Sunday, January 22, 2012

Rover, Wanderer, Nomad, Vagabond

Created by a director who literally fit the definition of "Maverick," the 1966 Japanese crime drama/thriller Tokyo Drifter is a rather unique film, one that is a bit tricky to discuss. Compared to even other foreign movies released during this period, this cult classic is a bit beyond definition, and when mentioned against Hollywood releases its downright from another planet entirely. Even though the 1960s and 1970s were the true Golden Era of the suspense picture, Seijun Suzuki cleverly set out to make something truly off the beaten path, a movie that is not quite expected. In this case, unexpected is truly a great thing, something to be admired and marveled at.

Really at the heart of it all the plot is quite simple: a former yakuza member has been trying to go straight, and his former gangsters refuse to let him achieve peace of any kind, demanding that he rejoin them. As a gang land war breaks out, and the situation becomes even worse, this young man somehow keeps his head, determined to become a wandering nomad without connections, someone who is fine with moving from place to place. Hence, the title, which is fairly obvious as well. Yet, the film's overall structure and how events unfold.

Mainly that certain odd or strange things happen, and at times I will admit the movie was a bit hard to follow. Suzuki does not spell out what is occurring onscreen, secure in his belief that even the average moviegoer would be able to figure out what was exactly going on. Perhaps multiple viewings are required for this movie, yet regardless that doesn't matter because the film's quality and style are very noticeable. Utilizing colors, film economy, a rather funky and excellent score, and fine performances, this is a movie with some actual subsistence to back up the rather glossy surface. Not to mention the film's lead, who projects a surprising amount of cool indifference considering that multiple people are trying to kill him throughout the movie.

Also featuring a wonderfully rowdy and lengthy bar fight scene, and a rather tense, violent climax, Tokyo Drifter is a perfectly paced, at times rather poetic and meaningful, crime film. Despite his continuing and endless attempts to buck the rigid Japanese studio system which lead to him being somewhat limited at times, its clear that Suzuki was still able to create works that are truly worth checking out. He has a tremendous sense of auteur style while also managing to rival his American and European contemporaries, a fact that people should remember. 95

Friday, January 20, 2012

Trains, Cars, and Dead People

When one views this movie, some of Alfred Hitchcock's thrillers come to mind, which is interesting considering that Silver Streak rather daftly combines suspense with comedy. Hitchcock was able to do that too, especially with one of his greatest movies, North By Northwest, a movie that in some ways inspired this movie. After all, Gene Wilder's rather confused and in over his head protagonist requires some of Carry Grant's best work, in that the common every man discovers himself wrapped up in a rather sinister plot. In this instance, its Wilder quickly discovering that he is not only suspected of murder, but that he is trapped on a train with the killers.

Also featured in this movie is Richard Pryor, another great comedian who ends up having excellent timing with Wilder. Even though they actually do not meet until later in the film, the rapport they have together is great, and it results in some of the film's most humorous moments. Particularly the funniest part, where Wilder is forced to pretend to be like Pryor; its a scene that could have been racist, but is instead mocking a white man for even trying to be something he is clearly not. The appearance of an actual African American leads the viewer to think that Wilder is in trouble, but instead the man says "You've got to keep time," as if he chooses instead to mock Wilder.

Really much like many of Hitchcock's movies the plot itself is a Macguffin, created to move the film along and not being of true particular importance. Especially silly is the villain's reason for everything he does, but that has no ill bearing on the movie, which is rather entertaining and a purely fun romp. Whether or not the other movies Pryor and Wilder made together are as good as this one remain to be seen by me, Silver Streak clearly has to be one of their best efforts. 85

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Second Chances Don't Come Along Too Often

Fashioned as sort of a rather bizarre yet somewhat normal odyssey of a movie, Down By Law is rather unique in that it manages to seemingly combine comedy with drama. Most of the movie's rather humorous and delightful moments stem from the fact that this trio of main characters are not just out of luck, they in desperate need of help from a divine power. Each of the three hapless imprisoned cast brings their own style, and they are notable from one another in many different ways.

Jim Jarmusch is widely known for creating different types of independent movies, each of them not similar to the others. Here, he gives us a crime drama with humor, properly utilizing the rather talented musician Tom Waits, John Lurie (who appeared in other films of his) and the rather clownish Roberto Benigni, who strangely is this movie's true heart and soul. Trapped first in a jail then forced to go on the run, these men for some reason or another experience rather outrageous hardship and then finally get a tiny slice of luck that somehow just happens to fall their way.

There is a tender friendship that slowly builds amongst these men, so much that even when Lurie's Jack and Waits' Zack have the opportunity to leave Roberto behind, they end up choosing not to. Of course one has to speculate that they acknowledged the wheel of karma in going with such a plan of action, yet I highly doubt any of them gave a damn about karma. It was simply not a bad idea at the time, and they were close anyways.

Even though the picture drags near the end, Down By Law is a rather delightful film, Jarmusch's exercise in humanity. None of these men are bad people, and the choices they end up making are only interesting in that they are unsurprisingly straightforward and simple. Life does have a rather odd way of, after dealing you rather terrible cards, deciding to change its mind and not only have a new dealer operate with a new deck, but take pity on you and give you a re-deal. If you are lucky or just smart enough to earn such a reward, of course. 93

It Takes Fierce Will To Get Ahead in This World

Created over a decades long period, and finally put into motion resulting in one 2011's most fascinating films, The Tree of Life is Terrence Malick taking his strong visual aspects and unleashing them to a rather heavy extent. Although this film does have an underlying story arc, this merely serves to benefit the main heart of Malick's latest offering, giving the audience a spiritual and emotional encounter that is rather breathtaking and very meaningful.

Reportedly being about a huge loss and a big blow to an American family, Malick dives deeply, focusing largely on enlightenment, to a certain extent. Although I do not propose to truly understand what the director in this case was truly aiming for, one can go off on what he quite possibly had in mind, or at least speculate on this film's greater meaning. Yet maybe there is no real actual sense of truth, or possessing the ability to make real actual light of what can be merely known or unknown.

Perhaps what Malick truly is aiming for beyond featuring the cosmos, the stars, dinosaurs, life beyond this life and into the next, our most basic notions of reality completely shattered by a supposed higher power. This movie wisely does not impress upon the viewer the need to belief in God, Buddha, Allah, even the massive Spaghetti Monster that flies around. That is this film's most notable achievement, utilizing a brilliant soundtrack and expert scenery and picture, submerging oneself in a truly immaculate experience.

"Mother, father. Both of you wrestle inside me." That line speaks to me strongest of all, even as the main character dwells on his past, wondering if it will lead to a more vibrate future. Such puzzles are left rather unsolved, for what happens next in our lives is left unwritten, the past maybe not so much a window into how we will turn out as we grow older. This could either be wisdom or foolishness, however only we can discover this for ourselves. 95

Espionage, Blackmail and Virtual Reality`

Most of Michael Crichton's books have been made into movies, this film being an adaption of one of his most famous books. Especially considering this film centers on the rare instance where a man is actually sexually assaulted by a woman, which results in her actually accusing the man of assaulting her, instead. Really that is something that normally happens in these instances, but of course since it is from a book by Crichton nothing is what it truly seems.

Even though this movie has its fair share of limitations, this is still a rather engaging corporate thriller/drama that manages to be rather entertaining. The major players involved are populated by a talented cast featuring Michael Douglas, Demi Moore, and Donald Sutherland. Some of the plot actually centers on the fact that an aging executive is forced to battle not only for his career, but also fight to avoid being labeled as a sexual harasser. What's even more interesting about all of this is how the film covers possible new technologies, reflecting how many of Crichton's books managed to mix fact with science fiction, although this movie is more heavy on the drama elements.

How this film closes out, and what lies at the truth of the matter is to be discovered for the viewer themselves. Disclosure is mostly a tightly paced film, utilizing its great cast and dealing heavily in sexual politics. Although this movie could have gone deeper into its aspects of male v. female, there is enough on the surface level to make it a fairly solid movie. 85

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Snow, snow go away come again on a really sunny day

Hey that rhymed. Anyways, its 2 am right now and I already looked out my window to catch the first actual snowfall of the winter season. I guess I should consider myself lucky that it took until January 12th for actual snowfall, but really this makes me grumble instead and wonder why there had to be any kind of snow at all. For those who are currently unlikely enough to be driving at this hour, its also blowing snow, which makes visibility rather difficult, not to mention quite low. White powder flying around and covering up your windshield apparently causes driving to become quite dangerous, for some reason. But of course you need to be able to see where you are going while operating a rather large vehicle composed of plastic, metal, and glass.

According to the weatherman (or woman, but usually it is a man) the expected level of snowfall for tomorrow is supposed to be 4.4 inches. Wonderful. At this stage of the year 2.0 inches would be enough to for at least a school delay, so I imagine that schools will be canceled or let out early for Thursday. I am pretty sure that 4.4 inches is enough for sledding, a snowball fight, and of course a snowman. Since I will have to go outside and shovel today, I'm skeptical that sleep is even required, or will be necessary. You can always just accomplish the job and then take a nap, I suppose, unless you have to go to work that same day. Since I am unemployed at the moment, I do not.

What a really boring blog post this has turned out to be, but that's okay since no one reads this and I could practically post whatever the hell I want. Alright not anything and everything, but still my point remains the same. There is something to be said for not ranting, however the snow always brings out the worst in me. Especially since people in this town seem to lack the ability to drive in it for some reason or another. I imagine in six and a half hours I will be trying to dig my car out, since I foolishly left it in the parking lot across the street and the snowplow crew will have buried it completely. Grumble grumble.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Three Thieves Plotted and Schemed

Despite having viewed two of his other movies, Le samouraï, and Le Doulos, I decided to discuss Melville's 1970 crime drama/gangster movie not only because I own it, but because its become a new favorite of mine. Despite being better than Le Doulos but not as good as Le samouraï, it is still a great film, made in a similar vein. Only instead of one man living by a strict code of honor, its three men from different backgrounds brought together by the common goal of a grand heist. Say what you what you will about the men, but the film makes it rather clear that not only this is the life they've chosen, but forces beyond their control and society having already decided their lives results in them having no choice but to break the law.

If the thought of thieves and murders have a code of honor which they obey, and that no one else understands sounds familiar, then perhaps you are already thinking of John Woo's movies in the 80s and 90s. In fact, Woo wrote an essay for the film's Criterion release, and after reading it I further understand the movie's themes, and the impact it and other Melville works have had on Woo's career. Just like Meville I've only viewed three of Woo's movies, but The Killer and Hard Boiled both bear the same stamp that Le samouraï, Le cercle rouge, and Le Doulos made on Woo's films. Although I think that Le Doulos is in some ways quite different from the other two Meville films. I wish I had more to go on concerning Melville, so this review could get an update in the next couple of years.

What's even more fascinating about Le cercle rouge, and why it takes its place among top tier crime movies, is how Melville lets us examine and judge his characters. We find them to be less than moral, and yet instead of the police they abide by their code of conduct. I wouldn't say that the police are portrayed in a negative light, but rather they are seen as the opposing force set against the band of anti-heroes. If Melvillle could be accused of backing a group with a murder, a burnt out ex-cop turning to crime, and a career thief, and perhaps even painting them as "Cool," then he suffers from the same charges that have been leveled at Woo as well. I don't think they are fair, really, especially considering how these types of movies turn out. The heist scene alone is perfect, combining suspense with a level of timing, yet its barely takes up most of the film and really doesn't have the same level of importance.

Oh and on a further note, I did like how Melville gave the cops pursuing the gang a face with the aging, old detective. Although by now something of a cliche, the dogged policeman endlessly chasing people is something that was still a tad fresh even in the early 1970s. Not sure we needed scenes of him at his home, though-I felt those were the weakest elements in the film.

Nope, instead the group's attempts to constantly avoid capture and to profit from their success usually is the more entertaining, and captivating, part of this film, although that's not true of all heist movies. Yet Melville's sad portrayal of destiny and an inability to escape one's fate in life makes the final act more film noir than gangster movie. Its a quality that he has in his crime films that make them more engaging and real than any average crime drama or movie about criminals. What a welcomed addition to my movie collection, and really a film that I think could be discussed a little bit more.

PS: I've noticed that I like to buy crime movies on Criterion a lot. The genre endlessly fascinates me, and many of the movies they have in the collection are ones I've never even heard of before. Although this review stems from a second viewing-I rented it from my local library before I ended up purchasing it at Barnes and Noble.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Journey To the Center of the Caucus

Four years ago, I decided to support Barack Obama over John McCain in the 2008 Iowa caucuses, thus resulting in me voting for Obama for president. I wish I could say that in my regret over supporting him that I was at least foolish enough to buy into the whole "Hope and Change" slogan, but being usually skeptical of all politicians I merely thought he was a decent enough politician worthy of my vote, unlike the others running for office at the time. Things change, however, and by this year I had decided that Obama not being reelected was not a bad thing, provided the GOP field had some halfway decent candidates. After doing some heavy research over the span of a year, I decided to caucus for Ron Paul.

Mostly I was attracted to his stances on civil liberties, and the fact that he advocated cutting both taxes and spending, something that this country needs to do to emerge from a rather bad period of low economic growth, a higher deficit, and less optimistic outlooks on the future. While Mitt Romney appears as a merely decent/sub-standard option (the rest of the GOP field being rather laughable, unfortunately), I will admit that him rather conveniently changing his positions on some issues to be off putting, to say the least. Yet, when compared with President Obama I would probably consider voting for Mitt Romney instead if he is the nominee for president, or just writing in Ron Paul. Although one can argue that doing such a thing is "Wasting One's Vote," I have always been under the mindset that the only way someone "Wastes" their vote is by not voting.

Now the Republican caucus turned out to be rather different from the Democratic caucus in some regards. Regular party business was discussed, and from my memory I do not think the Democratic caucus in 2008 had planks (issues that people could choose to support via their signatures), although I could be wrong. Unlike the Democratic way of choosing candidates, which involved people forming into different groups, with the process ending with the top three groups who got the most candidates, the GOP caucus was a bit less chaotic. People were actually invited to stand up at the podium and speak in favor of their candidates, and then after more party business was discussed everyone in the audience was given a piece of paper and told to vote for their candidate, which is more of a secret ballot process.

Both styles of caucus are rather interesting, although I must say that the GOP process is a lot faster although less entertaining. Since I am usually a registered Independent, there is a decent chance I might be participating in either caucus depending on the candidates each election cycle, although maybe I'll finally choose a party in the next 10 years and stick with it.