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High and Low (literally “Heaven and Hell”) (1963)

High and Low (literally “Heaven and Hell”) is a 1963 police procedural crime drama film directed by Akira Kurosawa, starring Toshiro Mifune, Tatsuya Nakadai and Kyōko Kagawa.

A wealthy executive named Kingo Gondo (Toshiro Mifune) is in a struggle to gain control of a company called National Shoes. One faction wants the company to make cheap, low quality shoes for the impulse market as opposed to the sturdy but unfashionable shoes currently being produced. Gondo believes that the long-term future of the company will be best served by well-made shoes with modern styling, though this plan is unpopular because it means lower profits in the short term. He has secretly set up a leveraged buyout to gain control of the company, mortgaging all he has.

Just as he is about to put his plan into action, he receives a phone call from someone claiming to have kidnapped his son, Jun. Gondo is prepared to pay the ransom, but the call is dismissed as a prank when Jun comes in from playing outside. However, Jun’s playmate, Shinichi, the child of Gondo’s chauffeur, is missing and the kidnappers have mistakenly abducted him instead.

In another phone call the kidnapper reveals that he has discovered his mistake but still demands the same ransom. Gondo is now forced to make a decision about whether to pay the ransom to save the child or complete the buyout. After a long night of contemplation Gondo announces that he will not pay the ransom, explaining that doing so would not only mean the loss of his position in the company, but cause him to go into debt and throw the futures of his wife and son into jeopardy. His plans are weakened when his top aide lets the “cheap shoes” faction know about the kidnapping in return for a promotion should they take over. Finally, under pressure from his wife and the chauffeur, Gondo decides to pay the ransom. Following the kidnapper’s instructions, the money is put into two small briefcases and thrown from a moving train; Shinichi is found unharmed.

Gondo is forced out of the company and his creditors demand the collateral in lieu of debt. The story is widely reported however, making Gondo a hero, while the National Shoe Company is vilified and boycotted. Meanwhile the police eventually find the hideout where Shinichi was kept prisoner. The bodies of the kidnapper’s two accomplices are found there, killed by an overdose of heroin. The police surmise that the kidnapper engineered their deaths by supplying them with uncut drugs. Further clues lead to the identity of the kidnapper, a medical intern at a nearby hospital, but there is no hard evidence linking him to the accomplices’ murders. The police lay a trap by first planting a story in the newspapers implying that the accomplices are still alive, and then forging a note from them demanding more drugs. The kidnapper is apprehended in the act of trying to supply another lethal dose of uncut heroin to his accomplices. Most of the ransom money is recovered, but too late to save Gondo’s property from auction. With the kidnapper facing a death sentence, he and Gondo finally meet face to face. Gondo has gone to work for a rival shoe company, earning less money but enjoying a free hand in running it. The kidnapper reveals that envy from seeing Gondo’s house on the hill every day led him to conceive of the crime.

This is another one of the Emperor’s tour de force outside of the samurai films he was so famous for.  Mifune gives his usual stellar performance and the story examines the question (among other things) about human selfishness and greed and doing right no matter what the cost.  And, more importantly how difficult the decision to do the right thing and was rightfully considered courageous by all involved.

 
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Posted by on August 4, 2015 in Movie Reviews

 

Why couldn’t the powers that be not leave true art alone? I am talking about the “New” revived “Yes Prime Minister” series recreated in 2013. Et tu BBC?

We here at JPFmovies have reviewed and lauded the original BBS series Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister for years.  The original series ran between 1980 and 1984, split over three seven-episode series. The sequel, Yes, Prime Minister, ran from 1986 to 1988. In total there were 38 episodes.  Now the “revived” Jim Hacker as the PM in a new revival that does nothing less than make one cringe with every word spoken.  The fools decided mess with what ranked as the 6th greatest British sitcom of all time deserve nothing less than exile.

I would expect this kind of crap from America, but I hope that the British had more class than Holly Wood.  I guess that you can’t win them all.

The acting stinks, is stilted and, for example, they apparently believe that the audience needs to be told the Bernard Wooly is pedantic instead of letting the viewer figure it out for themselves which takes all of two seconds.

Moreover, the famous long and murky speeches made by Sir Humphry and cheap copies of the originals performed by an actor cast by lottery instead of auditions.  It breaks my heart to see such a fabled tale of political satire thrown into the dung heap.  Why?

 
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Posted by on July 16, 2015 in Movie Reviews

 

Emperor 2012, starring Tommy Lee Jones and Matthew Fox who really steals the show from the much senior actor Jones.

I hate to admit it, but I actually enjoyed this movie immensely.  It could be that I’m a fan of US history or that I thought Fox did such a great job playing Gen. Fellers that I overlooked any deficiencies in the film.

“Emperor” deals with a crucial chapter in postwar history, in which the future direction of Japan was being decided by MacArthur and a handful of advisers.  The general appoints the brigadier, Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox, of “Lost”) to investigate Emperor Hirohito for war crimes.  The American public is clamoring for the emperor’s head, but executing him could set back the occupation and open the door to the Soviets.

Fox, who’s the real star of the movie, plays Fellers as the sweetest, gentlest guy in the world in his private life.  But in his professional life, he has the officer thing down: He’s abrupt, forceful and unyielding, as if unwilling himself to show even a hint of softness or doubt.  It’s a smart, thought-through performance.

Fellers and his staff begin to compile a list of people who were with Emperor Hirohito when the war started. Because none of the Japanese who are friendly to the Americans are among them, they resort to asking Tojo by enticing him to give them information in order to save the Emperor.  Fellers travels to Sugano Prison and demands that Tojo gives him three names.  He, instead, gives one: Fumimaro Konoe, the former prime minister.  Fellers decides to visit General Kajima.  He explains to Kajima that the Japanese people are selfless and capable of great sacrifice as well as unspeakable crimes because of their devotion to a set of values.  Kajima does not know whether or not the Emperor is guilty in starting the war but notes his role in ending the war.  He gives Fellers a box of folded letters written by Aya (the Japanese woman Fellers had fallen in love with prior to the war) to Fellers and Fellers learns that Aya had died in one of the Allied bombing raids.

MacArthur orders Fellers to arrange a meeting between him and the Emperor himself.  Before the Emperor arrives, Fellers informs MacArthur of his role in diverting Allied bombers away from Shizuoka (he had hoped to save Aya).  MacArthur replies that because no American lives were lost because of it, he will turn a blind eye.  When Emperor Hirohito arrives, he offers himself to be punished rather than Japan.  MacArthur states that he has no intention of punishing Japan or Hirohito and rather wishes to discuss the reconstruction of Japan.

The film proves to be extremely interesting thanks to the fact it turns both America and Japan into villains from the get go making them both culpable for the atrocities they have committed.  By setting the film in war torn Japan, the film shows how much Japan is suffering because of the war, and the state of a once prosperous happy country that is one execution away from total collapse.

Perhaps my penchant for Asian films tilted me in the direction of liking this movie, but it at least provided some insight into what kind of monumental task the Allies were taking on in rebuilding Japan which you can see at the beginning of the film is nothing more than rubble.  Maybe I enjoyed it because the film is a story not just about the past but about the future as it shows two countries in flux, Japan awaiting news of their fate and America trying to justify their actions having just committed one of the worst war crimes in history.  Trying to find some kind of redemption even though they have made an indelible mark on a country it had already ravaged.

JPFmovies advice: watch it.

 
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Posted by on July 3, 2015 in Movie Reviews

 

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Before there were podcasts, there was Christian Slater in Pump Up The Volume (1990)—a real sleeper at the box office but a movie much better than its predecessor, Heathers (1988).

The film stars Christian Slater in what in my opinion is one of his better roles.  He is transplanted from New York to milk toast Arizona because his father gets a promotion.  Frankly he is miserable, lonely and his only out to vent and express his frustrations with his new surroundings is to start an FM pirate radio station that broadcasts from the basement of his parents’ house.  Mark (Slater) is a loner, an outsider, whose only outlet for his teenage angst and aggression is his unauthorized radio station.  His pirate station’s theme song is “Everybody Knows” by Leonard Cohen and there are glimpses of cassettes by such alternative musicians as The Jesus and Mary Chain, Camper Van Beethoven, Primal Scream, Soundgarden, Ice-T, Bad Brains, Concrete Blonde, Henry Rollins, and The Pixies.

 

By day, Mark is seen as a loner, hardly talking to anyone around him, not even looking people in the eye; by night, he expresses his outsider views about what is wrong with American society. And more importantly what is going on at his school.  When he speaks his mind about what is going on at his school and in the community, more and more of his fellow students tune in to hear his show.

 

Nobody knows the true identity of “Hard Harry” or “Happy Harry Hard-on,” as Mark refers to himself, until Nora Diniro (Mathis), a fellow student, tracks him down and confronts him the day after a student named Malcolm commits suicide after Harry attempts to reason with him.  The radio show becomes increasingly popular and influential after Harry confronts the suicide head-on, exhorting his listeners to do something about their problems instead of surrendering to them through suicide—at the crescendo of his yelled speech an overachieving student Paige Woodward (who has been a constant listener) jams her various medals and accolades into a microwave and turns it on. She then sits, watching the awards cook until the microwave explodes, injuring her. While this is happening, other students act out in cathartic release.

 

Eventually, the radio show causes so much trouble in the community that the FCC is called in to investigate. During the fracas, it is revealed that the school’s principal (Annie Ross) has been expelling “problem students,” namely, students with below-average SAT scores, in an effort to boost the district’s test scores while still keeping their names on the rolls (a criminal offense) in order to keep the government money.

 

Mark’s show becomes so popular that despite FCC trackers he rigs up his mom’s jeep to delay their ability to track him down.  As the police close in on him his voice disguiser breaks and on the verge of being caught, Mark tells the students that the world belongs to them and that they should make their own future.  The police step in and arrest Mark and Nora. As they are taken away, Mark reminds the students to “talk hard.” As the film ends, the voices of other students (and even one of the teachers) speak as intros for their own independent stations, which can be heard broadcasting across the country.

In my opinion working within the confines of the teen-age genre film, Pump Up the Volume succeeds in sounding a surprising number of honest, heartfelt notes. The movie is also entertaining to adults probably because it takes them back to their days of pseudo rebellion.  Watch it, Slater matures significantly from Heathers to Pump Up The Volume.  Pump Up the Volume is the best of the “fuck the establishment if they can’t take a joke” genre.

 
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Posted by on June 20, 2015 in Movie Reviews

 

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Dr. H Resurfaces with a review of Jurassic World (Still in Theaters)! Welcome back Doc it’s about time.

Dr. H Reviews Jurassic World, Flawed Entertainment at its best (Still in Theaters).

Jurassic world, is a victory of exhilarating CGI’s over the old-fashioned and somewhat mundane art of solid storytelling with relatable characters.  Sadly, it appears that these two factors are like East and West– the two will never meet.

Don’t get me wrong—Jurassic World is a thoroughly enjoyable popcorn summer flick that for the most part will keep you engrossed if not spellbound. But director Colin Trevorrow’s attempt to project the movie as a struggle against corporate and media excess is a bit over-the-top.

The fact that there are two credits for the story and four for the screenplay and that the script was revised about 5 times and the movie took a decade to materialize makes you wonder about the screenplay standards of today.  If this is the final product of a professional screenplay exercise written, rewritten, and revised for audience response, could an amateur writer do any worse?

If this sounds harsh, please consider the following: here are a couple of dramatic moments that needed some creative punchlines.  Two brothers are lost in the wilderness of the park being chased by a rogue dinosaur (and yes this concept is something that the movie has successfully contributed to the dinosaur genre).  Finally after a 20 minute chase outwitting the dinosaur they manage to reach safety only to find a lukewarm reception or perhaps scenes chopped at the altar of the editor’s proverbial splicer.  Ironically, the brotherly bond is the only redeeming chemistry that the movie could successfully portray.  The distant second being the affection between the smaller dinosaurs and their trainer-feeders.  The other, almost criminal, omission was their inability to logically develop the character played by Vincent D’Onofrio, who represented the big arms industry and the Indian actor IRFAAN KHAN (representing the theme park owner with higher ambitions) both of them versatile and talented actors. Henceforth the story takes a childish turn and the protagonists lacked gravitas.

Despite the movies flaws there were some rousing scenes, the most memorable was copied from the master Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds where flying dinosaurs attack the hapless theme park tourists enjoying themselves and pecking them on their heads as the larger beasts lifted them into the air and then dropping some to their some to their deaths and others to serious injury.  Not to give away the climax the most we can reveal is that the director’s final sleight of hand was if you can’t beat them, join them.

Watch the movie for its unadulterated fun but don’t count on remembering the story after a week.  I had to get this review out within 24 hours of watching this film or major omissions would have crept into the review.

 
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Posted by on June 16, 2015 in Movie Reviews

 

Thanks to our friends at Netflix, JPFmovies has returned to watching SOME western entertainment.

We here at JPFmovies have said in the past that our Asian friends across the sea have the right idea when it comes to TV series; that is, Korean, Japanese and Hong Kong TV shows are often one run of either 5, 10 or around 20 episodes (with the exception their historical time pieces which are usually 45 episodes) and that is it.  They don’t drag out shows until they die a slow painful death like the ones grinding out of Hollywood.  Series like The City Hunter (20 episodes) (running on Netflix) a Korean show previously reviewed here, Legal High (10 episodes a Japanese show about an eccentric lawyer), Bartender (a 4 episode show about a prize winning bartender and his rise to become the head of a fabulous hotel), NHK’s annual historical time piece like Musashi (previously reviewed here 39 episodes) an NHK tradition dating back to the late 1960’s, the list goes on and on.  My point here is not re-hash or recycle an old post, but to say I think Netflix got the message.

We here at JPFmovies can be pretty tough on the entertainment industry, but we also will give credit is credit is due and in our opinion it looks like our friends at Netflix got it right.  I have seen some marvelous 10 or so episode series they have produced or picked up.  Typically these shows involve “no-name” actors, very interesting historical events or original topics and frankly can be so addictive that we have been neglecting our site.  Netflix series like Marco Polo, Turn (the American revolutionary spy), Brooklyn Taxi (a show about a detective who loses her driver license and is forced to hire a full time taxi driver while she is on the job), Borgia the influential family of renaissance Italy and more all seem to follow what the Asians had figured out long ago.  We don’t say this very often but nice work Netflix for thinking outside of the tired American entertainment box.  Keep up the good work Netflix, I believe your fan base will grow if you stick to these simple rules.  I’ve often asked where have all the good writers gone, and I think I just got my answer.

As always comments are appreciated!

JPFmovies.

 
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Posted by on June 9, 2015 in Movie Reviews

 
 
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