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Sad little film fest... Mar. 16th, 2014 @ 12:23 am
I realized something. I only ever seen to watch Koyaanisqatsi and Silent Running when I'm alone, and it's like... midnight. And then it occurred to me that Goyokin fits that pattern as well. And The Dark Corner and Under The Cherry Moon too. And now I want to watch them all, in that order, and have the weirdest One-Man Film Fest in history. This is why I can't be left alone unsupervised.

So I watched all of Zatoichi... Feb. 5th, 2014 @ 12:21 am
I don’t have any children, I have cats. Specifically, I have one cat that is MY cat. This is going somewhere. So at Christmas, I decided to allow my cat to get me a nice present. She decided to get me the Zatoichi Boxset from The Criterion Collection. See, I don’t have kids, so Syd can’t get some something and put their names on it. I’ve got to go on Amazon for the cat, and find something she would think I would like, and buy it for her. Cats, as you may have heard, are lazy creatures. So that’s how I came to own most of the Zatoichi movies, I already owned recent films under the brand name (more on that later) and I acquired the latest and the one film Criterion didn’t put in their boxset (again, later) so I could have them all. I then decided to watch all of them during January. I watched all the original movies during January, but life got in the way for the last three films. I watched them during the first few days of February.

So what it is?
The Zatoichi movies are an action series that spanned both movies and TV. There are 25 movies in the original set of films (which were made in only 11 years) and then it went to TV for four seasons. Then, in 1989, one more movie came along. All of these stared Shintaro Katsu in the title role (all the movies had the name Zatoichi in the title) which means it’s really not the James Bond of Japan, since those losers drop out after four or five movies. Even Dr Who tends to get a new guy to be its lead after three seasons.

Who Is This Guy?
The main character is a blind masseur, who wanders from place to place, getting in adventures. It’s okay that he’s blind though, because he has a cane with a sword in it and Mad Skillz (with a Z damnit) that even Daredevil would find impressive. He’s also part of the yakuza, even though he’s not part of any particular group. Yakuza have a different relationship to mainstream culture in Japan than The Mafia have in America, evidently. Zatoichi is very specific about how things should be done, and has no time for any yakuza boss who works with a corrupt official or victimizes people who aren’t asking for it. He’s got no problem with gamblers and even tolerates thugs, but if they break The Rules, then they are toast. Thing is, he’s not very high ranking, the Zato part of the name indicates that he’s the lowest rank of masseurs. He’s supposed to be just one step above a beggar, he’s the lowest rank of the lowest legal profession.

What Surprised Me
What I found most surprising is that the series never started to feel stale. There was only one movie in the original 25 that I didn’t like and that was Zatoichi Meets he One-Armed Swordsman. Every other movie was great, and I really enjoyed each and every one of them. I was also a little surprised at the fact that it wasn’t the same thing over and over again. Certain themes cropped up, but there are repeated themes just within the Samurai movie genre as a whole. That a few things seem to come up over and over again wasn’t a failing of the movies, so much as the beat of their rhythm. That there were regular badasses for Ichi to fight, or that Ichi would guess the dice by the sound they made was just part of the movies.

The thing is, the stories at the heart of the movies was always something a little different, and they were actually developed. A local boss would have a scam, and he would have reasons for the scam, and the people who would be helped and hurt are generally shown and fleshed out within the movie. It would have been very easy for this series to get lazy, but I never felt like it did. I always felt like the movies had fully realized stories and characters that you could actually care about. And at the heart of the whole thing is a fantastic actor playing a really captivating role. Katsu is sort of amazing as Zatoichi, and he’s incredibly fast. There are several action scenes I had to watch over to really catch everything.

I was also taken aback at how modern the movies felt. They’re shot with a style that was less prevalent then, but is more so now. This was kind of a trendsetting series though, so it’s easy to see how this might be the case.


Thoughts
The first 25 come in such quick succession that it was like watching a TV show (which the series later became) but one where a little more time and money was lavished than the average show. It’s a really excellent series, and very populist. The poor people, the exploited masses, these are the heroes, while the rich are corrupt bastards. Ichi is a tough guy, and a sweetheart, so he was adored by yakuza and grandmothers alike. You can see how the series was as popular as it was, and why it gave Katsu the power it did.

The last movie (the 26th) came some 16 years after the previous film, and is so 80s it kind of hurts. The movie itself it fine, even if it comes off as Zatoichi’s greatest hits. The music is super 80s pop though, as is much of the rest of the movies. I liked it though, and it’s got no shame in standing next to its brothers.

Now, in 2003 Kitano Takeshi made a new movie, with himself in the title role. He’s often the star of movies he directs, so there was nothing odd there. And Katsu directed two of the original Zatoichi movies, so that’s okay. The movie was weird though, because it was very much a Kitano Takeshi movie and those two styles don’t naturally suggest each other. Also, while paying tribute to the originals, they are also sort of a parody as well. Several things are made jokes, while other things are followed along exactly as they should be. It was sort of the perfect mix in a world that grasped that kind of humor.

In 2008 a movie with a woman starring as Ichi (the blind swordswoman). This movie played the whole thing far more seriously, and had a plot that followed Ichi more than it examined the bad guys. The movie was different than any of the Zatoichi movies, but I felt like that was in a good way. It was inspired by the original, but it wasn’t a slave to it. It was also longer than any of the others. Most the Zatoichi movies clock in at under 90 minutes, this one went a full two hours.

Finally, at the end (and I’m exhausted by the way) come 2010s Zatoichi: The Last. To be honest, less said about that the better

The Greats Recap Dec. 18th, 2013 @ 03:19 pm
Great Series

Horror

Fantasy

Historical Movies

Crime Pictures

Sci-Fi

Westerns, Samurai & Kung-fu

TV Review: Christmas Eve on Sesame Street Dec. 1st, 2013 @ 12:57 pm
1
Christmas Eve on Sesame Street (1978/ Children's Television Workshop/ Dir. Jon Stone)




Friends, Interneters, Countrymen? Look, lend me your eyes okay? I come not to bury Big Bird, but to praise him. The good men do, may sometimes live after then, while what little evils the commited may be interred with their bones. So let it be with Big Bird. Many hath told you Henson was ambitious? If it were so, it was a magnificent joy; and Henson hath answer'd it. You all did love him once,--not without cause: what cause withholds you, then, to mourn for him? O judgment, thou art fled to brutish beasts, and men have lost their reason!--Bear with me; my heart is in the coffin there with Henson, and I must pause till it come back to me.

...


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The “Why Did You Do That” Moment Nov. 20th, 2013 @ 01:50 pm
I’ve got a thing about movies, and stories in general. I like things to be logically consistent. I don’t need everything to follow real world rules for everything, but I need a touch of verisimilitude to run through the tale. It’s okay for Batman to run around with a cartoon bomb over his head and have to stop for a moment and say “Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb!” because it follows the rules the world has set. Batman doesn’t want to endanger anyone else, or even risk endangering them, so he runs away from anyone walking towards him when he tries to dispose of the explosive. Yes, to humorous results, but the ’66 Batman was a comedy after all. There is a consistent through line and I don’t find myself asking why he’s acting the way he is.

That’s one of the things that will always pull me right out of a movie, if the actions of someone make no damn sense. If I find myself asking “Why did you do that?” or “Why would anyone ever do that? Like, ever?” then I am pulled out of the movie and my enjoyment tends to suffer. I can get to a point where I’ll just start shouting my questions at the screen, which annoys some people because they’re enjoying the movie and annoys others because they hadn’t seen the problem until I mention it. I’ve ruined Batman Begins for at least two people I know because I pointed out all the problems I had with the movie and now when they try and watch it, all those problems leap out at them. For all Batman Begins did right, it’s loaded with “Why did you do that?” moments and they piled up so high it killed any enjoyment I had from the movie.

This can become a real problem for something that moves slowly, like Game of Thrones, where I’ve been informed that some of my “How does that work?” questions are answered. The problem is those problems are going to be addressed in book/season 4. Sadly, I am not willing to wait the 5 years it’s going to take HBO to get to that point. One assumes it will take as long to get to their 4th season as they did with Deadwood and The Sopranos.

Now there are ways around this issue. One of them is through simple lamp shading. In Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Tom Cruise is trapped in a car that’s upside down in a river with guys shooting machine guns at him for reasons too complicated to go into here. In order to escape, he grabs a corpse, lights a road flare and sticks it in the sleeve of the dead man, shoving him down river. The soldiers shooting see the light of the red flare and start shooting at it allowing Cruise and Jeremy Renner to escape. Now, watching this I was saying to myself “How the hell does that work?” and about three seconds later, Jeremy Renner turns to Tom Cruise and in the first lines anyone has spoken since the flare incident says “How the did that work?” which leads to a conversation of all the questions someone might ask and Tom Cruise blowing it off saying he played a hunch that it might attract their attention long enough for them to get away. I laughed at the end of that scene because it was just after I had asked those questions that the movie addressed it. Ghost Protocol was great for that by the way, a smart movie that didn’t have to devolve into stupid exposition and plot movement based on questionable logic.

The other way is to deal with the issue simply and easily by having something not work and having the character say something like “Well, that didn’t work” or “Seemed like a good idea at the time.” which isn’t perfect in all situations, but it can help. Sometimes, it’s interesting mistakes made in the heat of the moment that can drive a story towards an unexpected conclusion. Just so long as it makes sense that it’s a heat of the moment mistake, or a logical idea, or something that could possibly be planned. Bat-Shark Repellent only works in a comedy where the joke is “Yeah, right, he has Bat-Shark Repellent in the helicopter for just such an occasion.” Anywhere else, and you’re left asking “Am I really supposed to believe that Q knew damn well Bond would need an inflating jacket or a buzz-saw wristwatch?” Bond is rarely questioned as all the gadgets get used and as such lead to the answer “Well, he needed them.” Except we do question it later, at least in some small way.

Not everyone notices these things, some people never see the problems I do until I point them out. If that helps them enjoy a movie/book more, I shouldn’t complain, but sometimes it really bugs me. I keep wanting to demand why they didn’t notice the problem, why it doesn’t affect their enjoyment, how can they just let so much crap slide. Of course, the answer is that people are bothered by different things at different times. Lots of people don’t get how I can enjoy the Batman TV show, particularly given its incredible flaws in logic. I’ll only state that A) The flaws in logic are sometimes the point of the joke and B) Those do bug me, but I forgive a joke that fails when there are henchmen doing Brooklyn accents so badly that you wonder if they actually know that Brooklyn is a real place and not some made up shit like Narnia or Belgium.

An idea Apr. 23rd, 2013 @ 04:32 pm
I had an idea this morning, that I should have a film festival of movies with years in the title, silly idea, but I had it. This is what I would be watching, but I have to get the movies first.

1492: Conquest of Paradise

1900

1911

Gold Diggers of 1933

Gold Diggers of 1935

Gold Diggers of 1937

1941

Back to 1942

1984

2001: A Space Odyssey

2010: The Year We Make Contact

2012

2046

Movie Review: Goyokin Apr. 6th, 2013 @ 03:41 pm
1
Goyokin 1969/ Toho/ Dir. Hideo Gosha


For reasons of my own, I was watching some heist movies. I like a good heist flick, and there aren't enough of them. There are lots of heist flicks, but only a few good ones. I had gone through the usual line-up of movies, and after I had exhausted my supply I still felt the need to go once more into the heist film vault. So what I did was examine what you need for a good heist movie. That led me to this Japanese samurai movie set in the 1800s. As opposed to a French samurai movie set in the 1460s I guess? Well, some samurai movies are set during the 1600s, that seems to be the two times we generally get. During the early days of the Tokugawa shogunate or just before the Meiji Restoration, which is the end of the Tokugawa shogunate. Soooo, during the Tokugawa shogunate. You know what? Forget this part! I've already said shogunate way too many times.

Why do I call this a heist movie and not a samurai movie?Collapse )
Soundtrack: Billy Joel - Tell Her About It

Movie Review: The Black Cauldron Feb. 26th, 2013 @ 12:30 pm
1
The Black Cauldron (1985/ Disney/ Dir. Ted Berman & Richard Rich)


The Black Cauldron made basically no splash when it came out, much to Disney's dismay. Also, to the dismay of people like me, who sort of wish Disney had kept up with what it was doing. If you remember, the early 80s were a period of interesting experimentation for Disney. Granted, most those experiments were box office flops, but they were at least interesting and some of them were even good. This is an example of one of those experiments that was actually sort of good. Not great, I didn't say great, but it is good and it contains things you rarely saw at the time.

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Soundtrack: Acoustic Alchemy - Viva Che

Cartoon Review: The Christmas Orange Dec. 12th, 2012 @ 08:32 pm
1
The Christmas Orange (2002/ Bardel Entertainment/ Dir. Ian Freedman)


So here we have something so obscure that I may be the only person who actually bought the DVD. Not only am I the only owner of the DVD in America, I bought it 10 years after the product came out. And I only bought it for a few dollars, on a whim because I'd never heard of it and reviewing things that say "Christmas" on them is a thing I do. So I decided to give it a try. Given the product was only $6, given that it was a one shot for Canadian TV, and given that it was 10 years after it was first broadcast, I wasn't expecting to find a huge amount about the cartoon. It's based on a book, that's what I found out. It's not a bad product, we'll get that out of the way for starters. I'm not sure how good it is though. Let's examine The Christmas Orange...

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Cartoon Review: The Fat Albert Christmas Special Dec. 7th, 2012 @ 03:45 pm
1
The Fat Albert Christmas Special (1977/ Filmation/ Dir.Hal Sutherland)


Doing holiday specials is a tough gig. Quite often, they're produced as a fast buck idea. Something to throw at the screen during December, and if possible, break up the McDonald's Commercials a little. Most the specials I have seen, and I've seen WAY more than I should, fit into this category. Particularly existing properties, like the Smurfs or He-Man, fit this mold.

...

You know what? We're not going to mention another holiday special for the rest of this review. I'm going to show my hand early and just say it. This is good. I don't want to taint that by comparing it to something less good. If it's really good, it should be able to stand up on its own without putting something else down. And I think this is good, and I think it goes beyond a cynical cash grab, and I think it might really be worth your while.

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Soundtrack: Madhouse - Eight
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