Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

Right now I'll wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving and I won't return until Sunday night. In the meanwhile I will rewatch movies I've reviewed here before but I need to watch again to review for Letterboxd. Until then...

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Code Two

Code Two (1953)

Runtime: 69 minutes

Directed by: Fred M. Wilcox

Starring: Ralph Meeker, Robert Horton, Jeff Richards, Elaine Stewart, Keenan Wynn

From: MGM

Thankfully Warner Archive Instant has been fine since its little outage so I was able to see this obscure film, a crime drama about motorcycle cops; I know, awkward with this week's events, but I didn't pick it for that reason; it was more random than you'd think. Anyhow, I'll be back tomorrow night and onto the Letterboxd review:

I decided to watch this random movie tonight (one little seen, at least in this community) as it was on Warner Archive Instant, sounded interesting, and was only 69 minutes long. I do realize that watching a film this week concerning police officers is kind of awkward considering what's currently going on in the United States... but I tried to forget about all that as I saw this random B movie from MGM.

The plot is rather straightforward: we follow a trio of cops who join the police academy at the same time. Russ Hartley is an average dude but Harry Whenlon is a typical buff John Cena-looking guy who you'd imagine as the star quarterback of the local high school football team, while Chuck O'Flair is a cocksure ladies man type. You see them train then pass the academy, only to have menial work to start off. They get bored of that so they sign up to be motorcycle cops, even though it adds a lot more danger to the job. A bad thing happens to one of them while pulling someone over (it involves the theft of cattle, believe it or not) and they're looking for revenge.

The movie-with its brief runtime-moves rather quickly and to me was always interesting from the first half (the training you see the guys do and the little bit of romance that happens with the opposite sex) to the second half, which is the investigative work of tracking down then dealing with the thieves. It was a nice little B movie and I was always amused by Keenan Wynn's character (a Sergeant nicknamed Jumbo) busting O'Flair down to size a few times. There's also a pretty nice action finale. In short, if you enjoy crime movies from the past or even if you just want to see some classic Harley Davidson bikes...

By the way, before anyone asks Code Two is police parlance for an emergency that is non life-threatening and no sirens or lights are to be used, which you do in fact see in the movie.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Warner Archive Instant Was Down Last Night...

and I was ticked by that so I decided not to watch anything last night. The past few days weren't so hot but thankfully today has been good & that service seems to be fine now so I'll be watching something there tonight for a review tomorrow night.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Prizefighter And The Lady

The Prizefighter and the Lady (1933)

Runtime: 102 minutes

Directed by: Howard Hawks for a few scenes, but mostly W.S. Van Dyke

Starring: Max Baer, Myrna Loy, Walter Huston, Primo Carnera, Jack Dempsey

From: MGM

This was a late night watch last night, done because I figured it was time to watch something on TCM and it sounded interesting to me. The Letterboxd review is below and I'll be back tomorrow night.

This film was on last night on TCM and as it features several real life boxers/pro wrestlers it sounded interesting to me. As a sport boxing does nothing for me; I don't personally think it's entertaining at all. Yet, I am fine with watching certain boxing films, like the Rocky franchise-which I'll get to watching again one of these years-and what have you.

This featured real life boxer Max Baer, who in the finale of this film fights real-life Heavyweight champion at the time Primo Carnera, playing himself; they fought in real life a year after this came out and Baer won. Of course he then lost to James Braddock in a fight immortalized in Cinderella Man but alas... Baer ended up making quite a few acting appearances and of course his son Max Jr. is best known as Jethro Bodine from The Beverly Hillbillies. Sr. did fine here in his acting debut; he even does a random song and dance number-and a highly wacky one at that-in the middle of the picture and doesn't make an ass out of himself.

Anyhow, the film is about a boxing manager (Walter Huston) who latches on to bartender Steve Morgan after he sees the beer-slinger punch out a few people at his place of employment. He becomes a successful boxer and woos the moll (Myrna Loy) of a bigshot gangster after they literally first meet at a car accident... that she was involved in. They marry but Morgan has a roving eye...

As others have said, Steve Morgan isn't the most sympathetic guy. To use a pro wrestling term he wasn't the most likable babyface. Besides the fact that he starts getting drunk often and sneaks around and sees other women behind his wife's back (only to usually get caught by said wife), one way he originally wins her heart is by basically stalking her and de facto breaking into her house. Somehow that works but I won't get into the creepiness of that whole plot point. As also said by others, her old gangster ex seems more of a decent guy; at least you never get any hint that he cheats on her and he allows her to have her old job back, as an entertainer at a nightclub. Sure, at the end he acts like a jerk himself but before then...

Still, the movie is fine; it's not great but it's a fine watch and while the experienced pros give the best performances (I was amused by Huston profusely swearing and being an absolute nervous wreck during the main event), Baer wasn't bad at all; it was interesting to see a flawed hero like Steve Morgan. The other non-actors who appear either literally in brief walk-on roles (like Jess Willard and old pro wrestler Ed “Stranger” Lewis”) or the acting they have to do isn't too long or complex, like famed boxer Jack Dempsey and boxer turned wrestler Carnera. The final fight... it's a typical fight, really; even there you see plenty of clinching. The more things change... at least it was decent and as far as I know the fighters remained professional and didn't let a fake fight turn into a real one.

Like I said the film is fine and was a pleasant diversion on a late Saturday night.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Yakuza

The Yakuza (1974)

Runtime: 112 minutes

Directed by: Sydney Pollack

Starring: Robert Mitchum, Ken Takakura, Brian Keith, Herb Edelman, James Shigeta

From: Warner Brothers/Toei

I'll let the Letterboxd review below explain everything. I will return Sunday night.

I watched this film (Wednesday) night for a few reasons. I had known about it for a long time but I hadn't checked it out yet. It is currently on Warner Archive Instant. The pedigree involved with this is real nice. And, it features a pair of actors who unfortunately passed away in the past few months: James Shigeta and Ken Takakura. This is more than enough motivation to give it a viewing.

The movie is a serious mature tale about a private detective known as Harry Kilmer (Robert Mitchum) who is asked by friend Harry Tanner (Brian Keith) to go to Japan to rescue his daughter, who was kidnapped by some members of the Yakuza in a shady business deal gone wrong. It also allows Harry to visit old love Eiko, who he loved back when he was a soldier in post World War II Japan but they hadn't seen each other in years. Harry and Eiko's brother Ken (Takakura) don't get along due to events of the past, but Ken and his brother Goto (Shigeta) have to get involved with the situation.

This isn't an action-packed extravaganza but rather it's a deliberately paced drama where time is spent to explain Japanese traditions and how the Yakuza operates. This is not only done as presumably most Westerners were unfamiliar with such things 40 years ago but that's the key component of the film. It's not about the action (when you get it, it's violent and memorable), it's about relationships, following what is basically an old samurai code and people coming to acknowledge and respect each others different lifestyles.

There is an air of authenticity; the movie doesn't seem implausible or ridiculous. It turns out that Leonard Schrader (Paul's brother) came up with the story when he fled to avoid being drafted in the Vietnam war and he spent time in Japan hanging out with Yakuza characters. Paul Schrader and Robert Towne expanded the story and not surprisingly given their talents made it a quality script.

Along with the twists and turns (I was pretty surprised more than once by certain plot reveals) this is a film that likely should be better known given the talent involved and the great respect it gives to Japan and its culture. The fact that it's a co-production between Warner Brothers and Japan's Toei Studios was a key reason why but I now wish I would have seen this much sooner, as it's another 70's gem.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

I'll Return Tomorrow Afternoon

Things happened and the review I wanted to post now... it'll have to wait until tomorrow afternoon. Sorry.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

RIP Ken Takakura

No review tonight; instead I'll talk about how early last week an old actor passed away, and the news just came out last night. If you don't recognize the name, you can get all the important details here.

In short the 83 year old was a famous and greatly respected actor in his native Japan who made a few American films, including Mr. Baseball, Sydney Pollack's The Yakuza and most famously, Ridley Scott's Black Rain, which I reviewed a few years ago here and tonight I'll watch again for Letterboxd. Thus, I'll return Thursday afternoon with a review of something new.