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Across 110th Street (1972)
Grim and gritty in Harlem
Take away the Bobby Womack title song and the flashy threads worn by Doc Johnson's head henchman and this film is just a cop thriller that takes place in Harlem. A particularly violent cop thriller, though. Interesting to note that in each of the three story lines, age is mentioned. The thief, Paul Benjamin, complains that as a 42 year old ex-con, he will never be able to get a legitimate job; Anthony Quinn is worried that at 55, the police department wants him gone and Anthony Franciosa is told by Doc Johnson, that he is just a washed-up mafia errand boy at 45. That is a theme not normally explored in this type gangster movie. Regarding Franciosa, I've always liked him because he always brings a vibrancy to his roles. In this movie, though, I wasn't sure if he was portraying an over-eager mafioso or just a plain psychopath. Nonetheless, this film starts off grim and ends just as grim.
Foxy Brown (1974)
Pam Grier - looking fabulous and taking names
Pam Grier is dressed fabulously as she gets revenge on a prostitution ring that killed her man. Among the highlights/lowlights: Ms. Grier gets in a brawl at a lesbian bar, pilots a small plane through one thug and into a couple others (this must be a rule with low budget action movies as I've seen it in other movies of this ilk), demonstrates another use for a coat hanger and performs a rather bizarre striptease with Juanita Brown. Antonio Fargas plays the usual knucklehead that doesn't make it to the second reel. As for Grier's revenge? Considering the villainous duo's, Peter Brown and Kathryn Loder, bad acting skills - what happens to them is only fitting.
Zatôichi kenka-daiko (1968)
Ichi versus the bumblers
This film contained the best Zatoichi one on one fight for me yet. Mainly because the fight lasted more than a few minutes. Of course, the fact that Ichi was deafened at the time probably is the reason the fight lasted as long as it did. In this film, the fact that Zatoichi is Yakuza is made clear, but he seems to belong to a band of bumblers. Zatoichi is very serious in this movie. It seems that among the hundreds of people Zatoichi has killed only once did he kill someone under false pretenses and boy does he regret it. His efforts to make amends with the sister of the man he killed come across more like stalking, but he saves her from a horrible fate. This movie does have one unusual thing - a government official that isn't corrupt! It figures that he doesn't last long. Zatoichi's fights aren't as good in this one, though the plot was more complex than the standard Ichi flick. The problem that I had is that it seemed Shintaro Katsu just can't muster the enthusiasm he has had in his other films. Highlight - trussed-up Ichi and armed only with a hairpin still manages to fend off his attackers, the above mentioned bumblers, but still fun to watch.
Zatôichi nidan-kiri (1965)
A minor entry in the series with a few exceptions. Zatoichi plays it relatively straight; this time the humor is handled by Denroku the Weasel (the subtitles have him as the Fox). His scenes with Ichi were entertaining, especially when Ichi confronts the Weasel at the noodle stand over Ichi's missing sword. The Weasel's sword fight left me wishing that there might have been a series for him. Alas, it was not to be. This left Shintaro Katsu free to be very serious. The villains in this movie are more despicable than usual and I took satisfaction seeing their fate at the hands of Zatoichi. The film was little more realistic with it's depiction of prostitution but not very exciting, unfortunately.
The Lotus Eaters (1993)
A paint by the numbers film.
This film is awful. Not offensive but extremely predictable. The movie follows the life of a small town family in the mid-60's. The father, the principal at the school, is going through a mid-life crisis. Enter a pretty teacher from the big city who starts challenging her students' minds with some thought-provoking stuff, like think for yourself. The principal doesn't agree with her teaching but she is pretty. You can connect the dots. His teenage daughter (Winona Ryder wannabe Tara Frederick) is fed up with the small town lifestyle and wants to live. She gets some bad advice, hangs out with some bad boys and apparently family planning wasn't being taught at her school. Shocking! Seeing that director Paul Shapiro has mainly worked in TV, this movie plays like a more adult version of an after-school special or a very special episode of one of the more mundane sitcoms.
The Adjuster (1991)
All style - little substance
Early effort from director Atom Egoyan doesn't have the intricate sub-plots of his later movies but it does show that his penchant for stylized set pieces is not a new thing. From Maury Chaykin's elaborately staged sex romps for his wife to the hotel that the insured clients stay at; everything looks great but the movie itself seems sterile. Elias Koteas' performance sums it up best: cold and emotionless. Sex plays a big role in this movie but no one enjoys it. From the movies that censor Arsinée Khanjian views to the "extra" benefits that Koteas provides his clients - sex seems more a chore than anything else. Even with Chaykin's sex games, the excitement is more with the setup than the act itself. You know what? Big deal! Egoyan seems so intent on showing how detached (and boring) people can become that it is hard not to feel that way watching the movie. Egoyan movies are worth watching because he really tries to make a statement but in most cases the films become exercises in making pretty pictures and in some cases, pretentiousness. This movie just misses being pretentious but it isn't very memorable either.
Very clever Bond clip show
Presented to help promote "Octopussy", this show was different in that instead of just showing clips from previous Bond movies demonstrating Bond's skills, this special has experts in different fields acting like Bond is a real person. For example, Jackie Stewart comments on Bond's driving ability and a clip from "Diamonds are Forever" plays, Arnold Palmer talks about his golfing prowess and we see Bond playing golf in "Goldfinger". Even then-president Ronald Reagan talks about Bond in terms of his intelligence service. One of the more humorous ones was a wildlife expert using the crocodile sequence in "Live and Let Die" to demonstrate Bond's knowledge of animals. A very enjoyable special.
Black Caesar (1973)
Shouldn't be so cool but it is.
A low budget remake of "Little Caesar" with a scene from "Scarface" thrown in should not be this enjoyable. Credit two people: star Fred Williamson and writer/director,Larry Cohen. In Williamson's hands, Tommy Gibbs is a magnetic presence. He is very cool and smart. His success is no surprise but also his downfall is no surprise. How he turns could have been overplayed or understated for an actor with more ego. The scene was necessary and effective because in the end this movie was not about glamorizing gangsters. Cohen's contributions are also significant. He understood he wasn't making a message film, even though the message is there. The movie is full of bloody violence (it seemed to me that during the pool massacre, some of the victims were spouting blood before they were shot) because that was what fans of this genre wanted. In the end, however, viewers see that even with James Brown blaring about what a bad mutha Tommy Gibbs was, he was just as much a pawn as everyone else. Of course, the sequel would change that thought.
Contract on Cherry Street (1977)
Sinatra takes on the mob
Talk about ego! In this movie, 5'8" 62-year old Frank Sinatra knocks around mob thugs and sends them home crying. Which for a film aiming for a realistic gritty tone, makes it hard to take seriously. Sinatra forms a special cop team to crack down on car thefts in New York City; the team is basically Michael Nouri as the idealistic kid, Henry Silva as the voice of reason (not something Silva was known for playing) and Harry Guardino as a vengeance crazed cop. Somehow, the dedicated team causes a gang war to erupt among the mob families and for a 1970's TV movie, there is a lot more violence than I would expect. The movie gets more and more out of control until Sinatra's mad dash to save the city at the end. Sinatra breaks so many rules, it is really hard to see how he would be able to stay out of jail, much less remain on the job. But hey, this is Sinatra's world and he makes the rules.
Zatôichi hatashi-jô (1968)
Zatoichi goes spaghetti Western
From the opening credits and the blaring song that starts the movie, it was obvious to me that the Zatoichi franchise was making an attempt to make a spaghetti Samurai movie. In earlier Zatoichi films, the villains were bad, but they were usually cowardly buffoons hiding behind hundreds of henchmen and the occasional hired gun. In this movie, the fugitives are particularly loathsome: dirty with no respect for anyone. The violence is more brutal and even Zatoichi gets one of his worst beatings in a long time.
Unlike the Italian westerns, the violence happens mostly at the end; Zatoichi tries to warn off the fugitives, but even he mutters that these people are trouble. I think his Italian counterpart would have wiped them out as soon as he met them. The typical Zatoichi touches are still there, the twist at the end (which is so obvious, I think even the filmmakers weren't too concerned with making it hard to guess) and the large bodycount at the end, for example. I give the filmmakers credit for trying to stay up with the times and the film is enjoyable but I also feel that some of the Italian "gimmicks" weren't needed (most notably the jarring music).
1732 Høtten (1998)
Thought provoking but ultimately unsuccessful
The film follows the traditional storyline: big city detective Nicholas Ramm in a small town, trying to solve a horrendous crime, dealing with the townspeople who want to take care of the problem themselves. Vigilante justice is explored in detail and it is obvious what side the filmmaker, Karin Julsrud, is on. It was easy for me to side with Julsrud's outrage. I was a bit worried with the red herrings coming true, making the film a little too convenient but thankfully they didn't. When the twist comes, it is unexpected but (and this is a big but), I think Julsrud paints herself in a corner. Ramm's actions at this point are a little out of character and seem to be more of a way to clean things up. In this day of extensive media coverage of awful crimes, emotions are often manipulated and I thank this movie for making me more aware of how easy this is but as a film, I can't say it was a success.
Zatôichi abare tako (1964)
More of the same -- but I like it!
If you've seen one Zatoichi film, then this one will be nothing new. The thing is, that Shintarô Katsu does such a great job playing Zatoichi, that I don't care how similar these movies are. This movie is a little different in that the beginning of the movie has several light humorous moments, the fact that Zatoichi is shot seems to have no bearing. But like all the other films in the series, it gets serious. In case, pretty serious. Katsu can be lighthearted and charming but when he means business, I wouldn't want to mess with him. As for the battles not a whole lot until the end, but that one is a doozy. I tried counting how many people he kills; I lost count after 35. So, if you're a sucker for Zatoichi, then this one should be fun viewing.
Friday Foster (1975)
Pretty lightweight action movie
Based on a comic strip, this movie was colorful and believable as one. Pam Grier as a fashion photographer getting mixed up in romance and intrigue sounds like a great idea but this movie never pulls it off. All I can recommend is the off the wall supporting cast. Not by casting unusual actors but the parts these actors play. With the exception of Eartha Kitt and Scatman Crothers playing what one would expect, the others play characters that they would not be known for in later years. Take Ted Lange: remembered for the happy go-lucky Issac on "The Love Boat", here he is the stereotypical pimp with the clothes and dialogue to match. Yaphet Kotto, is the comic sidekick; I don't think I have ever seen him smile as much as he did in this movie. Carl Weathers as the silent killer is also a little strange. Jim Backus gets prominent billing and he is in the movie for just two minutes! Well, it's a fast 90 minutes and there are worse things to watch.
One-sided to the extreme
I was interested in seeing this film because I know very little about the black panther party. The film is an oral history of the party from its beginnings to what everyone is up to in the late `90's. This being a controversial organization, a lot of accusations are made toward the government orchestrating the downfall of the party. The problem is that there is no opposing viewpoints to rebut any accusation. So-called experts (what are their qualifications?), quick glimpses of documents (which could be anything) and former FBI officials (disgruntled, perhaps?) are used to help bolster the arguments. One huge mistake is that when this was made, the news story broken by the San Jose Mercury News about the CIA working with drug smugglers to funnel cocaine into poor black neighborhoods was used to end the documentary, the intention being, I guess, to show that things still haven't gotten better. The only problem was that since then, the news article has been proved to be false. Another thing, is that a few people are interviewed in prison, including Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier. I know why they are in prison, but with the exception of Peltier, the film never says why they are in prison. The mentioning of A.I.M. was curious because, it seemed like a minor point in the history of the black panthers. Some of the accusations are a little wild - one of the wives of the party leadership was a FBI plant and that a FBI official was most likely murdered by the FBI are just two of them, of course no one is asked to disprove this, which would have made this film a little more believable. As it is, it is hard to swallow. Which is a shame because I feel there is a lot here to believe.
Should never work but it does - perfectly!
Police officer is killed and rebuilt as a cyborg, goes gunning for the lowlives that killed him. Sounds like a real silly movie, doesn't it? It should and that is how the sequels and all other movies trying to imitate this movie come off. In this case, Paul Verhoeven weaves a tale that can entertain both the thinker and the action fan. I've seen a documentary where Peter Weller said that he wished the violence that was cut out to make the 'R' rating was left in. He felt it made the film more funnier. I beg to differ. With one exception, the violence was cartoonish enough that anymore would've bogged it down and the exception had to be that way. One of the best things of the movie is that Ronny Cox, Kurtwood Smith and Paul McCrane play some of moviedom's most vilest and memorable of villains. Up to that point, one usually found these three playing some of the more sensitive characters. And they pull it off! Chock full of quotable lines and seemingly throw-a-way parts that come back to mean something later, this movie is a lot of fun.
Still one of the all-time great shockers
I was fortunate to see this movie at the theater. Unfortunately, I already knew most of the story, so I could only enjoy the shocks through the audience. One of those films that it is hard to talk about for fear of giving away any of the numerous surprises. All I will say is that this film has one of the best casting jobs in history. Everyone is perfect for their role. Even though the description of the movie is rather bleak, there are many funny lines in the movie that are even funnier upon repeat viewing (Hitchcock has said that this was a comedy). I even like the much-maligned ending; ends the film on a satiric note. One of the best movies ever made.
Zatôichi tekka tabi (1967)
Takes a long time to get going
In the beginning of this installment of the Zatoichi series, Zatoichi comes across a dying man, who only gives his name, before he dies. Zatoichi then accidentally kills a raven, which he says is a bad omen for things to come. Unfortunately, almost an hour of the movie goes by before these events are revisited. What the viewer sees in the meantime is a lot of plot about how Zatoichi is weary of his lifestyle and that his cane sword's useful life is coming to an end (the cane sword is not a walking cane with a mini blade hidden at the end, like the westerner that I am thought it would be, it is just a walking stick that serves as a sheath for the sword). Once all that is done, then the typical Zatoichi film begins. There is a town in fear of an evil mob boss (who is more fleshed out than in the other films), a young woman in trouble and a huge battle at the end which features a nifty scene with a barrel. The last 40 minutes of this film rank up there with the best of the other Zatoichi films but it's the hour before that sinks this film.
Ginger e Fred (1986)
A pleasant Fellini film for a change
Before I saw this movie, I had heard how it was considered one of Federico Fellini's more accessible movies. If this was meant of Fellini's films from the sixties on, I can agree with that. The film is basically two things: one big jab at television and giving Giuletta Masina the opportunity to show everyone how adorable she is (she succeeds). The TV angle, however scathing it may have been in 1986; today with the plethora of reality TV shows, the film just seems prescient. The film's very basic storyline is Masina reuniting with old dance partner Marcello Mastroianni for a TV show. Filling in the rest of the movie (and sometimes obscuring the main story) are the many oddball characters scheduled for the TV show. As anyone familiar with Fellini knows, he loves outrageous people. In this film, for example, there are transsexuals, psychics, a midget troupe and a cow with many teats. The first part of the movie, at the hotel, is a little too much because everything is thrown at the viewer at once. The characters, television, Ginger and Fred, all vie for your attention and it can be overwhelming. Once at the studio, the film kind of settles down and one is able to enjoy the film and it's characters. Not one of Fellini's best but also not only for fanatics of Fellini either.
Detroit 9000 (1973)
I noticed with some amusement that in the end credits, the Detroit PD is thanked for their participation. The Chief of Police even has one speaking line playing himself (and boy, can you tell he can't act). The reason for the amusement is that in this movie the police shoot first and ask questions later. Not the kind of PR, I would think a police force would want. Other than that, this is your standard cops and robbers film dressed up for the '70's with a racial angle. Alex Rocco is given a thankless role of a lifer cop that can't get ahead and is saddled with a mentally ill wife. He makes up for this by hanging out at the local whorehouse. Hari Rhodes is his dashing partner that has a groovy wardrobe and likes to chase after suspects while wearing a trenchcoat. The movie moves along until the penultimate shootout that makes absolutely no sense (why do people that are only guilty of a robbery, take on a whole police force?). Not only do we see one shootout but since there are four bad guys, we get to see four. Then there is a twist ending that is supposed to leave one guessing what really would have happened but only left me thinking how stupid it was. Seeing that director Arthur Marks was also behind the braindead "Friday Foster" and "Bucktown", I shouldn't have wondered.
The Magic Christian (1969)
Another Sixties satire that hasn't kept up with the times.
A companion piece with "The Bed Sitting Room" (that one was made by Peter Sellers' fellow Goon members) in English surrealism. "The Bed Sitting Room" was very English and while "The Magic Christian" was based on a book by American Terry Southern and written by the same, it also has an English quality to it. Like most of the movies written by Southern (the exception being "Dr. Strangelove"), "The Magic Christian" starts off with no explanation and careens along until the end. It took me about a day after I saw the movie to finally understand what had been going on. The film is basically about what people will do for money and there are numerous skits showing this. Due to the plethora of reality shows on TV now, nothing in this film will seem very shocking since we see people do even more bizarre stuff on TV (although the part with the vat full of disgusting liquids made me feel a bit queasy). The only reason someone may want to watch this now are the many guest stars in the movie although the only ones worth watching are John Cleese and Graham Chapman and they were nobodies when this movie came out. Like all films of this ilk, once the shock value is gone, there isn't much else to recommend.
Race for Glory (1989)
Thinly veiled account of American jingoism in motorcycle racing.
Is it just me or the fact that the evil racing team is Japanese and that their arrogant star racer is German seem a little over the top? Maybe that is how it is on the international racing circuit but if all America had representing them are chumps like Cody and his mechanic Chris (Peter Berg, who must have been still learning how to act) then I would be rooting for another country. Formula movies can be good but the characters have to be likeable and no one meets that criteria in this movie. To put it succinctly - a very bad movie.
The Bed Sitting Room (1969)
A little too English for me.
One of those movies where one looks at everyone involved with the film and thinks a surefire hit but it isn't. Really just a series of skits about carrying on in the English way after a nuclear attack, the film never connects in any way with the viewer. Originally a play by Spike Milligan, I have a feeling that on paper the movie would seem hilarious and though a couple of scenes translate well (the tube train that keeps running even though no one needs it and the wedding) most of the skits fall flat. I, for one, cringed every time Marty Feldman appeared wearing a nurses uniform. Maybe part of the problem is that the film is definitely targeted towards a British audience and since I'm American, I don't get it but I think that even the English would find it dated today.
The quintessential Bond movie.
"Goldfinger" is the perfect Bond movie. All of the things that Bond movies are famous for were perfected in this movie. The memorable theme song, the beginning sequence that has nothing to do with the rest of the movie, the Bond villain (Gert Frobe, possibly the best of the Bond villains), the cruel henchman (Oddjob), the gadgets (the tricked out Aston Martin) and the clever Bond witticisms; this is what Bond films are known for. The movie closely follows the Ian Fleming book but leaves out the more controversial elements: Fleming has Goldfinger give a speech on how the Koreans are a very vicious people (embarrassing as it is to read imagine how it would play in the movie), also Tilly is in the book a lot longer than the movie. In the book, she constantly rebuffs Bond's advances and when she meets Pussy Galore and her all-girl air force we find out why (thankfully the movie never even hints about that). So even if there are problems with some aspects of the story (as Roger Ebert has said, why does Goldfinger tell all of the gangsters of his plan and ask them to join him if he is going to kill them anyway?), the movie is such fun that it doesn't really matter.
L.A. Confidential (1997)
I just can't get over the ending -- too pat.
One of the strengths of this movie was that it was an old-fashioned film noir made without any of the constraints that the old studio system would have required. The old studios rules were that: good always will prevail (check), there must be a romance (check, in a movie as cynical as this one the Kim Basinger - Russell Crowe romance really seems out of place) and possible redemption (check, Kevin Spacey). This wouldn't have bothered me except the first part of the movie was so good and was moving towards a modern (complicated and unresolved) finish when it was like the studio swooped in and said "No, we better make sure there is a happy ending so we won't offend anyone." Oh sure, there is plenty of profanity and a big emphasis on sex, drug use and racism to give "L.A. Confidential" the modern edge but where's that "Forget it, it's Chinatown, Jake" finish?
Blow Out (1981)
Pretty disappointing for so-called rediscovered "classic".
Brian De Palma does it again with his versions of classic moments from other movies. In this one we have the 'homages' to "Blow-Up" and "Rear Window". Throw in a psychopath with an extended scene of him killing someone that does nothing to further the plot. Add a ridiculous car chase through a parade. Then top it off with a twist ending that comes off mean-spirited and sleazy. Let's not forget the uninspired performances by Nancy Allen and John Travolta. At least Allen's character is supposed to be not very bright but Travolta, for someone as smart as he is supposed to be, makes some pretty stupid decisions (the main one being letting Allen meet with the reporter alone). What do we get? The usual De Palma mishmash that leaves the viewer unfulfilled. At least when De Palma made "Body Double" it looks like he learned his lesson from this movie and made the "Body Double" ending more satisfying.