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.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Sell Out

The Sell Out (1976)

Runtime: 101 minutes

Directed by: Peter Collinson

Starring: Richard Widmark, Oliver Reed, Gayle Hunnicutt, Sam Wanamaker, Vladek Sheybal

From: Several companies but it was released in the United States by Warner Brothers

As this is a little later than expected (among other things I had to update my iPod Touch) let me cut to the chase and copy & paste my Letterboxd review below, after explaining that I'll return tomorrow night.

If you're wondering how I came across such a random film likely no one has heard of before, it's on Warner Archive Instant and after looking at its plot I figured it'd be of interest to some people I know on a movie messageboard so for my interest and theirs I checked it out.

It is a standard spy movie filmed in a non-standard location (Israel) about a double agent (Oliver Reed) who defects from the KGB and ends up in the country. Various people want him silenced so he goes to his old mentor (Richard Widmark), who he has a contentious relationship with and oh yeah there's a young woman who has a history with both. A lot of it is what you'd expect: fears of double crossing, intrigue, random moments of violence, arguing, etc.

The movie is not a must-see, an undiscovered classic waiting for new appreciation. But, it's not terrible either. It's a fine and entertaining film and if you are a fan of either lead you'll likely want to see it as both of their performances are good. Fans of spy films will likely be interested in it even if not much new is brought to the table.

The director is Richard Collinson, best known for being at the helm of the original The Italian Job, so it's no surprise there's car chase action; it also shows that a reason why Checker cabs used to be the choice of taxi in New York City in that they are indestructible, or at least that's what the movie wants us to believe. Also, it should not be a surprise to hear that there's a scene where Reed's character gets drunk.

A nice asset is that the score (from two random dudes with few credits between them) is nicely done. When it is at its usual it is fine; when something big happens and it gets all funky, it's awesome.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Terminator

The Terminator (1984)

Runtime: 107 minutes

Directed by: James Cameron

Starring: Arnold, Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton, Lance Henriksen, Paul Winfield

From: Hemdale

Like I promised recently, I started to dive into the Blu-ray set of the Terminator films. Of course I started at the beginning and that is what I saw last night. Onto the Letterboxd review, but not before I mention that I'll be back Monday afternoon.

For awhile now I've had the Blu-ray set of all the four Terminator films (which I am glad was put together considering all the different companies that released the films and how some have been long defunct) and I figured last night was a good time to revisit this, as the last viewing was way too long ago.

I don't need to recap the plot of man (and woman) vs. machine as everyone should know it by now. It is a brutally simple tale and the movie doesn't waste a minute telling it, a time travel tale that isn't too confused or complex, and you instead focus on how Arnold is tremendous and is made to look tremendous as an unstoppable force of nature as he tries to murder what seems like a random woman and a soldier from the future tries to protect her... along with teaching her how to survive in the future.

The film is a blast from beginning to end. There are great action scenes throughout but what makes it great is that there is always a feeling of dread, whether it's during the daytime or all the nighttime scenes in the present or the future of 2029. Describing it as TechNoir (a wacky 80's nightclub in the film) seems apropos. The scenes from 2029, those aren't dated at all; that world looks rather bleak and painful, with it always being dark, the ruble and skulls all about, how everyone and everything is dirty, etc.

The movie definitely screams 1980's, from the tremendous fashion and hair to the silly 80's-riffic songs. That's part of the charm, though. The synth score from Brad Feidel is pretty tremendous. Some of the greenscreen stuff looks not so hot if seen in Blu but otherwise I think the special effects are still effective. Stan Winston and Fantasy II did a fantastic job with that.

Even 30 years after the fact is is easy to understand why both Arnold and James Cameron became huge stars after this was released. He was perfect in the direction and script and the T-800 became an iconic figure. The cast and crew all did pretty well (the veterans like Lance Henriksen and Paul Winfield are nice assets) but those two stand out. It reminded me that I should not have waited so long to watch this for another time.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Smart Money

Smart Money (1931)

Runtime: 81 minutes

Directed by: Alfred E. Green

Starring: Edward G. Robinson, James Cagney, Evalyn Knapp, Ralf Harolde, Noel Francis

From: Warner Brothers

My apologies for this going up so late. Things happened...

I went real old-school here via Warner Archive Instant. I saw this pretty late last night and I enjoyed it. Here's my Letterboxd review and note that I'll return Saturday afternoon.

Last night I returned to Warner Archive Instant and this time I went way back to 1931 and from that year was this film, most notable as the only time that Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney appeared in the same film together, although Cagney is a co-star and the real focus is on Robinson.

The tale is simple: Edward G. and James are brothers, and both work together in a barber shop. Robinson is a master gambler in the small town they live in and he is encouraged to go to “the city” to really earn a lot of cash. He experiences a variety of problems but eventually does hit the big time. But like Hitchcock he has an obvious thing for blondes (which tend to look a lot alike) and will that be his downfall?

The movie isn't complex yet it is still quite enjoyable, due to how the story has various twists & turns and there is a poignant ending. Robinson shows off his star power and makes it clear why he was popular at the time, but Cagney also holds his own playing-shock of shocks-a tough guy whenever he's able to be on screen, and the chemistry is nice between the two leads. The rest of the cast performs admirably and not only is it the first film for prolific actor of the time Charles Lane but before he became famous as Frankenstein's monster, Boris Karloff has a bit part.

Also, whether or not that's the intention the film serves as a nice reminder some of the dangers of gambling but not in an overdramatic fashion. The film's a light and easy watch with two famous faces doing well.