Quick takes on 5 Seijun Suzuki films

I think I’m right in this, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen a film by Japanese maverick director Seijun Suzuki. A director whose style got him blacklisted for a decade, his films were irreverent but cool. Today I’m looking at five of his films before he disappeared for 10 years, starting with 1960’s Take Aim at the Police Van. The title refers to the opening scene: a police truck is transporting prisoners when it comes under fire. Two prisoners are killed, but one, Goro, survives, and he was to be let go soon anyway. The driver of the van, a security guard, is not content to let the police dig into what happened, as he doesn’t feel it is high on their priorities to find who killed some cons. The guard, Tamon, hits the streets. He checks in on Goro, who isn’t talking, despite Tamon feeling like he knows something, so he looks up the girlfriends of those who were killed. His hunt takes him to a prostitution ring and all the seediest spots and people in town. The movie is at times outlandish and feels a bit like a Hollywood B movie (which, I’m pretty sure, is Suzuki’s intent). While not my favorite genre, it is fun in the right spots. ★★½

Youth of the Beast was, for my tastes, a much more exciting picture, though stylistically, it is much the same. If anything, maybe even more over the top. But the story is more engaging. The film begins with the death of a police detective, Takeshita, who it seems was killed in a murder/suicide by a prostitute, his lover. From there, the story follows Joji “Jo” Mizuno, a hoodlum who seems hell-bent on getting the attention of both rival yakuza gangs in town, Nomoto and Sanko. His actions gain him a meeting with Nomoto’s leader, Tetsuo, who hires Jo as an enforcer. Unbeknownst to Tetsuo, Jo is investigating Takeshita’s death. Jo doesn’t believe for a minute that Jo was killed by a prostitute, thinking that the crime lords in the city are behind it, but he doesn’t know why, and he doesn’t know who the actual murderer was. Jo is getting to know everyone in Nomoto’s organization, and before long, he heads over to the Sanko family to do the same, pretending to be a double-crosser against Nomoto. Finally, we learn that Jo was once Takeshita’s partner, and he is out to get justice and the truth for Takeshita’s widow. An explosive film full of gunfights and action, and an ending that you do not see coming. It’s a hell of a ride from beginning to end. ★★★½

Gate of Flesh hits it out of the park, and shows me why Suzuki was so well thought of (and not just for showing lots of skin, though the title may imply it). The film takes place just after World War II, during the American occupation, in the slums of Tokyo, and follows a quartet of women who are earning a living the only way they can: selling their bodies. The film’s central character is Maya, who begins the movie by stealing on the streets after she lost her husband in the war. When she is caught, she is given a chance to not have to steal, by becoming a prostitute. The women she falls in with are not victims though; they wear their profession with pride. They live in a bombed out warehouse, take care of themselves, look after each other, and don’t take shit from anyone, not even the American soldiers that pervade the area. Their one rule: don’t give sex away for free. Their bodies are their currency, and everyone has to pay. When a woman does fall in love and doesn’t charge her beau, she is beaten by the other women and cast out of the group. Maya quickly learns the ropes and finds a home, but into this setting comes Ibuki. Ibuki, a former Japanese soldier, was shot while stealing from the local army base, and comes into the women’s shelter to hide out. They allow him to stay while he recoups, but his presence brings problems, as a couple women, Maya and the group’s leader, start to fall for him. There are moments in the film which are definitely hard to watch, and Suzuki doesn’t just skirt controversy but instead hits it head on, but the film has a much deeper meaning than just showing the hard knocks of life on the streets. Excellently shot too; the viewer is enveloped in the seedy underbelly of Tokyo and feels the plights of the films’ characters. ★★★★½

Story of a Prostitute follows a woman, Harumi, who is jilted by her true love, and rather than get back on the horse, she agrees to be sent to the front line in Japan’s war with China and become a prostitute for the soldiers. Roll with me here. Once in camp, she and the other half dozen or so girls are told they’ll be servicing a whole battalion, so they’ll be working from early afternoon to late night, every day. Harumi doesn’t seem like she’s going to mind it much, until she catches the eye of the camp’s commander, Narita. Narita is a sadistic a-hole, and loves demeaning Harumi. Making matters worse, Harumi is instantly attracted to a young soldier in camp, Mikami. And Narita being who he is, he won’t let either find pleasure, forbidding Harumi to sleep with Mikami. Don’t expect a happy-go-lucky film here. Unfortunately, don’t expect a great film either. Unlike in the above films, I could never connect with the main protagonist; she seems to get herself into trouble at every turn, and then spend a few minutes screaming (very loudly) about it. ★½

Tokyo Drifter is a chaotic mess, but sometimes it’s a fun mess. Tetsu is a former hit man for the yakuza boss Kurata, who recently has decided to get out of crime and go straight. Karuta’s former adversary, crime boss Otsuka, doesn’t quite believe it, and has sent his own assassin, Tatsuzo, to kill Tetsu. Unfortunately for all involved, Tetsu is one hard man to kill. Throughout the film, various people try, and no one succeeds. The man seems bulletproof. He doesn’t seem to care for anything other than 2 people: his girlfriend Chiharu (a singer at a night bar frequented by the mob) and Karuta, for whom Tetsu holds extreme loyalty. Karuta sends Tetsu away, ostensibly to keep them both safe, but more may be at play here. The gun and fist fights in this film are frequent and completely unrealistic; there is no such thing as too over the top for this director. So while you have to just go with some of the absurdity, there are moments where the silliness transcends disbelief and just becomes fun. ★★★

  • TV series currently watching: We Own This City (miniseries)
  • Book currently reading: Time of the Twins by Weis & Hickman 

Bros paves new ground (even if its been done before)

Bros has been hailed as the first of its kind: an openly gay romcom with a predominately LGBTQ+ cast. It’s not the first film to do it, but it is the first to be produced by a major movie studio, because in the past, these kinds of pictures were done by indie studios and released quietly with little to no advertising. No such quiet release on this movie: it’s been plastered on promos and commercials, with a campaign as loud and proud as its lead and cowriter, Billy Eichner.

Eichner plays Bobby, a gay 40’s man living in New York, who hosts a podcast and radio show, and whose passion lies in spreading the history of gay people, making the world aware that some of its famous people of the past were in fact gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Furthering this goal, he’s put together funding for the National LGBTQ+ History Museum, the first of its kind, to open in Manhattan. Unfortunately the project keeps getting hit with delays due to lack of funding, and Bobby and his team butt heads over what displays they should even showcase.

In his personal life, Bobby, despite being 40 years old, has never been in love. He has casual sex with random men on Grindr but admits he’s never been in a serious relationship. Part of that comes from lack of confidence; though he’s comfortable talking work in front of a crowd, he’s much less so talking about his feelings to a single individual, and he feels he doesn’t meet the modern image of a gay man in a community dominated by muscular bodybuilding jocks. He’s come to the realization that he may just be single forever, but that stance may change when he meets Aaron. Aaron hails from a small town, which has made him more reserved and less comfortable in front of a crowd. But still, he is a big, strong dude, and initially, Bobby thinks he’s just another in the long line of one-night stands. As they continue to see each other though, they begin to start a relationship, and each man must face his demons if they are going to make it work.

The writing is pretty good when it sticks to what Eichner has been famous for: his comedy. The whole theater was laughing pretty hard in the first half of the film, where it pokes fun at gay and lesbian stereotypes, the world’s changing views on homosexuality and gender identity, and a host of other topics. Once the film settles into the romantic half of the romantic-comedy genre, it loses steam. If you were to substitute Aaron with a woman, you’d realize that this whole shtick has been done before, and done better. And honestly, some of the acting in the film is truly atrocious. The filmmakers obviously made it a point to fill the cast with LGBTQ+ people, many of whom are not actors, and it shows. I rate the comedy high, the drama low, and overall settle in at ★★★

Quick takes on Day for Night and other Truffaut films

Readers of my blog know I’m generally a fan of the French New Wave, so you may ask why I haven’t dove into François Truffaut yet. Honestly, no idea! He was one of the founders of the movement, and while I’ve seen a couple of his movies (I was lukewarm to The Last Metro, but liked Jules and Jim a lot more). Up today is his groundbreaking film The 400 Blows, its sequels, and a trio of other films by the director.

The 400 Blows, released in 1959, introduces us to Antoine Doinel, a boy trying to make his way through the tough situation that is life. At school, his mischievous nature makes him the target of the oppressive teacher, and his home life isn’t much better. His parents argue constantly, and his dad goes overboard trying to be the “fun parent,” made all the worse when he turns his back on Antoine later in the film. His vindictive parents, besides fighting with each other, are often downright cruel to Antoine. It’d be easy for him to give up on life, but through it all, he manages to keep his spirit. When he tries to run away though, and attempts a theft to get some cash, he ends up in juvie. The final scene of the film, with Antoine escaping and running as fast as he can, is incredible. He’s running from life, from his past, from all that was holding him back, and the scene encompasses all the pain he’s been through, and all the hope he has for the future. Best film I’ve seen in a long while. ★★★★★

Truffaut returned to Antoine 4 years later in the short Antoine et Colette (with actor Jean-Pierre Léaud returning as well; he would continue to portray Antoine down the years). Now 17 years old, Antoine is an emancipated minor doing what he says he always dreamed of: living on his own and supporting himself. His past comes back to bite him though, as he doesn’t know how to have a real relationship. Antoine spots Colette at a concert and is instantly smitten, but he smothers her. While Colette is giving off “friend vibes,” Antoine is moving across the street from her and her parents (who love Antoine and wish Colette would date him). Antoine doesn’t take no for an answer, and it isn’t until she brazenly goes out with another man right in front of him that he finally gets a clue. Cute little movie, which, if nothing else, sets up the man Antoine is becoming. ★★★½

Antoine is seen next in 1968’s Stolen Kisses. His penchant for getting into trouble never went away, and at the beginning of the film, he is being dishonorably discharged from the army for constantly going AWOL. He visits an ex-flame (Christine), but it seems that her parents, like in the above film, like Antoine more than she does. He bounces from job to job, always getting fired in bizarre, hilarious ways, until landing at a private detective agency. Here, he is tasked to spy on a shoe store owner’s staff. The owner, a cold narcissist who can’t understand why his staff doesn’t like him, wants the agency to “discover” the source of the animosity. Antoine does get something out of the job though; he becomes smitten by the boss’s wife, though he’s much too shy to hit on her directly. When she hears gossip of his crush though, she is intrigued and is not so inhibited. Though the first two films featured plenty of moments of brevity, this movie is more of a straight forward comedy. However, there are still moments of contemplation, including the very ending, which finds Antoine (at yet another new job) finally finding happiness in love with Christine. ★★★★

There isn’t a big time jump this time; Bed and Board came out just 2 years later. Happily married, Christine gives violin lessons out of their tiny apartment, but Antoine still can’t keep a job for long. The first full hour of this film is a lot of fluff, and unfortunately the humor is lot less “smart” and it falls prey to stupid gags, things like the argument over the new baby’s name, or Antoine working for an American though he doesn’t speak English. The only truly funny moment I enjoyed was the constant rumors amongst Antoine and his neighbors about “the strangler,” a mysterious man who no one knows anything about (though I did chuckle at the blink-or-you’ll-miss-it cameo of a Monsieur Hulot lookalike at the metro station). The movie (finally) takes off in the final 30 minutes, when Antoine begins an affair with another woman, a client of his boss. The final 20-30 minutes are outstanding, incredible, when the comedy is dropped and it turns into a drama, with some of the best lines in this film set so far. Five star stuff, but I can’t look past that first hour. This should have been a 30 minute short instead of a 90 minute comedy-turned-drama with a lot of extra weight. ★★★½

It was nearly a decade before Antoine Doinel appeared again, in his final appearance in 1979’s Love on the Run. I loved this movie, as a proper sendoff to the long-running character. The lovable Antoine has finally grown up a bit; he’s truly in love, for maybe the first time in his life, with a woman named Sabine. At the beginning of the film, Antoine is finalizing his divorce from Christine; their reconciliation at the end of Bed and Board was not to last. However, Antoine stands Sabine up on a date because he is taking his son to the train station, sending him off to camp, and there runs into his first “love,” Colette. In a moment of poor judgement, Antoine jumps on Colette’s train, to see how she’s been all these years, and thus misses his evening with Sabine. To make it up to Sabine, Antoine goes on a mission to prove his love to her. He has realized that he was a poor boyfriend to Colette, poor husband to Christine, but he’s (at long last) matured, and he just wants a chance. The film also sees him running into his mother’s former lover, one of apparently many men with whom she cheated on Antoine’s father, and he and Antoine share stories of Antoine’s parents, who have died in the intervening years. Here too, Antoine can look back at how far he’s come. Full of flashbacks to the previous films, the film is a very moving story about a man who came from a rough beginning and made something out of nothing. ★★★★½

Shoot the Piano Player was the first film that landed with a thud, for my tastes. A zany film that seems to defy labels or genres (which is, I guess, part of the point of the French New Wave), it follows a man named Charlie Koller, a piano player in a dive bar. He’s visited by his older brother, who’s on the run from some thieves he double-crossed, and this encounter sets off a crazy couple days for Charlie. For one, we learn that Charlie isn’t his real name; he used to be Edouard Saroyan, and was a celebrated concert pianist, but the story of his downfall is as crazy as the rest of the film. With his brother in hiding, the thugs go after Charlie instead, harassing him, his younger brother that lives with him, and his new girlfriend Lena, a waitress at that same bar. Then there’s a subplot involving the bar owner who also has eyes for Lena. And another about the prostitute who lives next door to Charlie, lending a hand to the younger brother as babysitter and a bed to Charlie when he’s lonely. Just all kinds of stuff going on, like Truffaut was throwing darts at a board full of plot lines, and ended up keeping them all. Parts comedy, parts tragedy, parts crime drama, it is tough to keep up. ★★

The Soft Skin is more streamlined, and also has a much different feel from any other Truffaut film I’ve seen so far. Truffaut admits he was watching a lot of Hitchcock at the time, and you can see his influence in this subtle thriller. At least, it’s how Truffaut does suspense. Pierre Lachenay is a well regarded author currently traveling a lot to promote some of his recent writings. Arriving in Lisbon one day, he is smitten by a pretty, young flight attendant, and the two come together for dinner and something more. The affair doesn’t end there; for the rest of the movie, Pierre increasingly finds excuses to escape his family and clandestinely meet Nicole, but his observant wife, Franca, catches on before too long. Franca is impetuous and can’t seem to make up her mind if she wants to throw him out or beg him to stay; Pierre does end up moving out, but finds that everyday life with Nicole isn’t as exciting as a fling with her. But Franca will have the last, very final, say in this relationship merry-go-round. Interesting film, and it grabs your attention in the beginning and doesn’t let go. It’s also a very real look at how humans can crave forbidden fruit but find it isn’t as sweet as you’d think. ★★★½

Day for Night is must-see for film lovers, and is considered one of best films ever made about filmmaking. Truffaut cast himself as a film director, Ferrand, who is making an international film titled Meet Pamela. The movie is to be made in a tight 7 week window, and everyone in the cast and crew have a feeling that it is going to be something special. However, it is beset with problems from the get-go. The story is about a couple, a Frenchman married to a British woman, whose marriage hits the rocks when he introduces his wife to his parents, and the woman falls in love with her father-in-law. A sticky situation in front of the camera, but there are even stickier affairs behind it. When writing the script, Ferrand envisioned actress Julie Baker (portrayed perfectly by Jacqueline Bisset) in the lead role, but she had a nervous breakdown a year ago, and she’s still shaky. The very immature Alphonse (Jean-Pierre Léaud) is to play her husband, and he takes any bad news very personally. Even his in-movie parents have baggage: Séverine is a former star past her prime and now has a drinking problem, and she once had an affair with her costar Alexandre, who is now a gay man with a much younger Italian lover. There are also constant problems on set: frequent delays despite the tight schedule, an actress who shows up pregnant, a cat that won’t eat on camera when needed, and a multitude more. Not to mention all of the sexual exploits between cast and crew! It’s a chaotic mess, but somehow, the movie gets made, and I have a feeling a whole lot of the films we see have these kinds of issues going on in the background. From a film lovers standpoint too, you get to see a lot of the “movie magic” that you just never get to see unless you work in movies: making it rain, stage sets, snow on the ground, stunts, lighting, props, makeup, and everything else you can imagine. The whole thing is a supremely wonderful experience. The movie won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar (Truffaut was also nominated for Best Director), marking Truffaut’s only Oscar win amongst 6 nominations in his career. ★★★★★

  • TV series currently watching: Tokyo Vice (season 1)
  • Book currently reading: Time of the Twins by Weis & Hickman

Quick takes on The Age of the Medici and other Rossellini films

A couple years ago I did a series of films by Roberto Rossellini. A whole bunch more today, starting with 1950’s The Flowers of St Francis (Italian: Francesco, giullare di Dio). Based on a 14th century book, it isn’t exactly the life of Francis of Assisi, but more glimpses at his piety and teachings. The movie is made up of 9 short vignettes, exhibiting various parables, each supposed to extol a moral code. The writing is decent (Federico Fellini was a cowriter), but Rossellini’s obsession with using nonprofessional actors is baffling. To make the film, he had actual monks play Francis and his fellow friars, and they aren’t good, to the point of being distracting. The stories are cute, and some are quite funny, but I can’t feel the emotions of the characters on screen when they are displaying none. ★★

The Taking of Power by Louis XIV (French: La prise de pouvoir par Louis XIV) was a TV film Rossellini did for French television in 1966. The title is a bit misleading because, while it does show King Louis XIV consolidating his power and making the French throne the most powerful it had ever been or would be again, that makes up only about 30 minutes of this 90 minute film. Fully the first 50 minutes deals with the dying and death of Cardinal Mazarin, the de facto ruler of France for a couple decades as Louis was growing up (he was coronated at the age of 6). When Mazarin was dying in 1661, Louis was by then 17 years old and ready to take the reins, but Mazarin had made powerful allies around him. Louis found that he was neither the wealthiest nor the most powerful in his own country, and he meant to change both. The final third of the film deals with the changes he made at court and with rules governing the nobles so that by the time he would die, the French royalty (and France as a whole) would be on solid footing. It’s a lovely shot film, with colorful costumes and authentic-looking sets, and while not exacting thrilling, I did (mostly) enjoy the story. However, again, we get non-professional actors. I hate to keep harping on this, but Louis was a wet paper bag. It literally looked like he was reading lines at times, and at others, his dialogue was delivered in such a deadpan way that he might as well have been. Zero emotion, no facial movements. At least he never looked at the camera, though a few of his fellow “actors” did, here and there. It’s a shame because it hurts the experience of something that could have been quite good for lovers of period drama. ★½

Blaise Pascal is another (very dry) French TV film, about the life of the Pascal, a French scientist and philosopher. He’s someone I knew nothing about going in, and seems to have been a smart dude back in the mid-17th century. He invented a few things that progressed mathematics (one of the first mechanical calculators) and was an early proponent of the concept of a vacuum. He also theorized on religion and a host of other topics, all by the time he died at the early age of 39, after always being a rather sickly person. The film spends a lot of time looking at other “signs of the times,” like a woman accused of being possessed by the devil. Much like Louis XIV, the best part of this film is the costumes and sets, which are amazingly authentic. Parts of the film can really drag, and it doesn’t help that no one is ever in a hurry. Literally, actors walk SLOWLY across the screen before engaging in conversation with someone, time and time again throughout the film. Speed these people up and the movie would have been about half as long. Still, some interesting discussions, and the actors weren’t quite as bad as the earlier films. ★★

Maybe these historical made-for-TV films are starting to grow on me, because I thought Cartesius was better, despite overall being more of the same as the previous handful of pictures. Once again we visit the 17th Century, this time looking at the life of French philosopher René Descartes, whose character showed up in a brief scene in Blaise Pascal. A two-part film roughly 2 1/2 hours long, I think it helps that the film has a true “villain” for Descartes to fight against, namely, the long-standing scholarly view that everything Aristotle said was fact, and could not be disputed. Descartes continually ruffles feathers by putting forward new viewpoints, and even bothers other scholars with his refusal to perform experiments in the established ways that science has followed before. He even has to dodge the church, for his viewpoint that the Earth revolves around the sun, and that the Earth is not in fact the center of the universe. In order to avoid persecution, Descartes stays on the move, often staying away from his home of France and traveling Europe, always keeping an eye out for new ideas or new math problems to solve. The film spends a little too much explaining various experiments that Descartes and his friends perform, down the minutest detail (yes, we get it, it was a long time ago and things were done differently), but at least the film is interesting. ★★★

I still have one more TV film of Rossellini’s to watch, but I needed a break, so I’m going for a real narrative film this time. 1959’s General Della Rovere (Italian: Il generale Della Rovere) stars Italian actor/director Vittorio De Sica in the lead role of Emanuele Bardone. Near the tail end of World War II, Bardone’s heart is in the right place, but his penchant for gambling (and losing) keeps getting him into trouble. Calling himself a colonel, he’s been approached by many Italians around town with pleas to get family members out of jail, people who’ve been arrested by German police and are at risk for getting shipped to Germany. Bardone takes money from the families to use as bribes on the German officers, but gambles the money away, sinking himself further and further down the hole. When his schemes finally crash upon him, the Germans arrest him, but the lead German officer takes a liking to him. Rather than charge him with crimes that will most likely get him hung, the officer offers Bardone a deal: impersonate the recently deceased Italian resistance fighter Della Rovere (killed trying to escape arrest) and get intel from other prisoners in jail. It’s an offer Bardone can’t refuse, but once inside, he finds that it is hard not to get swept up in the movement for freedom for Italy’s people against their fascist leaders. It’s a wonderful film, showing what Rossellini can do when he hires real actors, has a true narrative story to tell, while still putting his attention to detail to use. The film is all the more fascinating when you learn that it is based on a true story. Names and facts are changed, but there was a thief who impersonated Della Rovere, a family name well known in Italy with a couple popes in its ancestry (including Sixtus IV, who built the Sistine Chapel). ★★★★

For you Hulu watchers, my final film today looks at a generation of the Medici family, a couple hundred years before Catherine Medici of The Serpent Queen show currently airing there. The Age of the Medici (Italian: L’étà di Cosimo de Medici) is last up today, a 3 part television series released in 1973. A lot of Italian films were filmed silently and the soundtrack was dubbed in later (for various reasons — I encourage you to look it up if you are interested, it’s all fascinating), so it’s not uncommon that the lips don’t match the actors. It is more pronounced here, because the series was filmed in English, with Rossellini hoping to find an American distributor. When he failed to do so, he added the Italian soundtrack and it was released there. The film begins with the death of the wealthy Giovanni di Bicci, and all of Florence is whispering about what his sons, Cosimo and Lorenzo de Medici, will do with the newfound riches. As Cosimo expands the banking enterprise, and his power grows, the nobles in Florence worry that he wants to set himself up as a local king. They are able to get Cosimo arrested, but rather than face time, he bribes his way out and is instead exiled to Venice for 10 years. The first episode ends with him pledging support to the Doge of Venice, and we see that he plans retribution on those who went after him.

At the start of episode 2, it’s been about a year and Florence is selecting new leaders, pulled “randomly” from the guild leaders, and wouldn’t you know it, Cosimo’s buddies are now in charge. After an almost-war breaks out between those who oppose and those who favor, things settle down, and Cosimo returns to Florence. Outwardly, he says it is time for the city to heal and he doesn’t seek vengeance, but in private, he pays off the debts his friends have wracked up in his absence, and gets the city’s rulers to trump up charges against his detractors. By the end of the episode, having survived an attempt on his life, Cosimo gets 80 enemies exiled from the city, and is the de facto ruler of Florence. Unfortunately Episode 3 takes a turn for the worse; it touches on Cosimo a bit here and there in the beginning, but spends a lot more time with Leon Battista Alberti, an architect and artist, and the last part gets bogged down in the detailed minutia that plagued the Louis XIV and Blaise Pascal films. Alberti goes around talking about sculptures, and building churches, and pulling up Roman ships from the bottom of the sea, each subject explored exhaustively, but none of which have anything to do with the plot of the first two episodes. This film had a lot of promise, but devolves into more of the (boring) same I saw in the beginning of this set. Before going into TV films, Rossellini in 1962 quipped that, “Cinema was dead.” Maybe the only thing that was dead was his skill behind the camera. ★★

  • TV series currently watching: Vikings (season 1)
  • Book currently reading: The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

Quick takes on Crimes of the Future and other films

Benediction is the latest from highly acclaimed director Terence Davies (I’ve only seen one other, A Quiet Passion, which I hated, but more are on my radar). This one too is based on the life of a poet, this time Siegfried Sassoon. The film begins during World War I, and Siegfried, despite being a decorated officer for bravery on the front, has just published his A Soldier’s Declaration, in which he decried war and refused to further participate in it. A move like this would normally be treasonous, but his powerful family gets him sent to a hospital instead of to jail, and there, Siegfried finds his first love. A gay man living at a time when, while not exactly having to keep his private life secret, he couldn’t live openly, the film follows his relationships, with glimpses to his later life as well, dealing with the fallout of those relationships. The film features brilliant acting with Jack Lowden principally as Siegfried, as well as Peter Capaldi as the older version, but the plot is light, and honestly grew old as it went along. I think Siegfried is supposed to be portrayed as a man unlucky in love and unable to find happiness, but he and his lovers all come off as brash, narcissistic assholes, who demean each other and themselves, and he doesn’t get any wiser with age. ★★½

Petite Maman is the newest film from Céline Sciamma, star director of international hit Portrait of a Lady on Fire a couple years ago. This is a less daring and, unfortunately, less impactful movie. The film opens on eight-year-old Nelly, who is at a home with her mother, cleaning out her grandmother’s room after her death. Nelly is upset that she didn’t give her grandmother a proper goodbye, as no one knows when your time is up. Nelly and her mother, Marion, go to grandma’s house to clear it out, joined by Marion’s husband/Nelly’s dad. Overcome with emotion after the first night sleeping there, Marion leaves suddenly the next morning, before Nelly wakes up. Nelly joins her dad and tries to help clean up, but grows bored and heads out to explore the woods behind the house. In doing so, she stumbles upon a fellow little girl, with the coincidental name of Marion. When it starts to rain, Marion leads Nelly to her house, which is surprisingly, an older version of Nelly’s grandmother’s house. As Nelly realizes that going through the woods takes her back in time to when her mom was her age, she realizes she can get to know this person, who is sometimes an absent, depressed mother to her, as well as see her grandmother again. A cute story, but it lacks the emotional punch of Portrait. ★★★

Samaritan is a standalone superhero film staring Sylvester Stallone. He plays “Joe Smith,” a man hiding from his past, but the film focuses on the 13-year-old boy living in an apartment across the plaza, named Sam. Sam has grown up on the stories of the city’s great superhero Samaritan, who died fighting his evil twin brother Nemesis 20 years old. Rumors have always circulated that Samaritan survived the fight but went into hiding, and Sam has come to suspect that Joe is him, especially when Joe easily fends off bullies attacking Sam one day. At the same time, the criminal underbelly of the city is ready to step up their game. Headed by the villainous Cyrus, who wants to take up Nemesis’s mantle again, the bad guys want to light the match that will get the city’s poor, struggling with unemployment and lack of opportunity, to revolt and tear the city apart. Joe wants to stay out of the bigger struggle, but when he can no longer hide his powers, he is forced to come out and take on Cyrus to save Sam. No one will argue that this is great cinema, and the acting is rough pretty much throughout, but it is entertaining (even during the moments where you have to roll your eyes). Unfortunately a bit too predictable, but a lot of these types of action movies are. And at a swift 90ish minutes, it is just the right length for an action flick. ★★★

The newest Pinocchio is dazzlingly beautiful, and exceedingly boring. It stars Tom Hanks as Geppetto and Benjamin Evan Ainsworth as the voice of the titular wooden boy, in the Disney’s live action remake of a cartoon classic. It’s a fairly close adaptation, with some new songs to fill it out and “update it.” Updates it didn’t need, as the original cartoon is obviously a classic that every child has seen for the last 80 years. Just because modern technology allows us to “pretty  it up” doesn’t mean that we should. The film is dull, lacking the magic that the original brought. For the film that originated the song “When You Wish Upon a Star,” the iconic tune that has become Disney’s de facto signature song, this film’s deficiencies are glaring. ★

Crimes of the Future is David Cronenberg’s newest, and it is also his fourth collaboration with Viggo Mortensen (A History of Violence was particularly good). This film hearkens back to earlier Cronenberg pictures, especially the body horror aspect, though it bears no resemblance to Cronenberg’s 1970 film of the same name. This movie takes place at some unknown point in the future, when mankind is evolving over the course of a generation or so. Humans have started living without pain or any kind of infectious disease; things like hand washing have become a thing of the past. This has led to surgeries being able to be performed without anesthesia and, in fact, body modification has become rampant, since anyone can have things done anywhere by anyone, with no fear of pain or infection. Saul Tenser (Mortensen) and his partner Caprice (Léa Seydoux) are leading figures in public performance art. Tenser has what is called “accelerated evolution syndrome), which makes his body quickly and constantly produce vestigial organs, which Caprice surgically removes in public. They are approached by a government agency, the National Organ Registry, who is seeking to document new organs cropping up in the populace, led by Wippet (Don McKellar) and Timlin (Kristen Stewart). At the same time, an underground movement is attempting to disprove the government’s stance that these organs are dormant and that humans aren’t truly evolving, by bringing forth the case of a young boy, Brecken, who was murdered by her mother after he was discovered eating (and, presumably, digesting comfortably) plastics. Lots of freakishly weird stuff in this movie, not the least of which society’s movement away from “old sex” to couples getting turned on by cutting into each other. It’s a stomach-churning film at times, but one that does morbidly fascinate. ★★★½

  • TV series currently watching: Yellowstone (season 3)
  • Book currently reading: Anthem by Noah Hawley

Quick takes on 5 Mizoguchi films

A couple years ago, I watched a handful of films from Japanese master Kenji Mizoguchi. Two in particular were incredible, so I’m visiting more of his films today, starting with 1936’s Osaka Elegy. Though he’d made over 50 films before this one, Osaka Elegy was his first critical hit in his home country (it would still be some time until his name spread outside Japan). Like a lot of Mizoguchi’s film, this one follows a woman facing a society that gives her a lot less power due to her sex. Ayako lives with her father and younger sister; a brother is away at college. Their dad has been unable to find work and is about to be jailed for debts. To cover his debt, Ayako becomes the mistress to her company’s boss. When that relationship ends (after the man’s wife discovers the affair), Ayako discovers her family is in the hole again, this time due to her brother’s tuition being unpaid. To the rescue again, Ayako lures a man to a room, only to take his money and leave before “giving him the goods.” Apparently hooking out is OK by her dad when he needs money most, but thievery crosses the line, and he kicks her out of the house. A dark and depressing film, and one of those rare instances when I wish the film was longer. A tidy 71 minutes in length, a lot of the scenes felt stunted. Don’t know if it was a director still putting it all together, or a studio wanting a quick runtime, but it could have been better letting the scenes breathe a bit more. ★★★

Much of the same cast stuck around for Sisters of the Gion, released the same year. A lesser picture but, for me, more entertaining, the film follows sisters Umekichi and Omocha, both geisha, who have very different outlooks on life. They are struggling to get by; living together in a small house in the pleasure district, they don’t have a wealthy patron, which is what a geisha needs to survive. Umekichi was raised traditionally and has more traditional Japanese values, holding loyalty to her former patron Furusawa, who is now broke and can no longer support her. Omocha, educated in public schools and dressing in western (American) clothes, has no such loyalty to any man. She uses her looks to curry small favors here and there, but knows the family needs more than that. As such, she devices a scheme to get Furusawa out of the picture and find a new wealthy patron for her sister. Omocha will say and do anything to bring money to the house, but all her devious plans backfire on her before the end. I think Osaka Elegy is better “cinema” but the pacing is a lot better on Sisters, and the story is “cleaner” and easier to follow. ★★★

The 47 Ronin (not the 2013 film with Keanu) is an epic released in two parts, in December 1941 and the second half following in February, coming in at just about 4 hours in total length. A re-telling of the Japanese true-life legend (and only the second film to ever do so), it begins in Edo Castle, where Lord Asano has just heard Lord Kira besmirch his name. Asano attacks Kira, who survives, but the Shogun lord sentences Asano to death by seppuku. He doesn’t punish Kira at all for his words. Asano’s household, his wife and retainers, are left without a lord, but his loyal samurai, now leaderless ronin, vow revenge. Oishi organizes them, and has them swear in blood to avenge their slain lord. With the court against them, Oishi knows it will take time and planning, but that is something he has. The film was a bust in theaters, releasing just a week before Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and brought them into war with the USA. Japan had been waring with China and Mongolia for years already, and the film was supposed to be a rousing nationalistic movie, but Mizoguchi took a different approach, making it much more of a “thinking man’s” movie, with a lot of dialogue and debate, and lighter on the action. In fact, even when the Asano clan goes after Kira, it isn’t shown on screen. The result is an overly long, wordy drama that makes you wonder how this event became such a long-lasting legend. ★

Mizoguchi returned to the underbelly of the city with Women of the Night, following two sisters and a third, younger friend, as they see their lives spiral out of control. Fusako’s husband died in the war, making her the “head of the house,” but it is a house deep in debt. She’s struggling to keep everything afloat, and has turned to prostitution to pay the bills. Unfortunately, her younger sister Natsuko is following in her footsteps, running away from home, only to be raped and impregnated her first night out. She turns to the streets to try to get by too, but thankfully Fusako finds her and gets her to a hospital before it is too late. A younger, impressional friend of the girls, Kumiko, isn’t so lucky. A stark drama shining a light on the plight of single women in post-war Japan, the movie is about as bleak as it gets. ★★★½

Street of Shame was Mizoguchi’s last film, released in 1956 just a couple months before his death. He revisits women on the lower rungs of society again, a subject for which he ended up becoming most well known. But this was an entirely new take, and the best movie out of this set. The film revolves around 5 prostitutes working in Tokyo’s Yoshiwara district (their red-light district). Rather than take the same approach as the above films, showing what got them there, we instead get a sympathetic view of their day-to-day lives, and we find that these are not the kinds of women you’d expect. One has an out-of-work husband and a sick kid they are trying to support. Another is desperately seeking a husband to take her away, but when she finds one, she discovers he wants a maid more than a wife. A third woman has worked the streets her whole life as a single mom to raise her son, only to see him rebuff her in shame now that he is a grown man. A fourth is scrounging every penny in order to leave this work, but it almost costs her her life in doing so. Finally, the fifth, the youngest and prettiest, seems to not have a care in the world, until we see the family from which she ran away. All of this takes place against the backdrop of a changing Tokyo, where the current political environment is threatening to make prostitution illegal, thus taking away these women’s only means to live. Fantastic, humanistic film. You start out feeling maybe a little disgusted by them, a natural reaction by many I would think, but you grow to hope for something better for each, though you know that’s probably not in the cards. The film proved prophetic too; Japan did indeed criminalize prostitution shortly after the movie’s release. ★★★★½

  • TV series currently watching: The Dropout (miniseries)
  • Book currently reading: Anthem by Noah Hawley

Quick takes on Louis Malle’s documentaries

I’ve seen half a dozen films from French director Louis Malle, with 3 hits and 3 misses. Besides his theatrical movies, he’s also famous for his documentaries, so while I don’t often watch docs, I thought I’d give these a shot, from Criterion’s Eclipse series.

The first two films are shorter, and there honestly isn’t much to say about them, and Malle takes a hands off approach to these. They are mostly just pointing the camera at people, with little dialogue. Vive le Tour follows the 1962 Tour de France, and I really enjoyed seeing how the race has changed in the last few decades. Seeing riders actually get off their bikes to eat and drink, and getting pushed up hills by bystanders, will get you chuckling. Humain, trop humain moves the camera to a car plant (Citroën) and we watch a car built, start to finish. There’s an interlude in the middle when the car is taken to a show for the company to get feedback from potential buyers (some positive, much negative it seems), and then it’s back to the plant to see more production. Pretty staid stuff. Tour: ★★★ Cars: ★★

Place de la République has a lot more dialogue. Malle sets up at that famous square in Paris, and just starts interviewing people walking the street. He asks questions, digging into lives and personalities, just seeing what makes people tick. In the film, you can see why Malle’s films tend to focus heavily on the human being, and reactions amongst people; he is fascinated by people in general. Good for him, but it makes for a dreary commentary when there is no overarching idea to tie it all together. I’m sure some would like a film like this, just hearing about people’s lives, but it’s not my cup of tea, and I was bored to tears. ½

God’s Country hits it out of the park, and not just because it is in my native language. In 1979, Malle was hired by PBS to do a documentary about rural America. Malle settled in to Glencoe, MN, a farming community with a population of about 5000, 60 miles outside of Minneapolis. He filmed a lot, talking to people about the changes to farming, progressive ideas invading the rural community, lots of angst over the Vietnam War, and a host of other subjects. With each person, he spends quite a bit of time interviewing, so we can really see what is important to that person. Other projects pulled Malle away and he was unable to finish, so he returned to Glencoe in 1985 to finish it up, and the final 20 minutes of the film show how the town has changed in 6 years. At first, Malle doesn’t think much has at all, but as he starts talking to the farmers, he sees that President Reagan’s policies have hurt the farming community (despite nearly all of them having voted for him). Several parents, who once wanted their children to follow in their footsteps, are now hoping for something different, wondering aloud if they’ll even have a farm 10 years from now. It’s a fascinating documentary, with a true human element that is riveting to watch. ★★★★

…And the Pursuit of Happiness is a 1986 doc focusing on immigrants in the USA. Malle crossed the country, interviewing immigrants and the children of immigrants, people from countries all around the world, who came to our country for better opportunities. The resounding message from them all is this: they were coming from a place that had no jobs, or was dangerous, or something that drove them away, and came here to better their lives or the lives of their family. Some missed their old homes, but many did not. In the beginning, Malle spends time with people that have been here for a few years (or decades) and have found success. Some are quite wealthy, but even the middle class he interviews are proud of what they have, whether it be an education, or a home of their own, or whatever they’ve earned through hard work. In the latter half of the film, Malle finds people who are newer to the country, all of whom are not yet citizens. Whereas the beginning of the film showed people coming through legally, now we are seeing people sneaking across the border in the dead of night, and they admit they won’t stop no matter how many times they are caught. He also talks to politicians who discuss the serious problem on the southern border. Nice to see nothing has changed in 40ish years. Interesting film, seeing both sides’ perspectives of the immigration issue, from the viewpoint of a non-USA citizen, an outsider’s eye. ★★★

The most ambitious of Louis Malle’s documentaries is Phantom India. Filmed as a 7 part television miniseries for France (and also aired in the UK on BBC), Malle was given free reign to explore India. He spent 5 months in 1967 in the country, and went in without a clear idea of what to film, but let the people (and his intuition) guide him. The result is absolutely absorbing from the opening moments. He looks at religion (both the devotion of the people and the greed of the priests), dancing (of the Indian bharatanatyam tradition), India’s confusing (to an outsider) caste system, and tons more. In a couple episodes, he abandons the city and heads to the countryside, traversing poorer villages and people who are only a notch above starving, who work fields for landowners for pennies, a holdover from English colonialists. In fact, much of India’s people are still holding onto ideas introduced by colonialism, and often not for the betterment of the people. In one episode, he heads into the mountains, visiting the Bonda and Todo tribes, people of shrinking populations who have seen their daily lives little changed over the course of centuries. He ends the run in Bombay, looking at a city that is racing full force towards western modernization, with little thought for its impact on the poor and marginalized population. It’s a fantastic doc, full of charm, but also warnings about the loss of a culture from outside influences. ★★★★

Louis Malle’s Calcutta came about accidentally. While filming Phantom India, he found that he spent so much time in Calcutta, and had so much tape from it, that he decided to dedicate a whole new film to all of it. Released separately from the TV series Phantom India, this film focuses on that one city. Whereas the TV series above took a leisurely pace, this movie has a  frantic pace from the beginning. Like before, Malle doesn’t spend much time on the English-speaking wealthy population. Though that group ran the country and the industry, it made up less than 1% of the population (sound familiar?). Instead, he looks at the poor and disenfranchised. We see a political demonstration, which is put down hard by the police, as well as slums that have popped up along the train tracks. I generally liked Phantom India more, I just found rural India to be more fascinating that urban India, but Calcutta is still an eye-opening look at a struggling population. ★★★

  • TV series currently watching: Star Wars Visions & The Boys Presents Diabolical
  • Book currently reading: Anthem by Noah Hawley

Quick takes on Apples and other films

I watched Tahara for one reason alone: I really enjoyed lead Rachel Sennott in Shiva Baby (her newest, Bodies, Bodies, Bodies, is also on my radar). Sennott plays Hannah Rosen, a high schooler in a Jewish school. The student body has been brought tougher for a day of remembrance after the suicide of one of their own, a girl who was an outcast for being a bit odd, and the target of constant bullying. Hannah and her long-time best friend Carrie don’t seem much interested in the grieving process, in fact, Hannah can only think about the newly single Tristan, who was the dead girl’s supposed boyfriend (supposed because the rumor is she was a lesbian). Meanwhile, Carrie’s world is rocked when Hannah begs her to practice kissing so that she is ready for Tristan, and Carrie realizes her feelings towards Hannah may not be as platonic as they’d been before. In Shiva Baby Sennott was lovable and likable, but her character here is just the opposite: conceited and absorbed in her own world. The film does a great job of showing the awkward interactions of today’s teens, a group who are more comfortable texting and connecting online than in in-person social situations. Sometimes funny, sometimes cringy, it’s a decent, short (77 minute) diversion. ★★★

Watcher is just the kind of psychological thriller I was expecting, but it is a better-than-average one, even if, like most films of this type, it is very predictable. Julia and her husband Francis have just moved to Romania for his new job. He knows the language (his mother was from there), but Julia does not. She feels like a fish out of water, and though she initially tries to go out, the language barrier ends up keeping her in their apartment more often than not. That’s not a safe place for her either though: Julia is convinced that a man in the apartment across the street is watching through her window day and night. Now, even when she goes out, Julia feels she is being watched and followed. To add to the suspense, there is a legitimate serial killer in the area, targeting young pretty woman. Francis initially believes Julia and even goes with a cop over the man’s apartment to check it out, but when he checks out clean, doubt creeps in. As a viewer, of course we know how this is going to turn out. But still, it’s a good little thriller and lead Make Monroe is decent as a stalked and scared woman. ★★★½

Ali & Ava is one of those quiet, human dramas that I’m all about. Ali and Ava are two adults each going through a tough time in their respective lives. Ava’s ex-husband has recently died, and she’s conflicted with that. On the one hand, he’s the father of her (adult) children, and her son in particular is fiercely defensive of his memory, but that’s mostly because the son was too young to remember how much his father beat his mom. Still, with Ava’s children grown and moved out, she’s finding life lonely outside of her work (she’s a teacher’s assistant). Through school, she meets Ali. Ali is separated from his wife, though they still live in the same house, because many of their family is in the area and they are putting on appearances. Their separation has been a rough one; you can tell his wife wants him to “grow up,” but Ali finds true joy in DJ’ing and working in music, apart from his “day job” as a landlord. Together, Ali and Ava find a comfortable companionship, despite different backgrounds, upbringings, etc. It’s a heart-warming, at times heart-breaking movie, full of emotion. This film may bore some viewers, but it’s one of those that you just have to sit back and let it wash over you. ★★★★

Apples is a Greek film about a pandemic possibly scarier than COVID. It’s not killing people, but suddenly, and for no known reason, people are coming down with amnesia. A person could be walking down the street, and suddenly have no recollection of who they are or where they were going. Completely blank slate. For those that end up in this state with no ID or identifying papers, they end up at the hospital until family or friend comes along to claim them. For those unclaimed, there’s a group that tries to give these people a new life. Aris is the newest person to go through this program, but for the viewer, we get snippets here and there that make it seem that Aris is faking it, but for a reason unknown. In any case, he goes along with the program. What the group does is try to invent a life for those that have none, arming them with a camera and instructions to photo themselves doing various, often random things, so they can make a scrapbook of a cobbled-together life. Kind of silly, but also sad, as Aris (and we viewers) see people on the street doing the same things (riding a bide and taking a photo next to it) over and over again. The real kicker for these poor people is their relationships with others. Aris doesn’t always know if those he interacts with are acting genuine, or if they too are making their own scrapbooks, and just following directions to do things. Aris goes about his life, directionless, which is about as sad you’d expect. There’s some funny moments here and there, because of the things these people are asked to do, but it’s mostly a thoughtful drama about what a person will do to avoid facing loss. Tremendous film. ★★★★½

The Phantom of the Open is a biopic, based on the life of golfer-turned-cult hero Maurice Flitcroft, who, in 1976, “snuck” his way into the British Open and played professional golf with the best in the world. Played by Mark Rylance, Maurice is portrayed as a great person, who gave up his own aspirations to marry single mother Jean (Sally Hawkins) to give her son a father at a time when unmarried mothers were very much looked down on. He raised the boy, Michael, as his own, and he and Jean had twin boys as well, so Maurice’s dream of going into engineering never happened, as he had to keep his labor job to support the family. By the 70’s, with boys raised, Jean told Maurice it was finally time to do something for himself and, after seeing golf on TV for the first time, Maurice felt his calling. By an extremely odd loophole, and lax fact checking by the people running the golf tournament, Maurice ending up teeing off at the British Open, despite having never played a course before, and only having done practice sessions on his own. Needless to say, it does not go well, and his score of 121 is by far the worst ever turned in on a major golf championship. While the people who run the tournament see it as an affront to the prestige of the sport, Maurice sees tremendous support from the common man. In ensuing years, Maurice keeps trying to get back into the British Open, with increasingly outlandish disguises and pseudonyms. It’s a decent little movie. I was super excited to see Hawkins in it, as she is always incredible in everything, but she has a rather small part here. Rylance is great as always, though the subplot involving Flitcroft’s family troubles with his kids seems a bit too Hollywood. ★★½

  • TV series currently watching: The Flash (season 8)
  • Book currently reading: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Quick takes on 6 Koreyoshi Kurahara films

Up today is a series of films from lesser-known Japanese director Koreyoshi Kurahara. I say lesser known because many here in the states probably haven’t seen anything by him, but he was popular in Japan; in fact his 1983 film Antarctica held the box office record there for nearly 15 years. I’ll be looking at his earlier stuff, starting with his first film up into the 1960s.

I Am Waiting was released in 1957, and is a noir-ish movie about two separate adults, both running from something. Saeko is about to throw herself off a dock late one night when Joji walks by. He talks her down and invites her to his nearby restaurant, providing her with a warm meal and a change of clothes. As her story unfolds, we see that she fled her boss, who was forcing her to sing in his nightclub, where one of his henchmen was making unwanted advances. Joji tells her she can stay for a few days until she plans what to do next, but that he himself won’t be around long either. Joji is waiting for news any day from his brother, who moved to Brazil a year ago to start a farm, and Joji plans to join him there. Once a promising boxer, Joji got into a bar fight and killed a man. When news doesn’t come though, Joji suspects something happened to his brother, and starts digging around town. Clues lead him to none other than Saeto’s caberet owner, who may have been involved in Joji’s brother’s disappearance. The film is decent, though it sometimes lacks cohesion. I felt like some elements that were introduced late would have been better coming in earlier, tying plot points together. Instead, it gets the feeling of rambling on with a lack of direction. Not to mention Joji pretty much completely forgets Saeto when he gets wrapped up in his own vendetta. ★★½

Kurahara pumped out films for a couple years, so that his 10th film, Intimidation, came out in 1960. This is a quick, tidy film (just about an hour in length), and is about an assistant bank manager, Takita, who gets blackmailed by a man named Kumaki. Kumaki has evidence that Takita has been cooking the books so he can buy gifts for his mistress. Takita has just received a big promotion (he’s married to the bank manager’s daughter), so he’ll do anything to keep the blackmail under wraps, and that includes robbing his own bank. But he shouldn’t discount his longtime buddy Nakaike, who is a quiet type and seems to be a pushover, but it always the quiet ones that seem to notice everything. For a short film, it did seem a bit long, because honestly not much happens outside of what I’ve described, but the ending is nice. ★★★

The Warped Ones is an interesting film. I loved the look and feel of the film. It is fast paced and frantic, with a bebop jazz soundtrack that feels an awful lot like 60s Godard and the French New Wave (this film came out the same year as Breathless, 1960). However, despite its outstanding feel, the film content turned me off. The characters, focusing on a trio of thieves and ne’er-do-wells, do nothing but rob, rape, and basically treat everything and everyone with total disregard. The movie starts with Akira and Yuki getting arrested, and when they come out of jail with a new buddy (Masaru, who is arguably even worse than he), the three team up for a time about town. Stealing a car, running down the man who fingered them for their crimes in the beginning (and then raping his girlfriend), they eventually settle in a rundown shack. Yuki and Masaru begin an affair, leaving Akira to wander around town alone. He finds himself tracking down his rape victim, who tells him she is now pregnant. Think Akira cares? Even when she and her boyfriend try to get their revenge on Akira, his slippery skin keeps him safe. No one to root for in this film, it’s just an overly depressing movie with a lot of window dressing. ★★

I Hate But Love takes that frantic energy and delivers a much better film, one that doesn’t leave you feeling like you need to take a shower. It follows a TV star named Daisaku, a man whose meteoric rise to fame came quickly. His girlfriend/manager Noriko has been with him for the last 2 years, when he started with nothing and is now wealthy and famous. She runs a tight ship, keeping his schedule packed with meetings, photo ops, and TV and radio guest spots. It is all too much for Daisaku; he’s been burning the candle at both ends and is near a breaking point. He’s also feeling that he’s lost his love for Noriko, and feels lost in life. One of the segments on Daisaku’s TV show involves looking through classifieds in the paper for something interesting, and for this week, Noriko picked a girl who was wanting someone to drive a jeep for her from Tokyo to Kyushu. She needs it to get it there to her boyfriend, who is working a charity for people in need. Daisaku is moved that the girl has been away from her boyfriend for 2 years, yet their love seems as strong as it’s ever been. Seeing his own frayed relationship, Daisaku drops everything, leaves behind his busy schedule, and jumps in the jeep to drive it cross country. Beside herself, Noriko jumps in Daisaku’s luxury car to follow. At first, she only wants to rope him into getting back to the schedule, but as the trip progresses, she begins to see why she fell in love in the first place, and only wants to be with him as he completes his journey. Daisaku too will change his opinion on what constitutes love. Great movie, part road film, part romantic drama, and even some comedy in there. This movie doesn’t get a lot of attention (I challenge you to try to find a decent review anywhere), but it’s a good one. ★★★★

How can a great film like I Hate But Love have nothing out there about it, whereas total trash like Black Sun at least has its own Wiki page? This film is a mess, with only 1 redeeming element (the very ending, which I won’t give away). Bring over much of the cast from The Warped Ones (strike one) as the same characters, Akira is back and still up to no good. He’s been sleeping in the attic of an old church, a building due to be bulldozed, but which can’t be torn down because Akira refuses to leave. One night while returning home, he is confronted by an African-American soldier named Gil, who’s been hiding out after killing a fellow GI. The Americans are on the hunt for him, so Gil is looking for a way out of town. He was shot in his run though, so his options are limited. Akira takes an instant liking to Gil, mostly because Gil is black and Akira (racistly so) thinks that all black men like jazz music, and Akira obviously loves jazz. Though they can’t understand each other, the slowly, over time, develop a kinship. This movie is flat out awful; bad acting, and chuck full of racist stereotypes, not to mention no real plot of note. It just meanders along with no goal and nothing to enjoy. ½

Thirst for Love is last today, and I’m torn on this one. It’s much different in feel from any other film from this director that I’ve seen, and that’s not a bad thing. Removed from the hustle and bustle of the city, the movie takes place on the quiet estate of a wealthy patriarch. As he narrates in the beginning of the film, “Father” (if it gave his name somewhere, I missed it) tells the viewer there are about 10 people in his household: his son, his son’s wife, his deceased son’s widow, and various servants. What he doesn’t tell us, but we learn soon, is that the widow, Etsuko, has become the old man’s mistress, an open secret which everyone tiptoes around. Father’s son, Kensuke, isn’t exactly happy with the situation, but as he has proven to be sterile, he’s hoping that Etsuko can provide the family with an heir. Unfortunately for all, Etsuko is not happy with the relationship. She’s been the old man’s prey, but her heart really rests with the gardener, Saburo. But when Saburo gets the maid pregnant, Etsuko has to decide how far she’ll go to attain his love. Lot’s of intrigue, and the quiet, introspective moments were a nice reprieve after the earlier films, but it’s not this director’s forte. This film was based on a book, and I think with a director with better experience in a slower drama, this could have been a really great picture. ★★★

  • TV series currently watching: Only Murders in the Building (season 2)
  • Book currently reading: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Quick takes on 5 Lubitsch films

A couple years ago I reviewed some films from director Ernst Lubitsch, which were dramas and comedies which I really enjoyed, but he’s also very well known as being a pioneer in the musical category. Today I’ll be looking at 4 of his musicals from the late 20s and early 30s, starting with 1929’s The Love Parade, his first true sound film after having directed 20+ silent films and countless short films. It revolves around a simple plot: fictional country Sylvania’s queen, Louise, is under pressure to marry. At the same time, the country’s diplomat to France, Count Alfred, has been called home for his scandalous affairs with multiple married women in Paris. When he gets home, Alfred immediately intrigues Louise, and she marries him. They find that love in marriage isn’t nearly as exciting as love outside it, and the two butt heads over Alfred’s seemingly loss of masculinity to the headstrong and demanding Queen Louise. Due to being a pre-Code film, there’s lots of double entendre in the songs, and some salacious scenes involving a naked Louise bathing or lounging in bed, all things that wouldn’t fly just a couple years later. Some of the songs made me chuckle, but all in all the movie is unfortunately pretty boring. It was popular at the time though; its financial success coming just after the the 1929 stock market crash helped keep Paramount Pictures afloat. ★½

Monte Carlo is a little better, but not much. The rich Duke is getting ready to marry the Countess Helene, but she disappears on their wedding day, the third time she’s run away. Helene only agreed to marry because her funds have been depleted, but she can’t stand to think about marrying the Duke. She runs away with her maid to Monte Carlo, hoping to turn their last 10k into a fortune, and thus not have to marry. Unfortunately that money is gone the first night, and it isn’t long before the hotel is planning to kick her out for not paying. However, a wealthy man at the casino, Rudolph, takes an instant liking to her, and pretends to be a hairdresser to get into her rooms. As Helene loses staff due to lack of pay, Rudy takes on more jobs in her circle to stay close to her. Things are going Rudy’s away until the Duke tracks Helene down. The humor is a bit better in this one, but the songs are still rough and not memorable (they are more for narrative purposes and to break up the action, and often seem like an afterthought). ★★

The Smiling Lieutenant is the first of these that I really liked, but it didn’t seem like it would be so at the beginning. It starts off a little kitschy and I was ready to be bored again, but it picks up quickly. The eponymous smiling guy is Niki, a notorious lady’s man, whose latest target is street musician/violinist Franzi. She gives in to his charm and the two are sleeping together soon. The royal family of neighboring (fake) country Flausenthurm is visiting, and during a military parade, Niki winks at Franzi along the street. Unfortunately for them, Flausenthurm’s most eligible bachelorette, Princess Anna, thinks the wink was meant for her. The sheltered Anna, whose best friend is her single father, is sexually repressed and ready to break out, so Niki is roped into marrying her, so fast that his head is spinning. Niki still has some power though, and refuses to consummate their marriage, slipping out in the night to continue to meet Franzi. Anna is devastated, but she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get her husband in her bed. Very funny, with better tunes than the previous films. ★★★

One Hour With You brings back French superstar of the era, Maurice Chevalier (who was in 2 of the above films as well) for a shorter film about a bunch of people who can’t wait to jump in bed with anyone other than their spouse. The only happily married couple is Andre and Colette. However, Collette’s childhood friend wants out of her loveless marriage and is intrigued by Andre, and Andre’s friend would love to be able to woo Colette away. Lots of innuendo (it’s still in pre-Code era), but honestly not all that entertaining. It did get an Oscar nom in 1932, but I can only guess it was because the audience was starved for something like this, because it certainly hasn’t held up. ★½

I couldn’t get my hands on a fifth musical by Lubitsch, so I’m finishing with Trouble in Paradise. By watching it, I think I’ve found I generally like his romcoms better than his musicals. Miriam Hopkins returns (Anna from The Smiling Lieutenant), and is paired with Herbert Marshall and Kay Francis (at one point, the highest paid actress in Hollywood). Gaston and Lily are each conning people in Venice, but when they meet each other, a thief spots a thief, and they form an instant bond made from mutual respect as well as passionate love. Teaming up, they steal a very rich handbag from the wealthy Madame Marietta Colet, the heiress to a perfume fortune. When Marietta puts out a substantial reward, more than the thieves can get from a fence, Gaston returns it, and endears himself to Marietta, getting hired on as her secretary. While learning Marietta’s ins and outs (and where she keeps money stashed), something inexplicable happens: Gaston starts to fall for her. Seeing competition, Lily wants to call it off, but they are too deep at this point. A fantastic finale when the masks are removed completes a wonderfully entertaining film. Funny, with witty dialogue, and even a little suspense here and there as Gaston dodges former targets and those he’s duped before. The only one out of this set that I’d watch again, but like I said earlier, his later films are much more consistent. ★★★★

  • TV series currently watching: The Old Man (season 1)
  • Book currently reading: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens