder. When I got to the part in the FILM, just beyond this, I had about a two minute window where I really regretted coming to see the film before finishing the biography. My thoughts being, during that two minutes, that I'd have appreciated everything that was to follow more, if I'd been able to draw parallels between the two mediums and compare & contrast. I quickly realized my thinking was wrong.

In fact, I think I did just right, reading a third of the book and then going to see the movie where two thirds of what I'd be watching on the humongous screen would be new to me. It gave me the chance to see the film from both sides of the spectrum - as someone who had read the book (for the first third) and as someone who had nothing to reference. Don't you hate those douche bags who go to see a film that they've read the book to and proceed by telling you all the differences and "what they got right"? I do. I only got that small, 1/3 window to be that douche bag and I'm sure my wife will vouch for my douche baggery, as we sat down to dinner and I became what I hate - "you know how they talked about having to have special tools to open the Macintosh? That was true!". Aye aye aye...

Anyway, during that first third, I got to realize that they were hitting the nail right on the head, as the filmmaker's proceeded to throw in, what seemed like a hundred little, intricate details that was tantamount to two handfuls of nods & winks to those who knew the real story: the TIME magazine hubbub, the tidbit about the special tools to open the Macintosh, the quote from Hertzfeld comparing Jobs to God and the creation of the universe, the "reality distortion field" talk, etc, etc, etc. Then, turn the coin and I got to experience the rest of the film as someone who was being told the story for the first time. I don't know about you, but I - and probably subconsciously - look at a film in a different light once I've read the source material. I'm a movie guy at heart, but I've rarely read a book, watched the adaptation and liked the film more. With Steve Jobs, because I hadn't read all of the bio, it gave me a chance to not be so uptight about inaccuracies and just sit back and enjoy myself, comforted by the fact that the source material was being handled with care.

Are we all aware how much of an artist Danny Boyle is? He's fast becoming one of my favorite directors and even though The Beach was a steaming dog turd, the merits of Trainspotting and 127 Hours alone are enough to get him a "free pass for life". He seems to have a clear vision of just what he wants and it's usually a vision that couldn't be imagined by another mind. His films always make me think in a different way about the story he's telling me and his passion for each and every one of his projects is always projected onscreen. I loved how this film spliced in snippets of newsreel footage and at one point, even a quick clip from The Simpsons (a jab at Apple's big failure in Jobs' absence - The Newton). It reminded me of the erratic editing choices we were treated to in 127 Hours and yes, I'm using erratic as a positive there. Add Steve Jobs to the list with 127 Hours & Trainspotting and that trifecta is enough to make me look forward to any Danny Boyle film that comes down the pike from here until the end of his career - which hopefully isn't anytime soon. While I'm praising members of the cast & crew, I guess there's no use delaying the inevitable - Michael Fassbender is marvelous here. In fact, Fassbender is so good here, that unlike Boyle he doesn't need three films to make me look forward to all of his future projects, he only needed one - this one. I'm lousy at predicting what "the Academy" will think or who they'll want to send their golden man home with, but yeah, I think Fassbender should be considered for any award that is even discussing "Male in a lead role". He's in nearly every scene and he nails it. thing...

Does he really capture the essence of Jobs? In reading the first 200 pages, I got a sense that Steve Jobs was much more harsh than this. The Jobs I was reading about wouldn't be joking with Joanna Hoffman (Winslet) minutes prior to the launch of the Macintosh - he'd be berating someone or being ultra compulsive about one last, minor detail. He'd be pacing or crying somewhere in a corner. Actually, speaking of crying, it surprised me that the filmmaker's didn't use Jobs' real like knack for being emotionally open, having Fassbender shed a few tears at opportune times. According to the biography, Jobs' himself would often breakdown in a fit of water works. I don't know - perhaps I misconceived Jobs' from the book alone. Perhaps Fassbender hits it right on the money. Plus, I'm nowhere near done, so perhaps there's still a human side to be unveiled. However, based solely on what I saw onscreen - yes, give Fassbender truckloads of awards! Oh and may I mention one more thing about the cast? I think - no, I know - I'm pretty fed up with this fad of hiring the Apatow actors in serious roles? Must this continue? Are we kidding ourselves that Jonah Hill deserves to be in a Martin Scorsese movie, let alone a Quentin Tarantino and a Coen Brothers movie!? Hey, I like Seth Rogen too - but there's a time and a place for him and Steve Jobs wasn't it - but hey, he has a beard and so does Wozniak, so I guess he was a lock - I don't know...I'd also like to mention Michael Stuhlbarg, whom I expect to get forgotten by other reviewers. The key scene to watch out for him in, is his meeting with Jobs during the third of the film that deals with the iMac launch - a sad scene where both Michael's bring it and probably a great chance for Michael F. to break out the crying that I mentioned.

The film is a little exhausting to be honest - in a good way. And really, reading about the real Steve Jobs and how exhausting his personality could be, it was only fitting that the film be just as draining. What Rocky was physically, this film was emotionally. The verbal showdown between Fassbender and Jeff Daniels (playing former Pepsi CEO and one time Apple CEO, John Sculley) is wonderfully edited, jumping back and forth between the face to face argument and the event that they are arguing about - Jobs' ousting as Apple chairman. It's highlighted by a rousing score that only intensifies the scene - a scene made great by the outpouring from from both Fassbender and Daniels. When the scene ends and the music stops, it's as if we, the audience, need to take a big deep breath - as if we've just been drowning in the emotional outpouring radiating out of the screen. Another key "fight" scene would come later, near the end of the picture, during the final third of the film and involved Jobs and Wozniak - arguing over Jobs' failure to even mention the Apple II team at the launch of Jobs' latest invention - the iMac. See, I like Seth Rogen as much as the next guy, but, at least in my eyes, he'll have a hard time washing off the stink of his lesser roles.

The film is split into three parts - all taking place during the launch of three key products in the history of Steve Jobs, the inventor's, life: the Macintosh, the NEXT computer and the iMac. Honestly, it is the opinion of this reviewer, that if Steve Jobs is successful, you could, hypothetically, make a sequel. However, this time around, you make a conventional biopic. Because this, ladies and gentleman, is not your conventional biopic. It's a dialogue driven piece, a wink and a nod to the people who knew Jobs or even knew his story, a character study more than a cut & paste "he was born, all this stuff happened, then he died" movie. If Danny Boyle were to be so ambitious with his loyalty to the Steve Jobs story, he could - again, hypothetically - make a companion piece to this Steve Jobs and just tell the story, from A to B to C. It's not likely and may not even be a good idea, simply a thought. However, even mentioning the words "Danny Boyle" and "conventional" in the same sentence is already making me think that thought may be scrappable.

I think I've eaten up enough of your time, especially considering I'm an amateur movie reviewer and you could just as easily be reading Peter Travers or whoever. Call it a win for Danny Boyle, Michael Fassbender and Steve Jobs. While it may not be the ideal movie to require the "cinema experience", I'm glad I trekked out tonight to see it. It's rare that I find a modern film so intriguing that I find it necessary to make that special, $30 trip to the theater (man's gotta have popcorn and actually, it was closer to $40). I'm a man who knows what he likes and simply watching the Steve Jobs trailer and reading a little bit of his story was enough to make me pretty sure I'd like this film. I wasn't wrong. If you love strong dialogue pieces, actor's busting their ass to make sure you're sucked in and a viewpoint of history that differs from your own, then you must see this film. It's not without flaws - while Fassbender was putting on a clinic up there, I'm not entirely convinced he nailed the essence of Jobs, someone who seemed more inhuman than human and while I admire the unconventional structure of Steve Jobs, the little traditionalist inside me may have preferred a more textbook biopic. Otherwise, the filmmaker's, cast & crew here were definitely A players, who put out an A product.

RATING: 8/10  That has to be a contender for longest review I've ever written right? I hope I said something in there worthwhile and actually helped SOMEONE make up their mind as to whether or not they wanted to see this movie.

October 26, 2015  9:56pm

Sunday, October 25, 2015

752. Do Ma Daan/Peking Opera Blues (1986)

Running Time: 104 minutes
Directed By: Tsui Hark
Written By: Wai To Kwok
Main Cast: Brigitte Lin, Cherle Chung, Sally Yeh, Kenneth Tsang, Wu Ma
Click here to view the trailer


So I've done a little refiguring and if I'm willing to put in a little overtime, I could conceivably be watching number 1001 on Thursday night. Also, my wife has promised me that if I'm writing the last review on Friday afternoon, she'll let me take a one night break from my diet for a celebratory pizza - so you can bet your balls I'll be putting in the overtime.

Hey, guess what? I have no idea what this movie was about. Okay, okay...not true, I have some idea. But maybe it was because I was so tired or it could have had something to do with the fact that my subtitles seemed a bit shady - either way, Peking Opera Blues was a little confusing. The film revolved around three women: the daughter of a General, Tsao Wan (Lin), who is secretly a guerrilla who opposes him; Sheung Hung (Chung), a thief who is in search of her missing loot and Bai Niu (Yeh), a wannabe actress whose father is the opera director of an all male stage. The three unlikely end up together, trying their best to oppose the General, without him finding out that his daughter is the leader of the guerrilla's who are actively trying to dismantle his regime. THE BOOK notes that the whole movie is a nice blend of slapsticky comedy, martial arts & spy thriller and it's hard to argue THE BOOK'S point. However, I personally had a hard time losing myself in this and that proverbial umbilical cord that should've attached me to these characters and this story, never showed up.

I won't chastise anyone who likes this (I wouldn't anyway), but I found it difficult to follow. Was it just me or did Sally Yeh and Cherle Chung look an awful lot alike and NO, I'm not being racist. For the first thirty or forty minutes I thought the girl who wanted to be in her father's play and the girl looking for the box of jewels was the same girl, until they appeared together and I put two and two together. Call it a culture clash or call it me just continuing to be a curmudgeon, but I found this film not very good and something THE BOOK simply picked in order to seem even more obscure. However, I think there's definitely an audience for this and if you haven't seen it, it's worth a shot to see if it fits your tastes.

RATING: 3.5/10  I'll take the full blame on this one, as I feel like I should have liked this a lot more than I did. Perhaps a revisit someday down the road.


October 25, 2015  10:34pm


SINS OF OMISSION - Entry #69: Re-Animator (1985)

Running Time: 105 minutes Directed By: Stuart Gordon Written By: Dennis Paoli, William Norris, Stuart Gordon, based on the story Her...