film

Rapid Fire Reviews #22 A Grab Bag of 20th Century Delights!

This latest edition of the Rapid Fire Reviews is all about catching up with films I’ve had on my “To Watch” list for far too long. At least, most of them. “Tokyo-Ga” and “Odds Against Tomorrow” just happened to be films whose descriptions caught my interest and were captivating enough to be included. The other films come from some of my favorite filmmakers, though truly the handful of names included this time around are some of the most well known and beloved filmmakers in world cinema history. Akira Kurosawa, Ingmar Bergman, Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, and Agnes Varda fill out the majority of this article, and the selected films are some of these celebrated Directors’ finest works. It was a truly mesmerizing way to spend a month this winter!

Tokyo-Ga (1985)

Written and directed by Wim Wenders, “Tokyo-Ga” is Wenders’ cinematic love letter to all things Ozu. To be clear, Wenders made this diary-styled documentary during his time in Tokyo in the spring of 1983, where he spent his days wandering and wondering if there was anything left of the world that famed Japanese film director Yasujiro Ozu had depicted across his 54 films. The majority of his films were made in Tokyo and often depicted the inherent drama of everyday life. One of the distinctive features of Ozu’s master period of his filmmaking were his “Pillow Shots”. These were short, static, shots of Tokyo as traffic, trains, or boats leisurely rolled through the shot. Occasionally these were active, narrow, alleys with many shops and bars, or repeated locations during the night’s slow and peaceful periods too. In this film, Wenders fills many somber shots of similar style, though the rebuilt and more frantic city life of 1985 Tokyo never quite recaptures Ozu’s notes of melancholy urban life and the upheaval of the traditional Japanese family life that were the subject of most of his films. It was a good effort though! Wenders isn’t here simply to recreate Ozu’s pillow shots though, he also interviews Chishu Ryu, Ozu’s leading man for many of his greatest hits, and Ozu’s cinematographer Yuharu Atsuta. They’re touching and emotional recollections of Ozu’s directorial style and the respect these men still held for him twenty years after his death. As a fun aside, Werner Herzog also appears in the film and has a short scene with Wenders, a good friend, at the top of Tokyo Tower in which he laments the lack of pure images in the urban landscape. It’s a delightful little film that’s full of heartfelt nostalgia, melancholy atmosphere, and curiosity explored. Highly recommended.

High and Low (1963)

Written by Hideo Oguni, Ryûzô Kikushima, Eijirô Hisaita, and Akira Kurosawa, and directed by Kurosawa “High and Low” is an adaption of the novel “King’s Ransom” by Evan Hunter, who often wrote under the pen name of Ed McBain for his crime novels. I found this film to be cinematic perfection if I’m being honest. It’s a masterclass in direction, cinematography, and the visual geography of scenes. The film begins with several high level executives of ‘National Shoes’ who meet with Kingo Gondo (Toshirô Mifune) to persuade him to join their corporate coup d’etat to force the company to make cheaper shoes quicker in a bid to increase short term profits over the more expensive process that high quality shoes would entail. To their surprise Gondo has his own aspirations and has already horded stock in the company to better posture for his own argument that the craftsmanship and quality of their products is far more crucial than immediate profit margins. The executives leave in a huff and Gondo makes moves by calling around to buy just enough stock to take control of the company. Akira Kurosawa takes great effort to set up Gondo as a man of principle and respect in the opening scenes, and it’s something that rides throughout the rest of the film as the audience can sympathize with the situation he’s soon to find himself in. Amidst all this white collar drama unfolding before us, it’s almost jarring when the hook of the story bursts onto the scene as a kidnapper calls to inform Mr. Gondo that his son has been captured and demands a high ransom that would cripple his newfound position in the company. It isn’t long before Gondo’s son appears around the corner asking where his friend had gone off to, which prompts Gondo’s Chauffeur, Aoki (Yutaka Sada), to realize that it was his son that was mistakenly abducted. The kidnapper calls back after awhile as he realizes his mistake and demands Gondo pay the price anyways. From there the film turns into a police procedural with Gondo disappearing almost entirely from the proceedings until much later in the film. It’s thoroughly engaging, full of well executed suspense, with unexpected evolutions throughout the remainder of the runtime. This one was one of the best films I have seen in a long time and I highly recommend giving it a watch, it’s great!

For more analysis on this film, check out the following article on the Criterion Collection’s online magazine, The Current, at the link below:

https://www.criterion.com/current/posts/515-high-and-low-between-heaven-and-hell

Pierrot le Fou (1965)

Written by Rémo Forlani and Jean-Luc Godard, based upon the novel by Lionel White, and directed by Godard, “Pierrot le Fou” is the first film from Godard that I’ve found myself quite enjoying. I’ve been slow to watch more of his work because each one that I have gone out of my way for has left me in a state of confusion and an utter lack of interest. That changes with “Pierrot Le Fou”. I see this one as the far more interesting version of “Breathless”. Maybe it’s because Godard engages, in an articulate sense, with American genre in a number of scenes that string together a narrative more functionally. At least, that’s how it feels to me. It’s also a far more relaxed and playful film even though the main characters galivant across France committing crimes with the film ultimately ending in a murder-suicide. It sounds strange writing it out that way, but Godard’s films always seem to have that side-effect of being hard to describe in the normal realm of film reviews. The opening scenes in Paris depict Ferdinand Griffon dit Pierrot (Jean-Paul Belmondo) living unhappily with his wife in high society. They head out to a party that Ferdinand doesn’t even want to go to wherein Godard criticizes and mocks what I can only describe as “Advertisement Speech” where patrons of the party talk to each other as if they’re in a commercial. It seems more like mockery than an off creative choice, and I quite enjoyed the sass of that scene. If this is your first film with Godard, his style of oddities may seem abrasive at first, but trust me, this is a good one. Definitely recommended.

Jules and Jim (1962)

Written by Jean Gruault and François Truffaut, adapted from the novel by Henri-Pierre Roché, and directed by Truffaut, “Jules and Jim” is considered, like “Pierrot le Fou” above, to be one of the highlights of the French New Wave. Between Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut, so far I’ve vastly preferred Truffaut’s films. Truffaut seems to be more apt to explore a character’s emotional drama and he’s less inclined to edit and write as abstractly as Godard. With “Jules and Jim” Truffaut takes his exploration of interpersonal relationships to the next level. The story begins in Paris a few years before World War One when the titular Jules and Jim meet and quickly become friends. The two bond over literature, art, physical skill in boxing and fencing, and of course, discussions of women. Jules (Oskar Werner) is a shorter, blond, and quiet writer from Austria, while Jim (Henri Serre) is the more extroverted Parisian. He’s taller, lankier, and less troubled than Jules overall. Though while these two share the title of the film, the star of the show and character that moves the plot the most is Catherine (Jeanne Moreau). In an inspired choice, the arrival of this ever evolving presence in the lives of Jules and Jim is foreshadowed by the two seeing a mesmerizing ancient bust of a Goddess during a slideshow. Both are so taken by the smiling figure that they track down the actual bust to see it for themselves. It isn’t long before Catherine enters the picture, and her presence is even more alluring to them than the goddess of stone before her. Her strong sense of self is as grandiose as it is mercurial. Later in the film, under a vastly different context, Jim tells Catherine that he understands her, to which she quickly bemoans, “I don’t want to be understood”. This perfectly captures how she interacts with those closest to her, and broadly the world around her. The films spans quite a longer period of time than I had expected going into it, as the story traces the characters lives before, during, and after World War One. The circumstances of the time meant that each friend was on the opposing side of the war, both often fretting over whether or not they could be shooting at a good friend. There’s a lot of change that takes place between the three of them over the course of the film with Catherine marrying Jules, becoming unhappy with his boring stability, taking on Jim as a boyfriend while Jules just wants to hold onto his love for her and their small daughter in any way he can. It’s a surprisingly complex love triangle, I certainly didn’t expect an examination of polyamorous relationships in a foreign film from the early 1960s! While not my favorite Truffaut film so far (Currently it’s “Shoot The Piano Player” https://spacecortezwrites.com/2020/02/11/old-school-review-shoot-the-piano-player-1960/), but it’s a fairly good film and one I do recommend seeking out!

For more analysis on this film, check out the following article on the Criterion Collection’s online magazine, The Current, at the link below:

https://www.criterion.com/current/posts/369-on-jules-and-jim

Vagabond (1985)

Written and directed by Agnès Varda, “Vagabond” is a story that’s mostly fictional, but partly a documentary too. As the story revolves around people living a nomadic life in rural and urban environments, some of the cast actually are nomadic people in real life. Agnès Varda’s voiceover in the beginning of the film serves as the structure of the story for the remainder of the runtime. Which is important as her unseen reporting elicits responses from a variety of people who met and knew Mona Bergeron (Sandrine Bonnaire) in the several weeks preceding her death. Yes, the film opens with the discovery of Mona’s lifeless body, having frozen to death in a ditch overnight near a vineyard. In this way, the film sets up it’s structure incredibly close to how the story in “Citizen Kane” flows through the runtime. Though admittedly, I had not considered this similarity until the article I was reading on The Criterion Collection’s online Magazine, The Current, had mentioned it. I also didn’t think I’d be linking most of the films here to a more in-depth analysis through The Current, but here we are. Throughout “Vagabond” Mona moves from place to place seeking food and shelter, though what becomes clear over time is that she has outright chosen this lifestyle for herself, part of a greater ideology it seems, but we’re never given a large amount of details about it. Though that’s not really the point of the film. Mona interacts with virtually every slice of French society throughout this time. She camps out in fields with her small tent, lives in a mostly abandoned French Chateau with another urban nomad, she even finds herself living with the seasonal Arab migrants who work on an expansive vineyard- though not for long. My favorite stop on her journey was when she was allowed to stay with a maid who serves a rich older widow who lives quite nicely. Mona ignores the maid’s warning about the wealthy Grandma and instead hangs out with her as they both get drunk together. It’s legitimately heartwarming. This is the second film I’ve seen from Agnes Varda, and I have to say, I absolutely love how she control’s the camera’s eye. It showcases curiosity behind the camera, and a willingness to film the inherent drama of normal people’s lives. I also quite enjoyed the side cast of characters surrounding Mona. Initially it seemed as though we would only get snippets of these strangers lives and never see or hear from them again, but not so! Many of the people Mona meets are reconnected by relation or connections to other new characters in a variety of entertaining ways. While the beginning and end of the film are tinged in a melancholy sadness for the entirely avoidable death of Mona, the film does evoke a lust for life through the people Mona meets on her trail. It doesn’t always go well for Mona, but it’s certainly a story worth telling and worth watching. Definitely recommended.

For more analysis on this film, check out the following article on the Criterion Collection’s online magazine, The Current, at the link below:

https://www.criterion.com/current/posts/78-vagabond

Persona (1966)

Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman, “Persona” is one of those films that feels indescribable at first. At first glance, the film is about an actress who has become mute, and the nurse assigned to help her through this silence and tend to her needs. The actress is Elizabeth (Liv Ullmann), a well known performer who mysteriously became mute in the middle of the stage production of “Electra”. The psychiatric Nurse is Alma (Bibi Andersson), a talkative and warm presence who is the polar opposite of Elizabeth as we shall come to see. I’ve done some digging into this film, and there are a variety of ways to absorb the story. There’s the completely viable method of understanding the film as it is literally shown to us, but there’s plenty of depth there if you’re willing to look for it. After the initial round of therapy at the Hospital in town fails to produce productive results Alma’s superior suggests the two of them head to the good doctor’s summer retreat on a sunny island for a month or two to better facilitate an environment for Elizabeth to recover in. Once on the island the two continue to move forward hoping for Elizabeth’s mental health to improve. Over time Alma begins to become comfortable around Elizabeth- eventually enough to reveal a personal story of sexual infidelity while engaged to the man that would become her husband. We find that while Elizabeth is married unhappily, she also bore a son whom she did not want, whereas Alma successfully aborted her unwanted child from her beach encounter. There’s a whole lot to dig into with this film, from the beginning of the film which opens like an old silent film, there’s even a meta shot at one point of Bergman and the crew sitting at cameras looking back. It’s all quite dreamlike to be honest. There’s speculation that both Alma and Elizabeth may be two parts of one person, especially with the camerawork done to superimpose half of each Actress’ face to form an unsettling new face in one shot. It’s abstract and ethereal, it plumbs psychology and plays with the fabric of its own reality. It’s definitely one you should watch if you’re making your own “Film School” of sorts by thoroughly flipping through cinema’s history to learn more about the craft itself. It’s a weird one, but most definitely worth your time! Give it a shot!

For more analysis on this film, check out the following archived review from Roger Ebert, at the link below:

https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-persona-1966

Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)

Written by Nelson Gidding and Abraham Polonsky, based on the novel by William P. McGivern, and directed by Robert Wise, “Odds Against Tomorrow” is first and foremost, a film of it’s era that still holds lessons for audiences today. This Noir heist film is one that also has a societal message underpinning it’s genre sensibilities. The title and theme of the film is that if we can’t take the time today for a little more patience and understanding of our fellow man, our neighbors, then the Odds Against Tomorrow will be a price too high to achieve. The three main characters of the film begin with Johnny Ingram (Harry Belafonte) a nightclub singer who also has a bit of a gambling problem at the horse racetracks, Earle Slater (Robert Ryan) a racist fanatic whose performance should make any audience’s flesh crawl with disgust, and Dave Burke (Ed Begley) a former Cop that was fired in disgrace for corruption charges. Burke organizes the whole operation, he brings in Ingram and Slater separately to show them each the details of the heist before putting the two lit fuses in the same room together. It’s a simple heist that relies heavily on the trust of each participant, and when this uneasy alliance begins to crack, things get dicey for everyone involved. This one was thoroughly entertaining! The actual heist is taut and engaging with each character’s performance leading into the main event layering each moment with potential instability. It’s definitely worth a watch, especially if you enjoy crime genre sensibilities.

I’ve also been writing Film Criticism over at Films Fatale. Check out the links below and show them some love!

https://www.filmsfatale.com/blog/2022/2/25/uncharted

https://www.filmsfatale.com/blog/2022/3/8/the-batman

film

Rapid Fire Reviews #13 What I’ve been watching this year

2021 isn’t even two (full) months old yet and it already feels like it’s hellbent on telling 2020 to “hold it’s beer” based solely on the way it’s gone so far. So while things haven’t exactly been the *immediate* reversal of fortune that we’re all hoping for- there’s always more movies to pour down our eyeballs! So far this year I’ve been indulging in repeat viewings of older films, watching at least one new film, and returning to my mining of the South Korean New Wave that began in the 2000’s and has been consistently enthralling ever since. There were a few weeks where I went on another Noir binge, and it was glorious. Hopefully this directs you towards another new favorite, a thought provoking experience, or at least an entertaining way to absorb an afternoon while ignoring the outside world. Cheers, and welcome to 2021, the sequel we never wanted, but got anyways!

One Night in Miami (2020)

Written by Kemp Powers, based on the play also by Powers, and directed by Regina King, “One Night in Miami” is a theoretical film based on the question, “What if Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke were all friends and came together for a night in Miami? How would that unfold?“. The answer to that question is quite the story. The beginning of the film establishes each major character experiencing failure, or a loss, something that shakes their confidence. The young Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) comes quite close to losing a boxing match at Wembley Stadium in London while Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) the soulful singer, experiences one of the worst sets he’s ever had for an old and cold all white audience in New York City’s Copacabana nightclub. Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), the star NFL player, returns home to Georgia on which lies a vast plantation. Everything seems cordial enough between Brown and family friend Mr. Carlton (Beau Bridges), that is until Mr. Carlton casually reveals some deep-seated racism that rattles Brown. Then there’s Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir). At this point in his life, he’s become uncharacteristically paranoid about a cornerstone of his cause in life, The Nation of Islam, as he tells his wife of his plans to leave the group. Fast forward several months later to 1964 where all four men have landed in Miami for Clay’s title bout against Sonny Liston. Thus we have set the stage and from there the performances, and subtly exquisite camerwork, take center stage as these four legendary personalities laugh together, yell at each other, debate each other thoroughly and thoughtfully, and fully splay out the emotional range of good and lasting characterwork. I was blown away by this one. Personally, I was really only aware of Malcolm X and Cassius Clay, aka Muhammad Ali, but the choice of all four men was inspired in my opinion. This is an actor’s movie, as noted before there is some good clever camerwork, and excellent scripting, but it’s the performances I will remember most, each actor brought something memorable and unique to their role and did their due diligence in recreating the larger than life personas. This is an excellent film, and I sincerely hope you give it a watch.

Chinatown (1974)

Written by Robert Towne and directed by Roman Polanski, “Chinatown” is one of the best neo-noirs of all time, with possibly the best script in the business. This film is immaculate in its execution, and if you’re a student of cinema, it’s required viewing. Jack Nicholson stars as J. J. “Jake” Gittes, a private investigator who stumbles upon a bizarre case that constantly ratchets up the intrigue and mystery at every opportunity. If you somehow haven’t seen this one yet, I’ll refrain from spoiling things, but just know that this film comes with my highest recommendation. It’s a biting, cynical, and staggering neo-noir that stands tall in American cinema’s past. Jake’s given a case early on in the film to investigate a potential affair between a married couple, as the first scene in the movie establishes, this is a common practice for private eyes. After he tails the husband, Hollis Mulwray (Darrell Zwerling), around town and takes notes on his activities, Jake believes he has enough evidence and brings the story to the newspapers, which ruins the man. However, after the story has been released, the real wife, Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway), arrives at Jake’s office informing the private eye that he can expect a lawsuit. Obviously, things are not as they seem. Gittes retraces Hollis’ steps and activities until he comes across several incongruities, like the fact that despite there being a drought in Los Angeles, Hollis was drowned. Curious. There’s so much more to the film and the layers of storytelling that are hiding in plain sight are grotesque, and gloriously rewarding as an audience member. Highly recommended.

*This is not meant to glorify Roman Polanski in any way shape or form. If you don’t know what he did, google it. I’m just here to discuss films.*

The Third Man (1949)

Written by Graham Greene and directed by Carol Reed, “The Third Man” is one of the finest noirs to have come from the golden age of cinema. If you’re inclined to see all of Orson Welles performances, or curious about the genre of Noirs across the board, or even just wanting to widen those international film credentials, you can’t go wrong on any of those counts with this film. Speaking of Welles, there’s a dual casting here that is one of the finest choices of cinema’s earlier eras. Joseph Cotten stars as the lead, Holly Martins, an American author of paperback Westerns who gets caught up in the crimes and mysterious nature of his old friend from their shared youth, Harry Lime (Orson Welles). Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles had worked together since the days of the Mercury Theater in New York City, since the “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast and “Citizen Kane” onward! They were longtime friends and coworkers and the fact that this film is essentially about the death of nostalgia, about the morality of doing what’s right despite your personal attachments, well that’s just brilliant emotional manipulation if you know the story of the two. The film takes place in post-war Vienna with the city being split up between the allied nations, the Americans, British, French, and Soviets. Much of the city is still in ruins and seems like it could all crumble into dust at a moments notice. Martins arrives in Vienna as he’s been given notice that his good friend Harry Lime has died, hit by a car in the street. After the funeral Martins gets acquainted in town, he’s also questioned particularly intently by Major Calloway (Trevor Howard) a member of the British Royal Military Police whom Martins mockingly calls ‘Callahan’ throughout the film. After Martins questions a couple locals who have stories that are inconsistent with the “official” details, he decides to stick around and see what comes of it. The film makes some truly unique choices, particularly for the soundtrack. The whole soundtrack is performed by one man and one instrument, the Zither played by Anton Karas. If you don’t know what that is, picture the American cartoon, “Spongebob Squarepants”. Strange right? Well, especially in the first season of that cartoon, background music was usually performed by someone with a Zither. In fact, when I was watching this film, one of my roommates returned home and had walked in from the back where he could hear the Zither music and commented before entering the living room that “Oh hey, you’re watching Spongebob?” and he was quite surprised to see a black and white noir in its place. Anyways, the cinematography and lighting also hold fascinating calibrated choices like shooting Vienna, mostly, in extreme Dutch angles, especially once the footchases of the last half of the film begin. The lighting maintains an expressionist quality that creates an atmosphere that envelopes you into the mystery as the film goes on. The back half of the film is where the best cinematography lives in my opinion. The manhunt for Harry Lime in the streets and sewers of Vienna with seemingly hundreds of pursuers feels like a fever dream. A fuller analysis of the film may be required later on at some point, but for now, trust me, it’s pretty great. Highly recommended.

Le Doulos “The Informant” (1962)

I’ve already reviewed this film on the blog but I recently picked up a physical copy and gave a it a rewatch. The first time around I remember feeling somewhat engaged and entertained, but much like my first viewing of “The Hateful Eight”, I wasn’t extremely into it based on the morality of the characters (Ironically, “Eight” is now one of my favorite Tarantino movies). Granted, now that it’s been almost exactly a year since that initial watch and review (linked below this for reference), I knew the twists that were coming, and instead got lost in how the film works perfectly at making you assume one set of events is taking place, when in reality you’re only seeing bits and pieces of the truth. I was paying much more attention this time around to the camera movements and character work on display. I hadn’t even noticed the eight and a half minute one-take shot of Silien (Jean-Paul Belmondo) being interoggated by cops that expertly displays Melville’s skill at mise en scène. This may be my favorite non-American Noir, it’s one that I will be returning to anytime a lampost glows in the fog, or when shadowy figures fade into obscuring darkness. It’s an excellent movie and I highly recommend giving it a watch!

https://spacecortezwrites.com/2020/02/20/old-school-review-le-doulos-1962/

Le Silence de la Mer “The Silence of the Sea” (1949)

Written by Jean-Pierre Melville, adapted from the short story by Vercors, and directed by Melville, “Le Silence de la Mer” is the story of an uncle (Jean-Marie Robain) and his niece (Nicole Stéphane) who must oblige an S.S. Nazi officer, Werner von Ebrennac (Howard Vernon), while under their occupation in Paris, 1941. Having seen many of Melville’s other later films, I anticipated the origins of his style that’s all over the later Noir films- but this being his first film, it was quite different from those. While Melville would often adapt literature for his films, this one was a unique choice because this story was one that was frequently passed around by French Resistance members during the occupation, and it was penned by an infamous French author known only by the pseudonym “Vercors”. As Melville was also a member of the Free French Forces during the war, he was an informed choice to say the least. Upon Werner von Ebrennac’s arrival, both L’oncle and La nièce agree to live as though he had never arrived. A vow of silence between them. Which is a really fascinating choice because of how it affects the S.S. officer over the course of the film. He considers himself an intellectual after all. He’s well read, a lover of the Parisian arts, and a firm believer in Germany’s cause- that is until he finds evidence of the cruelty being committed against the Jews, and it breaks something inside of him. It’s a unique film regarding the Nazi occupation of Paris, and I highly recommend giving it a watch.

Les Enfants Terribles “The Strange Ones” (1950)

Written by Jean Cocteau, adapted from Cocteau’s own novel, and directed by Jean-pierre Melville, “Les Enfants Terribles” is, as the translation of the title would indicate, a strange one. Nicole Stéphane returns after the incredible “Le Silence de la Mer” to play Elisabeth, one half of the film’s focus. It’s almost as if Melville offered her the role due to “the niece” only having a handful of lines in his first movie, as this role is the exact opposite in tone. Paul (Edouard Dermithe) and Elizabeth are indeed strange, they spend most of their time in their room with each other inventing all sorts of mind games, pranks, and a full on display of Freudian psychology at work. Elisabeth (and her brother for that matter) are constantly talking almost for the entire runtime. The two are always talking over each other, at each other, and against anyone unfortunate enough to dare walk into their den of treachery and incestuous entanglement. Yes, it’s that kind of movie. It’s uncomfortable and weird, but hey, if you’re a Melville purist, it IS worth a watch for the camerawork at the very least. Out of all Melville’s films that I’ve seen so far, this one was the hardest to sit through. Not recommended.

L’aîné des Ferchaux “Magnet of Doom” (1963)

Written and directed by Jean-Pierre Melville, based on the novel by Georges Simenon, “Magnet of Doom” is a road movie of sorts that has it’s merits, but was ultimately one of Melville’s lesser films for me. The film can be painstakingly slow at times, and while that’s a criticism that could be leveled at most of Melville’s work if you’re an impatient film watcher, I always felt as though his other films could get away with it purely out of their inherent mystery, intrigue, and atmosphere. This films stars Jean-Paul Belmondo, who always makes interesting choices as an actor, and Charles Vanel, a prominent French actor and director who appeared in over 200 films during his 76 year career. In the film, Belmondo plays Michel Maudet, a failed Boxer who’s broke and penniless looking for work. Which just so happens to be perfectly timed for the role of personal secretary for Dieudonné Ferchaux (Vanel) a senior executive of a large bank in Paris whose criminal past has come back to haunt him. Thus he’s in a rush to ensconce to South America by way of North America. So Michel’s hired on the spot and they fly out to New York, with Michel leaving his girlfriend behind without telling her goodbye, or even acknowledging her. Both men seem to be of dubious morals. The two just need to make a stop at Ferchaux’s New York City bank to withdraw the rest of his funds and then off to Venezuela! Obviously, it’s not going to be that easy. The bank can’t move that much money immediately so Ferchaux gets antsy and they decide to drive to New Orleans in the meantime where they will have the money wired to them, not wise to stick around for an extradition when you know it’s coming. Thus we get an American road trip with these two prominent French actors of their time. The movie has value in how the audience is given an outsider’s perspective on American culture, scenery, and variety of lifestyles. The film also pays homage to “Citizen Kane”, “The Set Up”, and the road movie genre overall. When it ended with one character nonchalantly disregarding the dying words of the other, I was almost glad it was over. That might seem harsh, but this one did not engage me as much as I would have expected from seeing many of Melville’s other films. Not entirely recommended.

Mother (2009)

Written by Eun-kyo Park and Bong Joon Ho, from a story by Bong Joon Ho, and directed by Bong Joon Ho, “Mother” is a superbly deceptive thriller that toys with your expectations in brilliant fashion. In a town near the countryside in South Korea, a watchful Mother (Hye-ja Kim) runs a small herb shop while keeping her adult son, Yoon Do-joon (Won Bin), safe and out of trouble as much as possible. Do-joon isn’t exactly ‘all there’ when it comes to mental capacity though, which is exactly how he ends up getting wrapped up in a murder mystery as the main suspect. He’s obviously taken advantage of by the local police who seem pre-occupied with moving on to their next case rather than doing the hard investigative work to find the real killer of Moon Ah-jeong (Hee-ra Mun), an exceptionally unlucky young schoolgirl. With the local police content with their passive scapegoat who signed his own confession early on citing, “Well, if I really did it, shouldn’t I be held responsible?” Thus once our titular Mother feels she has exhausted all legal and formal methods of uncovering the truth, she sets out on her own to solve the murder mystery and absolve her son of his alleged crimes. I’ve seen several of Bong Joon Ho’s films now, and while I’ve generally enjoyed his work, this is the only film besides “Parasite” (https://spacecortezwrites.com/2020/01/30/review-parasite/) that has struck me so profoundly. I still have yet to see “Memories of Murder”, which is considerably harder to track down in physical form than his more recent films (Fret not, a physical edition from the Criterion Collection is on the way! https://www.slashfilm.com/memories-of-murder-re-release/ ), but this is far closer in tone and quality to “Parasite” than his work with American actors in “Snowpiercer” and “Okja”- both of which were enjoyable and solid films, though this rises above them. Highly recommended.

I Saw The Devil (2010)

Written by Hoon-jung Park and directed by Jee-woon Kim, “I Saw The Devil” is an extremely violent revenge tale that masterfully tackles genre sensibilities with a mind for the consequences of revenge and what it does to body, mind, and soul. This film was recommended to me as a “South Korean revenge movie” and while that may have been accurate at base level, because it certainly IS about revenge, it’s also so much more than that. I did not expect this movie to grip me so viscerally. I have to say right away that if you are not a fan of bloody violence, of eye-covering, wincing-while-watching violence, this one may not be for you. Admittedly, I’ve never been a fan of that sort of thing unless it’s gloriously over the top in it’s depiction of violence, like what Quentin Tarantino does for example, or even in something as ludicrous as “Dead Alive”. Though, even I got through it because it was that engaging. That being said, the story of eye-for-an-eye violence here is eerily captivating. So, without ruining the plot for you, this movie primarily follows two men and their subsequent feud through grief, hatred, and a callous disregard for life, family, and everything that makes us human. Jang Kyung-chul (Choi Min-sik) is our villain, and you’ll know why almost immediately once the movie begins. He’s a murderous serial killer with brutal efficiency who performs disgusting rituals with his victims. His luck begins to change one day when he captures and kills the fiance of Kim Soo-hyeon (Lee Byung-Hun), an extremely capable security agent of sorts. Once he begins to track down Jang Kyung-chul, he, along with his deceased fiance’s father (who just so happens to be the Chief of Police in their area), decide not to outright kill the man but to make him suffer unspeakable pain. From there the film boomerangs between the power struggle of both men, each of whom gets increasingly more vile with their violent crusade against each other. It’s intense, bloody, and despite it’s genre trappings it actually does have something to say about revenge and what it does to us. Definitely recommended!

*If during your read of this edition of the Rapid Fire Reviews you thought to yourself “Wow, there’s a lot of old French movies in this one.” That’s because I was in the midst of reading “Jean-Pierre Melville: an American in Paris” by Ginette Vincendeau and writing a review of the book for another website called http://www.filmsfatale.com which I highly encourage you to seek out! My Melville piece should be up soon, but I’ve also already begun my writing over there with the article “What if: Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler Were in a Movie Together?” (https://www.filmsfatale.com/blog/2021/1/29/what-if-jim-carrey-and-adam-sandler-were-in-a-movie-together?rq=Adam%20Sandler) I’ll still be writing here in my free time, but give Films Fatale a look, they’ve got many, many, excellent articles and interviews on the site, check it out!

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25 days of Zatoichi The Blind Swordsman: #4 Zatoichi The Fugitive (1963)

Writer/Director: Seiji Hoshikawa/Tokuzo Tanaka (2nd film)

Summary: This time Zatoichi is attacked right off the bat by a young Yakuza looking to earn the ten ryo bounty on the blind swordsman’s head. Of course Ichi bests the young attacker, and as he lay dying he reveals that the reward was for his mother who runs a business in the nearby town. In town Ichi enters a sumo wrestling match to the surprise of the crowd and defeats several sighted fighters. As the event was organized by the local Yakuza gang, they vow to earn their respect and honor back- by killing Zatoichi! This time, the two major story arcs crossed paths and intermingled far more than before. Once finding the dead Yakuza’s mother, Maki, Ichi confesses to having killed her son and she forgives him seeing him as honorable for seeking her out to tell her this. He also gives Maki his winnings from the Sumo match and told her it was from her son. Back at the local inn Zatoichi encounters even more drama. The innkeeper’s adopted daughter, Nobu, is in love with one of the junior members of that same local Yakuza gang. Her father, however, disapproves and the junior accountant ends up being manipulated by a superior Yakuza who decries that if Zatoichi is not killed, the junior accountant will be stripped of his rank and kicked out of the gang. Ichi also encounters Otane at the inn, his first love from the last few films, who’s now married to a brutish ronin named Tanakura. In order to squash the advances by the Yakuza and possibly help alleviate Nobu’s predicament, Zatoichi goes straight to the heart of the Yakuza during a meeting of their local leadership. During this encounter Tanakura, (mysteriously also at the Yakuza meeting) attempts to establish dominance over Zatoichi with a feat of swordplay- but the blind swordsman quickly retaliates with his own display of skill that shocks everyone in the room. Tanakura immediately claims defeat and personally establishes Zatoichi as his rival due to his injured pride. After this the junior accountant rushes to Zatoichi to plead for help, suggesting that both Otane and Nobu have been taken hostage at the inn. Once there, Ichi finds the two women unharmed- but before he can make sense of the situation the inn is surrounded by Yakuza- a trap! Otane hears Tanakura outside and tells Zatoichi she will plead for them to reconsider. Once outside Otane mistakenly draws Tanakura’s sword in the heat of the moment and he immediately cuts her down for this transgression. Nobu sees this from inside the inn, horrified by the violence, and tells Zatoichi- which sends him into his most emotionally fueled bloodlust that the series has seen at this point. He cuts down dozens of yakuza in a fury and eventually finds himself one on one with Tanakura. What follows is an excellent and visceral fight to the death in which Zatoichi bests Tanakura. As he bleeds into the dirt, the dying ronin tells Ichi that the ambush was Otane’s idea, and that she wasn’t exactly the saint he thought she was. Thus leading to one of the most dramatic and painful exits the blind swordsman has tallied up this far, preferring to wander off than stay and wallow in his pain.

My favorite part: The fact that the Otane character’s arc has continued in some semblance for every film until this point was a nice touch. Though, admittedly her storyline ends tragically. In the last film Otane was mentioned as the fiance of a local carpenter, but instead ended up marrying Tanakura- the hot headed ronin. *Also* I think it’s important to mention how “punched up” the cinematography and direction is in this film- it feels markedly different and more modern than the past films despite the previous film having the same director and being released in the same year.

Why it’s great: The fight scene between Tanakura and Zatoichi is one of the best fight scenes in the series so far. Zatoichi’s sword breaks during the fight and he kills the fiery ronin with a dagger hidden in the sword’s hilt. This is also indicative of the fact that the series is increasingly smoother and more streamlined than before. There’s no real introduction of Zatoichi, the film assumes you’ve seen the others, and I enjoyed the immediacy of that.

Final Score: 1 Sumo match & 1 unleashed Zatoichi!

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25 days of Zatoichi The Blind Swordsman: #3 New Tale of Zatoichi (1963)

Writers/Director: Minoru Inuzuka (3rd film) & Kikuo Umebayashi/Tokuzo Tanaka

Summary: Zatoichi returns to his village four years after he completed his training. There are two major storylines this time around, the first major arc includes the brother of the Yakuza Boss that Ichi killed in the last movie seeking revenge. The second is more personal, in which Ichi learns that his old Master, Banno, has turned to colluding with local gangsters involved in corrupt schemes, due to financial duress. Banno has also arranged a marriage for his younger sister, Yayoi, to a Samurai, but she ends up falling in love with Zatoichi instead. Learning from his past mistakes Ichi attempts to take the pacifistic route and absolve himself from violence to settle and marry- even taking a dice roll to determine whether or not he lose an arm to the bereaved Yakuza brother instead of the usual fight to the death. Later, in the forest, Zatoichi finds out that Banno’s corruption wasn’t just financial- but that he also needlessly kills in cold blood to serve his goals. Banno can’t stand to let Zatoichi leave with this knowledge and forces his former student into a fight. Zatoichi reluctantly kills Banno in an emotional fury as Yayoi watches from the brush. After the deed is done Ichi acknowledges that he cannot avoid his true calling stating that he is “That kind of man“… and wanders off, broken once more.

My favorite part: This film is interesting because it’s the first time the series acknowledges the consequences of Zatoichi’s actions from the past two films. I was also surprised by the Yakuza brother’s lack of commitment to killing Zatoichi, seeing a villain give some consideration to forgiveness was unexpected.

Why it’s great: This was the first color film in the series, and seeing the world come alive was like a breathe of fresh air. Granted, this film took a muted color palette of earthy tones and shades for most scenes- but it was still very cool to take in this new paradigm.

Final Score: A Ransom of 300 Ryo